This blog post has ended up way too bloody long. I sat down to write it on trains whilst I should have been working on an Arts Council England application.
It feels really good to look at a whole year and take stock. It’s cathartic. It feels good to be more personal than I usually am online.
A year ago I had my graduation ceremony. I have so many photos of that day- every single person I could see I grabbed for a picture, and it was the singular cloudy day out of two weeks of heatwave, so the pictures came out nice and non-squinty.
Lesson 1: Get your sister and her new camera to be your personal paparazzo on graduation day.
Not to sound too bloody brochure, but university changed me completely. It gave me a vocation, a group of friends, the whole foundation to my life now.
I remember being obsessed with the concept of university, researching courses from when I was 13 or 14. I think I made it into my own adventure narrative. It meant leaving my home town which was 60 miles away from the nearest big city, and where I had been, for long periods of time in my childhood, really lonely.
There’s a video of me getting ready on the morning of my graduation ceremony, talking into my webcam ‘for posterity’. I say to the camera that I don’t want to leave uni, because I’m about to lose all the things that make me happy, my social life, my job, my studies, and I have to go and find replacements for them. I feel this huge pressure to have decided who I am going to be by now. I have to build my own life out of raw clay and shot-in-the-dark decisions.
I also asked myself (future me) four questions at the end of the video, to be answered a year from recording.
Do you have friends?
Yes. They’re the best.
Do you like your job?
Do you start dating anyone?
AHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA that’s funny that’s really funny.
Does my sadness and panic about leaving uni seem silly to you?
No. It’s really hard. A friend tells me that the year after you graduate is the worst, but if you can get through it, you’ll be ok.
At Warwick, there are two weeks of graduation ceremonies in the Warwick Arts Centre. I worked there as a steward throughout my studies and during these two weeks of ceremonies, so I know, from seeing every other, that ours was the best. Rather than polite clapping and formality, English and Theatre was full of cheering and screaming and well-practiced standing ovations.
Fran’s birthday party happens and it’s still SO HOT, but a few hours beforehand Ava, George and I watch the new Mamma Mia movie at Clapham Picturehouse. It’s quite honestly the best thing ever to happen to me in a cinema.
I’m definitely romanticising this. I know this because I made an excessive effort to romanticise this whole summer as it was happening. The heat, the football, the push-off-and-glide of that summer which could easily have been the drift before a crash land. I keep seeing the world in my own rom-com. There’s even a soundtrack, it consists of ABBA and Lorde during this July.
A massive gang of friends are at Fran’s party and I have a silly fun time, and drive back with Leanne Grace and Harry the next day, singing to the Matilda soundtrack.
I cling desperately on to events where all my uni friends are together. It’s arbitrary I know because they’ve never been the only people I love, but I’m clinging to that bubble, that safety, the sense of self tied to a three-year period of my life.
I go on a residential course at the North Wall in Oxford, with members of the Wardrobe Ensemble. (who are the best). I think that their mode of making art- it’s clever and generous and fun and in service of others- is what I want to do. I meet Hannah Smith and I think she’s brilliant and smart and kind and I eat up every word and resource she gives us. She tells me I am already a theatre producer. Fran and I find the two weeks difficult, and we go on lots of walks together. Ben has to play a dead body at one point and I can’t stop crying for a whole day. We all swim in the lake and I cover up my shoulders.
I’ve never been good at holding onto my happiness. I’m always terrified of losing it. Which is why my time at university- undoubtedly the happiest I’ve ever been- was ultimately characterised by periods of extreme anxiety and the lowest depression I’ve ever felt. I can’t grip happiness for all it is whilst I have it, I can only romanticise things in retrospect.
I head straight to Edinburgh after North Wall.
Ava and I cross over for a day. She tells me to go and see ‘No One is Coming to Save You’ and I love it. I meet Nathan and Charlotte, the writer and director, and I think they’re both cool and smart and insanely talented and I develop a sizeable art crush.
I see [insert slogan here] by YESYESNONO and it breaks me. That show pushes every button I have. Emotions bubble into my skin and into my skull that I haven’t let myself feel for months.
I had spent three years stretching myself in every direction possible, and would always crack in periods of depression, panic attacks, self-harming. I always had to be MORE. Work at the arts centre MORE, study MORE, do more student drama, go on more nights out. Be louder, funnier, braver, cleverer. To just be me wasn’t enough, so I nearly killed myself trying to be everything.
DICE festival was the last night of the fringe. There’s a really great photo of me talking to James Nash on the website. Ben and I got chips at 3am (he got chips, I stole some) and Chris Thorpe came into the chippy out of the rain to insult us in what is now one of my favourite moments of any Edinburgh ever.
Lesson 2: The key to having a successful Edinburgh is not doing a show. Lol.
Yep. Summer is over. I watch Peaky Blinders on the sofa in my Mum’s living room. I appreciate being home with my family so much more now. I have a Dalmatian’s head on my lap as I write an application for VAULT festival.
I hang out with my siblings. I realise that my brother’s girlfriend, and her sister who is also my closest friend from school, are like my sisters. I find it comforting to know that we are bound together like that.
Lesson 3: I used to go for months without visiting or even thinking of home, but since, and since I moved away again, I’ve committed to going home for at least one weekend a month
I become scared of leaving the house during this time, as I don’t really want to see people I went to school with. In my head there are 10s of people who are now my full blown enemies rather than people I just wasn’t close to.
I miss Ben. We used to go for days at a time not leaving each other’s company and now we’re apart for weeks and weeks on end. I’m homesick for a slab of concrete outside of Coventry, a place that wouldn’t be the same if I were there, and for people who are now scattered over each end of the country.
Lesson 4: You will receive your last student loan payment in April, and not get a full time job until January. You need money you fucking imbecile.
I apply for every vaguely artsy-adminy job I can. I send off 80-90 applications, interview at 11 places, and only 2 of them feel in any way like somewhere I want to work.
– Most places just don’t want to hire new graduates
– Those ‘administrator’ roles you are applying for are not trainee producer roles. Most often they are looking for an older person who will be happy in the job for multiple years.
– If you only apply for the jobs you ACTUALLY WANT, you will save so much time and heartache.
– You don’t want to work in finance
– You don’t want to work for ATG.
I pick up freelance producing gigs; it takes me months to realise that I won’t be able to fully commit to them. I receive many emails asking me to fundraise my own salary.
Lesson 11: You can only have one unpaid passion project, and it needs to be fulfilling in other ways, whether through connections, experience or love of the work.
Lesson 12: DOWNLOAD AND SAVE the job descriptions of what you’re applying for! Otherwise you’ll get called for interview and they’ll have taken the info off the website!
I leech off of all my friends who live in London- I stay at Ava’s after a job interview at an arts centre in Surrey, and I tell her I’ve got a really good feeling about the place, where they gave me a tour of the building, introduced me to all the staff and there were old ladies knitting and little kids running around in the foyer.
I find out I got the job in Surrey, which starts in January. To fill the gap, I get a job as a Christmas temp at Waterstones Piccadilly, on the children’s floor. I spend 6 weeks in my friend’s Nat’s spare room. The Coronet becomes my favourite pub. Nat and I eat so many tubs of Christmas mini cheddars we build a tower in the living room.
Nat is one of my favourite people to go to for advice, because he has a very assured opinion on most things, and he says things like ‘I do think it’s very unlikely that you do have 5-6 different mental illnesses that are all vaguely similar’ when I tell him about all the overlapping diagnoses I’ve had over the past 3 years, having never seen the same therapist or doctor twice.
Landscape (1989) sells out at New Diorama and I feel like a GOOD producer.
Lesson 13: You are a good producer.
I meet up with Charlotte from the show in Edinburgh that I loved so much (Ava and I have decided she is our friend now and given her little choice in the matter) and she tells me she and Nathan looking for a new producer. I play it coy over a pint then send a text message all but begging them to hire me.
I see friends in London, and we pummel my discount card. I realise that I am good at bookselling, and I love the kids floor. I have production meetings in the cafe on the ground floor.
I take Ava and George to the Piccadilly Christmas evening, with authors and poets and publishers, and I think about a whole other life I could have if I hadn’t committed to theatre.
I watch Orpheus at the Battersea Arts Centre and it’s this messy sublime thing. I let myself relax into a show and trust in the music and people and talk to Ross in the interval about how difficult London is.
I work on producery projects on my lunch breaks with mac and cheese from Tesco. The Waterstones Christmas party is at a karaoke bar and it absolutely slaps. Ava and Charlotte organise a theatre makers’ drinks- I chat a load of rubbish at everybody there and feel embarrassed about it afterwards.
I work boxing day for the first time, and it’s kind of an adventure? I would never have travelled through the city when it’s eerily silent otherwise, when the Victoria line is all but empty and the quiet tunnels make me think about how blue whales’ arteries are so big you can walk through them.
I’m living in Farnham. I join the choir. I start my new job at Farnham Maltings. Thank god, I love it. The people are principled and fun, the work is important and the office is relaxed and chatty. I look forward to coming in everyday; It feels like what I should be doing.
Three weeks into my new job I feel a weird twinge in my chest whenever I enter the office- I realise that I’m pining to hug my colleagues. Because anybody else I know and see as regularly as these people get a hug immediately. Isn’t that weird?
Every night I return to my house, open up my laptop and work on producing shows.
I really hate being on my own in the evenings. I hate it I hate it I hate it.
I’m actually quite soft. I need my friends around me, and to access my family if I need.
I plan lots of weekend trips, home to Somerset, to Manchester with Charlotte Ava and Ellice, to Warwick to see Eve and Joe absolutely kill it with their production of Ali McDowall’s X. I come back one Sunday night to an interaction with my landlord which leaves me terrified and in complete hysterics on the phone to my family and Surrey police and warrants an emergency move-out, with my amazing colleagues loading up the touring van and moving me into emergency accommodation.
Lesson 14: There are people in the world that would deliberately harm you.
I spend three months in actors’ digs with a lovely couple renting out their spare room.
VAULT festival happens. I see lots of shows. It feels good to text people saying ‘are you at Vaults tonight?’ and to know you can congregate somewhere. I write or co-write 5 successful ACE applications over three months.
– No one will stop you from overworking, and it’s not their job to do so.
– Producing is creative, it’s not servitude.
– Professional theatre producing is the same process as uni theatre producing, it’s just harder because everyone is much further away and you have to pay £100 a day for a rehearsal room.
We stage I will still be whole in a tiny damp room in the Vaults. I have phone calls with my mentor Amanda and she is sharp and strong and I feel lifted up. I’ve got the flu and am delirious during tech. But I am so happy with Helen and Ava and The Gang. Working with them feels as easy as breathing, and it feels really fucking good to make something like this, and for people to like it, and for it to do well. It feels like what I do matters.
I’m still in limbo. I haven’t had a job and a fixed address since university and I’m feeling it. I’m still living in Farnham, working a full time job and a portfolio of freelance projects. I house hunt in London, against the advice of everybody I know.
I see Really Real Teenz at the Yard and it’s so fucking glorious. I fucking love Britney. I love the audacity of building an image out of crisp packets and fancy dress costumes and hanging it there, the fucking PURITY of discovering sexual desire in all its contradictions for the first time.
I worry about not being desirable.
I convince myself that I am only worthy of love because I work hard. If I stopped working, I would lose everyone who matters to me.
Lesson 18: I care so much about what people think of me because I’m still introducing myself to almost everyone in the world.
At one point I’m working on 7 shows in addition to my full time job.
Lesson 19: that is too much.
I go to Alchymy festival at the North Wall: I see a bad messy show, a great messy show and some stonking writing from people I really like. Small foyers filled with people I don’t know are my anxiety kryptonite. I feel sick and sit on my laptop upstairs. My friends stage an Intervention and tell me I’m doing Too Much.
My old flat mates from uni move to London too, and we hang out and it’s great!! I live in a flat with two lovely girls in between two tube stations, with lots of cupboard space. Outside my bedroom window is a view of all the rooftops in our road. I could easily run around on them like in Mary Poppins.
London is not my natural place to exist. I’m used to being able to walk to an open green space whenever I want. But I love the diversity of the whole place, and I love being near my friends. I like that it’s easy to travel anywhere else in the country. I like that I can have a lazy weekend as well as a busy weekend in the city.
I see Out of Water with Ava and later Haz. It’s smart and soft and has acapella sea shanties which floor me.
I’m still looking to art and films and stories to figure out how to live my life. What is a normal number of close friends to have in your early 20s? Should I be working less? Going out more? Should I be trying to date? What will make me happy?
Lesson 20: It’s easier to make friends as an adult when you work in theatre. It’s a social workplace, being in rooms with other people is literally the whole point.
For the first time since graduating, I have a job and a fixed address.
I live in Wimbledon. I commute everyday. It’s about 1hr and 20 both ways but it’s on a quiet train with a 3 minute change so I listen to podcasts, scroll twitter and take some time to myself on those journeys.
I leave the house at 7 and get back at 7 every day- I don’t have time to cook anything. I notice I don’t have any resilience to things going wrong. I drop my phone in Bristol docks and it throws everything off. My mum stages an intervention. I streamline which projects I’m involved in and book a doctor’s appointment and therapy sessions near where I live. I go swimming at the local leisure centre. I turn 23. I take out a second overdraft.
Something happens and I spend a week not eating or sleeping through the night.
Can someone please explain how to stop feeling guilt? Because the older I get and the more times I mess up, the more I carry my guilt around until I feel like it will roll up and crush me
I’m feeling funny about ageing. I’ve blundered into my adult life with this huge sense of optimism and naivety and I’m just kind of wandering around not knowing how to use my limbs properly and feeling like less of an adult at 23 than I did at 19.
I spend a weekend in a bubble of happiness on tour with This Noise, jumping from London to Bristol to Eve’s birthday party, where Helen and I find ourselves filing out life advice to our friends in the year below us like shamans. Fran has come back from three months of travelling and oh my god I missed her so much. Clara says ‘I wish someone had prepared me for the year after graduating to be the worst year ever’.
I take a road trip with someone I know where we have one of those deep chats that marks the transition from pal to friend. Making friends outside of uni is easier now.
I go home to see my sister in her youth theatre production of the Railway Children.
I’m still shocked when I realise the world is bigger and sadder and scarier than it is in movies and musicals.
I feel out of sorts in my home town and I cry a lot.
I’m still wobbly and tall and fidgety and I don’t feel a confidence in my body, and I don’t know what I’m doing, and I have so many conflicting emotions folded up inside of me and I still need to cry to my mum and run away from people who are mean and I’m expected to just be living live my whole life? And file my taxes? And pay into my pension? What the fuck?
I show Jemima the published playtext with my name in it and we jump up and down with excitement.
The way I live my life has always been open, I’ve never had any secrets, and that has made me vulnerable.
I’m really glad I’ve chosen to go into theatre actually. Theatre is fun. It’s perfectly plausible that my career could see me tour round Canada for a month with a show, or spend a year in another UK city, or make immersive performance for nightclubs, or work with a massive fuck-off community choir, or establish an alternative to the Edinburgh fringe, or go back to uni, or write a confessional one woman show, or take a road trip and make a show out of it.
I can’t control my emotions. I feel so much, all the time.
I listen to Pink in the Night over and over again.
I listen to Lucky over and over again.
I listen to Perfect Places over and over again
Believe it or not, I do feel so much better after writing this.
I think? This will be my last blog post on this website?
The Singing Bookshelf is old Emily, who started a blog in 6th form and didn’t know if she liked writing and watched loads of youtube videos and wanted to do an MA in Shakespeare Studies. I feel like I’ve outgrown this site now. I’m still reviewing for Exeunt, which has been such a joy, and a much-needed creative outlet.
I think I’ll take a few blog posts that I really love and put them on the new version of whatever this is. It’ll probably be an ‘Emily Rosannah Davis’ website or something. Idk. I’m an adult being professional now.
No idea how to end this?
Basically, the year after you graduate is really hard, especially if you’re moving areas of the country or are dependent on the social mobility that a university education affords you, but are without the economic resources to back it up. It kinda kills you emotionally and mentally. If you have friends or family in the place that you want to be, that’s a gift and can’t be taken for granted. I don’t know what I would have done this year without the generosity of my friends. I’m also very wary of sounding self-pitying with this post? And it’s also 4000 words long and doesn’t make any sense and was really just a therapeutic exercise for me! But it has felt really good to do, and I enjoy taking stock of everything I feel and everything I’m grateful for.
I’ll be honest, right now the overwhelming thought in my head is how much I’m looking forward to Edinburgh this year. If you’re reading this and you’re up there, let’s get a pint?