You can probably tell from my output that my pursuits are pretty varied – this blog, that blog, Off The Hook, Drunk At Vogue, The Queer Forum, writing, and the rest of my freelance work which I love and which pays the rent. The number of things I have on the go at any one time is a bit dizzying, and there are a few reasons for that: I’m interested in lots of things. Too many things really. I’m trying to find out what I’m good at and I want to be good at everything. I don’t want to miss out on anything.
When I turned 30 I’d been working in an office for eight years, in a profession I enjoyed but which I knew by that point didn’t entirely suit me. I applied for lots of jobs in London that I didn’t get, and I started to panic a bit. I decided if I was going to stay in my job then I needed something outside of it to keep me going, so I set myself little tasks, the first of which was to start a blog, this blog, which I started in April 2008. I had no readers of course, and not always much of an idea what to write about but I immediately felt better about things. Later that year I was invited to play my first DJ gig, and so that became the second thing on my informal list of 'things to try'.
As time went on I added things to the list in order to push myself, to stay inspired, to find my limits and to fight complacency and boredom. I’ve done some big things that were never on the list, like becoming a freelancer, which brings ambitions and aims all of its own. After six months of freelancing I felt great, even if money was difficult in my tricky start-up year. Soon after that I reached my half-life anniversary in Manchester and took the opportunity to take stock.
I’ve been freelancing for a year now and it’s been a challenge and an adventure, but the list of ‘things to try’ still exists, needling me to get on with it. That’s what I’m going to do. I have formalised the list as ‘The Projects’, and as with my New Year’s Resolutions, if I go public with something I feel twice as motivated to get it done.
Here are all eleven of ‘The Projects’ as they currently stand, with little summaries for the ones I have achieved. I am genuinely holding myself to these and I am not adding anything new until this lot is done, or at least attempted. Something amazing might come out of this, or nothing at all, but the feeling of having tried is really the best feeling.
1. Start a blog
Blogs were everywhere in 2008 but were becoming a bit passé so I didn’t think I would stick with this thing for long, but seven years later, here we are. I’ve met some of Manchester’s finest people through writing this blog, people who I would otherwise have no reason or nerve to talk to. I’ve had 270,000 page visits to date, messages from around the world, a few hundred quid made, free tickets for wonderful events when I couldn’t afford them myself, but mainly a bit of dialogue with the world, which is what I have always wanted.
2. Be a DJ
Being a DJ was somebody else’s idea for me to begin with but once I start something I have to see it through, and DJing proved to be the perfect activity for someone like me, who likes a party but is also shy. I love it. DJ culture I can do without and I’m not really a part of that. It’s a bit macho and competitive for me. People will always use music to be cool, no matter what age they are. I think people are sometimes surprised that I’m a DJ because of how uncool I am and I’m glad! I wanted to be good at it though and I’ve really tried. I’ve been profiled in the Manchester Evening News and Attitude, I’ve played at Festival No. 6, Manchester International Festival, HomoElectric, GAZE Film Festival, Northern Quarter Festival, Homotopia, Vogue Fabrics, Islington Mill, Clique, Bollox and more. I’ve never played a recorded set in my life and I never would. Club promotion itself I can do without, and if it wasn’t for the chore of that I would be DJing much more often. I’ve had so many special moments DJing that I think only other DJs would understand. Even if I stopped tomorrow, those would be the moments that made me feel like I really did it.
3. Start a clubnight
The first Off The Hook at Kitsch was one of my favourite ever nights out in Manchester, and the only Off The Hook that I didn’t DJ at. I was a resident from the second party onwards and I took over the night when the original promoters had shelved it. I gave it a re-brand and a new venue and a year later it won the City Life award for ‘Best Gay Night’. If I’d been kind to myself I could’ve ticked this one off the list then and there but I wanted my very own baby. Enter Drunk At Vogue. I’d daydreamed about the night for a couple of years, had even pitched it somewhere and had it knocked back, and then shelved it. It eventually came to life as the collaboration you see today. I have learned a lot from collaborating, that it’s very hard to do, but that it has loads of benefits, that your baby will never ever turn out like you think, but that you’ll love it anyway. Drunk At Vogue started in November 2011. Then we had our first birthday, then a few months later we threw the launch party for the Manchester International Festival. I am very glad I didn’t tick number 2 off the list too soon.
4. Get a Masters
I wasn’t done studying, I wanted to read more books, I wanted to finish writing a novel, a proper one this time, with supervision and a deadline, and I wanted to do something subversive and uncool with the money I was making from DJing. So I did an MA. It had been on my list way before these set of circumstances arrived, and to be honest I thought that I would go and study Shakespeare at Masters Level. I had ducked out of that very option when I was 21, despite getting my place at Manchester and my funding from the Academy. Instead I went to the Writing School at MMU when I was in my thirties and wrote a novel about Shakespearean culture. I got a Distinction for it. I had my graduation party with my family and friends in the baking sunshine on Albert Square at the MIF Pavilion. I was so happy. I learned a lot. I met great people and read some magnificent books. The course is good, go and do it. Number 4, you are done.
5. Get paid to write
A hundred years ago I filed some album reviews for The Big Issue the week before they laid off most of their Northern freelancers and disappeared off down south. The cheque I got for that work (£36 if I recall) was the most satisfying money I‘d ever earned. I got the bug but my timing was terrible and it took me a long while to get back here. Being paid to write, in an era where anyone with a keyboard is a writer, is validation, for better or worse. Writing is a profession that people not only invite you to do for free, but often expect it, in some cases demand it. I have had dozens of people over the years discover my blog and approach me to write for them. Often when I enquire about a fee they become unpleasant. Often I am told that I will be paid in 'exposure' for my blog. ‘But you found me,’ I always say to them. ‘I am exposed.’ I never write for those people. If somebody gives you a fee it is professional, respectful, honest, and yes, it's validation, and it’s a validation that comes tenfold when it is the thing you love doing most. Don’t take your writers for granted, and writers: try not to work for free.
6. Write a novel
This is the one... I have written a very short and very bad novella about a temp who wins the Lottery and goes on an insane odyssey with the girl who lives downstairs. I have written a longer and slightly better novel about five gay men whose lives intersect in a weird post-modern way around the lonely vacuous world of Canal Street and a desolate Manchester city centre. I have written a longer and much better novel about digging up Shakespeare’s bones and the effect it has on a world obsessed with him. Trying to write a novel is one of the great sorrows and frustrations of my life. I can’t explain why I even like it. Every other activity in the world disrupts and distracts from fiction. So many good ideas and great lines vanish into the ether if you aren’t able to give them your full attention. Being a novelist is time-consuming and tiring and wonderful. It deserves my full attention. My novel needs a damn good third draft and my intention is to give it my all and let my other ambitions slide by the wayside until this is done. I want it published. This Project should be entitled, ‘Publish a novel’. This is the point at which a jack of all trades has to try and be the master of one. Of all the things on The Projects list, if I don’t see this novel through I will die disappointed in myself. Do you hear me?
7. Try stand-up comedy
This is where it gets scary. And this is as far as I’ve got with the list. Kind of five-and-a-half down, five-and-a-half to go I suppose. None of these are pipe dreams though. I have already signed up to workshop some stand-up material this coming Saturday. I have never done anything like this before. I think I am a bit funny, and I have done lots of public speaking, but the two have rarely crossed paths. But I love stand up and I am going to try it for myself. I’m terrified. What am I doing? Stay tuned.
And here is the rest of the list. So no biggies, huh…?
8. Write and stage a play
9. Curate an exhibition
10. Be an artist
11. Find some work outside Manchester
See you on the other side...