Friday, 14 November 2014

Wearing my loves.

I have a soft spot for stolen clothes from my loves. That's lovers in all senses - familial and romantic and friends. They can give me things all they like, but I am terrible at returning loaned things. Possession is temporary: nothing is really ours after all, is it? So I keep things, magpie-like, pieces of people I don't want to forget and reminders of things I need to remember. I used to steal my brother's pyjamas when we were kids; now, I borrow my father's tailcoat to go to a ball. It's wearing pieces of history, bringing the past into the present, taking on old

Sometimes in my head I get an image of me wearing the things I've received from the people who mattered most to me at the time, all at once. I'm barefoot, because my feet are too small to steal socks or shoes; I am in boxers I stole from the dancer I had a mostly-physical relationship with and wearing the oversized t-shirt of a boy I loved, but was not in love with. There's a long necklace from the first girl I ever dated, which hangs low and bronze almost to my navel. And I am wearing the hoodie of the one I am in love with, while circumstances are getting in the way.

When I am sad I wear other people's clothes. It makes me feel connected, reminds me that others exist even when I am alone and lonely. Today I am in my mother's cardigan and my friend's big, blue coat. They are keeping me warm in the cold, keeping the rain away from my face and holding me together when I feel like falling apart.

I know I should give these things back, but things are only things. Material possessions matter less than memories to me. Moment and experiences are transient and can give you the warmth or sadness that clothes cannot. I have always been a physical person, and the proximity and affection of touch is what I seem to perpetually crave. It is getting hard for me to sleep alone. The quiet of my room is no match for the tumult of my brain. And I have always been fine by myself, but that doesn't mean I am not lonely.

My mother's feet are smaller than mine and she still wears my old trainers that I have grown out of. I wonder if she feels fond of me when she wears them. I would. Or does she just see them as trainers, utilitarian things to keep her feet dry?

I don't know what is going on with my life, but I will give back this cerulean blue hoodie if my love asks me to. It's the colour of a clear sky, the highlights in my hair, my eyes in a storm. (His eyes are more green.) If love is putting someone else first then my selfish heart can do that, even if it means martyring myself. I will give back the hoodie that after two months still smells of him. But if he does not, then I will keep it. It reminds me of affection, of being held, warm hands on my cold arms. I am holding myself together as best I can, in other's clothes, to keep me whole when I want to unravel.

I suppose I have always been one to wear my heart on my sleeve.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Summer is ending.

Some days, when I think about how vast and hopeless the world is, I get stuck. Stuck in my own brain, as I consider the huge expanse of people trembling in fear and madness. Stuck in the horrors that permeate people's psyches, lurking just below the surface in day to day life. Stuck considering the multitude of ways life conspires to fuck people over based on no sound reasoning whatsoever.

It's been a long summer, where an early spike of heat has faded away into rain and grey cloud and cool breezes on days when it's already a little cold.

It's been a summer full of death. At the individual level, celebrities seem to be dying like never before (possibly a side-effect of our aging global population and the ability of the internet to extend stars' lifespans beyond their decade of fame; funny how we only remember people when they die). We've seen James Foley executed in front of the whole world, who watched his beheading through their fingers on computer screens and smartphones. He was trying to elucidate us about the dark corners of the world; the darkness got to him.

On a larger level, we've learned so much more about the hundreds of violations going on around the world. The Gaza strip has seen fighting that's killed 2000 civilians - and over what? Two groups of people, locked up safe in boardrooms, disputing who owns some land without sparing any thoughts for the people who live there and call it their home.

We've seen spates of cops abusing the black community in the USA, from Ferguson to New York and even further. I get so angry about it - but I am white, I am privileged, I am English. I am not on the streets holding candlelit vigils for Michael Brown, and being tear-gassed for my efforts. But I wasn't there either in London, when Mark Duggan was shot in 2011. Then, the country turned on itself as anger flared up all over the nation, and we rioted across the country. In Ferguson, there are no riots. There are peaceful protests, misreported by the white media wrongly representing something calm as violent - due to the cops' reaction, which wasn't even precipitated by anything.

One and a half thousand children were sexually abused in Rotheram in an industrial, organised fashion over the course of decades, and the authorities did nothing. Too concerned with protecting themselves than the children they were supposed to be caring for.

This is the state of the world, right now. Ebola ravages Africa but we only care when a British citizen is infected. There's so much bleakness and suffering that we have to depersonalise, only view a few select groups as people and the rest as merely faceless masses - because, if we really truly considered every person who was hurting, and empathised that fiercely with every sore soul, I think our hearts would burst.

I get stuck thinking about all this - and I feel bad, because I'm happy. There's nothing I can do to help, and my impotent thoughts of action wither and die into indolence and satisfaction with my own personal status quo.

My job pays me £117 each week for three days of my time, where I mainly dick around and waste time by writing cloying, overwrought blog posts like this. My friends see me most days, a dancer cooks me dinner on a semi-regular basis, and I've managed to avoid dumping a bucket of water over my head. I've gained weight but the media's insistence that I should now experience crushing body dysmorphia hasn't materialised. My body is still my body. I'm happy.

Just like other people having it worse doesn't invalidate your own sadness - and other people having it better doesn't invalidate your own happiness - the suffering of the world doesn't seem to have much impact on my own feelings. Not today.

Summer is ending. The pain is still everywhere I look, except in my own personal bubble. Maybe this is the only way we can combat the blackness though. Maybe happiness is the most subversive thing we can project. The world is made up of awful moments of anguish and crying when nobody can hear you, but it's also beautiful. Life is harsh, but it's sharpest when in relief. Among the brutality are shining shards of joy: laughing until you collapse, cycling through hayfevery fields, hot showers and Netflix marathons and singing karaoke with strangers. Hold them close.

One day, I'll be struggling with my own demons, be they personal or systematically oppressive. I'll be holding onto past days of happiness then: in a world where death is random and impersonal, it'll come for me eventually. Be joyous. Dare to be happy. We have to find some frivolous way to beat the severity of real life.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The transience of photographs.

I haven't written for a while and I already fear that my brain is not what it used to be. This post was not light and whimsical to write: it was mucilaginous, viscous, the words forced from my fingers rather than flowing. It's also piecemeal and bitty, strung together from patchwork thoughts I've had over the week rather than a narrative stream-of-consciousness which I am using to hash out my ideas.

I want to talk about photographs. I don't even know what I want to say about them. I just want to say something.

The problem with photographs is that they take something as fleeting, as transient as a moment, and attempt to immortalise it forever. In the past, you had to live in the second: you reminisced with your mental faculties, not your Facebook app, and everything happened once and only once.

But cameras appeared in the world, and photographs had to be staged, stock-still, for hours on end in order to create an image to last forever. Victorian women decked up in finery clutched their babies in chokeholds, staring sternly at modern technology, and the resulting sepia prints were monuments to their patience and wealth.

Those days have passed too, and now I take Snapchats of my laptop to let friends know I'm at work (and hardly working). Stay gold, pony boy, even though nothing gold can stay.

In Physics, it is an accepted fact that by observing something you change it. The Observer Effect, as it is appropriately called, says that the very act of measuring something will alter it. This is true of photographs. Taking a photograph of something changes it, because it no longer exists in its unobserved state. By viewing it - by giving it the audience of a lens - it is changed. You are not taking photos of things as you see them; you are taking photos of things as your camera sees them. Do the subject of photos even really exist outside of your aperture?

I digress.

Transience. I am a big fan of transience.

I have a tattoo on my hip of cherry blossom, which is traditionally associated with transience in Japanese culture, and the need not to fight time - instead, you let it pass, flow over you like a river you cannot change the course of. (I think of photos as leaves, floating on this river: they are buoyed along, in the same inexorable forward motion, separate from the water but carried by it.) There is a permanent reminder on my skin that nothing is permanent. I am a big fan of this irony, too.

Nothing can last forever, and few things last beyond their own moment. Photographs take that moment, distill it, capture it in proverbial amber and preserve it. A moment, cut forever from its contexts of movement and chronology: a moment, caught forever with less-than-flattering lighting and slightly wonky framing.

But photographs create another situation whereby, divorced from their context, they become irrelevant to their time. I know people who still fancy Heath Ledger, despite the fact he is dead. He is dead, and buried, and rotting - and yet we have photographs and films that depict him as young and attractive and as the hero in teen films, so fancying him doesn't seem weird. This also explains why we are still struck by photos of beauty from our previous millennium. It is not because beauty is timeless. The people in photographs, who were beauties at 21 in 1955, are probably no longer beautiful now. It is because we can make that moment timeless. Photographs turn us into time travellers, showing us things as we could never experience them because the world simply is not like that. They're lying to us. They are self-demonstrative proof that the world used to be like that, and yet the only proof is that image itself. Photographs are duplicitous.

(This is true of any static rendering of a sense, I suppose - so sound recordings are privy to this too; but I think there's something so much more intense about photographs. An image gnaws at my nerves far more viscerally than a sound.)

All this thinking was prompted by something a while ago. A friend of mine sent me a photograph of himself as a teenager, in order to prove he had once had hair. The photo was a candid shot, of a Welsh 16-year-old holding a cat, looking slightly surprised by the proceedings. His hair was blond, and as New Romantic as any Spandau Ballet tribute act. I have only ever known my friend as an adult: he is, to my young eyes, old and wise and sensible (and almost certainly reading this). To think he was once my age - that he was younger - is inconceivable. He was 26 when I was born, and I'm closer his age in this photo from 1984 than I am to him now.

But in that photo, there isn't much to mark it as being defiantly 80's fare. The clothes are rather generic. It could have been taken in 2011, when I was 16 and had rainbow hair. The boy in the photo could have gone to the same Cardiff Uni open day as me, passed me on a crowded train, smiled at my chronic clumsiness.

What a shame he stopped existing the moment after the shutter clicked.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Bullshit Bell 5: Timekeeping.

I had a plan for a blog post today. I was going to write a beautiful, gentle, whimsical thing about photographs and how they distort our sense of history, making the past forever present through a frozen image which refuses to change no matter how the world around it does. I was mulling it over in my head last night. It was going to be achingly well-written. A musing on transience and time.

But no.

Instead, I am calling bullshit on the corporate world in one more small, petty way that has proved I cannot deal with offices where everyone wears pencil skirts: timekeeping is bullshit.

I say this as an admittedly unpunctual person. I turn up on time to events when you're expected to be late. I'll get to lectures either five minutes early or five minutes late, and rarely in the sweet spot in between. I've been trained by my mother to turn up to doctors' appointments ten minutes early, when in reality I don't think my GP's ever been less than twenty minutes behind schedule.

In my mind, punctuality is pretty flexible. Being assigned to work 37 hours a week means I will work 37 hours a week. If I am 5 minutes late turning up to work, I'll religiously work an extra 5 minutes. I may be 5 minutes late to work fairly often, but sometimes I'm early to work. Because that's how humans work. We have days when we wake up early and days when we can't get out of bed and sometimes we have days where traffic is slow or the lights won't turn on or we have to spend ten minutes looking at ourselves in the mirror to psyche ourselves up to face the day.

And yes sometimes I am late to work. What of it?

Has anything interesting and vital ever happened in those 5 minutes between when my contract starts and when I arrive?

My manager is apparently the only person who cares about this, because he is the one who chews me out. He's not even my boss. Because my boss is in Turkey for four weeks, and working from home. He has also threatened me with termination of my contract if I am late again.

How does that work, exactly?

If 5 minutes past 9 counts as so truly horribly heinously late that the very existence of space-time warps and number start turning backwards, then yes I will accept that I was late and this was a mistake that could have been avoided.

What about 1 minute past 9? Couldn't that just be down to our watches not being synchronised?

Or thirty seconds past 9? Or 1 second past 9?

If I am 1 second late on Monday, am I going to get fired?

Personally I'm still a little bitter about the extra 3 hours I worked to finish some important copy, only to be told that I hadn't cleared the hours in advance so they didn't count. In my head, I'm stilled owed 3 hours, which I can chip away at by being 5 minutes late every day for 36 days, and still have worked 37 hours a week.

In a fast-paced working environment, yes, I can possibly see the relevance. In journalism, where new stories can break at literally any time, I suppose it's important to be at your desk at exactly 9am, because heaven knows how you could receive communication on your smartphone while commuting. In an office where the most productive thing I've done with week is write 400 words of newsletter copy and be told the photos I selected for it were wrong, it's pretty hard to care.

So, there we go. Timekeeping is bullshit. Punctuality is bullshit. I can keep track of my own hours. I know that when they deign to give me work to do, I do it on time and well. So why should it matter if I want to have breakfast in the morning rather than arrive, starving, at 8.55?

I don't even have anything funny and witty to say. I'm just angry. And if someone wants to give me a job where the quality of my work counts for more than my timekeeping, that'd be great. I would walk out now were it not for the money. Truly, I have sold myself to The Man.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Living off my overdraft taught me stuff.

A while back I wrote a list of stuff I learnt from nerds with Nerf guns. Consider this the unexpected sequel: stuff I've learnt from living off my overdraft.

Though I will provide some context for this: since June 9th, I've been working in offices. After two paid of unpaid work experience in my favourite office I've been in (shout-out to SFX for treating me like a real person with some measure of writing ability!), I'm now in my fourth week in a different office, on a paid internship, and working two freelance jobs on the side.

My student loan was only supposed to last me until the academic term ended, on June 28th.

I am supposed to be paid weekly for my internship, and monthly for my freelancing. I should be really comfortably off right now, way better than a student has a right to be.

I am owed £500 by my best friend and somewhere in the region of £800 by my internship, but this is increasing every hour.

I budget well and I had £200 in my account before I started my internship. For the first time since starting university, I am living off my overdraft and I genuinely don't know when this will end.

So far, since starting my jobs, I have earned £898.87. I have received £9.37. I've learned some stuff.

- Not having money isn't the hard part. Not knowing when the owed money will come in is the hard part. Living in a state of checking your bank account every day to see when you'll get paid takes a toll on your mind, and you start wondering if you've messed up, forgotten to sign some document, misread the small print and given up 37 hours a week of your time for nothing.

- You have no motivation to work. As essentially an unpaid labourer, in what is a paid contract, you don't have much impetus to fulfil my obligations as obligations to you aren't being repaid. This might be completely self-centred, as you know the company itself is not responsible for the fact you haven't been paid, but it doesn't change the resentment you feel towards them.

- Numbers take on new significance. Expenses all arrive at the same time. Once you're into your overdraft, you just take on all the financial responsibilities simultaneously. Flights that are going to go up in price unless you book now? Heck, you're already in debt, let's do it. The bank doesn't know you're going to Manchester to go to a comic convention: have another £30 on train tickets and entry fees! You're getting kind of reckless because it doesn't seem to matter. The £1500 limit seems bottomless.

- Spending money that isn't yours is a lot easier than spending money that is. When you're already £500 in debt to the bank, an extra £25 on concert tickets seems totally insignificant.

- Lending money is also way easier. After all, it was lending money that got you into this mess. Your best friend's sob story means you felt no qualms lending him £200, knowing full well he'll pay it back the second his monthly salary comes through. Somehow that snowballed, and now he owes you half of his first pay cheque. But he definitely knows he's getting that, while you inexorably creep closer to that £1500 limit with no idea when your weekly income will materialise.

- The people in charge of your money have no idea when your income will materialise. You get emails a couple of times a week claiming to have sorted the issue. Your issue hasn't been sorted. You tell them this, and they are perplexed. Your bank account is still in negative numbers. You have no money.

- Huge quantities of money seem impossible, intangible, inconceivable. How does a country get a trillion dollars in debt? Who do they owe money to? Don't they have creditors threatening to break their kneecaps or something?

- Your dad gives you £100 for a special occasion, a well-done-on-getting-a-job bonus. It makes literally no difference. You're now only £300 away from having money like a real person rather than £400 away.

- Online shopping is easy to blow all your money on, but you know you have a bit of cash from when you got money out. You're not sure you can face the idea of taking cash out of an ATM when your bank account is beyond empty. In the 3D world, you shop frugally, because you have no idea how long you need to make this £20 stretch for.

- Really, money isn't actually that important. You get cynical. It's just a concept that we've all bought into. Take the stock market: who the hell decides how much stuff is worth? Who actually loses these millions when the values crash? Are they people rich enough not to even notice if this money that they never really hard suddenly vanishes? You're living sensibly and not blowing £2.70 on a sandwich every lunch time like your office co-workers. You feel kind of superior. You're saving over £10 a week on food.

- You're still less broke than the government is.

Monday, 30 June 2014

My feminism muscles ache.

Being a feminist is tiring.

Believing anything to the core of your being is tiring: it has to be, or it wouldn't be integral. It's like a muscle, a part of you, and when you exercise it, it aches the same way as any other part of you does. On a day to day basis, my feminism muscles flex way more than my legs do.

The past week, since starting my internship, I've found myself in a far more tense situation than usual. It's taken a good few years of my life to properly learn how to identify sexism in everyday life, and how to call it out and make a ruckus about it. I was a shy little thing as a kid, you see. I'm quite confrontational in my life now, as I've become more confident, but it's always tempered with the voice inside my head telling me I'm making a big deal out of nothing. I should sit down, shut up, carry on with a smile and be a good girl, a nice girl, try my hardest to be the pretty girl people expect me to be.

In what I assume is a fairly typical office environment - slightly more women than men, everyone dressed in similar clothes, and people working on computers for seven or eight hours a day - I've lost all my spark. I have become passive. Waking up early every day, and commuting to and from my work daily, has drained me. Trying to fit in with a new crowd of people has led me to just want to fit in. So I've been keeping my head down and staying quiet. I'm not calling out the comments that rankle me, but I'm not laughing at them either.

And it's making me like myself even less. A few days ago, some of the staff were disparaging a woman's appearance by suggesting she was transgender - and it made me angry. There's a dying orchid plant on the desk in front of me, which drops its flowers onto my laptop almost daily. I was sat there, listening, ripping the petals off the dead flower and wanting to stand up and explain the many, many levels on which they were being offensive. But I didn't. I had my earphones in, so I carried on like I hadn't heard it.

Educating people is such hard work, isn't it? I have to work at this place for twelve weeks. I didn't want my first week to be characterised by me explaining and analysing every offhand remark. I've grown up in a pretty privileged bubble, at a liberal university surrounded by other bleeding heart liberals who privately admit to each other that the University of York FemSoc page can get way too jargon-heavy, and we never actually finished reading bell hooks. The people are work are from a range of backgrounds, sectors, degrees - and it reflects on them, sometimes.

Mostly, I feel how badly it reflects on me. I'm ashamed of myself, but I am also too goddamned tired to fight it every single time at the moment. It happens every time I see feminism, or racism, or homophobia, and I don't call it out. When I read a review that uses the word "rape" when a hundred others would do. When a documentary misgenders someone. When I find myself somehow priding myself on "not being like other girls" like it's something I ought to be proud of.

We're better than this. And I know, collectively, we're fighting stronger than ever. But reading the Everyday Sexism project, or Laurie Penny's dramatic, decisive calls to action, can be just as tiring as the problems we face - because they are eloquent reminders of an entrenched plight. Even now, I'm writing this blog instead of having a shower or an early night, because I feel like it's important. Somehow. If only a little bit.

But nothing kills resolve faster than tiredness.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Remembered Postcards: Newton's laws of travel.

First law: A body remains at rest only as long as is necessary to recharge batteries; or continues to move at a constant velocity so long as that velocity is enjoyable; and will only start or stop moving when acted on by a force, which is often the internal desire to go see something new.

Second law: The net desire to travel is equal to the rate of change of the passing scenery.The more scenery you see, the more you want to see.

Third law: When one body exerts a force which compels the body to travel, there is an equal and opposite force which compels the body to stay put. Luckily this force tends to only act up early in the mornings, and it easily overcome with coffee.

Wanderlust is like any other burning desire: it is a lawless, endless want that defies science, a thirst that demands to be slaked. Sometimes it is sated, and sometimes no matter what you do, you're still filled with an endless temptation to see more, do more, be more places and breathe more air. I don't get itchy feet: I get itchy legs, itchy lungs, itchy eyes and nose and ears.

Right now I am in an office job, tied to a 12-week internship I value hugely for the experience and yet cannot stand because of its restrictiveness. I'm spending my spare time learning Spanish, Japanese and French so I can get by in more countries the next time I have a chance to go.

Next summer, I have 12 weeks: I will spend them as far away as possible.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

I Didn't Even See The Snapchat (a poem...?)

You forget that humans have so much blood until you see it.
Lines of it, horizontal and vertical and sideways and diagon-ways, slant-ways and knife-ways.
He doesn’t show you, doesn’t try to hide, merely exists.
Your mouth forms words over and again that stick, pebbles in your throat. It’s a 99 pence plastic stocking filler toy that’s gummed up and broken before you even start.

“What happened?” (The “again” is silent.)

He answers in shards of light. They said, they said, they said, he said. So many third persons. Are they all the same one?
He rips the bandages off and tells me to smell the iodine. Hospitals and childhood and hostels come back to me, become me. I portrait myself, paint my face into being a deity of indifference.
I cannot meddle.

He was worried, that he got blood on his sheets. Angry that he ruined his favourite pair of jeans. He has to wear shorts now, the bandages poking out from underneath them. Glowing ghostly white, and the plasters are pale too.
Literally, he was sewn back together. We have the technology, we can rebuild him.
He had a friend with him, waiting. Who came, because he sent an A&E selfie. I can’t believe we snapchat fragility now, hashtag wrecked.

When he goes to pee, I see it, on his desk. Such a tiny, innocuous thing, this snap blade of his.

I pick it up, carry it with me as a token with a smear of his blood still on it.
I recite voodoo spells, wrap it in chains and tie it to a cinderblock, throw it in the poisonous lake that bubbles away in the centre of our campus.
(How strange, to have a university with a toxic centre. It’s a metaphor, I’m sure of it, it must be.
I just don’t know what for yet.)
The geese flee. Flapping, squawking refugees from that slither of metal and cold.
I take all the sharp edges from the world to my power-sander gaze, scratch off the sharp corners, marshmallow the steel.

I hear him come back and put it down.

He cleans the wounds, airs them out. Hanging them out to dry, like laundry. A clothes horse of himself.

He says he keeps the blade as it is safe. Safer that burning his flesh or snip-snipping arteries with scissors. There are only two scratches on his wrist, tiny and parallel. Tally marks?
There is no desire to die sooner than natural. We both want him to stop hurting.

What scares me most of all is how sensible he is. Rationality, parceled up with curly hair and a firm grasp of logic. 
He is too sensible to really hurt himself, I say, when I can't sleep.

If he did die, I would sob bitterly. Should have done more, said more, hidden Ninja-like behind his door ready to protect him from himself. Should have Big Brothered his medication, strung him up in Spiderman silk so he could not move.
Worse still: one day, it would stop hurting. A person, reduced to a blip in my life, anecdotally.

Self-harm discussed over tea and toast. Pass us the butter, are you okay, one time a long time ago my friend died. Well, obviously.
I mean – the “one time”, that is. Obviously. Death is a pretty one-time thing.

Monday, 26 May 2014

"Who wants to look old?"

That was the question posed by someone vain on the paper-thin documentary I'm watching at the moment instead of writing an essay.

The person who came out with the offending line was some teenager's dad, who'd spent £14k on plastic surgery and hair transplants and teeth whitening. He looked like he was made of wax - but young wax. Freshly moulded wax, that had not yet been left out in the sun to melt. Who wants to look old, indeed?

I kind of can't wait to be old. I'll probably panic in middle age when everything sags, but it's not like I've got a tiny size 6 booty to lose. A bit of a complacent spread, bingo wings and dimpled thighs don't really bother me - I've sort of got those going on already. Whatever, I like food.

And I'm fairly ambivalent about my face too. Selfies irritate me and I wear make-up like warpaint, as an extra layer of protection if I need help to face the day. I remember wearing blood-red lipstick to my University Challenge heat, which I messed up - but it made me feel brave, a little separated from myself. Fearless. Hashtag fierce.

So, once the minor fear of aging has passed, I shall dance gleeful into my 50s. I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn't go, and definitely is not a reference to a poem. I will be as mad as possible, speak frankly about sex and drugs, and scare the kids into order.

I am far more worried about being successful than I am about being pretty. Who wants to look young forever? I'd rather look lived-in, experienced, with a face that can tell a hundred stories for every laugh line on it.

Why don't we want to look old, though? This is what worries me. And I think it comes down to the inevitable: death.

If you're busy looking good for yourself rather than for potential partners, it's not really about sex any more. And, if sex is not the driving force behind your actions, it's death. While I am aware my psychology here is generalising at best, and woefully incorrect at worst, hear me out.

We know so much these days. We know we might live to a hundred and ten, but we also know we can't live past hundred and twenty. Fifty is a mid-life crisis. After that, your best years are all gone, aren't they? Or, if not the best years - well, the bulk of them. Your body falls apart, bit by bit. And if you admit to looking old, to having had a life that's left its marks on your face, then you're haggard and tired, stressed and careless. Not taking care of yourself.

I think we run away from the simple fact of our aging because it's a reminder of the simple fact of our inevitable deaths.

Why bother with tans? With straight teeth and perfect eyebrows? If all we're doing is running away from our own mortality, making ourselves look instagram-ready isn't going to help us do anything. Life is short. So we'd better spend it doing useful things rather than preening and primping.

And that's why I can't wait to be old, really; because, I think, by the time I get there, I'll have done stuff worth talking about. Being old will be proof I've made it through this turbulent, tumultuous journey called youth. I'll have all the best stories to tell, and an old face will be an invitation for you to hear them.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Anecdotally... 3: I hated school.

I can hear my mother on the phone at the moment, talking to my cousin. My cousin is ten years older than me, married with children, forever involved in the dramas that come of growing up in a middle-class world and suddenly finding yourself shut out from it.

My mother is talking about my cousin's kids, and what they'll be like when they grow up. She recommends waiting for something until her oldest is 12.

"By the time he's 12, he'll be out playing with friends," she said.

That assumes that, at 12, you have friends.

Friends probably come from school, when you're that age. At 12, in my first year of secondary school, I hated it. And I'm not saying that in the way that everyone hates school at 12 years old, when they resent the idea of being kept indoors on sunny days and having to give up Mondays in order to learn long division.

I hated school in a real, visceral way, that manifested itself in aches and pains and dizzying headaches. I hated the institution, the stuck-up natures of the people there, the unsympathetic teachers and the boring, banal homework we were given every evening. I hated the cliques, the childishness of everyone trying to act grown up, the forgotten invites to parties and the over-reactions to harmless remarks.

School is not a place for the strange. School, at 12, is not a place for the make-up shunning sports-failing sarcasm-dripping misfit. I excelled academically, hated every minute of it, and was too wrapped up in my own misery to try and reach out and make friends. Self-pity enveloped me. I hated school then, but looking back, I hate Past Me just as much. She should have tried harder.

I would go so far as to say I hate most of my past selves, and everything from 12 to 16 should be destroyed, erased from my past. I cringe when people bring those years up. Then, I lived for music, and gigs: they were a driving passion which obliterated all other thoughts from my mind. I fiercely defended friends I made through them, but now we've drifted so far apart I can barely remember their names. Some have changed so much that I wonder why I liked them in the first place, and conclude it was the mutual sense of not fitting in. Society had abandoned us, so we in turn cast out the conventions we were meant to adhere to.

School is the best days of your life, according to my mother.

I have no doubt that was true for her, affable and small and pleasant and good at tennis. An in-between sort of girl, not too cool or too clever but just enough of everything to be generally likable. She had part-time jobs and friends and a place on a nursing course before she even sat her A-levels.

I think adults misrepresent school. We're fed this bullshit from such a young age - that it is the best time of your life - that I felt guilty for not liking it. I felt like I was wasting a valuable chance, spunking away a childhood of youth and freedom on things that did not matter. Even now, I get jealous when people talk fondly about their early teenage years: I hated everything up till 17, when I shook off the loner victim mentality and proclaimed introversion to be too emo.

We can't put youth on a pedestal just because we retroactively yearn for it. Sure, sometimes I miss school, but only as an abstract notion. I miss the concept of playgrounds and half-terms and being with your friends five days a week. I don't miss the reality of backstabbing bitchiness and chronic sick-days due to my total, actual inability to face the world some days.

University was what kept me going. The prospect of it, golden and radiant, and predicating a good school education to get there. I got there. The institution of secondary school was worth it, and I am truly genuinely happy now (or, at least, working on it). I only hope to get happier.

I hope my cousin's son is happier at 12 than I was. I hope I am never that miserable again. But I take issue with all blanket proclamations that school years are the best years of your life. You can't spend life assuming your best days are behind you: all of my best days are to come, and will still be to come, for as long as I live. What's life without something to look forward to?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The first existential crisis of exam season.

Ah, if only I had the same focus in revision as I do in writing rambling blog posts.

There are many problems with the exam culture that has permeated education, and the most pernicious issue we face is that they are nothing like the real world. Yes, in keeping with the idea that young people know nothing about the real world, exams are structured in a manner that has no realistic semblance of anything which occurs beyond education.

Exams are like machines. You put the Right Thing in, and Good Marks come out. You are obedient and compliant and you spend your days sat in front of books and computers instead of going out getting high on life and other noxious substances - because that is the Right Thing To Do. And we all know if you do the Right Thing, you get Good Marks.

It's not right. It is so not right. Admittedly I am writing this as a form of procrastination, but right now I'm finding it hard to visualise what use literary theories will have in the rest of my life, unless I devote myself to the pursuit of academia. Post-modernism itself is dull as dishwater: it is only useful when considered as part of a grand narrative (which it, itself, so scrupulously rejects). Is our world postmodern or post-post-modern? Can we actually tell? And, most pressingly: does it matter?

I think that's what all exam questions should boil down to. X: Does It Matter?


The Feinmann Diagram: Does It Matter?

Freud's Theory of Dreams: Does It Matter?

What Caused World War 2: Does It Matter?

You can argue - yes or no, or maybe or somewhat - but it shouldn't matter, so long as you can back up our arguments with opinions and evidence and feeling. You can relate it to the wider world, and talk about the importance or lack thereof. Ideas that followed from it, ideas it influenced, ideas it completely destroyed. In the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn't matter much how to do a basic titration experiment - but you could argue its technique can be applied to times when it does matter, or that it is a waste of time invented to keep children busy at GCSE.

Education should be about teaching people to think, not to fall into line with what is expected. I want university to tell me to rail against the system. Examine the questions we are asked, and ask why it's important. Ask what is important. Have passion and conviction.

A lot of the time, I feel like I have no conviction left. It has been sucked out of me. I know how to pass my English exam, but I don't particularly want to: I would rather be out agitating for fairer wages and having torrid flings with widely unsuitable people, because that's really how we learn. By making mistakes and having experiences, not writing set things within an allotted space of time.

Maybe this should all be boiled down to Exams: Do They Matter?

Yes, I suppose they do. They are why I am at university, fundamentally - to get that piece of paper which says I passed exams and know what I am doing well enough to be considered for jobs. But it seems like a terrible waste of youth, to spend it revising.

Once exams are over, my real education of dancing till dawn in strange cities will resume.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The worst case scenario.

I live a life a melodrama, of sharply contrasting emotions, which bump against each other angrily and repeatedly. I praise the things that make me joyous and make me laugh, eternally retelling stories of perfect moments until they are almost myths. They are on a pedestal: I look at them and wonder, sometimes, if they actually happened at all, or if I spoke their names too many times, and poof! They disappeared. I cry easily, complain about everything unjust, and live my life in a generally over-the-top manner. This is colour, this is texture, this is how I live.

And so, for me, this is the worst case scenario.

It is 2024 and I am thirty. Well. I am just shy of my thirtieth birthday, and have been adamantly avoiding it for so long that I have prematurely aged. My face looks thirty-three already. People have started making subtle comments that my looks will go soon. The pervasive sexism of young middle-age is yet to be perfectly eradicated.

Since graduating, I have had a couple of jobs but my itchy feet got in the way of my young ones. I spent sixth months as a magazine freelancer until they let me go, but the market was tough and I was getting desperate. In the end, I just took what I could get, grabbing with both hands for something I didn't really want. It was just a stop-gap, I told myself: something to get me by, until I could quit and go travelling and then start anew in a year.

A year passed. Then two, then three, and I still had not left my job. It is in an office in a respectable part of London and I work in marketing or publicity or as a sort-of job that crosses the two, and involves coming up with dynamic Twitter solutions. I have a 45-minute commute on the tubes every morning from my flat, but it's an okay place. It's not as shabby as my last two were. Once a week I go on dates, watching foreign language movies and strolling through the park and telling myself this isn't a bad life, really. I find myself lusting after the interns. They are so young, so full of potential. I want to devour them.

I don't write, really. Not any more. I'm too tired after working all day in things I couldn't care less about. I try to leave, sometimes, but it's so hard. Somehow I am stuck, and responsible. The last place I went on holiday was Venice, with my then-lover. We argued the whole weekend, and I came home with only a handful of photos and a brooding sense of resentment. I look at the tattoos I got while young with a sense of detachment. They feel like someone else's. That can't have been me. I would never spend £200 on ink and pain; that could get me a nice pair of shoes, or earrings.

It's not a bad life, this corporate drudgery and complete obedience to the status quo, with nothing unexpected and no adventures. There is no melodrama, and I watch as my friends from university get pregnant and married and divorced, fired and evicted and transatlantically job-shifted, and I tell myself the stability is everything I need. It's not ideal, but it's... not bad.

But it is the worst case scenario.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

And now for something completely different... Haiku.

If you expected my normal brand of snarky self-depreciative musings today, then you're in for a shock. Instead, I went and got creative. I was having fun with my Japanese revision, so... I decided to write some haiku!

You know what a haiku is, right? Or, at least, you know a vague approximation of what counts as a haiku. See, upon deciding to write some haiku in Japanese, I realised there was a load of practices and concepts I didn't actually know about. This only took a cursory Wikipedia search to pull up, and yet we all consider haiku to be a cool, hip poetry form while knowing nothing of its origins and original rules. There are a few main things I found out...

1. In Japanese poetry, haiku are counted in on - which are not quite the same as syllables. So, while the 5-7-5 pattern is how they operate, a Japanese 7-on line may not be a 7-syllable line. For instance:

sore ga kawaii desu 
(That is cute.)

In English, you'd say that "so-ray ga ka-wa-i des", so it appears to fit as a middle line of haiku.
But in Japanese - even though you'd say it the same way - it contains 9 on. Conveniently, on seem to correspond pretty well to hiragana characters.

2. Traditionally, Japanese haiku have a kigo - a seasonal reference. There are long lists of motifs which are shorthand for various seasons in ways which may not immediately make sense to Westerners. Frogs mean spring, the moon means autumn, and these aren't used nearly as often in modern works apparently. Still, it's interesting to think about.

3. Kiru, or "cutting". This is the essence of haiku, often brought about through use of a kireji (cutting word). It sort of relies on juxtaposition with a word in between them to act as a verbal punctuation mark and indicate some sort of relation. I'll admit, I didn't manage to use many kireji in my compositions as I'm still too concerned with getting Japanese grammar passably correct, but maybe if I write more I'll work on it.

TL;DR: There are seasonal references, a cutting word, and 14 on in a 5-7-5 configuration. Here's some stuff I wrote, complete with syllable-accurate translations (that took a few liberties with my original Japanese). Knock yourself out.


多い 人
世界 です

Ooi hito
no sekai desu ya
kimi ni atta.

There are so many
People in the world - and yet
I (somehow) met you.


この 言葉
見る かしら

kono kotoba
o kakimasu, kedo
miru kashira.

I write these words now
But I still wonder whether
You ever see them.



hanabira o
ochiru. anata mo
ushinau ka?

The cherry blossoms
All fall to the ground. Do I
Have to lose you too?



kocchi to issho
ni tsuki ni tabun
tobimasu ka?

Will you come and fly away
To the moon with me?