And breathe…

Hey! So it has been a minute. The last couple of weeks have been a little bit mad. Going from working back to back shifts (I can’t complain, I treat myself too much for that) to heading to Paris for four days and then back into a week of night shifts, I have barely had time to sit down with a cup of tea. Netflix has seriously been neglected. But admittedly so has my blog.

I wanted to get this post out last week but between drinking my body weight in coffee and taking in enough culture to last a lifetime I didn’t quite get there. However, I have found this time really useful in its own way. Before I went away I was suffering some real writers block. I didn’t know where I wanted to go with this blog or what I had to say at all, period.

Being away from twitter, my laptop and news apps informing me that the end of the world is nigh left me to actually sit with my own thoughts and it turned out I did have some. I wrote more notes on my phone (34 to be exact) and felt more inspired in those four days than I have felt in months.

I was out there over Valentine’s Day- I know clichéd. For someone who doesn’t usually mark the day of sickening love with anything other than a jaeger bomb and subsequent hangover, this was a little different for me. I can’t say I am a convert and I’m not ready to give up Galentines Day but it was kind of nice wandering around Versailles with someone else not feeling like I am about to have a red bull induced heart attack. But what also became abundantly clear to me this V Day was that I hadn’t really had any me time on the run up to the holiday and it was showing.

So in the spirit of all things self-love here are the 5 things that get me back to me:

  • Halsey/ Dua Lipa/ Hayley Kiyoko/ Lorde •

I list all four because who would want to pick? I remember driving home from uni in a friend’s car just before we finished our Masters belting out New Rules, there is nothing that puts me in a better mood. What unites all of these gals is I put them on and instantly feel stronger. I can be in the worst mood and it will be instantly changed by the opener of Now or Never. As my old flatmate so often says we function best when we are scorned and no one does scorned quite like these women.

 

  • Perks of being a Wallflower (book and film) •

If you haven’t read Perks of being a Wallflower where were you at 14? Stephen Chbosky writes coming of age better than I felt it. I re-read this every year and whilst it always takes me back to being a horrible, ‘misunderstood’ teenager I also always get something new from it. You will fall in love with the characters so just be prepared for it to break you too. And I can’t help but hope that Greta Gerwigs’ ‘Ladybird’ is going to be like this but better.

  • Olivia Bee •

I stumbled across Olivia Bee about 2 years ago when I was supposed to be finishing my undergraduate dissertation (funnily enough I found a lot of new hobbies in that time). Documenting her adolescence Bee’s images are hazy and sexy and really intimate. There is no denying she is also really bloody good at what she does.  By the time she was 15, Bee had shot a Converse campaign, and by 17, her work landed on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. She has gone on to shoot for Elle, Gucci, Unpublished Playboy and so many more.

http://oliviabee.com/

  • Rupi Kaur •

Rupi Kaur cleanses my soul, pure and simple. There is no other way for me to explain how I feel about her. She writes about sex, race, love, rejection and rebirth in such a way that she expresses the experience of millions of women in so few lines. Whilst some have criticised her and her work, Kaur is the kind of poet who prompts heated debate, from people you never knew had any sort of interest in poetry, because among other things she is young, female, from a Punjabi-Sikh immigrant family, relatively uncredentialed and insanely successful.

https://www.instagram.com/rupikaur_/

rupi

  • Joan Didion •

What did you want to be when you were growing up? I wanted to be a cat. Once I realised that was an unattainable goal I decided I should probably focus at school and do what everyone else does, go to university. But then what? I discovered Joan Didion at the right time. A confused student, coming to the end of my undergraduate with a love for writing and photography but no comprehension that some people get paid to do those things I stumbled across Didions first essay for American Vogue ‘self-respect’. Her voice wasn’t really like anything I had heard of the time (1961). I consumed her work like so many other people that love her- quickly! Researching her personal life, her experience covering 1960’s California and watching David Hares adaptation of ‘A Year of Magical Thinking’ didn’t just make me want to write, it made me want to report and investigate and experience.

So there we have it, the 5 things that make me feel more me. I can’t help but notice that so many of these have a running ‘coming of age’ theme further confirming that I haven’t quite grown out of being 15 yet. But in the mean time I am willing to indulge this and you should too.

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Finding my (written) voice

Finally, it’s over- what feels like the longest January in human history. There was me thinking, as this was the first January I haven’t had exams in six years, the month would fly by and be filled with nothing but residual festive cheer. But no, it turns out January mornings are equally unpleasant when you have to get up for work…who knew?

I have struggled this month. Not just with the Baltic weather conditions and the fact that Christmas coffee has so cruelly been snatched away from me before I was ready. I had a lot of plans going into 2018 (like everyone else). One such plan was a more consistent blogging schedule- as you can see that went really well (or not).

I am no stranger to writer’s block- my final portfolio was about as difficult to complete as squeezing blood from a stone. But it has felt like for the entirety of January I haven’t had anything to say. A usual remedy is to go away, put down your pen and read as much as you possibly can. Taking in other people’s voices helps you find your own.

Like everyone has a spoken voice, you have a written voice too. You can try and develop it- to sound more profound or intelligent but it has inherent qualities that makes it yours. In the midst of my silence this month I found this quote.

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There are a lot of things I like reading. I have spent the majority of this month reading round ups of the last year in politics (so Brexit), about the homelessness crisis in the UK and researching chronic pain. If you have a second…

I am passionate about all of these things and there are writers that articulate these issues in completely different ways than I ever would. I really respect and enjoy Tim Shipman, the Times Political Editors work. Both his books and articles inspire me to be better, to push harder and carry on with what I want to do. But I am under no illusion that my voice is anything like his. He has been in the business for decades, his personal experiences in no way mirror my own and we are probably quite different people. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy his writing.

Similarly, as per usual I have inhaled everything that Amelia Gentleman has written for The Guardian this month. There is so much that Gentleman writes that leaves me wishing I had written it first. Her in-depth, longform piece on the Presidents Club trumped every other article on the same scandal (big BIG statement).

What I am trying to say is I love both of these writers and it is so easy to think if you don’t sound like a certain writer then your work can be no good. That is why my pitching inbox has been a wasteland and blog posts have been so scarce.

I think I am finally learning that no matter how hard I push I am not going to be able to take on Louis Therouxs’ voice (believe me, I’ve really tried). Trying to write a piece to deadline in your own way is god damn hard, never mind attempting to pretend to be someone else on top of it.

I believe there is no bigger compliment when it comes to writing than when someone tells you they really connected with what you were trying to say, even if they disagreed. It is the fact that they felt like they could hear the person’s voice in the piece that is important, so it isn’t just words on a screen.

Writing from the gut- like three promises, the hollaback girls and all I want for Christmas is…no news, Tom Hardy and a puppy was easy because it is just like sitting and talking to a friend. It gets difficult and disconnected when you try and write to impress or please someone else.  So whilst I know that I am not going to be able to steal her voice any time soon, Stacey Dooley has just released a new documentary series- you may have lost me for another month. All in the name of research, of course.

Today I am channelling the girl on the platform

It is 9:30 on Sunday night and I am stood on the tram platform in Manchester Piccadilly waiting to go into work. The air is a bit sticky and I am wearing three layers too many. After the first Saturday night off I have had in the last couple of months; a delicious tea made for me and copious amounts of wine, seeing in the early hours of Monday at my desk wasn’t too appealing.

I stood, leaning against the ticket machine fully engrossed in this weeks Women’s Hour podcast when a girl walked down the platform and tapped my arm.

“Excuse me, sorry for interrupting you. (interrupting me looking gormlessly into the distance) I just wanted to say I love your jumpsuit- where did you get it?”

Taken aback I pulled at my Breton stipe, jersey jumpsuit that only gets a day out when I can’t face wearing real clothes but it isn’t socially acceptable to wear pyjamas. Blushing I thanked her and directed her to Topshop (where else).

She walked off and I couldn’t shake the little happy feeling she had left with me- even as I walked out of the building at the end of my shift at 4am.

After gushing to a friend about how good a shift I had had, he asked, “but if a guy did that would it be catcalling?” After thinking about it I recalled a story my flatmate told me a couple of weeks ago.

She had just received an (extremely well earned) job promotion and was stressed about going into work to take on her new role. Prior to her first day she treated herself to a new suit and pair of heels. Walking off the tram and up to her building, hesitating before the door a co-worker she vaguely knew passed her. He turned and said “well done on that promotion, you’re looking like the absolute boss you are.” She marched through the door and aced her first day. She’s great so she would have done well regardless but the compliment gave her the little push through the door.

A compliment can completely change your mood. It is a truth universally known that girls in club toilets on nights out are the purest of all humans. In need of support for your new red lipstick that you’re not sure you can pull off? They can do that. Gone out without a tampon? They got you, Need to cry to someone about your shit bag ex? 10 will flock around you. It is my favourite thing- feminism in the form of a gaggle of gin merry strangers.

We all do it- eye up a sequin top across the room, some hot red boots, the perfect denim jacket. But so rarely do I ever go up to the person and tell them. Why is that? The endorphin hit I got from the kind stranger on the tram platform made me feel completely differently about a jumpsuit I otherwise classed as pyjamas.

There is always somewhere to be, someone to speak to, an email that needs a reply. If, like me, you can’t properly wake up before scrolling down you twitter feed and fully accepting the end of the world is nigh, the next high profile sexual harassment scandal is around the corner and everyone you know is either engaged, pregnant or owns a cute dog (for which you are deprived) we could all do with a bit of an uplift in mood. So from now on, as we come to the end of the longest January on record, I have decided to be a little bit more like the girl on the platform.

Sex and Consent

It always starts with a kiss. People fail to mention the heavy night out that is generally the precursor. The bottle of cheap wine that you painstakingly analysed the shelves of Tesco for. The multiple jaeger bombs that you were bought throughout the night, most of which you couldn’t stomach so gifted to strangers or dotted on the various surfaces around the floor. The dancing with your friends, arms flailing and overconfident rapping to songs you’d only ever heard on the radio a couple of times before but who cares? Hugging and telling each other how truly in love you are with one another.

Or maybe it’s the date that has gone quite well (surprisingly). You arrived early wearing your best ‘nice top and jeans’ top and heeled boots so you actually feel like a grown ass woman for once. They were already there and stood when you arrived, confirming that they aren’t a liar- evidently they do work out and are taller than 6 foot. You had a bit in common, the conversation wasn’t the best you’ve ever had in your life but they can talk about more than their gym routine and their favourite sports team so you aren’t planning your escape route out of the bathroom window. No need for your flatmate to call with that ‘emergency’.

So there you are, in a flat (yours or there’s it doesn’t matter) kissing. Then they make the next move. And then the next. And it gets to a point where you think maybe it is enough. Only, for some completely illogical reason you feel like you’re past the point of no return. You object but it goes unnoticed. You speak up again and they start to try and talk you round- ‘oh come on’ ‘don’t be that girl’ ‘why?’ ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Your stomach drops and it dawns on you- am I being an inconvenience? Would it be easier to just shut up and wait it out? The good ending is you gather your things, call a taxi and leave. More often than not, you don’t.

And people will ask why not? Why wouldn’t you leave if you were so unhappy? And hell, you’ll ask yourself that over and over, until you stop hating yourself and move on. There is no black and white answer. Very few words can describe the obligation felt in that moment when someone is looking down on you, questioning your own gut instinct for which you have no other answer than ‘I just don’t want to’ and that just isn’t good enough.

Over the last day or two I have had more conversations about sexual consent and rape culture than maybe ever before, certainly since the #metoo movement began. An article in Babe.net documented the experience of a 23 year old photographer from New York, when she went on a date with Aziz Ansari. Instead of unpacking the article the link is below.

https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355

The experience of Grace is painfully reminiscent of the encounter detailed in Cat Person, a short story by Kristen Roupenian published in the New Yorker in December.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/11/cat-person

Both of these stories have gone viral because they tap into a female experience that had never before been considered worthy of discussion.

The difference between Ansari and Weinstein is that as the latter’s crimes have become more visible and more survivors have stepped forward, he has become increasingly distanced from most men. They wouldn’t dream of the kind of sexual harassment, coercion and assault that went on behind closed hotel room doors in the Hollywood hills. Yet this isn’t to say that women should have to be summoned, threatened, assaulted and raped before we have a serious conversation about our attitudes towards sex and consent. The article in Babe shook us because it threw away all of our notions of sexual acceptability. It had women across the world standing in solidarity that this had happened to them too- on multiple occasions and men questioning their own behaviour in ‘the heat of the moment’.

Ansari is a generally respected guy. He is a funny man. He has shown that self-deprecation can sell out Madison Square Garden. I read his book, Modern Romance last year and loved it so much I wrote about it. Yet, many critics of the article have used Ansari’s likeability and reputation for not being a complete idiot as a reason as to why the accusations couldn’t possibility be true.

When it comes down to it Ansaris personal credentials- whether he is or isn’t a nice person to sit, have a coffee and a chat with, is by the by. If someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no and after 45 minutes of them questioning you and shoving their range of tea bags in your face they force a mug down your throat you’d think them absolutely insane. So why is it okay to think that you are entitled to use your position of power to violate another person’s body?

The bottom line is, no does not mean convince me. It doesn’t mean ‘I’m being cute, I want to know how much you want it’ and it certainly doesn’t mean go for it and I will physically have to try and move you away from me. Yes both Cat Person and Graces story are not exceptional, they happen all the bloody time. In what backwards world does that mean it’s less of a problem?

Three Promises

First things first, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you had the best, messiest, most magical New Year’s Eve and are ready for the year ahead. I find, as much as I fight it, I get really reflective at this time of year. Once the wine headache passes and I can concentrate on anything other than how much I would just like to go back to bed, thinking about the previous year and what you might want to change is almost inevitable.

I find resolutions really problematic because they put so much pressure on you to change aspects of yourself, therefore insinuating that parts of you are wrong or bad. Confidence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For many years, and I would actually say up until very recently it is fake it until you make it. I didn’t like myself or my appearance for a very long time and everyone has their struggles with that.

Because like so many other people who grew up in an environment where academic achievement and a hot body were signifiers of success, I constantly felt like there was more that could be done. I was never truly happy in the moment because I felt shitty about the way my stomach looked in a certain dress which would ruin parties for me or I didn’t have the confidence to speak up and pitch my own ideas which meant working underneath people who couldn’t see my abilities because I was hiding them from them. And don’t get me wrong, I feel that way now sometimes. There will always be people around you that are so insecure in themselves that they have to bring you down with them. Whether that is calling you stupid so they don’t have to face that you might not share the same opinions or calling you fat to silence and shame you.

So, instead of deciding to lose 20 pounds for someone who still won’t see your beauty because they can’t get past their own hurt, I have worked out the three things I will be leaving behind in 2017.

I will not be convenient. I am not good at sitting down, being quiet and making myself pretty for the ease of someone else. That’s just not me. I am personable, funny and I like talking to people about what really sets them on fire- even if I don’t share those opinions. I can’t dim my light for someone else’s insecurities. I can’t apologise for working towards being as confident as I can be.

I am not going to give myself the time or the head space to make myself feel bad about how I look or what or who I love. I work out, I eat fairly well and I treat myself and that has nothing to do with anyone but myself. I love watching back to back episodes of Made in Chelsea and spending time on my makeup- that doesn’t make me stupid or vapid. It is good to feel like you’re progressing and moving forward but if 2017 taught me anything, it is most important to be happy.

Lastly, investing time, energy and money into people who build me up rather than tear me down is only going to make me happier. I am leaving behind the time wasters. I have too many people who I don’t see enough of already. To the ones who made finishing my degree without having a full mental breakdown a remote possibility. Who spent hours on end with me in the library revising the most pernickety details of media law, sharing snacks, not judging when it was my turn to question all of my life choices up until that point. To the girls who would snuggle into my bed in the morning after an undoubtedly eventful night before to debrief, and cuddle and laugh. And the people who push me out of my comfort zone to do more and grow and actually feel things rather than living a safe, stagnant, numb existence.

2017 wasn’t such a great mental health year. There were amazing highs but also really painful lows. Whilst some of this was out of my control, making these positive steps- not resolutions will hopefully mean I will spend 2018 brighter, happier and more successful.

 

The closest to New Year New Me as I think it’s going to get…

I don’t want to start this post by sounding like the elderly woman that I truly am but where did Christmas go? It always seems to come round so quickly but this year it’s come and gone so fleetingly that I’m not entirely sure whether I should still be in the pub day drinking or preparing for the New Year. Because obviously new year new me…

In all seriousness I hope you had the best Christmas celebrating with your nearest and dearest and are now cuddled up on the sofa in your PJ’s nursing the food baby that won’t budge until January 5th. That is doing Christmas properly, after all.

I have written in the past about my niggles with New Year’s resolutions. If you want to do something go out and do it now. You don’t have to wait for the coldest, darkest month of the year, when you are surrounded by the most delicious food on God’s green earth to decide that you are going to drop four dress sizes and become a vegan. I promise you, nothing is more unappealing than leaving your cosy home to go to an overcrowded gym at 8pm on a Thursday night when it is practically Baltic weather conditions outside. January is the Monday morning of the months and I salute anyone who can do dry January when you spend the 1st nursing the biggest hangover of the year.

This year feels a little bit different though. Whereas September used to be my motivational month- the month I would look forward to a fresh start, I am no longer in education so if anything September marks the end of summer and no one wants that. So this year, sat on the sofa nursing my poor body after a month of living off Christmas tree chocolates, sharer bags of Walkers Sensations and gin and tonics I have decided to make some New Year’s resolutions.

Look it really is New Year New Me…

  • So, the first is completely practical- I need to learn how to drive. As someone who finds it very difficult to sit still, hates public transport and is over the age of 17 I should probably know how to drive already yet here I am still being ferried around by my increasingly irritated parents. So this year I am going to bite the bullet, book some lessons and with a bit of luck, pass my test. What is the worst that can happen?

 

  • I want to read 50 books. This is fairly self-explanatory. I have a book shelf full of books that I have partially read and for Christmas I received 10 books- 4 of which were on Brexit (what a barrel of laughs I must be). I hate that I am forever buying books or adding to the ever increasing list of must reads on my phone but I never get round to actually sitting down and reading. If I have enough time in the week to get through three series of Made in Chelsea I should probably do something that adds to my intellect rather than taking away from it.

 

  • Get published by somewhere that I love. Vague? I know but I don’t want to write down specific publications because then it becomes real and heaven forbid anyone hold me accountable… Since finishing my degree I have spent so much time writing cover letters and applications and dropped off with pitching and producing articles- actual journalism, you know, the thing I want to do. Pitching is one of those things that, in reality isn’t that hard until you stop doing it. Then you have the existential crisis that you have no good ideas, all editors are soul destroying (they’re not) and you have no idea what is going on in the world. So this year I am going to pitch and pitch and pitch until somewhere I love takes something of mine- or I’ll die trying.

 

  • I don’t need to tell anyone that the last year in politics has been a little bit of a shit show. I have given up on saying Trump can’t get any worse because he always comes through and manages to surprise me. The British political establishment isn’t much better. However, through all of the disappointment something good has come from this year. I have had more conversations with friends about the issues that really matter to them than ever before. Me Too opened a space to start seriously talking about sexism, harassment and assault in an environment where, on the whole you wouldn’t be silenced. Years of austerity in this country has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and there is so much more we can do. And Brexit is, well it’s Brexit. This next year instead of just talking to people about the things that I care about or taking to social media like some sort of tyrant keyboard warrior I want to get involved with activism. Go to a meeting, march, be fully involved. The news makes the world seem like a pretty bleak place but we are living in a really exciting time too.

 

  • I would love to visit two new countries or cities this coming year. I got the opportunity to go to Prague last year and whilst I made friends for life and worked under some amazing journalists, it wasn’t exactly a holiday. I have the itch again, even if it is a couple of long weekends. I want to go and wander around a new place, people watch from a coffee shop and eat ridiculous amounts of food- all the appropriate holiday activities.

 

  • And last but certainly not least I will see my friends more. I have loved moving home and getting to spend time with people I haven’t seen properly for the last four years. They have got me through the first few months of adult life. Saying that I so miss my friends from university. Spread out across the country, it feels completely unnatural that I wouldn’t see or speak to them every day. So this year I am going to make a proper effort to see them all as much as I possibly can.

So there it is. What an infinitely better human I will be by the end of next year… And obviously I will hit the gym harder, find a way to impeach Donald Trump, reverse Brexit and stop eating so much garlic bread. Even if I get to March and decide that my brain cannot retain anymore books and I have had too many near misses that I will be Ubers sole customer in my town I checked up on last year’s list and my first resolution was learn to snowboard. So if anything 2017 has made me a realist and once I have slept off the inevitable New Years Eve hangover (I can already tell it will be a two dayer) maybe something could get done in 2018.

Regaining ‘why not me?’

I vividly remember the day Tony Blair resigned. It was summer and the end of the school year. My Dad was picking me up so I knew that there would be some sort of treat involved in the walk home. As I made a beeline for the ice cream van he explained what had happened. Too upset for ice cream but hell bent on a treat, I cried all the way to the corner shop, he bought me a Twister and for about 20 minutes I was okay again. Good parenting.

I didn’t understand. How could there be a new Prime Minister? Coming into office when I was three, as far as I was concerned Blair was going to be Prime Minister for the rest of my life. How was I supposed to deal with this? Obviously, aged ten I didn’t understand the nuances of the British economy, Iraq war or ‘special’ relationship. Yet, all the same, I vowed that very day that I would fulfil my (short) lifelong ambition of becoming the first female Prime Minister (Thatcher didn’t exist to me then- happier times) to also win an Oscar for best director. I wasn’t a bossy child, I promise.

I had unwavering belief that this was my life path, how could I not lead the country if Tony wasn’t willing to anymore? That was until I turned 13, discovered Tumblr and having ambitions no longer became a priority. The leadership race could wait for me whilst I locked myself in my bedroom, listened to Paramore and tattooed my entire body with sharpie.

But something definitely changed. It is like I became a teenager and a ‘shame and fear’ switch flicked in my brain. I became less concerned about how I perceived myself and suddenly I was aware of what other people thought I should be. Children are small which, generally means they’re vulnerable. But I know for a fact even, even now 13 years on I feel far more vulnerable than the day I made a pact with myself to move into number 10, Oscar in tow.

If I had a £1 for every time someone turned to me in a bid to comfort me; to tell me that ‘life is messy’ and ‘it is the best time for you to just go with it’, I wouldn’t be sat up in bed at 1am doing job applications and wondering if I can tie a bow on my head and persuade my parents that I am the greatest Christmas gift they could hope for. Because as much as I wish I was ‘that’ girl who could dwell in her own disorder I’m not. If life is messy all I want to do is take the mess, fold it up and organise it in a draw.

I have watched friends open themselves up romantically and professionally to have it throw it back in their face; numerous job rejections, failed relationships, flawed friendships. It isn’t that you choose to no longer be vulnerable. It is just that logic would indicate that why would you continue letting yourself get hurt when you can protect yourself? You get ‘the’ fear that isn’t even on the radar of 10 year olds. Yet if you refuse to never let yourself get hurt again you won’t ever do anything that is, essentially worth doing.

A couple of months ago I read an interview with Emily Weiss, founder of Glossier. The very definition of boss bitch she talked about how Glossier started and how nervous she was for it to launch in the UK- what if it wasn’t as big a success here? What if people didn’t connect with it? Would it last?

Her concerns were unwarranted and I currently have half of a Glossier showroom in my bathroom to prove it but I read back the questions that I have asked myself before every job interview or every point in a relationship where it starts to get a little serious and I have been burned before.

It is like another switch flicked (I do have a broad concept of what the brain is but go with the switch analogy). For so long I felt being vulnerable and not necessarily believing that I always deserve things contradicted what I so strived for- being in control. But in the process of giving in to fear I prevented myself from ever pursuing anything that would make me happy.

It is like at some point we lose the ‘why not me?’ And it is on that note that I shall be taking over from Theresa May and renegotiating Brexit myself. Just after I finish directing my Oscar winning documentary.