The end of a Legend

 I’ve recently resigned from my job.  Am I crazy?  In this world economic crisis???  I don’t even have another job to go into.  Still think I’m crazy?  I’ve spent 8 years of my life, from the age of 16, working for a high street chemists / beauty store.  When I started this job, as a member of the healthcare division of the company, I was happy, the staff were happy, the customers, for the most part, were happy.

 

This company prides itself on it’s, lets say wonderful (think ends of your legs….) customer care. And when I started work, and for the first few years this was largely true.  I was encouraged to care for my customers, to give them what they needed, and spend as much time finding this out as I needed to, too. No conversation was too long, if I was the only person an elderly, sick, or simply lonely person spoke to in a week then I would make sure that on my Saturday shift, I would make that a good conversation.  I wanted every customer to leave with a smile on their face.  But then things began to change.  Through numerous ‘re-profiling’ attempts, the company being sold and ‘re-imagined’ etc etc.  The smile I was used to sending people away with changed, instead of a smile I was to send them away with a product: Some antibacterial hand gel, some vitamin C tablets, a loyalty card, or even the dreaded online customer survey.  Those customers I had once been able to intuitively understand were in a rush or wanted a quick, simple and trustworthy transaction, had to be held on to, kicking and screaming whilst I forced reams of till roll into their already full hands, coffee cups, shopping bags, mobile phones, here, have some more crap to drag around. Or even, here, have something you don’t even need, that will do you no good, but, crucially will cost you a whole £1 less than it normally would.

 

Then things changed for me.  I finished studying and had to enter the dreaded world of ‘no student loan’. I went to working extra hours, here and there, when I needed and when suited, but this lifestyle of uncertainty and instability took its toll, so I decided to get myself some proper, official, contracted hours.  Unfortunately this entailed working in a different department.  The dreaded care home dispensary, aka the dungeon UP the stairs. For a while I stuck it out, in the hope that there would come a time when I could return to the shop floor and to ‘my’ customers (yes, I actually enjoy customers!).  Alas this day never came, and to make things worse other commitments outside of work I had to relinquish my last hold on this bastion of rebellion, and stop working my Saturdays on the shop floor.  This decision was not a light one for me, and things got worse when I was accused of ‘not supporting the needs of the business’, by my then manager.  I could vaguely understand this opinion, but could not agree, I gave my proper due notice to the post and explained that should they need me to work the odd Saturday shift they need only ask and if I could I would.  This seemed to fall on deaf ears and that particular manager has never spoken a word to me since, yep, the full on silent treatment, from a manager and adult…

 

So, now I worked solely in the dungeon. No windows, one door, one radio, one radio station, one air conditioning unit… numerous opinions on temperature.

 

Now I don’t want to escalate my situation out of proportion, it is meant to be representative of the general degradation of what I believe to be the company’s own age-old ethics and beliefs. And I’d also like to believe that my treatment wasn’t racially oriented, though can’t say I would rule it out completely.  (But, often I felt I was singled out due to my voice/accent)  ‘I’m fed up of hearing your voice!’, my manager would shout across the room when she decided that the conversation that had been occurring was over. A conversation that had, until maybe thirty seconds prior to this outburst, very much included them.  It worked though; the room would descend into silence, unless anyone could hear the blood in my veins starting to simmer.

 

But this occasion isn’t really what drove home the way in which the company is changing to me. What revealed the type of character, and associated behaviour the company now believes to be correct for the role of manager, was a conversation concerning Christmas hours.  Now, I had requested to have the Christmas period off, that is, Christmas day and Boxing Day, as opposed to New Years Day and the day after.  But as I have a long way to travel to get home to my family for this period, and wanted to try and avoid travelling on Christmas Eve (we all know what happens then!!), I asked if I may take the Friday off before Christmas, Christmas Eve Eve if you like.  In exchange I would be willing to work even more hours over the New Year period than I had taken off.  Now I will be honest to say that, even with this attempt at a trade, I in no way expected to get a positive response to this request. And I was right, but what I was wrong about was exactly how this negative response would be relayed. Was I wrong to anticipate a response such as ‘I’m sorry (let’s refer to me as C), but Christmas is a very busy period and we can’t let anyone take any extra time off’’? Something like that, maybe, at worst, ‘It’s company policy’.  But what I got back was this…

 

‘We are not a charity C’.

 

That was it, done, dusted, BOOM.  I, personally, was completely shocked and appalled that a manager could choose to speak to another member of staff in such a way.

 

Fast forward about two months or so, I have just returned from a family holiday.  On my return I discover that all of the staff are being given their interim ‘performance reviews’ for the year.  Basically, mine comes out badly, as I had expected, since the disdain, disgust, and generally dirty looks I had been getting from pretty much all levels of management since the end of my Saturdays, and even more so from the end of the Christmas fiasco.  But what follows is no explanation of why, or how to improve, instead I am fed the likes of ‘You have a positive attitude to your work’ (I blurt out a small chuckle here), and ‘You always follow up any problem, query, and you have a very good telephone manner’.  What it comes down to again, is not the care for the customers, not these followed up and resolved queries, but instead the fact that I hadn’t always reached my target of dispensing medicines for 25 patients per day. Could this perhaps be because I am busy chasing up queries and answering the telephone I wonder?  Or when I am put into the stock room to dispose of the, literally, thousands of drugs, fortified drinks and foods that come back from the care homes week after week, perfectly in tact, unused, but which have to be disposed of because they have been dispensed (a paper sticker that I have to peel off before disposal anyway as it is deemed ‘confidential waste’, but that’s a whole other essay).

 

In amongst these things are issues ranging from the time returned back from lunch break (yes, perfectly on time, it’s more than my life is worth), and even the time I had spent on the shop floor when the store manager asked me to stay on the till a while longer, I returned to the dungeon just before 1130. When asked by my manager what time I returned I said, simply ‘1130’.  It just so happened that the pharmacy manager was in the room, and the response from there was ‘you couldn’t have got back at 1130 because that is when we (pharmacy manager and team manager) came in the room.’ my response, well, it was just before 1130’. Pharmacy manager ‘We didn’t see you pass us on the stairs’. Me: nothing, turned back to my station and continued to press the tiny white pills from their foil backed packet that cuts into my thumbs and coats my fingers in its powdery white residue.

 

Imagine now, if you will, another of your colleagues has lost a family member, you, concerned as she is crying, go to console her, stating to your manager that you will be ‘one minute’. You are standing talking to the tear filled eyes of your workmate when through the door boles the manager, pointing to her watch stating ‘One Minute!’…

 

Then go on to imagine you or another colleague might have to move to another store as there are not enough posts available in the one you both work in. You both go into the meeting to discuss the issue, expecting to discover if it is you or the other that is moving. But you are told by the management to ‘decide between yourselves’. And then, when you and your colleague refuse to do this and the management say that they ‘can’t decide’, they flip a coin.  Now is it just me or are managers not there to make decisions like this?  Why pay a manager when you could just invest in a nice wheel of fortune?

 

And in a similar vein imagine that your manager says, starring into the ground, fiddling with the edge of the chair on which they sit ‘look, one of you has to go so you better just get it done’.  And then promptly leaves the room…

 

Now this company prides itself on customer care. It is its number one value, we are led to believe, and in the past this was backed up by equally fair and decent treatment of its staff, but after numerous takeovers and management shuffles, they now expect to see the exact same treatment of customers, whilst expecting this much of its staff, and then treating them all in such a way.  If you are changing a structure, then change it, but don’t expect the same results.  If you treat your staff like a number, or badly, or at least not well, then you should expect a knock on effect in the rest of the business.

 

If customer care is the number one value to expect of your staff, then staff care should be the number one value you expect of your managers.

 

Have I borne witness to the beginning of the end of a truly institutional part of the British high street? I think so, and can no longer bear to look.

 

Not all these examples are my own experiences, but they are all those of people I have known and worked with.

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The nature of performance.

Someone once asked me what I do.  In response I said I ‘kind of did sort of performance stuff’.  Her response to my, admittedly, vague answer was ‘What like singing and dancing and acting and stuff like that?’ I hung my head realising the massive mistake I had made.

 

I often follow up my ‘sort of performance’ description with the suggestion that I am searching for a new term, or a more appropriate term, to describe and, I suppose define my practice. ‘Interventions, acts, suggestions, occurrences.  But surely all of these terms fall under the realm of performance.  Of course they do, but only once I start using the word ‘performance’ with more conviction and belief will I truly start to understand this.

 

I want to further develop my performance practice, to become more engaged in t, and to focus more heavily on that aspect of my practice.  I feel it is the area of my work that I want to chase at the minute, to make it more conscious, more considered and to give myself more confidence to do it.  I want to look at the modes of performance, its history and legacy, to see what people actually see when they view a performance.  What they take from it, and what they expect from it.  I suppose most people want to see a spectacle, to be engaged, to lose themselves in it. But what if that isn’t the case?  What if what they see is mundane, boring, dull and utterly ordinary? But what if it has something in it that makes them question what they see, makes them try to see something other, almost to look beneath the skin, to view this ‘thing’ from a place that they don’t understand.  And what if I am putting them in this place just to let them down? What if I don’t want to please anyone, and what about if I don’t even want to achieve the antithesis?  What does this do.? I am asking many more questions than I am answering. But I suppose so much of  my work has involved an aspect of performance, albeit subtle or absent. It has so often been to do with process over result.  Painting the gallery walls white for example, is not about the white walls, but about the process, the action, the performance.  Is something only a performance if people are invited to view?  Is a performance only something that has to be seen?  If a performance goes unseen then does that make it ‘not performance’? But then what is seeing?  Someone came into the gallery and saw me painting, they didn’t know I was performing, people saw me walking home, people will see me waiting outside of transmission, but they wont be an audience, they wont be ‘viewing’ me. So does this make it ‘not performance’? does a performance need to be viewed or just seen?

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Time for change? (cutting off the nose to spite the face?)

In the past few months I have been suffering from an intense desire for change. The problem is I don’t know what I want to change, or what needs to change. The biggest things to consider are where I am and what I do. I currently work a shitty part time job earning just enough money to live on, and have just recently reduced the hours I work there, after 8 years of working a Saturday shift I’ve decided enough is enough and want to discover what a weekend feels like. But this change is not enough, I know that, but it’s a start. I can’t really afford to not work this day, but in the same breath I also can’t afford to work it (before you ask, not I can’t work an extra day in the week, I’ve asked ‘not the budget for it’, was the response….there are many reasons why I know this to be untrue, but shan’t go into those here), but it’s not just the desire for a change of scene on the job front that troubles me. After 5 years of living in Glasgow I am beginning to get itchy feet, and am feeling more and more claustrophobic, it seems I can’t go anywhere without seeing a face I recognise and, somewhat ironically, I am feeling evermore isolated.  I know that it’s all just psychological, that if I tell myself to get on with it, and get over it, I will. But the truth is I don’t want to do that. They truth is that I am unhappy.

The problem with leaving, with cutting myself free is the wound that it leaves behind. As it currently stands I have nowhere to go, or no real reason to go, no excuse you could say. But does that really matter? I guess without an incentive getting shot of all the things currently in my life, a studio, a decent flat, too many books, CDs and DVDs, a job, is much much harder. I put them up and make them reasons not to go. Storage is too expensive, or so I tell myself. But do I really need the things I have?  Maybe I should just do a Michael Landy and get rid of it all. I often think that all I really need of the things I have is their memory. I sometimes think about taking a photograph of all the things I have, therefore preserving their memory in something much more reliable than my own. And then getting rid of them. But where should they go? Some I will try to sell, some I will give away, some I will throw out, I suppose that’s the best thing to do. That way maybe I’ll feel much more able to remove myself from the situation I currently find myself in. Life out of a small suitcase can’t be so bad; in fact I often fantasize that it’d be wonderful. But can I do it? In October I am going away for a couple of weeks, that gives me a month to start the process….I just need to start I guess. I just need to kick myself in the backside and get on with it. I can’t see any other options really…Studio, Job, and Flat; they will be the last to go….

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A reason to riot?

Collective frustration, alienation, desire for change, boredom, the need to test the limits, the chaos of the free. These issues are, I believe, paramount in the riots happening across England right now. We hear policemen and politicians raving that this is just gratuitous violence, violence for violence sake, with no political agenda or ideal. But if you are trying to fight against politics, as a whole, then nothing can be more political, surely?  We fear for our lives and our homes as the politicians fear for their lifestyle and payslip.

I agree with the sentiment that the violence is unnecessary, and for a large part, not ideological, but many an uprising has occurred without a common theological cause, a shared strand of ideology. These people are not fighting against the oppression by an individual, in the same way that Libyans and Egyptians have done, and continue to do, meaning there is no tangible enemy, so it is therefore difficult for the rioters to present a common goal.

They are definitely fighting something, but what?  A government none of us wanted? the jobs that are disappearing around us? the voluntary sector being systematically crushed? The death of a man in a car, shot, it would seem, by police?

The point is that they are fighting something, and they are fighting it together, maybe they aren’t all fighting for the same reasons, and yes, a large number just want to have a bit of fun whilst they can, but then the Libyans and the Egyptians didn’t all have a common agreement of what would happen after the fall of Mubarak, and the potential end of the Gaddafi regime, they just knew that they needed to get rid of these people/institutions to be in a place where these discussions could occur.

David Cameron’s Conservative coalition government with the scapegoat gesturing of Nick Clegg’s liberals, wants the ‘Big Society’, for people to work together to build a better society, a better Britain, that shares and works together for the common good.  But maybe Cameron is unaware of what the common people believe the common good to be, maybe many of us are unaware, maybe we all live in our safe, comfortable lives numb to the real issues around the world. Maybe the common good is the end of political control? the end of the outdated, oblivious Conservative Party? The end of all politics?  A new way….

What Cameron has been asking for since he arrived at number 10 was that we work together to develop HIS ‘Big Society’, well, there it is, people working together, but not, it would seem, for Cameron’s Big Society, but instead for one of their own. And to do that they are fighting the only thing that is there to fight, the police, these people who themselves are suffering a barrage of persecution by spending cuts and unemployment, asked to go out and face the people that they, in all likelihood, don’t totally disagree with. If you leave people with no other choice than to burn down buildings and smash up high streets then what should we expect them to do? For a long, long time now people have tried to talk about their problems, tried to get results to improve their Society, and what happens?  The occasional play area is built, the odd road here and there is smartened up, but then you stick a CCTV camera in the middle, proving your distrust of the society you want to bring together, its not people that are paranoid, it’s politicians, maybe they are the ones who smoked too much pot at Eton or St Andrews?  These places maybe where the highly educated go, the rich and the privileged that have held onto power since there was power, but these people, and we are all beginning to realise this, are now and have been for a long time, fundamentally ethnic/social/institutional minorities. If the UK’s majority population can’t and don’t have a say in government about their lives, can’t and don’t currently represent themselves, then why on earth should the elite be able to, and wield all the power with it? The House of Lords is for the money, the House of Commons is for the people, this is something that has become lost and forgotten. Maybe the common, just want our house back?   Or maybe not, maybe it’s just the summer holidays….

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I will no longer make drawings

I’ve just finished a drawing, I say finished when really I mean ‘stopped’.  It had been in my mind for some time, the idea to ‘make a drawing’, and it has only really come to any sort of fruition because of various other thoughts about drawing, ‘why do we draw?’, ‘for what purpose?’, ‘to what end?’ etc and some research.

I decided at some point to try and consider drawing as more than just a planning sketch of an idea or notion, but to use it much more consciously. To plan and then to develop, to begin with a sketch and then to develop that sketch into a separate, considered drawing. Dare I mention it but at this stage the idea is already sounding much too contrived for my liking. Needless to say the drawing turned into what I consider to be a hollow, empty piece of paper with some marks and lines on it. A drawing that managed to do no more, probably less, than the original sketch.

Why then was I trying to draw? I have begun to realise that it came about due to the self applied pressure I put on myself to make ‘images’, aka, presentable 2D works. To make drawings is something that is considered to be a fundamental process of art making, and that will often become ‘art’ themselves. And for much of my life the act of drawing of making drawings, has been fundamental to my development. But it has always been in flux, constantly changing as I learn and develop an understanding of its necessity. To draw ‘well’ was at one time important to me, to understanding things like perspective and scale, tone and depth, as I gained an understanding and ability for these things I began to think differently, to alter the things I had learned, to question them, to abuse them. To draw ‘well’ became unimportant, or the term ‘well’ came to mean a different thing. And now I find myself at this point, a crossroads of some sort, where I am beginning to question how important it is to draw at all.

I feel I learn very little now when I sit down to draw, I feel I have to force myself, to try and find new things, which will never happen under these circumstances. It no longer interests me because at the moment I have no more questions to ask of drawing, and have a sense that drawing can give me no more answers. Maybe at some point I will have new questions to ask, or will have forgotten old answers and need to find them again, but for now, for me, maybe drawing has ended. I may use pencil, I may sketch, but I will no longer make drawings.

 

The drawing as seen from behind

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The enlightenment of everyday life.

I guess i’ve been thinking about this/these themes for a while now, and this is just a bit a spill of them all out into some text form, i apologise for any confusion or mistakes, im trying to make this just roll out, maybe it’ll turn into something more comprehensive later down the line.

A little while ago i went to see Mike Leigh‘s latest creation, Another Year, at the GFT with a half price ticket. I wanted to see it mostly because Jim Broadbent has a part in it, and I am a fan of Jim. That’s the only reason i really wanted to see the film.  And the reason i did go to see it at all was the half price ticket offer. I do enjoy Mike Leigh films, but I wouldn’t say that the ‘hype’ around the film was why I went to see it, i just enjoy Jim Broadbent’s face. Anyway, I left the film having enjoyed it, and thinking that my mother should see the film and would very much enjoy it, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. But then I began to realise that maybe she would not actually enjoy the film, but why?

The film is typically Mike Leigh, and therefore quite awkwardly intimate and depressive, much too strong a word but I cant think of an appropriate one right now. I know that the facts around the film would not concern my mother, she probably has never heard of Mike Leigh, and possibly not too aware of Jim Broadbent either. So I began to ask myself in what way would my mother view a film, and what way do I view films? What do we look for in cinema? and what are the differences?  I immediately decided on the ‘entertainment‘ factor, the visual, aural and spectacle of the occasion. My mother enjoys being entertained in an obvious, visually ‘aggressive’ fashion, to laugh out loud, to be mesmerized or to be entertained. In some way I suppose it’s the notion of being ‘given’, and to ‘take’, without having to work towards your appreciation or enjoyment.  Not meaning to cause any offense here, but not to have to be ‘critically’ or ‘intelligently’ engaged.  I think with most Mike Leigh films you need to put in a lot of work to get something out, and you wont be so much ‘entertained’ as ‘worked’.  I do enjoy films that just give and I take, ‘Blockbusters’, but also I enjoy films which I need to engage with, to disagree with, to fight for or push against, to appreciate and to ‘understand’.  I think some people (maybe, if im being overly judgemental, most people) don’t want to have to work to watch films.  Sure, we want to be engaged, but we also want to be absorbed by the film, we want to watch illusions, magic on the screen.  This is fair enough, we all want to ‘veg-out’ from time to time, but we shouldn’t want this all the time. People will criticise a film if it isn’t a ‘spectacle’, or ‘blockbuster’. But we need to watch films and to understand them, we need to engage with them, we need to be in control, not seduced and dare I say it, brainwashed by them. With ‘Another Year’, Mike Leigh gives us life, maybe our own lives, maybe not, but it is life, and maybe this is depressive, maybe this makes us think about things we dont like to confront; things like the futility of life, the shortness of it, the harshness of it, the everyday ‘normalness’ of it. But these things are things we must confront, we must embrace, so that we may conquer and work past them, to some sort of ‘enlightenment of everyday life‘.  This is why I think my mother should see the film, why everyone should see the film, but these people must be aware of the reasons why they should see the film, realise that they should not go into the film expecting to be mesmerized or seduced or spectacularly amazed. They should also not go in thinking that they will get any answers to life, but probably more questions, and they may come out thinking negative, down-at-heel thoughts, but when these thoughts have settled, have mulled, matured over time, that they will understand that the issues ‘Another Year’ confronts us with are not issues to make us feel bad or good about our own lives, but to understand that there is beauty in every persons life, there is lightness in even the darkest eyes, and there are clouds everywhere, no one is perfect, no ones life is perfect, even the ones that think they are or it is, but in order to bring the brightness out of the dark eyes out we must understand these clouds of darkness, and understand the gentility of life, forget our desire to impact the whole world, but just concentrate on the impact we have on our own part of the world. Most people in the world are not ‘famous’, are not ‘celebrities’, are not chased down by paparazzi all the time, fame is not the norm, this is something I think we often forget, we are surrounded by glossy magazines and ‘popularity/talent’ contests, instant fame is achievable, but is not normal, we need to remember that famousness is not normal, is not needed and is not universal. We must live without worrying about our legacy. I think I want my mum to see this film so that it makes her sad, in some way I want her to be upset by it, so that she can think about it and get over her upset. To understand that life is just that. I began by saying I think my mother should see ‘Another Year’ because she would enjoy it, but I have now realised that what I mean to say is that I think she should see it because she won’t enjoy it….

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Another Quote

I found this quote this morning whilst reading Mira Schor‘s ‘Blog’, http://ayearofpositivethinking.com,

its from Samuel Beckett, The Unnamed,

 

‘Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on’

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