Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Women Are Emailing

Painting: Karin Mamma Anderson's About A Girl (2005)

"I use the word 'coup' because I think that people should be nervous because women are emailing each other. Women are DMing each other. The women are talking. The women are emailing. You could be pen pals with one person for 10 months, and then that person that no one knew about writes this piece and just drops it, and that piece comes from emailing with women." Durga Chew-Bose*

*Listen to this clip from 25;05 minutes in, because I'll be referencing it throughout. 

I'm having a bit of a moment over here. I've spent the last month going on dates with women and I am high on it. I've had cocktails in the novel sunshine of daylight saving time, beers in the shade, stacks of welsh rarebit on my lunch break, and pre-9am breakfast coffees. Call it networking, call it brain-picking, call it cooking up a big cauldron of condensed female energy; I've spent the last four weeks on a hunter-gatherer mission, and these women have been sharpening my spears.

To start: last month, I returned from a week of holidaying in the States, (of binding up my bowels with doughnuts for breakfast and realising I am in love), with a thud back to reality. I was sat down, and told that I'm being made redundant from work. This was obviously a bummer. Particularly when you live alone and have to cover next month's rent. It was also a bummer because it gave that corner of my brain, the one everybody owns, which is so determined to plant a seed of doubt during a lull in confidence, a reason to say "Aha! You did do something wrong!" Thankfully my stronger tangle of pink brain cells has mostly been able to extinguish those thoughts, and quite quickly I was able to think you know what, maybe this is the right thing, a cosmic kick up the arse to get to work on my writing, and the unfulfilled projects that have been stewing. The thoughts that chip away at me in the shower in the mornings, when I'm scared of a moment passing before I've managed to get my head straight, of somebody else having the same idea and doing it better. They're the things I often feel too tired to work on in the evenings, which in turn makes me feel worse. That little voice again: everybody else is working harder than you, so why can't you just do it?

Enough of the voice. I set to work sending emails to women I like, women I admire, women I've had good conversations with over wine, asking for their advice, and most of all not feeling bad about asking for advice. And so tonight, when I was listening to Another Round, and to Durga Chew-Bose talking about the power of quiet email exchanges with women, and how they feed into our creativity, I hit rewind three times, and then sat down to write this.

Wikipedia has a page dedicated to Consciousness Raising, to the women that gathered in their New York apartments in the late 1960s and went around the room, talking about their lives and shared issues, giving a voice to feelings previously felt below the surface. My ears pricked when I heard Durga talking about email because it confirmed my experience; the same thing is happening now, but it's happening quietly over Gmail. And Twitter. For me, these are emails are long, and rich and full of feeling, and when I find one sitting unmarked in my inbox, I'll often honour it with the same rituals as I might a shiny new magazine. Find a quiet moment, put the kettle on, and savour it. It could be an email I've ended up printing out, or an emoji-laden tweet which feels like a knowing high-five across an ocean. Sometimes it's just reaching out and asking somebody for a contact in order to pitch. The point is though, we feel good when we talk. And what does that feeling do? It builds us up, fills in the gaps and affirms in a way to help us to get things done. I honestly think too much is made of the idea of women talking in bathrooms (hey men, we're sitting, you're standing, that's all there is to it) but there's an allure in the notion that we're in there concocting ideas, a coven around the hand dryers.

We are increasingly concerned about online security; in the wake of the Sony email leak, of the scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton's private emails, people have become more nervous about what could be unveiled from their own accounts. I actually relish what we might find. A big old pile of treasure, of back-and-forth emails between women over months and years, just yearning to be typed into Letters From... anthologies, to be bought and left beside toilets to continue the cycle. A revolution in a loo read!

Some of these platonic dates I've been on during the past month has been everything Tinder never was. I haven't had to watch a bored face gaze over my shoulder, and often after we've parted ways, comes the Holy Grail of Network Dating (don't be scared to call it that): The Follow Up Email. Don't be mistaken, these aren't bland niceties. They are the minutes taken by your invisible secretary, of the cool stuff you discussed. A reading list containing gems from the Rookie archives, a technique for avoiding procrastination, a link to the eye pencil she was wearing, and which you asked her about. One of my favourite gems, which Marisa kindly shared with me, was her '5 at 5' habit. Each day at 5pm, she and her friend would email each other (of course) a list of five things, relating to personal development and their careers, that they wanted to achieve. Then they'd check in the following day for an update. So, this could be booking onto a course, applying for a job, or asking a potential new mentor out for a coffee. I don't know if they still do this, but I like the idea of holding yourself accountable to a trusted friend who can say come on, just do it.

I'm not trying to say that every coffee I have must now require An Interesting Woman and A Takeaway Gem. (Nobody has time for that much sustained depth.) I'm just giving email, and Twitter their dues. They can feel like time vacuums sometimes, or a strange vortex in which Great Stuff Is Constantly Happening To Other People, but as a medium they can make really good things happen too, if you can help yourself to click that little X at the right moment, and take the good words off to a quiet corner, for as long as you need. Maybe even 10 months or so.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Moving Moodboard

Clips: 1. Bride and her Dad dancing to Taylor Swift. 2. Simon Cowell and paparazzi. 3. A horse on El Toro Beach, Mallorca. 4. Freddie Mercury tired of interviews, 1984. 5. Game of table tennis between an 'old man' and 'young challenger' in Leicester Square, London. 6. Bear hunting for salmon in British Columbia. 

A collection of good, weird, familiar and mundane clips collected from the internet, and set to a groovy Italian soundtrack. Look, and listen to it however you like. 

A step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Press play on Nico Fidenco's 'Se Mi Perderai' right there at the top. 

Step 2. Press play on each of the video boxes, hitting mute at the same time, or experimenting with however much sound you would like from each. Scroll up and down, watch it all come together. 
Step 3: Enjoy a Bride and her Dad dancing, Freddie Mercury swigging from a stein, Simon Cowell and the strange mundanity of celebrity worship, a skittish horse, a hungry bear and an old gent beating a young gent in a game of ping pong.
Step 4: When it is all over, go on as you were.

Previous Moving Moodboards can be found here and here. Some of the videos have since been deleted from YouTube. That's okay though, if we wanted things to be permanent we might look to other places than the internet.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Queen Turner

"I think we should have a day when all women don't go to work. If a handful of people in this country are going to decide whether or not we will receive healthcare, whether or not we have control over our bodies as to when we wish to have a child, then what would happen if 52% of the work force one day just withdrew and reminded those people in Washington how important we are?" Kathleen Turner, whose voice is my new favourite thing to listen to, on Here's The Thing.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Weekend List: No. 15 (The Feb 14 Special)

In honour of February 14th, this Weekend List is dedicated to love stuff. And before you roll your eyes, please know that this edition doesn't stray far from my usual interests in the mass of varying types of love; from solo-love and friend-love, to domestic-love and lovesick-love. This list isn't here to make anybody feel bad, and I hate that Valentine's Days is always offered up as this day that you either opt in or out of. We're all alone, and we all love other people in varying capacities; Valentine's Day should be the most universal day of them all, and celebrated with that sentiment as a starting point. Settle back into it. Here's an accompanying mix I made, featuring lines like "When I trust you we can do it with the lights on" and "I want to call you but I don't. I want to be smarter." There's Jarvis Cocker, and Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor, who are in my mind among the best popstars to sing about love and sex. Plus there's Joni Mitchell's song For Free, which was my January soundtrack when I was thinking and writing about my Granny a lot, and this ode to a stranger playing clarinet on a street-corner is one of the most quietly romantic songs I've ever heard.

Closeness with others

This time last year I listened to Dory Previn back to back, and wrote about the romance with others, and with one's own self.

Sigmund Freud's Porcupine Dilemma.

A conception and a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont. I've included it in a list before, but I love to come back to this short piece from Meghan O'Connell.


Your Fave Fantasy is Problematic by Kitty Stryker.

A list of sexy films compiled by the British Film Institute.

And sexy illustrations.

Breaking up

A poem I return to each time I lose somebody, my feelings for them, or when I'm trying to blanche myself of the sad, unplanned heat of either of the two. W.H Auden's The More Loving One knows the peace of looking up at the sky and becoming re-grounded. (Listen. Or Read.)

"You are supposed to know opaquely and elusively and abstractly that everything is not over and that your purpose in life is so much huger than you can every imagine and is still saturated with value and that you will eat pesto and read Stephen Dunn and live in Manhattan." Break-up advice from one friend to another. (I didn't think seeing a tattooed bottom below this page would be part of the bargain, but I suppose you can't always plan these things..)

Alone Time

"I count living alone as, in a manner of speaking, finding interest in my own story, of prospering, of protest, of creating a space where I repeat the same actions every day, whetting them, rearranging them..." Since Living Alone by Durga Chew-Bose (one to cut out and keep.)

Dinner For One: an episode of BBC Radio 4's The Food Chain, dedicated to the melancholy of eating alone.

"I hated coming home from buying lingerie, obviously carrying a bag full of bras and panties.. In order to put it on, I would hide in the bathroom. During the reveal, he'd be reading a book about genocide and the cat would be taking up my space in the bed." Against Domesticity by Randa Jarrar.

Platonic Love
Where was it? Sometime recently I was reading a blog co-written by two female friends who described themselves as life partners, who were each married to other men. You know that feeling. It's when you walk home from the pub after sharing a bottle and spicy nuts, putting the world to rights with your best friend, and your belly feels warm and you clench your hands with an excitement reserved for promising third dates, except you know each other better than that already. And you might think to yourself, god I can't wait to grow old with this woman. It's tricky though, because like any romantic relationship the two of you might yo-yo, with one needing the other more at times, and feeling that acutely. Also, in most cases, we have multiple versions of this person in our lives. Few people pass years with just one archetypal playground best friend. There are many, each best girlfriend with her own corner, own needs and purposes, rarely overlapping with the others, though they all share a common description. My best friend. My favourite people to text are best friends. They really get it, and those threads of in-jokes and shared ugly photographs keep the world turning. Once I lay in the aisle of a train carriage, looking purposely ugly and pretending to be dead, with one best friend taking a photograph of me, so I could send it to my other. The one I have an on-going habit of playing dare games with. Now that I'm in a new relationship (I know!) I'm feeling this best-friend love more acutely. You have to tread carefully to balance the varying affections, to not let best friends get left out, but also to understand that this yo-yoing is all par for the course. Nobody really actually wants to be Frances Ha's Sophie, but then again Frances goes off and has that shit trip to Paris and finally puts on a production of her own. So who knows, it's all supposed to happen. In honour of it all, are text messages shared with my best friend this week, shortly after midnight:

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Turn on, tune in, drop out: The best podcasts


As somebody who spends a large portion of their time grazing on podcasts (and passing recommendations on to friends; both those who ask, and those that do not) it seemed right to compile my go-to listens into one succinct list. The nature of the world of podcasting means that word-of-mouth is still the best way of knowing what to listen to. I don't know why, but the programmers don't seem to have found a functional way of helping us to find podcasts unless we actually know what we're looking for. In a way, it's refreshing that there isn't a clever algorithm for just pigeonholing the wealth of podcasts into categories. Categories are rubbish, and rarely do the content justice, especially when they're titled  'Humour', 'Women's Interests', 'Current Affairs'. What are these things, and how do I get them all into one podcast? I just want tick boxes with options like 'Stress Relief' 'Good with Wine' 'No Annoying Voices' 'Life-Affirmingly Funny' and the ability to click as many as I want.

If you're somebody who doesn't listen to podcasts but wants to start, and you have a smartphone, you're best to begin by downloading Apple's handy purple-badged Podcasts app. That way you can download all of your podcasts straight to your phone, and happily bypass iTunes, which to me feels increasingly outdated.

This year I'm trying to branch out, and listen to more non-US podcasts. I'm also trolling my favourite internet people until they start their own. Of course, this list isn't exhaustive, but it's a good place to start, and I like that many of these podcasts sit in my subscriptions list thanks to the recommendations from you lot. Without further ado;

Cool women talking together

Nerdette A downside to some of the North American podcasts I listen to is the presence of those overly American inflections. The 'oh my gods' and the 'ughs'. I have a high threshold for this vocabulary after spending a term studying in Massaschusetts with the yoga-panted choruses of oh my god, wait what? reverberating across the dining halls on a daily basis. It does mean, however, that lots of my English friends won't tolerate the podcasts I recommend them. Nerdette is a good antidote; less hyperbole, more straight-talking. The premise is simple: we have all something we nerd out about. I especially like that recommended books, TV shows and apps are prescribed to listeners as homework.

Politini Covering the intersection of politics, current affairs and pop culture, presented by Washington-based power couple Daniele and Aisha.

Call Your Girlfriend If Politini's Daniele and Aisha are a power couple in the romantic sense, then Animatou Sow and Ann Friedman of CYG claim the platonic power couple badge of honour. Airtime is dedicated to Kanye West, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Menstruation News, internet news and their feminist motivational concept 'Shine Theory.' If TED Talks were less white, and more female, with knowing eyerolls and real talk, they would be like Call Your Girlfriend. In moments of strife I often find myself wondering What Would Aminatou Do?

The Broad Experience 10/10 for the title alone, Ashley Milne-Tyte covers the experiences of women in the workplace. From the issue of working for free, to the hell of networking, and getting what you want, balancing expectations, and emotions in the office. Incredibly useful whether you're in the first years of your career (like me), or later down the line and navigating issues of authority, progession, motherhood/non-motherhood.

Pilots Oh internet, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. There's being able to order carbon monoxide alarms at 2am when you're sitting in your knickers, eating toast, convinced that you're being slowly poisoning. There are the Twitter parody accounts that make the world go round. And best of all, there's the blossoming of internet friendships. Think Miranda July and Sheila Heti or the wonderfully unlikely Twitter best friends Sarah Millican and Kim Cattrell, who are always gushy with each other. Even better when new online friendships end up producing an Actual Thing, like the Pilots podcast from transatlantic panpals Elizabeth Sankles and Anne T. Donahue. The pair chat shit over Skype and dissect the pilot episodes of their favourite television programmes, starting with Friends and Sex and The City.

Talking it out

Here's The Thing with Alec Baldwin
A new addition to my podcast subscriptions, I'm holding out to see if I have the patience for Alec Baldwin. I started with the Julianne Moore episode and found myself thinking let her talk! everytime he spoke over her. (Who speaks over Julianne Moore? Nobody. Only idiotic on-screen husbands.) I'm yet to find out whether Baldwin will tip into interruptive mansplaining territory, but with guests like Thom Yorke and Kristen Wiig, I'm happy to keep listening.

Savage Lovecast On-point, inclusive sex and relationship advice from Dan Savage that makes me want to re-train as a Sex Education teacher. Dan Savage is everything that Alec Baldwin is not, and thank god. 

Design Matters Debbie Millman talks with designers and creatives about making things, modern matters and daily routines.


Death, Sex and Money. Anna Sale's podcast loosely covers everybody's (apparently) three favourite subjects. Start with the Ellen Burstyn episode for fascinating insights into her life, and an important reminder of the fact that married women comparably had no fucking rights in the 1970s.

New Yorker Fiction. Writers reading short stories by their favourite authors. I like to slip my headphones on and listen to NYF while I take a walk around the city in the evening after a stressful day at work. An especially good podcast for nighttime walking when there's a chill in the air and your senses are heightened.

The Moth Radio Hour Named with a view to recreating the feeling of balmy summer nights in Georgia, and the tradition of storytelling on moth-covered porches, this is a constant reliable audio companion. I've guffawed publicly on trains to hilarious childhood anecdotes, and been hit over the head and forced to take a seat by arresting personal tales.

Jarvis Cocker's Wireless Nights. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I like Jarvis Cocker's overly sultry radio voice, and always enjoy BBC Radio 4's Wireless Nights, which takes a cue from the sort of radio we've come to expect from the likes of This American Life.