Tag Archive: Identity


‘Why?’

One question, asked flippantly, when I revealed, through gasps of discomfort, I’d spent my Friday morning forcing myself through a tough gym session. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun, and to be honest, it wasn’t mine either until earlier this year and on occasions I’m still not 100% sure it is now. Once I’d moved to live across the road from a 24 hour gym, I felt compelled to join. Enough was enough. In my eyes, I no longer had an excuse to not go.

I’ve always been quite slim and in reasonably good shape. (I have shy abs. They are there somewhere, I promise, they just rarely make an appearance) and after starting with gentle work outs, I quickly began pushing myself to do better and better each time, even if it meant spending a few days unable to sit down without groaning or picking up a glass without wincing ‘Oh Jesus Christ!’. The whole gym lifestyle does appeal to me. I’m competitive and constantly seeking self-improvement, I enjoy the healthier option on the menu and I love that feeling after any kind of hard work. My 24 hour gym allows me to fit in a quick work out after school or late at night (when no one is around to judge). So, generally, gyming suits me.

However, on Friday, I did things a little differently. After having my arm twisted by a friend to make a morning visit, I cringed my way through a gruelling workout. I had a feeling my friend was a gym professional but, having not seen him in a vest before, you can imagine my self-esteem plummeting like a dumb bell when a muscly Adonis emerged from the changing room.I knew I was in trouble.  Those who know me know I’m a stubborn sod. Not a quitter. (Sometimes, like this case, it’s a character flaw). I kept chipper and enthusiastic despite feeling like my insides were about to fall out of my mouth and my arms had been stretched to double their natural length. Post-workout I felt great – a bit wobbly in the arms but the usual adrenaline was there.

24 hours later, everything aches. Just raising my mug of tea to my lips is forcing me to make noises which are bordering on post-coital. I’m covered in so much Deep Heat, my fumes could lift a hot air balloon and I’m popping Ibuprofen like tic tacs. When I told my auntie that I’d been to the gym she asked ‘Why?’ and, for the first time, I asked myself the same question. Why am I putting my body through this? Why am I pushing myself to feel this pain?

I’ve come up with a mixture of reasons. OK, I’ll admit, I do sort of feel inadequate and even more so when I’m in the gym surrounded by the brothers of Hercules. I’ve always been happy in my own skin but I have said that I’d like to be just a little bit more toned and in shape. I don’t want to look like an over-stuffed, leathery old sofa, I just want to be able to out-run a murder, should I ever need to. It’s ten percent ‘looks’, ninety percent ‘feeling better’.

The pressure to look good is everywhere and I think it effects men just as much as women. I’d quite like to drown Mark Wright in a vat of Okyos yoghurt every time I see his tanned pecs on my television. I’m sure I’m not the only bloke to think ‘God, I wish I looked like that.’ So many TV shows and movies rely on their aesthetically beautiful stars stripping off. Alright, some of it is entertaining and I promise I’m not going all Daily Mail here, but viewed at the wrong moment it can leave me feeling a little inadequate. And that’s from a 26 year old, who has enough self-confidence to shrug it off and not be too bothered. What effect is this having on teenagers, who are already freaking out about changes and appearance? (I’ll leave that there….there’s another blog there!)

When I first started gyming I reminded myself that this was for me and that I would only do what I was comfortable with and what was possible to do within one week. I’d challenge myself, but realistically. I was never going to strut in and start pumping iron, gazing lustily into the mirror as I do, like many of the gym-goers I see.  It was also supposed to be something enjoyable and this pain is not fun. (Note: First person to say ‘No Pain, No Gain’ will be strangled. Once I regain control of my arms.)

So in answer to the question ‘Why bother with the gym?’, this aching blogger does it for a few reasons, but mostly for himself. I want to feel and look good (in that order). Yes, tighter abs and bigger arms would be lovely, but I needed to remind myself that this was only ever to strengthen my health and mind-set. Anyone else’s routine is irrelevant and pushing myself to agony is not going to help. I think, once you’ve found that level that suits you and you’re happy and comfortable, that’s when you’re winning at gyming.

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The Summer holidays. A few weeks ago, I regarded the upcoming break as the holy grail. Paradise. Six weeks of fun. Sunshine and happiness. Non-stop laughter.

Now, at the start of week four, I can honestly say it’s been dreadful. Dreary, uneventful and, on a couple of occasions, leaving me longing to go back to work. I know, there is no pleasing me.

Yesterday, the sun was shining and I was feeling miserable so I took myself off on a little trip. I packed a rucksack – book, bottle of water, some blueberries and a Bounty…you know, the essentials – and went for a walk around my town. It’s not a famously beautiful town, and it has many faults, but it’s my home town and it was great to have the chance to walk around without the pressure of having to be anywhere. I passed shoppers, families, Pokémon trainers, drunk people (yes, it was 11am) and a lot of people who were less fortunate than myself. Unfortunately, there’s been a significant rise in homeless people in my hometown over the past year or so. On a walk around the town you can easily pass four or five people sleeping in doorways of empty shops. Yesterday, I began thinking about these people and how terrible their nights are going to become over the next few months, as winter kicks in. We’ve many empty buildings in our town centre and it seems so cruel that none of these can be opened up to provide some shelter…..but that’s another blog post. I considered myself lucky for the roof over my head and the food in my fridge.

I carried on walking, right up to a heritage centre on the outskirts of town. I ended up traipsing through a wood and following the river. I’m quite vocal about my love for Wales.  It’s incredible that such a tranquil spot is just a ten minute walk from the middle of town. I was grateful for having such beauty on my doorstep.

Of course, I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering onto work (it’s the nature of the job, right?) and I started to think about September.  In four weeks, I’ll be in my new classroom with my first batch of year ones. I thought about the activities that I’ve already planned and started to get excited about all the things we’ll get up to (trying to be positive – my strategy is to counter every thought of sheer panic by thinking about something I’m looking forward to.) I thanked whoever was watching for my job, the opportunities I’ve been given and took a short moment to feel proud of everything I’ve done in the last three years.

Then, after a cheery stop at the cemetery, I thought about my family, and found myself thanking whoever, as I do every day, that I still have everyone around me. I’m a very lucky.

Then, I wandered over to a park just a stone’s throw away from my apartment and sat in the park and read my book. I know that once September hits, free time is going to become a very rare thing, so I was thankful to be able to take time out and do something I enjoy.

I finished the afternoon by visiting a friend. It’s not been easy over the last few months, as we’ve all been busy with work and….well….life. I was grateful that, even though I might not see them as often as I’d like, we slip into comfortable conversation so easy. It’s never awkward.

So, no matter how rubbish things get, it’s important to take a minute to be thankful for what you’ve got. There’s always a positive and it’s easy to get bogged down in negatives. We’re often very quick to forget what we have got and tend to focus on what we haven’t.

It’s good for the soul to take stock.

 

I’ve got a phobia.

Now, it’s not Whales or lifts or peas or anything like that. (I am genuinely wary of those things but this fear is far more serious. I class this as another level of terrifying.)

It’s not something I really thought about until I was a teenager. Then it slowly started creeping in and over the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. The resulting thoughts have given me nightmares, pushed me to the verge of panic and had me questioning my every action.

I’ve got a phobia of turning into my mother.

Well, sort of. It’s a fear of turning into either of my parents, but many would agree I am more like my Mum than my Dad (*shudders as he types*). We’ve had a turbulent relationship. I won’t air the details publicly but I left home when I was eighteen and I vowed never to go back. Eight years on, we’re still in touch, thankfully the relationship wasn’t damaged completely, but it’s not your average mum-son set up. I would never want to upset her, but she bloody winds me up at times! (as I’m sure, I do to her). It didn’t bother me as a teen but as I’ve grown up it is something that hurts me, as I start to realise just how important that mother figure is in adulthood as it is in childhood. At 26, I still find myself in situations where I just want a mum. Thankfully, I have plenty of surrogates.

My mum has many positive attributes – she can be very thoughtful and funny and, when I was ill a few weeks ago, she came to my flat and cleaned! But, as I’m sure she’ll agree, she can also be very difficult. I find myself querying whether or not it’s inevitable. Will I one day realise I have morphed into one of the people who created me? Will we share adjectives? Will people think of me as they do her? Will I behave as she does? The thought of turning into either of my parents, is not very appealing. I want to be Me.

I’ve got a friend who has expressed similar concerns. His mother was not very kind to him as a child and he ended up leaving, just as I did. He’s still in touch with his mother, but communication is very rare, and he often finds himself avoiding her just to maintain a quiet life. His mother is a trouble-maker. She is notorious throughout the family for causing upset, chaos and drama. She appears friendly and fun to those on the outside, but she is far from kind to those who are close to her. She talks down to her elderly parents and makes very little time for them. On the rare occasion my friend visits, she sits texting on her phone or reading through facebook, barely acknowledging him. At Christmas, my friend was the only one of her children to visit her, and she spent a lot of time in a funk that she wasn’t out partying with her friends but was instead begrudgingly sitting through a meal with one of her sons – a ‘waste of time’ if the others weren’t there! She made many comments about not needing family and being happier on her own. This has left my friend feeling pretty low and he can’t help feel that pang of envy when he sees other people doing things with their families. He longs for a good relationship with his mother – to be able to share things with her, ask for her advice and take her for meals to spoil her – but he knows that is not going to happen because the relationship is too badly damaged. His mother is just not that kind of mum and that sometimes leaves him feeling like an outsider, especially on occasions like Mother’s Day.

Me and my friend were talking recently and the fear became very real. The thought of turning into that person fills his blood with ice. To be regarded as his mother is would be too much to bear and he worries that he might struggle to resist his genetic destiny. He worries that over the years he will push people away and become the lonely person his mother has become. He worries that, without knowing, he will begin to treat people as she does.

Many times I’ve opened my mouth and my mother comes out. I remember the time I laughed and my Grandad told me I sounded just like her.  I remember the time I delivered a sarcastic comment to my brother and clasped my hand over my mouth in horror, because that is just what Mum would say. Are these just things we have picked up from being around these people or are their traits infused in our blood? Is it genetics or environmental?

My answer is…I don’t know, but I suppose I need to accept that, naturally, I am going to pick up my parents’ traits. Good and bad. I might be very thoughtful, but I might also become obsessed with whinging about the weather (it WILL be cold in the Winter! Why complain?!). I might be very jolly around my friends, but I might also be grumpy and unsociable at times. I hope that I can take on board their positives and pick out the good from those around me. To tell the truth, I don’t spend much time with my parents now that I live alone, and I’m far more likely to see my Godmother, or the caretaker at school who wants to adopt me. Is it possible that I can become like them? Bubbly, fun and full of kindness? Can I magpie traits from others as well as my parents? I don’t see why not.

I think my main worry is that I will take so much from my parents that I won’t end up being Me.  I’ll be a mash-up of Mr and Mrs H. I hope that, in years to come, when I’m no longer here, I can be remembered for being a product of the goodness of both of them. But, most importantly, be remembered for being Me.

I’ve got long hair. Not too long but long enough that my fringe is getting in my eyes. Long for me. When I was younger I used to work in a petrol station and I could always tell when my hair needed cutting because old men would start referring to me as ‘love’ and ‘darling’. Because only girls can have long hair. When it gets this long – which I must say is not that long – people start referring to it as ‘girly’. More gender-confined rubbish. I’m a man, so I can’t grow my hair longer than a couple of inches.

I was in a school recently where I taught a very fashionable and on-trend year 6 boy. He was part of a group of alpha males – intelligent, popular and sporty – and in my first week I overheard him telling his friends how he wanted a man-bun in his hair. His friends, roughly all around eleven, seemed indifferent. Neither supportive nor adverse. Just not bothered because, let’s face it, it’s not their hair, it’s his, so he can do what he likes. However, it was the adults that seemed surprised. ‘He’s going to look like a muppet,’ one commented. During the last week of term, the boy walked confidently into school with his hair in a small ponytail. Again, a few comments of surprise from the children, but overall no fuss. The adults however….

‘He looks ridiculous..’

‘Oh! What does he look like?!’

‘Poor thing…’

Now, I’ve spoken before about these gender stereotypes in schools – remember Cardigan-gate? – and I’ve said that these views seem to be adult-imposed. The children in the school weren’t fazed, the criticisms came from the adults. Now, please understand, this school was lovely and every member of staff was committed and passionate about pupil progress, development and wellbeing. I’ve not been in many other schools where the sense of community was so strong. So, this really is my only criticism. I don’t think their comments were formed through malice, just through this ridiculous habit that we’ve picked up of consigning traits to masculinity or femininity. As teachers we have to champion diversity and individuality. This boy had decided he wanted a ponytail and – very bravely – walked into a class of his peers wearing his hair in a style that was different and that he had chosen. I made sure to tell him that I thought he looked great. Children should have the confidence to express themselves and know that it is alright to be the people that they are. Children are following our lead, so we should be modelling that confidence and support.

Coincidentally, I noticed a few weeks ago that SpiceWorld was on Netflix. (Did I watch it? Of course I did! It was terrible). I was seven when that film came out – so primary school age – and when asked how I wanted to celebrate my birthday I asked to take a few friends to the cinema to see SpiceWorld. Now, hats off to my mum and dad, because they made the absolute right choice and they took me. Not once, at the age of seven, did I consider SpiceWorld, a film about five girls, championing girl power, to be a ‘girly film’. I know parents that, had they been in my parents’ shoes, would have anxiously tried to persuade me to see another film. Like Men in Black or Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Masculine films. Because we all know that lads are more likely to handle aliens and snarling dinos. Well, not this lad. I was all about the zig-a-zig-ah and I’m pleased my parents supported my choice. (They also get extra points for actually sitting through it.)

So, basically, let children watch whatever they want (you know, within reason) and if they want to grow their hair, let them. Children have very little understanding of what is ‘for a boy’ and what is ‘for a girl’ until we impose those thoughts on them. So the only way we’re going to change that is to stop. Now. Stop telling them they can’t play with that toy because it’s pink/blue. Stop telling boys they need a haircut because it’s looking ‘girly’. Stop telling them that cardigans are only for girls! (Yes, I’m still not over it!) Instead, let them decide, smile and be proud that you know a child who is confident in exploring their own identity.

So regular readers of my blog will know that the theatre is very close to my heart. Last week, I came to a shocking realisation that it’s been two years since I was last on stage – that’s my longest break since I was 14! Coincidentally, I was talking to a pupil this week about their similar love of performing and it got me thinking about my early responses to drama in school. I bloody loved it. I remember taking part in several year 6 performances and then in year 7 things really kicking off when I joined the school drama club and played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol! My whole youth seemed to have been spent on a stage so why didn’t I pursue it further?

The simple answer is – I wasn’t encouraged. My family (grandparents, aunties, cousins etc) were supportive enough, but they were always going to be, they’re my family! So even if I was totally talentless they would still support me! My parents weren’t so keen on the idea of me being involved with the theatre.  I don’t know if it was the fear that I’d turn into a fabulous, sashaying queen or the worry that I’d enjoy the dressing up too much but neither seemed fussed on my early ambition to be an actor. I was gently steered towards a ‘more stable career’.

I could see their point. The world of performance is notoriously difficult to crack and if I wanted speedy independence I was going to have to be earning as soon as I could. But I remained enthusiastic, full of youthful gusto and naivety. I wanted to be on the stage!

This whole anecdote is relevant (I promise) because my first major knock in confidence in become an actor came from a teacher. Someone whose job it is to nurture and support our aspirations. I had a fantastic drama teacher in high school. Caring, passionate and encouraging – everything a drama teacher should be. The fact she is still in touch with so many of her pupils (myself included) is a testament to the impact she had on us and she remains one of my personal teaching role models. MG was always supportive, but it was another teacher who delivered the first slap. I’m hesitant to pin the blame entirely on him, but it was his delivery of some bad news which, I will always remember, left me feeling deflated about my hobby for the first time. I realised that drama just wasn’t taken seriously. In our third year of high school we had to choose which subjects we would study at GCSE level. My friends and I had waited for this moment for three years. We’d learned a lot about the GCSE Drama course and couldn’t wait to read plays, watch performances, explore methods and ideas, and, of course, do all that whilst having a great big laugh with each other and MG. However it was not meant to be. Eight of us were shuffled into a tiny room where this particular teacher – Mr P – carelessly and tactlessly told us the drama course wouldn’t be running that year and we should chose something else. Naturally, we argued back but the decision was made. For ridiculous reasons, I had to do Business Studies instead. Skills I have never used. Two years wasted.

At a careers evening, I excitedly shared with the careers adviser (aka Aspiration Destroyer) my plans to study drama, perhaps go to stage school and follow a career in acting. She shut me down straight away. ‘Oh no, perhaps a plan B. Acting is such a difficult industry to get into. Chances are you won’t go very far. What else do you like doing?’

Needless to say I left the school absolutely crushed. By the time I left aged 16 I had been totally convinced that my beloved hobby would be nothing more than that. I stumbled into college with little confidence in my ability and barely any sense of where I wanted my life to go. It took a long time to recover from that. Thankfully, I studied Drama and Theatre Studies at A level and my passion was rekindled thanks to two dedicated and encouraging tutors. But I still didn’t quite feel confident to make that application to drama school.

My point is, our time in education should be a time where we explore ourselves and our passions and begin to establish our ambitions, but instead my time in school turned out to be very damaging to my aspirations. I was not encouraged enough. I was aware that acting was a tricky career choice but I was passionate enough to want to give it a go. Perhaps it would turn out that I wasn’t quite cut out to succeed, but now, how will I ever know? It seems a career in anything creative is deemed too risky an option by schools. The same goes for writing. I have written stories from an early age, so why wasn’t I encouraged to follow that path? I must have had some skill to have done well in creative writing projects in school, college and university so why was it that the first real push I had to follow a career in writing was when I was 21? The day my creative writing lecturer took me aside and told me to consider forwarding my work to agent will go down as one of the proudest days of my life. I’d been told my work was good before but never by someone with so much experience. He believed in me and that belief has gone a long way.  Now, as a teacher, I know how important it is to be like Mr Lecturer and MG and how damaging it can be to have Aspiration Destroyer’s attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the career I have chosen, but I regularly wonder how different things could have been. I have friends in similar situations, who were dissuaded to follow their dreams and are now totally lost or totally miserable. I also have friends who have took the leap, trained at drama school and are now living in London or seeing the world. I just can’t help but envy that. Whilst I truly enjoy my day job, I live for those weekends where I can work on a writing project or sing with my friends or do impressions of Cher over WhatsApp. I love to entertain and, of course, that is partly a requirement of being a teacher!

So when a child tells me what they want to be when they’re older – policeman, dancer, brain surgeon, pirate – I tell them to go for it. I tell them that if they really want to do that then they should do everything they can do achieve it. We need to push arts in school and stop being so scared of those creative subjects. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand more times. It isn’t focused on enough. Yes, literacy and numeracy and digital competency are important but so is culture and the ability to express oneself. If we don’t encourage this generation then in a couple of decades our theatres will be empty, radios will be silent and TV screens devoid of artistic talent! (I’m dramatic. It’s been proven.) Seriously, it needs to start in schools. We need to be fostering a passion for drama and the arts and supporting those with a taste for it.

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It started when I was fourteen. Introverted, lacking in confidence and with no idea of who I was. I was a clumsy, nervous little mouse with a bad haircut who barely knew anything of the world outside his high school. I’d endured a full year of secondary school when my best friend, K (extrovert, super confident, wore furry pink trousers to non-uniform day….you get the jist), bullied me into joining her Friday night youth theatre group. Bullying has never left me so grateful.

I jojazz hands!ined Wrexham Musical Theatre Society (WMTS) in January 2004 and remained there (give or take the odd year out) until March 2014. It was the setting of many firsts and many lasts for me, but I will always remember it as the place I first had friends. I know that sounds super sad, and of course I had some friends in school, but this was the place where I suddenly didn’t have to try to fit in. Imagine my shock when, as a fourteen year old, I discovered a hive full of people who were just like me. Imagine what that does to a boy. Many people have passed through the doors over the ten years that I was a member, and lots of them have shaped who I am today. I met a cluster of friends who I know I will never lose contact with and who will always be there no matter when I turn up at their door. I’ve trusted these people with thoughts I never dreamed I could share and I know they have done the same with me. For me, WMTS represents a home that I sometimes didn’t have when I was younger, as I spent some time being passed around the family. It’s provided me with stability as, no matter how unsettled things got, my WMTS family was always there.165909_10150927101122173_506567172_9793714_943399763_n

Being at the Society taught me how to be myself. Whether I was attending workshops or rehearsals or (as I got older) meetings, being a part of the theatre helped me realise that it was OK to express myself and be whoever I wanted to be. It’s OK to laugh, to cry, to get angry, to speak my mind, to hate who I want, to fancy who I want and, importantly, to enjoy every last moment.

Since 2012, we were aware that WMTS was not getting the support it needed and that closure sign was looming. We fought hard. We put on shows and fundraisers and tackled countless obstacles along the way, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We spent our teenage years at the Society, and it was in these last few months that we realised we had come full circle, as we were now able to watch a new generation do exactly the same. The younger members of our group reminded us of the fun and mischief we used to get up to at their age and although it was touching to see that the Society was still able to bring people together, we were sad that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow up with that place of security that we were so lucky to have.

In March 2014, we performed our final show. It was the perfect ending to our time at the t008heatre. The energy backstage that night is something I’ll never forget. I remember being so happy that we were getting a chance to go out with a bang and sing together one last time, but simultaneously I was dreading that final number. As we joined together for one last curtain call, grasping each other’s hands and listening in the darkness to the sobs from both backstage and within the audience, I remember being utterly grateful that we were able to say goodbye on our terms.

For the next few months, WMTS remained quietly open, closing down slowly but surely, without any fuss. Many of us had ventured across the country to pursue other commitments but we all stayed in touch and listened intently for any news of the Society. Nothing came.12715413_10156573059980381_6965131466867006289_n

382985_294977330536506_1728688693_nThis week, I stumbled upon a photograph which left me devastated. It had been sometime since I was able to visit the Society as word had spread in early autumn that the building was now closed. I’d been waiting for the inevitable and this week I was confronted with an image of that beautiful building in the early stages of demolition.

I’m mature enough to know that loss and unfairness is a huge part of life. But I also can’t help but yearn for that place that was very much the hub of my youth. I’m angry that no one could save it. I’m angry that somewhere that harboured so much love, passion and talent could be allowed to wither and fade. I’m angry that a building that has been a part of our town for many years– many before I was even born – can be so cruelly torn down. I’m angry that a theatrical company that has been performing in Wrexham for over seventy years can be allowed to slowly collapse. It’s no secret that in the latter years, we struggled. We suffered many casualties and dramas, as many companies do, but we were determined to carry on. It doesn’t seem fair that a place that had so many people fighting for it can be forgotten. Towards the end, there was a small army of young, devoted people who were passionate about keeping the Society open not just in their name, but in the name of all those who came before them. I remember during the last Pantomime, standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage, and looking at some old photographs which had been unearthed from many of the hidden storage spaces. It hit me just how many people had invested themselves in the Society and I became emotional just realising how small in number we were compared to the Society’s earlier days. I remember the smiles and twinkling eyes of those photographs and, although years stood between us, we were sharing the same magic of the building.

1779064_735809426450471_415188736_nYesterday, my friend and I paid one last visit to the site. Outside, props and set pieces lie carelessly amongst rubble and bricks. The roof of the building is open, allowing for the cold rain to soak through to the studio that holds so many of our warmest memories. It’s a horrific site. Of course, the new owners are entitled to do whatever they want with the building as they have no emotional investment, but it seems so shocking and disrespectful to see a place that has been a symbol of pride and strength in my life (and many others’ lives) in such a state.

It would be easy to try and pin the blame on a long list of people, but I think it’s too late for that. Some thought the Society was being held in the past, but I strongly believe that WMTS had a future that could have been saved. In times where many young people wander lost and troubled through life, I’m grateful for the place that steered me in the right direction, and I’m sorry that the youth of Wrexham have lost another sanctuary. I overheard someone discussing a student once. ‘He might feel lonely now. He might feel like the odd one out, but trust me, one day, he’s going to walk into a room, and there will be his people, waiting for him’. Well that’s what happened to me when I was fourteen. To a lot of people in Wrexham, WMTS was a ‘derelict building’ or ‘that old operatic place by Matalan’, but to me it was my safe place and I don’t know where I’d be now without it. I’ll miss it and I will never forget the joy that it brought me.

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 Brace yourself…the ‘New Year, New Me’ posts are coming.

You know I have a difficult relationship with social media. I use it every day, yet sometimes I absolutely despise it. The way people use it makes me so cross. One of my major gripes is people who create this perfect online persona – ‘Everything is great, we all love each other. Life couldn’t be more perfect’ – when in reality we all know he’s having an affair and the child is the spawn of Satan.

Anyway, another thing that bugs me is the annual ‘New Year, New Me’ status. We’re about to be inundated with them. People vaguely alluding to some crisis they’ve had recently and vowing to reap revenge or make a dramatic change in 2016. ‘2016 is going to be my year’, ‘No more Mr Nice Guy in 2016’. Oh please! Stop! Very often it’s the usual offenders posting the same promises every year.

I’ve been thinking about this and for one terrifying moment over the weekend I almost made the same the promise. I know. Madness! Reflecting on 2015, I thought about the good, the bad and the stressful of the last 12 months. After a bumpy start, 2015 turned out to be very rewarding – I became a teacher, moved into my own place, got reconnected with some amazing friends and made plenty of new ones. On the whole, a success. I’d have never predicted how kind the year could be last December. So it goes to show we don’t know what we’re going to get given, all we can do is make the most of each moment. However, this was the year of the PGCE, therefore I spent a lot of nights reading/writing/planning/preparing and my social life did suffer. So I do hope that in 2016 I can make more time for my friends and general social-ness.

2015 started with a bit of crisis. After a sickly Christmas, I rushed into the year a tired, anxious, frustrated mess. In January I turned 25 and I had a bit of mid-mid-life crisis (fingers crossed for 100). I began to question my life choices and sank into a low funk that I couldn’t dig myself out of.  It didn’t help that my family started to make hints about ‘settling down’ and (goodness me) ‘Growing up!’. It appeared that as I was close to securing what they saw as ‘a good job’, the next steps would be to ‘go out, find a girl and have children’. For Christ’s sake. *Takes a deep breath*. Those close to me know that this is not my cup of tea at all and I have my own opinions on marriage and children (which is another blog post you can look forward to!). How could I expect someone to attach themselves to me when I was feeling like I didn’t really know myself? One family member even told me that now I was ‘older’ I needed to wear more neutral colours – ‘the plainer, the better, at your age’. I questioned everything from friends to lifestyle choices to underwear (yes, I know, ask no further questions) and I realised I didn’t know who I was. In February, I accidentally discovered a secret that changed my circle of friends (sorry, now I’m doing it! Alluding to a secret! Please, forgive! I promise it’s relevant) and when I returned home as a fully-trained teacher I felt very much like I was building my life from scratch. In November, I moved home which kick started a chain of events that has led to me ending the year very differently to how it started. At the moment, I’m happy, confident and determined to have lots of fun in 2016.

This is mostly down to the freedom I’ve been granted since moving out. I can do anything I want now and I feel like I’ve finally started to express myself. When I lived with my parents, I couldn’t start the morning with a yoga session, have last minute gatherings of friends, burn incense in the bathroom or play music into the night because it disturbed the people I lived with (and I’m sure they’d have something to say if I slipped into down dog over breakfast). For the first time, I can be myself and I’m looking forward to exploring that more in the New Year. So what I’m saying is not ‘New Year, New Me’, but ‘New Year, MORE me.’ I want to be able to get to know this person I’ve carried around for 26 years. I want to express myself, try new things and live. Exist.

So here’s to a happy, healthy 2016. I’m not promising to stamp on all my enemies, see the world or anything dramatic. I just want to enjoy the good times and make the most of living. And if it doesn’t work out….well….there is always next year.

 

Merry Stress-mas!

Christmas! It’s everywhere. In the shops…on the streets….in our homes!

I bloody love Christmas, and have done since I was a child, but as I’ve got older I have suffered annually from Christmas-angst. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed just how stressful the holidays are. We put so much pressure on ourselves to have the perfect Christmas and I am a serial offender of this crime.

For the last three years I’ve vowed to have a stress-free Christmas and it NEVER happens. Each year I push myself to the verge of an anxious breakdown, sometimes literally making myself ill, just over Christmas. And I know plenty of people who are exactly the same. What is wrong with us?

In the grand scheme of things – it’s one day. One day! But for weeks prior to the 25th I catch myself worrying about everything. Buying the perfect presents, getting the right wrapping paper. Do I have enough nibbles? What if friends come round? Do my decorations look perfect? Is everywhere clean?! Am I getting a cold?!

I worry so much about the slightest thing ruining that run up to Christmas that, nine times out of ten, I’m ill through bolstering my own stress levels. But I can’t seem to break the cycle. This year I was adamant I would have a perfect Christmas in my new home. I was doing everything I could to remain calm but this weekend those first embers of anxiety have started crackling and I can only put it down stress-mas. (Don’t worry, I ate loads of chocolate and drank some questionable vodka.)

Why is it we get so obsessed with making this one day perfect?  I know people who have gone so far as to get new windows and doors for their whole house before Christmas when it wasn’t really necessary. Why do we have to have everything perfect? We spend our time preaching to the children that the importance of Christmas isn’t the aesthetics and the material things, it’s being with your loved ones and being thankful. Then we get totally freaked out because the baubles on the tree aren’t scattered correctly and M&S don’t have the right stuffing.

Of course, the stress isn’t always brought on by oneself. A big chunk of my Christmas-chaos comes from arguing family members and guilt from unsatisfied (and VERY divorced) parents. Hats off to those who actually manage to split themselves in two over the Christmas period – I’ve yet to perfect this, so have opted to label this year a ‘Friendy Christmas’ rather than a family one. I love my family but, just like everyone else, they drive me up the wall. So for this year, let all of us children of divorce raise a big middle finger to parental guilt and enjoy the season for ourselves. Just for this year. Let’s not stress about what time we get to dad’s and whether mum will find out we spent half an hour extra with him. Let’s just go with the flow, open our gifts and get back home to the brandy bottle as soon as possible. (And I’ll feel so much better knowing I’m not the only one!)

For a happy Christmas, we need to keep things simple. Be with those who make you smile. Do what makes you happy. And calm down.

So whether your Christmas is chilled and stress-free or a total bloody nightmare…Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.

There is something that bothers me. Something that seems to creep into every aspect of my life. Something that, sometimes, I don’t even notice until I give it extra thought. But it’s still something I feel is very, very wrong with our world. If you’ve read my previous posts (See Cardigan-gate) you’ll know that this issue is our obsession with the promotion of gender labels.

Last week I moved house and, behold, that issue reared its ugly head once more.

ME: So I’ve narrowed my wallpaper down. These are my final four….but I think I’m going to go for this one. (Holds up non-flowery paper)

MUM: Yeh, nice. (thinks) Yeh, you’ve made the right choice. Very masculine. You don’t want those (indicates a print with black and white flowers on) You want something manly. Not flowers.

ME: (Seething) Do you know it really bothers me when people say stuff like that? Why can’t I have flowers? I’m perfectly comfortable with who I am and If I like the flowers, I’ll have them. Because it’s my home and I don’t see why men have to avoid things if they have any kind of flowery print on them.

Baffled, Mum just shrugged and continued cleaning, whilst a can of gender worms wriggled through my body.

What annoyed me is, although I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm, mum didn’t want my new home to reflect me, she wanted it to reflect my masculinity. But unfortunately, anyone who knows me will see it’s pretty obvious I have one hell of a feminine side too.

She threw another gender-dagger my way later on by saying ‘Yes, it looks great now. Very manly.’ But changed the conversation at my pointedly raised brow.

When people walk into my apartment, I want people to say ‘Oh, this is very you’, not ‘this is very manly/womanly.’ Why should wallpaper be assigned to a particular gender? The print was black and white so it wasn’t the colour that my mum was picking up on, it was the fact there were flowers on it. Not even overly-flowery flowers. Leaves. So why are leaves feminine? Jeez.

Anyway, allow me to take you on to another rant I’ve been meaning to have which sings to the same conformist tune.

So, my grandma, who is the sweetest, most inoffensive and caring person I have ever known, fell victim to society’s demands recently. Her great-grandson, who is also my godson, is three. He spends a lot of time playing with his older sister and his cousin, who is the same age. Now the boy, who we’ll call H, is very easily pleased. He’s not fussy with toys and will play with anything. Including, his female cousin’s toys. Which are obviously mostly pink *rolls eyes and bites tongue*.

Anyway, I overheard my lovely grandma saying this:

Grandma: Oh I’m gonna have to get H some new toys. Bless him. The poor thing. He only has girls toys to play with.

What are girls toys? Since when do toys have a gender? When a toy is made do the makers say ‘congratulations? It’s a boy!’ No. A toy is a toy. No gender. Just like a gate is a gate. A flower is a flower! H has never once complained about having to play with ‘girls toys’ because he is still young enough to not understand the labels adults put on things. H was perfectly happy playing with those toys, so why did G’ma feel it was so urgent to get him some ‘boys toys’. And of course, the toy she bought him was a blue truck. Because only boys can drive trucks.

In the same week H’s dad rushed across the room to pull a pink plastic hairdryer from his hand, exclaiming ‘No, H, no! That’s for girls. Don’t play with that!’. What on earth did he think would happen if he continued letting his son play with a hairdryer? He’d don killer heels and start singing the hits of Kylie? Or perhaps he’d develop an interest in hair and fashion. Or perhaps nothing would happen at all, he’d just enjoy five minutes of playing with a poxy pink hairdryer!

All of these stories are unified by a fear. Although I don’t think my mum or my grandma meant any offense, they were both scared of that obsession society seems to have with promoting masculinity. Grandma and H’s father were worried that by playing with pink toys, H was going to lose his masculinity, and by forcing blue trucks on the boy, that would ensure he grew up nice and manly. Mum was worried that by having flowers in my living room, people would think I was a feminine. And of course, that would be terrible.

I don’t see why people can’t be left alone to be themselves. If children want to play with a particular toy, just let them. If they want to wear a particular colour, just let them. Whatever adults or children want to do to express themselves, just let them.  Although girls are now encouraged to take on what might have once been perceived as ‘male’ jobs, It seems the world is still obsessed with squashing any kind of femininity in males. So masculinity is still seen as the preferred gender. And why does there have to be stronger gender? What happened to equality? In 2015, surely a man should be able to decorate his wall however the hell he likes!

Milestones are supposed to happen periodically through a person’s life. I’ve been super lucky, as 2015 has given me two milestones to pass within the space of a few months.

This week something major is happening to me. After 25 years of living with a parent, I am finally moving out to live my life as a single occupant. Excited is not the word. At the end of the week I’ll be settled into my new apartment over-looking my hometown. My Comic-con-bought clock featuring eleven Doctor’s costumes will be on the wall. My bookshelf will have a new home in a living room rather than a bedroom. My telephone-box-DVD-case will be proudly on display. My clothes will hang in a spacious wardrobe rather than lie in crumpled heap in a tiny second-hand prison. I’ll have my own space to write. My life will have regenerated.

I’ve been thinking about big changes this week. The kind of events that rarely come along in life. This year I’ve had two. I’ve started a new career as a teacher and now I’m moving into my first home. I’ve wanted this for years, so I am super excited, but, as is often the case with me, with excitement comes anxiety.

I always thought that when I moved into my new home I would be unbearably excited. This, of course, is true, but I didn’t count on the sometimes suffocating sense of anxiety. For weeks I have been so eager to get those keys but at a few points I’ve been left breathless by thoughts such as ‘can I do this?’, ‘is something going to ruin it?’, ‘what happens if…?’. In the words of GaGa, ‘I’m on the edge.’

I know this is perfectly natural and once I’m settled I am determined to make this work and revel in the freedom I’ve longed after for so long…but at the moment I am just bubbling with emotions.

Aren’t humans strange? This is something, as anyone who knows me will tell you, that I’ve wanted since school.  Yet, after the initial joy settled I found myself throwing negatives into my path. Sabotaging my own happiness. I was questioning my own capability and worrying over possible scenarios that might ruin my experience in my new home. I was even questioning whether events from the past could come back to haunt me and ruin it. Why am I doing this? The answer is I just can’t help it. I am a largely positive person before my friends and colleagues, but once I’m alone I’m a worrier. I can see that most of my worries are totally ridiculous, but unfortunately my body takes a lot more convincing. I’ve found the best way to combat this to so focus on the positives and enjoy each moment. I’m taking one step at a time and indulging in every detail.

So, as I sit here holding the keys to my new place for the first time, I’m looking forward to a week of firsts. I can’t wait for that first letter through the letterbox. For the first visit from my friends. My first bath! My first night wandering around in my pants watching Doctor Who and eating Chinese food.

Bliss.