Monday 6 February 2017

The Final Act of Scarphelia

Boy oh boy, have I had to think long and hard about how to start this.

In fact, it’s taken me months from the moment I began typing this sentence to get to this point now - which if doesn’t say more about how much things have changed, I don’t know what does.

Perhaps a good place to start was when I woke up to that email informing me my blog domain was due to expire after it's 3-year lease, and the question: did I want to renew? 

Or when I found an old film reel in my room, and on it, found photos from that day in summer I hadn't known would be the last time in this city that I’d ever feel alone.

Or most recently, when the man in the bar, who’d been staring at me in confusion for some moments finally approached - and I silently prayed he wasn't from one of those tinder messages I'd been ignoring all month - and he put his hand on my arm and he said my name, but not my name. Because he asked me if I was Scarphelia, and it had been so long since I'd been asked that and it was so deeply unexpected, I wasn't sure I knew how to answer him.

Even now, when I experience things like this, the fresh memories instantly frame and polish themselves into a solid self-serving Moment, before carting themselves off to that little treasure chest in my mind labelled 'Content'. 

Here lies countless little nuggets of profundity stored in my mental banks as a good opener for a piece I’ll never write, material for a post I’ll never birth into existence. Bragging rights for a status I’ll now never update. Maybe it's the storyteller in me, or perhaps it's the more sinister glutton for attention, but I still know when a moment becomes a Moment - and the value it has once it fossilises into a Story. And over the years I've become very good at testing the weight of these gemstones as they fall between my fingers, always knowing precisely the one to trade in at the right time for the highest reward.

All those years, and I never thought to ask myself why I ever needed to feel rich in the first place.

Today as I write this, I can’t quite process how different my life is compared to just a few months ago. I think it goes without saying for the most of us, last year was truly awful. From the state of the world, to the death and loss wherever we look, to just our daily lives and most personal situations - 2016 seems to have simply fucking sucked. 

For me, I thought it was the curse of being 23, or maybe the inevitable shitty first year out of the education, but truthfully I don’t think I ever really fully recovered after NYC. There, I glimpsed the greatest potential of everything I’d always dreamed of just peeking over the horizon, the golden light of opportunity just gracing my fingertips. 

I remember standing on the roof of our apartment block one evening, gazing out over the city in the sordid heat of sundown, watching in awe as an electrical storm sent silent forks of lightening rippling across the sky, buckling and splintering beneath the relentless heat. That’s how I feel right now, I remember thinking, a thunderstorm brewing beneath my silent skin.

I’d began this blog as a bored young lonely dreamer in grey suburban Britain, with ambition so fierce and passion so broad that I was convinced I had a destiny greater than the path I’d ended up on. The contrails of the teenage daydream had infused with the heavy weight of perceived spiritual neglect, to create a peculiar kind of arrogant rebellion not entirely dissimilar to a deity complex.

A fire in my belly drawn from the very last reserves of my determination that said; fuck you, I don’t need to wait for your permission anymore. 

This blog came from the very final Now or Never. My plan was to write and write, exploring the very depths of my soul whilst deliberately altering my way of navigating through life to encourage the maximum ridiculousness and opportunity imaginable. And I would chart it all in a captain’s log, like a great pioneer of destiny manipulation. But it was not an aimless experiment  - I had a goal, a hypothesis of sorts. I truly believed that by doing this, I could wrangle my path back into the realms of what I’d dreamed of for so long as a child. If I persisted in my magic-making, I would and could eventually alter the course of my life for good, and become the Somebody I always dreamed I would one day be. Not a famous Somebody, not a rich Somebody but a Somebody of substance. 

A Somebody with a wild and magnificent story as to how they came to earn that capital S. 

When I look back now, I’m eternally grateful for my naivety and lack of cynicism, because if not for that, then three years down the line, I’d have never reached the point where I suddenly realised my made-up magic had actually begun to work. 

It took three years of that radar sweeping across empty silence before I heard the first blip in my headphones. I pressed that receiver to my ear as I silenced the control room, eyes darting back and forth across the monitor waiting for it to come again, proof it was more than just an anomaly. And sure enough it came again, stronger now, that little neon dot glowing from the screen, inching ever closer. I was 22 and living in New York City with my best friend, paying our bills with our art and handwritten works scrawled on the floor of our sweaty apartment in Brooklyn, and it hit me like a sledgehammer. Something is coming, I whispered, tracing my finger over the fictional screen. 

And I knew I was about to become. 

The part of me that had been longingly unfulfilled for so long was about to eclipse, and I would reach a state of being where I’d no longer feel so lost and confused as to what I was trying to do, and I’d also feel free of need to try and fill that gaping emptiness with words frothed and spewed out into cyberspace which begged and pleaded; ‘Just tell me that I’m not to the only one?’ 

But just as it was beginning, it all slipped out of my grasp and I tumbled all the way back to square one, back to the UK. The visa I always knew was going to expire did, and I was dragged back home. Back to being bored and dreaming of a better life, but now not quite as young, and not quite as optimistic. It was then that I began to doubt if that moment I’d staked my life on was ever really real to begin with. 

What did I expect, to wake up one day having ‘levelled up’, with the blueprints of my future dropped into my lap? That I’d shimmer and shake like Sims do on their birthday and explode into a fully-functioning adult before people’s very eyes? I’d always thought I was going somewhere, but waking up back in my old childhood room in my hometown, jobless, friendless and alone, I began to wonder if this had been just a naive fever dream all along. I’d always said I was silver, and silver I had certainly felt, but at that moment I was the dullest grey I’d ever been.

And then silence. Months and months of silence.

I guess to most it may have seemed like I’ve given up. That I just quit. That I’d got so close, but at that critical moment I’d lost and returned home wounded and raw, retreating into obscurity under the shame of my failure, at least being able to say ‘I tried’. And it’s not to say that that didn’t happen - but that’s not why I fell silent.

The silence came because right in that moment of peak despair, I was in fact closer than I ever could’ve known to the thing I’d lost faith in believing was real.

In July, I wrote:

‘This is where I've been for the last year of my life, a character left hanging in an empty storyboard whilst silence falls in the writers room, and no-one can really work out what happens next… this is the hardest lesson I've ever had to learn - that sometimes progress grinds to a halt, and the universe suddenly stops seeming like it's got your back.’

At the moment I wrote that, I had no idea I was less than two months away from a phone call that would change EVERYTHING. I didn’t stop writing because I gave up the search, reader. I stopped writing because, right when I least expected it, I actually found what I was looking for.

What I hadn’t expected was for the change to be both all at once, and all the time. It was not a singular explosion of change. What I had felt creeping up was the first few notes of a symphony that’s only still beginning. And I knew it was real because, for the first time in my life… words escaped me. 

I reached my fingers into the mist, and found the dewdrops clung to my skin so naturally. There was no need to snatch anymore. These were formless, viscous words, the vague shapes of understanding that ebb so purely from a moment, but never need to be written or said. Sentiments so magical and fluid that they are in fact far more valuable in vapour than in solid, mechanical descriptions you can harvest out of something beautiful to prove it’s so.

In the darkness of my own profound restlessness, I finally found answers. All the time I’d spent looking for enlightenment, all the time I’d spent looking for true happiness, all the endless years and blog posts and diary entires I’d spent looking for myself, and… I actually found her. 

She stepped from the shadows, fully formed and serene, glowing fiercer than the dim sweep of my flashlight beam, and whispered in my ear the truths that I’d spent my entire life trying to work out. 

For 3 years of blogging, and 20-odd before that, I’d existed one metaphysical state of being.

But toward end of 2016, all of the magic I’d worked so hard to pump into the world, suddenly turned back on itself and surged straight back into me, knocking me off my goddamn feet. 


The problem is, the truth isn’t always pretty. 

With such astounding clarity, I suddenly saw what was right, and what was so wrong. Wrongness that I myself had perpetuated heavily before. And so alongside relief and a glimpse of true happiness… I found anger. 

I felt myself having slipped from the matrix, glancing around with newly opened eyes to how fucked up some of the shit is that we do, and what I’ve done too. I think trying to find a way to discuss what has made me so angry has been one of the main reasons I have stayed silent. Because I’ve not been able to find a way to do it constructively, and I still don’t know how. But for months this anger has been stewing in me, and if I don’t release it once and for all, I'll never let it go and it will slowly poison me. 

The modern concept of what we broadly refer to as ‘blogging’ is deeply sinister.

The majority of ‘top bloggers’ are either:

a) Deviously smart and conniving, ruthless businesspeople to the core

b) The more sincere folk, continually concerned by the compromise of their own morals by having to essentially deceive to succeed

c) So deluded from dwelling beneath their own proverbial bell jar for so long, that they are actually oblivious to both of the above.

 I know that this is going to likely piss off any blogger reading this, as they refuse to believe they fall under any of those three, but if this is the last chance I have to tell the truth, then like hell I'm not going to tell it like it is. And I know this, because at some point or another, I have been all three. The doozy is, all three will fuck you up.  

However, I do not believe this is the fault of the creator - this now is just what is required of you if you wish to survive and prosper in this industry. This toxic environment has grown like a tumour within what was once a powerful, almost anarchist community, who rejected conventional forms of marketing and instead chose to instil their faith in human beings over billboards. 

And we are goddamn fooling ourselves if we think that is still what blogging is. 

But I don’t blame you, the transition was so smooth and so seamless, none of us realised it at the time. We were still so young and naive, still shocked and surprised at the success of ourselves and our peers, that any interest from traditional media seemed like nothing but a good thing, right?

But what do you do when you’re a huge corporation that spends potentially tens of millions of pounds on marketing budgets a year, only to find the success of your campaigns is being continually dented by the rise of a new kind of consumer, one who is impervious to traditional marketing, and instead follows the guidance of someone dedicated to helping them cut through the shit? 

Of course they panicked at first, but with something as young, messy and un-structured as what blogging was, there was a goldmine of an opportunity. They bought the bloggers’ loyalty. They offered them to the same endorsement deals they would to top celebrities. I actually remember the first time I saw one of my favourite bloggers announce she’d become the brand ambassador for a haircare line. It was unheard of, and I was ecstatic for her, as was she. Look, huge brands are actually recognising the power of the people! Old media are finally waking up and accepting this new media landscape!

But this is not at all what they were doing. This is what they wanted you to think they were doing.

In fact, they had discovered an ingenious way to make sure their age-old formula for marketing would still prosper in the digital age. They did what big corporations have done for decades. They capitalised on the grassroots DIY phenomenon under the guise of supporting it, to make sure they regained the monopoly of control over the straying consumer. Bloggers starting to become brand ambassadors was the first red flag we all missed. 

And again, I know all this, because I motherfucking did it. I was a brand ambassador for H&M in 2013, and not only were we not allowed to breathe a word against it, we were only allowed to wear their clothes in a designated number of photos, given printed spreadsheets of precisely what we were allowed to wear and given vouchers to ensure we got them. But we were paid, sent off to photoshoots in cool East London locations and treated like we were supermodels! How cool! We were just kids, getting to live some ridiculous fantasy that we were famous. A fantasy so pure and easy to implement (because the bloggers had already done the work to get the audience, har har!), it sent marketing teams across the globe into a frenzy of activity. 

And yes I may sounded like some jaded, jealous reject of a movement I chose to forfeit, but don’t forget I was on the other side too. I sat there, social media intern of an online clothes retailer, while my boss scrolled through the photos of entrants of our latest ‘winner chosen at random!’ blogging competition, until she found someone pretty enough and with enough followers to deserve to win. But again, I’m guilty from another side of this too. I remember once emailing a company hosting a competition to win a holiday, saying they should make me win it, because I’d blog about it and get them more publicity if I did. And they bought it. They made me win. I cheated, and I got what I wanted. 

It’s these smart bloggers that know this, and use it to their advantage. They’re the ones who are saying ‘stay tuned for my new faves!’ to their adoring fanbase, then turning to brands and saying ‘right, let’s talk.’ I find myself almost in backward admiration for them - maybe their shamelessness is actually ingenious, fucking with the system by playing the game it invented, because they are the ones sitting on million pound fortunes and jetting off to the Maldives to cure writers block for their fourth cookbook. Whilst so easy to dislike, it’s hard not to respect these people if they’re honest and open about this, that they’re business people, marketers who use their social influence to make their livelihood. It’s not exploitative if your audience knows they’re in the game. It’s the sneaky motherfuckers who deliberately attempt to conceal this and purposefully deceive their audience that I’ve got a real motherfucking problem with. It’s borderline sociopathic the way I’ve seen some bloggers be outrageously shady behind the scenes, only to act like their success is completely organic to their audience. 

That’s why I scroll through the feeds of some of the people I use to truly idolise, and am now absolutely bamboozled by how I never before seemed to notice how sickeningly transparent it all is. How the misery creeps out from between every word in their carefully captioned instagram posts. Because how can you not get completely fucked up trying to keep up in a world like this? Not a day goes past where I don’t see a vlog of someone crying because their relationship has fallen apart, a v sincere-looking #powercouple announcing their divorce in a 20 min youtube video, or a long-winded insta caption ‘finally revealing the truth behind the filters’. Because when your personal brand is your personality, and you’ve not adequately prepared a buffer between your life and your job, this world will destroy you. 

All this time I spent blogging, I gained what I thought was so much, by sacrificing more than I ever realised. I too, lost a very important long-term relationship and many, many friends, simply because of the psychological overhaul that happened to me when I started to broadcast my life online. The fucked up thing is I must’ve known this, because in 2014 I wrote; ‘What happens when you shut that computer screen and walk outside and realise that you actually have no-one?’ I was already in too deep. I’d lost everything because of my blog, but at the same time my blog was all I had left. It’s a vicious cycle I see so, so many people still surrendering themselves to today, without even knowing it. 

You have to understand that choosing to do that will alienate you from everybody if you can’t draw a line. Because if you spend 98% of your time preaching to the world about how successful you are, people are inevitably going to delight when the see you fail. That’s the screwy schadenfreude nature of human beings. People don’t like successful people if they’re smug about it. And I just despair watching bloggers fill every possible social network with their relentless bragging and shameless egoism, people who make a living off of making other people envious, only to expect sympathy when it all falls apart. It doesn’t work like that. Constantly projecting the rhetoric that you are better than everybody else, even unconsciously, is going to leave you so desperately alone. And that truth is one I learned the hard way; The true price of selling your happiness.

Because happiness is something so delicate and pure, that any manhandling is going to damage it in a way that'll have rippling effects across your whole psyche. 

It's a bit like a coral reef. 

Left undisturbed and unobserved it'll thrive without anyone even knowing about it. The biological exchange is seamless and sustainable, a self-sufficient eco-system with inputs and outputs that operate in harmony. The thing is, when something is beautiful and pure, people want to look at it. And it’s when we believe people want to look, that we may suddenly find ourselves with the want to show it.

And so we open up ourselves, our private lives and our happiness to tourists. People are so fascinated by other people's lives that they come flocking, with their snorkels and their diesel boats, crowding to get a look at this pure thing which is so glistening and so magical and so ethereal. 

But every tourist leaves a trace. The atmosphere changes in their presence over time, and slowly everything begins to lose purity. We open up sections that we previously cordoned off so as to keep them entertained. We push the boundaries on what is comfortable and what is moral because we need to give them something to keep coming back for. 

After a while, the eco-system becomes so imbalanced that the reef can only survive with the tourists present. What was once a subtle poison is now the only thing sustaining it - for them to leave would be a death sentence. It’s already too late to go cold turkey. So we bring more and more of them in to try and help it flourish again, but one day it just cracks under the strain. It's bleached, stripped bare from over exposure and too far removed from what it was before to ever be able to go back. The tourism has been too heavy, too fast and too constant that the nutrients which existed for thousands of years before the tourists arrived are now lost forever, the water too polluted to support life anymore. 

The tourists slowly leave - after all they didn't come to see a sad dead skeleton of something that used to be beautiful. They move on to a jungle, a desert, something or someone else equally as spectacular yet not as sad and ruined, because there will always be somewhere else as exciting, and someone else who can entertain them.

And while people who can draw a line are perhaps far better at managing the tourists, I came so fucking close to letting my insatiable need to invite people to view my life destroy me. Sylvia Plath once likened depression to being beneath a bell jar - it doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, no external stimuli can reach you whilst you’re trapped in your own mind. Sensations come and go, feelings that could be powerful, lessons that could be so meaningful, experiences that could be so influential, but you can never truly connect to them as they just bounce off the glass, passing you by. That’s exactly what blogging does to you. We become so ensnared in the trap our our own reinforced delusion, that the act of maintenance alone stops us ever really feeling anything. When it’s your job, your responsibility, and your livelihood to make interesting content out of your life, how in the hell can you justify finding time to just live?

And so, this brings us to the inevitable. 

If you made it this far, I truly salute you. I’m bordering on 5,000 words here. But if this is my last ever post, then I guess this really all is now or never.

As you can probably see, I'm still angry about a lot of stuff. I could vent forever in all that infuriates me about this world, but another thing I'm really working on trying to do is to articulately sieve out the important truths from my overwhelming rage, without derailing my own argument. But I don't think you should ever apologise for your anger. If you're angry, it means you care, and that there's something that needs to be done some motherfucking justice.

So, in my epiphany I learnt about my anger, I learnt the truth about blogging, and I learnt about the price of happiness. But there was one greater truth I was about to find out. 

There’s a line in a song I used to listen to a lot when I first started coming to Brighton. The song is We Go Back by Danish synthpop band Chinah, and the line is; ‘It’s all about the breath you can’t control.’

It took me several listens before that line fully hit me, and I think I could honestly write another 5,000 words on it alone. I think its no coincidence it was when I first found those words that I began to drift further and further from blogging and social media. Because that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s the meaning of life - It’s all about the breath you can’t control.

Life is about laughing so hard that you’re bent double in silent fits. About the breathlessness of his lips against your neck, your fingers in her hair, their scent upon your skin. About the sea breeze so crisp and so sharp that it takes the breath from your lungs and brings a sparkle to your eyes. About that excitement that you can only express by squeezing your best friend’s arm and her squeezing you back. About live music that pulsates through your bloodstream as you sway in a throbbing mass of humanity moved to the divine by what you’re all experiencing, together. 

Any way you look at it, it’s true. Life, or happiness at least, is quite simply about the breath you can’t control.

It’s not about calculating your every precise move, plotting the trajectory of your life in exact targets and trying so desperately to control over every part of who you are, and what you look like to others.

That is not living. 

We are wild, reckless beings, bought here and kept alive by mechanisms beyond our comprehension or control. We are juvenile, soft manifestations of consciousness born into a unfathomable world we can't understand, yet have been given minds so great and limitless that we were are able to dream that one day we can. We have the forms of animals and the souls of stardust, moving through space time as but a blip in the grander scheme of existence, yet each of us to have ever existed remains individually unique and irreplaceable. Why? If we were meant to know, we'd know. Trying to place some kind of anchor on this madness and protect ourselves from the futility of it is laughable. To find true happiness and satisfaction in this insane whirlwind of life, we have to be flexible and free enough to ride alongside the storm that's taking us anyway. Because that's what life is, and that's what you'll remember on your deathbed when your time to fly comes to an end; The breath you couldn't control.


I only ever started Scarphelia as a way to way to live a more meaningful, remarkable life. 

I wanted to have a blog so I could chart the journey of trying to become extraordinary, and seek more than the path I’d just ended up on. I had ideas and dreams and goals and I was going to make them all come true, like seeking achievements I could display in the trophy cabinet that was this blog. The blog was never the thing. I only began to build the cabinet so I could fill shelves. But I forgot that somewhere along the way. And It was only after years of trying to make my cabinet the best and the prettiest, that I realised I’d completely forgotten I wasn’t actually a carpenter. 

But that’s not to say that I failed. The 4 years of this journey have been unfathomably complex, a series of wild ups and downs all charted for perusal. Whilst I may not have exactly used this blog as a place to store the wonders you earn once you chase your dream, it instead became something far more fascinating.

In December 2012, we were all sure the world was going to end, I’d just turned 20 and started my second year of University. It was then that I wrote my first ever blog post. In it, I wrote:

‘I guess 'Scarphelia' is the end of an era. It is the end of what I shall call 'The days of Silver Uncertainty.' It symbolises the past twenty years of knowing I want to do something important, to be somebody, but having no idea what to do, how to do it, or where I go next. But it is also the beginning. It is the very, very beginning of one hell of an adventure.’

And today, in February 2017, we’re still pretty sure the world is about to end (albeit for different reasons), I’m 24 and I live in a beautiful house with some artists in Brighton, just one street up from the beach. And it’s now the I write my last ever blog post. That hell of an adventure that was just beginning, has come to it’s end.

But it doesn’t have to be a sad thing. 

‘Scarphelia’ now is the wonderfully flawed and fully-preserved account of how one girl came of age online, and how she found out who she was, from learning all that she wasn’t. I no longer have to be that messy juncture between Scarlet and Ophelia, alter egos to try and work out what the fuck I was about. Because I’ve learnt how to be Katie. And it’s time to fly the nest to bigger and better things. The alignment is complete.

The end of Scarphelia does not mean that I no longer have anything to say, I’ve just found new, more powerful ways to speak. For the first time ever, writing is taking a back seat in my life as I focus on my music, finding ways to channel my anger and passion into something that can really make a change. Sit Down rises from the ashes of Scarphelia. So I’m not really going anywhere - you’ll just have to look a little harder if you want to find me. 

While I’m not saying I’ll never write on this site ever again, this is the end of Scarphelia as it has been. I cannot thank you enough, every single person who has been on this journey with me, and I feel honoured to have been able to help anyone who’s happened to read one of my posts. It’s you who has made me who I am today. You gave me the courage to drop out of uni, to follow my heart and get my life back on track. It was you who allowed me to find myself. I owe you so much, and I only hope I can continue to make you proud. 

It also seems only fitting that I end this journey with this title, as when I began, I used to chronicle my posts in acts and scenes like it was some great piece of performance art. Maybe it was back then. Maybe it is now.

But this is the final Act. The curtain call.

 It’s been real, huh?

I thought I’d probably be in tears by this point, but I feel strangely at peace. This is the right thing to do, the right time to go before I overstay my welcome. 

This is the longest, most truthful post I’ve ever written on this blog, which has taken my longer to write than any other. But this is how I am, I was, and always want to be remembered. Angry and alive and determined to head out there to change the goddamn world.

So I guess this is goodbye for now. Life is very exciting at the moment, and about to get even more so. But I've learnt to talk about it less, and live it more. I'm happy, dear reader. I'm so, so happy. And it just took me 4 years to work out how to do that. 

All my love and gratitude in the universe, 

For the very final time,
Katie Oldham, aka Scarlet-Ophelia, aka Scarphelia.