I’ve been asking people to talk to me about work for Bitches Minute. I have been trying to get at something and I don’t know what. When asking people about work they talk to me about money, this has been the main thing. Is an activity only work if money is involved? There is also the definition of work that requires some kind of exertion by the doer, an exhausting. Time has also come up, time and the division of time; if I sell you one third of my time, am I then defined by what I do for you because (time-wise) it becomes the one thing that I do most?
I have only very recently started counting my freelance hours thoroughly. I divide them into projects and put them into a spreadsheet, along with my hours at my (unconnected) day job. The picture I am getting of myself from this is changing my perception of me.
I started doing this only because I was applying (finally, years into my underpaid work life) for Working Tax Credits. Benefits…why do we can them benefits? Something twisted about that. I keep wondering, should I move to a different country where the benefit system may better suit my career as an artist? Something twisted about this too. But you do what you need to, to survive, right? Because sometimes I get home and I think: “London is killing me”.
At the moment, for a short moment, and also in the past in fact, I live in a flat provided by an Artist Housing Scheme. As much as I enjoy having the space and painting the walls stupid colours like black and sparkly purple, I am aware that I am being exploited. What my career, my trade, my practice, apparently means to these organisations (and perhaps to society at large) is that I don’t need any roots – I am able to be uprooted at any moment, a space for me to do my work is a privilege and not a necessity, I will willingly clean up other people’s shit and dirt and general nastiness because I am so grateful to be given my own space no matter how run down and hazardous…I don’t know, I have started to feel like I am not a citizen.
At the same time I feel really fucking Now. Like, really a product of Now. I am literate, I am (relatively) well educated, I have a trade and trade-specific skills, I am young(ish), I am healthy and mobile, I am employed, I do my tax return, I have websites that I have designed myself, I have Skype meetings, I sleep in a feather duvet with an ergonomic pillow, I have a travel pillow, I have a smart phone, I travel to at least five other countries a year, I travel with a herbal tea collection, I buy organic eggs, I drink wine and talk to people and call it work, I buy stupid shit like neon lights and pairs of shoes that match with Mira Kautto with government money because it is essential for my ‘work’…
And yet I feel invisible. I feel like some nomadic anti-citizen that exists in the ether, the ethereal space of the virtual world, on planes in the sky in-between places, in the gaps between options on council housing forms, in the time between an application submitted and a response (or non-response that counts as a no), in the disappearing moments of performance, the space between my own fingers and the fingers of faraway friends whom I love but share a sporadic and unsatisfactory email relationship with, in the spaces between the family that I hardly know on the other side of the world and their Google searches of ‘Jamila Johnson-Small’ – me, in-between the letters I am sent (every once in a while, when I have an address that they manage to get hold of) about my abstract university debt that I don’t anticipate ever earning enough to pay off but with each letter I see the increasing interest, of coming and going at my job in a cinema and trying to resist the pull of getting involved in the fight for London Living Wage from the management that treats people who want to live a different way rather than climb their corporate career ladder with total disrespect, lying supine in a dentist chair in a hospital up on the 25th floor having a filling performed by dental students that takes three and half hours, several near gags with dental dams and six injections of local anaesthetic just because I can’t afford to have that shit done by someone whose been through all those fuck ups already….the feeling that talking about your work makes it more real than doing it… I feel like the space in-between things, in-between life.
I do and I don’t.
I also feel like the bloody corporeality of having a sponge shoved up in-between my legs that drips when I laugh or piss and inadvertently clench. The creases in my face when I smile because I love smiling and I love seeing the people and things that make me smile. The electricity of moving quickly on stage beneath the eyes of others and beside my friends and work colleagues. The joys of fucking eating, and the joys of fucking. Of consuming and engaging with the outside, of takings things into my body and things coming out. Of lying on a hard floor for half an hour and feeling my body realign. Of typing things that I think in my head and seeing them come out on a screen. Of having thoughts and drinking coffee and riding my bike fast. Of doing work that allows me to engage with my body and the bodies of others, to notice patterns and inclinations, to have an idea and make it happen. Of dancing, on stage, in studios, in dark rooms, in bedrooms, in clubs, in kitchens.
Recently, a lot of people with interesting but not creative jobs have told me about their desires for a creative outlet where they can make something that is their own. I suspect that this is what a lot of people get from having children.
Now I am ready for my day.