If it wasn’t for the day job

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Photograph found in a library book

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a day job. That instead of going to work in a library most days, I could devote all my time to writing and taking pictures.

Then I remember all of the odd, inspiring events that happen while I’m at work, like the kids who think our automatic doors are magic because they open by themselves, the photographs I find slipped between the pages of returned books and the interesting conversations.

 

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Photograph found in a library book

My job connects me to life and feeds into my art in unexpected ways. I mine these events, storing them for later. Thinking like this keeps me sane on the trying days, days when I have to deal with difficult customers or under-staffing.

So really, it’s not so bad, I’d miss, all this, if it wasn’t for the day job.

Containers

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At the beginning of the year, I bought a week-to-view diary. It’s nothing special, black front cover with generic silver writing and wafer thin paper, it cost £1 but it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made, period. Rarely now, is it not to hand.

Growing up, I always kept a journal. Those hallowed pages bore witness to rants about boys I fancied, friends I’d fallen out with, things my parents did that made life unfair. For years I avoided writing one again because I thought it would be too boring. Full of the mundane, diaries smack of repetition and routine.

Mine isn’t like that. Full of sentences from books I’m reading, overheard conversations and half-formed thoughts. My journal has become a container for intriguing things, forever growing and expanding, much like this blog. It’s a place for snippets, not perfect content, where disparate ideas gather. I love writing and photography but it doesn’t stop there. Everything has the capacity to provide inspiration.

I think of blogs and journals as touchstones, providing the motivation to keep making work. They’re places to come back to again and again, no matter how stuck.

The cartoonist, author and teacher, Lynda Barry says that “when you were a kid, you’d never write a book unless you had a book to write in in” and it’s true, having my containers inspires me to fill them.

Artist research

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One of the great things about writing this blog is that it encourages me to learn about different artists.

Until recently, I had no idea that Nan Goldin’s older sister committed suicide at 18 and that her art is a way of coming to terms with this loss. I didn’t know Robert Frank made contact prints of 2 ¼” negatives and glued them onto cards while sequencing The Americans or that Charles Harbutt liked performing magic tricks.

It’s not just the famous ones either, I’m constantly stumbling across inspiring people who take photographs. All of us, for whatever reason, have chosen to look at the world through a viewfinder, and I find this fascinating.

Empty days

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I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.

May Sarton

I’m getting better at accepting the empty days. The days when I don’t make anything, or if it happens, I let it happen naturally. Maybe I’m tired, run down or I just don’t have the energy to write or pick up a camera. Instead, I’ll read, walk or take a nap.

Empty days get overlooked but they’re so important. They’re days when the pressure to perform, lifts. Forced productivity all of the time is, ironically, not productive. It leads to burnout, ambivalence and exhaustion.  

So, take a day off, if you can. Make time for yourself. Live in the changing light of a room, like May Sarton, and feel the pressure lifting.

Keep on keeping on

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The best things happen when you keep on keeping on.

Sean Lotman

There’s a particular spot my boyfriend and I like to walk. We tend to follow the same path, going the same direction. We must’ve walked here a hundred times but this week, for whatever reason, we turned left inside of right and kept going until we reached a dead end. Here, the ground is seldom walked because it gets cut off at high tide. The beach becomes a blanket of tiny shells mixed with the odd bits of rubbish and sea glass.

During the walk, we found a ruined barn complete with disintegrating farm equipment and rusting BBQs. Someone had written the words “memento mori” inside using white paint. Large cracks ran down the walls and the bricks on top were loose.

Closer to the beach, a lone chair stood next to the remains of a camp fire. Old boats waited on the pebbles, propped up with wooden poles and bundled twigs. The place was completely deserted, quiet and calm.

Later, scrolling Twitter, I saw Sean Lotman’s words and thought about this place. It reminds me to keep on keeping on because there are always new opportunities waiting to be found, even in familiar places.