Stayin’ Alive By Being Live

22 March 2024
by Nicola Manasseh

Call me behind time, but I only just watched the 2020 Oscar winning Nomadland. What I love about this beautifully scripted and superbly filmed movie is how it shows the power of a kind community to help the heart broken protagonist, played by Francis McDormand, to keep on living despite the quiet but overwhelming loss she feels after her beloved husband’s death. We witness the ordinary yet monumental moments that make Fran, hardened by grief, able to reconnect to love – like giving a friend a haircut, holding a baby, eating at a table with a warm family. As a nomad, Fran experiences the healing force of nature and wild landscapes, yet she finds just as much contentment cleaning in a fast-food kitchen, because she is working alongside a friend.

Interestingly when in 2021 Francis McDormand collected an Oscar for Best Actress, she urged people to see the film in a cinema. Her words stayed with me because, alongside my belief that ultimate happiness comes from a sense of belonging, I’m also an advocate for the value of live experiences. It’s my feeling that when we dare or bother to be in the real world and not just in our homes conveniently receiving – or trying to receive – what we need via screens, then we open ourselves to the magic of life. Francis was speaking after the lockdowns of the pandemic –  a time when people lost purpose and livelihood, essential surgeries, and the ability to travel, but being isolated from real human contact that was as bad as it got.

Living in a village I regularly get to experience the beauty of the offline world, like chancing upon people I know and being introduced to strangers – many of whom end up helping me in my life. For example, I spent months trying to hire someone to assist with the magazine’s social media. I posted on local internet sites, laboured over carefully worded emails to explain my needs to those who responded to me, often repeating myself because what I wrote wasn’t always understood – or even read! – by the recipients. Then one morning, having given up on finding an assistant, I went out to get a coffee and I bumped into a local friend Michael who happened to be having a drink with his neighbour. Michael – a community-minded person with a big heart – included me in their conversation and it turned out that his friend was looking for his teenage son to have work experience and better still, as a photographer and videographer. Father, son and I had a couple of inspirational real time meetings in a café over hot drinks, and before long I started receiving videos to upload to Instagram and my work life has improved. Of course many times the online world can provide – like how dating sites show you other singles in your area – but the point is that everything unfolded for me once I stepped outside on a simple mission to get a takeaway cappuccino.

My key strategy as Advertising Director for the magazine is to be face to face, to have the chance to look people in the eye (and without seeing my face reflected to me on a zoom call!) shake hands or sometimes have a polite hug. In my experience, with a one-on-one meeting, there’s more likelihood of honesty and authenticity. For me the next best thing to a live meeting is a phone call and once I’ve heard about a business that is trying to reach out to Belsize Park residents, I usually initiate contact with a phone call. And almost every time after those phone calls – some of which can reveal wonderful coincidences and opportunities – I find myself grateful that people still talk and relieved to have shared the magazine’s mission without the chore of typing and the concern when I don’t get an answer for days that my email might be lost. And then there’s the frustration when I realise I’ve been ghosted! The way I see it, there’s freedom and spontaneity inherent in real time conversations which allow me to wholly understand the unique needs of a potential advertiser and if and how the magazine can serve them.

Unlike my job to make In The Square, which requires me to think and act with a long-term strategy, Fran of Nomadland lives moment by moment and her jobs are all seasonal. And in the end, what I took from the film is that, despite her constant struggle to keep her chin up and endure the losses that are part of the cycle of life, Fran understands that she can’t ignore the comfort and joy that certain other nomads give her, and that for true survival she needs to engage directly with the world around her.

Photo Credit: Delivering the magazine to houses in the NW3 area. Often I get to meet the locals who read In The Square – live market research!

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