Friday, February 16, 2007

Quick! Hit the telephone box and clamber into your Lycra…

There is change afoot.

After conversations with my sister’s boyfriend, also a fellow WebTrader, I have decided to abandon my previously uncomfortable and awkward career title.

I am no longer a web designer, but a digital interactive artist. Well, in theory. Or something along those lines, it still feels like I have a mouthful of Chewits and I keep forgetting key parts.

It is going to take a while to get used to.

Yesterday, I said it to a client, a new face, someone who didn’t know my previous heavy burden of relentless rollovers. Initially, as the words fell out, I felt like an impostor. But she believed me, she even sounded almost impressed.

Yes, it may have a mild hint of wankiness about it, but I feel that if I’m going to make this change, I need to do it properly, embrace change, start anew. This won’t be the WebStress freelancer of old. I have learnt my trade, I have read, I have consumed, I have seen, I have listened. I have experience.

I’ve even asked my sister and Amy to help me sort my personal image so at least I offer a faint echo of the promises I want to achieve with my digital work.

After all, say it softly, tentatively, quietly, in case it isn’t true, in case I have time to deny it, or my conscience can ducktape over the words, after all I do know my stuff.

So, this ‘artist’ label is taking a little while to digest. I could spit it out, but I’m holding it there, like a piece of gristle, trying to swallow, down it goes, almost there. The ‘designer’ part of my previous label is how I was attacked, my Achilles heel. Surely the seeming upgrade to artist is opening my wound a little further, a little deeper, come poke your stick here, look at all this fragile space.

But it has been partly my fault. I am not trained as a designer, let alone an artist, and I have worn that label so openly, so prominently, that I might as well have been walking around with the critique equivalent to a piece of paper with ‘twat’ written on it stuck to my back.

If there’s one thing spending an uncomfortable £6 on monthly issues of Computer Arts have taught me, if you don’t believe you have talent, no one else will. Convince yourself, and convincing others will come naturally. Nothing but your own work makes you a designer or artist. It is a label, and you can choose how to fulfil your label. My degree, that aimless three years of not actually doing anything of any tangible value other than cutting things out and sticking them in project books long after the project has actually been completed to satisfy criteria, could to others be the qualification that I bestow upon myself. After all, its ambiguous title which has always deeply frustrated me could be used to my advantage. I am self-taught. But I am well read, I am well researched. Maybe, just maybe, that knowledge, that understanding, has seeped in, has embedded itself in the roots of my creativity. Maybe I just didn’t notice. Maybe it just needs nuturing, encouraging, in order to show its true colours.

So, in taking control and at the start of laying the foundations of what will be a lengthy preparation process, on Monday I tentatively started a design blog.

This blog was supposed to be separate from my identity as the WebStress, as thinly veiled as Clark Kent’s glasses maybe, but nonetheless a separation of identity that someone could only accuse me of, always with a margin of error. I told a few close and personals, passing over the url with the cautious words of treat me gently…this was the first glimpse into my creativity beyond the form and function of the endless web restrictions. A champion of accessibility, a guru of usability, abandoned in just free creativity.

God it felt good. The designs I posted over the last few days, ones that nearly didn’t make it, and then I thought ‘oh sod this’ and posted them anyway, refusing to let my restrictive guards hold back work to be lost forever, on a pile of endless work to be tweaked at some stage, at some time never, they were art. My art.
So I was making myself an artist, beneath the protective wings of a few supportive souls who I would bear everything to, who have seen my virtual scars and wounds, who have seen how a client can strip you, and pull and tug at you, with a quip, a comment, a throwaway remark that attaches like a leech and sucks and drains you, because you didn’t have the strength to fight back, you lacked courage in your convictions, you didn’t believe in yourself, you didn’t argue, you didn’t say ‘you’re wrong, I’m right’, you didn’t trust yourself.

Then this morning I logged on to blog, picking up my neglected WebStress lycra, tugging it on over my goosepimpled skin in the virtual changing room of Blogger’s dashboard.

But something unexpected happened.

Somehow, emerging into the sunlight of a new post, ready to whine about all things web in my alternative identity, I had forgotten to don my x-ray specs.

I had (momentarily abandoning my self indulgence of pretending I am actually a superhero instead of a web designer) merged the two blogs, through an upgrade to Blogger Beta using my gmail account, which I was using for my new blog.

This was almost entirely my fault (the almost being attributed to the internet in general, as I refuse to take the full blame despite it being entirely my own decision to enter those specific gmail details).

So there it was, my new beautiful pristine blog tainted by my grumpy, frustrated WebStress identity.

So I won’t be showing it to any potential clients then, I’m guessing.

But, I guess it isn’t so bad. This is who I am after all. This is me (although perhaps I should add some description about the items within the packaging – fragile, handle with care, just for now, just while the dust settles and the foundations form).

As long as I still get to wear the Lycra.
Repeat after me: A website does not equate to a pint and a packet of twiglets.

On Saturday, feeling thoroughly beaten, downtrodden, woe-is-me and all manner of other self indulgent feelings, I went out for dinner with my sister and my mum (isn't it funny how authors rarely use the word 'mum' and opt for 'mother' instead, sounding in someway more grown up, or even, if you're very posh, 'mummy' - why you are allowed to use terminology usually confined to the use of toddlers when you are of the upper classes I'm not sure, something to do with scraping the bottom of the gene pool and similar IQ levels perhaps...).

I started to expel my whitterings after several glasses of wine. My trauma did not fall on deaf ears, but I didn’t perhaps receive the sympathies that I had assumed would be laid upon the browbeaten WebStress.

My sister, firmly but gently, in the tone of voice reserved for loved ones who know you oh so very well and who know exactly what to do to sort you out, told me that the only person who could do anything about my work situation was none other than myself and that I might as well get used to it because that was the situation, things weren’t going to get better.

I whimpered, almost inaudibly, through her speech, but she has an infallible way of speaking so fluidly, so convincingly, without let up, in such a way that she could convince you that black was white after a five minute verbal sparring, where I am usually left sweating useless words from my tongue while she deftly whistles a tirade of watertight arguments. By the time she had finished, my whimpering had retreated back into its hole and was holding a pillow over its ears, and I was left with the facts.

That night and the next day I scrutinized my situation. I was restless, uncomfortable. I was struggling to see a way out. As far as I could see it up until this point, work was changing for the worse, I needed the money for the mortgage and not a precious penny left (I have Excel spreadsheets to prove as such), I couldn’t get a new job elsewhere unless they allow Newfys in the workplace (so far I have not found such a vacancy), my potential business partner was now training for a new job and wouldn’t be free until her debts were gone.

And I could do absolutely bugger all about any of the above.

But it had been there all along, staring me in the face. People had said it over and over to me, but it made me feel queasy, terrified, stressed even at the very thought. How could I cope again, after last time? Such long hours, being treated so badly, never being paid on time, charging my work for a pint and some Twiglets.

As Amy told me last night, in between attempting crucifix climbs and several unbecoming handstands at pole dancing, I can still have the pint and twiglets. But they’re just the bonus, not the WebStress’s bread and butter.

Everyone I have told this week has said things along the lines of ‘about time’, ‘good for you’ and other lovely supportive phrases. In fact the only person who looked concerned was mum (there’s that word again…) and that was coupled with the words ‘how are you going to pay the mortgage?’ which I managed to brush briskly away with a surprising amount of confidence and bubbled excitement.

No one surprisingly has gently mentioned the fact that when I was freelancing last time that I was so utterly miserable and stressed that I was generally a fairly hideous person to be around.

So there, I’ve said it, I’m going to freelance again. From A to B via such a rambled, tangled thought process that unravelled itself and fell out of me, outstretched in front of me, straight, clear, unfaltering, unbending.

But this time, I’m going to do it properly.

Sunday evening it dawned one me why I really hated it. Because I took everything so personally, because I let my stress and my worry consume myself. Because my lack of confidence in my work eroded my strength and stress seeped in through its porous walls.

This time I’m not going to let myself down.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pole Position

Last week my beloved pole dancing class didn’t quite go to plan.

In fact, my pole dancing class resulted in me sobbing hysterically, unelegantly, in the office at the end of my lesson. Not slick, not smooth, and most definitely not sexy.

So there was I, attempting all manner of moves that I was failing spectacularly to do, looking rather like a monkey, but generally enjoying myself, my sister giving me tips in between laughing hysterically at my endeavours.

And then, as I attempted a climbing spin with about as much enthusiasm and style as a hyperactive clumsy child (making up for in persistence what I lost dramatically in form), Ms Harry Potter, from the next pole along no less, piped up and told me that what I had done looked ‘awkward, not right, wrong’ and all manner of other negative words for an uncomfortable length of time, all with disapproving undertones. She then ordered me, not exactly encouragingly, to do it again, presumably so she could pinpoint exactly what I was doing so badly just to make sure.

I stared at her, still hanging a reasonable distance up the pole at this point, mouth wide open in disbelief. My lack of response finally forced her to say ‘maybe its me’ without any hint or conviction, and actually rather a lot of ‘well if you want to look like a dick that’s fine by me’ peppering her Welsh drawl.

Until that point I had thought, genuinely, that all Welsh people were nice, purely because I didn’t think you could really say anything nasty in such a peculiar sing song accent that I have only ever really heard spouted in exaggerated tones by supporting cast members in children’s animation programmes.

I slid down the pole and collapsed in a heap of failure.

My sister asked me why I resembled the undead, having not heard the comments, and I whispered what I could. She shot Miss Potter an Oscar winning glare that only my sister can muster within a heartbeat, pierced with so much venom to fell an entire army.

In our class there is an unspoken etiquette. I have never attended a class that is as supportive as this. I have never attended a class where people clap your endeavours when you achieve something with a wisp of impressiveness. I have never attended a class where everybody knows each other, where everybody chats and laughs.

We are two to a pole, the only comments that we receive that aren’t positive are from our partners, who load their suggestions with so much constructiveness that you’d barely be aware that you’d actually done something wrong.

Our teachers are patient, kind, supportive.

It is the most I have enjoyed any exercise, ever, without any shadow of a doubt.

No partner of mine or teacher has ever, ever thrown so much as a negative comment for me to know how to fend off, let alone someone on another pole.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that she’s only been coming for three weeks and already appears to be gunning for Ms Pole Dancer of the Year, and frustratingly, unfairly seems to be in with a chance (however our teachers don’t appear to be quite as attentive to her talent as those at Hogwarts, although I have heard rather too many disturbing ‘excellent’, ‘perfect’ and ‘faultless’ comments from her direction).

I attempted to discard my shock and disappointment, refusing to have my enjoyment ripped away from me in the early stages of my class. But it had crawled under my skin, slipped effortlessly into my bloodstream and was now circulating swiftly around my muscles, wrapping itself around my concentration, constricting my movement, hampering my thoughts.

Of course, I should have waved away her comment, it should have slid off of me, I should have forced my annoyance and hurt into anger and productivity, instead of letting it manifest itself as worry, concern, failure.

This was something I was doing for fun and however much I’d like to think between the time that I am not actually pole dancing that I might be one day quite talented, that quickly evaporates when I am once again climbing like a baboon, with out turned feet and attempting chicken headed body waves and I just enjoy it.

By the time I was attempting to invert – that’s going upside down to Non Poley People - (having just watched Miss Potter effortlessly create the move for the first time), my thought process had divorced my muscle control and wanted nothing more to do with it while it tended its injured wounds, while my muscles were playing a similar game and had ordered a strike of anything mildly productive.

I tried, I tried, I tried. And failed. Again and again.

My sister, bless her patient soul, even helped me wrap my legs around the pole when they got anywhere vaguely close, but it was all in vain. My tears had broken their banks and I was turning into a snotty, crying five year old, abandoned amidst lots of gyrating, pole climbing ladies dancing to Addicted To Love.

The lesson ended and, while I had tried to hide my embarrassing outburst from everyone within the class, my teacher had noticed and coaxed me into her office where my face crumpled and I collapsed into a heap of tears and apologies.

They were wonderful, understanding and supportive. I left the class, feeling fragile, weak, in dire need of some alcohol and relieved the ordeal was over. On the drive home, humiliation, worry and embarrassment at my response seeped in and took over the place of my retracting tears.

My sister and Amy heaped gracious amounts of support on me in the coming days. I had held off saying anything too spiteful about Miss Potter’s achievements and natural talent until this point but she had given us all a ticket to the land of bitchiness and I was planning to exploit it as much as possible given the current circumstances. It had presented itself to me that she perhaps wasn’t the most perfect person on earth after all. And I was deciding to feel quite chuffed about that.
I had noticed during the lesson, when she had been partnered with another girl, much to her inward disgust I imagine as she usually attempts to martyr herself in having a pole on her own (despite this being the holy grail of the dance class), she looked disinterested between her turns, not encouraging her partner, not even looking at her partner most of the time, waiting until she could create her effortless magic on the pole.

She had lost the friendship of three co-polers swiftly and I imagined with that sort of behaviour she’d be losing others fast.

Saturday comes and myself and Amy attend a masterclass in the art of being sexy, stripping, lap dancing and all other things sluttiness in preparation for Valentines Day (when I will in fact be 3 feet under surrounded by plasters and pubic hairs in the swimming pool, and my boyfriend will be asleep in the car). If anything can inject a little bit of confidence into my self conscious, shy frame its this.

And it does. Our teacher, ex-lap dancer, ex-pole dancer, ex-stripper extraordinaire takes a cross section of women in a bizarre array of attire (I had opted for my usual gym clothes, one voluptuous lady had turned up ready to attack the art of stripping clothed in a silk dressing gown, stockings, high heels and fishnet gloves) and teaches us how to be sexy.

I cannot thank her enough. I am going to this week’s class a renewed woman.

A new hair cut, that I have not yet bonded with but at least it is an improvement on my previous hair style that harked back to being twelve years old, only without the fringe, when one or two of my closest friends had nick-named it a lion’s mane due to its unmanageable thickness and general unattractiveness. The ability to at least understand the concept behind the art of being sexy (for now I understand that it is an art and one that I can obtain a qualification in through, for the most part, standing tall, not sticking my feet out like a duck and not pulling stupid faces). And the sheer determination that circles around me since my spectacular failure last week.

I have even bought a DVD on the moves and am planning to erect a pole as soon as we move in to our new house (a sore subject and one I have yet to have the energy to blog about) so that my sister, Amy and myself can become Polers Supreme, all with a G&T in the wings.

I am nervous about this Thursday’s class. I am nervous I will fail myself by collapsing under her presence, about giving in, but I refuse.

It is a great shame that she has affected something I enjoy with such force, but a lot of that is what I have allowed her to do.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Winter's in the air

It is beautifully, blissfully, wonderfully absolutely bloody freezing.

So cold that I have two jumpers on, the central heating switched to constant and the frost on the grass is refusing to fade without a fight.

After our disturbingly warm winter, an unsettling reminder that Global Warming is not just an apocalyptic phrase or something reserved for 'other places', but actually has infected no longer impenetrable and now ever so fragile UK soils.

I am actually quite excited. If I squint out of the window, I can convince myself that the white tinges of the frost are actually a thin covering of snow.

Lawnmowers should not be coaxed from their tarpaulin hibernation in January. But there was my dad last weekend mowing, there was the uneasy smell of spring in the air. I should not be able to get out of bed without the physical snapping of frozen bones during mid winter. Daffodils should not be stretching upwards, effortlessly, without a struggle, and bathing themselves in warm sunlight in the first 30 days of the year.

Things are changing, and even the Daily Mail has seen fit to comment on numerous occasions (I have only heard it read out on the radio, I might add) on what may perhaps be something vaguely to do with Global Warming.

The world finally appears to be engaging itself relucantly into the realisation that what was once the future, and therefore not considered to be our concern and merely a prediction, is actually now, and therefore perhaps may be our problem after all and might perhaps possibly schedule in a discussion based vaguely around the topic sometime a week on Tuesday, when they will arrange another meeting to discuss the matter in more detail, sometime in late July, which will subsequently be rescheduled to mid November, if everyone's free.

Well, that was at least until Bird Flu reared its ugly head again, and now global warming seems to have been shelved while we again panic about that for a while.

Today though, after a winter of awareness and terror and worry and awakening, today briefly, in blissful ignorance, I am going to retreat into a little bubble and pretend global warming isn't happening, that it was just a bad dream, casually ignore the fact that it hasn't snowed all winter here and not complain about the cold.
The Waiting Game

Monday morning, my workload in the hands of someone else. It is like being abandoned by my instructor in a game of Nightmare but without the helmet and numerous keys.
Playing the waiting game.

It is a continuing problem of starting work two hours before my colleagues. Generally, I have managed to assign myself some task or other the night before but Monday mornings stretch out endlessly and drag their heels like a petulant schoolboy. I have had my breakfast, by far the most exciting thing about my morning, an hour early. I was disappointed at myself but hunger through waiting snapped viciously and disappointment withdrew into some dark whole for the five minutes while I ate. Now I don’t have breakfast to look forward to and I am suitably grumpy.

Everything is off-balance and I, with my beautiful Newfy breathing heavily, heftily beside me, in the warm, listening to the radio, am lonely. There you go, said it. And what do I do with that?

I am, I fear, middle management or at least lower-middle management aspiring unwittingly to be middle management (an unsavoury wish made not by my conscience but through my presence). I can write documentation about doing things, but I don’t appear to have the authority to actually implement these things, apart from for myself. I am a ‘kind of line manager’ as my boss so affectionately described me (I think I’ll omit that quote from my CV), however it’s all in the ‘kind of’. I have no authority but to listen and verbally react (usually with ‘yeah its shit isn’t it?’ in a sympathetic manner). I can suggest assignment of work, but can be swiftly overridden by everyone else above me (which appears to be an overwhelming percentage of the company).

Before Christmas I generated a hefty amount of work for myself by writing process after process, hoping to impress my seniors with my intuitiveness and proactive behaviour. While I now adhere by these very processes, I have noticed that another of our designers does not. I do not manage them, despite my hallowed position, apparently. I can give them a gentle nudge but that’s about it, and then I just appear like a whining colleague instead of a strong authoritarian figure striving to turn the department into a slickly oiled machine of creativity.

[pause to stroke Newfy’s belly]

But that is not the problem, merely a diversion, a momentary channelling of the real problem. Not being able to assign myself work, without generating process documentation that no one reads, is not the worst thing in the world. Frustrating, yes. But that is all, really.

I am the problem.

I am tired with it all, and I am tired of myself complaining, and I am tired of these empty, hollow promises I have written and thought and spoken over and over.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Begin again

So after a week away and a lifetime of changes, I'm sat at my desk with a cup of tea waiting to start work.

Officially I start in 12 minutes. I don't have a thing to do, to design, to write, to email. I could add to my endless documentation of Search Engine Optimisation (it started as a good idea, honest) but I am struggling to process the simplest of information this morning, and self motivated work seems to be dangling just that little bit too far away, an uninviting carrot.

No one will be in work for at least an hour or so. What will they give me then? Who will give me work?

I dreamed about him last night. In a mess of scenarios, all of them just random strings of consciousness. I have woken up feeling uncomfortable, distracted, tired and in need of someone to talk to, or at least something to distract me in a more productive direction, to take my mind of it's vulture-like thoughts, circling and circling around this.

I wonder how everyone else is coping at work, how it has affected everyone. I feel foolish in a way, embarrassed at the way it has affected me. Do I have the right to feel like this? Do I have the right to care so much, to feel so much grief? I feel so, so sad.

Last night the tears came in fits and starts, but I allowed myself to be distracted through conversations and television and endless reams of Dilbert to try and help me sleep. This morning, I am staring at an empty inbox, wondering how everyone coped last week. Were they fine? Did they cope better than my delayed realisation now returning to work?

Before I went on holiday, I noticed a few inflections of loneliness in my work. Long days, where I felt tired and my bones were heavy and my thoughts were heavier. It scared me, because this is what I do. I work from home. I have beautiful, beautiful Newfy by my side. I have the radio. I speak to those same few people over and over again throughout my day at work, on Skype, on MSN, on the phone, via email. The same voices, the same conversations, each of them adding a colour to my day.

I couldn't go back, for so many reasons, I wouldn't want to. Again and again people have asked me if I am lonely working from home. I never have been. I never have been. But these voices that build strands of detail in my day, the accents, the discussions, the diversions into nonsensical conversation or client gossip, they held me from that.

Before I went on holiday, I don't know why they were showing through. I felt like my consciousness was becoming translucent and behind, beneath, ugly thoughts were lurking. I don't know why. There are things I miss, but there are things I couldn't ever part from. It can be so much more deeply lonely working in an office. I have experienced that to such a degree in the past it scares me to remember.

One of those people, one of those intrinsic voices and fabrics in my day isn't going to be there anymore. Perhaps the absence has left a larger void than I understood. My selfishness in my personal loss sickens me, a guilt I have ignored is there, beneath. It is intertwined with this continual sadness, this loss, this aching for his family, his friends, the deep rooted, relentless pain they must be enduring. We were friends of circumstance, colleagues. I hope he would have chosen us.

It is now 8:08. I am torn from my blog by guilt, and am faced with nothing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Green Eyed Monster Vs Being Utterly Crap At Anything Involving Physical Exertion

Every week, my sister, her best friend and I strip down to what can only be described as an indecent amount of flesh and attempt to look erotic whilst hanging off poles like inexperienced monkeys (I am speaking from myself in this respect, they don’t end their moves with duck feet, legs splayed open on the floor, with a deeply furrowed brow looking more like a five year old who’s just fallen off a climbing frame from a great height than a pole-dancing goddess bathing in her sexuality).

We dance with a mixture of girls, weight and ability wise. There are those who will never be dancing for crowds of hungry eyes, gyrating their hips, exhaling sex appeal with their every deep, erotic breath, performing acrobatic moves worthy of Olympic gymnastic standard (if you were to strip out the judge-offending raunchiness and the competition was expanded to those who have at least considered puberty as a lifestyle choice) and all in an outfit that leaves so little to the imagination that it would make a gynaecologist blush.

And there are those that will.

I am, comfortably, happily, although perhaps a little frustratingly one of the former.

Not that I want to pole dance in public under any circumstances, let alone actually tear money away from poor misguided punters who should actually be watching someone who at least understands the concept of sexiness. But it would be nice to at least have the option within eyesight if not in reach to at least consider and discard (and return, once more, to making websites).

I don’t know where I was when sexiness was distributed, clearly unevenly. I suspect I was probably having a warm Ribena, which may have been the start of my problems. But I can’t recall, other than my lovely boyfriend after much prepping, ever being called ‘sexy’. Other names, yes. But sexy?
Perhaps it is my uncomfortable compromise of baby features alongside womanly substantial hips and an ever faithful spread of stretch-marked back fat that are first confusing then intriguing to the viewer, and not in an ‘ooh I want to get to know her better’ way, more of the ‘hmm I’d like to submit her genetic makeup for testing’. Perhaps it is my thick, unmanageable volumes of once blonde hair expanding from my frustratingly youthful features that conjure up the words ‘fluffy’ rather than ‘sexy’. Perhaps it is array of unattractive, toddler-borrowed facial expressions or my insistence on wearing the same clothing combinations that I have done since I was 14.

To counteract this noticeable lack of a key part of pole dancing, I attack the lessons with a tremendous amount of dedication and seriousness for one so small, focussing on attempting to perfect the moves, hoping, wishing, praying that one day sexiness will flow through my being and I will be finally transformed into the alter ego that at the moment doesn’t quite want to fit.

This in itself poses one or two not exactly insignificant problems.

The first is that I just cannot remember things. I watch our instructor repeat the moves again and again, trying to absorb every minute detail, but my thoughts are already curled around the defiant fact that I will not remember once I attempt to copy the move. If I do, on the odd occasion, manage to achieve such heady heights as mastering a move, on leaving the class I appear to walk through some sort of invisible sheep dip for brain cells, eradicating anything useful and instead not being able to process thoughts more complex than ‘gin & tonic’.

Luckily I am left handed so at least I have an excuse to ask the instructor to show me a move that I have already watched, probably attempted and possibly even practiced, again because I can’t quite remember what the hell I am supposed to be doing.

Secondly, my limbs have decided that, while my face hints at a bygone age of prepubescent, the rest of my body is heading very much in the opposite direction, seizing up at every opportunity with not even a hint of the suppleness I used to take for granted when dancing. And then there’s the physical strength. Yes I may have a disturbing ability to climb like a monkey (and looking like one gets you no brownie points in the class I might add) but my stomach muscles just laugh in the general direction of the pole when I size it up, and my thighs just don’t appear to be able to crush the metal within them like I really hoped they would considering their size in comparison to the bone that they encase.

Lastly, and certainly not least, I am beginning to notice it isn’t just sexiness you need for pole dancing. You need style as well.

Still, I am aware of all my shortcomings, noting that yes, I may utterly suck but I am only a beginner, and that’s what beginners do. They suck.

That’s what I thought until last night at least.

So there we were, the three of us. I graciously opted to join with a girl who had only so far had her induction and one lesson. I truly believed in some misguided way that I’d be able to help her with what I’d previously learned. I even felt a twinge of smugness at my being so nice.

I should have known by the fact our teacher had told us about her, this miracle girl, in our lesson the previous week. How she had undergone the induction and, not suffering an ounce of pain, had returned the following day, where she had proceeded to bash her foot so badly half way through the class that it spurted blood everywhere, only to continue throughout the rest of the class.

Okay, so she had clearly mastered the first few moves nicely. She had an enviable style, but there is for the most part of our class a real and true feeling of support and good will, and so I was genuinely pleased for her that she’d taken to it so effortlessly.

Then, as the class progressed, this started to get a little out of hand. As she attempted new move after new move, completing them like a pro, and adding a bit of flare in for good measure just to rub salt into my already suffering wounds, I struggled, banging my head against the pole, ending up on the floor, attempting things awkwardly, uncomfortably, inaccurately. And the best bit was that she was telling me how to do it right in a polite but firm manner. No, that wasn’t the best bit, that was the fact that everything she told me was true.

This girl also appeared to have a photographic memory. While I asked repeatedly what a move was, she absorbed every nuance of our instructor’s demonstration, copying to such an extent that I began to feel slightly ridiculous and completely rubbish.

This girl was lovely, helpful, supportive (in the physical sense as well as verbal, as in one instance she encouraged me to attempt a move that involved me ending up with my head on the floor and my legs wrapped for dear life around the pole, leaving me with chaffed thighs all evening) and extremely, extremely naturally talented.

I had already previously established that pole dancing wasn’t what I was natural at. I have already been through many hobbies and activities striving to find what I do in fact have natural aptitude for, what I am gifted at, surely there is one thing, surely I cannot be terrible at all things that involve doing more than just walking (in which I have at least some aptitude but I refuse to believe that counts).

I had hoped that pole dancing might have been the hallowed activity, the one that I took to like a duck to water, the one that I fell into like I had been born to dance around a metal pole (if anyone ever has). But I had quickly realised this was not to be.

I have seen students join since I first began and do exactly what I wanted to achieve. But my sister and I have usually just had a bit of a grumble and moan about how we wish we’d been able to achieve such a natural instinct, and continue. After all, we’d get there in the end, we were chipping away at it, improving gradually, congratulating each other with every achievement, it was all a learning process.

Last night though was beyond a joke. Now I understand how all those other extras must have felt playing second fiddle to Harry Bloody Potter. Most of them weren’t even assigned names. In the pole dancing equivalent (if there is ever to be one, in which case I would like to know about casting details), she would have been the protagonist, while I would have been Girl In Background Looking On #5, which would have most likely ended up on the cutting room floor, perhaps appearing in some hidden DVD extra if they had some free space.

I left last night, aching and not feeling all that motivated.

I adore my classes more than any other exercise I have ever attempted (and believe me that’s a comparison to a severe number of hours of my life) and in no way am I planning to achieve the standard that many dancers I have had the pleasure to watch have reached. Besides, I think I am probably on the wrong age side of twenty to be attempting anything of the sort. Pole dancing classes were my sister’s ingenious answer to our being rejected for a British Sign Language class (because it was full, not because were reprobates) which not only mean that we see each other once a week without fail, but we get to swing around metal poles and remind a few muscles of their assigned much neglected jobs while we’re at it.

So today, approaching the issue on a different tack, I have informed my sister that we are getting outfits that look less like we are going to a pyjama party and more like we are pole dancers. Once we have moved (wherever that may be to, which is an incredibly sensitive topic), I will proceed to erect a pole so we can at least pretend to practice. I have even toyed with the idea of purchasing some incredibly high heeled pole dancing shoes, but one step at a time.

I am not by nature a competitive person. I don’t wish to be the best in everything I do. I just don’t want to utterly suck, whether that be comparative to whoever I am paired with or merely in general. Yes of course I was sickeningly jealous. Yes, perhaps I did wish a little that there was at least one move that she didn’t master without even attempting it. But I refuse to, on this instance, believe myself to be a bad person for such thoughts. If perhaps I addressed other deeper, darker half-conceived, not-quite-thoughts I would not be a nice person and so we shall pretend such inklings were never even thought of being felt.

However I’m quite relieved to know that next time we’ll be faithfully back in our Thursday class.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Devil's in the Money

I am wondering how long this is going to go on.

In the wondering, there are springs of anxiousness, like the daffodils reaching up through the garden outside (only to be eaten by Newfy, something of which I'm yet to break to my parents) - individually nothing to worry about, these tiny exclamations of spring in the mild midwinter, but together prophesising the beginning of some apocalyptic global warming phenomenon, while we mutter within ourselves, not too loud unless it might be true, that these environmental factors may, just may, have had something vaguely to do with our presence (guess who’s just watched An Inconvenient Truth).

Anxiousness displays itself through a muscle contraction around my stomach (not that you’d really notice, I’ve been trying to pretend it is an effective replacement for my gym abandonment), a sickness swooping down my throat into my gut, headaches grabbing my temples and squeezing them so gently yet so firmly that it is difficult to pinpoint.

I have these ideas exploding from my brain like cheap fireworks, often firing at random into someone else’s garden or fizzing un-climatically to the ground. Ways to make money, ways to live my life in the idealistic fashion I thought was granted to you on receiving your degree certificate (which are rarely the same idea). Ways to be the person I want to be.

I have never used the words ‘sell out’, because I never really thought I was making enough money to sell out. That word, I imagined, was reserved for the big boys, the stuff of The City, where Christmas bonuses could buy a small Eastern European country. My Christmas bonus, while much appreciated and meaning that I didn’t have to sell my already overly-mortgaged kidneys to pay my tax bill, would barely have covered the air fare (and perhaps a cheap night’s b&b on arrival if I did a bit of scouring).

I have used the words ‘corporate whore’ many times, probably more because I quite like it. It conjures up images of The WebStress donning a fetching PVC catsuit (well, to me anyway, but you may not want to dwell too much on that thought) to derive and unsettling amount of pleasure out of creating pointless banner ads and re-editing already butchered designs back to how they originally were when you submitted them to the client, after undergoing major surgery by someone clearly on work experience.

What am I? I am good at my job. Or, rather, I am good at every part of my job, other than the actual designing bit, but I reckon I can argue a good case for my CSS, unless someone is actually looking at the actual sloppily written and ill conceived code.

Not only that, I am good at my job, which allows me to have the lifestyle I have become so wonderfully accustomed to.

Still not quite right?

Yorkshire Lass, a very good friend of mine, suffering a similar career crisis, echoed my thoughts even before I really knew I’d had them, “I feel privileged to have a job that many other people would be eternally grateful for: my job is amazing, but I feel someone else would appreciate it more than me.”

That’s it. THAT’S IT.

I don’t appreciate my work, but I never thought I’d have to. All my web design jobs have had flaws so sizeable its almost impossible to claw out of them to get on with something productive.

But with this job, all of those flaws are being slowly irradiated by the wonderful staff that I work with. Don’t like 9 to 6? We don’t either, here’s an 8 hour day, and oh we’ll throw in an hour’s lunch break. And nag you if you don’t use it. Been working overtime? Why not finish early on a Friday. Too much overtime? Okay, no worries, we’ll pay you. So you want to start earlier? Just work the hours you like. You want to take a few hours off? How’s about you just make it up rather than take it as holiday. And we’ll be really lovely about the whole thing. Hate London? Work from home. And you can keep your London salary, and what the hell we’ll throw in a Christmas bonus.

My job is becoming increasingly hard to dislike, certainly from everyone else’s perspective.

I have created such an undercurrent of processes inherent to my actually being in my role that boss #1, soon to arrive in the UK, will find it difficult to gazump my job with some heavily qualified, paid-a-considerable-amount-more-than-me design guru and demote me to being whatever they think I do at the moment. I didn’t do this deliberately, not really, but the cogs are beginning to turn, and I’m one of them (the one that needs a bit of oiling and tends to break down erratically).

I am still here, I am still working, I am still a web designer.

There were empty, hollow promises. I would abandon my job and write. Oh I so wanted to, I ached to. It was now or never, I knew that, my boyfriend in New Zealand, being back home, little rent to pay. Then, okay, I’ll do some casual work to pay the bills and to save up some money. And, oh bugger, now I have a car to pay for. Now my boyfriend is home, thank god, something I hope I will never take for granted, not after 2006, not after that time without him, but we have loans to pay and a house to find.

There are two ways people start their own businesses or break out to follow their creative dreams as far as I have been able to deduce.

#1 – Give up work.

This is of course the favoured option, for a completely immersive experience, to dedicate your very lifeblood to following your dreams, your ambitions. But it comes with oh such a risk. And can only be done realistically either by taking a loan from the bank, only advised for business propositions which will actually make money (The WebStress Writes doesn’t really conjure visions of writhing around in bucket loads of cash), or through being supported financially. And at the moment, I am the one who will be paying the mortgage while my boyfriend battles with fierce loan repayments.

#2 – Start your dream alongside your day job.

Everyone says it. You are creating hollow excuses for yourself, you can start today, now, with a pen and paper. All the excuses in the world, that I feel have such a severe hold on me, don’t wash with The Big Guys.

I was getting there, somewhere at least, with a business plan. But things have halted, through no-one’s fault, and no diving board can be approached while we are agreeing a mortgage, it is my wage we are hanging tentatively off. But in developing ideas I was up at six, finishing late in the evening, squeezing every moment out of the day, barely recognising my boyfriend, barely attending my beautiful Newfy, encased within a smoke of ideas and being cholked on not being able to achieve them, no time, not enough time. And then I collapsed.

Apart from a brief period, ironically when I was running a business with a friend, ever since I left uni I have worked way beyond my typical hours, way beyond what is considered to be a day job. Just with the job itself, or with the freelance work I use as the frills on my financial grouting.

And then, before then, where university work had no boundaries, where it spread like a virus into the mornings and evenings and weekends. And, back, back further, to A-levels, where coursework was molded around part time jobs.

I have become to resent ‘extra curricular’ work in such an unproductive way I am continuously disappointed with myself. And when I do drag my tired eyes and my aching head back to the computer on an evening, there is always something, something that needs attending to that involves a client, some nominal amount of money, something that needs to be completed now, and your dream can just be placed, just there, just out of reach, until tomorrow.

And there are the things I love, my boyfriend, my Newfy, sat within arm's reach, sat so near to me and I wonder what the hell I am doing. Too often I have neglected him, my boyfriend, the person who has come home and attended me with cups of tea, with soothing words, and is often repaid with a shadow of his girlfriend, or harsh words, or tears, from exhaustion, from frustration, from such an aching head.

When I do grab such a few precious, coveted hours and productivity does spurt from my usually cauterized veins, it is never enough, and I reflect my achievement on completion, feeling let down, the words not being quite right, the story feeling half-baked and unloved now, now there’s no time to attend to it.

My impatience and my disappointment in my own achievements burrows so many holes within myself that I am often ashamed of even admitting my flaws, for worry other people will then spot these great gapes of imperfection and not be able to look at me.

I am tired of my own overused, exhausted excuses.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Wow, so this is how it feels.

(Not the rejected bit, that has happened often enough in the past in various parts of my life on a variety of different emotional and professional levels and while that sounds extremely self pitying, I am totally understanding of the entire procedure, however much I whimper after each occasion, ensuring myself, each time, that everything can be put down to experience and there’s nothing that can’t be solved by a nice cup of tea).

My boyfriend called, I knew what he was going to say.

Mr Fat, it seems, has returned from being 'at sea', has rejected our offer, and buggered off back to being 'at sea' for yet another week without so much as a window of possible negotiation.

I've never haggled for anything in my life, certainly not to reduce an item in price unless it has been so hideously damaged that it doesn't resemble in any way what it was originally intended to be.

I think the most I've ever haggled for is to beg for my tax to be thrown in for free when I purchased my car. They had £12,500. I got £100 worth of tax. A clear bargain (for whom, I won’t go into, needless to say the bloke who sold me the car now has a promotion and I have a rather large debt). And that was only because I literally couldn't afford it and would have probably cried hysterically had they not.

I am a salesman's dream. I don't barter. Ever.

I actually sell the item for them.

Partly because I can't bear their sales schpiel, partly because I am so inherently terrified of salesmen in general trying to sell me something that I don't want so I try to establish what I do want before they sink their money-hungry teeth into my unsuspecting wallet (occasionally falling foul of their trickery, occasionally duping myself into purchasing something I actively dislike), partly because I cannot bear to be made a fool of by pitching laughably too low, or in the same vein, too high.

So I just usually, quietly, hurriedly, purchase the item at full price and tootle out of whatever establishment I am in before the cackle of the sales assistant has time to echo in my deluded brain that I have not been overcharged and whatever I have purchased really is worth the retail price I just sold a kidney for.

Not so in the case of purchasing the House From Hell. The WebStress was going to stand her ground, fight back, hold strong. All by way of instructing my boyfriend, unconstructively, unhelpfully and most of the time rather repetitively, on how to speak to the estate agent regarding our offer.

We had, in my cowardly defence, no option with our offer. There was no way we would get a mortgage for the amount it was valued at (by someone who was clearly blind with no sense of smell, or actually any sense at all). And there was no way any mortgage provider would give us 100% of the money that they were asking for.

My boyfriend and I have had a few ‘heated discussions’ regarding our offer on the House From Hell. He has his heart set on the property, I have my head set on vast mortgage repayments that we cannot afford (that’s if we ever got granted it in the first place) and a vague quality of life that I want to retain.

And the house is in such a dire state that I feel it is totally unjust to reward them with any cash above the bare minimum for a property that clearly hasn’t been cleaned in 12 months and its residents have actively covered themselves in dirt and grime and rolled around its insides in gay abandon, smearing their flaking filthy skin cells across any exposed surface, and for a garden that appears to be an oversized rubbish bin for someone who has a very poor aim and no idea of special awareness.

The house has been on the market for six months. The inhabitants clearly believe they are living in some sort of dirt hovel so relocating them won’t be too much of a difficult task. The owners are suffering some sort of messy divorce and clearly want rid of each other. There is writing all over the walls in the children’s bedroom. There is mould on the ceiling in the bathroom and the kitchen. There are probably rats that have been relocated by the council due to unfit living conditions.

And they’ve turned our offer down.

Now I don’t really know what to do about this. They don’t, apparently, want an awful lot more money. I don’t want to give them any more money. An extra two thousand pounds in the grand scheme of things probably isn’t that much and let’s face it, the market isn’t bending over backwards with the weight of suitable properties in a reasonable price range to accommodate my boyfriend’s grand building plans (which apparently involve using every page in his DIY book which I believe weighs more than a car, after he left it stranded on my lap the other day in bed) and a soon to be fully grown Newfy.

But I feel so…so wrong for paying any more money than we possibly have to for what I would struggle to even let a homeless person live in even on a temporary basis in its current state, for fear of contracting some sort of disease. I have lived in student housing in the filthiest, rat infested, grime ridden areas of Bradford which I recalled fondly when faced with this house. These people have not cared for this house, and as a result it isn’t worth what they want for it.

I do know though that my boyfriend is fiercely passionate about the possibilities for this particular property and that my arguments tend to collapse underneath my lack of ability to hold a constructive discussion, while he eloquently and efficiently usually manages to manipulate me into his way of thinking, effortlessly and, often, without me even noticing.

We are to have ‘discussions’ this evening about the House From Hell. And, whatever our decision, face yet another agonising week waiting to hear Mr Fat’s response.

Well, I guess, everyone said buying a house wasn’t easy. I just wasn’t expecting this process to be so painfully long and drawn out.

I wonder if its too early for gin.
Room 101: The Estate Agent

So we put in an offer on the House From Hell a week ago now.

As the days drained by, we heard the same thing day after day. Apparently Mr Fat is still at sea (which we're beginning to suspect is a euphemism for something truly horrible, suggestions for which include he is beneath the patio or Mrs Fat may have eaten him, or perhaps he is buried beneath the sweaty rolls of excess flab about her person) and has still not responded to the email.

So, taking matters into my own hands, I organised a few appointments to view two other properties on Sunday afternoon, one of which could have been the one, or encouraged us away from the fiery jaws of Hell, or on the other hand assured us that investing thousands of pounds of someone else's money into a property that Sarah Beeny would do one of those omnipotent, condemning and sarcastic voice-overs when reviewing was really the right choice after all.

Unfortunately for those property sellers, both of reasonably priced, modest yet promising houses (although each with their imperfections which meant Hell is still firmly settled in the top spot, regardless of the fact that they don't actually seem to want to sell it to us), the agent who showed us round was so utterly abhorrent that I actually felt the need to physically suppress all manner of Nasty Things To Say, at one stage gripping my boyfriend's hand so tightly I'm sure my fingernails pierced his skin (he was, incidentally, gripping my hand with an equal intensity).

I don't like estate agents. Not that I've ever been involved with one on any level before, but having lived in London, where you can only walk a few hundred yards before being mown down by an erratically driven, heavily branded Foxton's mini, complete with smug, small penised agent casually masturbating inside at his recent reaping of another poor, unfortunate couple's beaten souls, I feel like they have interfered with my daily life to such a degree that I may as well have signed on that dreaded dotted line. In my blood. And, what the hell, that of my nearest and dearest too.

Subsequently, Estate agent car branding, really doesn't go down all that well with me. It says 'this company sucks the very lifeblood out of innocent home buyers and sellers that it can afford to throw endless reams of cash away telling people as such on its motor vehicles'. And it says of the driver 'look at me, I'm a twat'.

I instantly had my back up when our assigned agent arrived in such a heavily branded car. This hadn't started well.

Showing us around the house, the agent, complete with trowel applied foundation and clipboard accessory kit, barely broke those carefully hidden lines, for fear of fracture, in discussing the property. Instead she waxed lyrical about how the property had recently been sold, how it was sure to go by the end of the day, using words like 'delightful' so laden with patronising, sugary tones that I believe she may have been a primary school teacher in a previous life, if she hadn't terrorised small children by the mere mention of her name or the echo of her footsteps.

I don't know exactly what she thought we were after in a property but telling us that the (absolutely hideous) wardrobes were staying in the house to insinuate that leaving behind furniture would influence our purchase positively lead me to believe she just didn't think. At all.

On leaving the first property, after continuing to reel off the list of other potential buyers that were still to view the property that day, she said, pushing me to the dangerous point of doing something that I might have been arrested for, 'I think this would be an ideal property for you'.

Yes, okay, an ideal property. For someone who doesn't have a boyfriend who plays the drums, who doesn't sing loudly and painfully at inhuman times of the day, who doesn't have a boyfriend who thinks its a really good idea to play extremely inappropriate morning music at the volume that it was set to the night before, to someone who doesn't own a Newfy.

Had we not had to endure a second viewing with this agent, I would perhaps have escaped a little ruffled but recovered after a nice cup of tea and a flapjack.

But we followed her, up through estate after estate of properties still adorned with Christmas lights (an immediate concern) to the second property.

The agent new nothing about this property and had never visited it before. But she swept into room after room, exclaiming something wildly inappropriate on entering such as describing the pocket sized bathroom that would have fitted neatly on the back seat of my car as 'spacious' and oozing praise for the admittedly lovely view to the point that it really wasn't all that lovely after all.

On exiting the property, we asked if she had any details for it, knowing we weren't interested, but trying to prise ourselves away from her venomous barbed tongue as swiftly as possible. She exclaimed, loudly enough for the owners to hear, that if we were to wait for the details we'd be far too late and we really would need to put an offer in immediately as (mentioning for possibly the sixth or seventh time about that particular property) she had many more viewings to conduct (all this with the undercurrent of a laugh that would reduce Mumrah the Ever Living to retreating back into his cocoon).

The final nail in her coffin was, on walking back to the car, she asked us if we had the available finances to buy the property, laughing in a manner that made me want to rip out her tongue and post it through her ear canal until it came out the other side, that we'd be surprised how many people didn't organise this side of things before viewing a house.

Now, I may look twelve. But I, unlike her, have several useful brain cells that I have put into good use with this whole purchase process. No, thank you, I do not want to see your Independent Financial Adviser. No I will not be sending you a Christmas card. And no, most certainly, I will not, under any circumstances, ever be buying a house from you.

Before, estate agents were a problem that other people had, like genital warts or hair loss. Now, it appears, that they are under my skin, picking apart the delicate strings that hold together my sanity, poisoning my thoughts with their presence. I haven't said so many nasty things about one person in such a very long time that I shocked myself in being able (with the help of my boyfriend) to discuss each one of her foibles, down to mere (but probably accurate) predictions about her character, and then was able to do the whole thing again once we arrived home with my parents.

Our estate agent, the people who are occasionally calling us to inform us that, no, still nothing has happened, are, I fear, not much better. The fact that they informed my boyfriend, when he mentioned (read: threatened) that we were beginning to look at other houses, that they 'were doing a lot of work for us' (read: calling Mrs Fat to ask for news, then calling us, or not calling us, to inform us that there was none), despite the fact that we are among the only people willing to even consider stepping inside Hell, let alone to put an offer in on such a grotesque building, in 6 months, and that we have waited a week now to hear back. I strongly resent being told by an estate agent that they are doing a lot of work for us, especially over such pitiful claims as a few phone enquiries, when in fact isn't it their job to sell us the house? And, correct me if I'm wrong, don't they actually get paid if they sell the house? So, technically, the work they are doing is THEIR JOB?

The justification of the existence of an estate agent, as far as I am aware, is to make unnecessary paperwork, create reams of unimportant yet totally undecipherable red tape, increase the rate of alcohol abuse and raise stress levels to hospitalisation points.

Yes, okay, it isn't very nice to have to negotiate directly with someone, to tell them that you won't offer that sum of money for their house, because it isn't worth it. And for that reason I am thankful the estate agent does that bit (although even if it was down to us, I'd make my boyfriend do it while I hid behind the sofa, loudly whispering inappropriate comments and writing incomprehensible scribblings on post-it notes during the phone call, then subsequently getting angry when he doesn't address any of my points).

But really, if that's the only reason, that terribly English reason of not wishing to offend anyone directly to their face, instead employing a costly and incompetent middle man purely for the purposes of negotiation to hide behind, if that's the only reason we have our very souls tainted, beaten by their presence, surely there's a better way?

Or perhaps, like the PE teachers, the parking attendants, the insurers of this world, its kind of secretly nice to have professions we can all gang up against and feel suitably smug that we aren’t one.