Wait For It

I’m going to say something controversial now: job-hunting sucks.

Looking for a job, the whole painful process of unemployment, is a relentless fight to retain some semblance of ego. Truly nothing takes the same toll on your self-esteem. It makes romantic rejection seem like a trip to Disney World: sure, ‘It’s A Small World’ is going to make you loopy by even the second play, but you can always hug adults dressed like cartoon characters for comfort.

Every tip about the job searching process contradicts another: stand out but not too much, blog to show off your writing skills but don’t write about this or this or this, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of but take whatever opportunities you can get.

Most of your efforts go unrewarded, potentially even unread. You spend 50% of your energy crafting applications that walk the line between “I’m different and exciting” and “I will fit into any team”, and the other 50% is used up trying to convince yourself that you’re employable. I find myself vacillating between adamant confidence that I’m a hard-working, intelligent wunderkind and believing that I’m a useless good-for-nothing. (The ratio tips ever more towards the latter, unsurprisingly.)

On a recent day off, I went to support my running club at a track event and during the day, a thirteen-year-old girl I train with/ trail behind asked me about my job because she wanted to get one (that pocket money just ain’t cutting it for her). If you aren’t familiar with what failure feels like, check in with the smaller humans who look up at you like you’re in charge, like you’re supposed to have it together, because those eyes read like, “Girl, I’m in Year 9 and I know where my next pay packet’s coming from!”

At one point, a position with Dream Job™ potential came along. I worked my little cottons off to perfect my application, pouring an abundance of time and heart into it in the hope that this would be The One. It was the first job I got genuinely excited about, the one that I opened up about to friends and family, all of whom reassured me I was perfect for it. Even the stranger I was stuck on a coach with for eleven hours insisted I was perfect for it (and she knows me better than anyone).

I started to believe it. I built it up in my head.

I didn’t even get an interview. Instead, they sent me a vaguely encouraging rejection email and I pretended it didn’t matter after all.

When enough applications have been floated out into the ether never to be heard from again, rejection can feel like a comfort. It’s closure. That message read as heartfelt and personal. “Try again in the future” was better than being job-ghosted. I later discovered that the company had sent the same email, word-for-word, to a friend of mine.

The Gmail account I set up specifically for professional use has become my tormentor. Now I gotta, I gotta inbox full of rejection (to the tune of Natasha Bedingfield’s ‘Pocket Full of Sunshine’, FYI). I can log in anytime I like just to feel bad about myself. It’s a quiet wasteland only occasionally disturbed by the entrance of a lone cowboy to the theme music from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’; that worn, old cowboy will shoot a couple of holes into my ego and then ride on. On one hand, it’s nice to see somebody, anybody, but on the other, those bullets hurt, man!

Quick bounce back on Kennedy these days, though. I blast the Hamilton soundtrack and knuckle down in search of my next opportunity (“I am inimitable! I am an original!”). It’s this relentlessness that’s perhaps toughest of all. There’s no free time because there’s no work time. Every second that I’m not sat browsing Indeed.com or rewording my CV to cater to every demand of the latest position that pops up, I feel like I should be. I haven’t been relaxed enough to read a book for weeks. I love a good cover-to-cover reading sesh but a few hours not spent producing something, not grinding out another boastful yet genial covering letter? How indulgent.

I have to imagine my future self reading this post and calling Debbie Downer on all of it. Her inbox is a happier place: opportunity, acceptance, accomplishment. She can plan for trips on aeroplanes and shop for her friend’s Christmas presents with unconstrained generosity. She is exhausted at the end of the day. Her time is hers; it’s evenly divided between friends, TV, runs and reading without a nagging feeling in the back of her mind.

She’s great.

I can’t wait for you to meet her.

 

My Final Exam

You can almost hear the music building to its crescendo as the audience looks on in rapture, a voice in third row squawking, “This dragged on a couple of years too long!” Well, shut up, Barbara! We all make mistakes. We all spent two years on a course we hated before eventually deciding to follow our dreams! Okay, Barbara! Anyone? Didn’t we?

Damn it, she left. Maybe she left to follow her own dreams.

Back to me. As I anticipate the end of my academic life, it has come time to take the last exam I will ever sit. Unless I decide to learn to drive. Or earn another qualification. Or get a job that involves tests of any kind. As I’m writing this, it’s beginning to occur to me that this might not actually be my last exam. Nevermind. I shall celebrate like it is. I will dance around to Catch Your Dream (“it’s not enough to simply catch your dream, you gotta grab your dream and then you catch your dream’s dream!”) as confetti cannons explode from every corner of the room.

Currently, I am still doggy-paddling through this sewage tunnel of revision so my mood lacks the jubilance that I have foreseen. My history with exams has always been somewhat difficult. I feel like you do far more work than will ever be appreciated and it’s largely a matter of luck with the questions. At school, I was terrible at exams. My memory is atrocious so revision does little to help me and, with that in mind, my attention span is like that of a five-year-old who just ate their own weight in blue Smarties. School exams were always about remembering things, it seemed to me. I would fill out those fun little forms, taking up as much space as I could with my tiny handwriting so that I could enjoy the satisfaction of asking for more paper, thinking that my big ideas were far beyond the small-minded cretins who were marking GCSE science papers. Hey buddy, you know where you can shove your laws of physics? I’ll give you a clue: it would defy gravity.

I feel that they sensed my beef and marked accordingly. I loved school but hated being marked. This was probably a contributing factor in my Irish dancing competition breakdown. You know what they say, breakdance not down.

University was a little better. It seemed less a memory game and more about the construction of arguments. Nail the formula and you can get by, even when memory fails (which, reliably, it will). While my exam results are usually still lower than my coursework marks, I’ve found a groove. What a ride it’s been. There’ve been highs (that one A* in R.E. back in ’08, no biggie), there’ve been lows (CLASSIFIED), but all in all it’s been a mildly traumatic and terrible experience. You know, I’ll almost miss those quiet cough-offs, the gentle footstep of the approaching invigilator, the comprehensive study of the back of a classmate’s head, the anticipation of your row being dismissed and, let’s not forget, that moment when you get outside and urgently discuss all of the answers, realising that you failed 90% of it based on your friends’ comments.

Yes, I’ll have to savour every moment. Soon I’ll be looking back, wistfully remembering that moustachioed invigilator with such fondness that my heart will leap out of my chest. “Oh, Brian, if only I could ask you to save me from my inkless pen catastrophe one more time…”

2014 Progress Report

I’m okay. Are you okay?

So far my year has been entirely consumed by January exams and two bastard assignments. One assignment was as painful as if each word was drawing ink from my blood, à la Harry Potter. The other was (and don’t tell anybody this!) rather enjoyable – HP versus Twilight: the showdown, as I am referring to it. The exams, though, were both a nightmare. These assessments were so stressful that it put rather a dampener on the Christmas period for me, and made January more enjoyable than December because, really, the anticipation is far worse than the event. I hope T.S. Eliot feels bad about this whole sorry business to be honest. Now I have one of those bad boys out of the way, and another imminent.

Also in Jan: I crammed in a bunch of pre-revision treats, frequenting Prezzo like the pasta fiend that I am. My wonderful, heaven-sent best friend landed us HAIM tickets for a relatively small venue – the kind that they’ll probably not be playing for much longer. And I bought myself makeup treats, my favourite kind of treats, to counteract the revision struggle. Pass or fail, I have some beautiful Real Techniques brushes now so I think I carpe’d the shit out of that diem.

Thankfully, we are hastily nearing the end of the assessment fest and February beckons. February, in all its short and romantic glory, is coming to my rescue. We start new, much more appealing units (i.e. no modernism) and I get to go out, do things, see people. One of the worst aspects of the relentless reading, researching, writing and revising spiral has been my loss of fitness. I have only been running once a week, for the Saturday Parkrun, rather than 2-3 times, and I have really felt the difference. My “motivational” snacking added to the lack of exercise does not make for a healthy equation. I’m very much looking forward to getting back into my usual routine. This hermit-esque revision behaviour is really not a fun way of life, I gotta tell you. I think, also, I’m going to buy myself a new leather jacket and that in itself will give me a whole new lease of life, I’m sure. Fingers crossed anyway.

So, all in all, January’s been fine, February’s going to be chill, March’ll be HAIMtastic and in April, we’ll hopefully see the elusive sun again. I am feeling pretty darn positive about the beginning of the new year.

The Deep End is Really Deep

Just over a year ago, I made a Big Scary Life Decision. Do I stick with the course that I am unhappy on, or do I move past my overwhelming fear of change and transfer to English? After a horrible period of will-she-won’t-she (the one-woman version of Ross and Rachel), I did it. I talked a little more about this in my first post but, ever since then, everything that’s happened has only confirmed it to be the absolute right choice. This week any remaining doubt I had was obliterated.

In the middle of August I headed off to London, for some very ‘citing work experience. Two weeks at the TV Times. Not bad, not bad. I was in equal parts thrilled and nervous about the opportunity. I love TV (more than is socially acceptable) and I love writing. This could work… right?

During my two weeks, I had the chance to do a real variety of writery things. One thing that I really sensed from the people I was working with was that they really wanted to give me great experience. It wasn’t a matter of bringing me in to do all the little jobs that they didn’t want to; at least, that’s not how it felt. Even writing a transcript of an interview felt valuable because I was learning about the interview process, the kinds of questions they like to ask. It was in the second week, though, that I was given something that I could really sink my teeth into.

On Tuesday (Day 7) I was invited to a screening of a new BBC show, Peaky Blinders, the following evening. There would be a panel afterwards, with Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Otto Bathurst and Steven Knight. I was to take my cassette dictaphone (old school) and get some quotes for a feature I would later write. A couple of hours before I left for said screening, an interview with Helen McCrory the following day was thrown into the mix. It was one-to-one and face-to-face. Do-you-need-more-hyphens? You should know, prior to this, I had never interviewed anybody. I’ve never been very good at putting myself forward for things, but it was a matter of being given a task and wanting to do it to the best of my ability. It all happened very fast.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the screening and there was some really interesting discussion at the panel. Afterwards, I immediately began throwing together a list of questions that I thought would make for a good interview, before emailing them very late that night to my boss. It was really exciting to have so much freedom. While there was certainly a little input from him on the questions, it was very much my interview. The next morning, I found out details of the interview. I was given a half an hour slot. Now, just to make clear how long an amount of time that is, let me list some things you can do in half an hour: watch an entire episode of a soap of your choosing, make one of Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals (probably not, but still), learn Cups, load The Sims, watch just the good bits of any romantic comedy twice over, go on a shopping spree with me, listen to the Firefly theme song 34 and a half times.

The interview itself, while daunting, went relatively well. I’m still alive and there’s no restraining order in place. I call that a win. Helen McCrory was probably the best first interviewee I could hope for: patient, intelligent, interesting and passionate about the project she was promoting. We ended up talking a lot about female roles on television, which is something that I have a particular interest in so I enjoyed that. I think it also helped that my enthusiasm about Peaky Blinders was so genuine. I can honestly say I’ve not enjoyed watching a new series so much since The Hour. The cinematography is outstanding, and the actors make up a compelling ensemble. Watch it, you know you want to.

Gone are the days when getting the milk/coffee/water ratio correct and answering phones are the scariest aspects of work experience. And now look…

Summer Ain’t All That

Can we start by addressing how redundant that apostrophe is? I mean, really! It’s not even close to being an actual abbreviation. Let’s be economic about our punctuation use, no?

Let’s move on. I’m a few weeks into my summer holiday now. I spent the final few weeks of term time filled with exam-induced anxiety, dreaming of the imminent calm of my summer calendar. Frankly, anything was more appealing than the relentless stress of May. May is the worst. Everything comes at once: exams, season finales, birthdays. Even the nice things are tarnished by their May-ness (I’m sorry, Mum’s birthday, even you). I don’t think I slept well for a month. Do you know what I’m like when I don’t sleep? If you do, call the helpline: 0800-IM-SORRY.

I just needed June to take away my pain. Oh June, what a huge disappointment you’ve been. I believed in you. I believed in us. I can’t even look at you right now. I’m too mad. No, not mad. Disappointed.

The post-exam period is an odd one. I frequently find myself waking up with a confused feeling of urgency, as though panicked by a lack of stress. That is somehow stressful to me. I understand nothing. It’s a very sudden change in my day-to-day schedule. I knew it was coming. It’s annual. But why does it just feel like I’m drifting? Oddly (or maybe not), I find myself missing uni. All of my friends have gone back home so it’s difficult to make social plans that don’t cost the earth. Creatively, I find myself struggling with a severe case of blank-page-a-phobia. I mean, those Word documents are so white. It’s blinding. Do you remember that episode of Friends when Ross has luminous teeth? It’s like that. Except worse. This was not the plan.

I’m hoping the weather improves as we get further into the summer because right now it seems like the sky is crying over my lack of productivity. It better do, I’ve organised a party that involves camping. I am barely okay with that in dry weather.  I live in a tourist town as well, so it just looks really sad. It looks unloved, like an impulse-bought hamster. On the bright side, the weather’s been so bad that my hermit-tendencies have gone relatively unnoticed. I don’t know what I want anymore. Yes, I do: productivity. That was a pipedream. That was folly.

Anyway, back to my novel…

Election Night

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In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week… no, scratch that… the past year, you may have been hearing a little about the election. The United States of America has a brand new the same President. Nice guy, funny guy, married to Michelle Obama.

Yes, despite the hopes and dreams of the most “Fair and Balanced” news network there is, President Barack Obama has four more years.

I spent Election Night (more dramatic when capitalised) producing four hours of radio coverage for my uni with my best friend, Hannah. Now, my university is in the UK, so not everyone was in the know when it came to electoral math, the candidates’ policies or, indeed, anything to do with American politics. Hannah and I quickly realised that we may well be the most informed pair on our team (little worrying). Thus, our job for the night was to make our on-air presenters sound like the most informed pair. And we did it well. A particular highlight was when we prepared an interview for Dr. Libby Lewis on women in politics, allowing us both to ask questions we truly wanted the answers to.

Libby Lewis is an academic whose research focuses on the mainstream media’s representation of women in power. We asked her about the focus on women’s issues in this election, public interest in the appearance and fashion sense of female politicians, the varying approaches to the role of First Lady, and how the media presents female politicians, with particular reference to Hillary Clinton as a potential presidential candidate for 2016. Her responses were engaging, interesting and, a lot of the time, inspiring. Just another person for us to fangirl, quite honestly.

As the night went on, the results became our focus as states started being called.  My memories from the early hours mostly involve pacing corridors muttering, “Ohio or Florida, Ohio or Florida, Ohio or Florida… they gotta get called soon…” We may well have gone all the way ‘round the bend and back again! The survival of our sanity must be credited to the one and only Nate Silver. He’s been getting a lot of credit but truly, in the words of Jon Stewart: “LORD AND GOD OF THE ALGORITHM!” We were just repeatedly going between our FiveThirtyEight tab to the HuffPo electoral map.

When it came to it, neither Ohio nor Florida mattered much. In the case of Florida, that’s a huge relief because we may still be awake and waiting for a concession speech now. Obama’s win was a strong one. The result came in at 4.20am our time, ten minutes before our radio show was due back on air (we did two two-hour shows).

Now it’s four days later. The campaigns are over, the Romney Facebook page has begun its rapid descent and Ohioans can finally leave their houses again. So what’s next?

To take a look at the next four years beyond the job of President, I turn my attention to the other landmarks of the 2012 Election: the first openly gay senator was elected, the first disabled female veteran was elected to congress, Massachusetts elected its first female senator, the first Hindu woman was elected to the Senate, the first states have legalised recreational marijuana, Akin and Mourdock both lost their senate races, Maine, Maryland and Washington all voted in favour of gay marriage with Minnesota rejecting a measure to ban it, and New Hampshire will have an all-female congressional delegation. Long list? I should hope so too. And there are more.

Keep moving FORWARD.

Transition

A new academic year, a brand new blog. Yes, I’m Bridget Jones today, hiya.

I wanted to cover a topic that I’ve seen discussed quite a bit lately: university life. On vlogs and blogs, from friends and strangers, there has been talk of freshers and work and the pressure to fit in with the university way of life. And, god, is there pressure to fit in. Not to conform necessarily, but to be a person that other people can accept. It’s so not my forte.

I’m a little bit a lot weird. Evidence my point? Okay. I talk excessively about my obsession with fictional White House staffers. I like my socks to have animal patterns. I imagine cars to have faces. When lecturers include pictures of politicians from the first half of the 20th century in their powerpoint presentations, I often mutter to the person next to me, “He can get it”.

To the people reading this, all weird in your own ways I would hope, don’t alter your quirks. They are yours and when you lose those little things, strange as it may sound, it is everything. Let me explain.

I’m currently in the first term of my first year as an English student at Bournemouth University, though I wouldn’t call myself a fresher. In May of this year, I was taking my second year exams for Event Management. Over the course of those two years, I became increasingly depressed, with a side order of insomnia. I was desperately unhappy for so many reasons, the biggest of which was loneliness.

I was good at my course. I worked hard. I finished the second year with a high 2:1. However, the overwhelming number of group work assignments meant that I was often left carrying the load of four people. Added to that, the general profile of my fellow students was so at odds with my own personality that I struggled to find friends, and my sobriety made me a social pariah. I was acting like a distorted version of myself, because I felt that I couldn’t be me. Nevertheless, I coped relatively well in the first year. I kept my head down, I got the grades and no one questioned it. I couldn’t accept the idea of quitting or failing. A conversation I’d had with my father on A-Level results day was always at the front of my mind. He’d told me I was the first person in his family to go to university, and he was so proud. My desire to justify that pride tortured me.

At the beginning of my second year, concerns that I had previously been able to keep at bay became overwhelming. I was so deeply depressed that I didn’t want to leave the house. To make matters worse, I wasn’t sleeping at night. Right up until Christmas, the rest of the world was still relatively oblivious. People I was working in groups with probably thought I was just very highly strung, but other than that no one knew anything. I would go to my lectures and seminars, reluctantly, do what I had to and rush home to cry in my bedroom every single day. I felt pathetic. In January or February time, my façade began to fracture when I burst into tears in my mum’s office.

I don’t cry in front of people. It’s not a thing I do. This was the first time my mum had seen me get upset in years, and she didn’t seem to know what to do with me. Afterwards, I brushed it under the carpet.

Nothing happened again until May. Between my first and last exam, I fell apart. During another sleepless night, I had a light bulb moment. This is going to sound like a bizarre thing to make life-changing decisions over, but it was this quote from Bradley Whitford’s commencement speech:

 “Fall in love with the process and the results will follow. You’ve got to want to do whatever you want to do more than you want to be whatever you want to be. Want to write more than you want to be a writer, want to heal more than you want to be a doctor, want to teach more than you want to be a teacher, want to serve more than you want to be a politician. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy in the journey.”

For some reason, it took me until then to actually identify how deeply unhappy the course was making me and how lonely I was. The pressures of two years of work, two years of finances and the screaming thought of, “What the hell do I do if I’m not doing this?!” made it hard to accept that my degree was wrong for me. I knew in my heart I wanted to be studying English; the process of writing was what I loved. In fact, recreationally I was writing more than ever during this time. It was my escape for so many months.

The conversations with my parents were incredibly emotional, as was that whole period of my life. With the support of my best friend, I pursued the application to transfer courses within the university. I completely believe that everything that it meant to me translated onto the page of my personal statement, and that’s what did it.

Now, here I am. I’m an English student. I really like the people on my course. The fact that I’m weird doesn’t seem to bother people so much here. I mean, I still live in the real world so I can’t be as Lorelai Gilmore as I’d like (pop culture references that people don’t get just result in awkward moments), but I’m happy.

Ultimately, what I’m saying is: changing courses isn’t easy, but it isn’t quitting. If you are unhappy, address it. Until you do, it won’t go away. In my experience, denial just breeds further unhappiness. And you deserve to be happy. Your journey at university should be an enjoyable one.

Open up and be a little cray; it’ll lighten the load.