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Joz Norris


Tape 119 – Digging A Hole/Making A Plan

  • Tape 119 – Digging A Hole/Making A Plan

First up, thank you for all the lovely feedback on last week’s Tape! I don’t usually experiment with a more narrative approach to this newsletter, and I really enjoyed it and might write more entries like that going forwards, alongside the more regular “Here’s what’s on my mind this week” entries. With that in mind, because I was away this weekend and am a bit short on time to write a full-length entry, this week I’d like to share a short story I wrote last year that has had a couple of live outings but hasn’t yet found a natural home inside a larger project. After that, some thoughts on the ongoing evolution of this newsletter that I’d love your thoughts on!

Digging A Hole

When I was a kid, I set to work with a bucket and spade at the beach and dug a hole. It was the first thing I’d ever made. I had no idea the world was so malleable. That you could make a decision – “I’m gonna dig a hole” – and the world could change and shift to accommodate it. As soon as you realise you can dig a hole, that’s game over. Now you can do anything. You can dig a hole. You can make a heap, or a pile. The world is yours to influence and change. I tried to show it to my family – “Look at this hole I dug! Tell me how brilliant it is!” and they smiled and nodded but didn’t seem to fully understand. I had made something. I had made this hole. It was mine. But I was wasting my time with people who had dug thousands of holes in their lifetime, and could no longer see the magic of what I’d done.

I would make them see. I would make them understand. So I took out my crowbar (no trip to the beach is complete without your trusty crowbar) and I levered it in against the edge of the hole, sandwiched in the gap between the hole and the sand, and pushed down. The hole flew out of the ground with a satisfying “pop!” Knowing how light holes are, and how vulnerable to errant gusts, I grabbed it before it flew away on the sea breeze, and stuffed it down my top. It struggled to be free, trying to expand and fill all the available space outside my T-shirt, as holes tend to do. But I wouldn’t let it. This was my hole, the hole I dug, the thing I made, and I would keep it forever as a reminder of how good it felt to turn the world into something other than itself. I wanted it to remain small, manageable, the size I intended – I didn’t plan on spending my life looking at the things I had made and thinking “No, no, that’s not quite how I wanted it to be.” That didn’t sound like any kind of life to me. So I squeezed it under my T-shirt and I hid it there like a secret on the car ride home, stroking my belly and feeling the balloon-like bulge of the hole squashed underneath.

When I got home, I hid the hole at the back of my wardrobe, where nobody else would find it and accidentally throw it away. But at night, before I went to bed, I would pull my pants and socks out of the way so I could gaze into this thing I made, this hole I dug, and plant seeds for dreams about everything I could create if I put my mind to it.

I kept the hole for years, as a reminder of all these things. Sometimes the hole would go missing. I would come home from school, and peer into the back of the wardrobe to look at it, as had become obsessional habit by this point, and find that it was no longer there. A hole is a hard thing to find, being invisible to the naked eye as they are. I would turn the room upside-down in my search for it, until I would eventually find it sniggering under my bed, giggling at all the trouble it had put me to.

These escapes became more and more frequent, and more and more distressing. Each time I was haunted by the idea that this thing I made, this hole I dug, had gone forever, and I would never be able to look at it or think about it again. So one day, when I found the hole hanging from the hook on the back of my door and snorting with laughter, I squeezed it as small as it would go and swallowed it. I never saw the hole again, but it became a part of me. I was able to feel it every day, this thing I made, this hole I dug. It was there in the gap between what I say and what I mean. Between what I feel and what I seem. Between who I might be and who I am.

Making A Plan

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the future of this newsletter, and I would love your thoughts on this. It does seem like the conversational, interactive element of this space has dipped a little since I moved it to Substack, though the readership numbers have been leaping up, so I’m not quite sure why that is. Perhaps moving it to a larger platform has made it feel less personal and conversational? If that’s the case, I promise your direct replies still go only to my inbox, and I’d love to keep that conversational element intact if I can, so if this newsletter and the ideas I share in it mean something to you, I would love to hear from you this week!

This year I’ve stepped away from the thing that usually formed the basis of my living – live comedy – in order to develop scripted projects for TV, film and radio. That’s been going really well, but there is precious little money in it. If you do get paid, it tends to be in small, nominal fees and the promise of “We’ll hopefully get you a better fee if we get a commission out of this!” which isn’t really a sustainable way to live in an industry where far too many people are pitching for only a small number of opportunities. I’ve been making up the shortfall elsewhere with acting, directing and consulting work (can’t believe I’ve become a “consultant,” I find that so funny), but I’d love to build something where I felt like I had control of my own sustainable space that brought me in a bit of additional income to help me make progress on the long-form projects I care most about, and give them the time and attention they deserve.

(Yes, I know that most people set up Patreons in order to fund their regular social media output, but forgive me, I cannot find it in my heart to want to become someone who regularly puts out social media content. It’s a useful place to try out ideas and maintain connection with your audience, but making content specifically for it is not what I’m good at and it’s not what brings me joy, and I don’t want to create a situation where I start to feel beholden to it).

So, I’m beginning to wonder whether the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes might be that space, if I were to meaningfully expand them into a two-tiered system, one for free subscribers and one for paying subscribers.

The regular newsletter, consisting as it does of whatever has floated in and out of my brain that week, be it some thoughts on comedy, a short story, an idea jumping off from something I’ve read, some creative advice for writers etc etc, would of course remain free in this evolved version I’m imagininge. I always said it would be and I believe in the importance of having a space online where you can share your work without charging people for it. That’s the great power of the internet, that it enables you to democratise your relationship with your audience.

But it also enables you to strategise and curate your professional relationship with your audience, so I’m considering adding a second weekly email for paid subscribers that would include more guidance, advice and creative accountability for fellow writers/creators/makers. I know a lot of people use this newsletter as a way of having creative accountability and/or inspiration for their own projects, and perhaps this second email might function as more of a creative diary, chronicling the day-by-day development of various projects, thoughts, and approaches, and inviting readers to share their own. This could maybe be matched with a weekly interactive Chat function (as there’s been some tentative take-up of the Chats I’ve launched alongside the regular newsletter in recent weeks) for readers to discuss their own projects and ideas together, and offer one another advice and outside opinions, and perhaps there’d also be a fortnightly Zoom session for readers to discuss this stuff in-person.

Paid subscribers would also, of course, get advance sneak peeks of upcoming projects and work, advance access to live shows, and other perks, similar to a Patreon. You’d also, of course, be supporting my work more generally, and helping me to be able to continue making short films, audio projects and developing scripts, all of which would be hugely appreciated. This year I haven’t made much in the way of “complete” projects that I’ve been able to put out into the world, which has been disorienting and odd for me as someone who usually measures my self-worth according to the work I’m able to produce (a bad habit I am working on, I promise). But in the few months to come I’ll finally be able to put the finishing touches to various things, including a short film, a special one-off live event, a couple of long-form audio projects, and more, and all of this is only possible if I can continue to give them my time.

This is all just something I’m mulling over, and none of my thoughts relating to it are fixed, so essentially, I’m wondering – if this space means something to you, be that creatively, emotionally, or whatever, would you be interested in paying to join an “evolved” version of this space, where we build work together and share it with one another and encourage each other, alongside other perks and bonus features? If so, and you were allowed to have a say in the kind of thing you would want that evolved space to look like, what would you want from it? What does this newsletter offer to you that you would like to see more of in an adapted, developed version funded by readers? I’d love to hear from you, because this newsletter only brings me joy as long as it serves the interests and curiosity of its readers. So let me know if you have any ideas or thoughts, and I’ll reflect on them all and see if I can come up with a version of this that would offer value to paying subscribers, alongside the regular weekly emails which will continue to go out to everybody! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – I’ve not yet got round to watching it, because I started re-watching Mum and couldn’t stop because it’s brilliant – but I keep hearing wonderful things about Mawaan Rizwan’s new sitcom Juiceand it’s very much next on my list of new sitcoms to devour. Mawaan is brilliant, and this show looks so new and bold and innovative and exciting, I can’t wait for it.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I saw some dear friends in Bristol this weekend and one of them mispronounced the word “book” as “bilk,” which led to the collaborative creation of a character who doesn’t know what a book is or how to pronounce the word, and let me tell you, it’s a very funny character (when you’ve been drinking cocktails for three hours).

Book Of The Week – Currently reading Limmy’s autobiography Surprisingly Down-To-Earth, And Very FunnyLimmy’s got such a brilliant brain. He can conjure an entire world using so very little, it’s a masterpiece in minimalist comedic writing.

Album Of The Week – The Harmony Codex by Steven Wilson. This is Wilson’s new album. There are some songs on it which feel like the most vital and fresh of his since 2013’s The Raven That Refused To Sing (“Impossible Tightrope” has a real King Crimson vibe to it), but other songs feel a bit like he’s on autopilot. A bit of a mixed bag.

Film Of The Week – Not seen any films I’m afraid, cos Bake Off’s back, and so’s Taskmaster. I’m a busy boy with all this great TV! Might go see The Old Oak, though, or The Creator.

That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know what you thought, and if you enjoyed the newsletter enough to send it to a friend, or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care of yourselves until next time, and all the best,

Joz xx

PS This is Lenny and he loves the Mendips:

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