Discover more from that & this
On that, this, and &
this is a weekly letter of creative exploration
that is other people’s creative stuff i liked
this is creative stuff i’ve been working on
& is whatever else comes to mind while journaling
issue zero is because, before one, i’m doing what all of the books & online courses tell you not to do with your writing: telling before i show. i wanted to work it out a bit myself as i wrote, too — how i wanted it all to look & feel. if you like it, please become a paid subscriber or buy me coffee / tea.
Qs for the comments: How do you track what you’re reading, watching, and / or listening to? (& why don’t you, if you don’t?)
Here / that is where I’ll share three creative things.
They’re songs, books, video games, episodes, series, documentaries, one-off sentences and week-long binges, albums, films, and podcasts — trinkets, treasures, & stories I’d like to remember.
I graduated in 2014 from a London-ish university (Royal Holloway’s magical, though the pure cheek & trickery of linking it to London, when it’s over an hour away by car or train, stands testament to their marketing) with a master’s degree in geopolitics. Since then, I’ve held (at least what feels like) a long succession of content, marketing, and comms jobs, none at all related to geopolitics — they did, though, all explicitly promise ‘creative freedom’. Once hired, no matter how much I liked the team or soothed myself by figuring this would be the closest I’d get to becoming a writer before actually becoming one, it would soon be clear that the role wouldn’t know creativity if it sat surrounded by Dorothea Tanning paintings while Thom Yorke performed 2018’s Suspiria soundtrack live. (God, I’d love to see that.) Sat in my first ‘proper’ office job, in a dreary, Ealing office block, Austin Kleon got me dreaming.
His weekly letter was a list of stuff — things people had created that he liked, some recent, some not, all sorts, threaded together with what he’d created or expanded on himself. I saw how vital criticism & curation were, to guide people towards what was worthy, in their eyes, of throwing finite time towards; I saw permission to make stuff that wasn’t perfect; I saw the messy creative process & growth of a person in real-time; the strength of a singular voice, admired within their broad community, defined not by form but, simply, by desire to experience; and I saw the appeal of individual taste — if he liked something, I’d hunted it down within minutes.
Other ‘social’ platforms, like Instagram & Twitter, were where I originally tried to find a community. For a good ten years, begging the question of why I stuck around for so long, I was met with walls: flurries of spam, maybe a few stunted comments of love this but no ongoing chat about why they connected with whatever I’d said or seen. (In fact, I’d get the digital equivalent of an eyebrow raise if I then DMed that person to say hi.) With books, there’s an intense focus on visual framing, hand-modelling, tall stacks without much consideration of the quality of words within them, and thoughts clipped by character counts (though I guess that might not always be the worst thing).
& that’s why I’m here on Substack: to share what I like with a (I really hope) receptive, creative community, and to chat with people who hold the same and totally different tastes — but are interested in refining their own, wherever it may take them.
For this edition, I found a few bits from a May 2021 draft I never published as an example of what I’ll share in future — it’s much shorter.
1. On a mural’s (or, fiction’s) ability to make life a little more bearable | ‘They had no more entertaining distractions to take their minds off death and birth, sleep and work, and their prayers to the almighty father and his stricken son when things got awful. So, in my job, it helps if you can smell candles … if you can see their smoke trailing amongst images, threading nave arcades, settling on corbels and bosses, blackening stone too high for the cleaning women to get at.’ From A Month in the Country by J L Carr (1980).
2. Return of the (Gabriel) Mac | Mac’s warmth & wit sold me on the Longform podcast as a staple for morning walks at the start of the pandemic: a journalist who formerly published under the byline Mac McClelland and “appears in a multitude of photographs online as a good-looking lady.” Mac’s episode, originally aired in 2012, found me on one of my first morning pandemic-walks in March 2020. When I went to find more of their work, though, they seemed to have … disappeared. I even — and I realise this is a bit dumb, I just didn’t know what else to do with the feeling — contacted Mac’s website and the Longform team. I guess I felt worried about the quiet. It felt sudden, purposeful. I didn’t hear back, not that I was owed a response. Shift to May 2021, and I listen to this Radiolab episode, and realise he was the “writer and investigative reporter, and human person” I’d been listening to — he had transitioned. I’ve lost a lot the past few years, and it was nice, in such a distant way, to find someone who’d been lost, then found themselves. I sobbed. It was lovely.
3. “You made me feel like it was my fault you were the devil” | Your Power is Billie Eilish’s drowsy, potent shaming of gaslighting: the psychological manipulation of a person or group by covertly sowing seeds of doubt, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. It’s a reminder to do what’s right and take responsibility for when things are done wrong.
& other bits: this is where I’ll share things that didn’t make the top three, but are still worth mentioning. For now, I’ll keep you waiting (!) for issue one.
This / this is where I’ll share what I’m doing myself.
Occasionally, I find the energy to pick up some sticks, jaw agape & drooling (my focus face) while I get one plate spinning. Then, I run to another. By the time I reach the third, the first hits the floor; the second’s wobbling. There’s only so many times someone can watch it all fall down before they give up a little.
Some plates: writing short stories, writing literary / film criticism, learning how to read classics, study in literature / creative writing / maybe a little journalism, setting up a bookshop or working as a freelance bookseller.
For now, until my contract ends, I manage comms for an NHS Trust in southwest England — it basically means if any messages need to reach thousands of staff or many more members of the community, long-term or life-and-death-urgent, I’m your guy — I write and coordinate them. Twice a week, I pen a letter on behalf of the directors, then I’m the comms lead for vaccine centres, internal alert systems, our new patient record system, and a bunch of other stuff. Before, I did similar work in content & events programming & marketing with Hatchards bookshop, London Film School, Lloyds Banking Group, Uni. of Oxford, and a bunch of charities.
With a full time job, partner, demanding cat, a family you’re trying to reconnect with, exercise & healthy food to plan & do, and a house to (excruciatingly slowly) decorate, you struggle to find the time to do other stuff — even if it brings you huge amounts of joy. To create on top of all this is a huge ask, but one I wish to be better at doing. A big part of this section is simply be working out how to do it all, and how to pick & choose when you can’t. This process of creation is where I admire writers like Elle Griffin — so tuned in with the myriad of ways our generation of writers can take advantage of and experiment with.
For this edition, I’ll share the most recent bits.
1. Deleted social media | I’ve pressed the shiny red button and imploded my 20k collective social media following. Now, I’m just on Substack, Strava to get / keep in shape, MUBI & Letterboxd for films, and TikTok (for toilet-break cat-content, obviously.) Twitter was the bulk — I was popular while managing the events programme for the UK’s oldest bookshop, Hatchards. Then, I left. (The pay was awful, but we accepted poor compensation because, well, we were living the dream, of course!) When I resigned, people didn’t unfollow, but the engagement stopped dead — who cares what I do next when it’s not books? (Me neither.) My other channels included bookstagram, seasonal crumbles / cobblers, mosaics of other people’s work, fitness, peanut butter & matching it with various other foods, my cat, and blackout poetry. All filler, no killer.
2. Writing interviews | While working at London Film School, I planned, conducted, and wrote this interview with Remi Moses: a young, talented, and already-accomplished filmmaker. While total freedom was clipped by the employer at the time, with its own goals in having the piece written, I loved considering the questions I’d most want to ask Remi, in order to glimpse something unique of the creator, then chatting, editing, chatting a little more through any points for clarity or expansion, finally publishing & responding to how it landed. At Hatchards, I also interviewed the author, now friend, Diane Setterfield in front of an audience — terrifying, no matter how lovely she is, but a memorable experience. I’m going to try and get a few more of these under my belt off the back of my reading.
3. Stealing back time | Writing requires practice, which asks for time folded, preferably, into every day. Right now, it doesn’t exist and has to be handed to my job and normal daily things — feeding the cat, cleaning her poop, telling her how much I adore her. While looking for a new, permanent job for when this NHS contract ends, I’ll attempt to find something with flexible working hours, perhaps even a full day per week to just write.
& some other bits I’m keen to do: speaking with lecturers from a university about what courses I may benefit from taking.
Finally, this is where I’ll ramble a bit about something from my week — a thought, something I particularly enjoyed / couldn’t stand, maybe a new way of managing my time better to fit more creative things into a busy schedule.
I’ve rambled enough already for this edition, though, so we’ll leave it there.
Hope to chat with you all soon!
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