Exposing40

Friends. Photography. Adventure.

Category: Writing (page 1 of 8)

Blooming

Today my weeks in lockdown reach double figures (I isolated a week early because I was sick). Like almost everybody my experience of time is warped. Things I did last weekend feel like a month ago yet ten weeks seems to have passed in a flash.

While so much of this entire chapter has been truly terrible and it makes me sad and very angry if I think too much about it, personally there have been parts of it I’ve enjoyed. I was chatting to a friend yesterday about my experience of lockdown and he replied: ‘You’re a survivor’. I think survivor is a too grandiose word, but I am very good at adapting and making the most of situations rather than letting them get the better of me. Of course, I haven’t sailed through it completing unscathed – I’ve had two separate days where I felt really sad and lonely and one evening I got myself unnecessarily upset about something I should know better than to dwell on and picked a petty argument. But largely my bubble has been a happy place.

Early on I decided to make food a hobby not just a function and trying new recipes and delivering treats to my neighbours and the friends who live close enough for a doorstep drop has brought hours of pleasure. I’ve loved exploring parts of my neighbourhood that I didn’t know existed, although when I sent my oldest friends a sound recording of birdsong in a wood one of them responded with: ‘Is this your emergency message, have you been kidnapped?’ I’ve had some epic clear outs indoors and in the garden, got through four and a half series of Mad Men, watched stage shows I’d never pay to see and enjoyed them. Still only on part two of my BSL course though!

Perhaps the most satisfying thing has been doing a forensic dive into my finances. I have always lived beyond my means and been too quick to put things on credit cards rather than say no. This situation has forced me to have some honest conversations with myself and the lack of anything to spend money on is a unique opportunity to pay off credit cards in four figure chunks not minimum monthly payments. I’m being explicit about this because one thing I’ve done is attend a seminar about women and finance and one of the key takeaways was women need to talk about money more. It’s one of the very few things we don’t talk to our friends about and we are literally and metaphorically poorer for it.

Related to money is work and that’s been the biggest success for me. At the beginning of this all our shoots and training sessions were abruptly pulled and we had no idea how we’d come through this. Two months on we’ve repurposed the business and it’s blooming. I hope soon it will also be booming! I’ve always loved my work but at the moment it feels new and exciting and the time and effort that we’re ploughing into it makes it feel like we’re just starting out again, but this time with the experience from chapter one to feed into it.

While lockdown has been good for me, I’m ready to come out of my bubble. I want to see my family and hug my friends. I want to go for a swim. I want a haircut and a pedicure. And I don’t want to be physically distanced from partners and lovers anymore. As I come out of the period of business and financial stock taking my libido is shaking off its dust. For a while my daily photos and the messages and photos I’d receive in return were enough. But not anymore. I want to kiss and fuck and cuddle. I want to have my hair pulled and my arse slapped. I want to breathe in the smell of necks and and run my fingers through chest hair. I’ve sorted business, finance, home and garden, I want the rest of my life back now.

Sinful Sunday

Cigarettes After Sex

“I am a respiratory registrar; my day job involves treating smoking-related lung diseases like emphysema and lung cancer but I still believe that in the right circumstances, smoking can be really fucking hot!” The Other Livvy

I’ve known for a while (about two years!) that I’d eventually get round to doing an album cover series. This Cigarettes After Sex cover has been on the list since the beginning. I don’t know much about the band but I was captivated by Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby during the first series Handmaid’s Tale and when I looked the tune up on Spotify I immediately approved of them using this Man Ray image for their cover art.

The title of the album also makes me hugely nostalgic for, well, cigarettes after sex. Cigarettes after sex go together like cheese and wine or strawberries and cream. Like all ex-smokers there’ll always be a part of me that romanticises cigarettes and misses them, even though I know they’re bad for us and ludicrously expensive and make us smell and taste bad. Part of me wishes we didn’t know so much and could all just bust like Marlene Dietrich.

When I was figuring out my February Photo Fest photos I put Livvy’s name against this photo because I knew she’d pull off the Man Ray look so wonderfully. It was only as I started reminiscing about all the excellent post fuck fags I’ve had in tents and fields and manky student bedrooms and lying on lawns of stately houses during May balls that I suddenly thought: “bloody hell, she’s a lung doctor, that’s a totally inappropriate caption for her photo.” Then I remembered the above quote from this post and laughed out loud. She’s right, in the right circumstances smoking can be really fucking hot. Or at least it was.

This spate of nostalgia has been heavily influenced by the re-run of This Life on BBC4 and iPlayer. If you are of a certain age and disposition and are similarly besotted with that programme may I recommend The Guyliner on why you are not and never will be Anna from This Life!

To say the programme influenced my early twenties would be an understatement. The first series broadcast during my last term at university and a few months later as six of us stumbled into a three storey town house in Camden with its primary colour walls and big windows and high ceilings one of us exclaimed: “it‘s just like the This Life house,” and we put the deposit down on the spot. We weren’t lawyers, we were all working in PR, fashion and travel, but we swanned around Camden feeling like we were the This Life gang. When the second series landed in spring 1997 we felt like we were watching ourselves. We had the washing up and stolen yoghurt arguments, we had a couple who at times were not dissimilar to Egg and Milly, we had a flatmate move in a dodgy partner, there were the money dramas, the job dramas and lots and lots of partying, booze and sex.

While we saw our London life and home and co-living dramas reflected back at us and we definitely allowed ourselves to be influenced by it, I didn’t think it had influenced the sex we had that much. I mean, we had a lot of it with a lot of different people, but we were 22 and box fresh graduates with disposable income arriving in Camden amidst the excitement of 1997. If we hadn’t been having a lot of sex we’d have been missing an open goal.

I say I didn’t think the show had influenced the sex we had.

For more than twenty years I’ve had a fantasy about fucking on stage at the Royal Albert Hall. I’ve had many orgasms to that fantasy over the years. The details change. Sometimes the audience are just watching, sometimes they are wanking as they watch. One time David Beckham was in the audience wanking. I always thought it was bizarre that I’d magicked this fantasy up before I’d ever visited the Royal Albert Hall. In recent years I’ve used the fantasy as an example of how I was clearly an exhibitionist even before I’d heard the word or read anything about it. But last week I’m watching This Life and Milly, Egg and Anna are watching porn. “How can people do that in front of a camera?” says Milly, to which Anna retorts: “I’d fuck on stage at the Royal Albert Hall if it meant I was getting some.” Ah!

Oh, I love my life now. I love my solo-living, clean and tidy, smoke-free flat in suburban south London. But fucking hell, if for one day I could just magic myself back to Camden of summer 1997 and be 22 with it all to come and lie in bed listening to the noise of the house and the street as I smoke a cigarette after sex…

February Photofest

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Gold Against The Soul

On Tuesday 18th February 2014 I flew to Poland to visit Exhibit A. Six years ago today! I only realised this as I was drafting these posts last night (I’d originally intended this photo to close album cover week on Friday). That was only the second time he and I had ever met and in hindsight maybe it was a bit of a bonkers thing to do, but I was only six months into a new chapter and I was making up for a lot of lost time so when he suggested it I thought ‘fuck it’!

That first evening in Warsaw we discovered we had a shared love of the Manic Street Preachers. Anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to my Twitter or blog will know that the Manics occupy a special place in my affections and finding another fan always makes my heart sing. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen them since I paid £6.50 to see them at Warrington Parr Hall in October 1992 – closer to 40 than 30, I’d say – but the last few times have been with Exhibit A. They’ve definitely become one of our red threads.

This blog was started exactly one year later (five years ago this coming weekend!) and pretty much since day one I’ve wanted us to do a copy of this album cover. With those twisted limbs and roses near eyes it’s not really one you can quickly shoot on self-timer when there’s just two of you! Finally, during our group gathering a few weeks back there were enough extra hands for me to be able to tick it off my list.

A lot has changed in those intervening years – a fact that’s probably most neatly summed up by saying his wife took this photo while his one-year-old daughter was napping in my office! Back then I was in a ‘fuck it, I’ll try anything’ phase but not really having any structure to that part of my life or thinking too much about what really made me happy; now I’m in a much more settled place of knowing what combination of ‘partner light’ relationships and casual but valued play date arrangements work for me.

I think I can probably speak for both of us when I say that if someone had told us six years ago that we’d be taking this photo and in what circumstances, neither of us would have believed them. But I’m very happy that as both of our lives have evolved we’ve managed to maintain and grow our own connection. Here’s to many more Manics gigs, late night singalongs to Design for Life and, of course, photos!

February Photofest

Ooh!bergine

Last Wednesday’s post was a celebration of the friends I spent a wonderful and hilarious Saturday with, capturing many of the photos you’re seeing here this month. You could call this post part two.

One person who was missing from the cast of characters mentioned last week is today’s subject. He also made an appearance in the Sound of Music week and will be here again in the album covers theme next week. Those photos were taken the day before the group gathering but despite not being fuelled by a Bellini brunch he embraced my ridiculous ideas with just as much enthusiasm. And it was the first time I’d ever met him!

As I said last week, I was pretty blown away by what my friends got involved with but at least I’ve got shared history with them. There’s years-long friendships there; they’re people I’ve laughed with, cried with, shared meals and boozy nights with, I’ve been at their weddings and big birthdays and looked after their babies, we’ve played board games and visited museums together. Our photo adventures sit within a rich tapestry of deep friendships.

Not this chap. Imagine being so brilliantly game that within half an hour of meeting someone you’re stood butt naked in a park on a cold and windy January day while a relative stranger straddles a muddy puddle so she gets the right angle. Then going back to her place and posing with an aubergine over your cock. He first mentioned us having a photo adventure back in the autumn after seeing my Yorkshire Moors outing with Missy. He may have been imagining expansive vistas but he got emoji dick pics and muddy suburban parks. I did buy excellent cake, but still, kudos!

But this is yet another thing I love about our little corner of the online world. For all the shittiness and snark it throws our way, Twitter is an excellent place to get to know brilliant people. For the record, this man and I have many good friends in common and had been online acquaintances for a while – he was a ‘by now our paths really should have crossed in offline life’ person. In short, I don’t do photo adventures with actual strangers. Only people I already know I can trust get to lie on my bed holding a shiny purple protuberance.

Thank you for being such an excellent sport. You have many many credits in the bank for majestic outdoors nudes and beautiful arty black and whites and I look forward to you cashing them in!

February Photofest

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Tied up with string

“Ubuntu is a quality that includes the essential human virtues of compassion and humanity. It is often translated as ‘I am because we are.‘”

Noise. So much noise. Deep echoey belly laughs as I plopped spaghetti on @19syllables‘s tits. “Careful of the yolk!” as a fried egg is transferred from the frying pan to my chest. And we haven’t even touched on (pun very much intended) Exhibit A‘s sausage, Honey’s honey pot or Katteroo‘s melons yet. They’re all coming up during food euphemisms week, starting on Saturday.

Such an utterly ridiculous, hilarious and joyful couple of hours. Occasional pops as someone opened another bottle of Prosecco. Words of encouragement: “Oh my God, you look amazing!” “I think that will work, come on, let’s try.” And behind the scenes industry too; Charlotte Brown applying WD40 to the stuck zip of a sports bag to get at a prop, JediHamster stood on the sofa to get an aerial shot of four beautiful women squished up together on the floor. Special hat tip to Jedi this week because The Sound of Music theme was her idea.

I’d come to that Saturday with a work mindset, producer mode fully activated. A couple of days earlier I’d made shot lists of all the photos I wanted to take and subdivided the list into ones I could do another time and ones where I definitely needed extra pairs of hands and the smorgasbord of differently shaped bums, boobs and bellies that were in the room. And what game and generous friends I have. Because let’s be clear, I have asked people to do some very strange things for the camera this month.

There are some arty shots to come too, but mainly I’m celebrating the ludicrous this month. We need laughter in these dark times. Side note: I’m not quite sure how she managed to get away with not having to do ridiculous things with food stuff but I’ve realised all the shots of Livvy that came out of that day are beautiful and elegant – even the one where she has a golf tee in her mouth! She features twice in my more artistic week of album cover homages later in the month but I have no daft images of her. Fail!

What I loved most that day was just how enthusiastic and into it everyone was. Nobody was worrying what they looked like or precious about posing with silly props, everyone just mucked in and got on with it. So much support for my silly ideas and so much camaraderie in getting it done. Today’s photo, the ‘tied up with string’ line from My Favourite Thing sums up the spirit of the day for me. Here we are not seeing the finished result (although I think we’ll see it on Katteroo’s feed at some point this month!), we are seeing a snapshot of the process. Two friends working together to create something beautiful.

The bubble of joy I felt after everyone left that afternoon stayed with me all weekend and every time I post another photo I smile again. I’ve always intended Exposing40 to be a collaboration – my about blurb reads: “Some are behind the camera, some are in front and some provide ideas.” This project wouldn’t be what it is and wouldn’t be approaching five years old if I didn’t have the enthusiasm and support of a wonderful group of friends. I am because we are.

February Photofest

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

400 Weeks

Semi serious trigger warning: if those ‘end of decade achievement’ lists that were doing the rounds a few weeks back made you feel shitty then I suggest you move on from this post!

Usually when I write for Wicked Wednesday I’ve got something to get off my chest. Whether it’s a rousing post about body positivity, reflective pieces about affairs of the heart, the occasional takedown or little odes to the joyful bits of my life, there’s usually been a few sentences bubbling around in my head for a few days before I start writing. This week nothing of the sort! But I wanted to write something for the 400th week so last night I found myself googling ‘400 weeks ago’.

Four hundred weeks ago was Tuesday 29th May 2012. ‘I wonder what I was doing then?’ I thought. I flicked back through endless screens of my Outlook calendar and found that I was at home in North Wales watching the Olympic torch pass by the end of the road where I grew up. Wow. Thinking back to that summer, when we were such an open happy country is almost too painful to think about as we face our last 48 hours in the EU. How much has changed? What a different country and world we live in. I started to wonder how much has changed in my world in the last 400 weeks. And it turns out, quite a lot. And when I see it written down, it makes me feel fabulous. And we all need to feel fabulous every so often.

  • I set up my business, nurtured it through the baby years, kept it alive during some difficult toddler times and this week, at six and a half years old, our total invoiced amount went over £1,000,000. Not huge numbers for some businesses but for our little two person band they’re figures that make me (us) so proud.
  • I threw off the cloak of, if not total celibacy then a very dry patch, and dived headlong into a world of joyful sex and dating and in the process learnt (and continue to learn) so much about my body and emotions.
  • Through the joyful dating I discovered non monogamy and the place in relationships that best suits me, giving me the opportunity to build connections with people while also maintaining my independence.
  • I set up this blog and what a ride it is. Hundreds of naked photos and thousands of words later and I’ve been photographed by professional photographers, stood naked on a stage in central London and had my own work hung on a gallery wall in New York. It’s changed the way I think of myself and it’s helped other people change how they see themselves. But best of all I have met the most amazing group of women who I really can’t imagine my life without.
  • I trained for and ran two marathons and raised nearly £11,000 for two charities.
  • I had an epic 40th birthday party where I hired a whole pub and 120 friends and I feasted on mini burgers and cheese and got through gallons of Prosecco.
  • I bought my flatmate out of our co-owned flat and turned the bland space into a home and workspace that I love so much and that’s been the scene of many wonderful social gatherings, sex adventures and comedy photo shoots.
  • I embarked on (and achieved) a crazy travel challenge to visit all the EU member countries before we were no longer members.

This list makes me so happy. I’m going to remember I wrote this and when I’m disgruntled with life and love, having a bad body day, feeling too lazy to exercise or I’m skint because a client hasn’t paid I’m going to look at this and remind myself of what I got done in 400 weeks.

Congratulations Marie on your 400 weeks and thank you for keeping a fab bit of the community going. Here’s to the next 400 weeks!

I wonder what the next 400 weeks holds for me? Who knows. If someone had shown me the list above on the 29th May 2012 I’m not sure I’d have believed any of it. Except the epic 40th party. Definitely not Brexit.

But things I hope will be on the list would be:

  • Hopefully the business will have turned into a more self-sufficient teenager and I’ll only need to look after it three days a week.
  • I’ll have had and continue to have lots more joyful dates and sex adventures, especially more threesomes, group play and organised parties. And rope. And wax. And photos of all of those things!
  • Another marathon.
  • I’ll have visited 100 countries before I’m 50.
  • I’ll have had an epic 50th party.

Those are the things I’ll work on. The rest I’ll leave to chance and opportunity. But I’ll grab a couple of glasses of fizz and tuck one under my arm as I go!

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

If you’ve got it, flaunt it

I haven’t done a massive amount of flaunting over the last year or so. I’ve been here, of course, but if you look closely there’s been a lot of subtly lit photos like Swishy and Out of the Darkness, silly photos like It’s a Piece of Pisa and many many photos of friends. But until the photo outing with Missy where I started to feel a bit more like flinging my arms up in the air like I just didn’t care and letting it all hang out I hadn’t really put all of me out here for a while.

I could make a big deal of this but I genuinely don’t think there’s any point. Life is about seasons and for every season where we feel on fire there’s one where we feel a little bit like the flame isn’t catching. There’s literally no point in overanalysing it. For me, a knee injury in 2018 knocked running on the head and that was followed last year by five months of severe vertigo which made even walking or focussing on my computer screen problematic. Through that run of bad luck I got a bit fatter, I got a bit less confident in my body.

While I genuinely believe that losing your mojo every so often is just part of life, it doesn’t make it any easier to rationalise when it happens. I’d settled into a place where I’d started to measure my own attractiveness by my physical achievements so finding myself forced into a slightly more sedentary zone was tough. While I welcomed the emergence of Lingerie is for Everyone I didn’t feel very able to engage in it because I didn’t like that my own lingerie wasn’t fitting anymore!

So what happened? I don’t know! The tide turned and (inexplicably) the current dragged my mojo back into shore. Suddenly, rather than feeling sad that my lingerie doesn’t fit, I just bought the next size up and realised that I still look amazing. I’ve bought new running shoes and I’m raring to go. I have two 10ks and two halves booked. I’m only in the first week of training but the energy and enthusiasm I feel for the plan that’s taped up in my office is making me so happy and I already feel sexier and more confident in my body. This may be not be a commonly held opinion, but I genuinely believe that a good pair of running shoes are hotter than heels. And look how flexible I am? Why did I think this body was inferior?

Lingerie is for everyone. Sport can be for many. Bodies are remarkable. I’ve got it so I’m flaunting it.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

New Year, Evolving Me

“New Year, New You.” What a load of bollocks that is. I threw that notion in the bin many years ago. And I haven’t made a New Year resolution for as long as I can remember. If I were to make one related to this space it would probably be to stop writing Wicked Wednesday posts on a Thursday one hour before the deadline. But I also know myself well enough to know that Marie will get at least five messages from me this year saying “oops, I missed the Linky tool by 10 minutes.”

One thing I have done every year since 2011 is spend the time between the family Christmas commitments and back to work on the first Monday in January reflecting on the year gone by, what went well and what didn’t and how I want to evolve myself. This habit was born out of my switch from employment to self-employment and the fact that I was missing the structure of the annual appraisal process. I know – weird! You’re meant to hate appraisals and 365 feedback but I bloody love it. I was missing the opportunity for structured reflection when I came across an article from a self-employed man who every winter took himself off for a week of solitude, self-appraisal and personal goal setting.

Now, every year during this period I reflect on the whole year and the whole me – both personally and professionally. When you’re self-employed boundaries between the parts of your life blur even more significantly than they do for anyone in our ‘always switched on’ culture. Also – to state the blindingly obviously – when you are your own boss you literally have nobody else to blame for your professional frustrations. Yes, of course there are influencing factors like clients being dickheads or moving budgets or natural disasters that change a whole schedule, but essentially you control your own direction and change what you want and need to.

This annual process of review has helped me spot trends in my work patterns and make peace with them and I have adjusted my personal life accordingly. Sure, I’d rather not have to work 12 hour days for most of the winter but now, rather than see that as a burden I see it as banking time. So when summer rolls around and work goes quiet it would literally not occur to me to sit at my desk trying to create or chase work. I down tools and head off for photo adventures, lazy lunches and gallery outings. I feel absolutely no guilt for this and I shrug off the ‘lucky you’ comments because I can’t be arsed to waste time explaining why I deserve this. And when it’s 11pm in January and I am still at my desk I remind myself that summer is coming.

This period of reflection has also helped me spot the trends in what causes me stress and what creates joy. The process of observing myself means I know myself so much better than I ever did. I absolutely know there are some things I have to have to be my best me. To be me at all, actually.

I can’t not travel. I have always loved travel but actually I now know it is more than something I love to do, it is my red thread. Without a trip planned in and something to research, work towards and save for, all the hours and the work stress can seem without purpose. For me, there is no energy like the energy I feel when I step off a plane and smell a new country.

I have to cook. In cooking I relax, I daydream, I nourish myself and it feels good. I am not a ready meal snob (you do you!) but for me personally I find the idea of shoving something in a microwave like my meal doesn’t matter because I am only cooking for one genuinely soul-destroying. And cooking for and with people and sharing meals and many bottles of wine around my dining table is pretty much the clearest way I have to express love.

I have to take photos. That used to just be travel photos and photos around London but clearly in the last five years that has evolved into this project, which is now such a big part of who I am and the friendships I have.

Finally, I have to have time alone. If someone had told me a few years ago how much I would grow into myself through the simple process of living alone and wallowing in peace and solitude I would not have waited until I was 40 to live alone.

When I started this annual process of reflection I started setting goals alongside it. Not resolutions, goals. They were fun things to work towards – volunteer at the Olympics, have more sex, travel to all the EU countries. But in recent years they started to get more specific – read 30 books, run 500 miles, walk 500 miles and walk five hundred more, visit 24 exhibitions, write two posts a month and take a photo every week, two new recipes a month. At first this was fun but every year I was upping numbers and creating more targets. I am a completer finisher so saying I will do something and then not doing it causes me huge stress but the targets I was setting myself were not being mindful of my work patterns. The process had started to eat itself and I had started to put myself under constant pressure to ‘do’ all the time. I was forgetting how to just be.

So this year I will be more light touch. I will travel, I will photograph people and places, I will cook for me and those I love, I will read, I will write, I will wander round galleries, I will train for a 10k and a half marathon (both booked), I will continue to nurture and be committed to my most important partnership, I will explore the opportunities for kinky fun with friends I trust, I will do some new dating because I feel like soaking up the rush of NRE. But this year there will be no numbers because numbers stress me out.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Observations

“Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliot Erwitt

Usually when I pop up on Wicked Wednesday it’s to respond to the prompt with some big thinky piece about relationships or bodies or something I need to get off my chest. Not so this week! But the prompt is ‘observe’ and as I’m halfway through a six week course at the Photographer’s Gallery that a few of you have I asked about I thought I would do a bit of a diary entry…

The Possibilities of the Photographic Body is a six week course led by Tom Lovelace. In case that link gets killed at some point in the future the blurb reads: “This workshop series examines contemporary approaches to the compelling and ever-present subject of the human body and how it is represented in photography. Using the body as a starting point, participants will explore contemporary photographic practice through a range of themed sessions including the digital body, performance, architecture and gendered forms.” Reading the programme there wasn’t a single week of the schedule that left me feeling ‘meh’ so without much more than a minute’s thought I’d signed up.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that the cycle of my professional life is working like a dog for nine months of the year and flitting around during the summer enjoying photo adventures, gallery outings and lazy lunches. The summer months offer a welcome opportunity to recharge and I could never go back to 9-5 life but that doesn’t make the winter months, and in particular the slog up to Christmas when we’re churning out fundraising appeal films at a ludicrous rate, easy to cope with. As much as I hate to admit that age becomes a factor in our physical and mental resilience, I have noticed over the last couple of winters that 12 or even 15 hour days are not quite as easy to tolerate or bounce back from as they were even five years ago. Last winter I got sick and the viruses I picked up had me rundown until well into July.

This winter I resolved to take more care of myself. And taking care of myself means carving out time where I am not working. Working at home is great in numerous ways, but when you register no more than 100 or so steps in a day going bed to desk to sofa for a late night bowl of pasta and back to bed, via the kettle and bathroom a few times, it’s not so healthy. Fern’s fitness challenge where I’ve pledged to five bouts of exercise a week is one thing that’s making me break from work. This course is another. The very simple act of turning off my computer bang on 17.00 so I can be out of the house and in town by 18.30 makes me feel more in control of my ‘downing tools’ time than I have in years; it’s amazing how not needing to catch a train can make the end of the work day slide.

What a joy it is to sit and listen to an engaging and down to earth (no old school or patronising arty snootiness here!) course leader who really knows his shit talking enthusiastically about fascinating photographers. I have so many new names scribbled in my notebook that I just know that I am going to go down a rabbit hole of research during that twilight period between Christmas and New Year. In week one we visited and discussed Shot in Soho, in week two we took our own shots in the streets of Soho and this week we used the gallery as our playground.

Our group is made up of professional photographers, Masters students, a curator, a gallery agent, an academic and a drag queen from Brazil. We have an opportunity to share our work with the group and this week we saw a work in progress that is about the expression of chronic pain, a stunning series that explores a genetic flaw and political commentary through cabaret. It’s so fascinating! I can’t wait to see more of the work next week. I also talked about Exposing40 and shared some of my favourite photos from the last five years. It was particularly fun sharing this image; this friend and I have visited the Photographer’s Gallery more times than I can remember over the quarter of a century since we met at Uni and I honestly never thought I would be stood up there talking about a photo I had taken of her.

What I am loving most about this mini adventure is that it is completely without agenda or expectation. There is no set homework, there’s no exam at the end, no investment beyond the time and initial fee. I am not planning a career change. I have no intention of making Exposing40 anything more than the fun hobby project it currently is. I don’t want do anything more technical than use my iPhone or my small camera on auto setting. I am not doing it for any reason other than it’s interesting. It is just time spent with talented people and learning for the pure pleasure of it and that feels like a real luxury at this time of year.

Me in front of Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s How Do You See Me? a digital installation showing on the media wall at The Photographer’s Gallery until 30/11/19

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Always in Character

“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.

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Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

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