2018 Exit

I published this earlier but I think I did so prematurely. I published it without comment — just the picture and a shout out to Jill Craigie.

I watched Jill Craigie’s film The Way We Live at the end of 2017 whilst doing research for my day job in the BFI’s archive. I think I’d meant to write something about it for the blog but it fell to the bottom of the bottomless draft pile and I never did anything with it. I just had a draft with this film still in it.

I came across it again whilst doing one of my occasional draft pile trawls to see what scraps might trigger off new ideas and I ended up thinking it would make a pretty good “New Year’s Resolution” post all on its own.

Less monotony please.” It’s a simple statement and one that is hard to argue with, but I ended up feeling like I had posted it disingenuously. To be honest, my life isn’t afflicted by monotony very much at all. In fact, I wouldn’t mind a bit more monotony in my life. The most monotony I’ve had these last few months has been these past few days between Christmas and New Year, during which I’ve been increasingly thinking about the fact that my job is precarious and if I don’t work I don’t get paid.

Having had nearly three weeks off work for the holidays (one unintentionally because I was delirious with a fever), January is gonna suck.

Such economic voids have occurred throughout this year, I’m sorry to say. Whenever I get sick; whenever my girlfriend wants to use up some of her holiday and go somewhere. Any bump in the road is a bump in my income. I hate it.

It’s interesting and depressing to think what has changed since Craigie’s film. The protesters say NO to the monotony of industrial labour, the repetitive nature of work, of the production line. It is the archetype of monotonous labour.

What are we monotonised by nowadays? It’s all internalised, the internal repetition of anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Life admin is the monotony I dread and I shirk it off far too often. My work ethic is fine. My life-work ethic is dire.

However, this seems to be the London way. It is always “interesting” here if only because this city swallows you up a fresh every couple of weeks, after every little hiccup. There’s a new challenge, a new worry, a new output, a new income. Things come and go and the only constant is the low hum of anxiety that emanates somewhere from the base of your skull, conveniently at the same pitch as the constant stream of traffic.

If I’m sounding a little melodramatic, having returned to London following Christmas at the in-laws, it’s because now all I’m thinking about is how my main freelance job that I’ve held for the last 15 months is coming to an end — again — as we finish up another project.

The last time we had a project come to an end I was overcome by dread. I had a month-long limbo when I didn’t know where my next pay cheque was coming from and it was horrific.

Freelancing in this way is not uncommon within the company I work for but it is uncommon within the photography industry as a whole. I can’t get a bunch of different jobs doing what I’m currently doing in other places. There’s no jumping to the next place when the current job ends. It’s not how anyone else works.

Thankfully, whilst previously in this short-term limbo (reader: they took me back), I had a couple of encouraging (but unsuccessful) job interviews and ended up taking on some additional work with Robin at Urbanomic as “publishing assistant” which I have loved. (Right now, helping to put together the releases for the first quarter of 2019 is so exciting. There’s so much good stuff on the way.) What this means, however, is that for the last six months of 2018, I’ve had one foot each in two very different industries and I really need that to change.

So, having already done the look-back, I want to look ahead. And there’s a lot to look forward to.

For “2018 Exit” there’ll be no mention of blog projects that I’ll undoubtedly ignore. There’s no big canonical text I want to crack open. I just want to end my financial and subjective precarities.

This time last year my mind was full of “intellectual projects”. This blog was only a couple of months old, and I’d started it after finishing my Masters degree to keep up the habit of writing which, somehow, I’d ended up loving more than when I started. I’d already fallen into my current day job by then and I was nothing but grateful for it, paying me enough to live on and have the head space to do my own thing for at least a third of the working week.

Optimistically, from this place of relative comfort, I said I wanted to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason really closely and maybe blog about my progress.

I did learn a lot about Kant this year, having previously known nothing about his philosophy, but the spine on my copy of the first Critique is woefully unbroken. Frankly, I haven’t had the time for such an immersion. This blog has felt defined by posts rattled off at breakneck speed. I’ve gotten better and faster at writing longer posts but I haven’t had the energy to really sink my teeth into anything for ages. It’d be great if that could change; if I could let go of my blog neurosis for long enough to tackle a piece of long-form writing that is really rigorous. That’s a difficult thing to sustain in my current circumstances, however. I don’t have any way of keeping up the necessary momentum.

Another thing I hope for is that I find a better way of dealing with and sharing my experiences with my mental health. Writing about patchwork subjectivities — the fragmented self that accompanies the fragmented state — has been an interesting intellectual project this year but it has also far too often led to me playing chicken with my own mental health and sense of reality. There have been too many times this year when I’ve completely lost my grip, keeping up appearances if only for the sake of those around me. 2018 has been defined by some really frightening moments in this department and I haven’t really spoken about it.

Things are better right now, relative to June/July time, but something definitely broke in me this year and it’s already casting a shadow on the year ahead.

I have had a long post brewing for months which has been an attempt to articulate some of what I’ve been through this year, thinking through various mental episodes, using them to understand some Deleuze — The Logic of Sense became a strange Bible to my momentarily deluded self — but also to understand myself. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been as therapeutic as intended. I’m routinely plagued by intrusive thoughts that are like fish hooks in my skull and blogging about them only encourages the fixation. “You don’t have to write about them” is the obvious response but I have just as bad a habit of bottling shit up unless I force myself to write it down. I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

I mentioned this in my “2017 Exit” but there’s a post which still occupies my mind frequently: Pete’s post from last year, Transcendental Blues. It resonates again here:

The issue is pervasive uncertainty. […] The systems that decide whether these attempts succeed or fail can be so opaque, capricious, and even random that it becomes impossible to learn anything from them, even while one spends increasing amounts of time worrying about them. This is a perfect recipe for learned helplessness. Or catastrophic breakdown. All these things create and exacerbate mental health problems beyond just anxiety. I’m not even going to link you to anything about this, because you only need to google the topic to be overrun by articles, confessions, and tearful farewell letters to the core of one’s sense of self. Ripping the hookout hurts, but sometimes it’s the only choice that’s left.

I want to write about my own depression and the issues I’ve had this year if only because Pete’s post remains a constant buoyancy aid for me. He writes about his work and his mental health so fluidly and from within the same sort of bubble I feel like I am in, but his articulation has resonated with me so much that it makes the prospect of doing the same feel like a worthwhile endeavour. He continues later:

Here’s a peculiar feature of depression that may or may not be unique to me. When I’m severely depressed, I become obsessed with trying to explain what it is like to other people, precisely in proportion to my frustration with my inability to do so. This is one of the main reasons I’m writing this post. I don’t quite feel that need so intensely now, but I spent so much time obsessing over it, tying myself in knots over my inability to articulate it, that it’s probably worth trying to do it properly, if only once. The problem is, like many intensely unpleasant experiences, memory blunts its edges, sapping its peculiar and unexpressed intensities.

He writes that he’s “not a fan of fetishising the inexpressible [Post-Heideggerian Phenomenology Burn]” and neither am I. At least, not really — I love Bataille and Blanchot who seem to do nothing but this, according to many, but what I see when I read them both is not a direct fetishisation but rather a manic and electrifying failure — a failure which many people now aim for rather than aiming for what is beyond it, as Pete does here.

I hope I can manage to let go of some of my attempts in the new year and I hope that doing so is as helpful as I want it to be, for myself and anyone else, just as Pete’s has been for me.

All that being said, I’m going into 2019 feeling positive. Things are tough right now for an openly depressed blogaholic but I feel really good about what I’ve been building here and whilst I don’t want this blog to ever be my “job” — it’s my mental escape and I want it to stay that way — I’d love to do more writing and working with words. If this blog can help me get into a world of work that I find even a little bit fulfilling, I’ll milk it for the chance.

And why not? Who knows what will work? The truth is that, looking ahead, I see a whole lot of uncertainty in 2019, but let it be known: I’m here and I’m ready for anything. If you like what I do and you’ve got a project in mind or you know someone looking for a new employee — either working remotely or based in London — give me a shout. In 2019, I’d really like to climb out of economic precarity by doing something I’m good at.

I already applied for one new job the other day. It felt really good.

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