Day 78: Family and The Need for Freedom

Yesterday was great. A day of golden autumnal walks, of books, of baking (and nibbling at the chocolate treats as I went). Through the ritual of roast dinners and Sunday night TV, I had some fab family time.

I went to bed reassured. Somehow, after a slow inculcation to a new routine, I felt settled. My life had a structure: paid employment and the resources to spend leisure time with friends. I felt as if i’d reached some form of normality.

And then I woke up. Admittedly, I woke up distracted. I was thinking about Christmas. Warmed by home comforts and memories of chocolate, I listened to Little St Nick as I had my shower, and before I knew what was happening, the morning had disappeared into a spiraling internet search for gifts.

But even as I tried, through a haze of tired, intermittent concentration, to be productive and update my (other) blog, my family-surroundings descended into something far from fun. They wound me to a point of paralysing frustration. Even now, I feel like i’m forcing my muscles to work, and focusing on this is laborious.

Parents interrupt. They command. ‘Don’t do that.’ ‘You should do it this way.’ They interfere. ‘You shouldn’t be eating in your room.’ ‘When are you going to do this and that and this!’

I am grateful for the time I have with my family. I need them, but I also need to be able to get away from them.

Older generations tout their ‘twenties’ as ‘the best time of their life’. Today, the reality isn’t quite so rosy. In this employment slump, in this housing market, in this economic climate, too many twenty-somethings are being forced to push family relations to their limit.

As a grown woman, I need my own space and independence. I need to be where things are happening and friends are close. I need to be in the city, so I can meet them for a drink, without having to plan it two weeks in advance. I need my freedom.

And I know – as many modern twenty-somethings do – that I can only find it by waiting. I just have to work hard, and – eventually – I will achieve the financial means to move out.

It sounds simple, but, in the meantime, between the fun and the free food, the walls of my adolescence are quietly suffocating. They are distracting and disempowering.

Day 76: Planning Life

In the last few weeks, I have become conscious that I am utterly, unremittingly, ridiculously rubbish at living without a plan.

I genuinely cannot function without one. If I know my plans for the week ahead, I am productive. Work on Wednesday and Friday? Fine. On Thursday I will fire off the applications. On the train on the Wednesday morning, I prepare for the process. Returning from the city on Friday, I will review my activities from the day before.

Boom.

Done and dusted. Success soon follows.

However, if I don’t have a plan, I just do nothing. In the face of more time, I become incapable of continuing at this pace – or any pace!

Take the last week as an example. The passage of positive productivity above describes pretty accurately the week that preceded it. After being offered a position as a freelancer, my first days on the job were filled to the brim with assignments. It was interesting, because it was new. It was addictive, because I was accumulating cash on a scale I hadn’t seen for a long time. But still, I snatched any spare moments I could find, to continue applying for the work I really wanted; the work that would satisfy a lifetime, rather than just satiate my temporarily barren bank account.

But then the new week arrived, and my emails went quiet. No jobs. No word of when more work would appear. I tried to trick myself into believing I had a timetable. ‘If I search for jobs’, I thought to myself, ‘then I will feel the pressure of impending deadlines!’

But then I didn’t even look. My one day-off slipped into a weekend-off. My ‘chill out’ day was spent organising a real ‘chill out day’ for the next day. I just drifted; waiting in a state of inertia to be given a plan.

Then on Friday, one arrived. Up I jumped. Before continuing on for my mid-morning train, I rushed through town, buying Christmas presents, grabbing an outfit for Saturday night. While browsing the shelves in Waterstones, I then found out my work for that day had been cancelled – but no matter! It had been rescheduled for the Saturday: for today.

I got up this morning with a sense of purpose. I completed what was asked of me. Surging forward, I unfortunately then slammed into the realisation that my plans for tonight are actually my plans for next Saturday. Clearly, I should use my calender for more than the pretty pictures.

Still, I was quite relieved. Instead of heading out into the cold night, I could watch the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special – and two more episodes of Borgen! ‘In fact’, I began to wander, ‘maybe I could watch some of the earlier episodes before it airs. With David Tennant and Billie Piper! Maybe they’re on Neflix? Oh, they are!’

This post is me shouting down a megaphone to myself to stop. To not start drifting again!

I’m not sure how I will make next week more productive than the last, or ensure that tomorrow is not lost, but I feel, instinctively, that this blog will be a barometer of my success. If it is being updated frequently, then I am once again working efficiently. If I have tales to tell, then I have managed to make my own plans, for my own time, rather than relying, like an unthinking robot, on the instructions of others. That, after all, is how lives rush by without being lived.

Day 57 Continued (Some More): A Post From Many Places

Sitting in a London cafe, preparing myself for another interview, over a steaming cup of peppermint tea, I realised I had missed something in the previous analysis.

I had failed to properly identify the problem. There is a distinction between being in tune with the emotions of others, and wrongly interpreting those emotions as a personal slight.

If a passerby frowns at you in the street, they’re probably lost in their own unhappy thoughts. That they have just had an argument with their boss or partner, is very plausible. That they’ve just seen you and been disgusted by your dress, your hair, YOU, is less likely. And yet I sometime react like that is the case.

After writing the first post in this series of ‘day 57′, I went home and found that no one had left me any dinner. Instead, my brother’s girlfriend had come round for the evening and taken my place.

I was ravenous, and there was no food to replace it. But even so, I overreacted. I was so upset by the lack of consideration. I knew if it had been my brother who was out late, his portion would be laid out on a plate, on the kitchen unit, covered in cling-film, ready for reheating.

So I sat alone, eating a bowel of baked beans with a handful of spinach on top, and wallowed in my rejection. I then proceeded to drink a mug of hot chocolate and scoff two bowels of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in under an hour. I think we could conclude that I was not in a stable emotional state.

Why do I – why do we – make these moments evidence of malicious contempt?

When do you start to believe in yourself enough to not make this ridiculous leap? When do you start to believe that you are as beautiful and talented you can see everyone else is?

When does loving yourself become as easy as loving other people?

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t found the answer within the last week.

Day 57 Continued: The Post From Many Places

Too Much Sensitivity?

After writing the previous post, I began to consider whether other people were as affected by their interactions with strangers as I am.

I am aware that I have always had a sensitive personality. My parents are endlessly retelling how, as a child, I could never be reprimanded. Even one slightly strict word would result in a storm of tears and hiccuping.

That said, I am also aware that, as a child, I was praised for being kind. For including all the kids at a party, and taking the lonely and bullied into my little gang, until they were ready to return to their own.

It seems apparent that sensitivity leads to empathy, and we need more of that in the world. So should I really be trying to control it?

I have jotted random thoughts on this theme for the last week. My first, was quite a confident ‘NO’. Building fortitude against the world has never done me any favors.

“As happy as I was as a child, when I hit the end of my teens, life began to get tough. The tables turned, and I became the bullied. At that point, my outward personality changed. I erected barriers around myself, and left a stony face for strangers to see.

Consequently, I missed out. I missed opportunities to meet new people. My reserve trapped the real me, still so full of love and empathy, inside a self-enforced isolation.

In many ways, my twenties are proving a continuing period of recovery from that original hateful influence. I slowly rediscovered my confidence, and threw myself back into the world. My recent unemployment proved a huge knock to that progress. But that is when About Time came in.

It reminded me of my real values, and how much happier I am when I am completely open to the world and people around me; when I care about my little community of friends and family, and cry with strangers on the television alike.

And now, it makes me consider, if the people who bullied me had been more sensitive, and less self-contained, then they wouldn’t have casually damaged so many years of my life.

If, like me, their happiness had been affected by the happiness or sadness of those around them, they would be more aware of their personal impact on other people’s happiness, and the whole world would be an happier place!”

Day 57: The Post From Many Places

Right now I am back at my familiar cluttered white writing desk, with the same hot keyboard beneath my fingers.

Yet I have returned from a busy few weeks, and so the following posts actually come to you from many places. From the waiting room of a dark and half-deserted suburban train station, late on a Saturday night. From a congested train carriage speeding away from that same station in the morning light of the working week. And from a quiet cafe in the heart of the city, where I sipped peppermint tea and donned my armor for the interview ahead.

It is interesting to see how the tone of my scribbling has changed, and the lessons – still being learnt – are not what I expected them to be.

Lets begin with what was written in the womb-like warmth of the station’s waiting room, sheltering from the dark and the cold outside. I had returned from a political conference in the city, exhausted and easily upset by the 40 minute wait for my connection. With a dead laptop, a dead phone battery, and no electrical plug working well enough to recharge them, I turned to my little black notepad.

Customer Service + Smiling at Strangers

“If I had written this, as I had intended, on the inbound journey into the city, it would be very different in tone.

The last few days have been fantastic; full of best-friends, giant beef burgers, too much white wine, and a quiet togetherness.

Yet, while I usually have cause to focus on the small, but powerful, positives among the everyday dullness, recently the reverse has been true. Days with a delicious itinerary of food, friends and fun have been blighted by minor blemishes.

I’m not thinking of the large dramas of life. There have been no grand tragedies of heart break and betrayal. The moment’s I mention are mild irritants, the minute details of daily living; a cross comment or disdainful expression that plants sour seeds inside you and begins to feed off your goodwill, becoming steadily more significant that it ever had a right to be.

On Monday the source was a family member, who channeled their bad temper toward me in snappish retorts to everything I said or did.

On Tuesday, it was the optician who spoke to me, for the entirety of a twenty-minute appointment, as though I were twelve.

His condescension replaced the disapproval I had had to endure in that opticians the week before, when I had stumbled in 10 minutes late. Ignoring my apology, the purported professional repeatedly informed her colleagues (within clear ear-shot of where I was sitting) that “this woman was EIGHTEEN minutes late”.

I should have shouted back across: “actually, I was only 10 minutes late, but your receptionist kept me waiting for 8 minutes, and these things happen anyway, you don’t have to be such a bitch about it!” I would probably feel much better now if I had. Especially as, a week later, I was left, for 20 minutes after the time of my re-scheduled appointment, waiting to be seen.

This theme of customer service could continue. One smiling cashier can make even the worst day a little less shit. Meanwhile, a more miserable member of staff can tread heavily on your spirit. It sounds ridiculous, but it is true.

The last ten minutes have just proved it. I am tired, I am hungry and, dismounting the train that had already carried me many miles, I found that the next one I needed to complete the journey by just a few more, had disappeared from the overhead screens.  I prepared myself for a call home. I would just beg for a lift.

Except my phone had died. I had prepared for this eventuality, and packed the cable which would connect it to my laptop for recharging. Unfortunately, the laptop had died too. I also had a charger for that technology but, typically, the train had been devoid of even one plug.

‘Surely, the waiting room has one?’, I thought. Well it did. That is, it had one. And only one. And when I put my plug in, it did nothing.

After much huffing, and even more internal distress, I approached the only member of staff still on shift. She was sat in her perspex box, at the far end of the long waiting room. For the last ten minutes it has just been the two of us, walled in, with the dark pressing against the windows outside.

And she has been an angel. A quiet, unquestioning angel, probably around my age.

After explaining that I needed a key to make the plug work, giving me said key, and subsequently discovering that even then the plug didn’t emit enough power to use a laptop, she provided me with really clear directions to the phone box on the platform outside. And she offered me change to use it.

It wasn’t the help that was so refreshing, though, but the completely unassuming way in which she gave it. I didn’t feel like I was interrupting or being an inconvenience. She just restored a sense of calm to the whole scenario.

Now I wouldn’t want to reduce this to a moan about retail. After all, I worked part-time in that sector for five  years. I know how difficult it can be. Yet I also realise, on reflection, that if I was ever rude or presented a glum face to customers, I was probably acting the same way with all the people I encountered that day, wherever I was.

Returning books to the library, catching the bus, walking around the supermarket, I was allowing myself to become absorbed in my own bad mood and let it leak over everybody I encountered. Including the cashiers I have just charged with so much responsibility for my emotional well-being.

I can’t help but recall one of the most memorable scenes in About Time. Or rather, a few seconds within that scene.

Towards the end of the film, Tim’s time-travelling Dad instructs him to live one day as he normally would, and then, after he has got into bed and turned out the light, to go back and live that day all over again. This time, he explains, he should relish every moment.

So, all be it skeptically, Tim does what he is asked. In his first encounter with the day, he has a demoralising meeting, concludes a court case with a look of exhaustion, and generally does a lot of rushing about. Among his hurried activities, he heads out onto the crowded London streets to buy his lunch. The camera only glances at the back of the cashier’s head. All Tim is interested in is handing over the correct change and getting back to the office.

When reliving those 24 hours, he revisits the brief moment in which pays for his food, and takes the time to look at the human being in front of him. The camera shows her face. She smiles joyfully at him, and he beams politely in return.

Later, the voice-over utters those now familiar words.

“We’re all travelling through time together, every day of our lives…”

In my love affair with this film, and in taking a very direct approach to the philosophy that lies at its heart, I have been drawn to its emphasis on that one word: ‘together’.

Together not just as friends, families and communities, but as strangers interacting in the course of our own respective journeys.”

Day 45: Blogging

I might struggle to write this post.

I am slightly thirsty for words, having spent today sweating them out on my professional blog.

While the darkness outside my window got ever denser, I kept writing. I persevered; I prioritised  the next piece of content over relaxation or reflections on the day. After all, a blog where I am not anonymous is a much easier platform from which to persuade potential employers to hire the real, physical me.

Nonetheless, now i’m here, eyes drooping and back aching, wordpress open on the screen, i’ve realised that I don’t need to think. I don’t need my exhausted brain to work. I know exactly how and why I have relished the day.

You.

I had adopted the habit of only logging into this account in the evening. But at lunchtime I needed a break, so I took a sneak-peak. Over night, the number of views had tripled. More importantly to me, people had stayed and read back through posts from the past.

The fact that someone wants to read my writing gives me faith. It gives me hope for my current career ambitions. And, this afternoon, it gave me the fuel I needed to keep blogging, under my own name.

Thanks for making my day special, whoever you are.

Day 44: Surprises

Today saw a repeat of yesterday’s routine. Hard-work, work-out, stop work.

Except every constituent of that cycle was more intense. The work was greater in volume and intensity. The exercise was longer and more demanding. And the evening’s activities were considerably less relaxing. Try (minor) family arguments, a fight for the TV, and the tension of a Great British Bake Off final for a start!

At least this proves that I am building stamina! And it is all bringing me closer to an escape from this house-bound, money-less existence. Not that it is a state I particularly begrudge anymore. It is much easier living in the present when you know you are spending that time well. You are using every second to work for a future you want.

And as you do, there are the usual highlights. Today’s was definitely a surprise. I received the completely unexpected news that my absolute best friend, the surrogate sister who has been working abroad for a year, and whose face for the past four months I have only seen on Skype, is home! On English soil!

Admittedly, she is only back for one week, and only because she is waiting for a visa. Then she will return to the airport and another corner of the world. But I don’t begrudge her that adventure. I would happily settle for sharing just a few hours of her time.

The promise of that time together has further fueled my anticipation for the weekend; when all the boring tasks will be complete, and there are BIG events planned. The prospect of them, lying just ahead, on the back-cover of the week, has made today’s chapter far more exciting than it deserves to be.