This post is by Anju Gaston.
Anju is a Notes Designer. She is from Devon, where she lives about nine miles away from where Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes used to live, and is the proud owner of two miniature dachshunds.
When I arrived at Cambridge, I decided (decidedly) that I was not a creative person. I was to take up my post as a geographer and it was apparent being a geographer was about almost anything other from creativity (the old “colouring in” joke might come to mind here but from my experience of the Geography Tripos there is no physical colouring in. I did, however, spent a considerable length of time learning rudimentary Excel functions in a very drab computer suite). I had done a little bit of writing at school with a really cool teacher in sixth form (thanks, Aelred) but at Cambridge it seemed like unless you were extremely competent at something, you didn’t engage in it or talk about it. In fact, the people who turned out to be the most competent at something seemed to say the least about it (we all know the cellist with a diploma who denies being musical, the Olympic swimmer who only ever talks about water when they’re drinking it, the devoted owner of the Shih Tzu that won Best In Show at Crufts but doesn’t stroke dogs when they see them in public). Accordingly, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t allowed to lay claim to any sort of creative outlet. After all, I hadn’t done an art foundation anywhere or ever had anything published.
However, I quickly realised that I hated Geography. I did the only thing that any rational person would do and made the decision to switch to HSPS. Because this seemed a little closer to English in nature, it felt more socially acceptable to try and write some poetry. I can’t remember how I came across Notes but when I submitted a half-bad, half-good poem (literally, the first stanza was terrible and the second one made it into the ///Notes Anthology of 2016///) the editors very gently suggested that if I deleted the bad half, they would publish the good half. It felt really nice having something published on paper. I showed it to my grandma who said repeatedly (and not at all forcedly) that she loved it and e-mailed it to my librarian from secondary school who was suitably indifferent about it (thanks, Mr Logan). In sum, Notes gave me a bit of a nudge to dabble in something that I enjoyed.
Having submitted a couple more poems to Notes and got over the fact that you are-allowed-to-be-more than-your-subject and you-don’t-have-to-be-brilliant-a-something-to-enjoy-it, I was faced with a new devastating realisation: I (god forbid) did not do a single extra-curricular activity… When Notes opened applications for a publicity position it seemed like the perfect chance to find myself an activity that made myself look a) busy and b) arty. I longingly envisaged myself spamming every Facebook page I had access to with event pages and having something to put down on the ‘Other Experiences’ section on my Curriculum Vitae. I did not mention this at interview. At interview, I said how I would like very much like to set up an Instagram account for the publication (that we ended up getting locked out of and having to start all over again – please do go and follow the new one). Long story short, I got the job and making that application was the best thing I did that year in Cambridge.
It was the best because it led me to meet very great people who study all sorts of things and come from all sorts of places. Before I joined Notes, I never thought I would know someone from Dubai or someone who ate Belvita biscuits on a regular basis or someone who led a double life whereby they built computers at night and wrote prose during the day. While the novelty of posting on Facebook pages and using Notes-related examples for competency-based questions at interviews wore off very quickly, the chance to enjoy other people’s creative work did not; neither did turning up to launch events and have a good time with my colleagues. Today, I am a designer for Notes and I continue to very much enjoy my job. My co-designer is a very good friend and I find pasting things into InDesign on Saturday afternoons very meditative.
There is, to my mind, a really original profundity to this story: there is no one type of creative person! You can be a NatSci (Physics) and write amazing things (my friend Sam is a good example of this – I even met him at a Notes event!). You are allowed to try things even if you think you are no good at them (because even if it emerges that you’re right and you are no good at them, you might still enjoy them). Anyway, to make sure my blog post actually answers the question that I signed up to answer: I joined Notes because it helped me to realise all this. I also joined Notes for duller, less imaginative reasons, but the people I have met and the stuff that I have got to read and organise have been anything but dull.
P.S. Evelyn (my co-designer) and I are looking for people to take over from us when we graduate next year. If you are interested in a role as a designer, please do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org)!