My energy levels have been really unpredictable recently. Last week, they went up, only to come crashing down. Thankfully I managed to ask a family if I could tutor online for a couple of days, and now I’m am out and about after a morning yoga session. This week I have mainly seen the one student who is coming up to his GCSEs. He and the rest of the family were still sleeping when I arrived!
I’ve seen a lot of family, and met my cousin’s baby (I’m just calling myself an aunt because neither of us have siblings). I’ve also done lots of creative work; I painted last Sunday in response to the Coram conversation panel and poetry night, and I caught up with a Red Sky Session the day after doing a very career-based one, which actually left me feeling quite down on myself. It was doing the creative part that made me feel good. My partner joined me and I loved the synchronicity of our images, with both our arms up in the air!
I have next Tuesday off thankfully, because I’ll need my energy with all the work I’ve got coming up! Tutoring will be back in full swing next week, the Art Psychotherapy training starts up again the following week, and I’ve got a couple of consecutive weekends of Lego parties!
Last night was the first She Grrrowls at Catford Mews, and despite a few teething issues, it was a great night. Although it can be hard to be present when running an event, it was such that I was able to really listen and be with the words, with incredible features Lateisha Davine Lovelace-Hanson and Marianella Lopez, such glorious open mic acts and audience members. You can see the joy emanating from the picture below.
My work schedule is changing again, and with this I’m considering that I need to make more rules for myself. These rules are to help me balance and avoid over-working. At the moment, I’m not handling stress well, and I’m currently writing this in the bath, fully aware I need to work on all sorts of boundaries. I only have Tuesday evenings consistently off. It’s not enough. I’m using tomorrow’s extra-long train journeys to read course material and write a book review.
I have committed to Sundays until mid-June, but I think I need to either just do one weekend day of tutoring, or continue to do the Lego Parties as my only fortnightly weekend work commitment. But to do that, I need a consistent amount of weekday work. I have my first totally solo party tomorrow, so I think that will be a deciding factor going forward, weighing up whether the fun factor and variety is worth the increased risk of germs when I could tutor at a nearby location. I’ve also scattered my language learning goals throughout the week in order to protect my Sunday afternoons for art making. It’s all still trial and error.
Living amongst boxes and furniture everywhere is making things difficult at the moment. On paper, I thought I could cope, but in reality, passing the month-mark soon, it does put a strain on your mental health, not to mention struggling with issues to do with being neurodivergent, where it’s coming to light that I find certain social conventions difficult to understand, and particular situations overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Still, we move. All I can do is try to offer what I feel I can to those in my life, and try to be more present, knowing that this too shall pass. I’ve been using films a lot to escape, using my Everyman membership, attending free film previews, and the CPIFF (Crystal Palace International Film Festival).
A fellow Art Therapist Trainee has organised the above exhibition, so I thought I would share the private view information. With a slight change of running, we will have Lateisha Davine Lovelace-Hanson and Marianella Lopez both sharing new work at She Grrrowls at Catford Mews on Thursday 16th March, plus the short film screening. Buy tickets to the Catford Mews She Grrrowls here. To sign up for the open mic (there’s just two spots left), email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, pronouns, and short bio / sentence to introduce you with. In other news, I’ve been long/short listed for a couple of competitions, so I’m excited about the potential of that!
It’s been nearly a month since I’ve written a reflection, which indicates how busy it has been! However, it feels like I’m losing students I’ve only just gained, and I’m mindful of having to take on extra work to account for the unexpected loss of income. I didn’t get an interview for a casual role I thought I would get and I’m awaiting feedback. In other news, I have now had my training and I’m officially holding Lego Parties as part of the Dynamic Play team!
Last night was the first in-person meeting of the Poetry Society Forest Hill Stanza group. We had an open mic of around twelve poets, including both members and non-members. Taking place in the hidden gem of Mozart London, a cafe-bar in between Anerley and Crystal Palace, we had a full house! Hopefully we will be able to make a monthly event of it. Coming up next is the first She Grrrowls event at Catford Mews on Thursday 16th March at 8pm, and I’m pleased to be showcasing Lateisha Davine Lovelace-Hanson with film and poetry from Marianella Lopez and Mad Pirvan.
This week has been full on, with more work on, as well as preparing for debates at university. I’ve honestly put too much work into the debate preparation, and it’s been hard to focus my argument on one particular area. It’s all be really interesting though! But I still need to do the reading for the week ahead. I’ve planned loads of notes and quotes, created a PPT that can be viewed with a QR code, and made both physical and digital art.
I found out that I didn’t get the artist role at SPINE festival with Apples & Snakes. There really needs to be more transparency in the arts, which is why I will have no shame is sharing that I cried my eyes out for at least half an hour on reading the news. Yes, this was coloured by my financial situation, but I also felt embarrassed. It was the second time that I had interviewed for this position, and not only had I not been successful, I also felt really alone because I didn’t know who was in the same boat. After having done a workshop for Apples & Snakes, I went back to feeling like I don’t get picked. I consoled myself with my course, and the new direction I’m taking, but after swearing I wouldn’t do it again, I’ve signed up to do exam invigilation work, so when I could have been getting paid £200 a day in a April and May for something I love, I’ll now be getting barely over minimum wage for something that’s really mentally challenging (I try to think of it as meditation). And then it turns to self-blame, because who else is there to blame? My 5-minute workshop wasn’t as strong as others, and my answers weren’t good enough. It’s actually so demoralising. I know I’m capable of the work, but what now – try again next year?
In other news, I’ve also had two meetings about two different events in March. The first is the first Forest Hill Poetry Stanza at a cute cafe-bar ‘Mozart’ in Anerley on Friday 3rd March. The second is She Grrrowls, back for International Women’s Day on Thursday 16th March at the Catford Mews cinema. Aside from this, which is a fair bit of work for little to no pay, I’ve also got another minimum wage role for humble warrior drinks, offering product samples in store.
So, all this has been doing on whilst I’ve had my regular students, applying for more jobs, hosting the online Stanza group, and getting ready for my flatmate moving out! Thankfully I also had time for some exercise – Pilates, Yoga, Boxing and Zoca! I’m also trying to walk more again, but it’s not always possible, so I’ve only gone beyond 10,000 steps twice this week!
Once again, if you’re able to support me on my journey to becoming an Art Therapist, please consider buying my books or sharing stuff on social media, likewise with my crowdfunding campaign.
This week I’ve had my energy back for content writing and tutoring, though I’ve got a horrible rash that is itchy and persistent. I’ve also been back at the gym, right in at the deep end with a 7am boxing class. I didn’t think I’d want to go back, but I do, and I’ve since been to a Soca dance class and Legs Bums and Tums. I’ve also started a low-cost therapy, and thought swimming would be good to do afterwards (though I did get stressed out being too slow for the medium lane and too fast for the slow lane!)
Aside from the usual work, I’ve also been applying for another round of funding, I’ve got a confirmed live poetry gig in July, and I’ve had a few poems accepted, with one in particular I’m really excited about coming out! This weekend I covered a creative writing workshop with a small group of children before more birthday celebrations. Sunday went super fast, so I completed a few things on my to-do list between 6pm-10:30pm after having been out in Brixton most of the day.
After a couple of orders for books, I still have plenty more stock available and have just ordered some pink envelopes especially for the ‘Circles’ book, so please do head to my Big Cartel and order a copy. If you’re feeling generous, my latest self-published pamphlet is also available, though probably won’t fit in the pink envelopes.
I’m also on 186,390 steps and need to complete 300,000 by the end of the month to raise money for Leading Lights. It’s a fantastic organisation I work for that provides social care and alternative education for those who aren’t in mainstream school. I still need to do 14-15,000 steps a day to meet the goal! If only I had been ill during the Easter holidays, this would have been far less challenging! Sunday was actually my best day so far, with 17,455 steps. We’re very close to the goal, and it would be lovely to get some messages of support on there for me too!
This Saturday 20th March I am going to be a special guest on Ibizo Lami’s ‘Self-care Saturdays’ on Instagram Live. The show starts at 3pm and lasts for around half an hour. Simply tune in via the live feed and I’ll be sharing some of my personal self-care tips, especially useful if you have any traits of Borderline Personality.
This week has been a struggle, but I’m dealing with things surprisingly well, and I think that’s thanks to working so much last week, and having a little less work this week. That meant that when I was told that I don’t meet the threshold to get therapy via the NHS for my particular needs (essentially, the therapist told me I do need help, but I would need to pay for it thanks to the lack of resources i.e. fuck the Tories), I was able to finish a painting that I have submitted to Grayson Perry’s Art Club. However, I just realised that I forgot to send a 2-minute video about the piece, so I hope it can still be considered, as you never know!
I also recently found out that a friend who I had sensed was being distant was doing so intentionally, (trust your gut!) and after seeing they had unfollowed me on Instagram, I asked them about it. All my worst fears came true: they didn’t want to talk about it, and it was to do with my ‘intensity’. It sucks having issues with fear of abandonment, so then when someone does essentially abandon you, as well as dealing with the loss of that person, it also reaffirms the negative beliefs about your personality and being “too much, too intense”.
Well, in the words of Beyoncé: ‘I’m just too much for you’.
Being Borderline, it’s hard to not let such things make you think that all friends who you haven’t spoken to in a while are feeling the same way. Talking to another BP babe, they pointed out that the true friends are the ones who stick it out, even when you exhibit such behaviours. Everyone communicates in the wrong way sometimes, and the best way to deal with things is through proper conflict-resolution. If a friend isn’t willing to do that, then you’re probably better off without them anyway. For the first time in my life, my self-esteem is somehow high enough for me to truly believe it is their loss.
My painting ‘Footprints’ is for sale on my Big Cartel for £200. Although I am a poet, my book ‘Circles’ features my own illustrations, I completed an Art Foundation Diploma at Central Saint Martins, sold my first painting prior to that, and I’m going to put out another mixed media poetry publication. I hope to carve out more time to combine my poetry with visual art, producing text-based canvases.
Anyway, I remember hearing Elliot’s first poem about “stealthing”, and it stood out and it was very rich in language, and I immediately wanted to hear it again. I felt like Ruth’s second poem was really joyous, and that is always refreshing to hear. Whilst Amani packed a punch with both poems, her second poem was really bold, a poem that seemed to be partly about white fragility, its ending open to interpretation, but perhaps there to provoke you into thinking about what the difference is between the list of insults given to white people to those of other races, as well as to feel the weight of hate speech, and what it actually means.
The thing about the Roundhouse Slam is that it has heats to go through, so everyone involved is a high-calibre poet. I remember being so upset at my final chance of being in the slam and I didn’t even make the heats. Roundhouse lovely, comedian and (ex)-spoken word artist (once a poet, always a poet…), Jack Rooke really cheered me up about it. I mean, it wasn’t like I was going to win if I couldn’t even get through the heats, was it? I did meet some amazing poets who I’m still in touch with today, such as Malaika Kegode and Ciarán Hodgers, who are doing great things in poetry still.
Meanwhile, this week has been hectic, and filled with admin and emotional upheaval after thinking I would have to self-isolate from the start of the week, to being told my contact’s positive Covid test was void.
It’s International Women’s Day! So, on to a topic that impacts on all artists, but arguably more-so women: payment for our labour.
Pioneers for advocating paying poets include Kate Fox, who started up the Poets Network; Paula Varjack, who is currently doing a show called Show Me The Money; and Vanessa Kisuule, who has been whipping up a storm recently with her response to a recent request for her to travel 4 hours for a 50 minute performance and be paid only £30 plus 30% of the door sales. Ridic. If she accepted, it would mean she was paying to work. Would you expect anyone else to do that in any other profession? No. So, she obviously had to refuse.
Despite my own struggles trying to run events and pay artists fairly, which has always been something that’s been important to me, I also recognise that some people, like me, are also doing low/unpaid work in organising these events, on top of accepting rubbish from trying to be a poet. However, it’s important to address issues of payment as they are integral to the ethos of the event. With She Grrrowls, part of the ethos has been that there’s no hierarchy of performers. However, it’s becoming clear that actually what’s more important is that women are valued for their work in monetary terms. I would still like to aim for equal payment for acts, but in July I am going to apply for funding and hope that it is this way that I can afford to pay artists what they deserve and stop apologising. (Though I’m bringing She Grrrowls to the fringe, I’m told it’s different there and that such nights don’t pay acts, and hey it’ll probably cost me around a grand to go myself, so as long as the acts will already be performing, I don’t think I can help that).
It was Bryony Kimmings who reminded me of this issue a few years ago, when she politely declined a gig that I shouldn’t have asked her to do, but did so on the off-chance, too exhausted from my day job and commute to properly reflect on the reality of what I was asking. She told me about illshowyoumine, which is about getting living wages for artists (please click that link, so worth the read!). It’s just not fair that being an artist is not valued as a profession, that it is something that only an elite few can pursue, that the starving artist cliché is something we are too close to emulating. In August I am going to take a risk and go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and from this point I’m going to be making my art a priority, and getting paid for it will be my focus rather than accepting another full-time job out of fear that I am not worth the money, a message that is implied by everyone from family and friends, to society at large.
With this in mind, without naming names, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly, of my experience being a professional poet over the past decade, albeit a part-time one.
£150 for a performance at a festival
£75 for curating a one-off event
£100 commission for a 15-20 minute set of poetry on a theme
£350 for shadowing a series of workshops and taking part in an event + £85 travel costs
£100 to read a poem and participate in a discussion on a topic
£100 plus professional mentoring to create new work
No payment, but the only artist on the bill and able to sell books. Then the gig was cancelled without much apology or offer to reschedule.
Lots of unpaid gigs, workshops that are booked and then get cancelled, and awkward gigs where literally nobody showed up.
Being told you’re being booked to up the number of women, rather than because of anything else. I think this one paid with exposure too.
Being paid, but not realising that the host is taller than you and they’re looking at your breasts instead of your eyes. Well, that was a first. Like, in my whole life.
Repeat performances and never offered more than £10 for travel, then treated disrespectfully, being patronised and humiliated by the host.
So, in a few months I will working towards getting more of ‘the good’. For now, unable to afford striking today, I will be teaching English and hustling to get some paid writing work so that I can, like, actually eat whilst in Edinburgh.
I was at primary school when I first learnt what the word ‘hypocrite’ meant. I remember because I recall shouting it at other players during after-school netball games. I say shouting, but I’m quite softly spoken and so maybe I wasn’t all that loud. But I remember one friend laughing at me as I said it. Those who get close to me will learn this strange mix of vehement-quiet-girl still exists within me (why I’m so excited for the Shy Radicals book).
It was when I was a teenager, that I began to see my parents – and adults in general – as human beings. With flaws. One of those flaws being that they were massive hypocrites. As a child who had school reports detailing my strong sense of right and wrong, it was only natural that I developed this idea that being a hypocrite was not something I wanted to be, and with that I found it hard not to be overly righteous in defending my views. I never believed that I would become a hypocrite.
But maybe I was wrong. If I am to analyse the details of everything I do, I regularly go against what I believe in. I can do a lot better. And although I’m taking steps towards doing better, there will always be things I do that don’t live up to my ideal version of myself, especially when it comes to making money. For example, my current day job is teaching English as a foreign language. It can be a very rewarding job, yet, a big part of me is also uncomfortable about the fact that there is so much demand to learn English. It reminds me of how privileged I am to have been born where I was. Such a small country, such a widespread language, such a horrible history of colonialism.
And here I am, post-Brexit, living in Spain, not able to speak the language – because if you know English, why bother with any other language? Even the one of your heritage. My plan, to return to the UK, hopefully better acquainted with Spanish, and focus on my career as a writer. I feel I haven’t given myself the chance to properly try to live my dream. For a dream, I know it will seem less of that in reality, that it will be a struggle. But then so is working full-time and trying to work in the arts as a second job. It’s time that I make it a priority.
And in doing that, it’s likely my morals may be called into question. I might still be a hypocrite, and I might face dilemmas. Except maybe the money will be too much of a temptation, because I already auditioned for an advert for Transport for London because it paid more than my annual wage at the time (I’m now earning about half that annual wage, but my mental health is a lot better and I’m living in my own apartment instead of with my parents). And this dilemma is if I am lucky. Whenever I have seen other poets at Buckingham Palace, or on adverts, I have been excited for them, knowing that (despite the moral implications) I would be honoured to be asked and can’t imagine doing anything other than accept it. Even if I did feel uneasy about it.
This is for the same reason that I accepted my first job offer after I finished my MA and stayed there for 4 years. Because I have been taught that things are so bad that I should be grateful for whatever I can get. But right now, I have taken a risk and applied for Edinburgh Fringe Festival and booked to stay at a hostel for a month. It’s nearly double my current rent. I’m trying to save, but I am worried about being able to afford it. I thought about applying for some extra work that would ease these worries – £1000 for a month’s work online – but in the end, I wasn’t sure I would be able to commit to it on top of my full-time job teaching.
So, to imagine the fee that comes with doing adverts, such as the Nationwide ones, knowing that it could enable me to live my dream. It would be too good to refuse. And as another poet pointed out, it is the system that is the problem, and most of the time we are just trying to live. I’ve worked for minimum wage for WHSmith, JD Wetherspoons and Sainsbury’s. It doesn’t mean I agree with what they stand for, so if I was asked to pen a poem for those same companies, would it be any different? Perhaps it would, being that you are publicly associating your own brand as a poet with their brand, therefore it is a kind of endorsement that isn’t as true being a sales/bar assistant, which carries with it an element of anonymity, of being part of a uniformed mass.
In the midst of debate around the Nationwide adverts, although admitting he respects the poets in the ads, poet Luke Wright sparked debate with his poem Renegade Poets, which I think is what was intended. It is not so much the poets in the ads being targeted, but rather opening up a discussion about what it means when we accept these opportunities, especially for those of us who write political pieces and are vocal about things like Feminism and Capitalism. ‘McGough is doing Waitrose, and Clarkey’s doing chips…’ Wright says, while acknowledging it’s not about one specific case, and that it’s not new.
He laments about the art that is lost, the compromise you have to have, when selling your work in this way. One line that struck me was: ‘if nobody wants to see your show, it’s probably not good enough’, because part of me thinks there’s more to it than that. For example, with She Grrrowls, the audience can vary widely in numbers, and sadly I think being a feminist night, featuring women, this makes it more niche. Then again, there’s also music and comedy, which are arguably less niche than poetry. I have also had a promotor basically tell me that I don’t bring enough audience to the show. Whilst that may be true, I would never say that to one of my acts. It’s rude and patronising.
Nevertheless, the sentiment harks back to that line in Wright’s poem. If you are familiar with Wright’s work, you’ll see that at least in this sense, he practises what he preaches. How do you make something good enough? You work hard at it. At the night Homework, as well as in his solo shows, you can see the effort that goes into creating quality pieces, and the poem Renegade Poets is a great poem too, with an ending that really drives the point home.
The point being to think more about making these decisions, instead of doing what I imagine I might do – just see the money and and say yes. So, yes it’s important to think about this topic, but at the moment, I don’t think I’m able to make a decision. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong in all contexts, but something that comes down to an individual company and what they stand for, and the person making that choice.
When I did my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship five years ago, part of me thought that if I had the right tools I could be successful in the arts. I grew up with two teachers as parents and they worked hard in their field and have been able to provide me with a good life. I have become slightly disillusioned since graduating and working, that although we were taught that the “struggling artist” cliche is a myth that doesn’t have to be fulfilled, I still fear know that by taking a risk later this year, I will living on the “cabbage budget” and may never see the “champagne budget”.
Disillusioned, but only slightly. I still hold on to my dream, and feel I have to give myself that chance. On another related note, Roxane Gay recently pulled publication of her next book How to Be Heard after ‘alt-right’ Milo Yiannopoulos received a $250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster. It is an act of protest. She has been able to stand by her morals and principles, but she has also been quoted by The Guardian as saying ‘I can afford to take this stand. Not everyone can. Remember that.’ Whether these moral choices are something we can do from the start of our career, or whether it is something success enables us to do so is still up for debate. I may be a hypocrite now, but I will try to push myself and do better.