Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Grace in the Face of Adversity / I'm okay at the words.


For a Drama and Creative Writing combined honours graduate, I am wildly unprepared for and unnerved by public speaking. I'm used to writing pieces and publishing them online, that's comparatively piss easy. I'm used to the anxiety and apprehension before clicking 'publish' – will she get offended? Have I described this accurately? Will he read this one, too? Does that sentence sound stupid? That's totally normal to me by now.
I like to think that after around five years of blogging, I've got better at deciding what to publish and what to keep to myself. I've learned that some people need to be smacked or snogged in person and others need to be harshly berated or lovingly immortalised in pretty font for all to see; some events are better forgotten while some should be celebrated accordingly in a happy slosh of mindless alliteration; some feelings and memories must be cast aside or brought to light in lengthy posts featuring honest wording and, no doubt, dozens of hapless similes.

Blogging may not be my most flawless forte, but it's a passion I've definitely got down. Public speaking, however, is a whole other ballgame. I don't by any means dread performing in front of an audience. I've participated in my fair share of graded Drama performances over the past seven years; GCSE, A Level, BA. For GCSE, I was the bride's best friend on a hen night. AS Level, I was Rose Maloney for a monologue and Cissy Franks for a group performance (see below, massive shameless post about my love of the play Punk Rock). A Level, I found myself playing a psychotic invisible girl with no name. For my degree I've played a deranged bouffant clown, a bitchy schoolgirl, a slave to a sea sorcerer, a very camp male sailor, a citizen under constant video surveillance in a horrific futuristic society, and J.K. Rowling. I was always someone else. That was manageable, not always convincing, but not that hard to do. Being myself in front of an audience is terrifying.
A month or so ago, I was asked on the phone by the principal of my secondary school and my old Head of House there if I would like to do a presentation about what I've been through recently at the school's presentation evenings this year. My family said yes for me, I was suddenly faint with fear but agreed because truth be told, I'd do anything for my old school and the lovely senior members of staff – especially after my old house raised around £300 from a non-uniform day and donated it to my hospital (specifically the neurological centre), and my esteemed ex-Head of House called me a couple of days after my big op for a chat.
I wrote my speech, I was told not to sugar-coat anything, so I didn't... But I didn't exactly go too far into detail either. I asked if I should be spinning the story so I could add a moral or a message at the end as I wrapped it all up; y'know, I don't want to be a massive malignant downer on an otherwise joyful awards evening, slapping the prize winners with some particularly nasty reality before they step up to receive their trophies and book tokens. I'd much rather be a shining example that 'shit happens but it can be okay in the end.'

The first presentation I made on October 16th went rather splendidly... I think. I spent every evening in the week leading up to it slumped on the sofa half-asleep after a heavy shift making milky coffee and glorified slushy milkshakes, writing and editing furiously. I was still scribbling out and rewriting the odd sentence as I rode the train to and from Winchester in Grad Week; I would read the whole thing out loud (in a very expressive whisper) over and over again changing which words I emphasised and working out when was best to take a breath, in my seat on South West and Southeastern trains.
I turned up at the school an hour before the ceremony of sorts was due to start. I had a cuppa in the office with Mr W. We gossiped about other teachers and pupils, shared stories of recent personal experiences, then I moaned about my job and he became the sixth person to tell me to quit. 'Twas bloody lovely. The principal walked in at one point and actually uttered the words 'Oh thank God you're here, Grace!' It's been a very long time since anyone said that, much less someone so important. It was quite a pleasant shock. I remember rooting for that guy to get the job as our principal, back when he was a lowly Maths teacher. Our whole year group were behind him, and we celebrated for weeks on end when he was given the title he so totally earned.
Mr W kept pestering, asking what I was planning on saying. I assured him it was all printed and rehearsed, but I wasn't telling. I just said it was my story with a moral. This was mostly because I dedicated a paragraph to the school and him specifically, and I wanted that to be a nice surprise.

I saw my favourite teacher when entering the hall, the rather epic Finchy who taught me English and Drama at GCSE – the wonderful character who gave me full marks for my performance as a drunk bridesmaid and would brew the loveliest lattes at lunchtime for me and my close friends, the Coffee Club in Room 38. I hugged her without thinking it through for a second, caught up as best I could before I had to be ushered to my seat up the front on the side of the stage. I told her I hoped I'd make her proud, after all, she planted the Drama seed in my mind and got me into it, and she taught me how to write to the best of my ability, how to get my point across. I owe her a whole lot.

I sat down beside a lovely redhead girl and a nervous but sweet-looking boy. Both in the worse school houses, but I'll overlook that. I was startled to discover that the presentations would be taking place before awards were... Awarded. I wasn't sure which I'd rather – have people listening to me speak after the prizes were given, checking their watches, with numb bums and minds wandering to their lovely home awaiting them, or before, when all they wanted was to see their child get a little recognition for their excellence in Geography class or they were desperate to walk onstage and get those book tokens and a round of applause for their hard work in the Music rooms. I figured before was best, people would still be alert and paying enough attention, even if they hated me briefly for delaying the proceedings.
We were welcomed by the senior members of staff, who sat opposite me on the other side of the stage in all their finery sipping water and shuffling papers – it was charming. My old music teacher spoke, then the head of governors who is coincidentally the mother of a genius sweet girl in the year below me as well as a regular customer in the cafe, then BOOM, time for the presentations. Oh, that came around quick. I shuffle my own papers in my lap, bracing myself, suddenly blushing hot but utterly frozen. The lovely gal beside me sang 'When I Fall In Love', hitting the high notes and bringing the goosebumps on all around. I assumed the young fella would be next in line, but then my name was called from the lectern.
My lovely pal Mr W had the ingenious impulse to give my piece a name as the principal put the programme for the event together, and he nailed it. Grace in the Face of Adversity. I do love a good bit of wordplay on my name – have I mentioned that both my names are words? Yes? Okay then – and it was just darned awesome to be given a title. It also said next to my name that I was a 2009 Leaver – that hit me hard. I'm a mature adult now, five years out of the playground. Ha.

At some point, after my next and last evening speaking publicly, I'll post my speech on here for y'all to read, if you wanna. No pressure. I've read it to my bestest friend when he tracked me down in the big city crying into my coffee; I read it to the boyf after we went on a dinner date, and as previously mentioned I've read it to complete strangers on a train when I realised my expressive whisper had become a regular volume of conversation and the women in front of me had turned in their seats to peek through the gap and watch me.
Like I said, I think it went well. When I finally caught my breath a few paragraphs in and realised there was no rush, I could speak clearly and slowly, I could look out into the audience and catch the eyes of teachers and students if I wanted, there was nothing to be afraid of... It all came together. I felt especially confident as I was wearing my graduation dress and silver brogues – a winning combo. I have a good track record of being onstage in this outfit. I also wore my hair down, as part of my unusual plot twist – after years of relentlessly pulling and scraping my hair back into a boring bun, maybe a high exuberant ponytail, I've found I like it better loose and brushing my shoulders. I may or may not have started wearing it down in the first place because I was self-conscious about my scar. Whatever.

After telling my story in the speech, feeling the silence in the room pressing hard, I got to the last page and thought oh thank goodness, this is the good bit, meaning the part where I talk real to the kids, preach a little in the nicest way and remind them all how lucky they are etc, etc. I smiled more and more as I looked out and saw the students staring back at me, not necessarily in awe but definitely paying proper attention. It was a new feeling, speaking out and making an impact. I suddenly didn't want it to end.
It ended. There was a whole lot of applause. I smiled and smiled, backed off the podium and stepped down, walked along the front row and sat back in my esteemed seat. The teacher nearest to me said it was great, grinning; the applause went on and on; my old music teacher onstage locked eyes with me and I stupidly gave her a questioning thumbs-up, which she returned with a big nod. The super-important senior members of staff looked on from their table, all smiling, all shining. After the young lad played a gorgeous melody on the piano up front that I somehow hadn't noticed in all my anxiety, we were ushered to the back of the hall. As I walked along the aisle, I was met with a beaming face at the end of each row. Parents nodded respectfully or just outright grinned and whispered at me. I saw a friend of mine in the back row and stopped to chat, she told me she was excited when she heard I'd be here. My GCSE Drama/English heroine grabbed my hand from her seat and brought me in for a cheek-smacker, saying how beautiful it was and how proud she felt – how she hoped she had contributed to my brilliance, even just a little. I reassured her she did, she did a lot. Mr W treated me to a hug, then immediately demanded to know why I'd mentioned him in my speech. I believe I said something like 'well duh,' followed by 'I don't know what I was thinking, I got carried away...' My Science teacher smiled and gave me a thumbs-up, saying he loved it. I found my mum who'd snuck in at the last minute, and we sat together to watch the kids be celebrated. The principal gave his speech and said I was 'inspiring and brave'. Without thinking I waved my hand dismissively, to cover up the fact that I was weeping a little. Students and parents kept tapping me on the shoulder and congratulating me. Two teachers told me their own stories – one had a similar thing twenty-five years ago, the other had a scare with one of his daughters, and so my words meant a lot to them.
I giggled at how the prize giving was a lot like my graduation – students' names are called, they shake the principal's hand, walk up a step onto the stage, receive a ton of applause, take their envelope from the head of governors, step down and are ushered back to their seats. It's cute, and the most wonderful idea – celebrating the kids, egging them on. This school is so good to its students. Sure, when I was being kicked through corridors and belittled in the changing rooms it didn't seem like it, but when I freaked out about my Art exam, worried I had no friends and threw up in a sex education lesson, there was always a member of staff there to help me out.

Afterwards, Mr W is escorting my mama and I off the premises – probably because it's the only way he can ensure we actually leave and stop nattering away to everyone we bump into – and telling us just how fantastic he found my presentation. He ridiculously said 'it was the best thing I ever heard', and I demanded he retract that statement immediately. He then corrected himself, putting his newborn son's first cry just before my mad monologue. He then told me to never make him cry again, and take him out of the speech, and I refused to make any promises. We parted ways at the gate, mum and I headed for the car, and we debriefed on the way. It all felt fuzzy. As we approached our car (Star the CRV), we heard a shout 'Grace!' behind us. We turned and saw a mother in her mum-mobile, pupil in the passenger seat in his Claverham uniform. She shouted 'You are an inspiration!' The tears sprung up yet again.

My next speech delivery will be on the 27th November, at 6:30pm. This time will be a little different. Instead of speaking to a room full of parents, teachers and Year 7s and 8s, I'll be speaking to a room full of teachers, students and this year's leavers – the ex-Year 11s, my sister's year group. Students who are now studying for A Levels or diplomas, doing apprenticeships and discovering coffee, most of whom will know me personally or recognise me all too easily. Some of them have been in my house, some of them have been driven around in my car. Some of them messed with my little sis, and some kept her going. I have to edit my words a little, change them to suit the high school grads, but also brace myself for the inevitability that on the night I will look out into the crowd and see faces I know looking back at me. It's like when we performed our first year monologues in Drama lessons at college to the whole class, a few days before we were due to perform them to the external examiner. I would take the meanest stingiest external examiner a million times before I'd take my friends and peers. Heck, I'd take the nine hours of brain surgery again right now and it would probably be easier than confidently communicating a message to a hall packed out with teenagers and their parents.
It'll probably be fine, though. What's life without the occasional challenge? If it's not looking good, I can always whip out the scar and scare them stupid. I wouldn't do that... Although I've done dumber things when in a panic.
So, wish me luck maybe? Thank you, darlings. I'll be backstage, breathing into a bag.

In all seriousness, in life things are only as scary as you make them. I say that with the utmost sincerity and I have a massive backlog of incidents to prove it. Push yourself, work hard, take a step out of your comfort zone, and reap the rewards. I got applause, pats on the back, hugs all round, a cup of sweet green tea and a beautiful bouquet of thank you flowers. I also got a generous helping of confidence. Boom, baby.


Gradding.

Three years suddenly met in one day, in just a few hours, in fact.


7am, jam to the recently released Taylor Swift tune in the hotel room with the little sis – forget about those sleeping either side of your twin room, they should be awake for this magical day anyway, surely – splash freezing water on your face, zip up the sought-after dress and get set for the future. 
7:20am, tucking into poached eggs on toast with the mama, gulping down green tea and watching the morning sun light up the cathedral the other side of the glass.
8am, pick up gown and have hat attached.
8:07am, see a few of your favourite coursemates in the queue ahead of you and freak out massively, run up and hug each of them – despite the fact that you saw at least two of them in the hotel foyer with their families the night before. It's funny how you go from seeing someone every day, pretty much, to then seeing them next to never and therefore exploding with familiar joy when you see their face twice within twelve hours. It's more than you can cope with, in the best way.
8:25am, meet the charming ever-so-slightly camp fella who will be spending his day slotting mortarboards onto chattering over-emotional ex-students' heads. Have him wedge the size M hat on, feel it slip a little on your hair, super-shiny after being trimmed, washed and given a toner treatment by a trained genius friend the night before. He asks, 'nervous?' You reply 'of course not!' giggling with a tear in one eye, giving you away. 'But... Is it normal to be nervous?'

9:34am, standing outside the cathedral in the optimistic drizzle, catching up and taking photos with families and friends, fellow graduands. Guests lining up across the way eager for the good seats, while graduands wait to be led in to the alphabet seating. 9:40am, we're the first ones in. I'm possibly the third in, pattering up the uneven hallowed stone slabs, pretending to know where I'm going. 

9:43am, I find my seat, it's the one in the J-L row, with the gold-edged book that holds all ceremony info face-down on it, my name stuck on the back. My full name, first middle and last. It didn't occur to me that I'd be known as all three names today – my first and last are quite enough, they're both words you can use in a sentence, and I'm a-okay with that. My middle name is a baby girl's name, that happened to be the middle name of both my great-grandmas. I was cringing at the reveal of my secret second name, when I realised that one of my beautiful uni besties had the very same one. I was also feeling a little insecure and lonesome in my back row seat sandwiched between two classmates who had yet to arrive, then once again said bestie saved me when she sat down directly in front of me. My immense relief and joy at this prompts the first of many flashbacks that will be happening today – cornering the intimidatingly awesome self-proclaimed Bexhill girl in the stairwell after the latest uninspiring poetry seminar, exclaiming in her face that I'm from just down the road, excitedly hugging and babbling about our home towns, families and mutual friends as we walk back to halls, and thinking to myself 'thank goodness I didn't freak her out. I'm totally friend-crushing.'

Bexhill-born Creative Writer extraordinaire, the irrefutable Miss Holman-Hobbs, Cathedral selfie'ing with me.

10:15am, and they're all here. The familiar faces, ones I'd see every other day in obnoxious clean-cut auditoriums or cramped old-school classrooms; bleary and bloodshot on Thursday mornings or alert and excitable after a boring restful weekend, panicked and fearful in the week before D-Day then relieved yet buzzed by the middle of March. Polite hellos and enthused hugs happen again and again, parents snap and pap us as we pose where we sit.
10:36am, it all kicks off. Our ceremony is the first of many; a week packed full of graduands who become graduates and students who become masters, kids whose families watch their hard work pay off.

The ceremony was pleasant enough. Chancellor and Vice chatted and clucked onstage, we the crowd laughed and clapped in all the right places, and uni suddenly seemed more upscale and serious. As the rows began moving in front of me, the robed students standing up and being escorted to the steps to shake the hands and take the walk, my lips wobbled and vision blurred multiple times – I'd have to clamp down and remind myself of my make up. Don't cry until after, if you have to. 10:54am, I see the pompous interjecting lecture commentator in the row in front of me reading a thick fantasy novel. Even at the end, he can still annoy me.
11:05am, the Creative Writers are being called up. It's not until one of the first Bs is called, a certain Miss Brookman, the one with the epic full name that's almost as formidable as her writing talent, that people are brave enough to cheer. Before long every writer gets a whoop and several yells, at the very least a hard clap and a lukewarm outcry.
11:14am, I get a cheer. The surprise makes me turn and look into the crowd as I head up the wooden steps after shaking the first hand.
I would have looked anyway, to be fair. I've been watching countless Creative Writers and American studiers walk up onto the stage to end their student career and get the recognition and applause they deserve, and all I've seen are the backs of their heads or their profiles hidden beneath hair, eyes staring straight ahead as they step back down. Boring! My lecture buddy of three years, the one who happens to be a supremely talented writer and director as well as a red-hot harlot on social media, turns as he mounts the wood and treats us to a little chin tilt and playful eyebrow wiggle before conforming to the boring as he approaches the Chancellor. Now, he had the right idea. This is your moment, it's been a long time coming and yet happened all too quickly, and it's a moment that may never be replicated, even slightly. We're in the effing cathedral, the centre of the city's universe; it's terrifyingly grand and fits the occasion perfectly. When is the next time we'll be onstage here, looking out over a gorgeous loving crowd? You have to appreciate that view. So I take my time looking out, feeling the smile burning into my cheeks, slightly embarrassed that my full name was just called out and echoed through speakers for all to hear – I'm pretty glad that at this point I didn't know that the many cameras on the stage were feeding into monitors on pillars further back in the cathedral for the guests to watch us close-up as we exchange a few words with the important lady and focus all our energy on not tripping over at any point... I'm careful to keep my handshake firm and friendly, I laugh a little too hard when the Chancellor says 'Got family in, then?'
'Yes, almost a whole row of them! I was lucky enough to get a few more guest tickets...' I'm aware that the graduand after me is waiting and the applause for me is fading.
'Well, there's a lot of love in that cheer!' I thank her and feel my bottom lip jut out and wobble violently. I was so close to making a joke when she asked if I had family in; I'd respond with something along the lines of 'no, just nobody believed I'd ever get a degree!' Something self-deprecating always goes down a treat. I chickened out. I make sure to quickly lightly tap the left side of my head as I walk away from her, say thank you to my brain, because for all its faults, it's done well here. I then get an impulse and turn back to the audience, execute the perfect Rory Gilmore tribute with a deliriously lewd sticking-out of the tongue, then finally step down and am greeted by a suited fella holding my certificate. He hands it to me, says 'congratulations', probably one of many millions he'll say this week, and I respond with 'Thank you, can I cry now?' He smiles sympathetically and utterly unsurprised he replies: 'yes, of course you can cry now.'
That's all the permission I need. I nod another thank you and as I stand at the side waiting to be guided back to my seat, I let my face fall in on itself and take a moment to ugly-cry. It's an instinctive childish outburst, the kind you get when you fall over, graze your knees and don't know how to laugh it off yet.

11:30am (or thereabouts) was my favourite part of the ceremony, easily. Our Chancellor and Vice are singing the praises of the uni, congratulating themselves and members of staff, then us. 'Please do join us in congratulating our graduates' is followed by a shit-ton of applause. I feel we've been celebrated enough to last us a lifetime at this point. Then, brilliantly, we graduates are told that our families and friends have supported us throughout our studies and surely they deserve a thank you, too – so we all stand, turn towards our honoured guests and give them their due, a ludicrously loud bout of cheering and clapping, several rounds of applause somehow condensed into just a matter of minutes.
I do think for a moment how wonderful those around me have been through everything. I called my mum when Drama group work got me down, when one person belligerently threw in a whole toolbox of spanners and a whole piece threatened to flush itself down the drain. My dad bought me coffee and listened to me rant and rave about my ECP and how I was struggling with the characters' objectives in my creative piece just as much as the technical wording and research I had to include in my rationale essay. Little sis baked cupcakes and always understood when my beloved dedicated team or loyal live-in friends became everything but, and was a hotline for advice that was given in the form of Taylor Swift lyrics. My grandparents wanted confirmation constantly that my workload wasn't too unbearable, and that my part-time jobs in the outside world didn't endanger my grades or my mental health. When I'd get home for a weekend and message home girls asking if they fancied a drink and a dance or just a long drive round and round, they'd oblige and make sense of things I'd been stressed over for weeks, in seconds. My degree is just as much theirs as it is mine. They just never turned in coursework, pulled all-nighters in the library or acted out giving birth onstage.

11:48am, I'm willing myself to soak in the moment as we graduates – now with the 'ate' instead of the 'and' – are parading out of the cathedral, out of the big red front doors that apparently are only ever opened for these ceremonies; we're walking past countless proud parents, dear friends and there's even a very well-behaved dog on the end of one aisle. The second the doors were opened, we heard a mad thunderous din outside and turned to one another groaning 'oh no, is that rain?! I thought it would have cleared up by now!' Then we realised it was, in fact, outside applause. Applause from the crowd gathered outside, waiting to see us all.
Eyes fixed on the sky as we get closer to the doors, I reach into my dress pocket and without looking at the screen I type a panicked 'I'm out!!!!!' text to my best girl to ensure she gets down to the grounds in time to see us all in our finery. She has instructed me to text so she can come down, but really I'm being selfish, I want her here ASAP because she's my fave and she's just gotta be here – there are too many recent tricky times I wouldn't have got through without her by my side.



From noon onwards we were milling around outside the cathedral, in a sea of smart clothes and dark robes, punctuated by hats flying here and there. I threw my hat, of course, for that eagerly anticipated photo op, and as I'd been warned that mortarboards can get confused and muddled when thrown, I stared at mine as it flew and made sure I picked the right one back up. It wasn't too difficult – my mortarboard flew a little out of reach and smacked someone as it came back down to earth. I kept throwing to a minimum after that, focusing instead on grabbing everyone I knew while I could, posing for photos together, squealing with happiness and hugging madly. I also delighted in meeting everyone's guests.
It's so interesting and all too rare meeting your uni friends' families – I suppose going to school with someone, you'd see their parents and siblings when you had play dates and dinner round their house in the evenings, and you'd see college friends' rellies when you walked home with them or when they got off the train at their stop. I find parents fascinating. I meet a mum and a dad and I can see where their child, my friend, came from. Not literally, of course, that's just too gross and personal. I mean I see the features in the face they share and the mannerisms they've adopted – also occasionally, if they're like me, they will have learned to say certain things a certain way due to a parent with an accent. It's not just that, though. I met a fantastic friend's mother and thought 'she's so sweet, it obviously transferred to her daughter,' then met the father and it all clicked into place: 'and THIS is where the joyful, slightly mad enthusiasm and infectious smile came from!'


I cried periodically throughout the day. Before the ceremony, during, right after when hugging friends outside in the sun, when visiting the barista at his workplace, while lunching with the family, as I waved goodbye to the parents, grandparents and sis, when I met up with a good friend for dinner, even as I walked back to my digs for the week with the barista. For the most part, they were happy tears.
I'm not sure what brought on the tearful outburst right after my name was called in the ceremony, I mean there are only several thousand possible causes; I've been bashed about a fair bit by the boys, I've been dealt a few shit hands as friends turned sour, there's been health scares and true nightmares galore, there was always embarrassment brewed within the booze, and nowadays the excitement is gone and I'm stuck where I am, doing nothing of note and waiting for the future to happen. It's been tough at times over these three years, but it's far far tougher leaving them behind. I said something uncharacteristically profound to my boyfriend as I waited for my train back to reality at the end of Grad Week – 'It's harder to leave than be left.'

Your blogger bestie.


I miss them. I miss how utterly inadequate but perfectly accepted I felt when I was with them. I miss our understanding adventures, our own wavelength running the Southern rails and our endless mindless telepathy.

I never had close female friends. I always had best friend, singular, often one in a group, a group I was never part of. I'd slink around the outside, not by choice, but by necessity. I didn't fit in with any groups – I'd flit about as best I could, but really my only true friends could be counted on one hand. Then I became part of a three – occasionally a four or five, sitting on a six-seater with our ring binders and railcards at 7:38am. It was unusual and fantastical having two recent contacts remembered atop the list on my shitty Motorola, recipients of texts (recipients, plural) that I sent whenever I thought of them both, whenever something that we'd all appreciate had happened. I thought of them a lot. I cared about them, and they cared about me. They'd been besties since school days, and to be honest I was delighted they'd even considered my application to join the group. I made it, I was in, I was happy. We three. We were tight. Were we but a little younger, we'd have a handshake.
We'd watch trash and make comments, collectively feel better. We made social media. Sang the same songs in the car and stopped off for deep-fried sustenance once every few miles. I burned my petrol money going out of my way and giving lifts because I loved seeing them on the passenger side and bouncing in the middle back seat. I loved it.
I'd listen to the boyfriend troubles and patiently partake, speculating and gesticulating, formulating and at times elaborating or just imagining.
I'd take their words as gospel – I probably still would. Whether it was 'don't cut your hair like that, it suits you longer', 'don't drive that way, we'll get lost', or 'don't have sex with him, he'll just hurt you' – they were always right.
We were so great. Going to clubs to use the toilet, having sleepovers in the living room, catching up between lessons over pasta in the canteen, getting trains to and from our new homes on weekends, taking full-length photos before big birthday parties, sharing sugary pitchers and making pacts.

Now I hate my job, my head always hurts, my heart is stitched together like an ugly cartoon cliché, my heels are hung up – they were only a flighty fancy anyway – and my corkboard never recovered from the massacre, the sudden destruction. Pins stabbed and flew as the memories came down, two years of friendship in tatters littering my bedroom floor.
I also give fewer shits.
And now quite predictably, fulfilling their expectations, I take to the blank page; the welcoming warm embrace of the blog, the orange background and the chance to strikethrough font, like I wish I could in life. Just a little. I might even go back and stop myself posting. Go back and think about what I could have done.
I'd convince myself to keep calling, keep messaging, keep trying, keep hoping.

She asks for help, for tips. I remember the dissing back in the day, the stagnant hatred and silent treatment that led to a big reveal that... Blogging about feelings was immature. It was 'inexcusable'. I can't begin to reply. I mustn't. She might not be aware that she's opened the door. Fair enough, getting back into contact when your ex-friend falls ill. Fair play to you, swallowing whatever resentment you may still hold and cherish, putting it aside to reassure the girl who once was the third. She really appreciated it. She sat in hospital and she stupidly thought it was the start of the old, a new beginning, at last. Maybe, maybe, things could be the way they were.

I could reply and say something scathing or sarcastic. I could reply and be perfectly pleasant and helpful. I could reply and politely decline, explain that I'm not the right person for the job. I could reply in all honesty and say

Hi sweetie! :) how are you? Thanks for the message!
It's so lovely of you to stay in touch, I really appreciate your support and well-wishes in that difficult time, especially since we haven't been that close for a few years.
I'd love to help you out, really I would, but I don't really think my style would work with that particular blog. I'm not that fashionable! Haha. I love that you thought of me, I'm definitely not the best blogger but it is still a pretty big thing to me. Really happy your sis is getting out there and trying blogging, I bet she'll be awesome. I'll make sure I subscribe to her! :)
I'm also not sure I should help, because idk if you remember but however many years ago it was, you stopped being my friend because of something I wrote on my blog – because I was so big on blogging about my feelings when I couldn't express them. I understand where you were coming from back then, I probably could have dealt with things a little better, but tbh blogging was the only thing I could do back then whenever I had strong feelings about something. I was angry, I was upset, I missed my besties, I didn't understand why they weren't speaking to me – so I wrote about it. It made sense at the time. Anyway, I hope you get where I'm coming from. It still hurts now, even after everything that's happened to me lately.
In the past three years I've had my heart broken about twelve times by just two guys, I've been dicked around by a lot of uni friends, I've struggled with work, I've worried I'd fail, I've embarrassed myself when drunk AND sober, I've made too many terrible decisions and I've recently had my head cut open and fixed. But nothing has ever hurt me quite like losing the two of you did.
xxx

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Café cliché.

I'm a penniless graduate, trainee barista, wannabe-writer combination – I'm a walking talking cake-scoffing sitcom-watching cliché.

I got the job at the café within two weeks of getting back home; ten minutes walk from the house, fairly consistent shift patterns on a zero hours contract thus fantastic flexibility, supposedly. Never a dull moment. Easy rotation - when you get bored or frustrated on the till, spin around and start making drinks orders; when you get sick of the smell of espresso and ground coffee beans are smudged all over your hands, dive out from behind the counter at the first opportunity and seize the trashy trays that are piling up on the tables; when you grow tired of the sticky humidity in the kitchen that surrounds you as you're throwing plates and mucky mugs into the dishwasher, you can check the safe and busy yourself with some banking. 
There's plenty to do. There's more to do than I ever imagined, the job is harder than I ever imagined, and to be quite honest, more often than not, I'm less appreciated than I ever imagined. It's not just frothing milk and banging out grinders, unloading deliveries and wiping down tables. 
I do find it fascinating when people order their drinks in the most bizarre and obscure yet specific ways. A cappuccino, 'extra wet', just means a latte with an extra shot surely, while 'extra dry' means froth, the whole froth and nothing but the froth. Just ask for a shot with your froth. A decaf Americano - firstly, what's the point? - with an extra shot, really? A skinny iced latte with whipped cream - so you're saving precious few calories in milk to allow for a ton squirted on top? An Americano with any kind of milk is mad anyway, but with cream and dusted with chocolate, then cold water added 'to make it instantly drinkable', then a pot of hot water on the side? I am certain that some people order their hot drinks and take great pride in their use of the possibility to make it their own, to be an individual; to be one of the many thousands in the country ordering a caramel latte at this exact moment BUT to be the only one asking for it to drink in, in a takeaway cup, with a swirl of extra syrup mixed in with the shots and a light layer of cinnamon to top it off. It did take me a while to work out what my individual drink was I suppose, and I do take pride in knowing for sure what I like and what won't offend my tongue, and I'm happy to be set in my ways now. It is a possibility for individuality. I appreciate that. Within reason. 

I've started genuinely debating whether I'll continue to get my coffee from chain stores.
Partly because one can never know what goes on when the shop shuts; how badly the staff are treated, the story behind the beans, how greedy and grabby the owners are if this particular store is a franchise rather than a branch... Mainly because of the obvious: supporting local businesses is so important. 
Just quickly - if friends work in a branch, that's almost another matter. Seeing a friend, brightening their day by appearing at the counter, enjoying sipping their handiwork - that's lovely!
Anyway, I'll always check out my options when looking for certain things. I get the majority of my clothes from a boutique in my home town that my friend owns and I have occasionally worked in; I buy jewellery almost exclusively from the stalls in Camden markets (or Winchester high street every Thursday); every time I've gone to a stand-alone restaurant or bar I've found it rather lovely - food spot on and generous portions, sweet service and considerate pricing - it urges me to try and go to those more often. The oldest quirkiest singular pubs are always the best. I'd always make a point of buying my daily coffees from my SU back in the uni days - and not just because of the handsome baristas, but because the money spent in that bar went right back into my Student Union, whereas the for-profit organisation who set up camp selling weak lukewarm lattes two floors above were purely in it for themselves. All my outfits for special occasions have come from either a home town one-off shop or, again, a stall in Camden, and not only does this mean I am supporting the smaller stores and (hopefully) putting money right in the staff's pocket rather than fuelling the overlords - also, chances are nobody I know will have the same item, shallow girly perk right there.
Chains don't necessarily need our pennies - if a high street brand operates in over one thousand venues nationwide, the £29.99 we shell out for a generic dress that will be deemed unfashionable by the time we've left the shop won't make a difference to their staff morale. 
If there are over eight thousand stores in the country, chances are they can go without the precious £2.60 we spend on a mass-produced (and quite frankly, mediocre at best) overly mellow milky coffee. 
Top tip here, while I'm being preachy: never 'add gratuity' or press 'enter' to tip when a member of wait staff hands you the card machine after your meal. Adding gratuity means you're paying extra by card directly to the company - the chain receives it and it may never be distributed among staff. I learned this by working in a restaurant aged fifteen on less than minimum wage, living off tips that jingled in a cappuccino cup on the bar, and having to hand over the card machine with a smile and a silent plea that my lovely customers who I'd worked hard for would understand that I'd never see their generous tip unless it was placed directly under my nose in the form of a two pound coin. 
Pay by card and leave cash on the bill plate - or press it into their palm. 
Okay, I'm being a little harsh. Sometimes chains can be the only way to go - there are a select few mainstream coffee shops that fulfil my needs, a few smaller-chain cinemas that get it spot on (one of which I had a joyous job with), computer-y superstores that employ geniuses who switch things on and off again in just the right way, and certain clothes shops that one can always go to if they need something fast and simple. But yeah, supporting your locals is always a good option wherever possible.

Rant over. I can imagine that from this post so far, you lovely readers can gather that I'm frustrated and stunted beyond belief where I am right now.
Living in the family home is one thing - I can get on board with the home-cooked meals that come from a fully-packed fridge and are made from effectively free food, the central heating, the HD TV, the fantastic laundry service, the daily exposure to a gorgeous ginger cat, the general rent-free lifestyle, and of course the constant support and contact with my pretty perfect family; I can get over the minor hiccups that remind me of days long gone when I needed lifts everywhere and couldn't make choices for myself, often by scurrying away every now and again to have my own little 'independence day' in another town or city - BUT I cannot get my head around spending over thirty-four hours a week slaving away at something I'm not passionate about, something I do just for the CV points and the extra coins, something I'd chuck in tomorrow if I was offered even just a thousand so I could stay relatively afloat while searching for something better. Something I'd spring out of bed in the morning and excitedly pack and dress for, not something I have to march myself to at the absolute last minute each morning. Not something that invites the world in to watch me flounder and come up for air for a few unpaid minutes per shift - not something that is in the centre of my little universe back home and therefore features ex-friends and parents of peers who come in and quiz me about my degree and my prospects as I pump the syrup, mix the chocolate powder and load the blender with ice. 
I'm always wondering why we humans do this. Why we accept work wherever we can, while away the hours we could be spending pursuing cheesy dreams and furthering passions, all for that last Friday every month when we feel euphoric for a matter of minutes when we check our mobile banking app, then treat ourselves to a bottle or some bling or a break abroad, and just like that it's over and we're back where we were before. See, I debate and complain about this constantly nowadays, and yet the day after tomorrow I'll be donning the shirt and slacks and quietly collecting trays once again. It's a trap. It's a system. It's money.

I am constantly having to remind myself that it's just for a few months - just under a year, tops. It'll all be worth it when I'm unpacking in my cheap London flat, making cups of tea with my fellow graduates also pursuing something more in the big smoke; when I'm wandering around the ancient picturesque campus, then sitting in the lecture hall listening to a wise old soul who would never name-drop, only inspire, surrounded by like-minded individuals who want what I want and have driven themselves to get where we all are. It'll be worth it when I graduate on those beautiful steps with my MA, and I'm up for multiple dream jobs that right now I am not even long-listed for. It'll be worth it when I'm strapped into my window seat on the second leg of the twenty-one hour journey to Australia, ready for my post-grad adventure, and it'll be worth it when I'm running full tilt into the waves off Burleigh Heads beach or snapping photos frantically of the street art in Melbourne, or sipping the delicious nectar that is Merlo coffee - yes, a chain, but by far more delicious than anything this side of the world.

Until then, my biggest dream is someday making a coffee so beautiful and picture-perfect that a customer will take a snap on their iPhone 6, edit it with Afterlight and post a clarified brightened filtered version of it on Instagram. Maybe then I can retire gracefully.

Bright.


Let me thrive here. Be alive here. Let me wake up each morning and never yearn, never dream of bigger or more vibrant, never needing to. I want to sell gems and crystals on Sydney Street, peruse the five floors of books off North Road and collect hats from Loot. I want to ditch my car and live on foot, spending supposedly precious time and money social networking while sipping burnt espresso or jade cloud green in the independent cafés; a different one every day. Drink a cuppa after waking while looking out to sea - actually seeing the sea beyond the rows and rows of red brick or painted pinks, tinting the sky and stretching past the pebbles. Breathe out the menthol air and envisage the earth beneath me supporting my weight. Map out the prospects, reap the rewards. See the thunder rushing over the bridge at the top of town, the lights and destinations a whirling blur as are the travellers - I cannot stand the thought that anyone would want to forsake this place, doesn't welcome the tide as it pulls them in, that their therapy is as mine is to be there, to get out to somewhere better. 

24.

Hi, my name's Gracie. I graduate in five days, I'm hungry constantly, making coffee isn't my dream career, I have a love/hate relationship with the shop Joy, puns make my world spin, I am redecorating my childhood bedroom, I'm not loving these darker evenings and mornings nowadays, I say 'nowadays' far too often, surely I should be getting my hair done before graduation and Grad Ball, David Levithan writes the way I think only better, for the first time I'm genuinely interested in going to Glastonbury Festival, I want a (500) Days of Summer tattoo and chances are I'll get it, gelato should be on prescription, I feel better with Buddha hanging around my neck, jeans make me uncomfortable, Pretty Little Liars is trashy but addictive, Simon Stephens is my favourite playwright and he's read my blog, I believe in fate now more than ever, when I wrote the last one of these everything was normal, nothing had changed, and now it has forever.

I do one of these posts every month whenever I remember.



Friday, 3 October 2014

The constant and totally welcome voices.

After knowing someone for a while, you begin to take them on. Their habits, mannerisms, poses and ticks become definitions added to our open-ended dictionaries written by our over-active brains and fuelled by our fascination with friends who continuously surprise us, or addiction to acquaintances who offer something new and different to us every day, pulling us out from where we're sat stuck in our familiar frames.
Their face sharpens a little more in your memory each day, clarifies and takes on their character – in maybe a harmlessly exaggerated way. Their voice becomes comfortably ingrained in your mind. Their accent is a warm familiar area of the woods, and you find solace in the little quirks that escape their lips even in the most light-hearted fleeting conversations. Their inflections bring a smile to your face, they build and paint parts of the puzzle you're piecing together each time you see them.
You start reading their text messages, social media updates, pieces of work they may ask you to proof and spellcheck, all as an homage – in their voice, in your head.

I make myself laugh more than anyone else. When I say that, I mean it in both senses – I make myself laugh better than anyone else could make me laugh, and I give myself the giggles more than anyone else ever would.
However, when I'm deep in a pit of hysteria, so deep I can't even see the surface any more much less remember the joke that sent me there, I hear a little echo of my friends' laughter. One of my oldest and dearest friends has the most outrageous outburst of a laugh, a sudden spluttering high-pitched hoot often accompanied by tightly shut eyes, a full-body shake and a signature spin into a nearby wall for support. It's one of those laughs that makes you laugh all the more – and as a little bonus, an even funnier joke that attaches itself seamlessly to yours soon follows from his chuckling mouth. I do love that little character quirk, the infectious and memorable trait, in fact I love it so much that I hear it whenever I ought to.
Interestingly, I've found a few certain friends at uni who also have memorable titters and chortles, and very occasionally I'll hear their laughs mingle with the one consistent reminiscent reminder. The original laugh is tinged with a northern accent, as are two of the newer laughs. Another is very deep south. Interesting.

After seeing my beautiful idol Caitlin live – Caitlin who is blessed with hilarity in her heart, has creativity blooming and bursting from her ashy lungs and girl power streaming through her veins – I had devoured her clear voice and vague Wolverhampton accent as it rung out over the crowd in the charming little theatre that perhaps had never housed such a passionate little universe, and locked the tones away in my mind for those more overcast days. I finished reading How To Build A Girl afterwards and was delighted to discover that she was now actively narrating the novel for me – and not just the passage she'd read aloud onstage about Big Cock Al from Brighton.
It was as I read '...the deepest irony about the young being cynical is that they are the ones that need to move, and dance, and trust the most. They need to cartwheel through a freshly burst galaxy of still-forming but glowing ideas, never scared to say 'Yes! Why not!' - or their generation's culture will be nothing but the blandest, and most aggressive, or most-defended of old tropes', and 'I can see the operating system of the world – and it is unrequited love. Every book, opera house, moon shot and manifesto is here because someone, somewhere, lit up silent when someone else came into the room, and then quietly burned when they didn't notice them' and then 'I have had more fucks than you've had hot dinners', that I realised I wanted her to read everything for me. Before long I was a couple hundred pages into a Charlotte Roche, an Alice Sebold and even an Andrew Kaufman; I was picking up newspapers off the tables at work, catching the headlines; I skimmed Vulture articles or mindless Buzzfeed trumpery – and I was hearing the deeply satisfying all-knowing voice that always seemed right on the cusp of a ridiculously accurate declaration followed by a victorious cackle. There's also the phrases she taught me – 'YES-thefuck', and 'NO-thefuck', perfect for some situations when I can't express how fantastically cocksure or supremely wank I am feeling.
The funniest part of this shameless inherent fangirling is that at the gig, Caitlin did mention how one can have someone else's voice ingrained in their subconscious for as long as they need it, and they could even become that person whenever they feel that it would help – she had Courtney Love, and now the world has her. I can only dream that one day I'll be locked in a hotel room with her, talking about life and fashionably chain-smoking, demanding room service go out and buy us more packets from the corner shop. Someday.

Revisiting my never-ending hashtag trend #postop for a second here, advance warning – sometimes when I get a flash of pain down the side of my head or just feel a little too low for my liking, I make myself hear the uncanny accent (unconfirmed: Romanian) of my ingenious neurosurgeon as he says 'I am dee-LIGHT-eddd!' or 'Fan-TASSS-tickk!'; I do see the trained eyes, the nod, I do feel the impassioned shoulder claps and the tender two-handed handshakes, but above all I hear the calm and steady voice telling me I'm fine. Usually the disembodied voice of my support nurse chimes in with an unexpected ringtone, a light laugh and tinny words of encouragement, too, as I tell her she's called me at the perfect time.

When something unfortunate unexpectedly occurs, and it's not necessarily completely my fault – for instance, falling down the stairs or tripping over the cat, finding one annoying typo in a lengthy piece of work or forgetting to switch on the dishwasher at work – I am reminded of a friend at uni who'd always mutter 'nice job Gracie' with a patronising smirk whenever something like that happened to me over the past year, making me feel useless, thoughtless and clumsy in one fell swoop. That isn't as nice and welcome as the other people living in words or sounds – however, I'm reckoning that since a few of my other ex-friends' and ex-somethingmores' nonsensical garbage expressions have faded from my mind recently, this one won't be lingering much longer. There is the occasional involuntary 'la vie' spoken in the deepest drawl that springs out of the darkness when I hear anyone utter 'c'est la vie'; sometimes a gutsy pretentious 'mmm' between bluesy guitar chords comes from nowhere and I automatically roll my eyes, but for the most part, the unwelcome are eternally expelled.

I do hear other people's voices in my head. Even if it's just the tiniest little jogs to the memory – like whenever someone utters the word 'five' I inexplicably hear my Year Three teacher yelling 'FIVE?!' incredulously when I tell her I'm only up to number five on the spelling test, followed by 'c'mon Grace, you're an AERO!' (My Year Three class was divided into groups fundamentally based on their abilities to recite times tables and string sentences together, and their group names were animals for Numeracy, sweeties for Literacy, the names corresponding with descending letters in the alphabet. Basically, the Antelopes had sparkly high-speed science calculators for brains, and the Aeros were the bee's knees at crossing their T's, therefore should be on top form when it came to assessed spelling.)
I hear my mum's accent on words that she'd say differently; vitamin, dance, project, hessian.
Recently I've been occasionally hearing the most exasperated 'fuck' said in a husky Irish accent, ever since I discovered Once, the musical and more importantly the gorgeous Guy, David Hunter.
I hear vibrant, positively sensual, tones of encouragement and words of inspiration which would usually be accompanied by the most explicitly beautiful gestures, by my ECP tutor; her words 'I think someone should die', spun around my skull for weeks after that fateful meeting when I decided the destiny of my favourite character in the story.
I hear my Grandad saying my favourite three words when I catch sight of them inked permanently on my wrist. I hear the fella's funny reiteration of 'you got disss', when I'm not sure I've got it at all. I hear my high school Drama teacher saying 'Go get 'em, tigers!', and my college Drama teacher saying 'Just go for it', and the cheesiness can really work.

The compilation of voices is endless. Wise, hilarious, encouraging, painful – they are all of the above. Blink may not have intended their lyrics to be applied to one British girl's life so literally, but there you go. I have voices inside my head, and they are you, you and you.

I'm sure I can't be the only one who has this happen; I can't be the only human to associate certain things with certain people, to hoard and hone until I've absorbed, to keep sworn secret the most unlikely memories and revel in happier times as they sit hot in my ears. It's a comforting phenomenon and I'm convinced it will keep me safe and warm when things are looking bleakest. I'll be sitting on the last train home one night and trying to remember why I'm here, why those things happened and what I could have done differently – and I'll tune into my memory bank. That oughtta do it. That, and some cheap cooking Scotch. 
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