Interval

I’ve been struggling to find inspiration for blogs recently, mainly due to tiredness and, currently, an irritating cold. After work every day my main desire is to eat some food, read a little, then go straight to bed. I’m at a stage in my life where I feel like I’m doing nothing and everything, which makes no sense whatsoever. It feels like I’m in an interval of a play, where I’ve just had an incredible first act and am preparing for the second, which hasn’t started yet. I’m stuck in this interval, and don’t really know how to get out of it – or when the next part is going to start.

Being a bookseller is something that I love; being able to say that I recommend people books for a living, that I can spend my time creating beautiful displays of books and on my breaks I discuss what I’m reading with my colleagues. And my colleagues are all complete angels, and over the past couple of years they’ve truly become my second family. I get on with everyone, and always feel happy around them – what more can you really want? But at the same time, there are downfalls to the job because, at the end of the day, it is working in retail which means customers who are nasty as well as nice. A nice customer can make your day, but it’s the nasty ones that stick to you. Ask me for an example of a nice customer and I could give you several, but ask about the nasty ones? I could write books on those people and never run out of inspiration.

Whether it’s being angry about the 5p plastic bag charge or about the state of the world, people throw their anger around in retail. I’ve had customers scream at me, shout, wail and every time I feel it chip away at my positivity. Some of the time it’s because we’ve failed in some way – an order hasn’t arrived, a purchase has been muddled up – but a lot of the time it’s on things I cannot control. I struggle not to get upset when someone decides that it’s my fault specifically that we don’t stock a certain item, or because they’ve come to the wrong store. When you have someone shouting at you and, quite often, insulting you, it takes a lot to stand there with a patient smile and apologise regardless.

99% of the time, I adore my job. It’s a great company, fun work, and brilliant people – a lot of whom have become some of my closest friends. But that 1% can really deal a heavy blow, and on days when I’m tired, full of cold, and lacking a will to do anything at all, I can only think about that 1%. How could I have avoided that confrontational man who insinuated that I contributed nothing to the company by not having paper bags? Was it truly my fault when a woman demanded I make her bags lighter, only to then complain that I under packed them on purpose?

I know that the answer is to not focus on the bad, and my efforts to fill my spare moments with friends and fun has helped a great deal, but for today I just want to sit, sleep, read, and not have to think about the 1%. There are days where I hate having an interval and want to go forward to something exciting and non-stop, but for now I need this interval – I need a break, a moment, peace.

And then I read back what I have written, and lose track of what it is that I’m trying to say. My mind jumps from one thing to the next, going back and forth on ideas and changing what I had thought was solid and secure. I suppose this is what tiredness and illness does to me, but for today this is all I can offer.

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Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

Moving on to 2017 [Part 1]

2017 marks as a fresh start for a lot of people, and not just because it’s a new year. 2016 for most of us was an awful year, filled with bad memories, bad politics, and bad people. Deaths, terrorist attacks, and fear have made 2016 an awful year in almost every way, so it’s no surprise that people are jumping into 2017 with hope for some grand miracle. At first I was in full agreement, thinking that my 2016 has been particularly difficult not just because of Brexit and Trump, but also losing my Grandma last July. Mourning never really ends; it acts more like a wound, that slowly heals and can be reopened, but eventually scars over and fades over time, but still does not disappear.

But there was one thing that I’m sure she’d want me to remember – the reason why she called me ‘sunshine girl’ every time I saw her – and that’s to find the positivity and light that exists. And so instead of posting a blog post about my hopes for 2017 along with deciding if I succeeded all those goals and wishes I had for the past year, I’m going to talk about my favourite moments of 2016. (And I’m not just doing this because I’ve left my diary in London which is where I write down all my goals…)

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First off, 2016 was the year in which I got my best results so far in university. It was the first time that I’d received results and had a response that wasn’t equivalent to a shrug. I think I was used to doing well in school, so doing really well of course made me extremely happy, but only for a very short period of time. University of course is a completely different experience, and everyone you study with is just as good as you, if not better. I had pretty average grades through first year and for the start of second year, so it wasn’t until I had my final exam results that I really saw an improvement. It finally felt like my hard work was rewarded, and it has continued to spur me on today – even as I sit here with unfinished essays and an unread Paradise Lost.

2016 was the year when I re-evaluated what I wanted to do in my life, and decided that the realm of journalism isn’t quite ready for me yet. It’s where I thought about what I loved (dogs, books, chocolate), what I could probably make into a job (dogs, books), and what I could actually live off (books). After a year and a half of being a bookseller, the world of publishing seemed like the perfect fit – and getting that summer internship only heightened my excitement.

On that note, 2016 was the year in which I was promoted at my part-time job as a bookseller. It’s become my favourite job of all time, surrounded by books and brilliant people every weekend who have become friends. It’s where I’ve made some of my closest friends, where I’ve discovered new books and authors I would normally not choose, and where I’ve seriously made use of my discount.

And 2016 was the year I went to New York with one of my best friends and saw a musical that I also first heard in 2016, which changed my life (in small, not insignificant ways). Travelling is something that I love and wish I could do more of, but constraints like money (and time off university that isn’t filled with work) hold me back. Being able to go to a place like New York was a marvel in itself, filled with awe and wonder at every turn. And to see the musical Hamilton? Just incredible. The music, the messages, and the sheer majesty of the performance made it the best musical I’ve ever seen, and I salute Lin Manuel Miranda for such an incredible piece of art.

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It’s important to find the light in the darkness, and not look back (in anger) with regret. 2016 may have been a year of bad things and terrible experiences, but there were also good things and brilliant moments that shouldn’t be swept aside with the rest of the rubbish. No, 2016 was not the best year, but it also wasn’t an insignificant, unsalvageable one.