Motorway Epiphanies


I love to drive. I love to get into my car and drive miles on end to Uptown Girl by Billy Joel or a good, motivational podcast. I love the feeling of independence that jumping behind the wheel brings and the fact that I can take myself anywhere in the spur of a moment.
I’ve had many an epiphany when driving, driving alone always tends to fire up the old brain.
I’ve been inspired so intensely – by a random thought or a song or whatever – that I’ve parked up the car at a service station and journalled furiously into the notes section on my phone.
I’ve had two and half hour conversations with friends over my hands-free, putting the world to rites, and I’ve had tunes pop into my head that I’ve scrappily recorded as voicenotes before running home to my piano and creating some kinda song out of them.
Fuck, once I was driving into London late one evening listening to a SuperSoul episode with Maya Angelou. She quoted ‘I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand’ – talking of ancestors – and I spontaneously combusted into tears because at that moment, I suddenly felt overwhelmingly connected to my late Grandad. I never got to meet my Grandad (he died five years before I was born) but, right there and then, it was as if he was sat in the passenger seat next to me.

Some pretty magical moments have happened in my car.

So after spending five months out of the country, close to death in Chinese taxis on a few occasions and subject to a minor Uber crash in Cape Town on another occasion, I jumped in my car again and hit the motorway.

And sure enough, I had a moment and stopped the car at Woodall Services for a bathroom break and to write it down (italics are the jottings).


‘Going through a time of self-preservation and protecting one’s self at the moment, after a particularly intense period in life. Survival mode – acting upon instinct just to get through each day because I’m feeling completely burnt out in every way: physically, emotionally, mentally, socially…’


It says something that, over Christmas, I completely lost touch with how to be at a party, socialising with people who I’ve known and loved for years. I’m the biggest extrovert I know, constantly living with the fear of missing out and I usually FUCKING LOVE a party. But I found myself just not knowing what to do, say or how to feel remotely like myself.

I’ve felt fucking knackered and, in all honesty, so far from who I deem to be ‘myself’.

Now it’s understandable why as I’m processing a lot at the moment – digesting a truly unique period of my messy-as-hell-life so far. I’d just got back from touring China playing an incredible, but intense, woman in an incredible, but intense, show. Finishing a job always cuts me up because I fucking love what I do, but this one felt particularly special and, in return, particularly difficult to leave behind – not to mention living in a different country for five months on top. I mean, I forgot what a comfort zone felt like but, as always, was completely grateful for the experience I got to have, doing what I love whilst travelling new corners of the world.
But this got me thinking of how I have dealt with the unstable reality that is my life, the life of a jobbing Actor, in the past and the anxiety that has gradually crept in to accompany it. Upon learning and acknowledging, a few years ago, that life wasn’t going to be as simple and easy as I once dreamt of as a young and naive teenager, I – like a lot of other twenty-something millennials – embarked on a journey of ‘self-help’.

You take on the burden of self-improvement, read 27 self help books, study the law of attraction and come to the commonly talked about conclusion that what you give off is what you get etc.
You think that this means, in order to heal and to get the good job, the great love and all of the money in the world – you have to work on yourself to be the most talented badass bitch you’ve met and you have to shed the 2 stone you’ve gained from being plain fucking miserable – and skint – from emotionally eating your way through the JustEat menu. You have to cut out the chocolate, tell the toxic people in your life to do one and say No to shit that doesn’t honour who you are whilst simultaneously having to work your arse off doing jobs you hate, with people you feel don’t know or respect you, in order to stay afloat… otherwise you end up drowning in debt and eating supernoodles.

Basically, you have to do a lot of things that are either supposedly meant to help you ‘love yourself’ – as society sees it – whilst doing the shit that is deemed ‘necessary’ to survive, which can be completely soul-destroying and counterproductive to the self-help, quick-fix shit that’s telling you to love yourself. Basically basically basically… what a shit cycle.’

This excerpt from Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive sprung to mind:

“THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”

― Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

Lord above.

‘One day, you realise that doing all of the above still hasn’t ‘fixed’ you. None of the above has made you the best version of yourself. You are still here, in the same place you were five years ago, so unhappy and unsatisfied with yourself that you believe depriving yourself of opportunities that could potentially be so good for you is the best option, ‘until you figure your shit out and feel more whole’.

What does that even fucking mean? ‘Figure your shit out’. ‘Make yourself whole’.
Why am I telling myself that I need to ‘work on myself’ constantly? Why am I so unkind to myself? Seeing flaws as brick walls rather than quirks to be embraced and dealt with, with care. Would I do this to my friends? No, I wouldn’t.
I am my own worst critic.
I’ve convinced myself somewhere along the line that, to put it bluntly, I am undeserving of happiness and wow, that sucks. I can be an arsehole at times but I don’t think I deserve to beat myself up as brutally as that, jesus.


I’ve no idea of the specifics that have created that narrative in my mind, probably to do with lots of past traumatic experiences, but I’ll tell you one thing: I didn’t like it.
Why couldn’t I just accept myself? Accepting shit makes it easier. I’ve learnt to accept smaller aspects of my life for what they: anxiety attacks in the moment, rejection, being pigeon-holed occasionally (the list goes on)…
…so why can’t I just at least try and accept myself?

Although I’m gradually getting better at it and I’m constantly working on it, being kind to myself is the only antidote, an active way I can change this narrative. Being kind to myself AS I AM RIGHT NOW and not how I intend to be when I’ve lost two stone and ‘balanced my chakras’.


I am starting to realise that one of the greatest forms of self-love is self-acceptance
and I ain’t gonna find that in a book or by listening to a podcast.

And I believe that day; in the car-park of Woodall Services with a busy head, a scraggy hair do and tired eyes, I made my first of many steps towards being more accepting of myself and I know I’ve got a fair few steps to go.

Stepping back into the gym, after that festive season, is gonna have to be one of ’em like!

You Can Take the Girl Out of Teesside: A love letter to my home x

I come from a wonderful little town called Middlesbrough, in a wonderful little place called Teesside. Heard of it? You’ve most likely seen it advertised as either ‘The worst place to live in the UK 2009’ on Location, Location, Location or most recently ‘the worst place to grow up in the UK if you’re a girl’. Football fans will have heard of Middlesbrough Football Club, especially as we’ve just been promoted back up to the Premiership. Foodies may have heard of the good old ‘Chicken Parmo’. Australians may, or may not, know that we are the reason they have the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Let’s just go back to this ‘Worst Place to Live’ thing a minute. You see, a group of people out there are studying for a living OR being paid to gather enough information to create a kind of ‘league table’, to show which is the ‘Best and Worst place to live in the UK’. That’s all fair and proper, as statistics and studies can contribute to life changing discoveries. If I’m honest, I’m nowhere near qualified enough to comment about all of that in great depth, so I won’t. But then we have the Media. The real issue here is the Media. In case we didn’t get the information from these studies in the first place, the media like us to be EXTRA INFORMED. Especially when it comes to ranking things from best to worst. They need to reiterate in every way ‘JUST HOW SHIT IT IS TO LIVE IN MIDDLESBROUGH’. And then do you know what they do? They do nothing. Absolutely nothing. They make everybody aware of the matter AND DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IT.

You can see how the conversation would go…

‘Middlesbrough has the highest exclusion rate in schools or something’

‘Oh, really? Well, what can we do to improve it?’

‘Soz, don’t know. I’m out of office now, going away tomorrow, don’t ask me.’

Anyhow, in my opinion, that’s just a generally common thing nowadays. People who are tucked away in their high castles or offices are quick to come up with and highlight the negatives from afar, yet do nothing to turn them around and make them positive. The majority won’t have even step foot in the places they’ve been studying. Yet, with the click of a button, have the means to create a mix of shit vibes and paint them all over a town, bringing everybody living there down and leaving them completely fed up that, yet again, they have been targeted. It’s quite frustrating really.

Then, there are the people of Teesside.

Despite all of the negative press, the recent closure of SSI resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs and a fair whack of spending cuts, I’ll tell you what there is.

There is spirit.

There is a constant willingness to make the best of what there is and to move forward. There is an acceptance that, perhaps, we aren’t the ‘best town in the UK to live’, but we are growing. There is an invaluable sense of self, an evolving identity. Always aiming to improve, rather than aiming to be Number One. Completely unapologetic about who they are, they happily exist and take great pride in what surrounds them. A town in the midst of regeneration, a town that is united completely every week when their football team play, a town that is proud. Even when the British media are doing EVERYTHING in their power to ensure they can’t and won’t be, they remain proud.

I am an actor. I’m riddled with insecurities, centred around my looks, my skills and ability, my personality… You name it, I have the insecurity. I make a living by pretending to be other people, if that doesn’t scream insecurity then I don’t know what does. I’ve worked very hard all of my life to ensure I gradually progress to do this as a career, as it has always been my passion. As the years have gone by, and the novelty of graduating from a pretty amazing establishment after three years of blood, sweat and tears has worn off, I have come to realise that I am not the best in my field. Now, some people may read this and think I’m being negative or self deprecating or fishing for compliments… you couldn’t be more wrong. I know that I’m a relatively decent standard as far as my ability goes, I’ve been fortunate enough to work some fantastic jobs since I left college back in 2013 but I am not the best. It’s a simple fact.

Because actually, who is the best? Who do we define as some of the best people and why do we define them as the best? Who gets to decide who is the best and who is the worst? Who has that right? And even if they have some form of made-up ‘right’ to dictate who is the best, does it fucking matter anyway? Who gives a shit? It’s completely subjective and especially in a creative industry, it’s harder to point out who is the best when everybody is busy doing their own thing, dancing to the beat of their own drum and all that. This seems to be my current attitude. I have come to the realisation that if we spend our lives constantly trying to be what society says is ‘the best’, is that really going to bring us happiness? Is that mindset productive? What really do we have to prove? Who do we have to prove it to? 

Despite my terrible insecurities, the one solid thing that I’ve accepted about myself, and always have been accepting of, is the fact that I come from Middlesbrough. Isn’t that funny? That’s probably been the most constant thing in my life. Quite frankly, I think it’s kept me sane. In and amongst all of the rejection, I always know that I have home to rely on to make me feel accepted and wanted and loved. 

I moved to London around six years ago, to study my degree. Moving to the big city brought many new people into my life, from all walks of life, from all over the place – stretching as far as Australia. I was thrown into a gigantic pool of people of all cultures, a plethora of accents and lots of different opinions. I also worked away in Asia for a long time this year, which helped me gain a lot of perspective. Taking all of this into consideration, and I’m sure fellow Teessiders who have upped sticks and moved away will agree, I always look forward to going back home.

I look forward to seeing that big, blue, beautiful thing we call the Transporter Bridge. I look forward to seeing the wonderful Cleveland Hills. I look forward to seeing the glorious industrial backdrop that our town is built upon. But most of all, I look forward to being back amongst an incredibly inspiring collective of people. A solid community.

I’m a firm believer that my hometown has influenced who I am and who I have become, realising that being ‘the best’ at something isn’t necessarily ‘the best’ thing in life has kind of confirmed that. I repeat, to have come to this realisation is not a negative thing. I feel free and better off for realising it, for now I can go on my way, doing things my own way and achieving things at my own pace. I feel proud to come from a town that strives to be a little better every day. A town that chooses not to let what other people say affect them. Who gives a shit if we’re not the best? What do we have to prove and who do we have to prove it to? No-one, that’s who. We’ll just keep on growing and developing whilst everybody else fights to be top dog, knocking each other down in the process. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.

UTB.

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Teesside Dusk.

Avenues: A New Analogy

I have a new analogy.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now, even going so far as to discuss it with a few friends (I’m finding it a lot easier nowadays to openly discuss thoughts and ideas with people I trust, which hopefully means that my confidence in my creative ability is growing – mini pat on the back, I’m my own worst critic).

Last year, I toured the UK with ‘The Sound of Music’. From January to September 2015 I lived out of my Ford Fiesta, visited multiple cities, clocked up around 6,000 miles, 3 speeding tickets (no excuses but when long distance journeys become a vital part of your life, for a long period of time, they start to get tedious and lead to distraction. I guess that counts as an excuse… guilty), lived away from a stable base for 9 months and as a result, somehow along the way, I actually grew up a little bit. I started to see multiple things with a new perspective.

Now, over the course of the tour, I found myself with a lot of spare time on my hands. I often wished that I had a crazy hobby or the motivation to read To Kill A Mockingbird (I will get through it one day). Along with the excessive spare time I seemed to have, there were the present stresses of ‘What will be my next job?’, ‘When will my next job come along?’ and of course, the most haunting question of them all, ‘Will I even work again? EVER?’. Oh, us actors do worry. Worry and fear, if not ALL of the time then at the very least SOME of the time, latch on to our souls. But that’s a whole other subject, so we’ll leave that until another time…

So. Spare time, twiddling thumbs PLUS no motivation to do anything remotely productive PLUS stressing about my future in my life’s vocation/my main money earner/my one true love of life. Although I LOVED my job, more than anything – I never thought I’d ever come anywhere close to being in The Sound of Music in my lifetime, I felt completely stuck. And if I’m truly honest, it made me a little bit miserable and left me feeling a bit guilty. I beat myself up for acting ungrateful, to no-one else but myself, even though I was really grateful for the opportunities I’d been given. It was like one big internal boxing match, fighting 50 rounds in my head. But, before long, I had a cracking amount of Maria shows under my belt, I ticked one huge box off my ‘bucket list’ and the tour came to a close. Funemployment (it won’t be long before that word makes it’s way into the Oxford dictionary, mark my words) approached once more and I had nothing but afternoons on the sofa with the Friends box-set planned. Or so I thought.

Because that’s when my new analogy popped into my messy, boxing match of a brain.

I did a degree in Musical Theatre. Musical Theatre has been my life for as long as I can remember. I bloody adore Musical Theatre. For all of those reasons, Musical Theatre is what I chose to do professionally, to earn a living. However, Musical Theatre is also extremely competitive. It brings a lot of incredible highs AND some awful, heartbreaking lows – dealing with rejection is a massive part of the job, more to come on that one at a later date!

Nevertheless, Musical Theatre is my… HIGH STREET.
(For the American folk out there, I think it’s what would be called the Main Street? Sorry if I’m being completely ignorant, don’t hate me. I will learn.)
My lovely HIGH STREET. I’m going to say it has a pretty decent Tesco Express, probably a pharmacy, a post office, a local bakery and, for now, a tea/coffee shop. I’m going to say that the pizza takeaway shop recently closed down in a bid to promote a healthier lifestyle. I hope I haven’t lost you yet, I’m getting to the point… I promise.

This HIGH STREET is the centre of my town, town being metaphorical for my life. It brings home the literal bacon (lord, I love bacon), Doctor Theatre works there (he’s pretty great), it connects me with a lot of my favourite people, it brings home the dough ££ and it gives me ENERGY, LIFE, VITALITY etc etc…

Here comes the fun part. We’ve established that MT is a pretty prominent part of my life. But what happens when Funemployment pays a visit and MT is suddenly put ‘on hold’? That’s where my AVENUES come in to play…

A town cannot be a town with only a High Street to it’s name, surely. I decided sitting on my ass watching Friends was simply not an option anymore, and I started to explore the possibility of actually using my free time productively. FINALLY. It occurred to me that, although it is my one true passion and my professional occupation, Musical Theatre didn’t have to be the ‘be all end all’ of my life. Giving everything a go and training to be as diverse and versatile as possible had both been two of my favourite personality traits growing up… I thought it was about time they made a powerful re-entrance into my life.

To sum things up quickly, I revived the following non-Musical Theatre AVENUES:

AVENUE 1: Songwriting. My love for music has always been a huge part of my life and I had written songs in previous years. Within the first few weeks of re-earthing this avenue, I had 5 new songs nailed. WINNER.

AVENUE 2: My friends. Now, friendship is a never-ending blessing but 9 months on the road meant that I’d not been able to catch friends in shows, I missed going out for tea and I simply had not set eyes on some friends, face to face, since before I left London with my life packed into a car. Since giving myself a kick up the arse, I’ve had meals out galore, watched amazing friends being incredible onstage (ok, maybe that one’s a bit stagey) and I’ve squeezed the majority of them regularly in person. Not being hangry and plagued with FOMO (the fear of missing out – FYI), the feeling of pride and free hugs – all excellent scenarios to be in, I think you’ll agree.

AVENUE 3: My family. I’ve actually had the time to sit on my sofa, cuddle my dog and create mess in my home, resulting in my mam and I arguing because we literally are THE SAME PERSON (we love an argument, we do). It’s the little things, ey?

AVENUE 4: Learning the guitar. Growing up, I attempted to learn the guitar, the alto saxophone and the piano. I failed to stick to every single one of them, something I really do regret. I can play piano well enough to write chords for my songs, I can bash out ‘Sir Duke’ on the sax if I’m asked to (please don’t ask me to), but guitar is always something that’s frightened me. Up until now. I bought a new guitar for my birthday and I’LL BE DAMNED if I don’t learn to play it this year. The Beatles – Blackbird: I’M COMING FOR YOU.

Those are just a few examples. I don’t want to bore you with many more but I’m also getting back into reading, I’m working on an idea for a theatrical piece and I’ve created a blog (that I hope you’re all still going to read after this crazy b*tch post).

These avenues link to my High Street, to create the wonderful town that is MY LIFE.

What I’m trying to get at is that I am a creative person and sometimes we need more than one thing to help us feel fulfilled. Broadening our horizons and venturing out of our comfort zones can create opportunities that we never thought were even possible, let alone that we felt we deserved.

Even in Musical Theatre, to this day, I am still learning. I am hungry to learn more, anything that can help me to improve on my craft. That is my area of expertise, and still I am not satisfied. I must keep learning, I NEED to keep learning. The moment I feel I have stopped learning will be the moment I quit. Which will probably be never.

I don’t profess to be an expert in any of my other avenues. As a matter of fact, I feel I am merely peasant level at the creative ones. So I am now jumping at the chance to start from the bottom. I have a chance to learn how to become respectable at something relatively new to me, that is not my area of expertise… and I absolutely deserve it. I have the chance to give each avenue a freaking STREET PARTY, with bunting, the lot. I have a chance to grow my town. I’m going to continue to lay new roads, build new houses, maybe even a hotel…

Stop referencing Monopoly now, Jess.

 

In short, my new analogy:

Your life is your town, your professional career is your High Street and your Avenues are everything that surrounds it. The avenues are the life and soul… YOU. Build a town, make a football team and I’ll create a friendly league… it’d be mint to have you.

 

Possibly took that last sentence that step too far. Classic Jess.