The shorts were covered in sequins and clung tight on her buttocks, rising high on the hips and leaving a slice of black, wobbly flesh in between her waistband and bra top. A woman put her hand over her mouth as Janelle passed the bus stop and she laughed: today, walking felt like her feet kissing the earth.
“Hey baby. Baby. Baby. We’re talking to you, baby.”
She felt the car trailing beside her and her body begin to tremble, and told herself sternly to stop.
“Don’t be so shy, baby. We’re only being friendly.”
She shuddered, her legs wobbling like a heat haze.
“Let’s check out the goods, boys.”
His hand met the sequinned shorts, and from her shaking mouth she felt the familiar fire erupt and spurt forth like a torrent of water. The car stood scorched like a toy engine devastated by a blowtorch, two dazed bodies inside, one trying to crawl away.
She bit her lip. Fuck it, she had to run, else she’d miss the starters.
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I’m left handed but my phone usually sits to the right of me, close by, and usually I’ll check it every 20 minutes or so for a message or some kind of news or event or really, some kind of happening. Sometimes I realise I’m just holding it and it gets warm in my palm, a hot metallic broadcast to and from the world. Often I’ll just unlock it without meaning to, and stop, and lock it again. Until the next time.
Imagine if a bell rang every time my right hand reached for it. Imagine if someone was counting my checking and watching and locking and unlocking.
The other day I threw it across the room to land with plonk on the armchair, so I could have a break from my constant relationship with it. It’s not like throwing a part of yourself across the room, an arm or a heart. It felt like getting in, shutting the door behind you and finally being able to drop the heavy shopping bag on the floor.
It’s all new, isn’t it, and things are changing so fast that we have no time to learn good ways to use them.
I love what Louis CK says in this clip because he identifies what is often happening when we reach for our phone. I read this piece by Daniel Engber about how Louis is wrong (clickbait, anyone, Louis is never wrong) and that there is something of the Luddite in his accusations about the smartphone, in a similar way to the people who claimed that television would make us stupider or that telephones would mean we would never be peaceful again.
Yes, it is easy to point to new technologies as essentially mistrustful compared to the legitimate, “antique” media we’ve got used to. There are all sorts of things we do because we are bored or lonely or sad, not all of them dysfunctional or pernicious. So while blocking out the “essential sadness of existence” with a smartphone might not be that different to blocking it out with anything else, and while there’s no reason to assume that the future of Facebook is a boot stamping on the human face forever, Louis’ is still a decent reminder to ask ourselves exactly why it is we do certain things.
There is very little social media sharing that is not in some way connected to the deep parts of us. The profoundly secure as well as the rusty unguarded bits. The need for attention, however temporary, the longing to be admired, the desire to project a view of ourselves, the frightened centre. In our micro interactions with it, in our choice of language and representation, in our choice to blog vs tweet vs write in a private journal vs Facebook vs write a private letter vs write an open letter, is all the neediness and platitudes and nuances inside of us.
Smartphones are not televisions in your living rooms. They’re not even phones in your pocket. The multi-function, connected constancy of them is possibly the most significant technological advance ever in terms of human psychology.
The internet changes everything.
I will stop writing this.
And then I’ll press publish.
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**CONTAINS SPOILERS** (well one actually, i.e. the end)
I could watch Frances Ha running through the streets of New York forever.
How perfect to see her running, free, free, free. Germaine Greer said she hated high heels because they constrain you, and there is nothing that quite matches a symbol of freedom as running towards something (she was partly wrong; most things are fine in moderation.)
Frances Ha shows us something that used to be fairly rare in film and TV, a three-dimensional woman who’s ultimate concern isn’t finding a man. It breezes through the Bechdel test. Frances is adorable in a quirky indie way without being nauseating (take note Zach Braff), clever and funny and unpunctual and unsuccessful, making bad decision after bad decision as 27 year olds are wont to do.
And it’s a love story about female friendship (FINALLY), about how close friends go out of orbit but the best ones zoom back in, making you remember why you love them. ”Who are you making eyes at?” asks Frances’ dance teacher, and we expect her to look over at the cute, male, potential love interest. “That’s Sophie,” she says, and gazes at the girl across the room.
Frances Ha is out in the UK on 27 July
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Psychogeography: “… A whole toy box of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities … just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of their urban environments.” (Joseph Hart)
In the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jiro, who has been making sushi every day for seventy years, knows that the only way to get close to perfection is to do the same thing again, and again, and again, every day, for years and years.
Every day he slices the fish, presses it onto the rice, glazes it with a flourish. He says he still isn’t bored. He says he still isn’t quite happy with the result.
Something happens when you are able to make friends with repetition. I don’t mean monotonous tasks that take you to the edge of your patience. I mean something you can love. That thing is that slowly you gain a deeper understanding of whatever your subject is. And at the same time you teach yourself about how good it can be to take your time.
You’ve got your whole life to get good at something. A woman said that to me once.
You run round the same park. You move back into downward-facing dog, again. You wake up to the same face in bed opposite you.
Last night I walked back from Islington to Hackney, against the path of the canal, invisible to me behind the wall: past the gardens of de Beauvoir, across Kingsland Rd from N1 to E8. I felt the of joy walking inside me, and it didn’t matter that I walk or cycle that same route every day to and from work. It felt new. Virginia Woolf used to go out “to buy a pencil”, even when she didn’t need a pencil. She noticed how walking shifted ideas around your head. As I walked last night, I had a new idea about something I want to write, and a new idea about the way I want to write, and I saw a building on the edge of the canal against the break in the skyline that I wanted to put into a story.
Moments of meaning don’t come often. You have to catch them before they flutter away.
I looked down at my legs as I walked, the legs that were carrying me home. For years I would look at them and notice the imperfections, the things I wanted to change. Last night I thought: I will have the same legs for the rest of my life. Even when I’m seventy (I hope they get me to seventy). They’ll change and veins will streak like lightning and the skin will shrivel and wrinkle. We have to live with getting old. But the same legs. For once they weren’t something to compare to a girl in a magazine’s. They are my amazing legs; they are taking me places.
I don’t think I’d ever thought this before. In all the times I’ve ever walked anywhere.
In the pub, we’d met some really cool people, two actors, one photographer. They bought us a drink and were so friendly and interested about what we were doing and writing. One of them, the actor said: whatever you will write will be good, you’ve just got to keep practicing. Keep trying, keep trying, be honest, it won’t fail to be good. The other said: when I was first a photographer I was the worst photographer in the world. He said: it’s true what they say about 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.
He said: everything you do is a step on the path to getting better.
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Spring Breakers, in which I review a film I feel largely indifferent about
I felt excited about Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers after watching the exhilarating trailer and hearing all that hype about it.
I wondered if I’d feel shocked or offended or have some kind of feminist breakdown over it, or if Korine would manage to do something different and surprising with his Girls Gone Wild pretext.
I just didn’t expect to be so bored. I’m still not sure how such a level of violence and sexual antics could end up being so dull, but I imagine it had something to do with Korine’s attempt to create a dreamy drug-like experience instead of a traditionally structured screenplay – a laudable aim but one that was only partly successful.
Repetition can be a powerful device used skilfully, but not when the same self-involved, whiny characters repeat the same, badly scripted lines over. And over. AND OVER. I really didn’t want to watch one more shot of the characters standing around in their bikinis stroking each other’s hair like a group of snivelling primates, but Korine showed me one more. And then another. And then a lot of boys squirted a lot of beer and liqueur over a lot of girls’ tits, which was a right royal waste. And you thought we were in a recession, ladzzz?
There were some interesting takes on the relationship between hedonistic sex and greedy capitalism, in one of the film’s two very funny scenes involving James Franco’s character Alien throwing money, guns, clothes and a bottle of Calvin Klein’s Escape around and screaming Look at all my shit!!”. But it wasn’t enough next to so much average material.
And after a while the jiggling arse and tits ‘n’ beer shots took their toll. Like all things raunch culture, things become very unsexy very quickly, and very, very boring. Korine isn’t exactly satirising this culture because if you read anything about him you know that Harmony loves trash, and he wasn’t exactly celebrating it, because some Really Bad Things happen to the characters and a lot of the time they feel Really Bad, which accounts for all the standing-around and hair-stroking. But I found it rather depressing to watch, and queasy afterwards at exposure to these idiots, like I’d walked in on someone I hate having sex and hung around to crunch some popcorn in the corner.
I read some women’s reactions online who felt refreshed by the agency of the female characters, and their excessive comfort with their bodies, but I couldn’t get excited about a version of womanhood that so closely resembled a high-school jock’s Friday night wankfest. I don’t have any problem with naughty girls (I know plenty of naughty girls), but it’s such a one-note version of sexuality – aesthetically synced to MTV Base; and brassy and public, the big show-offs; and bordering on mandatory, in terms of the expectation that young people (especially women) should be frequently sexual and sexually available. It’s depressing, when I think of all the mighty girls I know, and all the things about them – their sense of humour and their jobs and their compassion and their children and their PHds etc – that this is another version of naked girls who just loooooove to fuck. Plus it’s a mean-spirited sexuality: it’s only for thin girls, and you can bet they don’t want you in their gang. I like shy people; I can’t warm to exhibitionists because it’s always all about them, and these girls made me want to give them a cardigan and a lesson in good manners and make them watch Antiques Roadshow on a 10 year loop. ❤❤ Antiques Rooooadshoooow foreva bitches ❤ ❤
And of course a lot of guys watched it and “craned their necks in delight every time a new pair of boobs bounced across the screen, and said things like “aaw yeah,” “work it,” and “dammnn gurl”” instead of seeing it as a piece of art.
But we can’t expect every film to be a feminist fist pump, and I guess we had our Bridesmaids moment, didn’t we Girls? Last time I get sucked in by this kind of trailer-trickery:
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Tags: raunch, Spring Breakers
From what I remember of feminist research methods from my uni days, the idea is to remove the masculine model of objective interviewer and subjective interviewee, the idea that there’s a tangible reality that an unattached scientific observer can uncover. Instead there is a collaborative spirit, a sense that the researcher and the researched can learn from each other and produce something new only by both parties giving something to the process.
It’s a technique that has had more influence than you might imagine, even if the words “feminist research methods” don’t exactly get you all hot under the collar. Interviews with musicians, artists, writers and so on frequently take on this two-way approach, but they work best, of course, if both parties have something fascinating and relevant to say.
Kathryn Ferguson’s short film, released on International Women’s Day, is a beautiful bit of feminist film-making. Featuring Caryn Franklin, Bella Freud, Zaha Hadid and Wah Nails’ Sharmadean Reid, the screen regularly splits into two, three, four, including all four women’s experience as equally valid and showing the breadth and variety of influences and opinions. The women also ask each other questions, becoming producers of an inspiring story.
(As an aside it’s sponsored by Selfridges, which makes all-time fucking legend Caryn Franklin’s comment all the more poignant: “I appreciate creativity more than ever … I see the beauty that people make, but I also see the corporatization of creativity and the driving force of money over everything.”)
Showing a multitude of views and individuals is a worthy thing to do. Surely the biggest and best thing we can do for young people – and all of us – is show them a variety of paths. Want to wear a dress, even though you’re a bloke? Want to be an architect, a nurse, a nail technician, a dad, a welder; want to listen to the Smiths or the Roots or Lady Gaga? Fine. If kids spent all day watching inspiring people speak – education a la Ted talks – the world would be singularly amazing.
International gender reinforcement day
I’m sometimes wary of the whole “celebration of women” idea (as I would be of celebrating men – what, all of them?) as it can so easily lead to that idea of some innate quality in either sex – as if traits of nurturing, empathising, competitiveness, creativity or strength can be aligned with one sex. But of course, we missed out on quite a lot of celebrating of women over the entire course of human history, aside from that whole mother/whore/precious flower worship, which makes it all the more important to tell and retell the stories made by women.
Which is why photos like this, of some girls about to make the world better, really rather cheering and jolly.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.
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I’m no expert on folk music (or even females), but there’s a few artists who’ve been my consistent accompaniment to the last year or so.
Here are three amazing women artists to get you through the winter. Get that camomile tea brewing, lie back and dream of spring.
I saw Josephine at Cafe Oto in November after my boyfriend Adam saw the first night of her residency and told me to “go, go if you don’t go to any other gigs this year.”
I was happy to go on my own (though I was pleased to see my friend Geoff there), and we stood and listened to her astonishing voice in the reverent silence people don’t break at Oto. She trained as an opera singer and can do that stunning vibrato effect, so that her voice sounds like a cross between playing glass and glass breaking and breaking hearts.
Below is Child of God from her latest album Blood Rushing, but her material in Spanish with the Victor Herero band is not to be missed – she sounds so sweet and pure on such traditional sounding tracks.
I’ve listened to Doiron’s The Longest Winter EP countless times over the past few years, always in the cold weather, so much so that I know exactly which song will follow and which chord will strike next. Recorded with the band Wooden Stars, it’s a beautiful take on loss and the feeling that the winter will never end, in a similar vein to Bon Iver’s Emma, Forever Ago.
Lately I’ve been listening to it in the mornings on the cold walk to yoga in the morning, at 7am when it’s still dark, when there’s just the cold and her warm, perfect voice while London wakes up.
The Last Time in particular is heartbreaking, and would have to be in my top five – or definitely ten – breakup songs with its minimalism:
this will be the last time
this will be the last time
this will be the last time
this will be the last time
anyone is pretty when she smiles
I mean that she’s smiling like she’s laughing
anyone is pretty when she smiles
me, I’m only pretty when I’m crying
maybe that’s how it works for me
maybe that’s how it works for me
Her Consolation Prize is differently paced but a brilliant take on unrequested opinions, post-relationship: People insisted on telling you what a great couple you had been/They insisted on telling you/Over and over again.
Firstly, look how cool Karen looks on her 1966 album cover. She had a creaky beautiful voice and never recorded any of her own material, but made a name in Greenwich Village and beyond for her performances – and when you hear her sing you understand why.
This Pitchfork review of the album tells you all you need to know about her:
“Dalton has a Mona Lisa voice: it gestures toward a whole universe of unknowable things, and the way it makes notes curl up at the corners seems to suggest– no matter how sad the song– that its keeper is slyly smiling to herself about something you’ll never quite comprehend … 1966 finds Dalton in a setting even more intimate: her own cabin in Colorado, rehearsing with her estranged husband, fellow Village ex-pat Richard Tucker … the occasional snippets of dialogue from the couple (who split shortly after) straddle the line between poignancy and black comedy. “Wow, what an ending, we just did it perfect,” Tucker sighs at the end of a rendition of Hardin’s “Shiloh Town”. “No, we didn’t,” Dalton mutters. “I didn’t know what you were doing.”"
Sadly Dalton never recovered from her struggle with drugs. She died in 1993 at the age of 55.
Here’s her cover of Tim Hardin’s Reason To Believe.
Like the sound of these artists? Also check out Laura Gibson, Diane Cluck and – obviously – Joanna Newsom.
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My boyfriend isn’t bothered by anniversaries; he’d say that they’re arbitrary measures of time, are dates exploited by cynical marketers to force meaning on the unimaginative. 365 days is resonant because we’ve made it so. Aren’t we basic not to be able to shake it off, to be outside of proscribed time. Think of the possibilities of that! He’d say that. Or something. I’d smile and say “hmmm” and protest about the resonance of anniversaries, how it is no bad thing to look around you at the scenery, to look back and forward as well as at this moment you’re in right now.
Our friend Sam wrote a song called 4 YRS, an anniversary song, about how time enters you and the things around you:
“These four years are in our bones/are in our home/are in our phones and in our photos /are in ourselves / are on our shelves/are in our cells.”
It’s four years for us too (us – you start to own certain time together, even while you must hold other time separate for you alone). An anniversary: 48 months ago I was aflutter. I lay awake all night. I wrote terrible poem after terrible poem. Metaphors of varying quality, mostly low, were bursting all over me. Spring was springing. I had been woken up. I felt drunk. Pieces of fruit took on profound meaning. So did leaves. I laughed at myself, embarrassed.
Wendy Cope’s poem On Waterloo Bridge, wind whipping tears into her eyes:
“I wipe them away with a black woolly glove
And try not to notice I’d fallen in love.”
I tried not to notice in case noticing it made it not true.
It doesn’t feel like 4 years. Time is elastic. And marking it in the way we do is what we have. Crossing off the days makes this unknowable thing more knowable. February is the anniversary of last February, of all Februarys. At their best, these versions – past, present, future – all have their own potential to enliven us; at worst, to own us.
People hate January, but I don’t. I am partial to all this time that’s hanging around, to the buds are poking up from the earth in my window box, to the films there are to watch.
Here we are at home. Here are our shelves and our cells and our photos and all our love, with its private history (every love story is a secret). No one ever knows what happens after this episode. But here it is, nonetheless.
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Tags: pj harvey
It was a thrill to see it online. Next up: my story Losing Eden is being published by Cinnamon Press in the spring. Can’t wait to feel its papery reality in my hands.
Stories courtesy of the best writing desk in-the-world-ever, co. Cork, Ireland. More currently being (slowly) eked out after work and at the weekend. Watch this space.
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