Issue #84 August 13th - 26th, 2004
Be Your Own Boss
Wearing our little pop hearts on our sleeves (in London and in Sweden)
Come to Norway. It will be fun! (part 2)
The mechanism of the push bike
From Athens with love
Be Your Own Boss
I am a big fan of self-employment. I like the freedom and power that comes from being my own boss and being in charge of my own earning power. I like being able to work from home, avoiding office politics and setting my own hours. I get a lot of job satisfaction from finishing a project or learning something new.
For almost two years now I have been self-employed between temping jobs. I set up my own web design business after I finished college, knowing very little about the business world. It was a steep learning curve, as I had to set up a business account, register a business name, get used to dealing with clients and discussing money and figuring out how much my work was worth. There was a lot of guesswork and a lot of the time I was scared and very unsure of myself. But things got easier as I became more confident in my own abilities and started to feel more professional and became to enjoy it.
When I get paid for a job that Iíve worked on from start to finish, that money feels like itís worth more than money Iíve earned from temping jobs where Iíve felt bored and utterly replaceable. The weekly pay-cheques from those 9 Ė 5 jobs were great to get, but they didnít bring the same joy and satisfaction that I got from the web design cheques. That money felt truly mine because I had really worked for it.
Or course, when I didnít have the weekly paycheque to rely on, not knowing when the next job will come along is scary. Itís easy to feel like a fraud when you are working for yourself from home, and you have to learn to have confidence in your own abilities and decisions. But you can get used to these things, and you learn to live with the fear and uncertainty of being out on your own and it can be exhilarating.
The most difficult thing about being self-employed is actually sitting down to work. When there is nobody there to make sure that you are working, itís too easy not to do anything, and the times when you should be working hardest to drum up more business are the times when it is easiest to not do anything.
These are some of the things that I do to help me get down to work and keep my motivation and enthusiasm high when self-employment feels too hard and just not worth the effort.
1. Set Work Hours.
My work hours are generally 10 Ė 1 and 2 Ė 4 but they are flexible. I try to do 5 hours a day though. Set the hours for whatever time suits you best, probably when the house is quiet or empty, but I would advise doing some work in the morning, before 12pm.
This is useful because getting started is the hardest part and as the day moves on, it gets easier and easier to find excuses not to do any work. Even you only do an hour in the morning and then nothing for the rest of the day, at least you have got something done.
2. Have goals Ė know what you are trying to do and set deadlines
At the beginning of each working day, write a to do list for that day, using your goals as a guide. This will stop you drifting through the day and help keep you on target. As well as that, itís a gentle start to the day. Itís easier to start the working day if you know that you are just sitting down to write a list. Do it before you check your e-mails in the morning!
3. Stick to your deadlines
4. Have other projects
5. Read a lot
To start you off, hereís an article from Enprendeur.com with 25 Part-Time Businesses to Start Today!
Wearing our little pop hearts on our sleeves (in London and in Sweden)
You didn't ask what I did on my holidays, but for reasons unresolved even to me (or maybe because you are my heroes) I felt I had to tell you; so I'm afraid you're about to find out anyway. And because I am a firm believer of the fact a story never really starts from the point that is its obvious start I will start telling this story from a point in the middle of nowhere.
It makes sense along the way, I promise. And it was an exciting place to be.
I protested. (I protest a lot.) It was a long sad story about having tried to like other kinds of music (I swear, I tried for years - those long sad years before the internet) and how it never worked. A story I say too often and not convincingly enough it seems, though it's nothing but true.
I gave up explaining.
And then, as these things happen, it came to me. It came to me as we were driving around some dark, desolate street in the north or the east edge of Athens (my brother has kidnapped my map so I have no idea); as we changed the cd she had brought along with the one I had brought along (the Radio Dept's 'Lesser matters' which was what I'd been falling in love with at the time) and I caught myself feeling relieved because the world made sense again: then I suddenly realised that indiepop songs make me feel at home, that's what it is!
By putting the sort of feelings that make want to cry and the sort of feelings that make me excited -the sort of feelings that keep me going- into words and songs and moments they make me feel there's a place in this world for kids like me. A feeling, I have to confess (at the risk of sounding like a troubled teenager too much) I have never stop missing. Now I know why I fell in love with you the moment I saw you say you "sing the songs that make their world go around". It was because it said everything I wanted to say before I knew I wanted to say it.
I was thrilled to have put all that into words, let me tell you, so thrilled I needed to do something to celebrate the moment, but there was nothing I could do really. So I kept quiet and made a mental note to write it all to you, that made me feel better about it.
And then a couple of days later I found a song nearly as old as me that says it better than I do, probably -a song that simply says "let me ride to the sun/ to a world my heart can understand"- and I was left marvelling, as usual. A world my heart can understand - that's what it's all about, isn't it?
"This is the best Radio Dept. song. Not the one you said it was yesterday."
I took the discman, inserted the headphones in my ears and pressed play and the most beautiful song came upon me, falling from the sky like the rain or the darkness and promising me "strange things will happen if you let them come around and stick around"; and even though it's only morning it sounded perfect. It was the first song of the day (the first day of my post-Mitt Sista Liv life) too which just made it even more precious. When it was done I handed him his discman back, sure that words or smiles couldn't convey my thankfulness but still contemplating which one to use. I'm still not sure what I decided - did I bring myself to say "that was gorgeous" or "that was awesome" or did I just go for "that was great"?
Not even the thought that I was going to miss one of my favourite bands - the band who had given me the line "spring is coming closer and summer will be really nice" which had seen me through winter and spring... And there I was, right in the middle of summer, in the middle of the downpour, missing their set and unable to mind one bit because everything was so beautiful.
Maybe it was that 'last day of the festival' mood, you know, that feeling that everything will be over soon that makes you love everyone you see and want to be as happy as you can while you're still there, or maybe it was just happiness. Whatever it was it made want to tell you that sitting in that shelter -the sky so immaculately grey and water all around us and below us too- was the living equivelant of a poem to me... if that makes any sense to you.
"Do you see that bit over there?" Ian pointed at the only clear spot in the sky while we were waiting for something to happen. I could. "Thats' where the festival is." I looked at it in hopeful disbelief. It looked pretty small and only vaguely in the right direction.
When we got a text from Andreas, whom we were supposed to be meeting at the station just then, saying that he and Jane would be a little late driving to the festival because they didn't want to get soaked and suggesting we had some coffee in the meantime, we decided to rush to the grill across the street and then to the cafe across the street from that. During the last bit of the run Chris and me ended up trying to push each other away from the only umbrella we had instead of trying to squizze underneath it which, I have to admit, was much more fun.
Once there, we ordered coffee and got a phonecall from Andreas asking if we had enough umbrellas with us. If we didn't, he said, he's bring us some. Once off the phone, I officially declaired him the nicest person in the whole of the festival, we drank our coffee, Andreas and Jane arrived from their hotel just next door after having crossed the street to the train station (in order to locate the cafe which according to me was "just opposite the train station") and then crossed it back again, the rain died down, we walked to the car and drove to Ljungn?s while singing along to the 'Demonstration Tapes',("How come you're such a hit with the boys, Jane?"). Once there, I bounced out of the car onto dry grass only to see a band walk off the stage.
And so it happened that I found out the crazy things Ian says can be true and that I missed the Tidy-Ups.
When Chris realised Jane is in the Happy Couple he stopped halfway through whatever he was saying to exclaim "you are great!" with such honesty, I thought it was a brilliant thing to do. "Yeah," I agreed, "you are great. I had forgotten to say that." So then we started talking about what a big shame it was that we missed the Happy Couple when they played in Athens (because we had no idea they were playing in Athens - I found out a week later and Chris found out six months later; actually, he stopped halfway through whatever he was saying to exclaim "What?! You played in Athens?!") and ended up talking about what a big shame it is that the indiepop scene in Athens has disappeared without a trace. (It was nice finding someone who cared to talk about Athens in a place so far away from it, in such a tiny far away place but the again, it was a magical tiny faraway place.)
"Sometimes I feel it's just me -us- being sad about the fact that it's like the whole thing never existed."
I looked at Chris trying to guess if he finds my views on the subject even vaguely reasonable. He looked back at me and though I was none the wiser on the matter I decided to give it a try and talked about how the (twenty or so) people involved just grew out of that phase and indiepop in general and now find other things cool. (Chris didn't say I'm stupid so I concluded he more or less agreed.) I probably finished by saying I don't ever see myself growing out of indiepop. Some people never do.
"Other people grow up, eh?" Jane said and I suddenly found myself wanting to bounce up and down, or run around, do something to mark the greatness of what she had just said but I just turned around and said "that was really, really great, what you just said, it really was". And I wrote it under 'quote of the week' in the imaginary wall in my head where I write this sort of thing.
On a Sunday and despite my stating that "I don't want to do much at all" Ian decided to take me to Hampstead Heath, where we managed to miss the main entrance (which allegedly has a map) and subsequently got lost and walked for a long time looking for the hill he had been on the previous time he had been in the park. You'd think a hill is an easy thing to spot, but you would be wrong.
When we eventually found it, we decided to stand on it for a while. At the particular moment this story got interesting, I was actually standing on a bench. (Don't ask me why. I'm not sure.)
"Now, I'll tell you something, but you have to be very discreet about it".
It turned out that all the worrying had been in vain (as it usually is in such cases.) We had a nice chat which left me feeling all young and starry-eyed because the people over 26 years of age agreed that indiepop in the year 2004 isn't as good as it used to be and I just couldn't bring myself to agree.
I mean, think of the Pipas ep! Think of the Tidy-ups and of Hormones in Abundance, of the Fairways and of Miniskirt! Of the Metric Mile and the Mean Corner! And I even like the new Trembling Blue Stars, not to mention the magnificence that a new Guild League or Young Tradition record will most likely hold, oh and I might end up being in love with Harper Lee by the time the realise something new too... I mean, how great is all that?
Well, I think I've made it quite clear why I couldn't bring myself to agree. But the point of this story isn't how much I love indiepop; it is that sometime during the aforementioned nice chat Peter's phone rang, a fact which me and Ian took as a signal for our departure - but Peter gestured to us to stay while he informed his friend over the phone that he had "met two popkids on the hill" and we both burst out laughing, not exactly at the same moment but quite.
3a. Two days so full of pictures and feelings and things to do they feel like two weeks later me and Chris walked towards the back of an island that joins two of the several islands Stockholm is build on as the night fell. The night, by the way, takes its time falling this far north so we walked engulfed in deep-and-slowly-getting-deeper blue air. We met a fairy-tale castle and watched a funfair get closer and closer but never quite reach us. Ian had told me Stockholm is build on islands and I'm sure I had nodded and generally agreed, after all my guidebook said the same thing, but I never quite understood what this means until I got there; or rather until that blue night we walked towards the funfair, the sight in front of my eyes nearly convincing me I would get there if only I kept walking and the map insisting otherwise.
The funfair looked truly magical from the back of that island and the screams and shrieks from the people on its rides came and went with the frequency and the regularity of waves crushing against a beach. Because their movement corresponded to that of the feelings in my own heart -the pain and the longing and the happiness too- and also because Chris promised my life would change if I overcame my fear of rollercoasters, I decided to go on one with him.
3b. Late on the next morning we walked to the other edge of Stockholm's centre in search of a shop that rents out bicycles for a day. This idea too had been Chris' and it only took me a couple of minutes on a bike to decide that it must have been the best one he's had so far this year. Riding a bike through Stockholm -up and down bridges, around small islands and through bigger islands and finally everywhere around the centre because getting lost is the best way of exploring a town- is one of the best things I have ever done; one of the happiest, most liberating and beautiful things I could ever imagine doing and it wasn't me who had imagined it, either.
You see, Chris reminded me that there's more to being a popkid than a good taste in music and a cool badge collection.
3c. And on the last night in Stockholm we took a boat to the funfair and bought five coupons each; three for the rollercoaster and two for the spinning swings that project you over the water because when I was five years old my parents didn't let me go on one of these things (even though it wasn't as big I don't think and it certainly didn't project you over the water) and I'd never had the chance to make up for it. We decided to take the cheaper one first and in a way it was an unwise decision because it was just amazing, scary but breathtakingly glorious, and the rollercoaster never lived up to it. I walked off promising myself I will be back and if my text message didn't have to travel through three countries to get to him, I would have texted Ian who in fact was only a few kilometres away in some other part of Stockholm "Forget drinking. Funfairs are where it's at for not knowing where your head is."
A few tube trains and a bus ride back I lay in bed equally ecstatic and heartbroken, fighting back tiredness and the Cat's Miaow record that was lulling me to sleep in order to make the day last a little longer. Wondering how I could ever go to sleep when the day after and the days after that could hardly live up to this.
I have to say I have no idea as to why I decided to write this as a letter to you. I guess I just like writing letters. There's something really inspiring about them -and about postcards too- or then again maybe it's just because I've been listening to Laura Watling sing about penfriends too much. I also have no idea as to why I have been writing about this more or less backwards -I started off from the thing that was on top of my head at the time and then I just kept going about whatever this in its turn brought about and so on and so forth but you can put the things I talked about in the order they happened using the numbers if you, for whatever reason, feel that way inclined. Then again, you could also say I've been trying to make a point about how you can hardly run out of greatness in this world.
And with that, she was off to the seaside.
Love and the sea and the sand,
Come To Norway. It will be fun!
It all began with a text message saying:
Although I wasn't particularly impressed with my current surroundings, I didn't feel like moving from them. Illogical as it was, I felt that if I stood there long enough just maybe the youth hostel would appear. Luckily though Duncan was feeling more logical and started marching off towards the hostel. Begrudgingly I followed.
When I awoke the next morning our room had changed. Instead of the dingy little dormitory I'd fallen asleep in it was a bright cheerful room with a view of a lake and a clear blue sky. Things weren't so bad. After a breakfast where rather than having to resort to crime we were encouraged to take food for our packed lunches. We left the hostel to get out and explore Moss.
Thirty minutes later and we'd explored quite enough and were feeling at a bit of a loose end, so we decided to head back to Oslo for the day.
"Let's go and see the Viking ship museum" said Duncan
"UmmmÖweren't we supposed to be having a relaxing day of doing nothing today?" said Grainne
"It's on an island and near a beach" said Duncan reading from the guidebook.
And so we compromised by spending half our time looking at very big curvy ships and the other half of the time on a little rocky beach which to bore far more resemblance to the stories of Roald Dahl than anything we had previously seen in Moss.
I lay on the beach occasionally opening my eyes to watch people swimming, and the sun glitter on the sea. It was hard to believe that we were in the Norwegian capital. Duncan however had been reading our guidebook once again and had discovered more museums nearby. After much persuasion he managed to get Grainne and I back onto our feet and heading off in search of a new cultural experience.
Half an hour later and we reached a small section of harbour which housed three museums. It was 35 minutes until closing time but Duncan had a determined look in his eyes.
Grainne and I sat on a bench and watched in amazement as Duncan whizzed between all three, stopping briefly to show us the photos he had taken and the tourist tat he had bought from each.
The boy really did like museums.
The next day we took a train 40 minutes to the south from Moss and found ourselves in Fredrikstad, a beautiful old walled city. The sun was still shining and I felt happy to walk lazily around the shady streets. It felt as though nothing had changed in Fredrikstad for centuries and it was hard to believe people lived and worked there. It was almost like a giant museum. Surely Duncan would be happyÖWe rounded the corner of yet another museum and the silence was broken.
"Look there's a museum over there! Let's go!" said Duncan
Grainne and I looked at one another.
"You go, we'll wait outside" I said
Too late; Duncan had marched up to the counter and before we knew it paid for tickets for all of us. The woman behind the checkout explained to us that entry to the museum was to our right where we would find the largest collection of chairs in Norway. Yes you heard me right chairs!
I rolled my eyes and looked around to ask Duncan why we needed to see chairs but he had already disappeared into the gift shop.
The next few days at Moss
"Right that's it! No more museums!" declared both Grainne and I in unison as we left the famous chair museum. Instead we spent days sunbathing on rocks in small fishing villages near Moss, and made fruitless attempts at finding an attractive bit of Moss.
By the end of our stay I'd grown quite fond of our hostel. O.K. Moss itself was nothing spectacular, but our room was nice, the hostel owner Gerd was very friendly, and it was beginning to feel like home. I started to feel a bit sad to be leaving. Then I had brainwave.
"I know why don't we come her instead of Oslo on our last night? We won't have a mountain to climb, and we'll have a nicer room and I think I'm going to miss this placeÖ"
I looked at Duncan and Grainne for approval and was pleased to see that they also wanted to returnÖ
To be continued...
The mechanism of the push bike
I donít know how many times I crashed my bike but, at a push, Iíd say seven or eight. I maimed startled pedestrians, fell headlong into piles of bin bags, head first into steel bins, smelt the abyss and just kept on pedalling, scraping the sides of parked cars and the feet of gentle homeless men.
There were times when I knew I would crash but my reactions, dulled by cacophonous amounts of heady liquor, were just too slow. So Iíd see the businessman walking my way, but Iíd see him too late or, later on, Iíd see school kids meandering their way to their studies, but Iíd always see them too late and end up stuttering bad English and slurring my way to the next catastrophe. Somehow my instincts got me into the home straight, my own district. Then, as I was going over the canal bridge, the front wheel of my bike suddenly locked and I was thrown into the air, into empty space. I didnít think of much. I was in no state to think. There was a nanosecond when I thought about fixing the wheel, but that was immediately superseded by the only thought that ever smacked home with anything approaching clearness and clarity; I needed a drink. Anything would do. I turned around and saw my demons approaching, so I did my best to run. Something hit my shin, and something crawled onto my back, but I threw them off and kept on running. I thought I saw my dead mother, hauling heavy sacks of shopping, and my father, hawking his soul on the street corner, and I was going to say hello because I havenít seen them in years, but then I decided I already had enough ghosts on my back and anyway, Finlayís was opening its doors.
I staggered in, followed the path of the walls to the toilets, found the first empty cubicle, and vomited. I bent over the basin, vomiting until all that was left was bile and my empty, fucked up soul, and I felt much better. I looked at my face in the mirror. No change there. Still the same face, the same sense of ugliness that has hunted me down wherever in this sorry world Iíve ended up. I splashed cold water over the dreary pallor, and smiled. Somehow I was still alive. I had no right to be, the damage Iíve done and the ghosts Iíve fought but, somehow, I was still here, another broken kid on the road to where?
It didnít matter, not now, not after all these years, all these years of chasing something that isnít even there, or of escaping something that wasnít even there to escape from in the first place. Yes, I felt much better. I walked out of the toilets, into the bar, ordered a beer, and retired to a table outside. I watched the cars roll by, aware of no past, no future, just a kind of heady presence. Somebody walked in the shadow of the sun. It wasnít me.
From Athens with love
I think it's not so much my slightly foreign appearance or the bag covered in Polish writing that hangs off my shoulder. The somewhat ashamed glances at the map do not really give it away, either. It's the way I look at Athens that ultimately reveals I am only a passer-by here. All tourists do that, I guess..
You walk around with eyes around your head, trying to take it all in and half-wishing you were that robot from Star Wars whose head could turn round 360 degrees, or better, a wide-lens camera (but not a shiny modern one, no, a slightly bulky '70s Pentax that makes a loud 'click!' when taking a photo); especially if, apart from shapes, one could preserve sounds and smells on film.
My first impression of Athens was that of a seaside town, blown out of proportions; or maybe some gardener had been taking good care of it and that's why it grew so, so much that you see it everywhere around you, creamy and yellowy buildings gazing at you with their white-framed windows or squinting from behind green awnings. Even though the sea is at least 12 kilometres away from where I am now, I can somehow feel it.
Or maybe I can't really, maybe it's just the fact I have only experienced a similar amount of sunshine at the seaside. If I could bring my childhood memories back, I would be thinking of the summers spent swimming in the Baltic Sea, back when I didn't care how I looked in a swimming-suit, back when things weren't yet complicated.
They are now. Athens stops me from worrying, though.
"There's always time for that, so why bother now?", it says with a cheeky smile, and laughs a little, but the laughter soon changes back into the ongoing competition between the buzzing of cars/ trains/ buses/ trams(!)/ trolleys(!!) and the unusually loud 'ts-ts-ts-ts-ts' of crickets - or cicadas? The latter inevitably gain the upper hand in the evenings, when they are only sporadically out-sounded by some of the peculiarly loud motorbikes Athens is so full of. The engine rattle wakes me up in the mornings, too. However much I hate when that happens in Warsaw, I already know I am going to miss it when I go back.
I am also going to miss the excitement of trying to make out the writings on shop windows and street signs. My favourite letter of the alphabet today is i;, so simple and elegant. It might be Ψ tomorrow, doesn't it look like a tree? Or an upside-down broom or rake?
Oh, and you know Dimitra is here.
There are many other reasons for why I spent last week floating about rather than walking, with a smile that seemed too big for my face. Some of them are quite silly, really: "Oh, these trams are called Aischylos and Tukidydes!" or "Wow, these watermelons are twice the size of my head!", repeat 'wow' to fade.
Until your voice grows tired and you're just standing there, smiling.
You will see me here again.