2022 is on the way out and it’s been one of those years that falls quite strongly into the “at least it wasn’t 2020” bucket.
Covid is still here, of course. I write this several days after testing negative on my lateral flow, after a week of positive results and much snot. A long, brutally delayed train journey back from Liverpool, involving over an hour spent sat outside Euston in a crowded carriage of people desperate to disembark finally gave me the plague. But at least in 2022 long train journeys have been possible. Finally getting out to see friends and loved ones was a huge relief, not to mention the adventure of taking the train to Ferrol and back for Hispacon 2022, changing via Madrid and Paris. I figure if you have the privilege of time and the little extra cash it costs to take the train, it’s both an environmentally decent choice, as well as a glorious, fascinating adventure.
It still feels a bit odd to be in large crowds, and the return of gigs has been chaotic. Several months in spring 2022 were manic, but winter has been full of last-minute cancellations and last-minute bookings as the music industry tries to work out what to do with itself. Audiences aren’t yet back in large enough numbers to fund the increasing costs – heating, electricity, staff – that venues need to cover in order to survive, and having been burned in the winter of 2021 with Covid surges, no one’s really sure whether to take the risk of booking shows. The shift to remote working has also changed patterns of where people want to go to see music, and there’s still no clear path to stability there.
Touring has also been hit by Brexit – everything is more costly and bureaucratic – while the nature of freelance life means that generally speaking anyone in the industry in 2020 who had either family to support or a mortgage to pay, left. Technical work in both theatre and music is almost entirely freelance, and many freelancers simply couldn’t survive financially waiting for the industry to recover. Now that they’re gone, they’re staying gone, lured by such extraordinary things as “sick pay” or “maternity leave” or “finishing work at 5 p.m. and not working weekends”. The loss of expertise is noticeable, with tech managers struggling to cover shifts with a whole new generation of still quite inexperienced engineers.
Despite all that, this year I lit the Royal Albert Hall, which is a huge deal for me emotionally and professionally. And I’m… 92% happy with how it went? Regrettably the 8% is probably gonna haunt me for a while, because it’s the Royal Albert Hall and I really would have preferred unmitigated triumph and perfection, but ah well. I learned a lot from it, although ironically one thing the experience taught me how grateful I am to work in venues that are prestigious enough and large enough to keep the music flowing through their doors interesting and exciting, while also being familiar enough that I’m pretty confident I’ll do a good job, no matter what I’m lighting. Going into new venues day after day, let alone trying to do a decent job on 4 hours sleep snatched at the back of a bus – it’s an incredibly tough life, and I admire anyone who can do it for more than a few days at a time with any degree of competence.
Elsewhere, having gone stir-crazy in 2021, I spent the first few months of 2022 trying to learn a few new skills to go with my usual hobbies of escrima and running. A six week archery course was a lot of fun, and an intermediate sewing class dragged my meagre wardrobe skills into a more confident place. (Thank goodness that visible mending is now socially more acceptable!) I did a bit of volunteering for the Greens around local elections and was happy to see the Greens doing well, even if in every other way UK politics remains a heartbreaking dumpster-fire of corruption, cruelty and incompetence. There were also a few weeks of samba drumming, and though it was joyful, goodness it’s hard – the rhythms of samba made my brain melt.
A lot of time has been spent helping family with various building things (there was a roof that was on the way out), but now that’s done I’d really like to get on with the clichéd 2020 experience of doing more DIY in my own damn flat. Those doors aren’t going to sand themselves, and with the ongoing economic crisis anything I can do domestically with the skills I’ve got, I’m gonna. I feel incredibly grateful that the writing is going well enough that I feel financially secure, but that doesn’t stop me writing this in two jumpers with a hot water bottle stuffed up one in an effort to keep costs down.
One of the few perks of several years of not having much to do except think, means like many people I’ve had a bit of a mull about my health, and finally have taken some responsibility for engaging with stuff that’s always been true, but never been great. The net result hasn’t been especially positive – I’ve been informed that my sleep architecture is almost certainly genetically a bit buggered, meaning I’m always going to be more vulnerable to fatigue than I’d like – and my jaw doesn’t work properly, meaning the low-level chronic pain that has been my entire adult life isn’t going anywhere. But at least I have a stronger sense of what I’m dealing with, and when things do get bad I can identify why, and react calmly and appropriately, rather than just feel non-specifically grumpy.
I had planned on running a couple of half-marathons in 2022, for my own joy. However, an injured ankle in April took nearly two months out of my schedule, and Covid in the last week has also been less than helpful. That said: I’ve run further in 2022 than in any year proceeding, and given everything going on, am elated at that. I will never be fast or go especially long, but I’m mildly proud that despite freelancer chaos and genetically dubious sleep architecture, running is still a big part of my day-to-day.
Last and not least, there’s been books!
Ithaca published in autumn 2022, and though my editor is generally speaking under strict orders to tell me nothing, she has confessed that it all seems to be going well, for which I’m deeply grateful. Book two of the trilogy – House of Odysseus – is out autumn 2023, and I’m waiting on edit notes for book three, which I finished writing earlier in the year. Of course the slight snag of all this is that I’ve now technically got nothing to write until after 2024, when book three publishes. That’s not going to stop me writing, but I am doing my absolute best to go as slowly as I humanly can on the Next Thing, about which I can probably at this time say nothing more….
With all that said, I have no idea what 2023 is going to bring. A lot of my life is dependent on things beyond my control. I have no power over gigs or the music industry; no power over publishing or how things sell. All I can do is wait with fingers crossed for basically most things in my life. Those things I do have agency over – what I write, looking after myself – I do my best with, but the life of a writer/lighting designer, for all its many, many privileges and perks, is not fundamentally one of guaranteed anything.
I would like to honour my fairly-recently acquired German citizenship and go travelling through Germany by train, if the opportunity arises. I’d also like to spend a bit more time walking across the UK. I did a glorious walk from Penzance to Falmouth via the Lizard in 2019, and am eyeing up a walk across the Peak District between various mates as a potential fun adventure in the coming year.
I continue to study German (and continue to find it hard) and practice chess (differently hard), and with any luck might even pass an escrima exam next year, which would be nice. But my ambitions, as you can tell, are hardly glorious – the world doesn’t feel stable enough to think especially big. The UK right now is on strike – which I support entirely, despite the inconvenience – but it’s hard to imagine planning much with everything so out of control and unpredictable. The climate continues to be in crisis, but thankfully science continues to show time and time again that getting involved and being active gives a much greater sense of warm fuzzies than just curling up in (understandable) dread and terror, and I’m grateful therefore for the opportunities to be part of the environmentalist movement in even the smallest of ways.
And that is 2022. In with a big of ‘um, not sure, ugh?’ and out in exactly the same way.
Wherever you are, whatever 2023 brings, I hope you are safe and well and good, and that your 2023 is better than your 2022, even if your 2022 was pretty flipping excellent.