The other day I read a blog post by Austin Kleon, a writer and artist, in which he quoted a couple of lines from one his favourite books. He wrote: "...if you really want to explore ideas in an environment conducive to good thinking, you should consider hanging out with people who are not so much like-minded as like-hearted,” people who are “temperamentally disposed to openness and have habits of listening”.’ It was the kind of thing that, normally, I’d have read, appreciated the sentiment, and then gradually forgotten about as my over-active brain continued juggling everything else it needed to think about. Thanks to participating in Man Up, however, it took on much greater significance - because I realised that’s exactly what the participants are: a like-hearted group of people, with a willingness to listen. Thirty-odd people took part in the recent creative weekend, coming from an incredible variety of backgrounds and experiences. It’s extremely unlikely that we all agree with each other about everything, but we’re all invested in this unique experience and prepared to open up to one another.
I’m Paul, I’m 33, and I’m a freelance technical author and copywriter based in Leek. My upbring was pretty unremarkable. Essentially, I was one of the Inbetweeners; part of a nerdy crowd that kept themselves to themselves, was mostly rubbish at sport and became instantly awkward around anybody popularly considered to be ‘cool’. Like many people experience on the journey into adulthood, the creativity I often displayed as a kid was gradually forced out of the picture, replaced by everything society considers ‘normal’.
Daily commute? Tick.
Nine-to-five office job? Tick.
Climbing the career ladder to fund utility bills and trips to Ikea? Tick, tick.
Tick tock, tick tock.
There were times I knew something wasn’t right. One day I wanted to leave the house for fresh air, but didn’t dare open the front door for fear of any kind of interaction with another person. That was a biggie. To this day, I have no idea what prevented that from becoming something worse, but I’m eternally grateful for whatever it was. Five or six years ago I started reading articles by a couple of American guys who call themselves ‘The Minimalists’. The things they had to say helped make sense of a lot of the anxiety I felt around possessions, consumerism, advertising and what I valued as important to my life. From there, I carried on reading about mental health, self-improvement. I started running, and I found a passion that I could write about.
Last year I chose to cast aside the comfort blanket of a regular salary and see if I could make a living as the writer I had always wanted to be. I wanted to be able to manage my own time and have the freedom to say yes to new ideas, meet creative people and find new opportunities.
When I saw the details of Man Up, I immediately wanted to be part of it - and it’s no exaggeration to say the process has been joyous.
In a welcoming and inclusive environment, I’ve been coaxed out of my comfort zone doing group musical and movement exercises. As well, I’ve been encouraged to take forms of expression I’m more comfortable with - writing and illustration - and use them to explore themes and ideas that I never usually feel able enough to capture. It’s a completely new experience, and I’ve begun to learn more about the city of Stoke-on-Trent; its people and its creativity. I don’t know what my contribution to the finished product might be - I’ll be happy to be involved in any capacity.
Watching professional artists, poets, dancers, musicians, designers and photographers create, shape and record the Man Up experience is a pleasure. Ticking new boxes that I didn’t know were waiting to be ticked is inspiring and addictive. Most importantly, I’ve listened. By any number of measures I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve got a lot to be grateful for in that ‘unremarkable’ upbringing. Contributing the benefit of my experiences to the project is one thing, but learning from other people’s stories, being inspired by what they’re willing to share, and going back out into the world with a greater appreciation of what other ‘like-hearted’ people might be thinking and feeling is invaluable.