Saturday, 20 April 2019

on(line)


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Social media is the beast of our daily lives - so much so that even to utter the suggestion that I have a love/hate relationship with the damn thing feels like somewhat of a cliche way to begin a reflective piece on it. I do have a love/hate relationship with it though, and it is this ambivalence that characterises my difficult relationship with it: the aspects I enjoy continually come into tension with the aspects that cripple me with anxiety and self-doubt. Though I am riddled with hatred of myself - a hatred undeniably fuelled by social media - this hate is not enough to outweigh the fact that were I to simply delete my accounts for good, I'd be fearful of being rendered out of the loop, uninteresting, uninformed. I'd become empty. I am forced to come to terms with the horrifyingly sad truth that in today's society, so much of my selfhood, stems from online interaction.

Thinking about when my relationship with the online world began to take on more of a nasty feel, there is no definitive turning point; no stage in which I began to feel a certain pressure about how I was perceived, and then developing an awful habit of comparison each and everywhere I looked. Even in the early days of Facebook, when I was in my early teens, and yet to encounter Instagram and Twitter, before it all engulfed my life and all my bloody time, I was self-conscious, an outlook social media nurtured, but one that didn't suddenly appear after gradual exposure. It's something inherent in the medium itself: the unnatural, artificial way in which you're presented with an empty box to insert an image of yourself, packaged as a 'profile picture'. This display lingers before you, an invitation to cultivate and construct. This isn't like looking in the mirror, it feels more crafted, the profile picture wants to be moulded, begging you to upload an effortlessly selected profile and cover photo combination, displaying carefully chosen likes to show off to potential friends too.

In being offered an opportunity to craft an outward display of ourselves - something to be stumbled upon when searched for by colleagues, old school friends, new university friends etc - it is as if we instantly accept a distance from ourselves; the disconnect begins to stretch until it gapes open, as we drift from the portrayal and the performed self, sending them out into the ether of the social world, whilst we sit back and let our hard work do the talking, letting an imagined, ideal self take our place. The worlds of dress-up dolls, of Barbies, and mix and match paper dolls, and online make up simulations, and dressing up ourselves, become blurred, so that we apply the same principles as we would a doll, an empty commodity, to the empty space on social media ready to be filled with our crafted presence. We become things to be aesthetically appreciated. We see ourselves as entities to be created, fashioned, manufactured. We are eager to be and inhabit the narratives we created for the dolls we played with.

Studying John Milton's Paradise Lost at university, the Shakespeare quotation 'All the world's a stage' kept reverberating through my messy thoughts when thinking about how Satan represented himself, crafting a persona for himself. Satan exploited the idea of the world as his stage, treating his audience to an ongoing performance of identity. I realised whilst thinking these thoughts that I'd taken the Shakespeare quote entirely out of context, and was treating it as a mere soundbite that captured quite nicely some thoughts I'd been unable to articulate properly before formulating them into coherent ideas. Since then, I've begun to think more on the idea of worlds within worlds, and stages within those worlds, or even, stages as worlds unto themselves. Actors on a stage mimetically inhabit worlds, other worlds from the ones they exist in in their everyday lives. On social media, are we not engaging in a similar sort of mimesis? Imitating a narrative we've idealised for ourselves, posting images and crafting visions which fit into this imitation, hyperconscious of needing to keep up the illusion? To not let the mask fall? Instagram is our stage, the mere clicking of the app to open it on our phones standing in for the raising of the curtain. Editing and filters are our spotlights. The problem is, however, that the performance never seems to end. There is no curtain call in which the imitation is exposed and understood as illusion.

The performance of Instagram makes me feel awful in so many ways. I scroll and I scroll, ever-thirsty for more content, though as I ingest it all, I am overwhelmed with emotions I do not wish to deal with: with guilt that I am not acting a certain way, living a certain way, working a certain way. With self-hatred that I am not as pretty, fashionable, effortlessly cool, or as well-proportioned as the countless women I catch sight of. I idolise and I fantasise and I become disconnected from any kind of narrative of my own. I lose sight of the tangible aspects of my life and worry about things so distant from me. I stop living, and think only about how I am not living. This continues. I realise my existence doesn't really consist of anything. I see content and I see content, but I have no content of my own. I'm too busy passively existing in everybody else's constructed content and wondering how it matches up to my own construction. I lose sight of my own life.

Social media is behind so many terrible habits of mine. My incessant buying of clothes is largely linked to it. I see things I wouldn't otherwise stumble upon - brands, new clothing releases, bloggers wearing dresses I'd have to scroll for hours on Asos to find on my own. My repeated urge to reinvent myself, as if posting a dramatically altered photo of my appearance (a new hair cut, colour, piercing, etc) will somehow fix my complete and utter lack of self-worth (spoiler: it won't). But I can't get rid of it. I can't delete the inspiration, the links to articles, the books I'm intrigued to read, the albums I want to listen to. It's a wealth of material that makes me, in some ways, who I am. I sometimes wish it would also allow me to love the person I am.




Thursday, 21 March 2019

on holidays




'But luxury has never appealed to me, I like simple things, books, being alone, or with somebody who understands.'

Daphne Du Maurier

I recently uncovered a copied and pasted Daphne du Maurier quote in the subterranean depths of the notes app on my laptop (the electronic equivalent of a scrawled on post-it left to gather dust behind stacks of other material and mess). Stumbling upon it though, it struck a chord in the very same way that it had evidently done before, when it had evidently sparked an impulse to copy and paste it there and then, to take it into my possession in the most loose way possible by keeping it preserved on my laptop. Though I soon exited out of the app and continued with whatever task I was distracted from in perusing my notes, the quote continued to linger, and I began to formulate further ideas from it - about holidays, about relationships, and about human attachments to places.

To elucidate, I'll give you a bit of backstory: I recently returned from holiday, falling slam-dunk back into the regular affairs of day to day life after a few days away - the first holiday I'd ever been on with my boyfriend. I surprised him, by making him drive 5 hours to Dorset, to a small seaside town I began visiting as a baby, and have visited practically every year on family holidays since then. In some senses, I've grown up with the place, watching it change and returning to it year on year, whilst aspects of my life changed too, in-between each successive visit. It's been a constant in my life, and so opening out that part of my life to my partner, who has become such a big part of my life, felt only right.

On this visit, I was a few weeks away from my 20th birthday, which I soon realised constituted a strange mirroring of my mother, who also first visited the place aged 20, on her first holiday with her then boyfriend (my now estranged father: a story for another day). I began to think about the place; how it had resonated with generation on generation of our family, how my mother had passed down her love for it to my brother and I, and how I was now sharing that love and opening it out to allow my boyfriend to become a part of it too. How it had changed since my mother's first visit and first love affair with it as a place she wanted to continually return to, though also one that evidently hadn't changed at all. Though the terms are abstract and perhaps a little bandied about, the essence, the spirit, the feeling, the sense, was still there; an essence and spirit I inherited a love for; though it is an essence and a spirit I cannot put my finger on, cannot truly articulate, only feel deep down as an overwhelming attachment, a pure joy experienced in walking through the place's streets, breathing its salty sea air, and introducing my boyfriend to familiar sights I've long been in love with.

But visiting with someone new, and watching through their eyes the first experience of the place, meant this holiday had a different character to those I had done time and again with my family. Our relationship was slotted into a new setting: we navigated new things together, spent days in a cottage that was our little hideaway, rather than cooped up in a bedroom in a house with other people like we so often do at home. The place nurtured a tranquility, as if we were in our own little bubble, but a bubble that included the little seaside village too, as if we and the place were somehow one. There was an affinity there, and watching and sharing all this through my boyfriend's gaze, it was as if the place gained a new dimension for me; I came to appreciate it in a different way, for different reasons. Sharing a love with the one you love is so bloody special like that.

But to return to the Du Maurier quote, the holiday allowed for an intense appreciation for the 'simple things'. As our relationship was slotted into this new, tranquil setting, one we came to fall in love with together (in a way so different from my love for it before), we tread new ground together - not spending our evenings only watching tv or a film or cooking together, but embracing comfortable silences, evenings spent reading and introducing each other to things whilst sprawled together on the sofa. We were with somebody who understood, and the place was a perfect backdrop. We walked, we were curious, and we were falling in love with a place, together.

Having returned home, the holiday still holds this insular, magical, wrapped up quality in my memories. A week spent solely with the simple things of life, and falling a little bit in love with everything life has to offer for the beauty of it all. Forming a new attachment to a place you already held such a strong attachment to is a strange but remarkable process: my boyfriend and I are already longing to return to Dorset, to the newly created tradition of ours. It's strange and yet wonderful how all this feeling comes pouring out the experience of a setting: how a place can nurture a romance.

Monday, 11 March 2019

on watching television together

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I have lost count of how many times I've attempted to engross myself in the world of Twin Peaks in the past: on how many occasions I've tried to nurture the urge to binge-watch it by intensely skipping through episode after episode until I'm overcome by the bug for more. It has never worked. The pilot's film-length running time was always a slog. It'd take me far too long to get through it, after various pauses and breaks and procrastinatory opening of Asos tabs in the process. When I finally came to the first episode, I'd already lost what interest I'd managed to scrape together. I became disillusioned, giving up after finding myself on several occasions having missed half the episode whilst enraptured by the mindless scrolling through Instagram diverting my attention from the story unfolding before me. I told myself this show, this cult classic, so lauded, with adjectives like quirky, kooky, intriguing, idiosyncratic, whimsical, intense, experimental all simultaneously attached to it, just wasn't for me. We were not a match. Not meant to be. And so I was seemingly destined to live the rest of my days with a gaping lacuna in my cultural encounters.

I'd come to terms with this knowledge, made peace with it, pushed Twin Peaks aside. Years passed.

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I listened to an episode of the 'Unpopped' podcast - the topic that week being Twin Peaks' legacy and the impact it had, and has since left on television. Having been in somewhat of a film and tv slump (you know the one I mean: the hours spent searching Netflix feverishly for something to watch before bed, until suddenly you realise it is creeping ever closer to midnight, your boyfriend has to be at work in the morning, it looks likely you'll have an argument if either of you gets anymore frustrated, and so you stick yet another episode of The Undateables on), we decided to begin Twin Peaks together. My boyfriend was a fan, and was keen to share it with me - he was yet to finish the newest and most recent third series, the return after 25 years off the air, and so we both agreed it would be something we could now share, and enjoy together.

Little did he know of my tried and failed prior attempts to cultivate an admiration for the show. I feigned going in blind: 'No no, I've never seen it before.' I protested. As we watched episode after episode together however, I soon came to realise I had indeed gone in somewhat blind, despite my failed previous encounters. Watching this show, and falling in love with it, it felt like an entirely different programme from the one I had failed to muster an appreciation for. I was going in blind because I was no longer looking only through my own eyes, but was acknowledging that I was sharing the experience with someone else; my vision commingled with his vision, and so I watched whilst aware of sharing the experience I was engaged in. I was receiving the art and developing a relationship towards it with someone else. We were forming an attachment to the show, together.

 Suffice to say, bingewatching a tv show in the comfort of your other half's bed, both with mugs of tea in hand, is infinitely more enjoyable than watching with only the glow of your laptop light for company. But it needn't be a partner. I adore fawning over fabric and patterns whilst sharing the experience of watching The Great British Sewing Bee with my sewing-loving mother. I can only laugh out loud watching silly, juvenile gaming youtubers when my younger brother chrome casts them onto the living room tv when no one else is home and we order pizza to scoff on together. It's something about the warmth of knowing the other body slumped on the sofa, snuggled in the bed, perched on the other chair nearby is experiencing the art at the same time. Engrossed in the world - not alone, attempting to find one's way - but with a watching companion - you make sense of and possess the stories together, sharing jokes, insights, memories. The imprint left by art and images and insight is left on both of you, as one.

My boyfriend and I entered the Twin Peaks realm together, and suddenly the landscape looked different. The vision, the story, the world, the characters - the art itself - became easier to love when navigated with somebody by my side. I wasn't lost, but conscious of sharing the transmission as it became an experience shared, partook in, not passively transmitted before me on a Macbook screen.

I think much of what I'm trying to get it is what Gogglebox taps into. It's something we can't get enough of: the novelty of getting to peer behind closed doors at the little, everyday experience of watching telly together, experiencing art together, and seeing how it's navigated and adored and appreciated by others. There's something so enchanting about possessing little parts of the stories we experience and engage with together to take back into your life, as pieces you've chosen to become fragments in your memories. That - how we make stories our own by experiencing them with others - is what makes the experience of simply watching telly all the more memorable. All the more formative in terms of our identity. But mostly, all the more enjoyable.



P.S - I couldn't recommend Twin Peaks more. It's funny, it's curious, it's intriguing, it's hypnotic, it's sexy, it's gorgeous, it's addictive. Grab a best friend, a parent, a sibling, a partner, and find your way into its world, and take bits of it back into your own.






Wednesday, 27 February 2019

on a february in content

I am lacking both the energy and the motivation to offer you a detailed account and review of the content I've ingested this month. At this current moment, I am plagued by period pain, surrounded by discarded packets of jaffa cakes and hummus chips, and tired as a result of desperately trying to cut 500 words from some coursework due tomorrow. As a result, you will find below a mere list of things I've watched / read / engaged with over the past month: no comments, no appraisals; an old fashioned list.

I seem to have found myself very busy this month - with workload, with a holiday, with a few days away spent visiting a friend. As a result, I haven't consumed as much as I would have had I perhaps had more time to myself being incredibly lazy. One half of me apologises, promising to be better in March, returning with the witticism-filled short and snappy reviews you know and love, and the other incredibly tired half of me is not sorry at all, simply wanting to get rid of this god-forsaken post out of my drafts and done with.

Nevertheless, things I recommend will be marked with *.

Films and documentaries


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The Monster dir. Bryan Bertino (Netflix) *

Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

I Think We're Alone Now dir. Reed Morano (Netflix) 


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Night Gallery dirs. Steven Spielberg, Boris Sagal, Barry Shear * 

Telly
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Over the Garden Wall (Netflix)*

Books

Pere Goriot by Balzac *

Omeros by Derek Walcott


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Tangerine by Christine Mangan *

Podcasts and music

Olivia Colman on 'David Tennant does a Podcast with..' *

Charly Cox for Emma Gannon's 'Ctrl Alt Delete' *

Unpopped podcast * (recommend: episodes on Twin Peaks, Stephen King and Paris Hilton)

Articles

https://foodism.co.uk/features/long-reads/romantic-food-myths-and-realities/ *

Miscellaneous

Sezane clothes - https://www.sezane.com/en

EatReal hummus chips - https://www.eatreal.co.uk/product/sea-salt-hummus-chips/
© musethings
Maira Gall