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Dispatches from All Points East 2019

As of tomorrow, it will have been one month since this day, if that’s any indication of how quickly I work and process things. (It is.)

I have no excuse for going, really; I just went to see Julien Baker. And Snail Mail, maybe. And Bon Iver is always really good live, anyway. Even if I had to stand on my tiptoes and angle my head just right to see “him.” When you close your eyes, it almost seems just as nice.

Laura and Tiffany found cheap ticket resales on GumTree, and what was meant to be a rather sad solitary festival day for me turned out to be quite a nice one that ended in a leisurely walk home from the park and some frozen pizza that annoyingly kept setting off the fire alarm in the middle of a weeknight. (Sorry, neighbours.)

I’ve often thought about these sorts of things as harbingers of a weird kind of solitude. I am often marooned in a sea of people, but I am, at the end of it, alone. And, truthfully, I haven’t been to go to a festival (or gigs, really) with other people, in a while. You lose them at some point during the day, and that first time that I found myself to be by myself, it took a while for me to stop craning my neck to see just where my friends had gone off to.

It’s easier to just focus on what I’m watching now. Maybe it’s a sign of a letting go of a specific sort of anxiety. Maybe it’s just a decline in the level of caring. In any case, I’ve learned now how to think past and beyond the things that worry me and try to focus on what makes a perfect day a perfect day.

Life Lately No. 7

I think I sometimes underestimate just how much people are ready to show up for me when I need them to. When you’ve uprooted yourself and you think that you haven’t really established a constant community in the unfamiliar place that you’ve ended up in, it feels a little weird to bother people who obviously already have their own lives. I don’t know how I would’ve fared if I didn’t have uni or other friends from the Philippines who ended up here, too, at the same time as me.

But yeah, I have a really great support system here. It’s small, but it’s warm, and generous, and will show up. I’m not the best at doing that, so it has also been a different kind of lesson for me. Hopefully, it’s apparent that I’ve been trying my best and trying to do better.

Anyway, I’ve handed in my dissertation. Officially, I did it two Mondays ago. It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve broken my seal and plunged into freedom. It’s a little scary. And now, I actually do have to confront the answers to the question I most hated hearing: What are you going to do after school?

I am currently in the process of looking for work and sorting out visa issues… It’s… kind of a nightmare, for the lack of a better term. Everyone I’ve spoken to is either someone who really, really gets it (because they’ve been in the same situation) or someone who is really, really frustrated because of all the hoops we have to jump through that they don’t necessarily have to. It sucks, but it is what it is.

It’s easy to kind of give up and give in, and I guess I ought to condition myself to be at peace with the very high possibility that my time here is up, and I need to go back, etc. etc. I love my family and friends back home, and in terms of career flexibility and financial stability, my life there is much better. I do think that a large part of why I want to stay here, at least for a little while longer, is that there are so many things I want to prove to myself, if that makes sense. And I know that that I can even think about “proving myself” is already a luxury, but here we are. And again, I’m just trying my best.

There are just a lot of versions of my life that I’d like to see play out here (like, strangely enough, I really want to teach), and sometimes, it feels too hard to try, but I think, no matter what happens, it’s worth it to do so.

(Just sucks because I am always on the brink of an anxious meltdown, but let’s face it: that’s likely to happen with or without visa issues.)

On a lighter note—

I’m very grateful for a lot of things. I always take photographs when I feel particularly thankful, and maybe I’ll share them in trickles over here, at some point. There’s no point other than to keep a record, and lately I’ve been realising how important it is to me that I do.

Funnily enough, I saw Julien Baker twice in a span of a week: once at All Points East, and then on Saturday, for a last minute show at The Lexington. (Thank God for post notifications.) It was such a small venue, a bit like when I first saw her in Sydney, so that was super nice. I know I pass this off as a weird and funny devotion thing, but her music and her ethos really did change my life.

She spoke a bit about the horrifying bus attack in Camden, and how grateful she was that we had chosen to spend our night going there to see her, and that we were all together and made these spaces safe for all of us to exist. I really appreciated that she takes the time to speak about these things when she plays, because while it can be a little frightening and awkward to be so earnest about such serious things, I think it may be worth it to endure those initial cloying feelings, just because they really do help people who need to hear those words of support and community.

I was glad to have been able to bring Richard along, too, for the brief time that he was around. I realised that having him close by for my first year here was really comforting and added a lot to my feelings of stability, so it was really, really nice to see him that day.

Sometimes the necessity of confrontation is really scary. Well, for myself, it’s super scary because I am so very averse to confrontation. Plus, self-reflection invites a lot of denial from my end. But, again, sometimes it’s necessary. When I feel the grip of pressure to be some particular thing that doesn’t feel like me, I have to kind of step back and look from a distance, and evaluate the work or the choices I’ve made, and really ask myself whether or not I’ve done or said what I meant to or if I’m happy or proud. Barring anyone else’s opinion.

It’s hard, because a lot rests on other people’s thoughts — and by this, I mean, whether or not I’m worthy of specific things — but I think there’s value in appreciating your own growth and expression, even though that’s an easy thing to forget. I put a lot of stock in what other people think, partly because forging connections through a shared understanding of meaning is an important aspect of why I make things, but sometimes that can really affect how I view my work or what I’ve done in my life. I think it takes a lot of energy and honesty to recognise that you are not a failure, just because you don’t necessarily always fit into a specific set of markers set arbitrarily by others.

I don’t know why I care, but I do. I think these types of validation will undoubtedly help you get to places you want to go. It’s frustrating that there are so many barriers that box you out of these spaces in the first place. It’s frustrating that, sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you’re still kept out of them.

So, yes, on one hand, particular opinions matter. On the other hand, I’m trying not to let these things diminish my personal valuation of my work. It’s tricky, and it’s discouraging, and when I dwell on these things, it gets so hard to get out of bed to move. But, move I must. If no one else is going to vouch for me, I should learn how to do that for myself.

Three Things No. 4

Right, so three things I am into at the moment, with this post written as an extension of procrastination. We had a “degree show” on Saturday afternoon (I wish I was joking: it is literally one day from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. because we are ‘not technically part of MA fine art’) and then dissertation submission about a week later.

I am more or less done, but my whole thing is an ongoing collection of work exploring the themes of subjectivity in space (like, most briefly and vaguely). But, well, the provision of space and facilities in the actual uni didn’t really give me with much to work with — and it was becoming apparent that the different entry points I was using in conjunction with my research were becoming, as they say, “A Lot” — so I made a website: Somebody, Somewhere, and it houses a breadth of work I’ve made responding to those texts and those themes. Once it’s a little more refined, I’m going to shove it down everyone’s throats, but for now, the link is here for you who are reading this. I’m sorry/you’re welcome !

SO. Three things. Let’s start with the most obvious one—

01 BTS

Not sure if you’ve managed to escape my deluge of DELIGHT when I talk about this boyband, which if you have, congratulations, but much of my non-dissertation time (and, O.K., a bit of my non-dissertation time) has been consumed by this little group. I won’t go into details but just to give you a little picture of my situation, I will mention that I am trying to half-heartedly learn Korean on Duofuckinglingo.

But in any case, one of the many many many fun and silly things I’ve enjoyed while looking up all things BTS is Run! BTS, which is basically a variety show they do on an app/website called Vlive, which is a rabbit hole I refuse to go down. For now.

Since getting into them in a manner that I can only liken to a deep dive, I’ve taken a step back and remembered that there are other things in life, lol. (Trust that I have longer thoughts on this, but uh, maybe later. Also, I’ve decided against watching them at the Wembley because I’m poor??) But in case you’re curious, the catalyst for this is Tara’s insistence that I watch the music video for Boy With Luv:

02 Love is Real by Susan V. Sappe

This gorgeous little book is made by S.S. Whetton, one of the first people at LCBA that I’ve met, and the one I’ve got (third printing) is a two-signature wonder — riso-printed red on pink paper with a foil-blocked cover (a shiny apple red in a delicious serif) and exposed binding. It is full of dirty and surreal fan fic of John Maus who’s released an album of the same name.

It is so good, I can’t even really stop gushing about it. I pick it up and kind of gently flick through it and run my fingers all along it, and I remember so many reasons why I love bookmaking so much in the first place. Not quite the kind of fanfic I’m used to — and one of the studio managers, Fraser, has warned me not to read it on the tube, lol — but I am still in love.

More stuff like this, please.

(Love is Real is available for purchase in several different bookstores, but available online here.)

03 Booksmart

A few days ago, Laura and I saw Booksmart, which was, in my professional opinion (an opinion you should trust), Really Good. It’s Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut (!) and focuses on two teen BFFs, Molly and Amy, on a mission to make their last day before high school graduation count for something other than their GPA… to hilarious results.

Classic high school hijinks (set to a beautiful soundtrack b t w), which probably is what led to people inducting it into teen canon, predicting cult classic status, and drawing comparisons to favourite movies of the same ilk. Which, I completely agree with, but also, it’s got such a lovely, silly cast! Who seem to all like one another? Which is great. The dynamics of the characters themselves also offer some nuance and complexity to high school stereotypes that are easy to fall into. The Breakfast Club walked so Booksmart could run, basically.

(I have one tiny gripe about it that’s probably nothing, but otherwise, I love it to pieces, much like the amount of affection I would shower the child I will never have.)

I’ve only seen it once, but I’d honestly like to watch it again. If only I had more time while it’s still playing in the cinemas here. Like I said, I’m kind of not in the best place financially at the moment, but if my £9.50 shows support for movies like this, I will give it.

I think I may never tire of good and wholesome female friendship storylines, ever, so I’m glad there seems to be a few of them now and to look forward to, which reminds me:

(A bonus thing because BTS “doesn’t count” as it’s a super fucking obvious Thing): 04 Tuca and Bertie

As of writing, I’ve seen Tuca and Bertie, or at least put it on while I was working in the studio, three times, all the way through. It is perfect. It is silly and sometimes gross (which girls are allowed to be, by the way!) and funny and deals with serious shit like trauma, addiction, commitment, friendship, and showing up for people. It. Is. Perfect.

I love the creator, Lisa Hanawalt, and became an instant fan when I looked her up, after learning of her design work on BoJack Horseman. The video below is what sealed the deal for me, and I’ve been a somewhat avid follower (lol yucky term , but I yam what I yam) since watching it. (It’s about her eventual involvement in BoJack as an illustrator without “real” animation background, but also about other things — Just Watch It.)

I love mid-career pivots, or extensions, or whatever you want to call them. I have a handful of them I keep in my pocket for when I feel a career-related breakdown coming on. Anticipating a chorus of “What are you doing? You’re wasting your life!”? I just whip these guys out. The choruses still come, but by then, I’d have a bit of a soothing salve.

So, yes, something short-ish and sweet. I realised that I was cramming too much information on these posts, when the purpose was actually to draw attention to things I think people should give a chance to (lol stan BTS…) rather than bore people to their deaths.

Three Things is not meant to be all-encompassing of things you love, Carina. But here are three-ish things that I do, for you, for now.

OTHERWISE. Everything else is good-ish, but also tinged with quite a bit of panic. I don’t want to kind of break down just yet, so I’ll keep my mouth shut, lol. But in the most important ways, I guess I am more or less fine. I remembered to make the bed and brush my teeth and not weigh myself this morning, a list which I think counts for something. Hope you are all getting by, too.

Pierre Bonnard, Design Observer, and the slow life

About a week and a half ago, I bravely ventured into the Tate to catch the last Saturday of Pierre Bonnard’s special exhibition. As you can imagine, it was more than a little hectic, but I’m still glad I went to go see it.

Prior to this exhibition (and I suppose even after), I had very little knowledge of the processes of Bonnard’s work, and I don’t think I have ever isolated it from his peers’ contributions. Which is to say that I’ve never really thought of this body of work standing by itself. So, seeing a few rooms-full of them was a treat. Despite the crowds and despite my unintended crash course.

These are all out of order, and I have to say that I have no internal means of locating them within a specific time or period. I have to say that the work is enjoyable, despite that. It was kind of a joyful experience, seeing the careful layering and juxtaposition of colour, which I cannot wrap my head around replicating (which, I assume, added to the joy of seeing these pieces come together so well and fluently).

The title of the exhibition is The Colour of Memory, which obviously points to his acute sense of it, but it also points to the method utilised by Bonnard when creating these images. Rather than paint en plein air, he often made several sketches of the images, to get the composition right, and at times, used a bit of photography. These are stitched together with the imprints of these rooms and landscapes in his memory.

If you can’t already tell from the abundance of the paintings of interiors that have caught my eye enough for me to share them… Well, I love those. Haha. There’s something about choosing to paint something that looks to be ordinary and creating a sort of ceremonial celebration around it. I love that Bonnard chooses to paint stacks of books, plates of food, the quiet stillness of everyday life — in extraordinary bursts of colour.

The inclusion of several animal companions grounds these work in a specific kind of cosy domesticity, where we, as viewers, bear witness to a shared life.

Of course, reading about Bonnard and his personal life left me, as they say, disappointed but not surprised. Blame it on cultural behaviour or accepted norms, but artists — especially those tagged with “genius,” though bafflingly, even those who aren’t particularly gifted — seem to really engage with interpersonal relationships that damage the other in irreparable ways. I think it’s also quite a disservice to these women, Marthe de Méligny (who he married) and Renée Monchaty, who were a large part of his life, to be mentioned in the notes as sort of anecdotes. Even Monchaty’s suicide, which was made out to have been due to his marriage to de Méligny, but was also mentioned very briefly. As if that was that. Understandably, there is little room for wordiness when you’re trying to cover the breadth of someone’s life, but a single sentence seems quite thin, and it just seems sad that even after having quite a life with another person, the ending of yours becomes a little footnote.

Still, I have a fondness for these quiet little rooms, looking inward or outward, and the stillness they carefully capture.

Although it was packed, one of the rooms served as reprieve for me, and I felt a little bit brave, taking out my iPad to sketch. I didn’t plan on doing any quiet sitting to draw (mainly because I had planned — and failed — to go to the last day of the Joan Cornellía show), so I had no other recourse but to go digital. To be quite frank, it was a really nice afternoon.

It’s become my sort of ritual after any visit to the Tate to pass by the ramen place close to it. Any post on the slow life, particularly slow food, feels incomplete without the mention of ramen, in my humble opinion.

And ramen is my ideal slow-cooked dish, I think. I always dream about making my own broth, but it seems like a steep learning curve, and also, I am not going to boil bones for 12 hours just for myself.

It’s not like getting ramen from a restaurant is cheap by any stretch, but I won’t have to spend 12 hours in cooking time and electricity bills for one fresh bowl (or two, if my flatmate Laura fancied one) and leftovers. Anyway, this is my favourite, I think — the classic and reliable tonkotsu — though I am quite liberal with adding some of the chilli and garlic bits, because, you know, it’s not like this isn’t rich enough already.

(I went to the Tate again on Tuesday for the Design Observer talk, and you know I got another bowl. It’s my comfort food; I need to be comforted!)

Speaking of Design Observer, it was quite a treat to see the panel on D.O. + Culture is Not Always Popular, which a book by MIT Press that collects a selection of “fifteen years of Design Observer” along with some of the comments printed in the marginalia, which all five speakers (L-R in photo: Adrian Shaughnessy, Jessica Helfand, Rick Poynor, Alice Twemlow, and Michael fucken Bierut) stressed added to the richness of the design community and the discourse they were having with one another, often with dissenting opinions, but enriching the landscape all the same.

They were talking about a time they called its “heyday,” and during the Q&A, someone from the audience asked about why they were talking about the Design Observer as though it were dead (which, it’s not). And for all the nostalgia from the panel surrounding this project, they stressed that even though it seems like a bulk of these discussions have retreated into the academe, many conversations are still happening in different ways, and expressed differently, and sometimes through different mediums.

It’s hard to keep a richness in conversation going, when there is so much shit people are trying to get your attention for that’s available and accessible and there. The saturation of content makes for a lot of distractions, and this frequency may lead some to believe that there is no market for the long-form or thoughtful writing anymore, but I really appreciated that Rick Poynor insisted that the appetite for learning and listening is still there. That just because these numerous distractions and avenues exist, it doesn’t mean that nobody has the patience for reading anymore. These are just distractions that we need to fight against.

Sometimes it feels like living a slower version of life is just a nicer way of saying “lazy” or “unproductive,” but being thoughtful and present allows for a different, and in some ways, more fulfilling view.

Life Lately No. 6

Thought I’d revive this update format last visited in 2015, which I feel is already very self-explanatory. (Yes? Okay.) In case you were wondering about my life for some reason, lol.

I am still working on my MRes (which is a research masters, but basically I say MA in conversation to keep things simple), but it’s all kind of self-motivated, so I don’t actually go to uni that much and work by myself a lot of the time. (I’ve worked extensively as a freelance writer and designer, so you’d think I’d have self-motivation in the bag. Alas, I do not.) It’s is kind of a weird set-up, since I liked being in school and having seminars so much, and those are what made things feel a bit more like a back-to-school thing, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re an adult in school and have other things to worry about.

Speaking of other things, I have been working in retail for about seven months, and when I say it is a hellscape, I am very much not exaggerating. The Job Itself is Not That Bad, and I love a lot of my coworkers, but people really shit on you when you work in service industries, it seems like. It is BANANAS. I have thankfully not encountered anything overtly cruel — e.g. a friend works at a cinema and her coworkers have been told to “get an education,” since I guess jobs like ours don’t require brain juice?, and to “learn English” — but people can get really fucking awful and entitled when it comes to mass-produced clothing.

Basically, you’re not a person. You are a cog in a machine. And the machine is capitalism. I feel good that what we sell is at least nice. However, some patrons are not so nice. Also, it’s situated on a street that is very well-known for its shopping, so we get a lot of tourists who have some money (or, really, a lot of money) to burn.

It is not bad, but obviously not where I prefer to be, but again, it’s not bad. At least, it’s not the worst. But (again) obviously, it’s never really very smart to be somewhere or to be doing something just because “it’s not the worst.”

I’m trying to think of other ways to make money that doesn’t involve me selling my used underwear for some coin. So far, I’ve been looking for part-time and freelance work, and I’ve been applying to a few places, but it’s a challenge, because so are so many other great people who can a) work longer hours (my visa allows me 20 hours of work per week), and b) should it be for a full-time position in the future, don’t require a sponsorship from the employer.

I’ve been working on some small print things, and am trying to see if I can earn a little bit off of that. In case that’s of interest to any of you, my shop is here and I ship worldwide. I kind of feel a little funny plugging stuff, especially when it doesn’t come organically (i.e. a suffusion of enthusiasm! which is what happens when I don’t stop talking about something cool that brings me joy), but you know what? You can’t live off pride and shyness is what I’ve learned. Perhaps a late lesson, but a lesson nonetheless!

I think I’ve spent too much time on self-doubt instead of just making something. And when the paralysis hits, all I do is tune out and watch T.V. I don’t even really read all that much anymore, which is a shame, because now is the perfect time to be doing all of that. And I think, at the end of it, even if it doesn’t amount to whatever it is that I thought it would, I’d have made something and I’ll have something more than finishing a shitload of T.V. series to show for my time here.

Most days I just feel sort of useless, which deep, deep, deep down, I know isn’t true. But I still feel that way, and whether or not the sentiment is accurate, the feeling is still strong and vivid and there.

Most of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing what I’ve chosen to do, but I don’t really like to think about that too much because it’s going to eat me up from the inside, and like I said, I’ve been thinking about how useless I feel a lot as it is. (For example, in the middle of writing this rather sad post about how much I feel worthless, lol, I’ve gotten two less-than-ideal responses to some things I’d applied to that said they went on to other people/applicants.)

On the upside, the sun has been out a lot more than usual. I don’t really like the heat all that much, but in England, when the sun is out, you get out of bed and go outside, even just for a little bit. And that little step out of your own little cave is sometimes good enough, at least for the day.