In this edition of GRL Talk, I quizzed Katie Oldham, who you may know better as Scarphelia, about life lessons and her inspirations. Our chat came at a pivotal moment, with Katie announcing the end of her blog scarphelia.com, for more information on this move you can head on over to her beautifully frank post ‘The Final Act of Scarphelia’.
If you’ve been an avid reader of her words over the last few years (I know I have), following her journey with baited breath, then this move away from writing and towards music may be one that saddens you- but don’t let it. Katie, as a creator, is far more than a blog domain. Come this way, and get to know her a little better…
First off, tell us a lil bit about yourself and what you do in this big bad world?
Hey! I’m Katie Oldham, a 24-year-old musician and writer living on the beach in sunny Brighton – my absolute favourite place on earth. I’m the drummer and frontwoman of garage punk band Sit Down and the (more infrequently than not) writer of a blog called Scarphelia which I started 4 years ago. To pay the bills I also work as a freelance ghostwriter for a marketing firm in London.
A couple of years ago I remember reading on Scarphelia that you’d taken the plunge and dropped out of University, then moved to New York and worked on a ship (could you be any cooler?), what advice would you give young women who are scared to go against the school-uni-sensible job route?
I think it’s very easy to see a case like mine and be completely sold on the fairytale of it. On the surface, it does look magical and I do stand by it being the best and most important decision I’ve ever made in my entire life. However, it was not something I took lightly. And it was very important to me to focus on the harsh reality of the consequences of my choice, to give the most accurate representation of how hard it was in spite of seeming picture perfect on the outside – something I think bloggers and online personalities often neglect and can be super damaging in the long run.
My worst fear was someone coming up to me and excitedly saying ‘I dropped out of uni because of you!’ Because that was the completely opposite of what I wanted to achieve. By sharing my story I wanted to hopefully give people who were really struggling the courage to chose what they truly wanted to do with their lives for THEM and nobody else. Or at least provide a frame of reference for those thinking about dropping it to see what happened to me as a result, before they made up their mind.
Another thing I really wanted to make crystal clear was I was NOT dropping out to become a full-time blogger. Not only was that something I had zero interest doing, I was also seeing a lot of ‘top bloggers’ at the time encouraging their young fans (who were in no position to actually attain that lifestyle) to drop out of school/quit their jobs and ‘follow to dream!’ Which I thought was incredibly irresponsible. They were essentially preaching the message that throwing away all responsibility/financial security will make all your dreams come true, to audiences didn’t know any better. I wanted no part of that.
So I spent a lot of time seeking advice from those I trusted and mulling it over to work out of all of my options if I did leave, or if I stayed. It was certainly no spontaneous decision, which is the main reason why I think it ended up turning out so well for me. I didn’t just wing it and hope for the best. I was ‘lucky’ because I made a foolproof plan to be. And I think THAT is what I wanted people to take away from my words. That, If you are desperate to drop out, the actual act of leaving won’t suddenly solve everything. It’s the first step of a wild and insane journey of self-discovery that’ll push you to the very limits of who you think you are and what you do – mine took me to a shop in New York City! But even that was one of the hardest most fundamental learning curves I ever embarked upon.
So if you’re truly prepared to make this choice, you better have your rain mac packed, because you’re launching head first into a mighty storm that’ll either make or break you.
Your writing is so moving and honest, what allows you to be such an open book?
You know what, I think it actually stems back from being quite a lonely child. I always had crazy dreams and ideas and growing up but I never really felt like I had anyone to tell who would listen or take me seriously. That was the main basis of why I started the blog and the subject of my first ever blog post.
I was 20 years old and had spent too long bottling up all these things I felt, hoping that one day an opportunity would come knocking on my door, that I just said enough is enough.
I started a blog with a promise to no-one but myself – I was going to make opportunity come to me. And I was going to make my life as remarkable as I always hoped it would be as a kid. I guess it’s that passion which just comes tumbling out of me through my words that allow me to be so open.
If you had a time machine, what would you tell your 16-year-old self?
This is always such a funny one, because not only would 16 year old me never have listened to me now, she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it anyway. Because what I would say is ‘care less about the small things, they really don’t mean as much as you think they do.’
But the thing is, when you’re 16 and crying in the school toilets because someone chatted shit about you on MSN, that *is* the world to you. You don’t have a developed emotional capacity then that you grows as you get older, so nothing could possibly feel worse. It’s easy to say ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ as an adult, when what you consider ‘small stuff’ is actually the most important thing in the world to someone younger.
It’s a similar thing to how we can laugh at these little girls who scream and weep at Justin Bieber concerts or whatever. We laugh because it seems so silly to us, but they’re not crying because they’re just kids – they’re crying because that love is SO real. I still vouch that I’ve never loved someone as hard and fast and as all-encompassing as I did my first ever teenage boyfriend.
So I suppose there’s nothing I’d say apart from ‘It gets better. Trust me, it gets SO much better.’
Which women inspire you? Whether that’s in your daily life, or on a grander scale.
Oh wow this is such a broad question I don’t know where to begin! Off the top of my head I can think of some bloggers/online people who inspire me: Emma Gannon for her incredible achievements and success with writing, Nimko Ali for her tireless activism against FGM, Areeba & Noor Siddique for their genius levels of creativity and artistry and also for representing Desi culture online, and Emily Bador, a model who constantly uses her Instagram to open the conversation about race issues, politics, feminism and cultural appropriation.
Musicians who inspire me are also Amy Winehouse, Grace Jones, Janis Joplin, Kim Gordon, Viv Albertine, MIA, and Solange amongst countless others!
Being a writer is an ever-changing process. We make our money by putting our deepest, darkest thoughts on a page in the hopes that someone will relate- what has been your biggest lesson as a writer?
Well, I actually never made any money from my writing, which was a very conscious decision. To me, the biggest lesson in writing online is at what point you define the line between art and business.
The simple rule that applies to all kind of money-making is you either do it the direct way & sell a product (an article to another publication/write a book) or the easier, sneakier way & do something that makes somebody else some money in the long run. (adverts/sponsored posts) and neither of those seemed right to me when all I was doing was keeping an online journal. But of course, making a living from your hobby is so tantalising, and I reached a point where I had to ask myself, why was I so desperate to make money out of people who were essentially doing me a favour by paying attention to me?! It just felt like exploitation, and I drew myself a line that said my words will always my art, not my business.
Money entering the blogosphere completely changed everything. In fact, I think it ruined it. The whole point of beauty blogs was to have an inside scoop, someone who’d cut through the shit and tell you what’s worth it and what’s not. They were real people who were on your side, helping you to cut through the manipulative corporate bullshit adverts shove down our throats to try and sell us literally anything. Now look at it. It’s these bloggers who are now IN the adverts. And we’re meant to congratulate them on being so successful, being figureheads for proving that this new media is taking over from the old when it’s the complete opposite, and people are so fucking blind to it.
The old media have fully got us back under their thumb through capitalising on bloggers and we’re falling it for it more than ever. The moment big brands starting appointing bloggers as their ‘brand ambassadors’ we should’ve seen the red flag. And that’s why I rarely blog anymore. I don’t want to be a part of that world, and to be honest, that world doesn’t need or want me when I’m not going to be making anyone any money. And I’m more than happy with that!
For me, I’ve found a much more powerful way to express myself is through music, which I find so much more honest, raw and real. To me, Rock’n’roll sounds like a woman riled up and ready to fight, and I’m super lucky to live in an incredibly liberal city that has some truly amazing opportunities for women in music. It’s such an exciting place to be in as we watch our band slowly start to take off – an excitement I once felt similarly when people started to read my blog. But looking down into the crowd and seeing all these women energised, passionate and seizing their most badass selves, I know I’ve definitely made the right choice. Where I am now is the happiest I have ever been in my life. And that’s all childhood me ever wanted to be able to say.
Follow Sit Down HERE to keep up with Katie’s journey…