I was shortlisted for The Columnist writing competition

ghosting

Back in September I was extremely chuffed to be shortlisted for The Columnist, a competition that used to be run by the much-missed arts charity IdeasTap but has now migrated to Hiive (a great network for creative professionals). I made the last ten, and seen as there were 490 entrants I was smiling for ages. This was my entry:

 

“Saturday.”

This is the last message I sent to my best friend before she turned into a ghost. She didn’t die, but our friendship did and now I wish I’d said something more meaningful.

Ghosting is when someone cuts you off dead – the ultimate silent treatment. Your calls are ignored, your texts left unread and, if you’re as unbearable as me, you might even find yourself full-on digitally blocked (even Linked in – I’m not going to late-night stalk your endorsements). Like the dad who goes out for cigarettes and never returns, my friend went full Houdini on me – poof, and she was gone.

There are times when disappearing into the ether is the only way to deal with a ghoul, I get that. Who could blame Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for pulling an Irish goodbye on Humbert Humbert? It doesn’t get much more creepy than a 36-year old man who obsesses over a 12-year old girl, even before he starts bribing her for sexual favours.

Lolita escapes Humbert’s ever tightening-grip by doing a jib from a hospital and it worked, for a couple of years at least. Today, she’d probably instead have to delete her Snapchat and get damn busy with her location settings, but still, this is an extreme case. Most of us – and thankfully, I include myself in this – are not paedophile sex pests.

Bff or worst-date-ever, most people deserve a bit of explanation. Yet 11% of Americans admitted to ghosting someone they were dating in a YouGov survey last year. There is a sense that, through an illusion of exclusivity, ghosting is not just about ducking out quietly, but in fact a kind of self-elevation.

In Ali Smith’s book There But For The, reluctant dinner party guest Miles Garth slopes off upstairs between the main course and dessert. He locks himself in a spare room and refuses to come out. Ever. In doing so he becomes not just a source of desperate intrigue to the remaining guests, who gather around the door trying to find out what they can about Miles, but to the whole country. He becomes a minor celebrity, not just conspicuous in his absence, but tantalising in his mystery.

In short, unless someone poses you a serious threat, ghosting is all a bit look-at-me, don’t-look-at-me juvenile. How far can people-erasing go anyway? You can’t delete people from the real world or your brain. We’ve seen it in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in Black Mirror, even Red Dwarf, and it never ends well.

I was a good friend (honest) – the sort that always remembered to hold the tomato in sandwiches and to put wine in the fridge. Yet now I’m left picking over every word, every time I mentioned a day of the week, and wondering how it could’ve been taken the wrong way. Besides, there are few greater pleasures in life than calling an arsehole an arsehole. If we ghost everyone who pisses us off, what joy will be left?

On boredom and why creatives need it

Yesterday saw the publication of the first column from Lekeisha Goedluck, the talented new IdeasTap columnist who beat 570 hopefuls to win the coveted 3-month long paid placement. I was one of those hopefuls and here was my entry, it didn’t make it to the shortlist. It didn’t even make it to the longlist, but I thought I’d share it anyway. I hope you enjoy it more than the judges did!

P.S. IdeasTap is an arts charity sponsored by Sky that aims to help young creatives get their careers started. They often have some really interesting workshops, paid writing and arts briefs and helpful articles in their magazine. If you’re not aware of them, you should have a look. 

Two Cleaning Women, Degas

Two Cleaning Women, Degas

It’s summer and I’ll admit it, I’m bored. I’m the freshly graduated, thin-on-the-ground freelancing chairman of the bored – rich in time, low on money and available friends. While it feels like everyone’s off at festivals or throwing acid-bright powder all over themselves, I’m sitting at home doing, well, nothing much. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: boredom is a creative’s best friend and we should all consider spending a bit more time enduring it.

Of course, ennui is one of our least favourite moods. Its lexicon is one of ever greater negative extremes: it drives us to ‘tears’, to ‘stick forks in our eyes’, to ‘die’ of boredom and a recent study in the US found that it really can drive us to hurt ourselves. Psychologists placed 42 study subjects alone in a room and asked them to do nothing but sit and think for 15 minutes. In front of them was a button they knew would administer a mild, but painful, electrical shock if pressed – just under half pushed it anyway. In fact, one maverick, seemingly terrified by his own company, went for it 190 times. That’s roughly once every 5 seconds.

In the real world, most of us resort to Netflix or mojitos or teh interwebs to distract ourselves from the clawing agony of tedium. However, this headspace we seem so eager to avoid is, according to Peter Toohey, author of Boredom: A Lively History, the precondition to creativity. Doing nothing, or filling time with ‘mindless’ menial tasks, allows the mind time to meander through the liminal subconscious and mine it for creative gold, making interesting connections or tying up loose plot lines. That’s why eureka moments so often occur at the strangest times – Picasso for example, like Archimedes, often found inspiration while bathing.

Graham Linehan – creator of Black Books and the IT Crowd – called boredom an “essential part of writing.” And Søren Rasted, frontman of saccharine Scandipop act Aqua – whose late-nineties hit, Barbie Girl, is still, somehow, the biggest selling single of all time in Scandinavia – credits his best songs to placing himself in a “bubble” of nothing, a creative environment free from distractions.

Author Neil Gaiman would agree, too. Last year, he announced he’d be taking a temporary sabbatical from Twitter in order to concentrate on his writing. In a press release he said: “ … The best way to come up with ideas is to get really bored.” Watching his daughter’s school plays, he admitted, without books or social media for entertainment, freed up enough brain space that he was able to piece together both of his guest episodes of Doctor Who (2011 & 2013). A little harsh, however it seems that, despite what your mother used to say, interesting people do get bored. Deliberately, even.

So far this summer, tedium has given me the chance to mull over ideas so that I could finally make a good go of entering a certain online magazine’s columnist competition. And for that, if nothing else, it has to be something worth enduring.