A few weeks ago, I had a Bridget Jones moment. I know you know what I mean; we all have them.
Those times when all you want to do is sit in front of the telly wrapped up in your duvet, while you eat ice cream and drink far too much wine. Not exactly a healthy activity for a solitary young woman who has recently, undeniably, joined the “mid-twenties” club. There’s that overwhelming despair at being alone and the frantic worry that, given your recent track record, you might be alone for a very long time.
This wasn’t exactly helped by this Christmas-round-robin-gone-viral from a successful, happy looking young American family, which makes most of my 2013 accomplishments seem a little dull.
This video got me thinking. I stopped moping and started writing. My piece was published two days before Christmas on the wonderful Aliljoy.com.
Although Christmas has now come and gone, the blues sadly returns. Maybe that’s because you can deny the end of the festive season no longer and must return to work-work-work (yesterday was the last day of Christmas and the first day of work for most people), or maybe because, like me, being at home-home over Christmas was actually really fun, and London seems a little lonely by comparison. Actually, it’s probably both, combined with the lengthy sessions of Christmas boozing and a mild health problem after all the food.
Personification is one of those literary devices we learn about early on, like similes and alliteration. It’s just a word we use to describe other words, and most people won’t use it after they escape the hellhole that was GCSE English Literature.
But as I looked out from the train this evening, over the last sunset of the year, I couldn’t help noticing the beauty in the mix of colours. It was a fleeting moment: the cloud would dissipate, the sun would set and it would soon be over, just like this year. Every experience this year has provoked a broad array of feelings in me, and no single experience has been permanent.
It’s almost undeniable that we project our feelings onto our surroundings. The weather is not responding to human happenings, nor is it creating a particular ambiance for us. We hate the rain when we’re feeling low, because it brings us down further. But we love the sound of a storm howling outside if we’re wrapped up, safe and dry, indoors by the fire. I find that walking through the rain when I’m feeling strong and content in myself makes my heart race, I feel healthy and more alive than ever.
We don’t have to read anything into the weather, we can choose not to – I suspect many victims of the storms this Christmas would far sooner forget them than remember the damage and disruption to their family homes.
But sometimes it’s interesting to take note of your surroundings – it often helps me to identify how I feel in a particular moment.
Today’s sunset will help me remember the past year for something beautiful, despite all the trying moments of difficulty and pain.
I’ve reached the end of the year feeling a little lost. I’ve let myself get comfortable in what I am doing right now, which is unfamiliar territory for me and therefore a little unnerving. It’s times like these we need a reminder of what we’ve achieved, what we’ve weathered and what we’ve enjoyed. Looking over and really considering the past helps me work out what the next step could be. Thinking about what I hated, loved or could have done better in the past helps me work out what I want next: what I want to do and what I want to be. Only one thing remains firm in my mind: I have no regrets and no guilt.
2k13 has been a hectic, unpredictable and somewhat scary year for me. It’s been full of surprises, changes and challenges, but I have met all head-on and enjoyed the ride.
Thinking now about measuring my year, such a thing poses all sorts of issues. How do you measure a year? The characters of Rent advise us to measure our lives in love. I have fallen in love countless times, had my heart trampled a little and broken at least one heart (and for that I am sorry). But that’s pretty inconclusive.
If I wanted to represent my year on a graph or chart, I’d need figures with a fairly high numerical value, so I might attempt to measure my life in cups of tea or units of alcohol consumed, minutes spent exercising or orgasms. That’s straight up impersonal, but the personal things that come in smaller numbers – like hairstyles, boyfriends, births or deaths – don’t quite cut it either.
What makes life fun is the stories that come with the experiences. This year doesn’t boil down to highlights, so here’s my year in numbers:
9. Nine in a boat:
I competed in BUCS Head at Boston in February, in a Women’s Beginners 8 with Royal Holloway Boat Club. We came 23rd, coming in at 11:25.9 – a minute faster than our boys. It was my first and only race, and only our second outing on the water as a team (remember the floods, this time last year?) The eight of us pulled together really well, and I will always remember it fondly, despite the immense pain and Faye’s piercing scream. We can’t be forgetting our cox and the new Women’s captain, Jenny. That makes nine.
8. I have lived in eight homes:
The family home in Norwich where I started my year, but won’t be ending it;
My drafty but impressively huge turret room in Founders at Royal Holloway;
A cold little spare room at 41 Harvest Road, where I learnt to cook bacon and watched Lost every evening while spending days in the library (re-)writing my dissertation;
Sian’s empty room at 41 North Street, where I did Michael Caine impressions with James and got burnt while sunbathing in the garden, two minutes from my workplace;
My family came to see me graduate while I was living at The Fungalow, where I sheltered from the heat-wave with great friends and hid from an angry Greek housemate;
Fifteen of us spent three weeks in a five bedroom flat on Melville Terrace, Edinburgh, where I shared a bed with a new best friend, and had the time of my life at the Fringe;
My sister put me up at her student house on Gellatly road, for my first two weeks working in London;
I moved into Maryland Road one lunchbreak in early November, with just a camp bed and one big bag, but now, sharing with four lovely geeks, I’ve made it home.
7. I’ve been inspired (and surprised) by seven friends, all of whom I feel closer to now than a year ago:
Bella has become one of my most trusted friends in the past year. We worked together at Unique Fruit every week for months, but we got to know each other much better when, as the costume mistress for Rope, Bella did my hair (beautifully) every night for a few days. Bella and I became very close throughout our Edinburgh experiences, creating Australian alteregos Patsy and Ruth on a particularly memorable evening. We have laughed a lot, shared secrets and supported one another ever since. May 2k14 bring more please!
I barely knew James this time last year, but his generosity, humour and good advice have been timed perfectly. James invited me to stay with him when I needed a home for a few weeks and was a very amusing host. The last time I saw him he said just the right thing to get my brain whirring with ambition once again.
Although I rarely get to see her, Nadia is possibly the most relaxed friend I have (not only because she’s a Canadian) and her presence (in the UK in July, and over Skype whenever I need her) always has a calming and reassuring effect upon me. She’s the least judgmental person in my life and I am grateful for her.
My sister in the Women’s boat with RHULBC, Tash not only got me through many a training session, but knew when we finalists needed a wine-filled evening away from our desks, visited us in Edinburgh and appeared, out of the blue, for my birthday. Her timing was impeccable on every occasion, and always seems she has immense faith in me. In turn, I’m always impressed by her determination and dedication to everything she does.
I haven’t seen Nandita once this year, New York City and Chennai both being rather too far from London, but her sense of humour is entirely unique, and we always laugh for hours when we speak on Skype. Nandita said something that has stuck with me since the last time we spoke, something along the lines of “what I love about you is that you don’t care what people think.” Not everyone would agree, but it’s certainly buoyed me up a few times of late.
After graduating on the same day and spending the summer together, Emily’s sarcastic texts and mock-hopelessness about job-hunting helped me through the process more than she could ever know.
Probably the coolest person in my graduating class, and certainly the most interesting poet I know of, Daisy utterly surprised me when she burned me Patti Smith CDs. Not only is she an inspiration in herself, but she helped me be inspired by Land and Banga, and gave me a person to talk it through with. Our texts mainly consist of favourite quotes, mine being: “I have no guilt.”
I consider myself pretty damned lucky to know and have spent time with these seven people in the past year. I hope I can be as uplifting to them as they have been to me.
6. I’ve worked six jobs this year:
I began the year volunteering at Oxfam for three hours every Monday morning, where I sorted and stacked second-hand books for three months, but it was the first thing to go when I pared down my extra-curricular stuff in favour of my dissertation;
I returned to Unique Fruit, my oh so casual job at the weekly university fruit and vegetable market, for a final term this year;
My first full-time job out of university was at the Foresters Arms, a pub in Egham, where the landlord and locals made me feel at home in an instant, but I was gone just as quickly, favouring the world of theatre;
I was Fundraising Officer for Intwothewings Theatre Company, making sure we broke even on our first venture to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival;
The Stationery Office was my first ever office job, and I learnt something new all through the four weeks I worked there;
I am now the dance representative for event listings website Bachtrack.com, writing and commissioning articles and reviews being my favourite bit.
5. I made my first fiver in the world of theatre! I became one of fifteen members of Intwothewings, a new independent theatre company. We received a small grant from the university, but had to make most of the money through fundraising events and hope we would break even on ticket sales. We all put months of hard work and determination into the production, but it paid off – we not only broke even but made enough for everyone to take home £5.
4. I’ve performed in four plays this year: I played Leila Arden in Patrick Hamilton’s Rope (March) and Cecily Cardew in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (June), both RHUL Drama Society productions; I understudied Girl in Intwothewings’ production of Josh King’s A Writer’s Lot (August); and I joined By Jove as ensemble member and choreographer for Pride and Prejudice: the Panto at the Cockpit Theatre (December).
3. I am now writing for three websites: Bachtrack, Aliljoy, my own blog. I’ve written eight reviews and one article for Bachtrack, two articles for Aliljoy, and I’ve been running this blog for five months.
2. I traveled to two cities I’d always wanted to get to know, and got to know them. In May, I spent seven days in Beijing for a student forum, funded by the British Council. I got to know the city through the eyes of the eight Chinese students also participating in the forum, got to explore in a unique way, and got to meet a wide array of different people living and working in Beijing. It was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to going back.
I later spent three weeks in Edinburgh, participating in the Fringe Festival with Intwothewings. Within days I knew my way around the city’s venues, shopping hubs, tourist attractions and bars (and my way home from them). I loved soaking up the good vibes of the city, full of people visiting for the festival, and I just hope I am lucky enough to return in 2014.
My next challenge is to get to grips with London, my new home.
1. I graduated with a first class degree: the major challenge of 2013, the one thing I desperately wanted and doubted my ability to achieve in equal measures. It’s true, I spent five days solid writing 80% of my dissertation, and then three weeks re-writing it after having it dismissed by my supervisor. I managed to write my final English Literature essay on my favourite fictional trilogy His Dark Materials and I spent a lot more time stressing than I did actually writing. The sleepless nights were worth it. I could hardly believe it. I got a first class degree!
It’s impossible to tell where life will take you, and it’s often easy to doubt your ability or resolve to get where you’re going, but of one thing I am sure. What makes life great is the people who inspire you.
My mantra for 2014 is: Keep reading, keep meeting new people, keep searching for inspiration, and never stop challenging yourself.
When I graduated – with a first class degree I might add – I hadn’t really pictured myself working in a big corporate office. But neither had I intended to work full-time at an empty pub, spend several weeks on jobseeker’s allowance and attend a series of godawful interviews. But that’s life – you take the best you can get. So, this is what I got, and this is what I took.
Straight after my final term had ended, I decided I wasn’t ready to go home to Norwich. I would stay in Egham instead. (This had nothing to do with having a minor life crisis and initiating a bad break-up…) During the whole of July I worked at a pub near uni. I’m not going to criticise it too much, but it was one of those jobs in which you can learn everything there is to learn within a week (maybe two) and from there on in, you perfect your pint-pouring technique, watch a lot of tennis/golf/rugby and get the regulars’ drinks ready before they open their mouths. I had fun, at first, speaking to the few people that came to the pub – many of them arrived at the same time day in day out – but I soon felt crowded by their prejudices, ignorance and quite plainly boring conversation.
I distinctly remember one evening when a regular and his wife were talking to the guy’s brother at the bar; the couple had been on a cruise to Southeast Asia. Their description of the one-and-only Raffles Long Bar (Singapore), famously credited for the invention of the Singapore Sling, focused almost entirely on how disgusted they were at the peanut shells on the floor. This is a classic element of the Long Bar experience, emanating the 1920s. People go for a Singapore Sling expecting there to be peanut shells on the floor, in the attempt to live a little bit of the Raffles Hotel heyday. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I actually had to leave the room – and thus the bar, which is not-on for a bartender – to prevent myself either shouting to expose their ignorance, or crying at the futility of it all. The accumulation of moments like this is one of the reasons I left a lot sooner than I had originally told the Landlord. I realised why I had got the job in the first place – to avoid Norwich, not to stay in Egham – and I knew I had had my fill of this level of having a ‘real’ job. I hadn’t got another job, but telling the Landlord I had was the easiest way out of it, if not the wisest or most honest. I hadn’t got a contract and I wasn’t being paid properly – I should say legally – so I didn’t feel too guilty about it.
I then spent an utterly exhilarating, frantic, exhausting – the adjectives go on – month or so in Edinburgh. I had a few days with my coolest friend, Nadia and her Mom, who had come over from Canada for a whistle-stop tour of the UK.
I felt pretty privileged to get to see them to be honest, they were so rushed! The Fringe itself was a hotch-potch of wildness and tiredness and watching a huge amount of good – and a little bit of bad – theatre, dance, music and comedy. Though I haven’t really set those experiences down here, the Fringe was a highlight of my year… and they deserve to be written about when I’ve got the time to do them justice. Which, given the circumstances of the two-and-a-half months since, still isn’t quite yet. Oops.
We all left our Edinburgh house on the morning of Wednesday 21st August. I had a horrible journey home, waiting over an hour after a missed connection. But at least Vicky, Bella and I had got the train together – the vast majority of the others had got the Megabus together. The three of us had it pretty cushty in comparison! We even met a nice older lady, who took this photo and wished us the best in all our future endeavours. It was very sweet really.
After two days at home, the misery had hit. I remember bursting into tears at various mealtimes for absolutely no reason. The Edinburgh blues had hit. I was suddenly miles away from the fourteen people I had lived and laughed with for almost a month. It was made so much worse by being exhausted, poor and without purpose. But I picked myself back up, swallowed my pride, and applied for jobseeker’s.
My job-seeking days were pretty good – it took longer for me to get my CV in order than to find things I felt I wanted to do, for a little while at least. After a rather harrowing job interview experience (that was so bad I have written it it’s own dedicated post), I ended up signing a contract with a recruitment agency. That was on a Friday. The following Tuesday I had an interview, was offered the job on the Wednesday, and began my new job on the Monday. It was a pretty swift process, but clearly they had liked me a lot in the interview.
I had never thought I would take a job answering customers’ queries about the London Gazette and selling printed copies of government legislation and Driving Standards Agency literature. But, alas, I spent several weeks doing just that. I had a fun four weeks at The Stationery Office – I learned a lot, I met some interesting people and it was a great stop gap. I was living at home, not paying rent and getting paid a nice chunk every week, so I felt great about refunding my rather stretched overdraft. However, as my Mum said to my boss-to-be over the phone, this was ‘a job, not THE job’.
THE job was yet to come.
A feminist anthropologist exploring the realities of culture, gender, and sexuality in contemporary Asia