Sunday, 17 June 2018

My dad and the concept of gender.

I rang my dad the other day, just for a chat. Our chats are always long, spilling over excitedly into new topics as we go along: new books, articles, podcasts; interesting things we saw in the day, conversations we had with other people, new people we've met.

The other day I was surprised, although I shouldn't have been at all, that he brought up the topic of gender neutrality. An article about a Canadian academic explained and discussed their credibility, which brought up why their views about gender neutral pronouns, or gender in general, were problematic and dad had shared it on Facebook and was telling me about the response. It was coincidental because I had just watched a Youtube video 10 minutes before about bringing up children as gender neutral in Finland. We both said it was interesting.

Dad talked about the comments on his Facebook post expressing views and arguments against gender neutrality, to which his response was: it's all bollocks anyway. Here I was having a spontaneous chat with my dad on the phone and he's telling me, confidently, that gender is a construct.

He wondered what he would have been like earlier on in his life had he not been brought up in the dichotomously gendered society of 1960s Scotland. Despite never knowing my dad as fitting into any convention of restrictive masculinity, he was wondering how the development of his identity could have been better, less moulded, more fluid.

Our understanding of gender identity is slowly and labouriously untangling itself from the centuries of its limiting construction. It can't be that simple, but maybe it is. My dad is a no bullshit kind of a guy. I said to him that maybe people resist this shift in our perception of gender because they see it is as a threat to their own identity. He said that it was a good theory, but that seeing as there is no legitimate threat to identity people should probably just get over it. I paraphrase him, but there he is; a mountain of self-assurance with a constant river of evolving human compassion and understanding. My dad is a man with the greatest perception of "live and let live".

He doesn't get everything right, no one does. But I realise how privileged I am to have a dad who can call me up and tell me to check my feminism, who I can do the same back to. I have a dad who reinforced my belief in the performativity of gender, in the instability and fluidity of identity. In short, I lucked out, as far as dads are concerned.






Saturday, 9 June 2018

Crying in the smoking area.

In the early hours of Friday morning (1 am, although I'm not quite sure) I left a club because I couldn't stop crying. I had drunk far too much wine and I was far too tired and I hadn't cried properly in about two months. They were hot tears and I couldn't do anything but let them stream down my face, trying to look away from my friends, hoping the tears would stop and the night would carry on. But I couldn't and eventually I had to say, in the kind of desperate way when you think you're about to be sick or you feel trapped in somewhere, "I'm really sorry, but I just can't stop crying." And then it all came out and I did that ugly sob crying where you're trying to catch your breath but it's also an enormous relief to have such an outpour of emotion after a long period of stress and tension.

And in the busy smoking area of a club night in Leeds one of my best friends in the whole world took me in her arms and told me we were going home, and I cried some more and said okay and also 'I love you'. We bought cheesy chips on the way and made cups of tea and got into bed and watched Sex and The City. I thought how lucky I was to have such an extraordinary friend and then, finally, we fell asleep.

It's funny because the next day I felt quite deeply embarrassed about what had happened and spent a while cringing over the events of the night and now here I am writing publicly and in detail about it. But on the train from Leeds back to Cambridge, my hangover finally waning, I thought about how often I build up emotional expectations for myself and get confused when it doesn't happen how I wanted it to. I thought about how I say to myself that I will feel better, free or exceedingly happy when X happens, when I'm doing Y. I thought about how, because everyone else always looks like they're having the time of their life on a night out, I must also be having a great time even when I probably should be tucked up in bed watching Netflix. I thought about how we put pressure on ourselves to always be in a good mood, to always look like we are in a good mood even if we're not. I thought about how unforgiving we are of "bad" emotions and never appreciate the fact that they are just as unpredictable and real as the "good" ones.

I thought about how I wanted that night to be exciting and endless and full of adventures. And I thought about how I couldn't have predicted having an enormous cry on a night out in Leeds but it happened and it wasn't good and it wasn't bad. But I felt relieved and I felt loved and now it's just another story to tell. And it's funny, isn't it? Because that's just exactly what I want life to be about.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Contemplating life without the act of writing.

The blog has been quiet for almost a month now which has, sadly, been fully intended. But I haven't left a month empty for 6 years, so I won't let it happen in the midst of relatively unimportant exams.

My life for the last few weeks has consisted of a selection of deathly quiet libraries, coloured pens running out on me, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, terrible coffee, good coffee and, if I'm lucky enough to be in bed by 11, old episodes of The Great Interior Design Challenge on Netflix.

Amazingly my thoughts have still been whirring away. On the cycle back from the library to my college I can still work through more than just what I'll be having for dinner. I'm thinking things still; big things, small things, working myself out, working the world out as I spend hours robotically writing notes in bright pink, and then in bright blue when the felt tip dries up.

I have realised, however, that I have nowhere for my own thoughts to go when I'm not writing them down somewhere, anywhere. Two weeks ago I was busy with more than just revision. I was rehearsing for a show I'm working on, I was meeting cool people, having interesting conversations, collecting stories to tell. I scribbled some of them down in my diary before I started these monotonous hours in the library. But somehow it still feels like there are thoughts and memories still floating above me, floating higher and higher, harder for me to anchor with the act of writing them down.

Sometimes I secretly worry that I'm pretending to myself that I like writing. I wonder if I've accidentally told too many people and I can't go back on my word. I didn't realise I needed a month without it to really miss the sensation of ordering and crafting my thoughts into something coherent for no one but myself, but anyone who also may be curious.

I feel good now. Expunged some of the disorderliness in my head, forced a creative outlet. I'll sleep better, a weight's been lifted. You should try it, maybe.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Just write a paragraph.

"Just write a paragraph" I've said to myself about 20 times today and yesterday. It seems my head is in its repetitive mode where interesting things are said once and then latched onto and dismantled into something boring and overdone. A thought or feeling is so strong for me that over weeks I find myself sitting down to write and wanting to say the same things. Writing is the greatest form of my emotional expression, and describing how I feel is often my way out, but I write for an audience here and I have a diary to write more explicitly and less eloquently how pain or happiness or stress pervades my day.

I do write for an audience here and I think that's where I get stuck sometimes. I write for an audience that I know, mostly. I sit down at my laptop, or sometimes on my phone, and I wonder what people, people I've befriended on Facebook, would mind reading about. It is no bad thing to write for an audience. It sharpens the way that you write, that's one reason why I do it. But sometimes it can stifle me when I get scared. I'm not scared of anyone I know, I could tell anyone anything... I'm a big sharer. It's just that knowing that people will read what I like and they will decide whether they do or don't like it, whether they do or don't agree, makes me falter sometimes, hesitate over the 'publish' button, re-write the first sentence over and over again before I find something to go with. It makes me procrastinate for days on end.

And now I've written something. More than a paragraph. A few short ones instead. And the funny thing is I don't mind what people think, as long as someone enjoyed the words that I wrote on this stuffy April evening. That's all that matters, isn't it?

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Possible if the sun is shining.

There is something about the sun shining that makes everything seem good again. Or, at least, possible. A few days a go I wrote this, intending for it to be shared:

So you've found yourself here again. Sitting in the car by yourself wondering why your chest feels like its caving in and you can't stop crying. The world feels like it might come to an end but yesterday you sat drinking with friends thinking what a wonderful thing it was to be alive. You were so filled with love and laughter. Why are you here again?

You keep worrying - don't you - that this is going to repeat itself forever. That this earth-shattering emotional pain, that this deep-seated sadness is going to go round and round. That you'll have to swim through these periods like swimming through thick tar missing bits of your life you fear will be tainted. 

You know that's not the case. You know that sadness in memories fades, that the happiness that was there all along fills it in. Pictures that were painful to look at now bring joy. Not all of them, but only because some things still hurt. 

What are you going to do then? You know this can't keep on. You know that it doesn't. You know that you pull yourself back up. But what are you going to do? 

You are surprised that you're here again. You thought you were going up, but no one goes up forever. Life is up, life is going up, but you are sometimes watching from the bottom. You are moving with life, but you are not feeling with it. Not all the time. Not right now. So what are you going to do? 

-

Life is so unpatterned, so random that knowing what will happen next, how you will feel from day to day is impossible. I have no external reason in my life right now to feel the "deep-seated sadness" that I sometimes do, but I do. Perhaps there are biological reasons, perhaps its in my nature. But the repetitiveness of 'bad' feelings is not good enough for me. I do not have the time to fixate on thoughts that bring me emotional pain. Today the sun is shining and I feel calm. Later I will see friends, I will read, I will go to work. I will feel happy. I know I will. I will also dip down - perhaps today, maybe tomorrow. But it must be my conscious effort to forgive myself and get back up again.

I asked myself "so what are you going to do?" and now I know: forgive yourself, take care of yourself, love yourself and get back up. That is not always easy, but it is almost always possible. Even if the sun isn't shining. 

Saturday, 7 April 2018

No more Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

I am bored of second rate female characters in films. I am bored of being highly critical of how a film portrays women, or people of colour. 

The other day I saw 'Isle of Dogs' at the cinema and it was great. But at the end of the film I was left feeling annoyed. How come Wes Anderson's female characters can only exist as romantic interests? I went back through them all in my head as the credits rolled, he may be the king of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The women are interesting, sure, but they only serve as quirky love interests of the much more developed, central male characters. 

This isn't to say that I don't enjoy the films where every character except for the white male is mis/under-represented. I'd be hard pushed to find films where that didn't happen. Even in films that I love, films that might have interesting women fall short elsewhere. "Oh the black actor is the main part's funny sidekick again? With minimal characterisation? That's new." 

If I'm going to be "fair" to the sexist way women are presented in (mostly) Hollywood movies then obviously I have to consider the social climates/times they were made in. Blah blah blah. The newer the film the less time I have for its lazy underdevelopment of non-white male characters. Or its lazy casting. Or its outdated, antifeminist sexualisation and exploitation of women's bodies (I just watched Blade Runner 2049). 

I know that social movements go slow. I know that the Weinstein exposure only just happened meaning, up until the end of 2017, women were quietly being bullied, manipulated and sexually abused. Women are still being bullied, manipulated and sexually abused just, hopefully, less quietly and less effectively. If Salma Hayek's story is anything to go by then the constant misrepresentation of women in film and the constant over-sexualisation of them is hugely unsurprising. 

But I'm still bored of it. Female characters are not hard to write, a black actor is capable of playing the lead role, white men are quite clearly not the only interesting, complex, beautiful human beings we can portray in film. There is so much more we could be exploring, so much more most people want to explore. I am so bored of pretending otherwise. 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Worrying.

A few weeks ago I sat round a table in a bar with a few people I'd done a play with - it had just finished its run - and for some reason this blog became the topic of conversation. One of my friends asked the group to put their hands up if they read it, which they all did, and that always comes as a surprise to me. Then he said "put your hand up if you worry about Mollie when you read her blog". And they all did, which was also a bit of a surprise.

I've realised that I write best when I'm being honest and when I write from a place of sincere emotion. And sometimes that honesty and sincerity doesn't stem from a good or happy place. I don't mind that, the writing I share can be a sort of therapy both in its being written and its publication, and if it is something  that I can be proud of then in every way it's done its job, for me, at least.

I haven't written a blog post for a few weeks, something uncharacteristic of me, because I haven't felt up to it. That's okay, anything I did write would have been repetitive and probably boring. I haven't written much privately either because I'm not sure the feelings and thoughts I've had are that worth remembering. Anything written from a non-personal perspective wouldn't have contained the right emotion. Maybe even still it's not quite coming from the right place. I've sat for half an hour producing words at a snail's pace because returning to a habit you've neglected for a while is hard. I always lack the confidence I normally build up when I'm writing weekly. It's funny how quickly it can diminish.

What I'm trying to say is that everything I write comes from a place of truth. And when that truth is sad, or fearful or has seen better days, there is never a cause to truly worry. If I ever stop writing, if this blog goes quiet without explanation for more than a few weeks then maybe that's when you could check if I was alright, but I highly doubt that's going to happen.