Wednesday, 25 March 2015

"An Education Isn't Always By The Book"

Whilst reflecting on second year at the University in Glasgow, I could describe it all through a number of memories; my friends' arms wrapped around my shoulders, whispering how glad they are to have met me; the taste of unfamiliar lips on mine; the sensation of glucose coursing through my veins at 1:30am in the library, forcing my eyelids open and keeping my head above the keyboard; the uneasy feeling that the endless snow had worked its way into my jacket, and into my shoes, and somehow into my bra; the laughter over one drink after another drink underneath the dim glow of Glasgow's most charming pubs; the tears that stung as I laid eyes on the email revealing my English lit essay result, and the depression that followed it.

Indeed, there has been no constant flow of good fortune, nor has there necessarily been the alternative to that. Yet in many ways, second year has been the most fun I've ever had, and the most comfortable I've ever felt with simply being myself; I feel loved, supported and appreciated for the young woman I am. My virtues and flaws are acknowledged and accepted. My friendships are equal; I never feel like I'm 'chasing' somebody, or that I'm the one falling over herself in the pursuit of a tiny snippet of conversation, only to feel like the fool when the person isn't there to help me back up.

But second year has also been a time of crippling doubt, and the dreadful sense that very soon I will have to make a decision I'd really rather not have to face.

I'm not confident in my degree subject, and to be honest, I never have been. Like I said in my last blog, I love books and I love writing but at university my grades have been consistently mediocre. Even after locking myself away from everybody else, ditching social occasions for the library, calling in sick at work to give myself the extra time on more than one occasion, I've still not achieved what I need to enter third year, and it's unlikely that I'll get there. With all that, I kind of fell out of love with the course along the way, too - I resented reading. For the first time in my life, I just did not want to pick up a book.

But I've made my decision.

Due to the flexible degree programme here in Scotland, I'm going to be switching to a sociology degree. I'm on my fourth year of studying sociology in total and have found it consistently inspiring and enjoyable. So really, it's only 'game over' for English, not Glasgow in general. But it's been a difficult process to accept, and I can't say I haven't punished myself in the mean time; comparing myself to my more academically successful friends, wondering what my English teachers from school would think of me if they saw me now - the girl who would jump out of bed in the morning at the thought of their lessons.

But why punish myself any more? Like the quote in the blog title states, an education isn't always 'by the book'. For what I obviously haven't learnt in seminars, I feel no less enriched. I have a greater understanding than ever of how it is to simply be a young woman in this century - my academic results could never quantify that. There's no essay entitled 'How To Be A Good, Fulfilled Human Being' with scribbles and question marks in glaring red ink. There were never any lectures on the education I've really had whilst my academic one interested me less and less by the day.

I have learned that I cannot ever fully alleviate the parts of myself that I so frequently wish didn't exist, only learn to work with them; some friends really are going to be there for ever, and some have apparently just been checking their watches this whole time. I have learnt that being deeply introverted does not make me boring; hey, I can still churn out a damn good column. I have learnt that I need not be validated by male attention. In the hardest lesson of all, I have learnt that I can plan for my life all I want - you know, do my masters' by 23, move to London by 24, find the right man by 26, be a mother by 30 - but the truth is, that's just not realistic. I have never felt so uncertain about what lies ahead and that plan has been utterly jeopardised. I never anticipated having to feel like this, asking myself these questions and wonder where it all went wrong. It's not worked out.

But that's not to say that it won't work out at all. Between you and me - I'm hopeful. I really am.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Ruts

I think I've dealt with this all wrong.

That's not an easy confession, mind you. If I was going to write sad Tweets and slip some unreasonably morbid comments into casual conversation, I would at least like to, you know, own that. Making it sound sassy and cool and clever - some real "tortured soul" kind of rhetoric, like I'm the sort of chick who wears black all the time and sits in boutique cafes smoking and looking terribly, terribly sad. That said, I'm not sure anybody gains followers from their excessive use of ":(" and "D:" in all their social media posts. In fact, I'm certain of it, and this is me throwing my hands up and saying that me doing so recently just isn't right.

"It is the measure of a man [well, a lanky, rosy-cheeked twentysomething] to admit when he is wrong" Well, let me admit it - I have been absolutely wrong in how I've dealt with this writer's block.

The fact is that I'm a creative; always have been, right from primary school. I don't know the first thing about plants and I still haven't grasped basic arithmetic (just thinking about long division gives me a headache to this day...) but what I have always loved is the freedom of creativity and expression. I don't feel I have anything new or original to say on this really, but the phrase I'll essentially repeat from the millions of writers, artists and musicians before me is that I liked to express myself through art, and to me words paint the most vivid and brightest pictures of all. I want to both admire beauty and to create it.

This continued long into my last few years of school, even during the final examination months in which pupils are generally driven mad by their intense desire to be absolutely anywhere but inside the classroom. A common whine from resentful GCSE English students is "maybe the author used that word because he just wanted to?!" or even "seriously Miss, you're just looking into this too much!"

Looking back on the numerous occasions in which those comments are made, I am literally mortified by these comments. Everything in a text is purposeful, an author has used every word, every metaphor, every use of a comma for a reason. But what exactly is that reason? It's literally just down to you and your own interpretation and even now to this day when my English Lit degree drives me senseless, that is still absolutely fascinating to me. I sought answers to that question in the confident knowledge that whilst my answer might not be the *right* one, it is at least my own.

But what happens when the creative fails to create?

In this case, the creative gets a bit...peeved off. Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. The creative opens a Word document and cries when no words are formed, the creative doubts her own abilities and compares herself to her more consistent friends, the creative has to fight off that sneering voice in the back of her head whispering "you can't do it. You're not worthy, you're not capable, who are you kidding? You could never do this for a living"

This blog output gets less frequent as time goes on. Sure, I have half formed ideas, but it's just that they never quite get finished, and putting those ideas into words that might be interesting or amusing to read is a surprisingly tricky experience. It's incredibly infuriating, especially since I regard this blog as an extension of what actually goes on behind this lank, overgrown fringe of mine. And if nothing's happening right here on this very page, then what the hell must be going on behind there?!

It feels...empty. I make one dot on the page and then tear it up again in defeat, dissatisfied and disheartened. But right there, that is my mistake.

My mistake is in assuming that because I am more creatively inclined, it is my divine right to create. Saying those words out loud, those petulant, overly reactive words - "but this is MY THING!!" - is not helpful, they don't somehow summon the "powers above" who will appear just to enable me with some original ideas and inspiration.

I have to work for my ability to create, not just sit there and wait for it to happen to me. I need to go out there and find it. I need to look beyond the "meaningless" interactions I encounter every day. I need to make more mental notes, ask more questions, remember things that stand out for whatever reason. I need to stop comparing myself to other writers and punishing myself for not being "up to standard".

"We are what we repeatedly do" wrote Aristotle. What do I repeatedly do? Tweet and ruin my mascara out of frustration. I think we can all agree that's not okay, so it's time to "do" something about it. Perhaps even starting with getting a new mascara, because I didn't pay a fucking fortune to get panda eyes.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Life After Germany: Uncomfortably Parked On "Civi Street"

Usually, there's too much going on for me to really mull it over. There's always an empty Word document crying out to be addressed, nights out to dress up for, rude customers to bite my tongue at every weekend whilst behind the tills. My life in Glasgow simply doesn't allow me the time to sit and think "god, you know what? I'm missing it. I really bloody miss Germany"

But I'm going to confess it all now. We are six months gone - half a year - and I am still seriously missing Germany. I even cried about it the other day, and I am famously reluctant to do anything that might jeopardise my meticulously applied mascara.

But there's almost shame attached to how this feels; I'm a military child, I was brought up to not invest meanings into the places we inhabit for such short times. Military children are good at getting over it. We're good at saying "thanks for the memories - but it's time to say our goodbyes"

Home was always less where the heart is, more "where the helicopters are".

So this is unusual. This isn't how it works. I shouldn't be thinking about how much I'm missing all the places I love in Germany as often as I currently do, because leaving places I love behind is all I've ever known. I shouldn't even be thinking about my old home, let alone actively longing for it - let alone ruining my mascara in my real moments of sadness.

Yet, for the past few weeks it's been like this little dull ache in my stomach, like very tame period pain; not particularly interfering nor harmful, but always present and a constant nuisance. When I was in Berlin with my friends last month, I actually had to leave the hostel bar early on the first night - parting from my actual German Jagermeister, the horror of it! - and take a moment to myself in the room. I found it overwhelmingly emotional to be back in this country I loved, but was already anticipating just how hard it would be to leave again.

To be honest, getting over leaving Germany hasn't been the only thing I've struggled with. As the months have passed and I spend my life pretty much exclusively on "civi street", I feel the distinct loss of my identity. It's hard to describe to people on the outside of it all, but I sincerely used to like being able to say I was a padsbrat. Less so because of the whole "proud of our Armed Forces!" rhetoric, but because it was, well, almost like a badge of honour; more of a "see all the shit I've had to go through because of this lifestyle; see how strong it's made me?"

But the past eighteen months or so in Glasgow has taught me to keep my mouth shut regarding that area; to put it bluntly, I've had people make their anti-armed forces stance very clear to me, and perhaps not in the most tactful of ways ("your dad's probably shot someone, how does that feel?") either. I mean, I've always acknowledged that there would be people who absolutely hated them and would have their reasons for it - whatever, I can deal with that. But...for want of something less pathetic sounding to say, that's still my dad those comments are aimed at. That's the man I can't even find the words to describe my love and respect for.

So I've taken to avoiding telling people my dad's profession, because I now see what they might be thinking, and despite my best efforts, I can't help but take it personally. Therefore, the padsbrat in me is keeping very quiet these days; so much so that really, she's hardly there.

I'm still struggling to keep quiet about these intensified feelings of longing and nostalgia, however. Maybe it's something to do with my childish resentment of the fact that I'm flying home to our new base in Yeovil on Sunday - not Dusseldorf airport.

In my original blog written on the night before we moved out of our house last summer, I described how moving away from a place you loved was "like grieving not for a person, but for a life you once had". So I guess this is just how it'll be for a little while longer. I'm still grieving, and don't people say that there's no time frame for this sort of thing? Most of the time it's manageable, certainly, but when the things that remind me of Germany appear in my own little life in Glasgow, I can't help but feel more bothered than usual; like during my German seminar, when I see a man in uniform or hear a helicopter outside as I'm falling asleep.

Yeah. I'd be lying if I said those moments didn't really bother me.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Note on Valentine's Day

You can see it too, right?

That's love. Like it or not, it's that time of year and looooove is in the air.

Love floats from the restaurants of Ashton Lane, you can't move for it in Royal Exchange Square. It's drifting around the chapels, the quirky cafes and the parks of Glasgow.

Love for the person who holds the other half of the proverbial split-heart necklace; or as the case may be, you're like me and don't even have that necklace. So instead it's love for the sight of the bottom of the bottle, a takeaway of your choice and that card falling through the letterbox that you already know is from your gran (of course you love it - there's probably a tenner inside it)

For Valentine's Day this year, I'll be dragging my untoned bottom ("what's the point of squats? It's NOT LIKE ANYONE IS GOING TO SEE IT!!") to work for the full day shift - god, it's like they knew I wouldn't be spending it with a boyfriend or anything remotely nice like that. Eight and a half hours of couples strolling hand in hand into the shop, giggling and whispering at the condom section, eventually arriving to the till with lipstick, chocolate, lube and a smirk on their faces.

"Bloody lucky you" I have to stop myself muttering. For me, this year's Valentine's Day will be as romantic as crying in Marks & Spencers because my boss told me off, or getting sent an unsolicited dick pic from an unknown number.

I hope it won't be busy, and the romance stays strictly in the chapels, the cafes and the parks of Glasgow, because when it's quiet in the shop and all I have to do is stand there, that's when I think about things properly; when there's no phone in hand, no laptop in front of me. Just everything in crystal clarity.

With that clarity along with the poignancy of the date itself, I'll probably recall the little romantic memories I keep stored away for the days I spend in bed listening to NeYo's So Sick more than one realistically should in a single hour.

Cuddles on that same old bench of my old college campus. Holding hands under a table. Waking up every morning to the same text with words that made me swoon. When he would shuffle towards me, use his thumb to rub the lipstick off my front tooth, then kiss me. George Square under the Christmas lights. The way it made me feel when I heard Unintended by Muse. Smitten side glances across a classroom. The sun setting over the abandoned, overgrown park where we sat on the swings; the last time he and I ever saw each other. Walking down Byres Road in the rain at 5am in my pyjamas on New Year's Day.

Those sorts of memories that I've collected over the years which I don't really mind not forgetting about; no matter how badly it may have ended with the person I shared them with, no matter how long ago it was, now. I'd be lying if I said these memories didn't make me wish I did have somebody to create new ones with; not just on this one day, but every day, really. Nevertheless, those sorts of wishes are futile and a bad usage of my headspace. I have essays to write and a head of hair to work on stimulating into more rapid growth; it has a whole inch to go before it's finally on my shoulders. That's a thought considerably more painful than having nobody to wake up and spoon on the 14th of February.

Nope, instead I'll put my make up on, pull on that unflattering fleece and stand at the tills, grabbing every moment I have to myself to reflect fondly on those memories. Then maybe I'll ponder the last time I actually shaved my legs, or inspect the contents of my purse. There's no aftershave I could possibly afford, anyway - I should know, I work in Superdrug. But there's definitely enough there for dinner for one at my favourite West End restaurant.

And then I feel alright about spending another Valentine's Day on my own.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Beauty, Best Friends and Badass Boots

It is the 1st February 2015. I am twenty years old, I haven't washed my hair in 48 hours, my skin is covered in spots, my moods are often unpredictable and I have never felt more beautiful in my life.

How do you feel when you read that? Are you happy for me? Are you happy that you'll finally stop pretending to find my self deprecating jokes funny (or the more recent development - just telling me that my jokes weren't funny)?

Or are you unnerved that I would make such a bold statement - unusually fearless and confident?

Truthfully, I've unnerved myself. This isn't a normal way for me to feel, this chirpy self assurance. For as long as I can remember, I've struggled to wake up as Floraidh Clement each day, in her spotty skin and unsure of whether she'll laugh or cry in those first few seconds of connecting those early morning dots - "who am I? What is my situation right now? Am I happy?"

The last month was a time when those questions were not ones I answered in total confidence - I'm Floraidh and I could be a lot better, my situation could be a lot better, I'm alright I suppose but still, I guess it could be a lot better.

But after a hard few weeks, I'm beginning to wake up with gratitude for being in this skin, no matter how blemished and in desperate need of some Sudocrem it truly is. I have found the people I was always meant to be friends with. I'm finding my degree course especially difficult at the minute, but I've not given up. I write a column I am sincerely chuffed with. I hope, at least, that I am making my mum and dad proud. I have let go of the people I clung to for fear of them moving on with somebody that wasn't me. I am growing less and less concerned about what people must be thinking of me with every word that leaves my lips.

But one concern that has taken me an incredibly long time to shake was the fact that I am not a conventionally pretty girl. I'm a plain girl who simply does the best with herself. For years I fully believed it to be the pretty girls who get noticed, the pretty girls who don't have to compensate for their lack of immediate allure by simply being funny or writing a blog to convey what they're really thinking; they are simply there, and that is enough for people to take notice of what they have to say.

But I have learnt particularly in the wake of the last month's adversities that feeling beautiful is not a purely aesthetic thing; it's not just pulling on the new bodycon dress my boobs look incredible in or buying a lipstick that surely costs the same price as return flights to Paris.

It is knowing people are finally starting to take notice of what I have to say because they sincerely want to hear it.

It is buying some badass heeled knee length boots that I stomp around and feel like I could smash through the glass ceiling in.

It is being surrounded by strong, intelligent girls who I'd probably feel intimidated by if I didn't know that that they miss their morning lectures just as often as I seem to, or wear Snoopy pyjamas to bed. It is having their positive influence and wisdom in my life; it is them making me both want to be better, but also reassured that it's fine to be how I am just now, too.

It is finding the dignity to walk away from a situation that is ultimately not making me happy. It is knowing better than to put myself in that toxic position where I feel I am competing with another girl.

It is taking every step possible to be my own best friend and doing whatever I can to look after my mental health.

It is finishing a yoga workout, lying there sweating and flushed on my bedroom floor in my American Pyscho t shirt and leggings, rolling over and dialling Pizza Hut; there is no punishing myself, no gruelling regime I acquire no pleasure from.

Yep, this "feeling beautiful" shenanigan seems to all be down accepting how I am, working with what I have and trying to refrain from ruthlessly punishing myself for what I don't. I mean, purchasing those boots helped infinitely...but still, I am starting to believe that the spotty chick in the mirror isn't so boring, charmless or uninteresting after all, and man am I beginning to really, really warm to her.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Floraidh, Thongs and, Well, Imperfect Blogging

I am shrieking with laughter; tonsils-out, throaty, whole hearted laughter. It's Wednesday's publications committee meeting, after all, so I am surely not doing anything else. My favourite day of the week with my favourite people - oh, how I am laughing. Everything is great. Everything is so funny, so hilarious. I CANNOT STOP LAUGHING.

But all is not what it seems. Sure, on the outside everything's hunky dory, couldn't be better. But this tells a decidedly different story to what's really going on; a feverish tension is brewing in my mind and body. Beads of sweat are forming on my forehead. A question acutely urgent and confusing nags away at me. I am forced to muster all my rapidly retreating strength to stop myself spitting it out.

"What the fuck am I wearing a thong with dungarees for?"

If you've never worn a thong with dungarees: just imagine searing hot pain and pressure in areas that should just never experience searing hot pain and pressure. It is the meeting of two crazily impractical garments; you wear them and finally begin to wonder if it could actually be true that you should prioritise comfort (?!) over style (?!). Briskly waddling past my friends on the way out, I flash a huge, nothing-to-see-here grin. "Sorry guys, gotta run - it's just I'm wearing a thong and I'm going to pass out! Any! Second! NOW!!"

My sides hurt from laughing; my cheeks ache - although perhaps not so much as my neither regions do. Either way, my exterior puts on a damn good show of Flo Is Totally Fine Yo'.

But despite the impeccable performance - if I say so myself - I think it's fair to say that this week, Flo has not been totally fine, yo'. No need for the grisly details, but it's been a period of Kate Nash on necessary repeat, too many appearances from the pizza delivery guy who definitely knows my name and even more heart-to-hearts on numerous sofas. Still, all of those things got me through it; somehow, I've always beaten the urge to stay in bed and not bother with the day. But the one thing that apparently doesn't get me through hard times is writing it all down; I don't feel the need to pick up my "pen", no matter how hard I try.

And it breaks my heart when I can't write anything. Words are literally the only weapon I have; my tongue is not so quick in person, and my blushing habit only reveals that no matter how sassy I am attempting to be, the game will always be given away sooner or later. That "blank mind, blank Word document" kind of failure brings out the mood swings and the self loathing Tweets more than my terrible underwear decisions ever could. Writing is My Thing, after all.

This pretty sombre realisation has not brought much cheer to a pretty cheerless week.

Still, I got home after the meeting and returned to my old faithful cotton pants. Certainly not hot, but definitely not going to render me infertile like that bloody thong probably has. Those cotton pants were like a cold bathroom floor when I'm on the verge of a whitey, that night.

But it was then when it became sparkling clear that laughing all the way through it - tonsils-out, throaty, whole hearted laughter - is the best way to square up and face all adversity. Yep, even if adversity comes in the form of wildly uncomfortable material designed solely to give you wedgies like a bitch.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Two Thousand and Fifteen: Self Love and Saying Goodbye to the Shrinking Violet

New Year's Resolutions are seemingly an opportunity to look within yourself and meticulously examine every one of your flaws. You're in bad shape, you're not working hard enough, you're spending too much money - you need to change. You need to strive to better yourself. Your jeans are only getting tighter. You'll never get a promotion at this rate. This has to be your year to get...better. Somehow.

I'm no different. I'm on this misery-go-round of self criticism constantly, and I know it's unhealthy; but when it's so ingrained into your psyche, it's tremendously difficult to stop. Almost daily I will question my writing ability or look at my cellulite in the mirror and miserably wonder "will it ever...lessen?" before giving the Galaxy a second thought. It's like I've been cast in this wonderful movie that might do very well in the box office but instead of jumping at the opportunity and learning my lines, I'm starting to wonder if I should just be the understudy, instead. Am I good enough for this role I've been given? Am I up to the task?

But this year, I've decided I want things to be different. I want things to be positive. I want to be the happier, fulfilled leading lady - not the reluctant understudy who frets about cellulite on her thighs and people liking her blogs. So instead of begrudgingly forking out for an eye wateringly expensive gym membership or devising a long term budget plan, I'm going to resolve to be kinder to myself this year. I'm going to want to stick to these resolutions, not curse myself for ever writing the bloody things.
  • if in doubt whether to get a glass or a pitcher, always choose the pitcher
  • learn to smile at rude customers
  • wear heels more often for optimum sass levels
  • wear plum lipstick more often for optimum sass levels
  • wear anything that increases the likelihood of achieving optimum sass levels
  • do not beat myself up for being an introvert - I cannot force myself to be anything else
  • buy more green smoothies on the way to work
  • be vocal and unapologetic about the causes I care for passionately
  • listen to old favourite albums and continue to be delighted and enthralled like it's the first time I heard them back in 2007
  • be perpetually inquisitive, ask more questions
  • do not accept half formed answers
  • apply for the jobs and internships that terrify me
  • never apologise for selfies, capture every second of a "good self esteem day"
  • own each second of being inappropriately overdressed for an occasion
  • accept that I am infinitely better off without those who I can't please despite my best efforts
  • walk more, get the subway less
  • learn to love my eternally rosy cheeks, marvel at the money I must save on blusher
  • do yoga every morning
  • try to be a sunflower and not a shrinking violent in academic situations
  • surround myself only with people who will firmly pull the breaks on my anxiety, not accelerate it further
  • do not let any attractive boy pass me by, do not assume that he will not want to talk to me
  • write down every little detail of what I'm thinking
  • pack practical footwear in my handbag; I'll thank myself
  • spend an inordinate amount of money on beautiful underwear if it's what I absolutely need to feel comfortable with my body
  • stop with the monumentally unfunny self deprecating jokes, because I'm probably alright, really.
Happy New Year. Know that every blog hit you may have given me was appreciated and shrieked over. I hope that this year your jokes will be without self deprecation, your sass levels consistently high and your cocktail pitchers always full. Because you'll obviously be on your second or third one. You riot, you.