During the last few weeks I have had an almost insatiable craving for banana bread and tea. Luckily I have now taught myself how to make banana bread and can indulge in as much cakey goodness as humanly possible. Which is what I’m doing today.
I got up early this morning to go to the POLIS conference on journalism at the London School of Economics. I went last year and came out feeling hugely inspired and awed by journalists talking about reporting the Arab Spring and the difficulties of working within the crumbling dictatorships in the Middle East. This years conference was different. I only stayed for two panel discussions before a persistent headache developed into something more migraine-like and I decided to get the bus home. The high point of the morning was when a veteran sports journalist from Times demonstrated a wrestling grip on a Sky sports presenter during a panel about the Olympics. Which isn’t exactly a good sign. Perhaps there wasn’t as much to talk about this year. Although I missed the debate on the Leveson inquiry.
On my way home I finished Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and felt mildly annoyed because the story had gone for the same kind of bleak realism as Million Dollar Baby, while masquerading as cheery magic realism. The ending was depressing and is still lingering in the back of my mind like a bad dream. But banana bread will help! I think it’s already cured my headache.
Yesterday Gerry and I went up to the garden centre in Tottenham and spent a small fortune on soil, plant pots and seeds. I haven’t planted anything since my witch phase when I was fifteen and thought it would be a good idea to grow magic herbs (thyme, rosemary etc. Totally hardcore).
I had no idea I could get this excited about growing stuff. Our little city balcony is now filled with pots of potential goodness. We even have strawberries. I just wish everything would grow faster!
I can feel it creeping up on me. I’ve been trying to avoid it, but there is no escaping anymore. A couple of days ago I let myself go and now I’m tumbling down fluffy rabbit hole of shiny wedding plans, massive cakes, expensive fabrics, colour matching, flowers, bunnies, synchronised dove releasing and magical fountains. Ok, deep breath, it’s not that bad.
Since we got engaged I have been telling myself that I’m not one of those girls (even though I’m not even sure what that means). I didn’t’ want to become yet another bride to be going on about their wedding until people want to poke them in the eye. I have tried to resist. But there is something strangely alluring about it all. It’s like I have been carrying around this secret wedding obsession, conditioned by Disney movies and reality TV. I have been afraid that if give it the slightest bit of attention it will turn into a monster and suddenly I’d be neurotically worrying if my dress is matching the napkins.
This week I couldn’t help it anymore. After three hours on wedding blogs I am getting slightly obsessed. And the worst of it all is that it’s fun!
The wedding is getting closer. My parents have been phoning me, asking me to make decisions because the time has come for decisions to be made. I had no idea there was so much to think about. So much to obsess over. “Are you using spreadsheets yet?” a friend of a friend asked me last week. She was planning on doing that for her wedding next February! That’s where the fun stops though. Spreadsheets, no thank you. There is a point where you have clearly gone too far.
”But, I didn’t want to jinx it!” the girl shouted to her friend. They were walking up Kingsland road with purposefulness and very high heels. It was Friday night. I don’t go out on Fridays and Saturdays very often anymore (because of complicated reasons mostly having to do with being self-employed and the weekends not meaning time off work, which strangely I quite enjoy it). So naturally the Friday night nightlife was feeling a bit overwhelming. People laughing, smoking, talking loudly. It could be me, but being sober, I felt removed from it all. I was my way to a gig though, the first one I’ve been too in months. I’m out of practice as some of the friends I had when I was a teenager might have said.
I kept wondering what the girl didn’t want to jinx. Was it a relationship, a job opportunity, a creative project? It’s interesting how protective we become of things we really care about. I find it really difficult to tell people about this blog and to talk about the creative writing I’m doing. I don’t want to jinx it. The thought other people judging, approving, commenting makes me nervous. Suddenly it not just my project anymore. It means being accountable. It means following through and that’s particularly scary. It opens the door to failure.
This is where self-help gurus, Americans and entrepreneurs who write books about how successful they are tend to have a different opinion. According to them failure is something we should embrace, because it means that we tried. Instead of hiding away a dream, they put them out there and make sure as many people as possible know what they’re up to. Then they reach their goals. This might be a bit too “set your goals high and then exceed them” for some of you, but if the fear of failure and judgement is the only thing holding you back, then something needs to change.
Unfortunately I know exactly what I’m talking about. Lately I’ve been battling with the jinx. Even now I find it difficult to write about the projects I’m working on. So difficult this post is making me slightly irritated. “Why should I have to write about what I’m doing?”, “Who cares anyway”, “What if people care”.
So why should we embrace the jinx? Because talking about things help. The people who have started successful Kickstarter campaigns are a good example of this. They bravely interact with their fans online. They are open and accountable in the most hostile environment possible, the internet. I look at their work and I admire them. Bringing more people along on the creative ride is what will keep us creatives afloat in a world where words, music, media and art are constantly devalued. So maybe I should take a chance and jinx things more often, like any spell it’s a powerful thing.
*I’ve been following Lisa’s work for years, check it out at Lisa Falzon.com
Since I started freelancing three years ago I have been fighting the pyjama days. Those days when you know you don’t have to leave the house, you just have to sit down in front of your computer, drink several cups of green tea (or coffee) and get the work done. Part of me has found it difficult to accept this part of the freelancing life. I guess the pyjama is optional and so is actually staying in the house. But sometimes there will be periods of not seeing many people, of getting your head down and just slugging through pitching, improving your writing, editing. It might not be super glamorous, but it’s necessary. I think part of my issues with pyjama days stem from being afraid of missing out, of the world rushing past me while I spend the day in comfy pants re-editing stuff that might not even be published.
Some authors out there know what it’s all about. I found this piece in The Guardian yesterday about ten rules for writing fiction, somehow it’s helped me cope with the pyjama days a bit better. I especially like…
1 The first 12 years are the worst.
2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
8 You can also do all that with whiskey.
9 Have fun.
10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.
2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3 Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
First a little introduction: Three autumns ago I went on my second date with Gerry. At the table next to us sat a group of quite tipsy teachers. Their students had just had their last exams and – like most people in the UK – they celebrated by going to the pub and drinking heavily. They were also overly interested in us and our date and kept asking us about what we do and who we are. They were slightly overwhelming, especially when they found out I was a journalist and that my next assignment was going down to Blackheath to cover the climate camp.
Everyone seemed to be talking about the climate camp that autumn. It was 2009 and the seeds of the Occupy movement were being sown. These were the innocent days before a year of demonstrations and conflict. The G20 protests and Ian Tomlinson were still on people’s minds and on twitter activists were wondering what kind of policing the climate camp might face.
It was a hot day in August. Blackheath is a little village-like suburb south of the river, too far outside the normal rail routes in London for oyster-cards to work there. There were small vegan cafés on the high street and in the distance you could make out the big grassy plain were the camp had been set up. The air smelled of hay. There was noise and life coming out of a makeshift campsite in the middle of the heath. Hay bales were stacked around the site. At the entrance a large media hub welcomed visitors. Like most organised campaign groups the climate campers had their own newspaper, a media workshop and someone to liaise with the press. I got a tour around the site and talked about what was going on during the camp. I have the interview on an old computer, hidden away in Gerry’s studio. If I rescue it at some point I will post the interviews here.
There was a buzz going around the site, something exciting was happening. A couple of representatives from the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands campaign had arrived and were setting up their tents. I wanted to interview them, theirs was and is a story worth telling. I knew that the oil excavation in Canada was producing millions of barrels of oil every day, but at a very high price. A 100 000 square kilometre area was being turned into a blackened wasteland, animals in old native American hunting grounds were showing disturbing signs of disease and mutation and extracting the oil out of the sand was almost costing as much energy as it was producing. The tar sands are bringing jobs to areas where there might have been none, but at the same time the countryside is being ruined for a fuel that is becoming increasingly expensive and will at some point run out. The high price of oil means that it is financially viable to extract oil from the tar sands. It might be working at the moment, it’s good for the oil companies, but perhaps not for the state of Alberta. What happens when the oil runs out? Or when it isn’t cost-effective to work on the tar sands? Will the communities that have sprung up around the excavation sites be left high and dry like villages in Wales and Scotland when the mines were closed down?
At Blackheath I interviewed a few of the Canadian representatives, tired looking, but defiant men and women who had told the same story many times before. Their interviews are also in deep freeze on a hard-drive in the studio, but one day I will dig them out. Their story is one about communities breaking up, friends and family dying of rare types of cancer, people opting to work on the oil fields because that’s the only option they have left. What they have seen and what they feel about the industrial project on their lands can’t be placated by financial gain. Theirs is a story I would love to revisit.
* The brilliant picture at the top of this post is taken by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.
Every now and then stories come a long that really touch you. These are the stories every journalist wait for. They make our job worthwhile, it’s because of them we have a purpose. I grew up reading these types of stories and wishing I could be the one telling them, perhaps making someone care enough about the topics to act and help someone in need, donate some money, write a letter, make the world a better place.
I remember sitting in a cafe in Warsaw as a journalism student on a trip organised by my university, listening to an American journalist who was working in Eastern Europe uncovering stories about human trafficking. He talked for a long time to a silent audience. He cried as he talked about the girls he had interviewed, how one of them had panicked and stabbed him in the leg with a dirty needle, how he had had to jump out of a speeding car somewhere in the Balkan countryside, how he didn’t know if the girls he had talked to and tried to help had been punished for talking to him, how he didn’t know if they were alive or not. His was a story that hits you in the gut, but it was also a story that strengthened my love for this job. This is what we do. We do whatever it takes to get the truth to people about things that are wrong in the world. Some people say it’s a calling, some people might find the above sentences overly naive, but we all need something that drive us forward.
I’ve had a few similar moments after listening to that American journalist in Warsaw. When I read about Marie Colvin’s death a few weeks ago I felt the same tug in my gut. I didn’t know much about her before her death, but every piece I’ve read about her talks about her bravery, her tenacity, how she refused to give up until she’d told the full story. Very high praise for a journalist from her peers. I admire what Marie Colvin was doing and why she was doing it, telling the story so perhaps someone would act, so someone would care about the thousands being slaughtered in Homs. Because of her work, and her death, Syria went up on the news agenda, not only in news rooms, but in living rooms around the world.
But not all journalists have to risk their lives to tell an important story. It can land on your lap anywhere and for some reason you always know when. Things just click into place and suddenly the work makes sense, it’s not just for you or your editor anymore, it’s for something bigger. These stories come along during all our careers and they are the ones we remember. I’ve had a few stories like that here in London. Stories I have felt strongly about, have cried over, stayed up at night reading about. These are the stories that really make the work worthwhile. Some of them I’m starting to forget about, but many of them are still as important as they were when the broadcast went out or the piece was published.
When you arrive at the Eurostar terminal at Paris Gare du Nord it’s easy to understand why some Brits are still a bit funny about the French. There is this country, not very far away, with a completely different culture and language! A language that doesn’t even recognise the superiorness of English and instead insists that its speakers are somehow worthy of actually talking in foreign!
I spent all my time in Paris on the metro and then at train stations and didn’t catch much of the city. Instead I went to Cannes, where I got severely lost and stepped in lots of puddles of water. Luckily I had opted to wear comfortable water proof shoes. I walked on a soggy red carpet and realised that this is probably not how most people experience the city.
I was there attending Midem, a conference by the music industry, for the music industry. Now I’m not in the music industry, but I write for Music 4.5, which makes me almost interesting enough to network with. Mentioning I’m a journalist is usually a great way of collecting piles of business cards.
I caught some interesting start-ups during a pitch session, ate lots and lots of white bread and pastries, had a lot of horrible conference coffee and learned that everyone speaks carefully about piracy at a music industry event, even people who run pro-piracy blogs.
Gerry and I spent a week up at his parent’s place in Scotland. We attempted to climb a munro (a Scottish mountain), I got severely car sick on the way there and had to abandon the mission half way up the mountain. Suddenly the horizon started jumping up and down and I had to sit down and cradle my head in my hands as elderly walkers and kids with sledges walked past me. Not one of my proudest moments. I watched the second football game of my life. Hibs won. Gerry was happy. No swearing ten-year-olds at the game this time.
I did some interviews about independence at The House of Bruar, a shopping mall type place on the A9, where the staff all seem to be Eastern European and the customers all wear tweed. It was a fifty/fifty split. Sometimes the independence question feels more like a popularity contest for Alex Salmond.