Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Case For: Dining Alone

If I say so myself, I've got some pretty damn good life skills under my belt. I can rustle up and proudly wear a ridiculous outfit for any given situation, I think I might actually have this "time management" thing down and I can also talk absolute mindless nonsense to any poor old sod without really feeling that awkward. Yep, these are the skills I'm proud of. However, one skill I've harnessed more recently is the ability to ask for table for one without even a tinge of embarrassment. Yep, I do mean taking myself out to dine.

"I don't know how you do it" some friends have admitted in response to this pastime of mine. Hey, I totally get it. There is always an element of self-consciousness involved when doing anything considered inherently "social" by yourself. It takes a while to ease into your own company, particularly if you're somebody who thrives more in social situations. As is very well documented on this blog, I'm an introvert and whilst I have the most brilliant, accepting group of pals a girl could wish for, I like to roll alone a fair bit of time. S'nothing personal - it's just how I feel my best.

But dining alone has always seemed like a different scenario, as though there was actually something a little shameful about it. Even as somebody who prefers to shop and travel solo, going out for dinner seemed like a bit of a stretch - basically, were people going to think I was a bit...mental? A heartbroken girl who's just broken up with her boyfriend and has come to weep in what used to be "our place!!" maybe? My worries were definitely real, but at the same time I was really hungry one day in October and sometimes your stomach just has to win in that struggle with your brain, y'know.

So I managed to do it once, and then I felt able to do it again, and now I do it frequently. I've actually grown to really enjoy eating out alone. Company might be great but solitude brings increased awareness and sensitivity to your surroundings; my inner nosey cow is satisfied by both the amount of people watching I get to do and the snippets of conversation I often overhear. I also just love the feeling of knowing that I am capable of doing certain activities that are considered "social" by myself. Actually, it makes me feel pretty great. Take it from me, after you do it for the first time, you're humming Independent Women in sheer smug glory for a week, at least.

But there's no denying it takes a while to settle into the comfort you need to reach that glory. One thing that makes it much easier to withstand is bringing something to read or do, such as a book or even uni work. Not just sitting gormlessly until someone puts some spaghetti in front of you makes you forget where you are, essentially, and it takes your mind off the fact that you're not in company. But I found that another key in getting over my self consciousness was just to ask that really, is there anybody who's giving much of a shit as to what I'm up to - this lanky girl with bad hair and a book? Seriously, you have to try and remember that whoever's serving you is categorically not wondering why you're by yourself.  Their thoughts are exclusively consumed by all the fun shit they're gonna get up to once they've clocked off, and wondering how it is even humanely possible to co-exist with some of twats they've had to deal with today. As somebody who has had to work with the public, you must believe me on that. It is a fact.

Knowing that everybody is really just minding their own business is a fact I feel pretty lucky to have learnt. If you ask me, there's nothing quite like brushing your hair and smiling in the mirror, thinking how damn good you look for your dinner out, your little date with you. You're doing dinner alone. You're self-reliant, independent and not afraid of - shock horror! - your own company, and you even get a nice meal out of it. You're a grown up now, and this is how you know it's the real deal; you've grown deeply emotionally attached to a bar at some point since you turned eighteen, you've had at least one pregnancy scare and now you're also able to go and enjoy the nicer things in life yourself.

So, this isn't so much of a blog as it is really a dare. I dare you to wake up one day soon, make a conscious decision to get the hell over your worries and then take yourself out for a meal somewhere you've always fancied visiting. I dare you to not worry what strangers might think of you when you walk in and ask for a table for one, before ordering your meal as you sit with a book, newspaper or tablet. I dare you to smile afterwards and realise "hey, I guess that wasn't so bad!" because it just really isn't. Remember, these are dares, so don't forfeit the ability to create your own bliss.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Why Rejection Makes You A Badass Chick (originally posted on Zusterschap)

Everyone else was nervous, but not me. “I just have a good feeling about it! Why wouldn’t I get the part?” I thought to myself cheerily. To me, it was certainly a good question. My audition had gone flawlessly; I hit the high notes without breaking into a screech, remembered all my lines without stumbling and blushing – hey, I even had short hair! Just like Rizzo does in Grease! So essentially, it just made sense for me to get the part. I practically glided towards the board displaying the cast list for my high school of Grease, so blasé and laid back I felt about my fate. “Showbusiness is Flo’s businesss was my mantra. At the time, I believed this to be exceptionally witty.

Except, um, it wasn’t Flo’s business, after all. There was a name next to “Rizzo” but it definitely wasn’t mine. Instead, it was next to Eugene. Remember the odd looking nerd at the start of the film who the T-Birds shove to the side in the hallway? The one who doesn’t have more than TWO lines in the whole thing? Yeah, my big high school production debut was playing that guy.

My big dreams of (well, relative) stardom went up in smoke. The next twenty four hours were as drama-filled as any episode of TOWIE whilst I jolted from one intense emotion to another. Initially, I was immensely hurt then I moved on to feeling vengeful and furious. Pure disgust followed after when the girl who had gotten the part wrote on my Bebo wall! All of this went down whilst my mum calmly encouraged me to just accept the part, play it brilliantly and to absolutely not show anybody that I upset over it not being the part I wanted.


You can read the rest of this article here!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

"An Education Isn't Always By The Book": Changing Courses at University

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 Lit, 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

How To Get Out Of A Creative Rut

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: 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

"Feelin' Myself": Beauty and the 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.