Anxiety Achievements and Goals

This morning, I woke up like this.

And no… it was not in a Bey way. Not all of us are #Flawless upon arising. In fact I would say many of us wake up, get through the day and go to sleep again as deeply flawed human beings.

Within one minute of waking up I was inexplicably crying. Four bouts of tears later, holding a coffee and a pastry as I walked up the hill trying to get my shit together, I realised something. This was an achievement. Yes, this basic walking up the hill to work business was in fact something to be proud of. And all the steps before it were too.

Here is the list of things I did before that point that I believe were worthy of encouragement, congratulations and metaphorical pats on the back. They might not be every day but they really were today:

  • I managed to make it out of bed – this one is particularly impressive because I did really want to stay there and sleep for the whole day.

  • I got dressed

Image result for clothes cartoon

I brushed my teeth and hair (yay hygiene and grooming!)            Image result for toothbrush hairbrush

  • I took a raincoat just in case (indicates an intention to make it to outside)

Image result for raincoat sketch

  • I took 2 different outfit options for my important meeting. It wasn’t even a fashion show meeting
  • I didn’t cancel said meeting even though I thought quite seriously about not going to it

It may sound patronising and if you’ve never experienced anxiety you might not understand but something happens to your brain when the anxiety shit hits the functioning human in life fan. These basic things felt like the most daunting tasks in the world when my alarm went off this morning. They couldn’t possibly be done. I couldn’t do them. I didn’t have the supreme amount of superhuman energy it would take just to get my sad behind out of bed.

And yet…

I managed it. I did all of those things that most days take no thought at all and today took a careful strategy of gentle encouragement, talking myself through each task. And then after I got to work I did a whole load more, one thing at a time.

The goal posts of achievement have to change when your brain decides that it’s going to fold in on itself and flat out refuse to function for no apparent reason.

“Come on,” I reason with it. “Just tell me why I feel like this and we can all get on with our day. If you’re not going to work properly at least tell me why!”

Nope. Nothing. I can’t even figure it out for myself, let alone other people. Cue two more lots of crying once actually at work when lovely, kind people in the office ask if I’m OK. It’s actually really frustrating because I’d really like to know what my brain is doing but IT JUST WON’T TELL ME. So I can’t tell you. Maybe it’s stress? Is it stress? Well I do have a lot of work to do at the moment so maybe I should sit down and try to do some of that. Great. Now how do I get rid of this paralysing feeling of dread and fear in me that makes me feel like I can’t do anything? I can’t concentrate. And the longer I don’t do any work, the more work I feel I have piling up with less and less time in which to get it done. This doesn’t make any sense. I’m becoming my own worst enemy and I’m stuck in a horrible vicious circle.

And you know what else? It’s totally counter intuitive to be your own worst enemy when you know you have to go to work and present your best self in an important meeting where impressions are everything, and I’m not talking about the kind where you put on the strong accent and pretend to be Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver (“You talkin to me?“)

So you move the goal posts. You say “It’s not going to be a normal day today. And that’s OK.” And you forgive yourself. You forgive yourself for not being perfect and happy all the time. You forgive yourself for being sad and not even finding the reason. You tell yourself you’ll do your best, whatever that looks like today and that will have to be enough. And then you hope that other people will forgive you too and understand that you showed up today when it really looked like you wouldn’t. That your achievements look different today compared to another day or another person. But they still count. And you should be the one counting them because you did that, all by yourself. Well done you. Well done me.

I got through a horrible anxiety day today. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

…But Words Can Never Hurt Me

I’ve always been scared to write about this.

That’s kind of silly isn’t it? I mean, I’m a writer…I shouldn’t be scared to just…write. Last week I sat with my best friend in a Starbucks yelling so angrily at the top of my voice how I wanted him to suffer that a group of teenagers turned around, moving from pretending not to eavesdrop to full on reacting as if they were in the conversation.

“Bad break up,” I quipped.

“Five years ago!” She added.

“Cheers, that definitely makes me look less psychotic right now,” I replied.

Yeah, I need to write about it.

But I don’t really know how start. It’s like there’s just a brick where the words should be and no matter how many times I turn it over it doesn’t turn into what I want to say.

Some years ago I started dating someone who bullied me. He didn’t hit me. It’s so easy to define why someone physically abusive is bad. He didn’t physically do…well he didn’t really physically do anything. He wasn’t violent but he didn’t touch me affectionately either. There was very little warmth to him. Knowing myself as I do now, after 5 years of therapy (and still going strong – I should probably get her some wood for that anniversary because she’s officially my longest relationship) I can’t imagine why on earth I was with him. I can’t bear to think of how I let myself stay in that environment for so long – 2 weeks shy of a whole year. It makes my heart ache with hurt and anger for my younger self that I didn’t have the awareness or the confidence to call it out for what it was.

It was gas lighting, keeping secrets and lying. It was putting me down constantly. It was controlling. It was bullying. It was emotionally and verbally abusive.

I have a really excellent memory. Freakish almost. But I think back to that year, that relationship and I’ve blocked out whole chunks. Memory is a funny thing and while I think the forgetting protects me, I also sometimes think I’ve demonised him in my head. Recently I told someone a couple of the small things I remember clearly and definitely happening and they were so shocked by them and by how I just shrugged sadly after I said them…because I can’t do anything about them now. They happened and I can’t go back in time and stop myself or give myself the confidence I desperately needed to get out. So maybe between the forgetting and the remembering I have got some accuracy…what I’m saying is, I don’t know. I just know it wasn’t good.  Here are the clearest memories I have:

  • If I made a joke he’d glare at me and say, “You’re not funny, why are you talking?” even if everyone else laughed.
  • If I made a joke that he clearly found funny he still wouldn’t laugh, he’d just look at me with a kind of begrudgingly impressed smirk on his face and then say, “Well done.”
  • He once told me my best friend’s legs were nicer than mine and that they’d always be nicer than mine. That I could put makeup on my face to make that better and that’s great but I couldn’t ever change my legs.
  • He was only really nice to me when he was drunk.
  • I don’t drink alcohol and normally that’s not a problem. But I made him a ridiculous birthday meal of roast duck and a whole bunch of other things that took me all day to cook for him and his friends to enjoy and they played drinking games and when I said I couldn’t join in so could we do something else, he insisted they would be playing and suggested I start doing the washing up instead. It is one of only a few times I really wished I could drink because if I could drink maybe I wouldn’t feel so left out of the dinner party I had made. When I cried in bed that night he told me I was overreacting.
  • He lied about his sexual experience and then later when the truth came out, made me feel foolish for having believed him.
  • I remember crying at my parents’ kitchen table asking them why he didn’t love me. They didn’t have an answer.
  • I remember trying to break up with him and it’s the only time I’ve been so close to ending it with someone and been pulled back in because he kept telling me I was right and it felt like the first honest conversation. How can you not give someone the chance to redeem themselves when they’re finally being honest with you? Or at least you think they are.
  • He went on holiday with a female friend and I wasn’t comfortable with them sharing a room and for part of it, sharing a bed. He told me I had no say in the matter and did it anyway.
  • I once turned up at his place doing the whole underwear, heels and trench coat thing at 2am in a tight turnaround between trips for him. We only had about 3 hours and I’d also bought him snacks to take on his trip resulting in a farcical trip to Tesco, changing in my car into just underwear but forgetting the carpark was very well lit, bashing my head pretty hard on the horn attracting even more attention to myself. He made me wait while he played FIFA with his flatmate.
  • He expected me to go down on him but would make the biggest fuss about reciprocating. He made out like it was gross and he was so reluctant. Strangely enough reluctance about my body doesn’t make me feel great.
  • He would never offer me information freely so if I ever wanted to know more than “I’m out with friends” I’d have to ask each individual question – where are you going? What are you doing? Who are you seeing? I felt like I had to interrogate him which was weird for me because I’m neither a stalker nor an interrogator by nature. Everything was kept separate from me.
  • I remember we had 6 happy and fun weeks in the middle of the relationship. I remember how good he was to his friends and wished he could be that good to me. It wasn’t all bad. When something or someone is all bad you can’t hope that things will be better. You don’t stay when something is always consistently terrible. It’s not as simple as that. People are rarely so black and white. So I remember that how he treated his friends and those 6 decent weeks were all I needed to give me hope that one day he’d be that nice to me. Now I think 6 weeks isn’t very long at all. Now I think it was only good in comparison to how sad it was the rest of the time. Now I don’t know what I was doing for the other 44 weeks of our relationship.
  • I remember crying while I told him I loved him after nearly a year and saying that I knew I shouldn’t be saying it because I was sure he didn’t love me and I wished I didn’t love him. He replied, “I don’t love you.”  Nothing to soften the blow, nothing to make it gentler. He just came out and said it. I asked why he’d been with me for so long if he didn’t, what he thought he was doing, did he think he’d just wake up one day and it would appear? He said that’s how it had happened before but I didn’t buy it. I remember being totally heartbroken even though I had known it already, even though deep down somewhere I knew it wasn’t a good relationship. Confirmation of sad suspicion doesn’t actually make it better.

Those are just the bits I remember. People tried to tell me maybe it was just his style of banter but those don’t read like “banter” do they? And some of them might seem like they’re not that big a deal on their own but put them together and repeat over a year – the criticisms, the undermining, the constant verbal blows…you can see the picture forming and it’s not pretty.

I changed after that relationship. There was something hopeful that I no longer possessed. Perhaps it was naivety and that’s not meant to last, but I wonder if it’s supposed to disappear slowly rather than all at once. Since then I have developed a pathological need to know where I stand. I hate being in any kind of limbo for any amount of time. I need to know what I mean to someone, what the status of a relationship is in any context and I need to know it immediately. I came out of that relationship with less confidence in myself and less belief in my judgment. I had a whole giant bucket of trust issues and zero belief in the idea that someone might ever want or love me. When someone literally tells you they don’t love you and they’ve kept you around for a year to bully and toy with anyway…well it’s not hard to see why my self esteem was in shreds. It took me 4 years to have another relationship and at the start I had a huge hyperventilating, sobbing panic attack about the fact that I liked someone, that I was making myself vulnerable to another human being. Before, I’d been able to fall in love almost too easily and with the carefree abandon of someone who wanted to just give and make a partner happy. But after, I couldn’t even like someone without freaking out about how much of myself I might lose. Because what if I give and they just take? What if I give and not only receive nothing back, but actively give up a piece of me? How many pieces do I have left that are expendable?

Feelings and expressions of them had no place in our relationship. When I showed my feelings he treated me as less intelligent than I am. He treated me like I wasn’t worth listening to because my feelings made me irrational or less trustworthy. And when someone treats you like that for a long time, slowly in little increments you start to believe them. I started to believe him.

I have big, full, tidal waves of feelings. Sometimes when I feel something I talk almost entirely in hyperbole (I know right, what gave me away?) because the feelings are so big normal words don’t do them justice. Sometimes I’m so full of love it fills my chest like a balloon and I really think it might burst because I’m so happy to be surrounded by my closest people. That kind of overwhelming bubble of pure joy in your chest feeling. Sometimes something hurts me so much it spreads, also through my chest, like ice creeping over roots and freezing them, snaking around my heart and my lungs and squeezing so I can’t breathe because it’s so tight.

But this man to whom I gave so many of my feelings seemed to believe they made me weak. He seemed embarrassed by them as if they were an indication of something wrong with me, something I ought to be ashamed of. Feelings were not for showing to anyone, not even the person you’re dating for a year. I felt like I had to squash all my giant feelings into a tiny, tiny box. Make each of them as small as seeds and put them away.

Of course now I know my feelings don’t make me weak. My feelings make me open and strong. My feelings challenge other people and me and they certainly have no negative impact on my intelligence. My feelings take up space. Those seeds that I squashed down burst out of that box and they grew and grew. Now they’re the size of the biggest oak tree, no, the biggest oak tree forest you have ever seen. It’s a forest that gets richer, wilder, more complex and beautiful every time I let myself feel something new or scary, good or bad.

I once tried to confront him about how he treated me. Six months after we broke up we went for a walk in a park and I tried to talk. But he wouldn’t admit to treating me badly. He brushed me off instead of acknowledging how I felt and I certainly didn’t get an apology. He dismissed me – he didn’t say these words, but he might as well have called me a hysterical woman because he treated me like that’s what I was. He made out it wasn’t that bad, that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I think I even ended up apologising to him. For months I was so angry that I didn’t have answers. I couldn’t understand what had made him treat me that way for a whole year.

I have a different kind of anger now. I’m angry that I didn’t know better even though I couldn’t possibly have done. I’m angry that I didn’t have all the confidence and self worth that I have now. If someone tried to treat me like that again I’d call them out on that crap so damn fast. I’m angry, with the self awareness and knowledge of being nearly 29 for the young and trusting 22 year old that I was.  And I’m so deeply angry that I’ve had 5-6 years of dealing with the damage caused by that relationship and he was seemingly unaffected, unharmed. I was left in the rubble of myself trying to find and pick up pieces of me after he had set fire to them, and he just walked away.

I think I was scared to write about it because of how small and mentally unsafe he made me feel. It was like even talking about my feelings around this relationship conjured up that tiny box for squashing in those seeds. I still want answers. I still want an acknowledgement from him that what he did to me was wrong. I mean, I think it was cruel, but I’ll settle for wrong. I want an apology. I want to know if he ever regrets it, if he’s embarrassed by how he treated me rather than by my feelings about it. Everything was always on his terms – cold, professional almost, and obviously unfeeling. A blank and unreadable veneer covering over all the stuff he didn’t want people to see. I’d like there to be a conversation on my terms…but I’ll never start it because I’m still scared. I am terrified that if I approach him I’ll be dismissed again. I imagine he’d sneer and be kind of irritated by me, like I’m a fly buzzing around him, just something to bat away with his hand but not give any thought to. He’d say something like “It’s been years, why are you even still thinking about this? We’ve both moved on.” and we have. We’ve moved on to other relationships and I am happier than I have ever been in mine. But that would crush me. It would break me into tiny pieces and prove that I was right – that he was totally unaffected. That it was all such a total waste. He took things away from me and discarded them because they meant nothing to him. I don’t want to give him that conversation too. I don’t want to give him anything else.

I’m brave, open, smart and strong. I even quite like my legs, unchanged though they are. I am unashamed of my feelings and I take up space with all of them now. I have grown with my forest but I don’t think I could take it if I were to be brave enough to approach him and he burned my forest to the ground. I could not give him that too.

That at least is on my terms.

Look – A poem for Summer

Look

Image result for men staring woman walking by street

I found this image in an article about why men stare at women and how it’s totally justified and the caption under it was “peaceful single girl” but she doesn’t look peaceful to me, she looks worried and like she really doesn’t want to be stared at so, y’know, case in point.

Here comes the Summer sun.

And with it the looks, the stares, not to mention the hi fives (directed at my arse),

The ever tiresome catcalls, so frequent they

Blend into the background of cars and buses and

Street harassment noise.

The layers removed to head turns and whistles

As jumpers come off and men come on

To women who just want to walk to work.

The gazes are returned with eye rolls or hair flicks or

Tiny tensing shoulder shrugs.

And yet it doesn’t put you off.

Look, I can’t stop you.

And I’m not looking at you…that is

Until I feel your eyes on me and suddenly my arms want to close my shirt

And wrap my scarf tighter around my neck to hide my breasts,

My lips curl in a sneer and my eyes narrow in disgust,

My legs move a little faster as my entire body viscerally reacts to your entitled gaze.

I’m wearing a top and leggings and-

A baggy t-shirt or 

A dress

Jeans and shoes

Make up.

No makeup. 

It shouldn’t matter what I’m wearing.

It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing.

The reaction is always the same.

You don’t have my permission to make me feel undressed

When I am fully clothed in the street.

And yet…

I know some women like it or don’t mind it or don’t say anything even if they hate it.

I know some women want to feel like they’ve still got it, that it’s a compliment, appreciation,

As if they’ve aged so much that they’ve stopped being human

And instead become a piece of meat,

As if self esteem is measured in whistles or length of stares.

As if value and worth depreciate, inversely proportional with age.

But I don’t get dressed in the morning for you.

I don’t show more skin in the summer so you can see it.

I don’t imagine how you’ll react to my body or the clothing around it when I walk down the road

Because I don’t care what you think or want from the women, the strangers who walk past you in the street.

My life, my body, my decisions

Are not about you.

Because I don’t know you. I owe you nothing. You are entitled to nothing of me. And yet you act so entirely entitled.

Look, I can’t stop you looking.

But I would if I could.

If I knew a magic clothing formula to stop you staring I’d probably wear it every day.

Even while I know it shouldn’t be on me – the responsibility to clothe myself “responsibly”, responsively.

I don’t want the attention and no, it’s not arrogance on my part.

I’m attractive, sure but I don’t believe

I’m so beautiful or special.

I just have arms and a

Neck

Breasts

Lips

Eyes

Legs.

I’m a woman. And it is Summer.

Catcalls aren't compliments, they're offensive, and this cartoon explains it beautifully

Image credit: Robot Hugs

On this day…

I have waited a full year to write this post. That is a really long time to wait.

On this day, one year ago exactly I was on my way into work. I had just started my new job in an organisation that requires security at the entrances. I have an ID badge that allows me to go in and out of the building without being stopped.

On this particular March day it was cold and I was running late. I ran to the gate and flashed my badge at the man standing before me, whom I did not recognise, wearing a balaclava over most of his face and a hat pulled down so only his eyes were visible in his large frame.

I flashed my badge and tried to continue at my (admittedly unfit and quite slow) running pace.

An arm came out and stopped me.

“Excuse me, stop there, can I see that badge?”

I stopped and waited, slightly hopping from foot to foot, anxious to get in. I don’t know if you, reader, are a late person but I am. I am constantly battling the passing of time and losing. I am permanently overly optimistic about how much (or rather, how little) time something will take me and I am frequently anywhere from slightly to hugely annoyed with myself for not remembering that traffic lights, traffic, other people, bus stops and public transport problems exist. Oh and of course it takes more than 2 minutes to get to most places.

He held my badge, studied my face carefully and sternly, scrutinised my badge, stared at my face again and a minute later I realised who was standing in front of me – it was the head of security.

“Dude*,” I said (except I didn’t call him *dude, I called him by his name but you know, identity protection). ” What are you doing? You know who I am. You printed my badge.”

“Yeah I know,” he replied. “I just wanted to keep you here to look at you longer because you’re beautiful.”

“Ugh,” I snorted back. I snatched my badge back and quickly walked into work, now that I was allowed to, feeling my skin crawl from his eyes on me watching me walk away.

It bothered me all day. I got on with the business of learning new things about the company, my job, processes, people, politics…but in the back of my mind it nagged. I felt weirdly protective of myself, like a safe space had been violated. The thing is, I wasn’t sure what it was. It was that murky in-between territory. Was it banter? Flirting? He didn’t touch me. But he didn’t have to – I still felt my arms go up around me as if to hug myself.

I talked to a friend about it at lunch and that confirmed it for me – it wasn’t banter. It wasn’t flirting. It was unwarranted, uncalled for, unasked for, permission not requested or given, sexual harrassment.

And on International Women’s Day, of all the ironic days to choose. 

 

 

Get yourself ready because it’s fun facts and statistics time!

1 in 3 American women experience sexual harrassment according to research performed by Cosmopolitan who surveyed 2,235 full-time and part-time female employees aged 18-34 and found that one in three women has experienced sexual harassment at work at some point their lives (OK I know Cosmo isn’t exactly the go-to reliable news source but a poll is a poll guys).

In the UK it’s not better.

“Researchers from the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project found that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes. Among women and girls aged 16-24, the proportion reporting sexual harassment rose to 63%.” – The Guardian, 10.08.2016

So in other words the younger you are, the more naive, the more vulnerable, the less well-equipped you are to deal with something as intimidating as sexual harrassment from someone in authority, the more likely it is to happen to you if you dared to be a girl / woman / female and enter the workplace (or leave the house and walk on the street, but that’s a whole other issue with its own set of depressing statistics. One issue at a time guys.)

I went back to the office after lunch, this time with no hassle because a different person was on the door. That afternoon I had a meeting with one of my managers. We sat and after a few minutes I ummed and errred a bit and eventually said “I’m not sure what this is and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble if it’s nothing but…” and I told him.

He looked horrified, apologised profusely for the behaviour of the person in question and asked me to put it in writing along with 2 other incidents that had made me uncomfortable. Together they formed a picture of a person in a position of authority abusing his position to sexually harrass a young, female new employee. My manager took me seriously, took notes, apologised, assured me it was not in the ethos of the company and offered to walk me into the office for the rest of the week to ensure I felt safe.

I could not have had a better experience reporting this issue and I cannot stress enough how important it is that more women must come forward when things like this happen. I was lucky that it wasn’t someone in a managerial position who was my direct line manager. I was lucky that I had a safe person to report it to, who took me seriously. I was lucky that the organisation is an absolutely glowing example of how we can and should look after employees, treat them equally whatever their gender, sexual orientation or identification, race, background, health or abilities.

It turned out I had opened a can of worms. This person had bothered other young women who worked at this organisation and they started to come forward. Following a separate issue we happened to have a session from a human rights lawyer on employment law and rights in the workplace. We were told that when someone is harrassed and they report it, one of the key things that happens after as a result, is victimisation – further bullying after the harrassment.

My job was made harder. The man in question was so angry that I had reported him and he had been reprimanded. I had asked to remain anonymous but due to the specific nature of the problem and part of his warning in how he should be treating female employees, particularly me, it was unfortunately clear that I had reported him. He began to refuse legitimate requests that I made for things that I needed to do my job. He made it harder for me to do any part of my job that he could have an effect on and he became rude and unpleasant when I had to interact with him. Before I had wanted to avoid him in case he made me feel uncomfortable, now I dreaded every interaction with him.

Eventually, after I made a second complaint and other women in the office came forward with their own complaints against him, he “was reassigned” somewhere else and someone new came in. Things improved and the workplace felt safe again.

When I told a couple of people what happened they asked me why it wasn’t OK to call me beautiful, told me I was overreacting and said that it seems ridiculous that you can’t meet people at work any more.

This is what I said to them:

This is a man in a position of authority – he can, if he wants to, stop me coming into work but he shouldn’t without a valid reason. He can stop any person coming into the building if he feels they are a threat to the security of the people in the building. He stopped me coming in so he could look at me. So he could objectify me. So he could assert his authority over me. Because he thinks I’m beautiful. This is in my place of work, where I come to be professional and do my job. That’s not flattering, it’s controlling and it’s an abuse of his position. That’s not the same as asking me, asking if I want to go for a drink sometime because he’d like to get to know me better. Here’s how that conversation goes:

Him: Hey, I think you’re great and I’d like to get to know you better. Would you like to go for a drink?

Me: No thanks, I’m not really interested in you like that and I prefer to keep my work life professional.

For me, there’s no problem asking once and seeing if you get an answer that is positive, as long as you accept that the answer might be negative.

What’s your battle? Smashing the patriarchy of course

Calling me gorgeous, sexy or beautiful in my workplace reduces me to my physical appearance. And I might be all those things but calling me that where I work undermines my position as a professional and worse, it does so while hiding behind the guise of a compliment or banter, making it harder for me to complain when I feel uncomfortable.

I didn’t overreact. I spoke up when a situation was created to put me in a position of discomfort and take away my voice. I said something when I was made to feel small and vulnerable and I didn’t let the person actually make me feel those things. I made myself bigger and louder and as a result, other women felt they were able to as well. I took more bullying for it but it feels oddly worth it. I led by example, I didn’t back down and in doing so I gave other women permission to speak up for themselves too.

So on this day, International Women’s Day 2017 I ask my fellow awesome women to look after yourselves, look after each other and remember every time you stand up for yourself against something that is sexist and unfair, you smash the patriarchy a tiny bit more.

I can’t find the person to whom I should attribute this quote – if anyone knows who said it please let me know so I can credit them.

 

Boats that Pass in the Day

beautiful-boat

Today in the park I saw the man who raped me.

He was the first man who had sex with me. I don’t phrase it as the first man I had sex with because that makes me sound like I was an active participant and I wasn’t really. And on a warm September day more than 10 years after he raped me, he walked past me. He was with his dad – yep, weird to remember that he has a family and they knew him as a tiny child and his history extends so far beyond how I know him – and I was on my own and there he was. Just…there. He’s not even supposed to be in this country.

I don’t know if he saw me. We walked past each other as if we didn’t know each other, like ships that pass in the night. Or in this case, like boats that pass in the day. But we did know each other. We definitely did.

I’ve been listening to The Archers as they went through Helen and Rob’s trial dealing with domestic abuse. Despite the fact that it’s Helen on trial for the attempted murder of her husband Rob, during the court proceedings it comes out that he raped her on a regular basis. She talks about how she switched off and became numb in the end and something struck a chord. I know that feeling.

I remember being raped like an out of body experience. I don’t remember it happening to me – it’s more like I was hovering above watching as it happened. I remember the conversation and the instructions he gave but I don’t remember….

I remember it not hurting and being confused that it didn’t hurt because the first time is supposed to hurt isn’t it? Why didn’t it hurt? But I don’t remember how it actually felt.

I remember him commanding me to tell him I love him even though I didn’t.

I remember crying after and not knowing why.

I remember but I don’t remember.

He looks exactly the same. I don’t think I do. I don’t feel the same – I can’t possibly look it. I’ve grown outward and upward and inward and in all the directions a person can grow. I have expanded to fit myself in ways that I never thought I would.

Three thoughts went through my head as we walked past each other.

1 – No. That’s him. Why is he here?

2 – Thank God he didn’t see me.

3 – Nothing. I feel nothing.

And after the initial shock it was strangely liberating to know that 10.5 years on, walking past him I felt nothing.

And yet I know on a different day I might have felt something.

On neither of these days would I be able to talk to him. To look at him properly, hear his voice; speak to him without fury and pain and questions that I don’t believe he’d ever answer. I wouldn’t want to meet his eye. I wouldn’t want to try because I don’t believe he’d ever see that what he did was wrong. He remembers it differently. His story will never be, “I raped that 17 year old girl”.

And that’s such a big part of the problem.

One of the other things The Archers dealt with was the shame. The shame of admitting it happened. The thought of talking to my family about it fills me with terror and dread and an intense desire to hide or run away because I don’t want them to carry that knowledge around. I don’t want their picture of me to be this picture of me. It’s not shame for me but the thought of giving them that pain…I couldn’t look at them. They don’t need to be hurt like that. They can’t un-know it once they know.

I didn’t – couldn’t – tell anyone for 8 years because I didn’t acknowledge it myself. And just like Helen in The Archers, I knew it wasn’t right. I didn’t say anything to anyone about it. If I talked about losing my virginity I lied. I said it was when I was 18 over Christmas with the next guy I dated.

I suppose what I want to say is this:

It’s not ok. It is horrible and awful and violating. It’s not ok that it happened to me or to you or to anyone you know.

It’s not ok that I didn’t really know what it was. That I didn’t report it. That I didn’t even know what had happened to report. It’s not ok that when rape is shown on TV or in films it’s nearly always violent and angry and down a back alley. It’s not sneaky and manipulative and on your boyfriend’s bedroom floor. How can we recognise it in reality if we don’t know the most common forms it can take?

It’s not ok that there are men manipulating, taking and violating women. It’s not ok that people like Brock Turner aren’t being punished severely for this because they can swim really well guys so yeah it doesn’t matter how they treat women because whatever it’s just a woman right? Those people are making the world less safe for everyone. They’re doing a disservice to all the men who respectfully don’t go around raping women and then denying responsibility for it after the fact. They’re sullying your reputation and what it means to be a man. And what they’re doing to women is much, much worse.

But I’m ok.

And it’s ok that it took me a long time to acknowledge it.

It’s ok that I didn’t know how to talk about it, that I felt nothing for 8 years because I didn’t allow myself to think about it for that long.

It’s ok that I cry now when someone talks seriously about rape, fictionally, a book, an article, on the radio, in reality…anywhere really.

It’s ok that I find it hard to say that I was raped, that what happened to me was rape, that the man I saw in the park is the rapist who raped me. My mouth sort of gets stuck around the words and they stop in my throat and they choke me a bit but I feel like I have to force them out. It’s hard to say it out loud.

It’s ok that I feel a bit weird when someone talks about the statistics around rape and women because I slot myself into them and I don’t like it but I know I’m there. And there are so many of us. We are an ocean of faces. And those are just the ones on the surface – the ones you can see.

It’s ok that I felt nothing when I walked past him. It’s ok that on a different day I might have felt everything. Because I did my best and I’m always doing my best to deal with it. I’m lucky it doesn’t haunt me every day of my life. But it sneaks up on me and surprises me with its impact sometimes.

I went and sat on the grass in the sun for 45 minutes before I went back to work. Everything carried on as normal around me.

This boat is still afloat, sailing strong and beautiful. Today I am OK.

 

strength-quote

– Rikki Rogers

 

My Chariot Does Not Await

chariot

Bibbety Bobbety No.

 

 

I often feel that I am a bit of a grinch when it comes to feminsim. I spend a lot of my time thinking that although things are progressing, they are not progressing well enough or fast enough for my liking. I have to remind myself on a regular basis that these things take time, more time than they should take, that I must be patient, that equality does not serve everyone’s agenda equally (even though I think those agendas are often terrible and don’t deserve to be served at all). So it is with a heavy sigh and a weary feeling that I write this piece.

Buzzfeed  reported that Uber had an alarmingly high number of sexual assault and rape complaints registered, in an exposé written about internal data and customer safety. The numbers in the below quote from the article are disturbing and scary and no doubt lead to justified fears for female safety.

“In one screenshot, a search query for “sexual assault” returns 6,160 Uber customer support tickets. A search for “rape” returns 5,827 individual tickets. Other variations of the terms yield similarly high returns: A search for “assaulted” shows 3,524 tickets, while “sexually assaulted” returns 382 results.” 

 

So far nothing seems too grinch-like from me right? Buckle up. I’m just getting started.

Michael Pelletz from Boston used to be an Uber driver and was so horrified by the notion that women wouldn’t be safe in Uber that he blew a massive whistle and started a nationwide investigation into each and every claim against drivers for sexual assault and rape.

 

Oh.

No.

Sorry.

My mistake.

He didn’t do that at all.

 

What he has done is created an app called Chariots for Women, a taxi service app that only women and boys under the age of 13 are allowed to use to ensure they get home safely, because all the drivers are female.

 

“What’s wrong with that?” I hear you wondering.

“I AM SO GLAD YOU ASKED LET ME TELL YOU,” I would reply if I weren’t imagining this exchange.

 

1 – Segregation is not the answer. If anything it may make the situation worse. What if I want to or have to or choose to use uber after Chariots for Women is available? What happens if I use uber, and I am assaulted or raped? There is suddenly a narrative created where it’s very easy to say “well, you could have used the ladies one where you wouldn’t have been raped.” Doesn’t that sound disturbingly similar to the classic victim blaming “Here are all the things you could do to not get raped” line of thought? By giving women the choice to use “the dangerous rapey Uber” or “the safe and friendly ladies only one” you put the onus on the women to choose and you condone the behaviour of the people who are raping. Because what is their punishment? Also can you just imagine if someone segregated cabs based on race? Or sexuality? How would we all react to that I wonder?

2- Women also commit crimes. Michael Peletz said that an incident where he thought a shady passenger might be about to pull a gun on him made him wonder if he’s this scared how a woman might feel. And in this Dose article, he is thanked. Why are we thanking him for assuming a man will handle a gun being pulled on him better than a woman? If someone pulls a gun on you while you’re driving, it doesn’t matter what your gender is, you’re probably screwed. It is sexist nonsense to think that a) a woman won’t ever carry a gun IN AMERICA WHERE YOUR GUN LAWS ARE LUDICROUS, and b) that a woman would be more afraid than a man finding out that a passenger has pulled out said gun. Sexist. Nonsense.

3 – Segregation is still not the answer. Taking women away from men wraps us in mystery, like placing us in a tower and calling us princesses. I am not mysterious and I do not want to be held apart from men as some kind of mystifying creature. I do not need to be shut away in a separate room / building / car and protected. I need people to be taught that they must treat women with respect. I need people to have better education on what it means to consent to sex. I need people to stop buying into a narrative where I am, and all women are a temptation that must be removed. I don’t need to be hidden. Women do not need to be removed so a man doesn’t rape us. Men need to control their urges and respect us more and so they don’t rape women. Don’t punish us and call it protection.

 

We still have such a long way to go with acknowledging women’s rights. In the UK, in Northern Ireland, where a woman can be prosecuted for having an abortion. Still. In 2016. We have a 25% pay gap. Still. In 2016. The latest NHS junior doctor contract has basically just decided to make it harder for women to become doctors or at the very least has ensured that sneaky pay gap won’t be going anywhere any time soon in the medical industry.  And don’t even get me started on places like Saudi Arabia – where a woman may not drive, try on clothes in a store or apparently go into an un-segregated Starbucks herself to buy her coffee. Lest she be seen. Lest she be heard. Lest a man cannot control his urges and desires upon knowing a woman is behind a closed, locked door, removing clothes or upon hearing the dulcet tones of a female voice ordering a grande skinny mocha iced latte, extra cream, double blended. They’re right of course. That is just too sexually arousing. I wouldn’t know how to contain myself either.

 

I am so tired of feeling frustrated with a world that does not want to catch up. I am so tired of hearing stories of women who are pushed to the back, who are concealed, who are separated and segregated and told that we must not be seen because if we are, we’ll be in danger. And we’re supposed to be grateful. I’m supposed to be delighted by the fact that I can be separated from men and have my own special woman car service. Am I grateful? Am I fuck.

 

Stop punishing us for being women and start punishing the men who are perpetrating these crimes for being criminals. To draw the racial comparison again – if a white person beats the crap out of a black person, is the black person asked to stay indoors? Or hide? Or somehow make themselves look less black? No. Of course not. And yet with women….

There is no such thing as non-consensual sex. That is called rape. There is consensual sex and there is rape. Sexual assault is a crime. Rape is a crime.  Stop telling the story that women are to blame by hiding us away. Giving us our own special app is not a gift – it’s a cop out that allows rapists to get away with raping. I am not a temptation that just needs to be removed. So can we just stop pretending that we’re doing something good every time we perpetuate the problem of sexual assault and rape being a socially acceptable crime that we pussy foot around and repeatedly don’t deal with?

Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel from 1969-1973 and there was a discussion in parliament about a number of rapes and sexual crimes occurring. There was a suggestion that a curfew should be enforced for women, that to keep them safe they should be indoors by nightfall. Golda Meir famously replied,

 “But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.”

 

Stop punishing women for the crimes that men commit.

 

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And what the shitting hell is with that name? Chariots for Women? Please.

 

22-27: The Last Five Years

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We place a lot of pressure on ourselves to be all sorts of things. The phrase “I should be…” resounds in our heads all too often. It took me a long time and the end of a terrible relationship to realise that I was not happy. I look back at my 22 year old self and I think about the things I would like to tell her. It’s not so much advice as reassurance and some warnings. I suppose it’s mostly a heads up on what to expect, to 22 year old Abi from 27 year old Abi.

 

Your hips will get wider.

Your arse will suddenly appear where previously little to no arse was. Do not be alarmed. It’s a good arse.

You won’t be able to do all nighters any more. You’ll think you can but you’ll get to anywhere between 1 and 4am and suddenly it won’t be worth it and all you’ll want is your bed.

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It won’t be as easy to get back to sleep if you wake up early, regardless of the time you went to sleep. That one will annoy you. Loads.

You still won’t be tidy but you’ll be better than you were. It will continue to be a constant battle.

You will move out…eventually.

On my doorstep

 

 

 

You won’t have to work in an office. I mean, you’ve aged 5 years but you’re not a totally different person. You’ll be resourceful and find work where you can to earn enough money to get by. You won’t be rich…yet.

You won’t be living all your dreams but you’ll be working towards them. You’ll know you’re going to keep doing that, slowly and steadily. It  won’t stress you out that you’re not there yet.

You still won’t have grey hair nor will you be bald. You should probably stop worrying about going bald. It’s really very unlikely.

Gravity already affects your breasts. It’s going to keep doing that. Increasingly so. They’ll still be big. You won’t get a reduction. The great descent will continue. No one else will mind.

You won’t have wrinkles yet but there will be more defined creases when you laugh and smile. Don’t worry. You will love them. You’ll want them to etch themselves deeper into your skin because you’ll only want to keep laughing and smiling.
UnknownYou’ll probably never understand why people don’t want laughter lines. You’ll think they’re little stories of joy in gentle patterns on your face.

You’ll have different friends but they’ll be better and stronger friendships than you could ever have believed. They’ll be filled with laughter, support and love and the kind of acceptance you don’t yet know because you’re 22. They will be wonderful friendships with incredible people and they’ll be a testament to both you and the people you will choose to give parts of yourself to.

You will make better choices all round.

You will still sometimes make terrible choices. You’re not perfect. You never will be. But you’ll no longer be putting pressure on yourself to be perfect.

You won’t care what people think of you. You really won’t. You will feel so entirely liberated by that.

You’ll still be loud but it will be about things that matter. Mostly. Sometimes you’ll still just be loud.

You’ll be able to spend time alone and it won’t feel like you want to panic and run away from yourself.

In fact you’ll really like spending time alone. You’ll relish the peace, space and quiet.

You’ll find romantic trust and love much harder. It will scare you more.

You’ll exercise. Seriously. Believe it.

You’ll have had 3.5 years of therapy and it will have been one of the best decisions you ever made for yourself. You’ll still be going to regular sessions now. Because of it you’ll understand your own mental health much better and you’ll be more open and empathetic towards others.

You’ll have started to understand what it means to be kind to yourself. How to look after yourself and read the signs of when you’re trying to do too much or running from something you want to avoid dealing with.

You’ll be a massive, raging feminist, amongst other things.

You’ll want to help the world. A lot.

You’ll be more politically engaged and educated and interested in the world around you than you ever have been.

You’ll believe very strongly in adoption.

You’ll believe less strongly in religion.

You’ll still believe in God but how you define that God will have changed and probably will continue to change.

You’ll get to 27 and you’ll have never felt more sure of what you think and how to express it.

You’ll get to 27 and you’ll have never felt more beautiful or attractive or wanted, by friends or partners or colleagues – by people in general.

You’ll like yourself – your personality and your body – more than you could ever imagine at 22.

And even though you’ll know it won’t last forever because stuff just happens all the time, right now in this moment, at this age, you’ll be delighted by life.

22 year old Abi. It’s going to be ok. You’ll see. You’ll get there.

And when you do, you won’t believe how wonderful it feels.

You’ll get to 27 and you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been.

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Budget Bullshit and the BBC

http://cartoonsy.com/cartoons/minimum-wage-money-earning-salary-business-680

http://cartoonsy.com/cartoons/minimum-wage-money-earning-salary-business-680

Today my mother gave my number to a woman from the BBC. I got a heads up from my friend who happens to work for my mother. My friend called me, to stop me being blindsided and told me that a woman was going to call me about the budget. I hadn’t been able to see any of the news or updates on it today because work had been particularly busy, but my friend gave me the highlights (or rather, incredibly depressing low points) and then left me to it.

A minute later, I received a text message telling me to call this woman on her direct line. Curious, I did.

I have posted our conversation on my Facebook page so I won’t repost that here, but I will use parts of it to elaborate on what I said to her.

Her unenviable task was to find “a young, single person on minimum wage who is happy about the budget.” I told her I really hadn’t had the chance to look at much about it yet and asked for more information.

The budget George Osborne has presented us with suggests that by 2020 the minimum wage will be up to £9 / hour. It will rise in increments and be at £9 / hour in 2020. The lady at the BBC told me this will match the living wage. This is a false presentation of the living wage, inflation, the economy and the people who are impacted by all these things. The living wage is currently in London, according to  http://www.livingwage.org.uk/calculation £9.15 per hour. The budget is still proposing £9 / hour so even now it’s less than the living wage for a lot of people. But in 2020? Come on. Like George Osborne, I’m no economist, but even I can tell you with my very basic understanding that the living wage WILL ALSO HAVE RISEN IN 2020!

Living-wage

Released 2013/2014.

This means, George and BBC lady, that the living wage will not be matched. Even today’s living wage is not matched in the most densely populated area of the country. To suggest that it will be matched in 2020 is absolute nonsense. It’s economically impossible unless the living wage drops to that amount and that is so very unlikely. People earning much more than minimum wage struggle to pay rent because of property prices rocketing. Everything is getting more expensive, not less. Are either of them suggesting that actually everything is going to get cheaper? I highly doubt that. And changing the name of “minimum wage” to “national living wage” is the cheapest and most shameful move of all. It’s minimum wage by a misleading and sneaky name. The living wage is already something that exists. Raising minimum wage to £7.20 per hour on a national level is still short of the London living wage by £1.95 per hour. Do not be fooled. This is not a living wage.

Wearing her BBC hat, the woman I spoke to is looking to present an entirely false version of this element of the budget. She eventually said there’s a small group of single, young, minimum wage earners who live outside London and will benefit from tax cuts. I asked her how they’d benefit and she didn’t have an answer. She didn’t have an answer because there isn’t one. This budget is not for the minimum wage earner. I’m very lucky that only one of my jobs pays me minimum wage. I have previously written about how I have 4 jobs because nothing quite pays me enough to live on solely. But not everyone is as lucky as I am. And these are the people who are going to “benefit”? Don’t give me that. This government is not for those people and has never been for those people.

Then we talked a bit about the fact that maintenance grants for students are being taken away and incorporated into student loans. So the government is taking away money from people, asking them to be in even higher debt once they enter the work force, then they have the audacity to pretend that they’re making things better? Doing us a favour even. How dare they? And the BBC wants someone to get on our screens and tell the world how it’s a good thing? How. Dare. They. Why don’t you try living on minimum wage for a week or a month or a year? See what happens, then come back to me and tell me how happy you are about this.

I don’t believe everyone is that stupid. I mean, a whole bunch of people voted in a Conservative government as if they thought things would get better, so maybe I’m wrong, but even if I’m not, our government is talking to us as if we are stupid. Our media is treating us as if we are morons. And we are expected to sit there and lap it up. I was informed that there is the idea that news organisations must present balanced reporting but some things simply are not balanced. If our government is not balanced, if our budget is not balanced, how can it be presented as such? That’s not balanced reporting – that’s lying.

This budget is being presented as progress. It’s not progress. It’s the same problem wrapped in shiny new media newspaper. We are going to be in exactly the same boat we’re currently in. There’ll be no proportional difference when it comes to the gap between the minimum living wage and the minimum actual wage. And this woman at the BBC, asking for someone to say they’re happy and it’s a good thing, is part of the problem.

There is not a second side to this story. If you’re earning minimum wage, below the living wage, you’re being shafted. And no one in their right mind is going to be happy about being in that situation. And I’m sorry BBC and lady representing them, but looking for someone to effectively lie on TV makes you just as responsible as the government for keeping us in this state of inequality. You won’t find that person you’re looking for because as soon as someone understands the situation fully, they won’t be happy any more. You’re either looking for someone who is ill informed or rich. If you get someone ill informed well shame on you.  If you get someone rich then they’re so far away from minimum wage it’s laughable that you’d even bother. Either way, what you’re asking for isn’t possible. Once they have all the facts, the person you want doesn’t exist.

The BBC lady told me she didn’t disagree with me and then asked me “But don’t you hope to be earning more than minimum wage by 2020?”

Lady. You don’t know me. You don’t know my abilities. You don’t know my dreams or aspirations or potential. You don’t know my life, my situation or my finances. And frankly, it’s none of your business. You have no right to ask me that question at all and it’s entirely irrelevant to the point of this conversation. All you’ve done is show me how utterly ignorant you are, and shown me how much a part of the problem you are.

Because it’s not just about me. And if you thought for a second you’d realise that. You’re speaking to me because you want me to be the voice of a group. This is a group that includes people who might not ever earn more than minimum wage. There are so many of those people and they are the ones who are going to be most affected by the virtue of nothing changing at all. Their situation will not improve. They’ll theoretically have more money in the bank but they won’t feel richer because they’ll be kept in exactly the same stagnant state. What I want or hope doesn’t matter, because some people are never given the choice or chance to think bigger and better. It is policies like this that ensure that.

Of course I hope to be earning more than minimum wage by 2020. Because no one *hopes* to be earning minimum wage. It’s something you suck up and take because you don’t have other options. Furthermore if I’m not earning minimum wage in 2020 then it doesn’t matter if I’m happy about the increase because it doesn’t affect me in the same way. The whole search for this mythical, budget-positive minimum-wage-earning person is moot.

I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but when are certain branches of the media going to stop helping the government feed us this bullshit and start exposing it instead? I was under the impression that reporting was about telling everyone the reality of what is going on, not enabling the falsehood that everything is OK.

I am not a reporter but let me try to give you the reality: I am absolutely certain that everything is not OK.

 

living_wage

 

 

How I Live (No, Love) My Life

2014-07-29-jobsearch

I work really hard.

I currently have 4 different jobs.
The minimum number of hours I work per week is 33. That is the absolute minimum of my working week and most weeks I actually work closer to 40. I sometimes work up to 50.

 

I love some of what I do. I hate some of what I have to do. Every job has perks, every job has pitfalls. That is the nature of working to earn a living to be part of an imperfect world that functions on money.

I never quite earn enough money because nothing pays me very much. It is one of the pitfalls of the lifestyle I choose to live that my money often fluctuates. I concede that it might actually be more of a reflection on me and my total lack of money management. But unless someone wants to start giving me £70k / year to find out what happens when I have more cash, we’ll never know for sure. (Any takers / givers? No? Didn’t think so.)

We live in a society (capitalist, western) that tells us we must be awake at certain times, asleep at others. It is a world angled towards morning people and not great for night owls. We are told we must work in a certain way, at certain places, we must achieve certain things, even like particular foods and styles. We must conform to be acceptable in the eyes of society. And if that doesn’t work for you? You’d better be prepared to work twice as hard going against the grain.

I’m very lucky that I come from a privileged, middle class background. I have been allowed the time to find what it is that I can do to make myself happy. My parents have mostly been incredibly supportive and understanding during the horrendous periods when I’ve been looking for work.

I tried the more socially accepted route. I really did. I worked in an office for a few months as a temp and though some of the people were lovely and a very good friend of mine worked there too, I was miserable. I was unchallenged, I didn’t care about the work I was doing, I felt no connection to the lifestyle and the possibility of that repetitive drudgery stretching endlessly on in front of me became genuinely too much for me to bear. It made me so incredibly unhappy. I was late almost every morning. It didn’t help that it was winter and I was getting up in the dark, eating lunch inside and then leaving again in the dark. There were no windows where I was sitting. Some days I didn’t see daylight. For me, that is a perfect recipe for sinking into situational depression. And that is what happened.

I was offered another 6 months at the place in a different role. I accepted out of fear and desperation. In the new team, no one spoke to me on my first day. When I arrived, my desk was covered in fluff, dust and some human hair. There was still no daylight anywhere near me.

Unsurprisingly, I left in my first week of that position.

It was the best decision I could have made. I haven’t looked back.

Every so often I get tempted to look at office jobs. Jobs that offer me more money and stability than I have now. Jobs that have more career progression options than I have now. But really, “career progression” is just another way of saying “even more potential money and stability”. And those are actually not things I crave.

21-11-12-anita-how-much-wil-i-need

I’ve noticed a trend among the more conventional of my friends. Caveat: it is well meaning and I know it comes from a good and kind and thoughtful place in their hearts, but I find it incredibly frustrating. They’ll send me a job that has something vaguely related to something I maybe once did, or there might not even be that connection. Without fail it is low paid, or even unpaid internship level. Very, very occasionally it is something that I might legitimately be interested in. But usually it is something completely irrelevant to anything I’ve ever done.

It makes me feel like they see me and think I don’t work hard or don’t work at all.

It makes me feel like they don’t take me seriously, that they look at my life and think it’s a joke or something that needs fixing and that the obvious repair is a stable office job.

It makes me feel like they think childcare and writing and working at a theatre and part time teaching are not legitimate or valuable jobs at all, but are fillers “until she gets a proper job”. It makes me feel like they don’t care or don’t understand that I’ve found a way to balance happiness with the necessity of working. It feels like they want to take that away.

I’ve often thought about looking up completely random, low paid jobs to send back to them with the same accompanying message of “I saw this and thought you might be interested!”

Because their response would then be the same as mine: Why?

When you saw that job, what made you think that I, who have clearly made this choice to live my life in this way, would want to go back to a thing that made me so miserable? Why, when I have not one but FOUR JOBS would you think I’d want one that paid me even less than what I currently earn? Why at 26 years old do you think I’m going to intern for a company I don’t care about doing something I find meaningless? Why on earth do you think I’m worth so little? Do you really think I’m only capable of doing this? Do you know how insulting it is to receive a job suggestion that shows how little you think of me? Why do you see that thing and think of me?

I wonder if these are the same people who see two single human beings and think “Aha! A match!” And try to set them up with literally no regard for either person’s partner requirements. The virtue of being single is enough. Because no one could be happy being single. And no one could be happy outside of the 9am-6pm office life.

There are so many ways to choose to live. I’m not motivated by money. I don’t care about it. I use it because I have to. I earn it because I have to. There is value to it beyond the literal number on the note or coin – financial independence is a huge milestone in a person’s life. But it does not fuel or excite me. It does not make me feel like I’ve achieved something when I’ve earned money. I do not feel like my worth is measured by my bank balance. Far, far from it. I am still finding my way in this choice but in terms of how I choose to live, the thing that’s important to me is my happiness. It’s not as selfish as it sounds – I often achieve that happiness by doing things for other people, looking after them, doing worthy and good things with my time and money.

Sitting in an office strikes me as not worthy, not good and not worth my time or the pittance money I’d be paid. It doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t give me time to follow my passion of writing. It doesn’t allow me even basic things like the privilege of lots of daylight. I love the freedom I have. I manage my own time. And I’m not that far away from saving up a bit of cash, buying a ticket somewhere and going to see the world. I think the life I choose to live means I’m a few steps closer to being able to do that than if I worked in an office, if only because of the attitude that I have when it comes to my freedom. I have nothing tying me down. And I love it.

I often feel that my lifestyle is judged harshly by the more conventional people I know.

To those people I say this: I work incredibly hard. I work long days doing some things you could do and some things you couldn’t. I work with passion and enthusiasm and it is sometimes only bearable and other times downright joyful. I relish the difference and lack of routine between my days. I am never bored. A good friend of mine says “stay busy, stay happy” – I am busy. I am so very happy.

Yours is not the only way to live a life. Nor is mine. You might love your security or money or routine. That’s great for you. I love my life. I don’t judge you based on your motivation.

So please. Don’t judge me on mine.

 

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Chicago comedy, being offended and Frankie Boyle

 

open-mic-levi

 

So it’s my first day in Chicago. I’ve landed and already picked up a middle aged Welsh guy as my new best friend. I’ve not eaten enough, I’ve been awake for 21 hours and I’m jetlagged like nobody’s business. I needed something to keep me awake for the evening and after going for a walk, buying the standard toiletries I forgot to bring (toothpaste. It’s always toothpaste) I decided the only smart thing to do was to find an open mic night in the city that is home to some of the greatest comedy stages on earth.

 

I read an article in time out that listed the top 10 open mic nights and I went along. It was pretty quiet, nothing too fancy and seemed fine for what I wanted – something light enough to occupy my brain and stop me from falling asleep and waking up at 5am the next day.

 

I did my set and it was fine but a couple of people after me there was a woman called Bridget who seemed to be in her late 30s, maybe early 40s. She did a set that made me feel really uncomfortable. She stood up and I promise, verbatim she said

 

“I hate the Jews. Don’t you just hate the Jews? They just celebrated 70 years of the holocaust. IT HAPPENED 70 YEARS AGO WHY CAN’T YOU JUST GET OVER IT ALREADY? They don’t shut up about it. And 70 years ago they keep going on about how 6 million of them were killed or whatever – that was ages ago! You’d think there’d be more of them already!”

 

Now this didn’t get laughs and there was a feeling of awkwardness in the room and she eventually asked “What? Why aren’t you laughing? Is one of you Jewish or something?”

 

So I replied saying, “I am.”

 

And she stared at me and said “What? Are you offended?”

 

I opened my mouth and said, “I’m not offended but I am disgusted.”

 

And she faltered for a second and then told me to get over it.

 

I’m not sure if I did the right thing or not. A woman was literally standing there saying how much she hated me, my family, my friends, my community…an entire race of people. I don’t know if there is a right way to respond to that. On the one hand, she’s entitled to her opinions, free speech exists for a reason and whether I agree with her or not is irrelevant. That’s the beauty of the free world.

 

But I don’t think it is OK to stand on a stage and declare your baseless hatred for a group of people and then mock the greatest tragedy in their recent history. I don’t think that’s acceptable. And it’s not because it’s offensive.

 

I recently discussed this with an academic whom I greatly admire – being offended is a total waste of time. It doesn’t make you seem more intelligent and it’s not a valid argument in a conversation. To be honest, it feels a bit pompous, like hot air and ruffled feathers. You have the right to be offended, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a lazy way of articulating a feeling of affront. I feel like people say that something is offensive when what they really mean is they think it’s wrong but don’t want to take the time to explain why. Something offensive might be said because someone is ignorant and don’t know better, or because they want a reaction for attention or because they just don’t care about anyone else. But getting offended doesn’t teach that person anything.

 

Bridget disgusted me but she didn’t offend me. I didn’t sit there thinking, “Well I absolutely never, how dare she?”

I sat there thinking “I wonder if she realizes that what she’s saying isn’t acceptable? I wonder if she’s thought about whether anyone in the audience is Jewish? I wonder if she cares. I wonder why she thinks these things about people she doesn’t know.”

 

I don’t have a generalized opinion about any group. I don’t presume to think I can cast a judgment on anyone like that. It doesn’t feel right to me. I can’t make my brain think like that. But some people appear to be completely filled with baseless dislike and hatred and more than anything that saddens me. Imagine what life must be like viewed through those eyes.

 

I also found that I’ve learned something from this experience. I’ve always wondered what shock comedians like Frankie Boyle are trying to prove. He seems to hate everything and everyone. He makes jokes about anything. But really that’s it – he makes jokes. They’re carefully crafted and they poke fun at things but it’s really just fun. This woman had no craft behind what she was saying. She hadn’t structured her thoughts to say something funny. The only actual joke in there was that she’d said “celebrated” instead of “commemorated” about the holocaust. She must have been so pleased with herself to come up with something so entirely intellectual.

 

I’m very lucky. I have rarely felt like I am in the presence of anti-Semitism. But last night, for one of the few times in my life, I really felt it. I think we in the UK on the comedy scene are incredibly lucky and we don’t even know it. I truly believe that if someone in London got up and baselessly said they hated a specific religious group or a nationality, not in a character or with any real joke to make, they would be asked to leave the stage. The comperes I am lucky to know and have experienced wouldn’t let it happen. I’ve seen a lot of comedy in London and in Edinburgh and it really doesn’t seem to happen.

 

So thanks Bridget. Your anti-Semitism didn’t offend me. Your anti-Semitism made me appreciate how lucky I am, how good I have it, how excellent the people I’m surrounded by are, and what it is that Frankie Boyle does. I am not offended by you. I pity you.

 

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