Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

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my gay online adolescence.

January 28, 2013

Just the other week, Harry Hitchens (from BBC’s Young Apprentice) posted a video on Youtube coming out to the world.

He states that his main motivation for doing this was so that other young people who were learning to accept themselves and their sexuality did not feel so alone. I wish that there had been more of these videos when I’d been growing up, because my gay adolescence was quite lonely; and although I knew I wasn’t the only one, it was a long time before any of my peers were willing to expose themselves so publically and so deeply.

In my youth, we had no Youtube or Twitter. Facebook didn’t arrive until the end of my first year of university. As a teenager, all I had was Faceparty and MSN (and AIM for a brief period, but few in the UK used it), and Myspace (which I used primarily for my music, but I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of people via that medium who have ultimately become good friends). Otherwise, to talk to other people, there were online forums and bulletin boards; awkwardly enough, for a year and a half I navigated my adolescence writing cathartic and experimental poetry on a largely Christian bulletin board. Eventually, for a range of reasons, we drifted apart (although amicably so).

My father took a long time to cave in to broadband; over dialup, I used WinMX to download music one song at a time; occasionally I would download brief gay porn videos that would take HOURS for just a couple of minutes’ worth of footage, that I would then delete upon logging off the net for fear of my dad seeing them. A couple of times late at night once my parents were long asleep, I also cybered with randoms I found in chatrooms on WinMX. The screens of these chatrooms were black, and the writing for different people would be in different colours; it looked much more aggressive and raw than the internet looks now, but there was no permanence to the interactions; the words spiralled into an abyss, into nothing. In the present, every single thing you do online has ramifications; thankfully, I didn’t have to navigate my sexuality and my youth online with the fear of my words being screenshot, paraphrased, used against me at any opportunity being a realistic one. (I know it could still have been done, especially with my father’s IT expertise, but it wasn’t prevalent the way that it seems to be today.)

During the year I spent living in Spain, I used to spend a hell of a lot of time chatting to Hannah on MSN, and a site we explored for a little while was called MeetYourMessenger, which was a combination of Faceparty and MSN. It was not very fruitful however; I remember having one conversation where a guy spoke to me exclusively through ostentatious, glittering animations and smileys. He was blocked after that conversation. I also used to read gay fanfic on Nifty, and I actually got talking to a guy on there; we even met up a couple of times! We also used to cam, and all of these memories remind me of how when flirting on all of these different sites, people were desperate for pictures, for videoed conversations. Separate USB webcams are now a thing of the past, but back then they were an indispensable part of the online experience for some, threatening symbols of sexual predators for others, and a laugh for the lucky rest of us in between.

A lot of people don’t know this, but I originally found Toby through Fitlads, a gay dating site that intimidated me far less than Gaydar. I didn’t have an iPhone at that point so I have never used Grindr, and I think I’d probably find that too intimidating too. Anyways, after a couple of successful conversations on MSN where we both proved to one another that we actually had thoughts in our brains, once we found out that we both were attending UWE for our postgrads, we decided to cut the online stuff and just meet in person. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I had forgotten a lot of these things until I started looking back over my teenage years in detail, and thinking about all of the websites I used to visit. They sound almost quaint compared to what sites are around now, and at the same time as the internet became faster, sleeker and more commonplace, I thankfully became older, wiser and more prudent with my actions. At the age of 11, 12 or 13, I don’t know if I would have been savvy enough to evade every pitfall Facebook (let alone more adult sites) has to offer. From my time at Cirencester College, teaching young people about how to be intelligent about what they share on the internet is important – especially in a culture of digital natives where there is a lot of pressure to share everything (from peers and otherwise). In this same way, just as I discovered the internet as I grew older, is the right to privacy something young people of today will only really discover and understand in their twenties – once it’s, perhaps, a little too late?

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fortissimo.

July 15, 2012

This week has not been the kindest. I’ve been scared, depressed, challenged and exhausted. Scared that in September, I might no longer have a job; depressed that if I didn’t find a source of income within the next two days, that I might have to move back to Bristol (which isn’t terrible in itself, but would feel like a massive step backwards and super-frustrating when I am due to move in with Toby in a couple of months); challenged to step outside of my boundaries and comfort zone, and apply for jobs once again; exhausted by the emotional rollercoaster of all the above! Toby was away in Manchester for two days, so I didn’t have as many cuddles to keep me going as I normally would; although I feel that perhaps his absence was a good thing because otherwise I might have vented to him a little too much!

The reason why I chose the title “fortissimo” for this blog, is that it has a double meaning: normally, we think of the musical term, where it means to play very loudly, as if at the height of a crescendo. But it also means “very strong”, and this perhaps is the theme of the week I’ve had. In the blog I wrote last week, I wrote about wanting to feel more vibrant as a result of the summer weather, but I also want to feel super-strong. Vibrant and powerful in a range of ways. Fortissimo, if you will.

I had people yell at me over the phone at the start of the week; I knew I was not in the wrong in each siutation, but considering the circumstances they were in, I understood that they were distressed. However, the way I felt after they took their frustrations out on me was proof that I am still very much in the process of developing a thick skin.  Two years ago, coming out of the QCG at UWE, I felt somewhat invincible: I had a wonderful new boyfriend, a fantastic new best friend, I’d just landed my first proper full-time job and my body was still banging (I am hoping that my healthier summer focus will help me get back to this state). I also felt confident – that I could really go out and get anything I wanted, and do anything I put my mind to. I think that I have / one has always been able to do this, but not without a certain sense of self-doubt on the inside. That year, the sense of self-doubt turned into a sense of self-belief. As I look at myself this week, I realise that that sense of self-belief has disappeared somewhat – and I want it back. I have to be stronger, more confident and less deterred by what others may say or do or think.

It looks more certain now that my job is in fact not in jeopardy, but I also feel that (due to changes at work which I don’t really feel I can talk about in the public domain) my sense of security is far from unshakeable. I won’t be totally reassured until I’m holding my contract in my hand (which apparently should happen on Monday afternoon), but it’s an improvement on the uncertainty I’ve been going through recently. Part-time work during school and university excluded, the longest I’ve stayed at a job is one year; this position was the one where I initially hoped (even without realising it) that I would break that pattern. I wanted something on my CV that showed I had commitment to a role. In feeling forced to look elsewhere, I confronted a sense of fatigue at completing yet more job applications (most, if not all of which I won’t hear anything back from – nothing personal, just the way it works), but also some questions (raised also by the article I read in Glamour recently): by not constantly challenging myself to go for higher positions, promotions, jobs where I would (for example) have to travel abroad sometimes, am I really challenging myself? There is a lot to be said for being safe and being based in one city – it makes life easy, and it means that once the working day is done, my life is my own and I can spend it with my partner and my friends. It’s a lovely sense of security (there’s that word again!); but at 26, I should still be challenging myself and shooting for the moon, right? And what’s more important – something on a piece of paper that shows I’m loyal to an employer, or an attitude and confidence that shows I am loyal and committed to my own development and achievements?

It’s a change to my thinking that I’ve tried to get my head around before, but only partly succeeded: we feel a misplaced sense of loyalty to our employers, because they pay us for what we do and provide us with financial security. However, we are the ones earning the money, learning new skills constantly, and we should be less afraid to confidently negotiate positions and salaries as we see fit: if you don’t try, you don’t get! If employers don’t want to pay for our services, they don’t feel bad in saying goodbye; why should I feel guilty in looking around at what other options might be available to me, in case something better comes along? A professional relationship should work two ways.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel comforted by the fact that I probably won’t lose my job, because it makes things easier and more stable for me and Toby moving in together in the Autumn and being able to put a deposit down on a new flat, but I’ve been forced to think that while we are young, we should be confident and assertive in going for opportunities that present themselves, and in creating opportunities where none are immediately evident. Sometimes one is lucky, other times one must make his/her own luck. So contract or not, I’m going to keep an eye on what jobs come up (both internal and external), so that I’m ready to apply for something better that takes my fancy.

Another surprising development where I’ve really had to draw on some strength is in my cigarette consumption; somehow I’ve found myself promising Toby and a few other people that I will quit smoking in 2013. I’ve joked that this might be December 31st, but really, it is one of next year’s New Year’s resolutions. I’ve prided myself on my stubbornness, and I know that I will be able to do it; when reading Diana Ross’ biography, one of the things that stuck with me is her saying “I’m going to quit smoking one day without any whining or fuss, not like other people.” And that’s exactly what she did! I admire that single-minded determination to change one’s life without wavering even in the slightest. But when I told a couple of colleagues this plan of mine (they’re not colleagues I usually work with, because I certainly don’t want any kind of scrutiny in my office), they said “well, do you really want to quit? If you do, why wait? Start now.” I must admit that that thinking makes total sense, but while I am getting to the point where I truly do want to stop smoking, I still enjoy it somewhat that I’m not ready right now. However, after a Wednesday night out with Nick where we made a new Icelandic friend called Sigga (who smoked a lot, and I smoked with her), I woke up the next morning hungover and with a very husky throat. I really didn’t want to smoke, and I didn’t have a cigarette until 1pm that afternoon. I had a total of 4 that day (normally, I smoke between 8 and 10 cigarettes a day), and from then on, my colleagues’ words were echoing in my head. I really could quit sooner rather than later, and I’ve focused on reducing my cigarette consumption with the hope that I could stop. I don’t know what I will do at work, as I will still want my breaks every couple of hours (particularly considering I rarely take a proper lunch break), and there are social and time-killing benefits to smoking. But rather than a physical sense of addiction, the hardest challenge will be conquering the voice in my head that yells “CIGARETTE CIGARETTE CIGARETTE” when I become conscious that I haven’t had one that day. I had 7 cigarettes the following day, and today I bought a pack of menthols (rather than my usual Marlboro Reds), of which I have had 6. Menthols have a different taste and less nicotine, and my idea is to wean myself off cigarettes, or at least permanently reduce my consumption. As anyone who has tried to quit smoking before knows (I did quit once in the past after I came home from my year abroad in Spain, but I had only smoked for a couple of months, so it wasn’t really the same thing) I don’t know if I’m ready to completely quit and declare myself an ex-smoker, because sometimes I really enjoy it and I’m quite attached to having a cigarette with alcohol, or before I go to sleep. Plus, I feel like I would be betraying (there’s that word again!) Mike, or Toby’s colleagues who like to smoke, if I no longer want to smoke with them. I also believe that truly conquering one’s addiction to smoking, alcohol or whatever truly means that we can still do those things when we genuinely want to without feeling any compulsion. If I gave up smoking completely, I would still feel subjugated by my addiction if I felt a constant sense of fear to have a cigarette for the rest of my life, in case it opened up the floodgates and I couldn’t stop again. True mastery to me means that I am in total control of every cigarette I have, knowing that I can trust myself not to have another one if I don’t want to. At this standpoint, I can say that I feel ready to cut down my smoking by about half (and recapture my full vocal power and some extra spending power each month to boot). So I have also been gathering my strength to do that.

Living life to the full, being loud and proud, and being strong and confident is a daily work in progress. It’s not always easy, and we can’t do it 100% of the time – I fully accept this. But when I go through a shitty week like this one, I’m thankful for the support offered by my partner, friends and family, but I’m also encouraged to recapture my own confidence and desire to reach the stars. I have so many goals in life that I not only am working slowly towards achieving, but that I am fully capable of – but it’s easy to get worn down and distracted by the daily grind that we learn to settle for a little less and choose safety over excitement. As long as I have financial security, the love of my partner, family and friends, I can do anything I set my mind to. But it’s also important not to forget to actually set my mind to new ventures and projects, rather than the same old ish! I believe that this is what I mean by living “fortissimo”.

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summer kick.

July 5, 2012

When I was little, summer was my least favourite season of the year – and this is despite 8-week long summer holidays! There were two main reasons for this – 1) I had a major phobia of wasps. Nowadays I still don’t like them, but I have learned to control my fear; back then however, I used to go crazy if they even came near me. It got to the point where I would never open my bedroom window, even in summer; I was afraid that if I did, the wasps would come in. I went through a phase of sleeping with a can of bug spray within arm’s reach. At about the age of 11, one of my worst nightmares came true – I would wake up every morning to find a handful of dead / dying wasps on my floor and even lying on my clothes (which I would hang up on the rocking chair in the corner). It was traumatic (eventually the summer ended and the wasp deluge with it), but in a way it helped me, because it forced me to deal with my fear.

2) The heat, and the sweating. In the winter, you can always wrap up warm, and there are few things that are more lovely than snuggling up in front of the fire with a blanket. However, in the summer, when it’s stifling, it feels like there’s nothing you can do to combat the oppressive heat.  As I’ve grown older, I have learned how to deal with sweating (mostly – see my post on how to dress for a British summer) and I have grown out of the really bad phases I used to have. During the year that I lived in Spain, I realised that it wasn’t the heat that I hated, but the humidity that comes with it (or even comes alone) in England. Living in Spain, I developed a healthy, natural tan, and although the temperatures would rise up to 30 degrees and beyond, it was a dry heat so it was totally comfortable.

Just as I learned to conquer my fear of wasps, I learned to love the summer. I love the sunshine and the way that it can kickstart a day and give one an optimistic outlook on life. I love the freedom that a nice day gives you – it opens up your opportunities to go out and about, wherever you please. I love that there’s less traffic on the roads, and so getting out and about is easier and more pleasant. My musical tastes become bouncier, more exuberant and more worldly in the summer. I love going out for a leisurely walk through the park – even simple, unplanned or mundane trips can become pleasant experiences. The fact that I can do this while getting a tan is icing on the cake!

Just as our clothing gets lighter and often less restrictive, so does my taste in fragrance. In the winter I like to wear fragrances that give me a sense of comfort, sophistication and warmth – they tend to be heavier, a little spicier and more opaque. However, although I may still wear this kind of fragrance on a summer evening, generally my summer perfume choices involve something a bit more exuberant – bold fruity combinations, floral bouquets with a splash of green freshness, and sweet scents. Although I am a believer that fragrance has no gender, I tend to wear more women’s fragrances in summer as they are genuinely fresher, sweeter and freer than decent men’s fragrances (obviously this is a massive generalisation and I also own exceptions to this rule; but I’m not a fan of men’s “fresh”/”cool”/”sport” fragrances, and ozonic perfumes bore me). Just as in fragrance, I change what I drink to reflect more fruits – I always love orange juice all day every day, but in summer I mix it up more with pineapple juice, mixed fruits and my new favourite: coconut water. Although it was initially an acquired taste, the freshness and hint of Caribbean sensuality makes me feel healthy, happy and sunny. This is my summer kick – I just wanted to share a little bit of my seasonal happiness and feelings of freedom with you all 🙂

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shame.

June 2, 2011

In pursuit of trying to attain a carefree, happy state, I need to try and unburden myself of the baggage that I carry. I think that we all do, and we all have stupid things buried in our past that become a part of us and that resonate as mistakes we are embarrassed by. I generally try and move on and learn from my mistakes, and luckily I can say that each of the following things that I am ashamed of, I have only done once! As long as we learn from our mistakes, that is the important thing. But I want to share 5 of my biggest, most embarrassing mistakes with you so that I can relieve myself of the chips on my shoulder (or try and wipe away the grease these chips have left behind!), and so that we can all see that we ALL do stupid things and we’re only human – unless we fixate on them and don’t move past, we are not defined by our mistakes.

1. Car accident

A month and a half ago, I had become much more confident with my driving, and I had found myself caught behind cars which were driving very slowly and being quite impressive. I never drive aggressively, but I was becoming impatient. It was the Easter holidays, and I was leaving for work on a Wednesday morning. My mother told me to drive carefully, and I brushed it off with a “yeah, yeah”because I thought she was worrying unduly and just doing what mothers do. You know what’s coming next.

Not 10 minutes away from my house, I can’t remember why but I looked down at my phone on the seat next to me for a second. In that second, my hands must have moved on the wheel, I veered into the other lane of oncoming traffic, and I looked up to see my wing mirror being knocked off the car by a van, and although it had swerved to avoid me, the back of the van hit the front wing of my car. Now everyone was fine, the damage was not major, and I just needed to pay for some polish to remove the worst of the scratches, some touch up paint, and a new wing mirror glass to replace the one that had been shattered (the rest of the wing mirror luckily just popped back onto the car in the same way it had popped off).

But I just felt so embarrassed at a) making such a stupid mistake, especially when my phone hadn’t even done anything! My phone stays on silent in my pocket from now on, and I put a playlist on my ipod of what music I will listen to on my journeys prior to setting off!

b) That I could have done much more serious damage, and injured myself or another person. It was bad enough that I had ruined my pretty car (that’s how I felt – now that it’s all touched up, the dent is barely noticeable – especially compared to a lot of cars’ scratches and war wounds) and damaged another person’s vehicle.

c) What would other people think of me having an accident only 3 and a half months after getting a car? Would my friends, my partner, my family risk getting in a car with me again? I was clearly careless, and I was afraid of being judged. Slowly but surely, I have told some of my friends and I was surprised to know that they have nearly all been in a similar position. The most common expression is “oh, you’ve had your first prang!” This makes me feel a little better, because I am not alone. I certainly drive more carefully as a result – I just wish that it hadn’t taken a car accident to make me wake up and be less complacent.

I lost my confidence with driving, and I am only now getting it back. I felt disappointed in myself and doubted my own ability. Mike was absolutely brilliant – he told me to just get in the car, drive to work, and then we went to Halfords and sorted out the door hinge, polished and painted up the dents and scratches, and ordered a new wing mirror glass. And this is the attitude I need to maintain – no matter how disappointed in myself I felt (and I felt pretty low in the days following the accident), I got back on the horse and kept going. Even when I didn’t want to. So that (along with the not looking at my phone while driving) is what I am taking away from this experience.

2. Walking on the motorway in Spain

My friend Jen from LA had come to visit me for a few days during my placement year as an English Language Assistant in San Roque (southern Spain). On the way back from Algeciras on the bus, it seemed like it suddenly got dark and I ended up getting us off the bus at the wrong stop. We didn’t have much change, so rather than wait for the next bus to come along, I decided that we should just walk up to a clearer area and then I would call my flatmate Juan and hope that he would pick us up (which he ultimately did). This involved walking up alongside the motorway – it was unsafe, and Jen was shaking and crying all the way to the roundabout where we met Juan. Although at the time I was scared myself, I felt that we had no option other than to walk – in retrospect, we should have waited at the bus stop for the next bus to come and explained our predicament to the driver. It would have been much safer, and I am ashamed that I put both of our lives in danger, just because I had not enough money and too much pride. I would never make that mistake again, and I was lucky that Jen forgave me easily.

3. Writing ‘SEX’ on my classmate’s art overalls

When I was in year 4 at school, I was fascinated by sex because at that age, it was naughty and forbidden and I was just gathering an awareness of what it was. Because it was naughty and provocative, and my classmate Nick was pissing me off in an Art lesson, I scrawled the word “SEX” in green paint on his overalls. Looking back, this is obviously not a big deal and sort of hilarious – at the time, Nick went to tell our art teacher, who told me I was “evil” and my punishment was to take the overalls home and wash them. Which meant my mother saw, and she asked me why I had written it. I had no real answer, she didn’t talk to me for a day, I returned the clean overalls, my art teacher forgot that I was “evil”, and everything was ultimately fine. But I was ashamed at the time because it was such a shocking thing for a child to write and to do, and being told I was “evil” only made me feel that sex was dirty and naughty, giving me some issues to work through in my teenage years.

4. Mentioning 9/11 to a new student from New York.

When I was in for an induction day for 6th form, we were introduced to a new student who had come over from New York. Her name was Alex, she looked nervous and I decided, in my utmost wisdom, to be friendly and warm towards her. We made polite conversation, and then I decided to put my foot in my mouth and mention 9/11 (which had happened nearly a year ago, by this point), and ask how her family and everyone had coped with it. What possessed me? The poor girl just smiled and flabbergasted, said that everyone was coping and that it hadn’t really affected her overly much. I learned from this that I should think before I speak and that if something seems like it might be a faux pas, then it’s best not to say it. Needless to say, we did not end up being friends.

5. Overreaction at the QCG 2009 Christmas party.

I wrote about this here, so I won’t rewrite it. All I can say is that but a few weeks later, I met Toby (the real love of my life) and I can now look back and see how neurotic I was, and how much I have chilled out. And I can still be pretty neurotic now, to be honest – so when I was younger, I was probably quite crazy!  I have learned to try and keep my composure, to just keep moving in life, and that love is just around the corner, even when it seems most unlikely. And a year and a half on, Mike and I are still close friends and that is the most important thing.

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racism in a modern age.

June 20, 2010

I just got home from my nan’s.  For the second part of my journey, I took the number 6 from town to Kingswood, and while I was on the bus, a group of Somali women were having a conversation.  Suddenly, an English woman (I’m guessing about 55 years old; she was certainly older than my mother, who is 50) turns around and yells at them “Would you please shut up?!?!” After everyone looks up, shocked, she continues her diatribe: “Natter natter (with hand gesture), shut the fuck up or get off the bus.”  The women began to protest, but the woman just got angrier and nastier, and the Somali women ended up getting off the bus at that stop.  The English woman yelled after them “Fucking go home to your own country!” After a beat of shocked silence from all the passengers, the driver (who was mixed race himself) got up and challenged the woman.  “They are allowed to chat if they want, everyone here is just trying to get home, there is no reason to disrupt anyone else’s journey or otherwise YOU will have to get off the bus.” At this point, the woman went to get off the bus, and the bus driver said “Ma’am, you can take your seat, but please respect other customers because we all paid to use this bus, and please enjoy your journey.”  The woman sat back down, but then got off at the next stop (I wonder if she was not too bothered about getting off the bus if she was only getting off at the next stop anyway?), and the rest of the bus breathed a sigh of relief.

I was shocked that in 2010, such blatant racism still exists.  Well, I am shocked and I am not; I’m not naive and I know very well that racism is very much alive and well, but I was shocked to be present at such an outrageous and blatant display of it.  I was tempted to say something myself, but at the same time it was not my place to get involved; these women are old enough and strong enough to defend themselves, and quite rightly the driver made a stand for his bus and for the passengers on it; he is running the service, not me or any of the other passengers.  I wonder however, if the driver had not said anything, whether I would have been brave enough to say something? Plenty of things sprang to my mind; to challenge her and say that if her problem was with the volume at which these women were speaking, then instead of yelling at them and thus making herself a hypocrite, she should just ask them politely if they could talk more quietly.  If this wasn’t the case, it would have exposed her own racism without saying any more (racism she already exposed with her parting comment to them as they got off the bus).  I felt like saying that if her problem was with the fact that these women were not English (I know this woman was English just by coincidence, as I saw her loudly supporting England at Rewind when I was out watching the game with my friends from uni on Friday night – she had memorable cuts and grazes on her elbow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the same woman), then should I get off the bus too as I am half-Italian, and I would not be here if my family had not come from another country to live here?  Until she knows the story of these Somali woman, who is she to judge whether they have (on a journey which they paid for, just like the rest of the passengers) less of a right to be on the bus and talk on the bus than her?  If I were speaking to my friends in Spanish, French or Italian, would I be less entitled to talk on the bus than if I were speaking in English? Does the fact that my skin barely looks any different to an English person’s (I am a tiny tiny bit more tanned, but it’s negligible) mean that I am not as mixed-race, or as ethnically diverse, as someone with a different skin colour? Am I entitled to the same rights as an English person simply because I speak native English, have an English surname and my skin is light; in return for these rights do I have to sacrifice my own ethnic background in the process just to fit in?

When I lived in Spain, if someone had spoken to me in that way because I was speaking English on the phone or to my family, I would have been utterly outraged.  Are we literally rewinding back to the story of Rosa Parks on the bus in the USA, before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement? It felt like it.  Another thing I wanted to point out was that, as a result of my colleague Clare’s presentation on breaking down cultural barriers in guidance, I know that Bristol is considered a popular (if that is the right word) destination for asylum seekers and refugees coming from all over the world, because it is considered a racially-tolerant city in England. This is my hometown, my city, and I am proud of that fact.  By demonstrating such a racially-intolerant attitude, this woman is not only giving a bad example of herself, but of Bristol as a city and of England as a country; in actual fact, she is making herself look stupid and only propagating bad feeling for foreign people, whatever their reason or length of stay in England, which in turn only reinforces cultural barriers rather than breaking them down.  We’re in 2010; this should never have been happening, but it should certainly not be happening in this day and age.  And so I felt that if I didn’t speak up on the bus at the time (and it turned out that it wasn’t my place, nor did I have to – quite rightly, the driver did so), the least I could do was recount the event on here and spread more awareness that these attitudes still exist in our country and are very much alive in everyday life and situations.  This needs to change, and this entry is my little contribution; in my forthcoming job as a Personal Tutor at Cirencester College, one of the things I may well have to do in both interviews and group sessions is work on challenging racial stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers and misconceptions.

Funnily enough, only earlier my nan and I were discussing the nature of football fans (topical considering that it is currently the World Cup).  English fans, deservedly or undeservedly, have a reputation for being violent, thuggish and neanderthal-like throughout Europe and possibly worldwide.  At the bar on Friday night, there was a fair amount of brainless chanting, stomping and cursing; but then, England did play poorly and I suppose that if so many people are passionate about this, it amasses a certain amount of volume.  I personally don’t like that kind of behaviour, but in itself it’s not racist; it’s only when it either causes damage or turns nasty against other ethnicities, races or against people of other countries that it’s inexcusable.  Nevertheless, I believe in conducting myself in a dignified way at all times whenever and wherever possible; by living up to hooligan stereotypes, England fans only propagate this image of themselves nationally and internationally; it’s not vogue and it doesn’t do the country or the sport any favours.  What’s more, my nan made a very good point that why do many England fans only support England during the football; if they really liked football, why do they not watch or show any interest in the matches involving other countries? Is it about the sport, or is it about the country? If it is about the country, why act so intimidating when watching the football (as opposed to other sports)? Surely this only sends out the wrong kind of message, a bad example to everyone – that this is how England fans behave, and that this country accepts that behaviour as tolerable and normal for football fans towards each other, and towards other people both from this country and from outside it?  I know that there are plenty of people who support England in the World Cup who don’t act this way – a lot of my friends fall under this category – and if I were them I would be somewhat embarrassed and angry that this reputation precedes me.  Everyone is entitled to behave in their own way, but I really wish we considered the feelings and cultures of others more than we do.

A final anecdote, in case I sound holier than thou – I’m not perfect.  When I was 12 years old, I once used a racial slur – I am ashamed to say.  Even more stupidly, it was towards a friend of mine whom I had known for 7 or 8 years by that time; he was acting in a very irritating way during a DT lesson, and out of sheer frustration and for pure shock value, I told him to “shut up you Paki”. Now, I am not racist nor have I ever been – so why portray myself in that way? Even though I was a child, I knew better before and after that event, and yet I did it. It had the desired effect, but I belittled myself by doing it, and my friend (to his credit) handled it very classily by laughing and saying in response to my immediate apology: “Um, no offence taken because I am Indian so that’s not what I am”.  His response made me feel all the more ashamed because not only had I attempted to use a racist expression in order to shut him up, I had used it in an incorrect context; it showed up my foolish behaviour for what it was.  Our friendship did not suffer for it; in fact I believe that the event was all but forgotten by breaktime, but it taught me a valuable lesson: that kind of behaviour is never acceptable, never appropriate, and never necessary.  I apologised profusely and he forgave me, but even recalling that incident makes me feel ashamed 12 years on; I was old enough to know better, and the lessons I learned as a result of that event are the redeeming factor; I have never thought or acted in that way since, and I am now in a position of responsibility to challenge others who do so. During a practice day, I successfully challenged one young person’s attitude to immigrants and the labour market; during my job at Cirencester, I anticipate doing this kind of thing more.  In this blog entry, I have also tried to challenge this behaviour.  Thankyou for reading.

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calorie counting.

May 3, 2010

Please be frank, and if you think I’m in the wrong, please tell me.  I’d almost like to be wrong, I’d like to feel that my family do respect my intelligence and that I’m somehow being unfair to them by believing that they insult me and feel that I am foolish.

The past few months, I know that I have lost weight, but I am hardly underweight.  I have a nice shape, a slim waist, but I still have muscle tone and at 6 feet tall, I wouldn’t want to lose that and become skinny.  I eat enough without stuffing my face (unless I’m indulging – for example, on Saturday night I had a large Meateor pizza from Dominos as a treat). I have never starved myself, nor do I induce myself to vomit.  In other words, even though I am certainly vain and may have a smidge of body dysmorphic disorder, I certainly do not consider myself to have an eating disorder.

So therefore, at 24 years of age, why do my family (specifically my mother and my grandmother) insist on me giving them a rundown of what I have eaten that day, and then accuse me of being bulimic, or decide to prepare me a meal despite my protestations and specific statement that I don’t want anything to eat? Now, I know that they are family and trying to look after me, but it’s getting to the point that they are deciding what I want, or what I need, regardless of what I express.  When what I really need is for my voice and opinions to be respected.  Do I really have to wear my calorie count across my head like the scarlet letter? Perhaps it should be on a flashing LCD display? I don’t know, but I am getting to the end of my tether.

I have accomplishments to my name.  I have always passed my exams, I have lived away from home both in Oxford while I was at university, and in Spain during my teaching assistantship.  I have held down a job since the age of 16.  I handle my own finances, pay my mother a token rent of £100 a month, and I have always been able to make friends.  Therefore, should I be insulted that my family apparently doubts my ability to feed myself? Should they themselves be insulted, since they are the ones who raised me (though like I said in the previous entry, I am 90% alien / my own influence) and therefore taught me either to be intelligent and have common sense, or alternatively did not teach me how to take care of my own well-being?  I have never let my parents down the way that many other people my age seem to, so do I really deserve to be put under such suspicion, such surveillance?

I am aware that moving out would solve this problem once and for all, and I am working on getting a job which can help me afford a car and a place to live. But despite the fact that I live at home, this doesn’t mean I should be treated like a child, especially as I do pay for the privilege of staying here – ok, again it’s not much, but I feel that it should earn me the right to my privacy and autonomy.  Isn’t that basic human decency?  My mother rarely asks how I am or what I’ve been doing in a casual, interested way… but she thinks it’s fine and not at all intrusive to ask for my dietary intake. I don’t think I’m the one with the problem here… am I being unfair? Even though this is my family, and one might argue that they are just concerned about my well-being, I counter this argument with the fact that I am rarely asked how my day has been: I usually ask after my parents’ days, and if my mother’s argument for that is that she does not want to infringe my privacy and independence, what does she think that inquiring after my eating habits is doing?

So I’ve had about enough of it. I find it insulting to my own intelligence, common sense and independence; I find it almost insulting to my mother / grandmother’s own ability to raise me.  It infringes on my privacy, which should not only be a basic human right but a right that I in fact pay for; if I were a lodger, would it be acceptable for my landlords to constantly ask minute details about my calorie consumption? I don’t think so. Should I be more accepting, more understanding, or am I right to feel aggrieved? Please let me know.  Thanks for reading, as always 🙂

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something’s missing.

May 1, 2010

I like this song:

(Brandy – “A Capella (Something’s Missing)”)

The last 8 months have represented the happiest period in my life that I can remember.  I’ve grown so much as a person, I have made some terrific friends, I have started the longest relationship of my life to date, I have lost weight, I have tattoos (it’s my most recent tattoo‘s one-month anniversary today!) and I have finally started learning to drive again. It’s like I was in a chrysalis up until this point, and now I’m finally starting to spread my wings.

However, I can slowly but surely feel that happiness starting to fade a bit.  Perhaps it’s growing pains, because in December I had a tough couple of weeks – maybe I just need to ride it out.  I still have all the things I named above, so I can’t really complain too much.  But my growing discontent I think is largely due to the fact that I’ve not had instant success when applying for jobs.  I haven’t had an interview out of the six jobs I’ve applied to so far.  I won’t give up – I am committed to this new careers guidance career, I want to make a difference in other people’s lives, to young people.  And I want to carve out my own life, get a car, get a job, get a place to live.  I can’t do any of those things without the finances that come from a well-paying job.  So I really need this, and although I’ve had my applications checked and approved my tutors, and my CV was given a glowing review by the UWE Careers Service, I guess it won’t come that easy.

So here’s the part where I start to connect my life at the moment with the song above.  Listen to the words, and things will make more sense. I was complaining to Mike about the fact that I have yet to secure an interview for any jobs, and he said to me “Well, I am sure there’s nothing wrong with your applications and it’s probably bad luck, nothing personal, but I don’t know if we have the skills for some of the jobs you applied for”.  In other words, try not to worry, but don’t apply for such weird stuff.  But I thought that I had a good shot at being capable of the jobs I went for, and the fact I was able to fill out the application without really questioning it means that I didn’t really think that the jobs I applied for were that leftfield.

Then I bumped into Henna (from the Perfume Shop) and her friends in the uni café, and after chatting for a while, one of them turns to me and says “So you did languages at Oxford, why on earth aren’t you becoming a teacher?” I explained that even after my teaching assistantship in Spain, and enjoying teaching more than I expected to, I’d never gravitated towards teaching and it wasn’t ever on my radar. Even though I’m now working towards becoming a careers guidance practitioner and working with young people, it feels quite different to me because I’m instrumental in helping a young person shape their entire life and future, rather than wholly responsible for one component of that.  I just feel that this fits me better, but perhaps I’m missing a trick?  Then I start to think that perhaps I am just running away from the one true vocation I’ve always wanted: music.  Ever since I was a child, I wanted to sing, dance, perform, record and entertain.  I’m good at it; I’ve won prizes for it.  People loved what I did at high school, sixth form and university, and since then I’ve grown as a musician, performer and person.  Why aren’t I following my heart?  Although I release my music online and I have very positive responses, will that ever truly be enough?  By keeping total control, am I sacrificing my dream of making it big?  Is being spurned by employers left right and centre a subtle hint that I can’t really avoid my destiny?

I keep wondering if I’m missing something.  I’ve had other reasons to lately wonder what the hell is wrong with my brain (read my previous post for some of that), and I don’t consider myself so eccentric or out of the ordinary to have made it to age 24 that I haven’t realised.  But sometimes, I look at the way things are and just think, what is going on? Am I on another planet? I do often think I’m an alien, from another galaxy: in Kingswood, I seem to dress like nobody else, have desires for things that just pass everyone else by.  In my family, I have different aims, different values.  I seem to have been only partly informed by my upbringing, and a lot by the media, and my parents say that I am 10% of them, and 90% of something mysterious and random.  Where do I get it from, who am I, and when I find out, where do I go from there? I am glad I am my own person and I wouldn’t change that for anything, but sometimes it gets a bit lonely out here.