Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Life Ahead







Oxford is green and gorgeous and full of flowers. The Botanical Gardens are ablaze with colour. Portmeadow looks bejewelled: bursting with buttercups. All those sandstone buildings caught by the evening light. The air is full of potential (and, admittedly, the odd downpour too). For me, it’s also newly full of freedom. On Friday I finished my exams: twelve hours’ worth of bending over a desk, scribbling and scribbling, completed. Hundreds of years of English literature studied. Degree done. Life waiting ahead.

I also turned 21 at the weekend: filling my time with conversation, coffee, cocktails, food, books, joyous company. The good stuff. The stuff to be grateful for. It left me so immensely thankful for this city and the people within it. I’ve found such riches here. It hasn’t always been an easy space to inhabit (my parents can confirm just how many times I’ve rung them in tears), but it has offered golden experiences.

People keep asking what it all feels like to be standing at this point, on the edge of these beginnings and endings, and I’ve repeated the same adjectives: exciting, thrilling, sweet. But they’re all perfectly apt. It’s exciting to have done so much, worked so hard, and suddenly to relish the completion; the release. It’s thrilling to look towards all the projects I can finally begin (and there are myriads). It’s sweet to spend an afternoon lying out in the sun with a book and no responsibilities, no expectations, no linger of guilt that I should be doing something else. Elating. Brilliant. Wonderful. Fucking fantastic.

I’m still tired too, and expect to be knocked sideways by the odd wave of exhaustion for a while to come. It’s been quite a year. Quite a three years. Ups and downs (and lots of unexpected left turns) aplenty. Just as it should be. Nothing bland about it, that’s for sure.

For the first time in my life I’m facing the prospect of taking all the things I’ve squeezed in around academic life – the writing, the modelling, the blogging, the other work – and giving them my full focus. My book also comes out on June 9th. It’s going to be taking me to some brilliant places this summer (more on all of this soon.) A loose idea I assembled and brought with me to university; a fully-fledged publication as I leave.

Putting together ‘Notes on Being Teenage’ taught me a lot, as did all the articles and interviews I worked on elsewhere. From being Junior Editor on Violet (see issue five for my interview with the smart, sharp Sarah Kernochan where we discussed storytelling and Hollywood sexism) to essays for places like Broadly, Refinery29 and The Coven, I’ve been given the room to think, research and do a hell of a lot of drafting and crafting.

In a few months, I also have a poetry collection launching. ‘Branch and Vein’ will be published by New River Press: an exciting new venture from two great poets, Greta Bellamacina and Robert Montgomery. Limited edition proofs are already available (see here for more info), with the full print run to come in September. There are poems in there about bodies, distances, family stories, landscapes, and an abandoned hotel. This still feels vaguely surreal and mindboggling. It happened relatively swiftly, and I’m astounded that I was asked to be one of the poets they’re launching with. Honoured too. I respect Greta and Robert immensely, and to play some part in their creative vision is a privilege indeed. There’s a gorgeous write-up of the poetry press on AnOther here.


I use the word ‘adventures’ a lot, but that is definitely what my time at university has offered. Adventuring in countless forms. Creative, personal, intellectual. I have a few months left to adventure and live in Oxford, before moving on elsewhere. But for now, I’m just revelling in it being today.

This shoot took place last summer with the lovely Laura Alice Hart. We ran around Oxford with wonderful stylist Holly Rebecca, while Tracey Cahoon did great things to my hair. It captured a very specific point in my life between the crux of second year and third year. Things were changing and shifting all around me. One of the images appeared on Untitled mag too.
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Saturday, 7 May 2016

Dressing Like Prince (A Guest Post)





Whenever I think of my fabulous fairy-godmother Soma, I picture her clothes. Always immaculate, ever-so-glamorous, and perfectly her. She is queen of velvet, sequins and perfectly cut Ghost dresses. Over the years, she's added many riches (and a relish for champagne) to my life. There have been good outfits, great company, rigorous conversations, and the odd, joyous evening of martinis and dancing - not to mention some key moments of holding out a hand to my family when times felt dark. When news of Prince's death emerged, she was the first person I thought of. We mourned Bowie together earlier this year with a decadent night in Soho, and I knew that Prince was her other lodestar - another brilliant, convention-defying creator with an extraordinary wardrobe and energetic, honest lyrics. Given that I am deep in my final fortnight of university, with exams roaring towards me scarily quickly, it seemed fitting to give some space here for Soma's voice - alongside her visual homage to Prince, in full, purpled glory. She has deeply influenced my understanding and celebration of dressing up, and here, in turn, is someone who did that for her. I hope you enjoy her guest post.. 


Kinda, sorta my best friend: why I dress like Prince

When I was 9 or 10, playing truant and reading Shakespeare in the bushes, Prince burst onto television screens and into my heart with ‘When Doves Cry’.  The song was accompanied by a video of a creature, in silks, frills and eye-liner, vrooming out of suburbia on a purple motorbike, his lover riding pillion, heading for woods, water, sunlight.

In ‘When Doves Cry’, a voice combining man, woman and beast sings of lovers flying from a pattern of inherited family abuse.  The city - funk, clubbing, the motorbike - is fused with Nature.  The lovers become birds, the percussive phrasing beating like wings.  “Maybe you’re just like my mother/She’s never satisfied/Why do we scream at each other/This is what it sounds like/When the Doves Cry.”  The song grasps at a tentative, tortured freedom that comes not from destroying the past but from recognising one’s roots and absolving them. 

I knew the set-up only too well: the needy mother, the hot-tempered father and the desire for a bond with a friend against the hostile “world so cold”.  With a chorus that repeats like a Greek tragedy, a virtuoso guitar tethered to a funk beat, disco keyboards punctuated by Prince’s screaming dove, ‘When Doves Cry’ has a push-pull effect.  It had me half out of the bushes but also burrowing deeper into their smoke and rustle. 

Like most of Prince’s music, ‘When Doves Cry’ blurs funk, rock and cabaret.  His clothes did the same.  Silk, velvet, cut-away, crop and lace, accessorized with satin heels, he glowed like a girl while retaining the swagger of double-breasted jackets, heavy cuffs, trench coats.   In 2016, it was psychedelic Nehru jackets and 60s tunics.  He married edge with softness, sleaze with regality.  Now living in the Welsh Marches, I pursue impractical ruffles, embroidery and slink: a sartorial twinning of power and romance.

It’s an index of how we conform our bodies to market rules that Prince’s height is mentioned so often, as if greatness in a petite male frame does not add up.  Prince embraced his body (often literally).  Performing ‘American Woman’ alongside statuesque Lenny Kravitz, Prince, swiveling in a skintight, blue catsuit, is electrifying.  It’s like watching an eel outswim a whale.  Prince plays with physical limits.  He’s the only commercially successful male pop artist with a female alter ego, Camille.  On ‘Sign O’ The Times,’ his ‘dance twin’, Cat, poses as Prince in a mini skirt – a visual merging of male and female.   He made her carry a heavy mirror to recreate his muscular arms. 

Prince found freedom – the freedom to relate, to forgive, to become one – by escaping name, form, gender.  He preferred to collaborate with women.  3rdeyegirl, his last band, sport tassels, braids and big guitars.  In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2014, Prince said, “We’re in the feminine aspect now… men have gone as far as they can, right?”

Some people will tell you that Prince is ‘rude’.  Prince addresses this himself irresistibly in ‘Controversy’.  Prince is not simply ‘about’ sex; he is about emotional honesty.  “Some people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black and white/I wish there were no rules.”  In the longer version, he then chants the Lord’s Prayer while you sweat on the dance-floor.  ‘Controversy’ was the first Prince vinyl I loaned to Rosalind.  She was leaving our shared green hills for Oxford.  I was just recovering from being disabled by pregnancy and starting to go clubbing again.  It’s the best funk anthem to individuality, within a framework of loving others.  

Prince made it okay to be me.  I met my idol and shared a stage with him - but that’s another story (you can read it here).  For the rest of my life, and his – when I sang ‘Adore’ for him in a local church on a pagan site after his death – I dressed like him.  His style, like his music, is elaborate, vulnerable and bold.  In, ‘When you were mine,’ Prince tells an ex-girlfriend he can’t quit, ‘You were kinda, sorta my best friend … I used to let you wear all my clothes.’  Prince, I’m always going to wear you.

It was a pleasure and privilege to have Soma write this for me, as it is to know her generally. And I'll be back, soonish! The sweetness of freedom is tantalisingly close. In the meantime, I hope you're all doing some damn fabulous dressing up too. If you want to keep up with what I'm up to (ahem, doing to procrastinate), I'm on Instagram more regularly at the moment. 
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