It was partly my gift to myself for turning 30. Midlife crisis tat? yeah whatever. It undeniably was a coming of age of sorts though. Another thing that I thought I was going to grow out of but somehow never did (add it to the list with feminism and girl gangs and politics and punk rock and writing). You get to a point and you realise that you’re not growing out of this shit, it is who you are. It’s in you; bones, blood and flesh. You leave, you come back, you take a break, you immerse yourself completely. It changes your life.
Everything about it is bound up in my relationship with my own body and my own survival; and all that links back to my relationship with feminism (and that’s the feminism that matters to me; third wave, queer, popular culture, fuck the rest of it), the stuff that got inside me and changed my life. So it was pretty important to get the work done by a woman, partly to support women who are working in what is still a male dominated industry. And she had to be bloody good, obviously. Working in a style I liked that I knew wasn’t really that fashionable right now (big up to Sandy from Sacred Art Manchester).
Sadly it seems normal for girls to come out of their teens with experiences of eating disorders. Mine was less extreme than some (I’m still here) but fucking bad enough. If it wasn’t for a battered mix tape of Bikini Kill and a now well thumbed copy of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, I don’t think that would have happened. And like an reformed alcoholic who knows they can never drink again, I know I will never diet. Which has been more problematic than I’d like to admit as my metabolism slowed down and I gained more weight than was healthy. Exercise now means that I’m not skinny, but I am strong. And I’ve a physical ease in my own body which took years and years to gain back. I’ve come to view my acceptance of my own body as a quiet daily act of rebellion. It’s not much but it matters. And I know I wouldn’t have been able to get this work done without it.
I wanted to get a bird in flight, on my back, which seems kinda weird to some people cuz I won’t actually see it that much. But I’d know it was there, catch glimpses of it out the corner of my eye. It wasn’t necessarily an oblique connection (partly just because I like birds) but somewhere lurking in the back of my head was this quote from Cixous from The Laugh of the Medusa, which I read as an undergraduate and it got stuck somewhere inside….
‘Flying is woman’s gesture – flying in language and making it fly. We have all learned the art of flying in its numerous techniques, for centuries we’ve been able to possess anything only by flying; we’ve lived in flight, stealing away, finding, when desired, narrow passageways, hidden crossovers. Its no accident that voler has a double meaning, that it plays on each of them and thus throws off the agents of sense. It’s no accident. Women take after birds and robbers just as robbers take after women and birds. They go by, fly the coop, take pleasure in jumbling the order of space, in disorientating it, in changing around the furniture, dislocating things and values, breaking them all us, emptying structures and turning propriety upside down’
I’ve never felt more like a thief than I do right now. I’m trying to make space for a life that I want to live, when it seems those values fly right in the face of the modern world. And sometimes that makes me feel a little crazy. There are no conventional routes into these places, no well worn path, I’m making this shit up as I go along and sometimes it’s fucking hard.
And I think of Nicki Minaj, an artist who came along just at the point when I’d had all I could take of introspective, depressing guitar pop. I think of the lyrics to Fly, and what it means to me. Of knowing you are good, and no longer being afraid of that. It’s about survival, of going through shit, of thinking you got it nailed, and then landing back down on the ground with your dress covered in dirt; there’s dust in your mouth and your hair. All you can do is get up, wipe yourself off and get on with it because you just don’t have any other choice. I’ve tried to destroy myself, assimilate, disappear, I’ve broken down, fucked things up, believed the bullshit some people talk about me, given up on myself and then had to go back and apologise. But I’m still here, and I’m getting closer than ever to getting this right.
‘I hear the criticism loud and clear, that’s how I know that the time is near,
See we become alive in a time of fear
and I aint got no motherfucking time to spare’