“Some people are born for Halloween, and some people are just counting the days until Christmas.” Stephen Graham Jones
I don’t dislike Halloween and I’m perfectly happy getting into the spirit of things (excuse the pun!). In fact, the gaggle of primary school sized witches and ghouls who appeared at my door on Thursday evening were a delight. Also, babies dressed as pumpkins…🧡
Still, all that aside, for me Halloween has always just been that little distraction before bonfire night and once that has gone? Well it’s full throttle to Christmas. I’m definitely a counting the days until Christmas kind of girl.
As you can see, I already have my Christmas Day hairband. I may tone down the eyeliner for family Christmas lunch though; I don’t want to frighten the nieces!
“I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.” Jane Eyre
I am many good things: I am fun and funny, I am generous and kind, I am thoughtful and loyal. I can also be mean and spiteful, needy and angry, I lash out at myself and others. All of these things are entirely in character.
When someone is described as behaving ‘out of character’, unless it’s a portent to a medical calamity it is usually used to describe the less pleasant aspects of their personality. I wrote at length earlier this year about a period of my own poor behaviour. Until this morning I hadn’t revisited it since writing it. It was hard to write, hard to post and while still experiencing the aftershocks of that chapter I had no desire to reread my analysis of it. I only read it again just now because I thought to myself “I wonder if I used the words out of character in that post?”
The result of that ‘get it off your chest then put it on a high shelf’ purge means I had blanked out much of what I written. Until now I hadn’t appreciated how tangibly I’d described my behaviour, the examples I had given or how much thought I had put into articulating why it happened and how we can stop it happening again. I am belatedly very proud of how well I wrote in the face of adversity!
And I was pleased to see that I hadn’t used the words ‘out of character’. Because I don’t think we behave out of character. We can’t behave out of character because our character is hardwired into us. I learnt this week that the word comes from the Greek work kharakter, an engraved mark, symbol or imprint indelibly stamped on coins. Our character is indelible.
The sides of our character we typically celebrate are the attractive aspects that make our loved ones relish our company. But the other bits are equally valid and rather than brush them off as ‘out of character’ I think our job is to understand what triggers them. In the same way we understand what brings out the best in us we must understand what brings out the worst.
I watched a talk the other evening where the speaker said: “We assume that if we have characterised someone as good they can’t be bad and vice versa but if we see character as behaviour on a continuum then when people act in ways that surprise us maybe it is not that surprising.”
For the sake of our own mental health and the health of all our relationships – familial, professional and personal – we need to understand our own continuum and take responsibility for it. That responsibility is to help others to understand how their behaviours create an emotional response and activates the different facets of our personality.
In affairs of the heart, if I feel threatened or usurped I will lash out and speak cruelly about the person who I believe to be a threat. But I shouldn’t just lash out, I should explain why I am feeling vulnerable and help my partners to understand that I need complete honesty and I need reassurance. They may not like that part of me as much as the part that’s independent and ballsy and generous, but there you go!
If a member of my family shares different political beliefs then I need to be explicit that teasing me needlessly and endlessly about Brexit is deeply upsetting. I didn’t help my Dad understand that and the pressure built and built until the valve exploded. I was angry and I said terrible things that hurt him. He called my response immature. He was right. The damage has been fixed now (although I need to work on his declaration last summer that “if this is what politics does I am never voting again”) but had I just had the difficult conversation to start with, months of family distress could have been averted.
Like everyone, I evolve with every experience and I am a work in progress but I like learning about myself and I like to understand my emotional responses and what triggers them. I like learning how to manage myself so I am as best as I can be. I enjoy enhancing the bits of me that make me fun to be around and quelling as best I can the parts of myself that can make me difficult.
Earlier this week I had my hair cut and highlighted. When it’s just been done it looks particularly sharp and swishy. Focused and Filthy suggested I should make my hair the feature of this weekend’s Sinful Sunday, specifically black and white and with dramatic lighting. I think I met the brief. The only problem was I couldn’t decide between these two photos! Which do you prefer?
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange
My earliest memory of a camera is my bother’s first birthday party. I would have been three years, one month and 19 days old. My Dad was trying to take a photo of my brother blowing out his one candle. My brother just kept trying to grab the flame. I was asked to show him what to do. I’d blow out the candle, my Mum would relight it and my brother would grab the flame as my Dad clicked the shutter. And repeat. Multiple times. We have many photos of my brother grabbing the flame but not one of him blowing the candle. Reflecting on this memory I realise I may have got my tenacity (bloody mindedness) for getting just the shot I want from my Dad.
Another memory is holidaying in mid Wales when I was about eight. I wanted to take a photo. I loved the weight of my Dad’s SLR, loved waiting for my vision to focus as I looked through the viewfinder, loved seeing a portion of the world in front of me framed in a scene. And I loved the heavy ‘clunk’ of the shutter. For some reason my Dad wouldn’t let me take the photo, saying I could take one later. “But I want to take a photo now.” “Later.” I walked all the way down the hill crying and shouting more and more desperately: “I want to take a picture NOOOOOW.” Three and half decades later my Dad or brother will wind me up in the way only families can by repeating the refrain back to me when I reach for a camera.
The love of photography I inherited from my Dad has continued throughout my life. Through my earliest trip overseas (a French exchange, aged 15) where Dad coached me in advance not on language skills or settling in with my host family, but on how to use my new camera and the kind of photos I could take along the way. There are a fair few snaps of my friends of course but there are also plenty of thoughtful shots of gardens and rivers and quirky angles of the Eiffel Tower. My camera is still how I make friends with a place. I’ll notice more about a place when I’m looking through the lens and noticing details I don’t see when I’m just looking. I love reviewing the photos and spotting things I didn’t notice even through the lens. I’ll often get up early and go walking alone with my camera as a place is waking up.
And more recently my camera has been how I’ve made friends with other people and with my own body. I’ve written so much on these pages that there’s almost nothing new to say. I’ve written about the experience of being photographed, the joy of photographing others and the role photography plays in relationships. Others have written about the photography adventures we’ve had together and it always makes me a little emotional reading their words. Of course all of those posts focus on the experiences, the emotions, the enlightenment. But none of that fun and personal growth would have been possible without the camera. My camera is the tool that’s ignited friendships, been a feature of partnerships and helped me love my body more. It’s a force for good in all my relationships, with others and myself. And what I loved about framing a photo and capturing a moment when I was eight is what I still love today. I love the power the camera has to make us see things a little differently.
This weekend is very exciting: for the first time since 1996 when I put on my degree show, one of my photographs will be hanging in an exhibition. Bare Men: the Group Show opens at The Living Gallery, Brooklyn on Sunday 29th September and will run until Friday 4th October.
The show is curated by Abigail Ekue whose Bare Men series “celebrates the inherent beauty, sensuality, sexuality and vulnerability of the everyday man.” As you probably know, I love photographing men and photography plays a big part in some of my relationships so when Abigail put a call out in June this year for submissions to her group show I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring.
I was delighted that a shot that Exhibit A first shared in December 2017 was selected. If you’re in the area this week please go along and enjoy the photo in all its framed glory, plus all the other stunning images that are hung along side it. To mark the opening of the show I thought I would share another perspective on the same image for this week’s Sinful Sunday.
And while I’ve got your attention, I’m sure you don’t need reminding that this weekend is Smutathon. Exhibit A and many other fabulous and talented writers are in a race against the clock to write as many stories as possible in aid of The National Network of Abortion Funds. If you can afford to give, please do!
“There’s a starman waiting in the sky/ He’d like to come and meet us/ But he thinks he’d blow our minds”
Starman, – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Last night in a starlit (well, fairylights, actually) garden in south London, a diverse group of people from all corners of @19syllables’ universe danced and drank and ate and drank some more under the paper lantern planets. Aside from her, the thing that united all of us was Space. Just days before she (to quote her husband’s speech last night) left her own cramped capsule man had landed on the moon. Last night Captain Kirks, Redshirts, Doctor Whos, cyborg men, astronauts and aliens all mingled happily and there were no deaths. And there were a couple of Ziggys. Me and the other Ziggy wrapped our arms around each other and sang along to Starman. It was a perfect night!
Editors note: in the spirit of transparency you should all know that in reality this giant nylon babygro was in no way sexy. It was a hot and itchy and sweaty and Honey nicknamed it the menopause simulation suit!!