Doing interesting things with my time. (What is success anyway?)

On Friday I travelled to Leicester to stay with a good friend for the night and travelled home on Saturday. I spent the train journeys (each punctuated by a jaunt to the horrific metropolis of Birmingham New Street Station – soundtrack: ‘we are sorry to announce…’, whose policy of charging 30 pence and a spin of a turn-stile to use the loo haunts me as possibly one of the most basic acts of inhospitality conceivable*, but there we go…) reading an engrossing book written by a friend of mine I haven’t seen in a little while – I read the first half on the way and finished on the return ride: ‘F**k The Radio, We’ve Got Apple Juice‘, by Miranda Ward.

I’d downloaded it to my kindle a long time ago, then stopped using my kindle, then rediscovered it and found the title pinging up on the home screen, like an idea presenting itself from the depths of my to do list.

It’s a book about music – specifically a sort-of-biography of the Oxford band ‘Little Fish’ (who I saw perform several billion years ago, which enables me to understand and agree whole-heartedly with the sense of awe and reverance with which they are surrounded in the electronic pages of Miranda’s book); their brush with mainstream success (recording in Los Angeles then touring with Blondie, Placebo… blah blah) and their conscious choice, afterwards, to shun a need for *F*A*M*E* (my asterisks here representing all things ‘LA’, mainstream and flashy). They decided, instead, to write an album in their Oxfordshire garage using pots and pans as percussion, writing personalised hand-made notes to their fans, making babies and generally doing things on their own terms) but more importantly, perhaps, it’s a story of determination and self-awareness, and a study of the relationship between art and money, and where integrity stands along that route, something which clearly preoccupies the writer as well as anyone else wondering how to do what they love in a sustainable way.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot myself, from various directions.

What is success anyway? Band member Ben Walker is quoted in the book as equating it with ‘doing interesting things with my time’, and that sums up my own thoughts quite well – it constitutes at least part of my own definition of success.

I have a friend who, when introducing me to new people and catching me mumbling hesitantly about what I do, tells the third party invariably, and matter-of-factly, that I am ‘successful’. I always find this very, very funny (and love her for it); but she thinks I am. I suppose I think I am not, because I am not (yet?) exactly where I want to be. But I do do a lot of interesting things with my time and consider myself very lucky to be able to say that (though I have sacrificed many things for that lifestyle).

And in terms of the ‘modelling/art world’, it is true that I am a medium-ish fish in a tiny (even if global) pond; my name is known all over the world by those who are interested in the field in which I work, my work is recognisable, and it is true that I receive messages from all over the world from strangers, but I have often felt on the edge of a bit of a precipice; that I could easily have become more ‘famous’ by saying ‘yes’ to certain things which I have deliberately and carefully said ‘no’ to. I would rather be ‘unfamous’ (whatever that means) than boost my ‘brand’ by precarious means.

And I’d want to be clear on what, exactly, I was famous for: if I was famous because I helped people or created something very whole-heartedly; because my words resonated with strangers in a way that brought them stimulation or comfort, or because I could change things for the better in the slightest way, that would be wonderful. To me, actually, that’s another bit of ‘success’. If I could do all that but live a quiet life and get on with my day, discreetly, being myself, then fine.

I agree with Ben: ‘doing interesting things with my day’ is something to aim for. Writing for me – really spending my days dedicated to the progress of my writing – is making me very happy at the moment; waking up, writing a bit, playing the piano, writing a bit more, going for a walk, etc. etc., is absolute bliss and something I find fulfilling. Success for me – publishing a book or being financially solvent due to my writing – would be both the encouragement and the ability to maintain that lifestyle, the thing that makes me happy alongside the various other creative things I do. I don’t need a fast(er) car**; I hope I could keep my first one, what a friend once called my ‘ladybug’, forever.

*A horror made worse by the fact that, having used the conveniently-placed ‘change machine’ to find the magic thirty pence in the approved composite parts of the 10p and the 20p, and pushing the coins into the turn-stile, you then experience a mad woman lurching through your metal-spinning entrance the wrong way, thus confusing the system entirely and making your payment null and void; thank goodness for the cleaner waving me through; 60 pence wasted on an innocent, simple wee, would have been cause for an ENORMOUS diva strop (which was already, let’s be honest, in the making).
** I had a date with a police officer recently, and at one point he was telling me about his emergency response training and mentioned how terrifying it was to be instructed to go faster when already doing 135 miles per hour, at which point I interjected ‘Wow, my Micra starts shaking at about 88!!’ and he turned to me like stone: ‘You drive at 88 miles per hour?’ After an extremely awkward silence during which I felt certain I was going to be arrested on the spot, I then dissolved into explanation about how rare it was that I drove above 70, and how everyone did it when the roads were clear and conditions were good, but that I agreed it was indefensible and not at all clever… etc. etc. Note to self: Don’t be an idiot and speak without engaging brain, especially around police officers you hardly know.

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