On March 3 we have to leave

On March 3 the developers will lock the doors and we have to leave. We found out on Saturday. The rubbish is already taking over the hallways – old chairs, shelves, books, tins of paint, plastic bags and various wooden sticks and metal bits. The people next door left this weekend. The building is quiet. The bathroom and the corridors already have that cold, slightly metallic scent of abandonment.

Soon there will be no more artist studios on Cremer Street. The developer called us an “eyesore on Hackney Road”. And perhaps he was right. This is a crumbling sixties warehouse with graffitied walls, dirty windows and a family of stray cats. It doesn’t fit with the new wine bars or the brand new apartment blocks with their straight walls, small windows and box-like flats selling for £600,000.

Soon this asbestos roof will be torn open and the walls chewed to pieces by bulldozers. I’ve seen it happen to the old council blocks up the road. I watched as the front of one of the buildings came down and a bedroom or living room with bright green walls gaped out over Hoxton like in some disaster movie. That was once someone’s home. During that winter the old buildings disappeared and it’s been a year since people started leaving plant pots on the balconies and bicycles outside the new apartments.

This was always going to happen to the studio building on Cremer Street. The pub with the English flags in the windows was turned into a wine bar. The boarded up one that used to stand on the corner was demolished before I came here, but is still there on Google Street View like a digital ghost. Small shops selling wholesale bags and shoes are being turned into cafes. The gay club has been shut down. The derelict Georgian terraces have been renovated and decorated to smug perfection. The old hospital is being turned into expensive apartments. The boards around the building site show photographs of the people that might one day live there. Pretty, shiny haired people hanging out. Aspirational people.

London has been burned down, bombed and demolished several times over the last 2000 years. It’s always being rebuilt, the old torn down to make way for the new. But like a magic trick, the city never changes. In the midst of all of this turmoil some buildings have managed to escape the bombs and the bulldozers. Cremer Street and Hackney Road will still be there when the studio is gone. The map will look the same. Some of these roads were built by the Romans.

When this building is gone the stray cats in the studio car park will hopefully move on to another spot where people will feed them. The people who move into the new apartments will go to the same cafe we go to for their coffees. The trains will rumble along the tracks on the bridge over Cremer Street. The huge psychedelic graffiti eye on one of the tower blocks further into Hoxton will keep looking out over it all. We will move our studio south of the river and everything changes and nothing changes at the same time.

***

But just so I remember there is a sticker next to the door that says “Do you wear enough black to be an artist?” I don’t know who put it there. Next to it is a stack of framed prints and screens and then the table which used to be used for screen-printing, but we now mainly use for eating lunches and packing web orders, although not at the same time. On the wall opposite is the fridge and the microwave that should have been cleaned four months ago.

There is a shelf with tea and mugs and the plum vodka Gerry’s brother and his wife gave us and I swigged out of the bottle, whilst sitting on the printing table, one day after we’d had some upsetting news (it’s very tasty, thank you!). There is a shelf on the floor full of water-based paint and spray cans. Underneath the table are stacks of vinyls and screens. Next to the table there are two large and solid plan chests.

Underneath the barred windows there is the Ikea sofa I accidentally broke when I bounced up and down on it after I heard that my book had been accepted by the publisher. Then there is our desk where Gerry and I face each other, it’s covered in papers, printers, random hard-drives and cables. We’ve scribbled messages on it. There is a sleeping fish that Gerry drew on a sticker and placed next to my laptop.

Behind Gery is the year planner from 2015 and a huge Wall Street print that was damaged when it fell in front of the door and we had to bash the frame in order to get into the studio. Next to him is the Ikea shelving system with clothes rails stacked precariously on top of it and stock hanging below. Then there is the corner crammed full of stock boxes, hiding all the stuff that’s been forgotten about and kept out of sight. Behind that there are paintings, not ours, they were left here by the previous occupant who uses the studio for storage. This is it. The studio. Soon it will be empty and all we will have left are these memories.

Do storms have an identity because we give them names?

Written yesterday

I’m in Humanities 2 at the British Library. There is a whiny noise, like a storm trapped in a chimney, coming from somewhere behind me. Perhaps it’s Gertrude. She’s brought snow, power cuts and flooding from across the Atlantic. Last night her gusts sounded like a giant’s fist buffeting the walls of my apartment block. All the storms have names now. This winter we’ve had Clodagh and Desmond and Frank. Now we have Gertrude. Perhaps she’s trying to join us here at Humanities 2 through an open vent. Perhaps the sound is just an asthmatic computer. It wasn’t even that windy this morning.

When I asked for my books at the counter they looked at the bookshelf at the far end, under the letter B. It still surprises me. Last time I came here regularly they always went to the shelf with the letter H stuck to it. I’m no longer the person I used to be. The cells in my body have changed. My name has changed. We change and stay the same. I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately, about losing it and coming back to it. I’ve been thinking about choosing it. We stay who we are through the stories we tell ourselves. Because of our Facebook accounts and our Instagram accounts, those stories are more permanent and visible than ever before. They hold us accountable to who we think we are. Do storms have more of an identity because we give them names? Do they get their own social media accounts?

I shouldn’t be writing about identity. I’m here to read about the London stone and to find out more about the foundations of London. I have a meagre haul of books. The only one I could find with the title “London Stone” is a pamphlet about a completely different London stone in Staines. I think it might be near Heathrow, but I’m not sure. It has the same name, but it’s not the right stone.

I’ve also picked up Daniel Defoe’s essay on the plague and Charles Booth’s account of the London poor. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with this selection, but I have to start somewhere. Working in the library is like sifting through soil. Eventually a few golden nuggets will fall through. I love working here. It smells of books and dust. It quietens me. Even with Gertrude, or not Gertrude, whining in the vent.

Image by Mario Calvo.

Back in rainy London

London. It’s eight days since we landed at Heathrow. The day after we left Finland the temperature in my hometown dropped to minus 27. Cold enough to make your hair turn white with frost and your nostrils stick together when you inhale. London hovers around 7 plus. Drizzle-gray. Sunshine and showers. Mostly showers.

Today I walked past the big house and the deer at Clissold Park. The sun was out. Orange light in the puddles. Bright and early joggers rushing past. I stopped to say hello to the deer. Then I met up with Madicken and we spent the morning writing together in a café. All the other customers had brought their laptops too. Madicken spotted an actor sitting behind us. It’s very north London. I wrote some words and I was pretty happy with them. Then I came home and read about the publishing industry and suddenly everything felt impossible. I did my taxes. I downloaded Spotify again and created a radio station based on Sia. I’m clicking thumbs down on anything that isn’t Sia.

This month is one of small tasks. It’s too early for a big picture. There is one thing and then the next and maybe soon the year will start taking shape. I took me a week to shake the post-Christmas fog. I went home to Finland and didn’t turn on my phone for the first five days. A sweet, disconnected rebellion. Gerry and I went for long walks when it was light. The inlet near the house thawed and then froze over again. The ice was washed up by a storm and looked like panes of broken glass, crushed and squeezed together. I’ve never seen it like that before. I ate well and often. I spent some time in the sauna. My muscles unwound themselves. I relaxed and stopped thinking about work, the future, everything. It takes a while to resurface from that. So here I am, tensing up again, telling myself I should do more yoga, writing lists and trying to get a sense of where this year will take me.

Image by David Marcu.

Stuff I learned when I was thirty

Did I perhaps mentioned I was stressed in my earlier blog posts? Well I look at myself two weeks ago and laugh, no weep, no laugh. Stressed? I didn’t know what the word meant then. But I’m not going to go into that too much because then I’m just reinforcing unhealthy neural pathways, which is bad. Instead I’m going to breathe and ignore a third of the things I’m supposed to do today.

Why?

Because it’s my birthday. Today I turn 31 and mostly for my own pleasure and for future reference I’d like to sum up some of the things I learned this year. I apologise in advance for jumping between using first and second person in the following list. It’s my birthday and I don’t care.

Stuff I learned when I was thirty

Sometimes good things happen out of the blue. You won’t expect them. There is nothing you can do to force these things to happen, they just will and, when they do, it will be a nice surprise.

The only thing you can do is to keep trying and to doing the best you can.

Small virtuous things like doing yoga regularly or meditating will start to add up and make you feel better. Exercising regularly will actually make you stronger, even though your subconscious tells you that unless you’re perfect from day one it isn’t worth the effort.

I really must remember not to eat pineapple.

Being around a lot of people is exhausting. Sometimes it’s important to sit in a quiet room with a cup of tea and just look out of the window.

I’m really very resistant to learning how to drive in London. I’ve spent a year making up excuses for why I can’t book that first driving lesson.

The winters are getting warmer.

The more I read, the better I’ll write. The more I write, the better I’ll write. There is a formula for every sort of writing. Learn the formula first, then focus on how to write well.

Worrying is a waste of energy.

No matter how much you’d like to protect someone and shield them from pain you can’t. You can only love them.

Nothing is more important than family and friends.

Not everyone can be your friend.

Being vulnerable in front of a group of strangers might feel good at the time, but quite embarrassing afterward.

Bread tastes pretty good after almost two years of gluten-freeness. So does pizza and a nice dark porter.

Eating well is one of life’s great pleasures. My most vivid memories are all food-related.

One of the best things about London is the river that runs through it. There’s no coast, but at least there’s the Thames.

Singing makes me happy. It shouldn’t matter how it sounds.

I’ve managed to create some of my best work when I’ve had tight deadlines and not been able over-think and over-analyse. Sometimes it’s best to not think and just do.

The best way to tackle fear and anxiety is to try to feel loving, either toward yourself or someone else. I read somewhere that this releases oxytocin, which lowers the amount of cortisol in your system. I have no idea if this is true, but at this point in time the semi-scientific explanation is enough for me.

I’m the happiest when I have a goal to work towards. Without a goal I start worrying about the meaning of life. That might have been OK when I was fifteen, now it’s better to just come up with the next goal.

Hate and fear will only create more hate and fear. And the world doesn’t need any more of that.

Image by Kris Atomic at Unsplash.

Goodbye November, hello December

I wrote this yesterday.

Last day of November. It’s storming outside, the wind is bouncing between the block of flats I live in and the one of the other side of the rail road tracks. It’s hitting windows and scraping tree branches along the walls. Sometimes a train rushes past. I hardly hear them anymore and only notice if it’s a big freight train screaming and whooshing.

London is still grey and it’s getting colder. I’ve spent the day transcribing an interview. I don’t often record the interviews I do anymore, but I’m glad I had this one on tape. There are good quotes that will only work verbatim.

December is falling into place and it makes me happy. I’ve started scheduling things and it’s a relief to know what will happen when instead of staring down a huge pile of stuff that just has to be done at some point. I think the most stressful part of being a journalist is the period before a story comes together, before I’ve started booking the interviews, when everything is still an idea. As soon as I know who I’m going to speak to and when I start relaxing, then I know it’s possible.

I’m starting to realise it’s the same with creative writing. I’ve come up with a new system. I need to know exactly what happens, from every characters’ point of view, throughout the whole book. The more I know the more precise I can be when I’m telling the story. In my previous attempts at writing creatively I’ve always been rushing, trying to get the story out as quickly as possible, because otherwise I fear I might lose it somewhere along the way (and I often do lose it somewhere along the way). But if I instead write it out quickly, in a not very coherent fashion, using plenty of clichés and a multitude of other literary sins, it already exists and all I need to do is slowly, carefully craft it into something that sounds good. Now that I’ve realised this one thing putting a book together seems more possible too.

Photo by Samuel Zeller.