A Start

Two stories from my childhood. The first goes something like this:

When I was in primary school, I distinctly remember standing in front of my tiny village class with Gregory Sinclair (shout-out to Greg, who I’m pretty sure I’m Facebook friends with) and being asked to read out the piece of creative writing that our 10-year-old brains had farted onto the page.

I remember my teacher (Mrs Dewings? Mrs Jones? Any Weston Primary School kids remember who taught us in year 5/6?) writing on the corner of my work that it had made her cry. This, in retrospect, could easily have been an insult or a lie; but it was accompanied by a picture of a crying-but-smiling face so I’ll assume it was at least as genuine as when I utilise today’s emoji equivalent.

I remember that feeling of ‘somebody likes the words that I have written. Somebody felt something because of something I made up’ better than I remember my first day of school or my first kiss or even the pain of when I smacked my front teeth on the bar of a water park slide.

The second occurs around a similar time but the details are a little more blurry. I’m probably 10 and I read The Funday Times every Sunday because my Dad is yet to boycott Murdoch publications and I like the cartoons. For whatever reason (perhaps inspired by a Funday Times editorial on nerds and judgement – who knows) I decide to put pen to paper and write a letter on the perils of being a smart child with glasses (I know, I know – I hate 10-year-old me, too). It gets published. They send me a DVD boxset of The Simpsons in a time when The Simpsons is mandatory evening viewing. I am overly pleased with myself.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014. I’m happier than I’ve ever been but I still don’t quite know what I’m doing. 23 feels like an age where you should know. I like the idea of journalism but I’ve stumbled into copywriting and publishing (and like four other jobs to keep my bank balance afloat) and I really don’t know how you’re supposed to go about getting a byline. I spend a day at the Guardian and I ask questions and I meet Simon Hattenstone and ‘gee wouldn’t it be swell to work here?’ I think to myself.

I start to write for a hyperlocal paper and I wonder why it’s taken me so long to give this a proper go (crippling anxiety and a lack of confidence is why, in case you’re wondering). I’m told that I need the NCTJ qualification if I’m serious about becoming a journalist. I am very serious indeed. I have the interview. I get on to the course. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do shorthand. I pass shorthand. I am exhausted almost all of the time and it is glorious.

20 weeks flies by and it’s time to find a job and to fill up my new found free time. I end up spending a few days at the Guardian’s Manchester office. The thought of going into the office doesn’t make me apprehensive. The opposite, in fact. I’m not there for long but each day flies by and each morning I can’t wait to go back in. It’s a quiet news week but I have things to do and I’m sort of in a half state of disbelief that I’ve ended up here and half this is where I’ve been heading my whole 24 years.

So when my (misspelt) name lands a byline for a tiny online preview piece of a Manchester feminist festival, it’s The Funday Times and it’s year 6 creative writing all over again but magnified by a thousand. It’s ‘fuck you, anxiety’ to the max. It’s every frustrating, dead-end conversation about why feminism matters and it’s every job and university rejection and every mind-numbing minute spent making ‘expressos’ and clearing tables. It’s every walk I’ve ever taken with my Dad and every book my Mum ever read to me. It’s Ceri Sullivan telling me to be radical and use how angry I am to do something.

It’s a start. It’s 600-odd words of not very much at all but it feels like much more than just those words. It’s a start.

Part of me is even pleased they spelt my name wrong. That’s the Grauniad way, right?

On Monday I will start as a trainee reporter for a local newspaper in the Lake District. I will be paid a wage to ask people questions and hopefully ruffle a few local feathers and write some words. It is a little bit scary, but mostly it is exciting. It is almost four years in the making (but really, more like 24), and it is so very very mine.

Progress is Not Linear

It’s been a funny few months.

There are certain expectations about the order we should be doing things in our lives. Some great unknowable, unseeable power must have sat down one day and decided on the ‘right’ times for us to begin our careers, settle down, start liking red wine. It’s probably the same dude that hides all of the missing socks.

I feel the eyes of that great unseeable power upon me. A lot. I can sense them boring into me when I get a job rejection or when I try to explain what I do for work or when I scroll through my Facebook feed and it’s full of a myriad of successful twenty-somethings who have somehow managed to get through the financial crisis unscathed.

It’s that social media shit that really gets the unseeable power going. “Where’s your promotion?” it mutters. “Why don’t you have a car on finance? Have you even started to think about a mortgage?”

The great unseeable power can really start to piss you off, not least because their delivery is akin to that of a straight to DVD Disney villain (and they most likely have the all-encompassing eyebrows to match).

What’s most ridiculous about this nagging voice is that, actually, you don’t want any of those things. You like the things you’re doing, thank you very much. You like local news and you like the flexibility that your work offers you and you’ll still take a rum and coke over a glass of makes-you-wrinkle-your-face-up vinegary red wine.

When I decided that I wanted to give this journalism thing a good old college try, to apply to do the proper qualification and give myself the chance I deserved to do the thing I like the best, I had reservations. “You shouldn’t be doing anymore qualifications. You should be done with that by now. Just get a job, stop being so fussy.”

But I am fussy. I know what I want and I’ve just got to the point where I’m ready to go after it. I didn’t know when I was 18 that this is what I wanted to do. I was totally lacking in enough confidence to interview or report or go to events when I was 19. When I was 20 I was too dysfunctional of a human being to have nailed last week’s course interview like I know I did.

But now? At 23? Now I am totally sure. Of my opinions and how to express them and how to defend them, but also of how to listen to somebody who disagrees with me. I am sure of my ability to string a sentence together and I know that I can make a living from doing so (because I have been). I am sure that I have something to bring to the table.

All the stuff in-between? From working to a Master’s degree to working to writing to learning to use my voice? If I hadn’t done that in-between stuff, I wouldn’t be at this point. So really, what’s 20 more weeks of studying?

So if (and when) the villain voice decides to rear its ugly invisible head over the next few months, I’ll be remembering the wise words of Amy Poehler: “Good for her! Not for me.” I’m happy for the successes of my friends. Their progress is theirs; mine is mine.

Raised by Wolves – TV Review

I’ve made my feelings towards Caitlin Moran fairly obvious, in the past. I like how she uses her words, I like her attitude, I like her big hair. I think she gets a lot of stick when she messes up, more so than when any dude messes up. Mostly, I think she’s a good egg trying to do good things and that’s the kind of lefty lifestyle that I can seriously get behind.

Given this long-standing, unrequited, love-affair with Moran, I was as surprised as anyone to learn that there were four episodes of her new sitcom that I’d let go unwatched. It was Easter Saturday and as I’d given myself the weekend off, I was bewildered with what to do with this mythical ‘free time’. Four episodes of Raised by Wolves seemed like a fairly good way to waste a couple of hours.

Based on Moran’s own upbringing, and written be her and her sister, Caroline, I can think of few things to compare Raised by Wolves to. The closest I’ve managed to get is that you should try to imagine the lovechild of Girls and a Jacqueline Wilson novel, with a splash of The Royle Family thrown in for good measure. For a more accurate idea of what the show is actually like, I suggest you watch it.

The sitcom re-imagines the Wolverhampton, council estate, home-schooled, Moran family life in the modern day. We know it’s the modern day because there are Benedict Cumberbatch references and a plethora of ‘fuck you, David Cameron’ moments. If you weren’t familiar with Moran’s work before, you’ll probably start to get the general idea of things after the first couple of these.

Raised by Wolves is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s hard to believe that the same channel that brought us the instant classic that was Benefits Street, has also commissioned such a smart, funny, female orientated sitcom about a big council estate family. If you need any further proof that we live in a democracy, I suggest you watch these two shows back-to-back and report back in bemused wonder.

The jokes are non-stop, and they’re also unapologetically gendered. Germaine (Caitlin Moran’s younger self) is fascinated with her own body, sexuality, and the bodily functions of her siblings. “In my experience, it can be all thick and viscous…like jam”, she tells her younger sister on the day of her first period. Periods not only provide some of the best material in the show, but it’s refreshing to see them talked about with such candour in an age where we still seem to think they’re sort of gross.

Amongst the cramped living quarters, the crushes on boys who undoubtedly stink of Lynx, and the family quarrels, there’s one thing that binds this sitcom together; love. The clan are poor, lacking in a traditional education, and their diets largely consist of processed slabs of cheese and Battenburg from the packet – but they love each other. When they leave the night light on for the littlest family member, or they give mum a moment to herself in a car wash (it’s sweeter than it sounds) for her birthday; they love each other.

I could quote endlessly from the first four episodes (a particular favourite is when Della drops off her son Wyatt at Grampy’s house, who points out that his Dora the Explorer rucksack is for girls. Della retorts, “It features a girl, doesn’t make it a girls’ thing, y’know? Like strip clubs.”) but that would ruin the watching experience you’re about to embark on. Go forth to 4oD, my friends, and enjoy.

On Failure & Kind Words

Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush: it hasn’t been a great couple of weeks.

There are very few things I can count that I have really, really wanted in my short time on this green and blue sphere. Of the things I’ve desperately yearned for and not got, I can probably name a grand total of three. As far as life goes, that’s not bad going. In fact, it’s pretty darn wonderful and if I had any sense I’d stop with this train of thought right now.

Unfortunately, I’m lacking in the sense department.

Number three on the list of things I’ve desperately wanted but not got, is still fresh. Last week fresh, in fact. It was a work thing. A work thing that I’d been trying to be oh so blasé about. “Oh, but I probably won’t get it”, I’d tag on to the end of explanations when friends asked about it. Secretly, deep-deep-deep inside of me, believing that I might have had a shot at it, that this really might be it. Past experience had lulled me into a false sense of security, teaching me that I don’t often not get the things that I want.

So when I got the generic ‘thank you but no thank you’ email, I was knocked for six. Perhaps not completely surprised, but absolutely devastated. “I work so hard”, my internal monologue tantrummed. “I work so hard and I want it so bad and why can’t I just be that little better?”

I sulked. I sulked so hard. Ludicrously and childishly and unproductively. I was sad and I wanted to let it wash over me. I let it run its course, because I wanted to indulge in it.

Then, somebody said something nice. A friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Something complimentary about this silly little piece of web space.

Next, quite unexpectedly, a total stranger who had read some of these posts.

“I love how open you are.”

(Although quite frankly, if I’d been being open this past week I imagine he’d have scarpered.)

Lastly, a woman who had read a news feature I’d written on the club she runs.

“Thank you! It was so well written, I shared it around.”

Bit by bit, little by little, kind words filled me up again. Kind words that could have easily gone unspoken, or that could have never been thought to begin with. Before I knew it, it was Monday evening and I was laughing (on purpose) like I meant it.

Yesterday I started writing to magazines and newspapers and websites again, full of newfound enthusiasm and determination. Your work in exchange for money is one way of being valued and our skills should not be exploited (I’m looking at you, unpaid internships). I’d be a hypocrite to say that isn’t one of reasons I want to work, and part of why I’m selling myself for all I’m worth.

However, I’ve been reminded this week (at a time when I most needed it) that there is value to me beyond a job failure or success. Thank you, friends and strangers, for your kind, kind words.

#DearMe

#DearMe is a project on YouTube, where women are writing advice letters to their younger selves. Here’s mine.

Dear Me,

If you’re in high school right now, then I know each and every day something will come along that will make it feel like your whole world is crashing down around you. It isn’t, I promise.

Some of the girls will be unkind to you, but in return you won’t always be kind to them either. Please please please try to focus your energy on the good friends that you have (spoiler alert: you still have them!) and stop saying cruel things about others. It’s a waste of time and it’s unhealthy and it doesn’t make anybody any happier.

Don’t bother with boys until you’re at the very least in Sixth Form. Even then, don’t bother with them all that much. Spend time with your friends whenever possible; these are the women who you’ll be sharing your life with.

If you’re ignoring my advice (and I know you will), then at the very least don’t bother with boys who treat you poorly. Don’t bother with boys who should know better. Don’t bother with self-confessed ‘nice boys’. Don’t bother with tortured souls who wrote grandiose poetry or boys who want to teach you something. Don’t laugh at boys’ jokes when they’re not funny; you’re under no obligation. You are not second best and you do not deserve to be treated as such. You are worth all of their time. You are smart and funny and although you may not believe it right now, I promise you; you are worth galaxies. 

When it comes to school, you could try a little harder.

Be less afraid. There is so much going on in your brain, and you are so scared to say it all. Make more jokes, say clever things, go to the drama club that you’re petrified of. You’re a lioness. A golden Leo born in the sun; act like it. Fake confidence until it’s real. It works, I swear.

Be kind to yourself, especially as you get a little older. When you start to care about your body and the space you take up, remember to be kind to yourself. Exercise often, feed yourself well, drink a lot of water. Your body is your house. It is sacred and should be treated accordingly. Be kind to yourself; repeat it like a mantra.

When it comes to your parents, you could stand to be a little nicer.

I know you don’t want to grow up (you still don’t, at 23), but everything is a little brighter here. You’re going to read a lot of books and have your heart broken and most importantly you will learn to love yourself.

You’re going to be just fine.

All my love,

Me.

Yes Please – Book Review

There’s this bit in Amy Poehler’s Yes Please where she says that when people asked her if she always knew she was going to be on Saturday Night Live, she instinctually says ‘yes’. She describes it as a “tiny little voice whispering inside of [her]”.

In the same chapter she also declares we should stop asking people in their 20’s what they want to do, and start asking them what they don’t want.

“It just makes more sense.”

Less than 20 pages in, and I already knew I was going to get along with this book just fine. Also that I would like to be Amy Poehler’s best friend.

Poehler’s is part of the recent flurry of autobiographical books by America’s funny women. She joins her comedy wife Tina Fey, Girl’s writer Lena Dunham, and Instagram pro Mindy Kahling, as the latest to publish her musings on sex, improv, and how to deal with being told you smile like a Muppet.

It also forms, more personally, part of my collection of “books by ladies who I admire and make me want to achieve big and brilliant things, whilst also being kind and supporting my fellow ladies”. I’ll admit, it’s a niche cataloguing system I’ve got going on.

Poehler’s book is filled with everything you might want a book by Amy Poehler to be filled with. Anecdotes from her time with Second City, lists that make me forget how much I hate ‘listicles’ when they’re done well, and notes from Mike Schur on how Amy plays Leslie Knope that will make you weep.

In and amongst the big laugh out loud moments, there’s also quite obviously a vulnerable woman who has not long gone through a big, turns your world upside-down, separation. Poehler’s an advocate for vulnerability but not for full disclosure; a balancing act that must be difficult to keep up with in the public eye, but that she manages to infiltrate the book’s pages with. Quiet vulnerability, staunch determination.

I came away from this book (which I read in a day, after having spent months battling my way through Life of Pi) feeling like I could accomplish just about anything if I continue to work hard and be nice. Poehler is a self-declared nice person, and she promotes niceness. But she’s also a badass who promotes badassery. I think the idea that the two can easily coincide is often one that is overlooked, and one that we could all do with paying heed to.

I wanted to leave you with something funny from the book, but I couldn’t help myself from copying out something inspirational instead –

“I believe great people do things before they are ready.”

Me too.

On Femininity

When I was growing up (I say it like I’ve reached peaked adult; far from it), I played football at school. I was ‘a bit of a tomboy’.

When I got to high school, I never bothered with make-up and I didn’t particularly care about clothes. I had more important things to occupy myself with.

When I got to sixth form, even though I was surrounded by girls, I preferred being friends with boys. They just seemed to do more. Adventurous things that I was too scared to do myself. Girls didn’t seem to do very much. Boys didn’t have to care about make-up or hair or what they wore. That seemed pretty alright to me, and I liked it when I was accepted by males as a friend. It felt like I’d achieved something; like I’d overcome my gender.

Fast-forward to my second and third years of university, and I disdainfully pick up a copy of Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman, thinking that I’m in for some kind of feminist polemic that tells me what I can and can’t do. Around a similar time, maybe in my third year (I’m not entirely sure of the timeline of these events), I’ve been assigned postcolonial fiction texts written by women of colour*, and I can hardly believe what I’m reading. Next thing I know, I’ve started shouting my mouth off in Ceri Sullivan’s appropriately entitled ‘Rage!’ seminars, close to tears because the girls around me think that men win all the awards because they’re simply better at stuff than women.

2015 and I’ve not long finished my thesis on female comedians (fairly certain I probably thought men were funnier than women at one point. You were such a dick, past self) and their revolutionary senses of humour throughout the ages. It’s a pretty good read, if I do say so myself.

But back to femininity.

Much like it is for a lot of women, my relationship with my body has been a tumultuous one. However, as I’ve started to love it more and more, I’ve also started to realise just how fun it is to embrace femininity. How nice it can feel to dress up (heels really can make you feel 10x better about pretty much anything and everything). How there’s no shame in taking the time to paint your nails a fun colour or a pretty colour or any damn colour you please. Using a spritz (or seven) of post-shower moisturiser doesn’t mean you’ve let the patriarchy win. I’ve begun to pine for a bath, purely so I can buy a Lush bath bomb and dedicate time to myself.

Embracing my body, its curves and its dimples and its strong, strong legs, has been so unquestionably tied up with embracing my femininity. In categorically refusing to deny myself anything that I might want, whether that’s a slice of cake or a coconut body butter or 4 episodes of Gossip Girl.

Being a woman, however you choose to be one, is so fun. Those female friendships that I shied away from for so long are unlike any other relationships that I have ever had. Full of laughter and dancing and shoulders to cry on. My female friends have shown me, in all of their many and varied achievements, that you can be just as adventurous as the boys and you can do it with winged eyeliner**.

*Please let me know if WOC isn’t the best way I could be phrasing that.

**Will one of you please teach me the winged eyeliner thing??

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