So I wandered aimlessly around the shops for a couple of hours, had a sandwich on some repurposed crates in Rough Trade, had a meeting with an Arts Council guy about my next big idea, and finally got to the event at 7.40pm. Whereupon I discovered, in this order, that a) the event had started bang on time and the panel discussion was well underway, b) I was meant to be on the panel, and c) while the panel discussion started at 7.30pm, the event had actually started at 4.30pm.
|Self-portrait as a mess, from Campaign in Poetry|
I felt bad about missing the chance to spend more time with my fellow publishers in the earlier part of the day, stupid for not realising I was on the panel, sorry for turning up late to the panel, pleased that (once I’d slithered into my seat on the panel) I’d spoken about the Emma Press for a reasonable length of time instead of wrapping it up as quickly as possible, and touched that several of the other publishers said nice things about me and spoke to me afterwards. But eventually, through this familiar mix of pleasure and shame, I felt strangely – selfishly – elated.
But I also know I’m not a good feminist. I feel like I’m constantly shuttling between bits of advice I’ve internalised about how to succeed, and I have a hunch that most of these nuggets are sexist. Be the most professional, the most polished, the most "presentable" (pace Private Eye), because you’re battling against millennia of bad PR against women. Don’t self-deprecate, because people might believe you. Don’t use filler words or apologise too much. Be more like a man: ask for a pay-rise and don’t worry about talking for too long in a meeting. Be your own true womanly self, whatever that means.
Emma Wright (photo © Tony Grant)
With all these allegiances – which I freely admit I have taken upon myself and so far no-one has tried to shame me about – I feel like I am always on my best behaviour in public, presenting my best self in the hopes of being a credit to whomsoever needs me as an ally. I try to be good because I want to be good, but yesterday, when I was a mess in Nottingham, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t feel like anyone would want to claim me for their cause, me tumbling through the day in two statement necklaces and a bodycon dress stretched over a thermal vest, armed with diminishing levels of sobriety and escalating levels of weird social energy. I was a credit to no-one and I was letting no-one down except myself, and that felt good. I’m going to think a bit more about that.
* * *
* Poem in which my better self is an eternal debutante, by Rachel Piercey
* Homesickness and Exile: Poems about Longing and Belonging (Emma Press, 2014).