So, Biographies Are Wild

Let me start with this: I have never been a particularly avid reader of biographies. Prior to Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, I can’t recall the last one I read. But all of a sudden, my participation in the Women’s Lives Club’s year of women’s biographies means my bookshelf is raining life stories. (I think I’m going to need a bigger bookshelf.) As a newbie to the world of biographies, I thought I would share my somewhat disorganised thoughts on the topic. More specifically, I wanted to reflect on the immediate intrusiveness I’ve felt in this process. For reasons I’ll attempt to make clear, this sudden immersion into the worlds of other people, as told by different other people, has made me far more distrustful of the form than I ever expected.

To put it bluntly, it seems to involve the total invasion of a person’s existence. Imagine having your story appropriated by someone else. I’d never really considered how insidious that could be. To lose control of the narrative of your own life seems a frightening prospect.

As supplementary reading to the book club, our fearless leader Rachel Syme suggested Writing a Woman’s Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun. In it, Heilbrun references Roland Barthes’ view of biography as offensive because it entails, as Barthes puts it, “a counterfeit integration of the subject.” Heilbrun concurs, suggesting that, “In choosing among biographers and biographies, we choose among counterfeit integrations.”

The biography I’m currently reading for the Women’s Lives Club, The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm, opens on an essay from Ted Hughes that was written as the foreword to The Journals of Sylvia Plath, and in it he says, “I never saw her show her real self to anybody– except, perhaps, in the last three months of her life”. Less than a page in and I was already thrown off-kilter by those words. “Her real self”. It made me think about my “real self”, the idea that anybody has a “real self”, one true identity from which any deviation is just that: a digression from the authentic person. Why can we not be understood as more than one thing? We are more than one “real self”, aren’t we? But can a biography account for that?

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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.

 

2014: A Year in Review

1920336_10152035606485698_205299555_n2014, for me, was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of year. There weren’t any big life-changers. Time just passed me by and before I knew it, we were on the cusp of a new January. Looking back over the events of the year is a happy reminder that it wasn’t all just a waste of time, so allow me to reflect on the last 12 months…

  1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

I went on a little holiday without the parents. It only took 22 years. You quickly realise that within a group of friends, everybody quickly adopts the archetypal family roles in a holiday situation. I think I was probably the dad that no one really listens to and often mocks, but who still gets to sit in the front seat of the car. My friends might argue I was the grumpy teenager but don’t listen to them, they are all known liars. These kids don’t gimme no respect!

  1. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’m not really a new year’s resolutions type of gal, but I definitely went into the year with the hope that I would continue to progress in my running, having run my first 5k on Christmas Day. I can happily say that all of my fitness goals were achieved. I’m training harder than ever and I’ve run nearly 40 races this year. And I won my little trophy for my efforts.

For next year, I have no resolute goals but I would like to keep the running going strong. I hope to run further and faster over the course of the year, with my eyes on a quarter marathon or perhaps even further.

  1. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No.

  1. Did anyone close to you die?

No.

  1. What countries did you visit?

None. I’m rather deficient on the wanderlust. Also quite poor.

  1. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

Given that I’m about to drop off the end of a big ole cliff, finally reaching the end of my degree, a heavy dose of confidence wouldn’t go amiss. I can feel the anxiety rising in my body, stress coursing through my veins as though my transformation into the nerve-killing superhero I always knew I could be is imminent.

I hope that finishing university will also give me a little time to just enjoy being a person in the world again. So much of the last five years has been consumed by essays and exams and journal articles; I can’t wait to just take a breath. Not that the prospect of finishing education isn’t also terrifying.

  1. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 14th. HAIM. UEA LCR. Not only was it an incredible experience to watch my favourite musicians absolutely slay on that stage, but seeing three incredibly talented women at the top of their game was energising. They can do anything with their guitars in hand, and why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with a pen in mine? Sharing it with my best friend, my soupsnake, the platonic love of my life made it every bit more beautiful. I believe that seeing the band you love the most is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The hope that we’ll be able to repeat the experience enthuses me no end. Este, Danielle, Alana – your move. Tickets please.

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Este Haim performing Go Slow at the LCR. Photography by me.

  1. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably my little running trophy. Surviving my second second year of university was no small feat, though. Both of my experiences in second year have been rough but knowing how much more it mattered this time, both personally and professionally, made the knocks harder to take. I’m proud of how I dealt with it, though – by taking the advice of the wise women in my life and lacing up my trainers, which brings us full circle to my original answer: my little running trophy. Not only was it an acknowledgement of my efforts on the track, but it represented overcoming the challenges I faced and continue to face at university. It made me feel like I could accomplish anything I wanted. I felt strong.

  1. What was your biggest failure?

Maybe the mark I got in February for an essay that I thought I’d nailed. I remember picking it up first thing in the morning and having it hang over me throughout a day of lectures and seminars. Nothing stifles creativity like being on the verge of tears, and so I left my creative writing seminar feeling totally defeated and spent about an hour in the uni toilets. The real kicker was that I was weeping in the cubicle so long that the motion censor lights switched off. Picture me sniffling away while performing star jumps in an effort to get the lights back on. I wish I could say it was the most pathetic moment of my life.

  1. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I went over on my ankle at the end of a Parkrun in April, landing arse-first in a muddy puddle, putting me out for a few weeks. Later in the year, the saga of my terrible toe began. No, Taylor, we are not out of the woods yet.

  1. What was the best thing you bought?

Cinema tickets for Guardians of the Galaxy. Spending the last hours of my birthday with a giant Chris Pratt, watching him dance-off into a new day was very special. It was a new dawn, a new day, a new life for me. And yeah, I felt pretty good about it.

  1. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

This answer would probably remain constant whether you asked me this year, last year, next year. My best friend, Hannah. She is there for me day in, day out. No matter what is going on, I have someone to go through everything with me. Every best memory I have from this year, and from the moment I met her for that matter, has Hannah at the heart of it. And if I think about my bad memories from the year, it’s Hannah who was helping me deal with them – that, or texting me cute things about Josh and Donna (e.g. “Today I thought about Josh and Donna’s child having a first crush and Josh offering advice. I did other stuff too but that was important.”). On top of that, she really nailed my presents this Christmas. I’m still reeling from her gift-giving prowess. (more…)

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…

Two Weeks Without Wifi

Take my love, take my land. Take me where I cannot stand. I don’t care, I’m still free. You can’t take my wifi from me…

Let me set the scene. It’s a warm summer evening, uncomfortably warm in fact. Aeroplanes thunder overhead as frequent reminders of my proximity to Heathrow. It’s a welcoming place where I feel comfortable, but it holds none of the comforts of home. Not my bed, with my beloved memory foam pillow and that cloud-like duvet. Not the 20 different cheeses that you’ll always find in a Kennedy fridge or my excessive supply of Tunnocks teacakes. My mother’s face, mine in 29 years, is noticeably absent from the picture and the grating strum of my father’s guitar is silent. I feel unconnected. There’s no Internet. What seemed so ubiquitous is now quite achingly out of my reach…

It’s strange to have two weeks offline. I felt off the map. It would never be something I would consider doing by choice. I’m part of that generation, the one they call broken. We’re iPhones and Facebook, can’t hold a real conversation anymore without accidentally letting a “lol” slip out. We came right after the ASBOs one, I think. We’ll be match.com marrieds, with our livetweets and our lazy Sundays. Every room lit up by a screen: computers, phones and those things in between that they call tablets. We have our online footprints. But doesn’t that mean we mattered? We came and we mattered. We made some kind of an impact, even if it was an X Factor live commentary.

I’m an insignificant one in seven billion, average at almost everything and what I’m not average at, I’m just bad at: plumbing, poetry (a sore spot), cooking, running. I fancy myself a writer. But I don’t know how to be a writer without the Internet. Not properly. It is so much a part of the process. It can prompt an idea, it’s my primary source of research, but most importantly, it is my readership.

The two primary functions that I use the Internet for are creativity and communication. While I did feel cut off from people, particularly the friends I have across the Atlantic, it was the creative aspect that left me most frustrated. Every day at home, I’m creating something. Whether I’m writing on this blog or another, attempting to be witty in 140 characters, video editing, working in Photoshop or writing creatively (both original works and fan fiction), I get to create and publish content constantly. It’s encouraged more practice of all those skills than I could ever have had otherwise.

The problem, I guess, is that I’m now pretty good at a bunch of things that have very limited profitability. Whoops.

I’ve not had any moments in particular of being frustrated over the lack of wifi; it just simmers. While I’ve been in London, I have been busy – both socially and professionally. I met up with a bunch of friends: Louise, Hannah, Julia, Sally. But I met them all through social media. Even when I’m offline now, my life is so affected by the Internet. I think there are two readings of this. The first being, GO OUTSIDE and the second, an acceptance of the way things are. It’s alright. Now I get to be friends with the people I get on with best in all of the Internet, which is pretty close to global. These are my people, you know? It’s brilliant, and such a privilege.

I’ve had a really nice two weeks. Work experience was brilliant. Being in the city was brilliant. Taking the time out to miss home and be missed is always good, and necessary. But when people moan of the downsides of the technological revolution, I feel like they’ve missed the point. It’s good to be connected. I can be with everyone in the world while enjoying the solitude I need.

Two weeks out. It’s good to be back. Hello again, world.

Twentynothing.

With my 21st birthday fast approaching, I am suddenly struck by how little I’ve got done so far in my life. In a world where there are so many teenage Olympic gold medallists, Quvenzhané Wallis and the unbelievable Malala Yousafzai, it’s hard not to feel that way. There are times when I am overwhelmed by my lack of achievements. It’s not that I’m expecting Oscars and gold medals. I give myself a hard time about the fact that my A-Level grades were disappointing, and my GCSEs even more so. I wish I had a single trophy or medal to stand or hang beside those of my brother, my mum and my dad.

To cheer myself up, though, I decided to really think about things that I do want to achieve in the future.

To achieve anything at all, I need to be more open to putting myself out there. I need to recognise opportunities and pursue them. My inability to put my finger on what it is I want to achieve is probably feeding my perceived failure. Admitting what it is you want is terrifying though because it’s a really specific failure when you don’t achieve it. Sometimes it’s easier to live in a cycle of abstract failures. I think it’s time to get out of the cycle.

I want to write for HelloGiggles.

HelloGiggles is such a positive environment. It’s fun and silly and feminist. As a reader, I just want to take it all in. A wonderful friend of mine writes for the site and since getting to know her, my desire to write for HelloGiggles has increased tenfold. It seems to me it’s just a community of people writing positively about things that they want to write about. It’s the dream!

I want to make the New York/ Washington DC trip happen.

Accompanied by an equally student-poor best friend, I am determined that one day I will be getting on a New York bound flight. I want to see a recording of The Daily Show, see a Broadway show and walk through Central Park. While we’re there though, as West Wing fans of the highest order, it would be silly not to take a little trip to Washington DC and see those sights.

I want to see a script I’ve written be performed.

I’m not that experienced when it comes to writing screenplays. I’ve always wanted to be a scriptwriter, to write the way Aaron Sorkin does when he’s high and to explore the intricacies of human interaction. The problem is that until now I’ve shied away from the opportunities. NO MORE.

I want to get a literary agent.

Whenever I read articles about how hard it is to get a literary agent, it terrifies me. The stories are worse than when actors talk about getting into Hollywood – and that shit is Jumanji fear-mongering! I really, really want to do this though and I think with a little self-belief I can. This is mostly to enable other goals related to my writing. Also: do they let you call them Special Agent Whatshername?

I want to walk into a bookshop and see my name on a shelf.

This means that if I don’t get published in my lifetime, you should at least buy me a memorial shelf when I die. I’ll take posthumous success.