Posted in family

The Waiting Game

Time is relative.

When you’re running late for work and every traffic light you come across is stuck on a red light, five minutes can seem like an eternity.

However, when your favourite band starts playing its signature song during the last five minutes of what had been a wonderful concert, 5 minutes feels like no time at all.

12 hours of the daily grind doing a job you hate can feel interminable.

However, the last 12 hours of the weekend, when you’re staring Monday in the face (and the beginning of another busy work week) never feels long enough.

A week’s vacation passes in the blink of an eye.

A week waiting to find out if a loved one will make it through multiple organ dysfunction feels like forever.

Waiting is agony. I’m not the most patient person to begin with. I’m a woman of action. I see a problem, I find a solution. Simple. If there’s something to fix, I would want a run through of all possible options for fixing it.

But there comes a point when you start to run out of options, and every action feels like you’re only prolonging the inevitable conclusion. Its a bitter pill to swallow, knowing that there are some things you just can’t fix.

During my more morbid moments, I often wonder whether its better to die suddenly, without any suffering whatsoever, or from a prolonged disease where you have to suffer constantly but you get the chance to say goodbye to everyone (and them to you).

If you ask me, I want neither option.

I would like to die from old age with a gin and tonic in my hand, surrounded by my family and all the boys I’ve loved who didn’t love me back and who have come to express their regrets on my deathbed, with Taylor Swift playing in the background.

I know the end will come for us all. This month has been difficult. Dealing with dad’s operation and my grandmother being very very ill has brought home just how fleeting life really is, and how few moments there are in between birth and dying. What is 50 or 60 odd years really, in the face of eternity? Its a single grain of sand in a massive desert.

But what a glorious grain it is, so much so that we cling to that single grain for as long as we can. We do all we can to survive, sometimes even beyond all reason. For those of us who work in one aspect of health care or the other, we choose to be aggressive with our treatments because its counterintuitive for us to let go when there are still things that can be done. Giving up goes against every training and every instinct we’ve developed as professionals.

Oh, but the waiting.

Sometimes I imagine I can literally hear the tick tick ticking of time passing and it freaks me out. There is so much I want to do and I’m well aware that I might not be able to do all of them. To me, time is a gift, and we often take it for granted up until the moment we run out of it.

I would want to give those I love the gift of time if I could.

But time is relative. And maybe waiting is relative too. When you’re only waiting for the end, the end could not come soon enough.

There’s a certain sense of relief that comes with knowing that all things will end, one way or the other. Mostly because it means an end to all the waiting, but also because an ending means that a new beginning could and will follow.

It means knowing, one way or the other, what comes after the end.

However which way you want to think about it though, the waiting is and always will be the hardest part.

You’re stationary, stuck in limbo, unable to process your emotions because you don’t know whether you should dare to hope or start to grieve.

You carry out your plans, knowing full well you’re running out of options, running out of time, but no one wants to be the first to say it, to say the truth that’s staring everyone in the face.

No one want to say that this could be it. That we should start saying our goodbyes, something made all the more painful because this stupid pandemic will not allow for even the slightest opportunity to mourn.

The waiting leads to thoughts like these, to blog posts that ramble and make no sense because when you’re only waiting, nothing makes sense.

Sigh. I will not be held responsible for the gibberish I will continue to write in the future. I blame the waiting.

Posted in dating, Music, pop culture, relationships

It Was Rare, and I Remember It All Too Well

Time check, its 4am on day 3 of my mandatory hotel quarantine and I’m slowly starting to go insane. I’m surprised my sister and I haven’t killed each other yet after being forced to tolerate each other’s company in such close quarters. I love my sister, and I’m sure she loves me too, but siblings were not meant to live in each other’s pockets all the damn time, especially if one of those siblings (AKA me) has a penchant for playing Taylor Swift songs on repeat.

Could you blame me though?

Ms. Swift has just released a re-recording of her Grammy-nominated album Red, which contains, among other hit songs, what is generally considered to be the best song she’s ever written: the magnificence that is All Too Well. And, just because she is the Queen of Extra, she’s released a 10-minute version of this ode to autumnal heartbreak and dancing in refrigerator lights and red scarfs, accompanied by a truly harrowing short film which she directed and starred in.

Since the song was released, I find my thoughts straying time and time again to Jake Gyllenhaal, widely believed to be the inspiration behind this song. It truly isn’t a good time to be Jake right now. He is being roasted in all corners of the internet, and is the subject of hilarious tweets and memes on social media. As a self-confessed Swiftie, I should be all over this. But more often than not, I find myself cringing just a little bit at the outpouring of hate and vitriol towards the other half of this supposed relationship.

Before I get blasted for supporting the patriarchy and defending a guy that the majority of the Twitter population now consider a scumbag, let me explain. I am not taking away Taylor’s right to express her feelings through her chosen medium. She’s a gifted songwriter, and that is due in large part to her ability to draw from her own experience and turn them into lyrics that perfectly capture moments that we can all relate to. When you listen to her songs, it makes you feel less alone, and less stupid. Because if someone like her can go through something like that and survive, then maybe there’s hope for you.

I think my discomfort stems from the fact that all this palaver over what is essentially – READ MY LIPS – a three-month relationship (yep, it boggles the mind) hits a little close to home. Taylor is re-treading the stomping grounds of her old heartbreak, the added verses to All Too Well giving us a better insight into what she went through whilst in that relationship.

This all happened 10 years ago and yet she’s still singing about it, still talking about it, and even though she’s moved on and is presumably a lot happier now, all evidence suggests that she will probably never get over it. She will be carrying those Mysterio-shaped scars to her grave, singing about little kids in glasses and twin-sized beds until her last dying breath.

And damn me if I’m not able to relate to that just a little.

We all have them, okay? Whether its the one that got away, or the ex that dumped you in the most brutal manner possible, or (in my case) the unrequited love that is the One Great Love of my life, we all have that one person we constantly bring up in conversations, whose name sounds different when it passes through our lips, whose impact peppers our lives even as the years pass without any meaningful contact from them whatsoever.

They become our inspiration and our muse. I for sure know that I’m at my best as a writer when I’m writing about Him, and I write about Him a lot. If everything I’ve written about that period of my life were to be compiled into a single volume it would be as thick as War and Peace.

At first, I wrote about him as a way of letting go of the past and all the feelings that came with it. There was a lot to unload. Love is at its most devastating when its unreciprocated, after all. Then, I wrote about him as a way of validating that it was love, albeit the one-sided kind. I think I wanted to convince myself that I didn’t waste my best years chasing after someone who could never love me back.

I felt the need to justify why I shouldn’t feel regret that I held on longer than I probably should have, and that at the end of the day it was better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

Then there came a time when writing about it just became fun. Yes, there are certain memories that still make me cringe, that make me want to go back in time so I can tell my younger self not to be so bloody stupid. BUT. There is a certain kind of exhilaration that comes over you when you realise that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore, that you can actually laugh about it and make fun of the experiences that have shaped so much of the person you become.

People always say that success is the sweetest revenge, but I think laughter is right up there with it.

I think a part of me objects to all this airing of dirty laundry in public. There should only be two people in a relationship, but we live in an age where we invite so many people (too many people, in my opinion) into what is essentially a sacred and private thing, regardless of whether you’re a celebrity or not. I think the best thing Taylor has ever done was to NOT talk about her current partner, and I think the older I get the more value I see in keeping aspects of my private life, well, private.

There’s a line towards the end of the 10-minute version that goes like this:

Just between us, do you remember it all too well?

I think that more than anything encapsulates Taylor’s original intentions for this song. Sure, the savvy businesswoman in her probably anticipated (and even encouraged) the publicity that came with the speculation over what happened with Jake, but the 31-year old who is reflecting back on the relationship shines through in the intimacy of those last few lyrics.

It’s worth mentioning that the last few verses of the 10-minute version felt more nostalgic than angry, and it gave me chills the first time I listened to it, and not just because I’m genetically programmed to love a Jack Antonoff production. No, its the same kind of feeling I get when I listen to Gwen Stefani’s Cool.

Its the peace that comes with knowing that when all is said and done, you’re okay with it all. Because at the end of the day, cheesy as it sounds, maybe it is better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

So here’s to you, you know who you are. Here’s to the memories, and for remembering them all too well.

Posted in family, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

Why One Should Never Write A Blog at 2AM

I’m not sure how I got from walking down the busy streets of Oxford Circus watching as they start putting the Christmas lights up in anticipation of the holiday season, to waking up at 2am at some hotel in the Philippines, jet lagged and anxious as shit.

I’m the kind of person who likes to plan things, often to the point of lunacy. I’ve been told time and time again that I need to lighten up and allow life to happen instead of fixating on inconsequential things that, when all is said and done, don’t really count for much.

But I was never built for spontaneity and playing it by ear,

I think the devil is in the details, and that it never hurts to research as much as you can about something you’re planning to do. I like lists; disorganisation makes me incredibly twitchy, and I believe in never ever going to a restaurant or cinema without a reservation or pre-booking. It might not make me the most fun person to be around, but hey, someone has to be responsible.

This week, the universe has just sent one giant middle finger to that girl who thought that planning for everything meant you were prepared for the curveballs life throws your way. There are some things that you just can’t prepare for, some things that no matter what you do you’ll never be ready for.

It’s funny, if you had asked me before this week how I felt about being an adult, I would have had a more positive answer. I would have said that I loved the independence, that I loved being more or less financially secure, that I loved the fact that I can get my own groceries, eat fast food, go out drinking and come home late and I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself.

But this week brought home the fact that being an adult also means being responsible. It means being in a room that may include your parents but having to make the big decisions. because everyone else is too distraught to think about the details. It means not having the luxury to break down crying because you have to make sure things are getting done.

Its realising that whatever plans you made might have to come secondary to taking care of your family’s needs, and having to grapple with the guilt of feeling sorry for yourself because you’re potentially missing out on a rare opportunity to move up the career ladder. Its having to convince yourself that you’re not a bad person for thinking about your own future, because life still has to move on for you even if the worst happens.

Being an adult is realising that nothing is ever black and white, and no one is all good or bad, that sometimes people just do the best they can with the circumstances they’re given, and no one should probably expect anything more of them than that, especially given how difficult the past couple of years have been.

I fucking hate being an adult.

I consider my childhood to be sacred. It’s like this giant marble statue I keep in the garden of my mind, full of memories that I take out every now and then when I need to bask in the warmth and comfort of the days when I had no bigger worries than what snack I might ask Papa to buy for me, or what movie we’d go see during the weekend, or how to spend 8 whole weeks of my summer vacation in the small, sleepy town where I spent all of my summers until I was 16.

But it feels like with every year that passes something happens to chip away at my childhood, until it feels like I’m so far away from the girl I once was, and it gets more difficult to see the world as full of wonder, and it gets harder to maintain the belief I’ve always held that every day is a chance for something extraordinary to happen.

You move to a new country and learn to fend for yourself, and the cracks start to show. The first time you realise the adults around you aren’t perfect, that they’re human and therefore fallible, and the cracks spread from head to toe.

When you realise that not all boys turn out to be Prince Charming, and that sometimes things just don’t work out, and you get your heart broken…a piece falls off.

You lose your job because of a mistake that can’t be undone, and suddenly you find yourself facing the yawning mouth of failure, and the prospect of going home to your family with nothing to show for your time away but the bitter taste of regret, and more of the pieces come crashing down around you.

It has to.

Because you have to grow up real quick if you want to turn your life around and stay in the city you’re only just realising you love so much.

A loved one dies, and another is diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly you start thinking about the big questions and facing the truth about your own mortality. You realise you can’t stay young forever. And suddenly your childhood is reduced to a small piece that you fight tooth and nail to retain.

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this metaphor, or with this entire blog really. I realise that its morbid and a bit more morose than my usual offerings. But I guess I just feel the need to express my very real fears about the future, and my anxiety about the prospect of having to rearrange my life to make room for the changes coming my way.

I think I’m processing, with varying levels of success I might add, the truth that nothing lasts forever, and that I am at the age where I will start losing people I love, and even if that thought makes me want to curl up in a ball in the corner and weep, because that’s not something you ever want to actively think about, I know I somehow need to. I need to start coming to terms with it.

I don’t know, maybe things will turn out okay and I will not need to post something like this again until many many (please let it be many) years later.

Finally, I read somewhere that the thing about troubles, suffering and problems is that they always end, one way or the other. You just have to ride the wave until they do and pray you make it back to shore relatively intact.

I’m riding that wave, its coming up to a full crest but somehow I’m still hanging on. That’s about all I can do at the moment.

Posted in Books, Music, pop culture, Reviews

Book Review: Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen

The Boss needs no introduction. Even those of us who were mere blimps in our parents’ minds (I doubt I was even a concept in mine) when he released his biggest hits would have heard his songs, or some iteration of it, at least once: Blinded By the Light, Glory Days, Born in the USA, perhaps even a teeny tiny song called Dancing in The Dark whose music video featured a then-unknown young actress who would someday grow up to be Monica Geller.

I personally have very fond memories of Bruce and his music. Both are inescapably linked with my memories of growing up. I can still recall sneaking my uncle’s limited edition 2-disc Bruce Springsteen and the E-street Band Greatest Hits CD out of the living room cupboard late at night so I can listen to Thunder Road on repeat as I go to sleep, and then waking up at dawn so I can sneak it back in before he’s had the chance to notice it was gone.

In hindsight, I honestly don’t know why I didn’t just ask to borrow it but there you go.

For some reason, Bruce seemed to have experienced some kind of renaissance during the pandemic. He was everywhere during the first, second, and (for those of us in the UK) third lockdown; at least, it felt that way to me.

He was in all my running playlists because you simply can’t finish a run without playing (wait for it) Born to Run. His Broadway show was on Netflix, he had a weekly Spotify podcast with Barack Obama, he was showing young ‘uns like Jack Antonoff and Brandon Flowers how its done in songs like Chinatown and A Dustland Fairytale, and leaving them in the dust even at the ripe old age 70.

So ubiquitous was his presence that I felt compelled to buy a copy of his memoir, aptly titled Born to Run, from Blackwell’s in Oxfordshire of all places, because Waterstones and Amazon were no longer selling the hardbound edition. And after the slow start of the first few chapters, where it felt like he was still struggling to find his voice, I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Boss can really write, and that I actually gave a damn about what he had to say.

I found that although our lives are about as different as night and day, Bruce Springsteen’s story is universal, and in reading his memoir, I felt seen, heard, and understood.

Bruce in his younger years was the consummate perfectionist, who lived with all the voices in his head telling him he wasn’t good enough. Like me, he needed his people. This is why he brought the guys of the E-street band with him all the way up to the stratospheric heights of success he achieved, because he knew the experiences would be meaningless if you don’t have anyone to share it with.

Bruce had his demons. He was very forthright with his mental health struggles and his turbulent relationship with his father, but only to an extent. Despite his public persona, and despite the glimpses of his true self he allows us to see through his music, he is an intensely private man. He describes the reasons for this perfectly when he said:

Trust is a fragile thing. It requires allowing others to see as much of ourselves as we have the courage to reveal.

I like how he remained true to himself, and honest about who he is, faults and all. Most people give in to the temptation to edit their life story and make themselves look good. He went almost the opposite way. There was a sense of self-deprecation underlying everything that he wrote which makes the book immensely readable.

Bruce is the anti-thesis to the everyday working man who holds a 9-to-5 job, secure in the knowledge of where his next pay check is coming from even if said pay check is meagre as hell after taxes, pension, and additional deductions because payroll totally screwed up in calculating your National Insurance contributions so you’re now having to pay back that salary increase you thought you had earned. (Sorry, I didn’t realise I was still bitter about that).

Bruce’s story is everything that mine isn’t: taking risks, taking chances, holding on to your dream even when you were down to your last dollar, virtually homeless and living off the goodwill of your friends. I could not live like that. I sometimes ask myself why I never pursued a career in the entertainment industry, and the answer, apart from my obvious lack of acting skills or musical talent, is that I do not have the constitution to live under the threat of poverty as I wait for my dreams to come true.

Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who could choose the road less travelled, instead of the one who makes the safe choices every time the road diverges. Because even though examples are few and far in between, if you want it bad enough and you work hard enough, you can pull out and win. Thunder Road is one of my favourite songs in the world because it is a love letter to possibilities, to those who have beaten the odds and won.

Most of us will live out our lives living perfectly normal existences, and that’s okay. There is joy to be found in the ordinary. I actually think the ordinary is underrated, and in his later years Bruce Springsteen himself will reflect on the value of simple things, of family, and of love.

But I think we need the Bruce Springsteens and the Thunder Roads of the world because of what they represent: POSSIBILITIES.

More than anything in my life right now, this is the one thing that gets me out of bed and gets me all excited. The idea of possibilities. The wish, the dream, and the hope that something extraordinary could be waiting around the corner.

Whenever I start to feel like the best years of my life are behind me, I think of Bruce, I think of Thunder Road, and I think of possibilities.

Then I smile, knowing that there’s always going to be some magic left in the night.

Overall book rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Posted in fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Stress Relief, Travel

More Life Lessons From Hiking

I always get a little pensive and philosophical after a long, vigorous hike.

Oh, who am I kidding. I get pensive and philosophical after doing something as mundane and trivial as taking a shower. I am, always have been, and always will be the perennial navel-gazer. You guys are just going to have to learn to live with it.

But I did find myself on a spontaneous hike along the Peak District yesterday with three of my closest friends. This has been a dream of mine ever since I first saw Kiera Knightley standing on the edge of some rock, skirts dramatically blowing in the wind even as her hair stays Hollywood-perfect, a thoughtful look on her face as she reflected on the massive, gargantuan stupidity of having inexplicably rejected the gorgeous Fitzwilliam Darcy.

There weren’t any handsome millionaires to be seen anywhere near the Peak yesterday, or if there were they must have been hiding their presence under a rock because I certainly didn’t see them. Or maybe I was just too busy making sure I don’t fall and hurt myself as I climbed up the steep path to Stanage Edge.

It’s funny, I’m always the first to push to go on these hikes, yet I know for a fact that I am the least fit person amongst my circle of friends and I will also be the first to whinge about what a stupid idea the whole thing is in the first place as I huff and puff and make my way through the planned route.

But the views, the fresh air, and the sheer exhilaration of being out in nature (and having beaten that constant voice in my head telling me I couldn’t do it), sure makes it worth all the effort.

Hiking provides one with a lot of opportunity to think and reflect, something I haven’t done a lot lately but have promised myself to try and do at least once a week. You really do get a lot of life lessons from hiking and I’m going to try and put some of those into words and record them here for posterity, in the hopes that if ever I need reminding, or if anyone else needs a similar reminder, they will be here for me and the world to see.

Firstly, there is no substitute for investing in things that will make your hike (or your life) easier in the long run. Stretchy pants and waterproof jackets might not make up the prettiest outfit for an Instagram-worthy photo, and hiking shoes may look fugly as hell, but boy will you be glad for them when you’re scrambling up rocks or walking down muddy terrains.

Make sure you’re on stable ground before you take the next big step, or before you take the next leap on your climb up to the top. If you’re not careful, the path could so easily crumble from beneath you. And remember, shiny surfaces can be deceiving as hell.

Sometimes the journey can seem like a relentless uphill battle, and you’ll want to quit, turn around and just go back. But you have to just keep moving forward. Huff, puff, whinge, and bitch all you want, but don’t stop moving. Because there’s always an end to the struggle; one way or another the path always evens out.

That being said, there is no shame in admitting that you’re struggling to breathe and that you need to pause for a break. You don’t always have to keep pace with others, you only need to keep pace with yourself.

Don’t be too busy watching your every step that you forget to look up and soak in the beauty of what the hike (and life in general) has to offer. It would be a shame if all you did was get from point A to point B, and you missed out on all the beauty in between.

Take lots of photos. Some day, everything and everyone will be gone and you’ll long for every single thing that would remind you of the good times (and maybe even the bad), and you’ll be hoarding those photographs like a miser with his money. So take the time to take a snap, take a selfie or two or several.

And finally, it always comes down to the people. Having someone who would cheer you on, someone to sing silly songs with as you make The Climb, someone to make jokes with even if the jokes are at your expense, knowing that someone will be there to make sure you don’t fall, or at least knowing that someone will be there to catch you if you do (even if they laugh first and help later)…having GOOD people to take with you on that journey makes all the difference in the world.

Mel. Angelica. Alex. Good people. Maybe even the best people. 🙂

That’s it for now until my next struggle, I mean, hike. Have a good week ahead, everyone!

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Sit Still, Look Pretty (or as I’m calling it in my head…Reflections From The Dental Chair)

I find it incredibly funny, but also in keeping with everything that I know of myself, that it took a root canal procedure to finally keep me still; long enough that I was able to find words that can be strung together into my first blog in months. I mean, it would be a stretch to call this blog post coherent, but it’s something at least.

Weirdly, sitting there with my mouth propped open and a power drill too close for comfort, I had the chance to look back on the past couple of months and really think about the things that were unsettling me. I’m not any closer to finding answers to the big questions that I have only recently begun asking, hence the incoherence of this blog.

But I’m starting to believe that finding them isn’t the point. It’s the reflection, the search, the discoveries, the mistakes, and everything in between the beginning and the end that will ultimately make everything make sense. At least I hope so. Otherwise, I’d have been listening to (among other things) The Carpenters sing sha la la’s and oh oh oh’s with nothing to show for it but gibberish.

Well, you know what? I’m choosing to write about and share that gibberish anyway.

So what were my thoughts? The first thing that came to mind was that, as human beings, we tend to pre-empt things, and assume something is a foregone conclusion when nothing’s ever really set in stone. We give ourselves so much unnecessary grief and anxiety by being this way. I am a prime example of this.

To some degree, the anticipation of anything can be better or worse than the actual event. Take Christmas for example. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, its the days leading up to the 25th of December that constitutes the entire holiday celebration.

Those days are what they sing carols about, not Christmas Day itself, because Christmas Day really is lonely as fuck. Christmas Day is the fading echo of a favourite song on the radio in the days before Spotify and instant repeats. You’ll have to wait a while to hear that song again and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

In the same way, the anticipation of pain is sometimes more painful than pain itself. Like, a root canal procedure isn’t really so bad. Maybe I was just unduly influenced by a line I read in one of my Sweet Valley books somewhere that has somehow stuck with me. One of the Wakefield twins was asked to do something she found particularly unpleasant, and she said she would rather have her teeth drilled.

Again, random, and I’m sorry to digress. But the point I’m trying to make here is that despite some aching in my jaw, and even though I am in some degree of pain, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Like I said, I do this a lot, anticipate things I mean. Sometimes I hold entire conversations with another person in my head, imagining the things I think they’ll say and responding to them. Sometimes I find myself preparing for rebuttals to arguments that haven’t even been made, and getting upset for no other reason than I am conditioned by past experiences to prepare for people to be unreasonable.

Actually, people tend to be quite reasonable when approached the right way. They might not always agree with you, but disagreement doesn’t equal unpleasant. People who disagree with you are not stupid (not always anyway), neither are they bad people. They just happen to have different opinions.

Besides, there’s value in arguments. It means people care enough about what you do to have an opinion about it. The opposite of love is indifference after all. It’s like those celebrities who revel in bad press, because just being in the press at all gives them some measure of assurance that they’re somehow still relevant.

You don’t have to be perfect or right all the time. Besides, you can insist until you’re blue in the face that you’re right about something, and you might even find 100 hundred people who will agree with you. But there will always be that one person who thinks you’re wrong. And that’s okay.

There’s value in being wrong, in making mistakes. It means there’s so much more room for you to grow.

Finally, just because we’re on the subject of things that are of value, I need to remind myself every now and again that there’s value in sitting still. Because even if its during an hour and a half of having your teeth drilled while sat on a dental chair, stopping for a while gives you time to reflect on life.

It makes you feel human, rather than just a trained performing monkey spinning endlessly on precarious wheels.

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

What Makes You Happy

I’ve been writing for as long as I could remember. Growing up, I used to fill up pages and pages of random notebooks and diaries (some of them with actual locks and keys) with entries about my extraordinarily ordinary life: bad-hair days, arguments with adults who will never understand me and whose purpose in life seemed to be ruining mine, the dramas of female friendships at an age when friends can be particularly cruel, and of course, boys, boys, and more boys.

From the time I discovered that boys were fascinating creatures who did not, in fact, have cooties, I’ve been writing about them. Nick Carter, my first crush, with his glorious blond hair, and a singing voice that seemed perpetually stuck in that moment between adolescence and manhood.

The popular guy in class whom every girl had a crush on, and every one of them was jealous of little old me because I was privileged enough to be close friends with him, the first of my many forays into the friend zone.

There was the bad boy that my father disapproved of, the boyfriend of a close friend that I had a serious crush on, the nemesis who was the Arnold to my Helga all throughout high school (I even have the cheesy poems to show for it), the summer love who I still think of as the one who got away.

And of course, there’s the big one. My One Great Love. The one boy/man/whatever who will forever be my muse, because writing about my feelings for him, unrequited as they are, will give me reams of material with which to write blogs, sonnets, and books about until the end of time. Everything that he is (or was) to me, every single tear and heartbreak, the exquisite pleasure/pain of having come so close but never getting close enough…there’s so much to unpack that if I put it all in one volume it will reach War and Peace proportions.

This blog entry is not, in fact, about the many guys I have given pieces of my heart to. Actually, this is probably the most aimless blog entry I will ever make, because I woke up today full of random thoughts about life in general and growing up and being an adult in particular.

I started thinking about how we live so much of our lives as if we were running a race and we’re smack dab in the middle of the pack: always looking back at who and what we’ve left behind and forever running after the ones that have sprinted before us, hoping to either keep pace with them, or race past them on the way to some arbitrary finish line.

Its exhausting.

I’ve had several conversations these past couple of weeks about mental health and how important it is for a person to feel self-actualised – or at least to feel like a complete human being with their own goals, dreams, and aspirations. It was easier when we were younger to dream impossible things. it wasn’t ludicrous at all to dream about being presidents, or astronauts, or in my case, an Olympic figure skater. Somehow when we grow up we subsume all of that into the daily task of surviving.

It became more important to find a job that pays the rent than it is to find something that really gives you fulfilment.

I got the closest thing to the job of my dreams this year when I became education lead for a building that focuses on orthopaedics, a speciality that I love so much. I put everything I had into getting the project off the ground and I don’t know at what point I started to feel lost, or when I started to feel like I didn’t know myself anymore, like I exist only as another cog in the huge machinery that is the NHS and I have no life outside the operating theatre.

All I know is that I blinked and suddenly two whole months have gone by and I haven’t done a single thing that wasn’t related to health care, nor have I written a single thing that wasn’t an email to our procurement team, with an itemised lists of things that I felt they should be doing better. It was so depressing.

I looked at social media and only felt worse. Other people my age were out there achieving things, travelling even in the midst of a pandemic, getting married, having babies, buying houses…and I felt like I had nothing. No matter how many times I told myself that comparing my life to the heavily curated lies lives shown through the imperfect lens of social media is counterproductive, I couldn’t help scrolling through it anyway, and I’m not (nor will I ever be) strong enough to deactivate all of my accounts.

When I finally made time to have a moment to myself to just write, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt like me again. I didn’t even write anything all that important, it was probably another book review that got like 15 views and was filled with rants about the government’s handling of covid. Either that or it was about boys (lol).

But it didn’t really matter what I wrote about. I realised that the whole point was just to write. Period.

When I started this blog, I had a whole vision of what it could be and I was disappointed to realise years later that I would never be able to commit to doing it full-time, and I just didn’t have it in me to be a blogger, with all the pressure to produce marketable content every so often. So I channeled my energies into writing a book, only to be in despair at the start of this year because I felt like I would never have enough time or energy to write all the stories that live inside my head that I actually want to tell people.

I said to myself, face it Anj, you will die having never been a writer.

But then I thought about what writing means to me. it’s a way to reach people and share little bits of myself in the hopes of being seen and understood. It’s a way to make people laugh, cry, or maybe even just think. It’s a way of challenging the way other people see the world when I express opinions they might not necessarily agree with. But mostly it’s just a way of giving the gift of words to people I love.

Last week, I had a very difficult conversation with a friend who means so much to me, and I didn’t feel like what I said was adequate enough to give her comfort, or to convey that I might never be able to fully understand what she was going through but I was here for her nonetheless. So I wrote her a poem – free verse, nothing special. I don’t even think I followed the correct structure for free verse, but whatever. I just wanted her to have something of her own and hopefully let her know that she’s not alone.

When she read it and loved it, I realised that all this time I’ve been bemoaning my inability to become a writer but by my own definition of what writing is to me, wasn’t I already one? Sure, I haven’t published an international bestseller, but in my own little way, haven’t I been reaching people through the medium of words for as long as I’ve known that the letters of the alphabet were more than just random ABCs?

The long and short of it is that putting words to paper makes me happy. It doesn’t have to be a big production. I could just be writing about boys, haha, a running theme in my life until I finally find that all elusive someone. Although I’d like to think I’ve matured enough to be able to write about other things as well.

I don’t need my writing be validated by likes or follows on social media. I already spend so much of my time being different things to different people but when I write, I write just for me. And no matter how busy life gets, no matter how stressed I am, no matter how much life or other people around me might stretch me to the point of breaking, as long as I can still write, I know I’ll be okay.

I think it’s essential that we all find that one thing that still gives us a spark of joy even as the daily grind tries to dim our sparkle. There has to be something more to life than just existing. We need to be able to wake up each morning knowing we have a purpose, knowing that life has meaning and that life still has joy. Because otherwise, what’s the point really?

If you find that one thing you do just for you that makes you happy, hold on to it, find time for it, and (to borrow from Nike) just do it. Who knows? It might even be possible to make the impossible dreams you dreamt when you were younger come true. It could still happen. And with that, let me find out how much ice skating lessons in London cost. The Winter Olympics is coming soon. LOL.

Posted in friendship, poetry

The Battle

Sunrise.
A call to arms,
Telling you
its time
to pick up your sword
and don your armour.

Your hands are tired,
your grip weak,
your armour
a crushing weight
laden with grief
and fear
and uncertainty.
You’re gasping for air,
but
still
can’t
breathe.

The drumbeats
echo
the voices
of inner demons,
so loud,
so persistent,
you’re not good enough,
and you never will be.
They drown out
your weak attempts to
sound
a battle cry.

The melee starts
You’re on your own,
Drowning
darkness
all around
hands pulling you down
into a sea of memories.
But somehow
you get by
live
to fight
another day.

Sunset.
A hollow victory.
Tomorrow
it starts
all over again
the pretence,
the conscious effort
to be okay.
When can you lay down
your armour
and rest?

And so it goes,
the days blend
into nights
endless battles
blurring into one.
An endless cycle
of narrow wins
that
somehow feel like
defeat.

Then one day
you open your eyes
to
pink and purple skies
and in your head
you hear only
silence.
Your grip is tight
The armour rests
easy
on your shoulders,
and you can breathe again.

You find your voice,
You sound
a battle cry,
And there’s an answer.
There
beside you
are your people
the family you chose.
With spears
and shields
they tell you,
You don’t have to go
at it alone.

Let us carry your sword
even for
just
a second.
And when
you’re strong enough
to take it up again
Into the breach
we’ll fall
stronger
with each
thundering step,
certain
that
no matter how
this ends,

You’ve already won
the sweetest
victory
of all.

Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, Politics, United Kingdom

Failures of State – A Book Review (but its really just an excuse to rant)

“Happy” Freedom Day.

Let this day go down in infamy history as the day when the UK decided to lift all covid restrictions, when masks can start becoming a thing of the past, when what was once policy starts to become optional, when the fate of thousands of vulnerable adults now rests on the wider British public’s ability to exercise common sense, and when unvaccinated youngsters can start to enjoy the glorious wonders of gyrating their hips and bopping their heads to house music in night clubs and bars around the country.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we have people running around like headless chickens ensuring patients are being swabbed so they can have their planned operation, frantic managers wondering how the hell they can manage their workforce and deliver their service when half their staff are being pinged and told to self-isolate for no apparent reason, and NHS staff, who have been working their butts off for the whole of the pandemic, resignedly carrying on with their work knowing that its likely to get worse (again) before it starts to get better.

Yeah. Today seems like a good day to post my book review on Failures of State.

As the popular saying goes, history tends to repeat itself. I could not agree more, especially when those who are supposed to lead and serve the people repeatedly fail to learn from their past mistakes. Failures of State is the story of how Britain supposedly sleepwalked its way into the worst number of coronavirus cases in all of Europe, and the highest death toll amongst all the developed countries, except perhaps the U.S. who – at the time – had bigger problems on their hands (not the least of which was the fact that they had a buffoon with a blond wig and an orange tan running the country)

I knew that I was going to be annoyed and irritated whilst reading this book, there was nothing in it that I didn’t already know from reading the news, and from the endless cycles of lockdowns and tier systems and half-arsed measures that never seem to work. But what I didn’t expect was to move past annoyed and irritated and veer right towards being infuriated.

Maybe its because we’ve now lived with this for nearly 18 months and it still feels like some endless Groundhog Day nightmare of rising cases, overly optimistic outlooks and proclamations despite evidence to the contrary, and premature easing of restrictions/lockdowns. Maybe its the fact that I haven’t seen my parents for nearly 2 years.

Maybe I’m just sick of out-of-touch, privileged, elitist and (from where I’m standing) morally bankrupt men making stupid decisions that affect my day-to-day life while changing absolutely none of theirs.

Or maybe I’m just pissed off because I sat down today, after a really busy shift where I didn’t have the chance to so much as go to the toilet because I was so busy, and saw on Twitter that there were people around Westminster gathered for an anti-lockdown protest. On the day that lockdown officially ends.

You could not make this up.

Failures of State is an emotionally triggering book for those who have actually lived through the realities of the coronavirus: NHS staff, people who have watched their loved ones suffer, or worse, people who watched their loved ones die without even getting a fighting chance, because factors like their age and co-morbidities decreased their chances of survival, and hospitals apparently could not afford to waste precious bed space on people who are unlikely to make it.

Can you even imagine how that must feel like? And can you even imagine what it must feel like to be the one who has to make that call?

The book is incredibly informative, and whilst I’m not a good judge on what might be considered a good piece of investigative journalism, I like that the authors attempted to give context and background to the coronavirus story, with evidence and transcripts from China that shows how their government failed to notify the world in time that this virus could potentially have far-reaching (and fatal) effects. What the book does NOT attempt is any form of impartiality. This was an attack on the current Tory government and its fearless leader, full stop. And I for one think that the attack is probably deserved.

To be absolutely fair, one might be able to excuse the government’s actions during the first wave as the the actions of those who were caught unaware about the scale of the problem they were facing. I mean, they had Brexit to celebrate, who cares about some virus that’s hardly more dangerous than the common flu? This was a problem for Asian countries, it could never happen to us, and besides, the UK has one of the best contingency plans for these kind of things right? We can even afford to send PPE to China once it became clear they were struggling.

UGH.

I personally think that the whole reason for the mess we are in is that there are a lot of people in this county with a deluded sense of invincibility, not to mention an incredible sense of entitlement. It could never happen to us. That’s what most of us thought in December right? That the problem would never reach our shores, and even if it did, we would be ready for it and it will all blow away by the summer.

And then of course, once we finally went into lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, people started to complain because they were oh so tired of staying at home and not being able to go on holidays, or complain about the endless amount of time re-watching Friends on Netflix.

And when the vaccines were finally developed, some people cared more about their precious freedom – its my body and I’ll die if I want to – than availing of the one thing that can actually help us out of this mess. You just could not win.

And so now we’re back to where we started. Increasing cases, overly optimistic outlook throwing caution to the wind and lifting all restrictions, blah blah blah blah blah. As the great Taylor Swift said, I think I’ve seen this film before, and I can already tell where we’re going.

If it wasn’t clear, I have not had the best of days. I am quite aware that for a lot of people today is a day to celebrate, and I do not discredit the fact that 18 months of lockdown and isolation have had serious effects on people’s mental and emotional health. If I didn’t see day in and day out the toll that this pandemic has taken on my colleagues, if I hadn’t seen how harrowing it is to have to convert beds to ITU spaces and redeploy people to care for really ill patients, if I hadn’t just spent half the day helping to plan staffing so we could continue to deliver health services despite the shortage of staff, I would probably be more magnanimous towards those who waited until midnight to enter their favourite nightclub.

But I have seen and have done all those things. And as it is, all I can say is…

£%@$^^&!!!!*$%

And also, read this book. It might help some of us make some semblance of sense from the chaos of the last 18 months. If nothing else, you might probably find the smoke and mirrors that this government attempted to weave around its public mildly amusing and entertaining.

Posted in dating, poetry, relationships, women

Table For One

“Can I help you madam?”
the server asks
as she steps
through
the automatic doors.

As if a single beam
of stage-light
has shone
on
the vacant space
by her side,
she starts
to sweat,
self-conscious,
wary
of being judged
by this stranger.

This used to be easy,
something to aspire to,
a defiant gesture
in the face of
society’s expectations.
A bold statement,
I am
a
strong
independent
woman.

I don’t need a man
to share my meals with.
I have
a perfectly
working
digestive system,
thank you very much.

Now,
it felt like there was
a ticking clock
over her head
telling the world:
“This woman
has reached
the limits
of her best-before date.”

“Madam,”
the server persists.
“Do you have a
reservation?”
She shakes her head.
“That’s alright,” he says,
“Would you like
a table
for two?”

He asks this
as if it were a given,
as if it were the norm,
and it probably was,
and she was the odd one.
But godammit,
she just wanted to have
some kimchi pancakes.

Taking a deep breath,
she held her head high
and said,
“No.
Table for one.”
And she looked him in the eye,
daring him
to judge.