Having it All.

When discussing the Kirstie Allsopp controversy with my mother, she took the opportunity to remind me that “you can have it all, just not at the same time.” This kind of follows on from what Kirstie herself was saying; we can have a career as a young professional, but that should take a back seat by the time we settle down to become a walking nappie-changer. 

In my eyes, the whole idea of feminism is about choice, and I think that’s what she was really trying to say; it wasn’t some backwards comment about motherhood or an attack on female education. Women fought to have the right for political choice, choice over what to do with their bodies, their time, their money. We have come such a long way – the classic cliché – and we should continue to discuss the different choices that are available for women so that we don’t teach our daughters that there is a certain type of lifestyle path – school, uni, work, babies, empty nest syndrome – that is the only option. It seems to have worked for my mother, who won’t be crying on the phone to me about her empty nest for a couple of years as long as my brother remains at home, but the whole idea that we have to choose between personal development and looking after children really doesn’t make me very enthused to grow up. Why is 27 the perfect age to have babies? I’m sure there are thousands of responsible, capable and parentally minded woman at that age…I’m just not in a hurry to become one. 

Also, to be honest, starting work at this age really doesn’t speak to me. For one, if it were that easy to find a job as school leaver then girls like me would probably be getting into the world of work without having to fork out thousands for a degree in what many would call a ‘pointless’ subject, just to try and broaden our horizons. Has anyone looked at the employment stats lately? Yes, unemployment is falling, but young people are still not being given the opportunities they desire to flourish in the workplace. I like the idea of finding a job at this age – 18 – but does anyone really want to hire me when my only skill set is making tea, sweeping the floor of a tiny baber shop and learning quotes for my A levels? To quote another out-there feminist, the candid Lily Allen, it really is hard out here (bitch or otherwise). 

So Having it All, “just not at the same time”, seems to be the only real choice for me here. In my case, this will mean going to university and hopefully discovering what it is I want to do with my life, before I take chosen career by the horns. Babies and husband I would hope for, but I would like to think that I can do more than be the woman in the background of every photo. As long as there is choice to be a professional, and to raise a family either as a part of that professional life or apart from it, I don’t really see what else I can ask for. So thank you, Kirstie, for inspiring this discussion of feminine choice. 

 

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We’ll Never Be Rested: What if Parents Rewrote the Lyrics to Lorde’s ‘Royals’?

This makes me feel bad for how demanding I am as a child…

Josh Stearns

Lorde’s song “Royals” was everywhere in 2013. But my wife and I wondered, what if instead of a 17 year-old superstar, it was overtired parents of young kids who had written this song. The lyrics below are the result. My friend, singer/songwriter Lisa Hillary  recorded our lyrics and it is amazing. Listen to the track and go check out Lisa’s music.

UPDATE: Thanks to fans of the song we now have a video! Check it out.

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Inside the Box

After a recent report on the education system in Wales, it was decided (in a nutshell) that none of us can spell, count or read. How education authorities reached this decision I do not know, but I do know the outcome; artistic and cultural studies have been slashed from many curriculums. My comprehensive no longer offers drama for children under 14 – it can only be studied from GCSE level – and the children of key stage three (those in years 7, 8 and 9) have only one art, French and music lesson a fortnight. Although I felt this was an unfair victimisation of some of my best loved subject areas, I did understand that maths, science and (of course) English are integral to ones general academic development. Yet what message is this sending to, often insecure, children? In cutting artistic and cultural programmes from the core curriculum, we are not only undermining the intelligence of children whose strengths do not lie inside a test tube, but we are also shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. What is the use in mass producing a certain way of thinking? Those in power in fifteen years time will be facing a problem with “aah, yes. Let me just pop back into my box and then we will get started.” We should be encouraging a freedom of thought, a creative and expressive way of forming new ideas or picking up the pieces of old problems. Quite frankly, we are the fools for not noticing how short sighted it is to cut out language and art programmes; we universally cringe when our athletes or celebrities are interviewed by a foreign journalist and do not even know how to introduce themselves in the target language. We also tut at anyone who utters phrases like “who even is Picasso? Is that a footballer?”

Growing up with only the skills to light a Bunsen burner, find X and underline the pronouns will only go so far. X is just a number. Words are just thoughts given an outlet. We should be teaching our next generation to use those numbers to create, or find the words they love and repeat them with different tongues. Give the words a song, or give their meaning a colour on canvas. Turn the numbers into counts for a dance of self expression. Talented kids are not ours for the moulding. We are lucky enough to have free education in our wonderful country, and I do fully support the in erase in literary studies, yet we are only scratching the surface of what teaching really means; education should encourage confidence and tolerance, inspire questions and motivation to be the best at what you love. To quote “Catch-22”, “it is neither possible nor necessary to educate people who don’t ask questions.” The arts not only encourage but require this; it is not about a retention of factual knowledge or algebraic manipulation, but inquisition. Why do the Spanish/German/French etc celebrate in that way? What inspired this artist? How can I learn to improve my own skills, find my own voice? What is the story behind this piece of music? It is these thoughts, these frames of mind that we must not let dwindle. Give the children a chance to escape the box in which society seems to be hiding them. This is a plea, if nothing else, from a child of the arts; please do not let creative minds stop expressing themselves. Don’t descend into the abyss of technology and forget that some of our most celebrated people are the writers, the painters, the musicians and actors, because they all felt like their work was worth putting in the hours to produce. This is the message we should really be teaching. 

After Seeing India

In the words of the BBC’s beloved contemporary Sherlock, “you’re seeing, but you’re not observing.” This is exactly what I felt I had been doing on my fortnight trip around the North of India; I was seeing the palaces and the rikshaws and tuk-tuks, the street sellers and the beggars, but I wasn’t observing what that all really meant.

India is possibly the most beautiful and majestic country I have ever seen, with the snow-dipped Himalayas and the busy cities stacked on top of each other is a mess of noises and vibrant smells. You can walk down the street and hear a myriad of languages and dialects, almost get run down by a cow or a child, on a motor bike, all the while trying not to make eye contact with the beautiful women offering to tattoo your arms with henna. But this is not what I remember most about my visit; despite the sights and smells and sounds, only one image remains stronger than ever. The children who tugged at my shirt with their arms outstretched, sent by hungry fathers and desperate mothers to try and entice the foreigner. There were men without legs and women without eyes who sat with their arms out, crying out for money. I saw all this, and I certainly felt the stabbing guilt – giving money was forbidden by my guide, as either I or the recipient would be mugged by others in desperation – but I did not observe what it was all trying to tell me.

Of course, I am not pretending to be the first person to notice that India needs long term financial assistance, nor do I assume to be the only person to write about the issue at hand. But it seemed to me, as I volunteered in an orphanage in Old Delhi, that all the money we Western do-gooders were donating was futile. It was like putting a plaster, a band-aid, on a gun shot wound and expecting to stop the blood flow. What is the use of spending money on rice for a community who do not have any future in which to eat it? surely, investment in infrastructure would be a way of ensuring long term benefits for these families and these desperate children; building roads, hospitals, water pumps, toilet blocks, schools, hostels and in doing so, creating trade unions and social projects would be a more sound investment in improving an economy which was the strongest in the world before the British took it as a colony. I’m not saying that we should stop sending money for food and shelter to Indian charities, or any international aid charities: it is indisputable that they are saving lives. But for what? Without a long-term improvement for social care of the most vulnerable in society, how can an economy expect to improve? From this, I realized that I was not just observing India; this idea rang true to my own country, to my own situation. How can Britain itself expect to find a way of overcoming the economic crisis without investing in us, the next generation. Okay, we are hardly short of water pumps, but I would see no issue with creating jobs for the young by building new social housing, for which there is a shameful shortage. We think that because we are in the West we are above third world countries, but we are not. Until we can honestly say that we are ensuring a future of prosperity and hope for our children, I personally do not see as drastic a difference. 

Nationality: how should we define who we are?

Is it where we are born? Where we are raised? My mother tells me

“do you feel Welsh? Then you are.”

my tongue may be Welsh, but my mind seems to be English; I can’t count the times I have turned heads with my apparently peculiar turn of phrase or opinion on the country I am encouraged to hate. (Context: the Welsh ‘hate’ the English. It does make things a little difficult sometimes.) 

this is because my father is an English, ex-public school boy from an agricultural background; I was raised not to waste, to work hard and speak correctly. However, it is my mother who confuses my self identification; she was born in Sierra Leone, to a Caribbean mother and Irish father. My maternal grandparents met in Granada, as my grandfather was a surveyor. They travelled the world, to the extent that my aunt, and namesake, was born in a country that no longer exists.

Such does pose some issues. I don’t honestly know how to react when people ask for nationality. I can cope with ‘so where are you from?’: I simply name the town in which I have grown up. Yet it would be interesting to learn how other people would define children like me; an old English family one side, yet a myriad of cultures from the other. Is my mother African because she was born there? Or is she Caribbean because that was the prominent influence in her cultural upbringing? In reality, she calls herself English, as she lived in Durham from the age of 6. Yet when I asked my aforementioned aunt on how she viewed Africa, she simply replied with ‘home’. 

i want to reach out to anyone else who feels like they are a stranger to their own identity. Those who feel like they do not have a true sense of place; perhaps it is for us to decide, for us to pick a nationality, any identification, and create our own mirror image. Own the confusion. 

Or, failing that, use it as a go-to piece of information when forced to play ‘2 truths and a lie’ because, honestly, I don’t think I will ever be able to stop myself from breaking out in a cold sweat when faced with the “ethnicity” section of a survey.  

so we’ve yet to find a decent world map with south sudan

A beautiful take on travel, history, and the importance of time.

Sandpaper Blues

For my sixth birthday, my grandparents bought me globe. It sat on the desk, tilted at that attractive, precarious angle. I loved that the mountain ranges were palpable beneath my fingertips. Their intention with this gift was to aid my transition into the realm of proper education. I had just begun the first grade.

This was late September 1989.

Within two months, the globe was out of date in the most drastic way possible. (Until global warming inevitably creates Waterworld: The Sequel.) The Berlin Wall fell and half the Soviet Union descended into capital-R Revolution.

Aviary Photo_130301683079408240

But we never got another globe. That was the one we had in our house for years. Just this little piece of history, rotating slowly, collecting dust.

It is odd to think of now, as our apartment is adorned with three world maps (sure, one is a shower curtain, but still), how big that chunk…

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