1-2 Hurts Just a Little Bit // Year Abroad Diaries #003

When I started writing these year abroad posts I was convinced I’d do them weekly, so I could look back at all the fun things I’d done. Might as well set myself up to be a constant disappointment I suppose.

I guess it makes sense to start with the bad, right?

I had my first big year abroad cry!!! From talking to friends over here I’ve discovered that this is actually quite normal, especially around the one month mark. For me it was caused by a lot of things; exhaustion, loneliness, feeling very anxious all of a sudden and probably in some part my girlfriend’s departure for England. It was shit, I won’t sugar coat it. Crying at 2am when you have work the next morning and being on the second floor of an apartment building where the only way to get some air is sticking your head out of the window is far from ideal. But, honestly I think I needed it. I think I needed that release of emotions to realise that I couldn’t just spend my whole year breaking down every time it got hard, and it did take a few days but I picked myself up.

How? Well, I had to get out and start doing things. A big part of that has been making friends, because I know myself, I am not very good at being alone for long periods of time anymore. I haven’t done so great at making friends with any French people yet, but I have discovered the 30 odd people from Durham who are also hanging out in Paris at the moment, and a few other British Erasmus people. It was awkward to start with, spending time with people I know just about well enough that it’s weird that we never talked properly until leaving Durham, but after a drink or two things always smooth out. The best thing for me was having people to sit down with and talk about the things about a year abroad that are hard, or even the things about Paris that are hard. I talk to my friends from home about this, but as much as they are there to support me, they can never truly relate to my complaints about the failings of French bureaucracy or how much I hate the RATP for so many reasons. It was nice to have something to bond over, even if it is just for a few drinks every now and again. 

What was slightly more unexpected was the reappearance of my creativity. I used to write poetry when I was younger, but I haven’t done for almost four years now, so I thought that part of my life was done. Then I took myself out for coffee the other weekend, planning on reading, but ended up pouring my heart out into verse. Since then I’ve written ten or so poems, about everything from politics to emotions and in everywhere from the laundrette to the Musee d’Orsay. I even went to a slam night on Monday, and oh my God I have never felt more inspired. I feel like I have so much to say all of a sudden, and finally the tools to say it all again. I think I would like to perform some stuff at that slam night before I leave. It’s a bit of an ask for someone with anxiety who hasn’t been on a stage since GCSE Drama, but I just have this feeling somewhere in me that says I need to.

I promise I won’t end with yet more doom and gloom, but I had another mild breakdown, this time a lot shorter. Last weekend I went out for drinks for a friend’s birthday, and came home unreasonably drunk for someone who’d only had four pints. And the next day I just felt like garbage. Not even in the sense of being hungover (although I was), but just feeling so upset and sad and overwhelmed. I nearly cried in a Metro station for fuck’s sake (and it wasn’t even Chatelet, a place so confusing it makes me want to cry on an average day). Alcohol is a depressant kids!!

The big upset this time was mostly because I’ve been obsessing over watching everything play out in Durham and not being there to experience it physically. I spent hours on Sunday morning just scrolling through what people were doing back home and waiting for people to respond to my messages. That’s not a fucking life is it. I live in PARIS for fucks sake, one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in Europe, and I have absolutely no academic commitments. I can’t waste that, so I’ve put limits on my social media for now at least and I’m trying to let myself build a life here, rather than spending a whole year miserable.

It is never going to be easy to be physically far away from the things and people I hold dear, but it also doesn’t have to be impossible. I feel like I’ve learned from my dramatic meltdowns and I’m going to go forward better as a result. Either that or I’ll have another cry again soon, stay tuned to find that one out.

 

Advertisements

Coming Out is Hard. Coming Out Again is Harder.

The LGBT+ community has always been heavily centred around the idea of labels and identities. It makes complete sense; we spend years dealing with the internal strife of who we are and what our feelings mean. We toil away at the task in hand, chipping blocks off our hearts until we’re able to mould our emotions into something we understand, something that makes sense to us. But what happens when all that hard work is fruitless? When the conclusions we draw aren’t necessarily the ones which feel right, the focus on labelling and coming out feels restrictive, stifling, unnecessary almost.

It’s a difficult line to tread. The community constantly has to try and balance the rejection of binary conceptions of identity and the comfort that some people find in those very ideas. We preach that it’s okay to question yourself at the same time as we wear the stripes of our individual labels. It’s an impossible dichotomy, and one that I don’t have the answer to, nor do I think I ever will. I also think each option can be equally valid in different ways, depending upon how you feel most comfortable.

What is clear though, is the importance of distinct identities to the formation of our communities. It is invaluable to have ways to relate to each other, because as with all marginalised groups, solidarity should be at the centre. Identifying as LGBT+ for the first time means we suddenly acquire a whole new social environment that we perhaps didn’t encounter before. It’s a type of socialisation that feels right, special, easier. We can relate on levels we can’t with others, sharing both issues and celebrations with people that can truly empathise. 

For me though, labels have always been restrictive. I often say that I feel coming out was taken away from me, as being from a small town where there really wasn’t many visibly LGBT+ people growing up people pushed me into the box they thought fit me the best. I went along with that, because when you can’t see past an opaque wall you just take what’s in your field of vision. It didn’t help that my field of vision had a very limited LGBT+ media presence and no lesbian role models, or even friends, either.

So much of the coming out narrative is associated with gay panic and being a young teen. There are a lot of ways in which that is unhelpful, but for me personally it became a much bigger problem when I felt the need to come out again at the age of 20, with a new label. I didn’t know how to think about myself in a way that wasn’t steeped in fear and apprehension of acceptance. Everyone already knew I was queer, I’d already told my parents I wasn’t straight, already gone public about being a member of the LGBT+ community. For me this second coming out was way more centred in self-doubt, the worry of fulfilling stereotypes, and to be frank, embarrassment.

I thought coming out again meant that I’d done something wrong. I concluded time and time again that I should just live with my mistake, because what does it matter anyway if people consider me bisexual or a lesbian? I could just go on never dating men again, and I really doubt anyone would have said a word. The bisexual community faces constant attack for just being a “phase”, and for being reserved for quirky white girls who kiss other quirky white girls when they’re drunk, and I felt so guilty for the possibility that I’d contributed to the perpetuation of this stereotype, even in a minor way. 

If I’m honest, I’m still not 100% sure why I felt the urge to come out again. I’ve never been the kind of person who has felt like labels are for her, which is something I’ve always wished I could have. There are many many problems with the word queer, hence I couldn’t ever feel fully comfortable using it as an identity, but it’s a pretty good summary of how I feel. I think the real reason is that I felt like I was lying to myself, and to some extent, to others. I knew bisexuality didn’t fit for me, and as someone who is pretty engaged with activism I felt uncomfortable trying to fight for a community I just didn’t feel a part of.

I am (trying to be) a proud lesbian. I am not always successful, and I still cringe when I say it to people who knew me before. I struggle to put into words why things have changed, and tend to just go quiet when people bring up exes who identified as men. But, at the same time, I feel my most genuine now. My past experiences and feelings aren’t neccessarily invalid, they’re just the opposite of my current experiences and feelings. Just like how I used to like Black Veil Brides, and now listening to that shit makes my ears bleed, I used to like boys, and you can fill in the end of that sentence for yourself.

Identities are complex and diverse, making them prisons for some and homes for others. I see myself somewhere in the middle; somewhat comfortable and aiming to be content.

What Does It Mean to Be Settled? // Year Abroad Diaries #002

I’ve written quite a few other things that are a lot more intellectual than this is going to be, but my brain is far too big of a bowl of alphabet soup right now to even think about editing them. Also I’ve spent so long using a French keyboard at work now that I’m losing the ability to touch type on a British keyboard, and fuck trying to navigate writing something important when I make typos every other word.

I don’t want to say it too soon… but I think I’ve settled? I moved over here 4.5 weeks ago now and on Monday I have my 1 month review for my internship, so I guess my roots are firmly down now. I finally have a bank card (although not a PIN number, but at this point I’m past caring), a library card, a volunteering post and I know where I go to do my food shopping. It feels really nice to not feel like a constant outsider, confused by anything and everything.

But, being settled is more than just acquiring all of the things you need to exist as a person. It’s finally feeling comfortable in going about your daily life, not having to rehearse everything you’re going to say or do in your head before you do it. It’s coming back to wherever “home” is, however temporary, at the end of the day and feeling like you can rest comfortably. It’s making new memories in your new space, and it feeling not like a holiday but a period of your life in a different place.

That’s why I really feel settled. Yes, it’s nice knowing how to get to Lidl without Google Maps and where the nicest park is to run around in the evenings. But taking ownership of my little chunk of Paris and feeling like I belong in it is way more important to me, probably because community has always been part of me. I’m not built for just being in a place without giving it something in return, I never have been. That’s why I spent the evening teaching a little boy English verbs and making my best attempt at teaching comprehension in Spanish to a teenage girl. The latter was such a challenge and slightly chaotic at times, but another volunteer coming up to me at the end and saying “ton espagnol est impressionant” was the ultimate satisfaction, alongside her finally understanding what I was trying to tell her about colonialism in some bastardized French-Spanish hybrid.

No, it’s not my life in Durham, the life I truly love. But like, that’s fine for now? I’m missing out on some fun things in the next few weeks, and I can’t just sleep til midday whenever I want to, but I also get to do all these different cool things that I’d never get to do in the UK. Also, the linguistic payoff is second to none. There is literally nothing more satisfying as a linguist than “tu parles très bien français” or “tu español es bueno, no te preocupes”, even if I’ve tripped myself up linguistically 5 times in the conversation before. I thought by now I’d be over that feeling, but tbh I’ve been learning languages for half of my life and it hasn’t got boring yet.

Next step, continuing my quest to make friends and discover Paris beyond my quartier. Updates to come I guess !!

-Megan, listening to Hamilton (ok but I started listening to this whilst doing a Very Important Audit today at work and I felt a bit less ridiculous about the fact that Very Important Things are part of my life now)

I Moved to Paris and Everything is Different. // Year Abroad Diaries #001

As they say at gigs, here we, here we, here we fucking go.

Your favourite unavailable and chaotic blogger is back. Nobody asked, I highly doubt anyone wanted, but when has that ever stopped me? As is concurrent with my life I’ve run out of other things to do and so I’ve come back to writing as a form of entertainment. I wish I could say it’s going to last this time, but we all know the reality is far from that. I’m opting for a much less “professional” “lifestyle blog” approach this time though, which should make it more sustainable. I love writing, I don’t do it enough, and I have far too many opinions to express, so here we are. 

Since I last wrote in February, a lot has changed. The big thing being that I now live in Paris, France; aka I’ve added another country and another house to the chaotic mess of half-nested places I inhabit in the North of England. That’s right, I have finally made it to my third year of university, and thus the ever-looming and slightly terrifying year abroad. And because I’ve moved to a completely new place, and because I’m interning rather than studying, I have absolutely zero friends to hang out with, so instead of telling them my thoughts I’ve ended up putting them here.

I’ve only lived in France for about 3 weeks, but already I don’t think I’d be able to sum up all the strange differences and bizarre learning experiences. Instead of being greeted by a napping housemate on the sofa with whatever shitty daytime TV is on at the time in the background when I get home, I’m now greeted by a 3 year old, whose incessant babbling I rarely understand. Instead of waking up 10 minutes before a lecture and arriving in a caffeine-infused haze, I wake up over an hour before work to catch rammed commuter trains across central Paris, and grumble when they’re inevitably delayed every other day. Instead of being able to get a pint for less than 2 quid in the SU every day of the week I treat myself to one €7.50 beer a month, because who the fuck can afford to get drunk in this hellscape of a capital? I only moved one country across but literally everything feels different. 

I am, largely, enjoying myself though. I’ve gone into it with an open mind when it comes to all of this chaos, and I’m treating it as a kind of sabbatical year, even though here in France I’m working a 9-5 internship everyday. However, that “grind” doesn’t feel like as much as it sounds. I spend most of it in an office, doing fairly simple tasks and learning something new everyday. It’s mentally demanding sometimes, sure, and I feel awkward from time to time interacting with my colleagues in my second language, but at least so far I’m finding it really refreshing. When I left England I left my third summer in my current job, and I think what must be my fifth or sixth year working in customer service. I was so exhausted and jaded by dealing with the general public day in day out, being on my feet for 8 hours a day and never having a routine. I grew too accustomed to that life, and it didn’t me anything in terms of personal or professional development anymore. Paris is.

Literally every day I have to deal with some form of bullshit that is forcing me to develop as an individual, and whilst at times it feels frustrating, it’s ultimately extremely rewarding. I haven’t really had to do anything that pushed me too far out of my comfort zone since going to university, beyond what I’ve done in student politics. In comparison, even the most basic of things are a learning curve here. I’ve had to battle with 4 different banks, figure out how to buy and cook a meal that isn’t canned beans and bread (vegetarians in France have been done dirty), navigate my way around the biggest place I’ve ever lived by far and adapt to everything closing at 13h on a Sunday. Oh and all that’s happening in a second language that it turns out I distinctly lack confidence in. So, basically, I feel like superwoman when I do a basic human task without fucking up somehow. It’s like being a really stupid baby again, only your parents aren’t around to conjure up your rent in cash when your bank won’t let you make any more withdrawals. 

In some ways it really should be getting easier from here. I’ve done all of the base set-up tasks and I’m starting to figure out what my routine is. I’m even getting back into running after my injury, and that in turn is helping me get to know my neighbourhood. However, I still don’t have any friends, which for now is fine because my girlfriend is here and I’m still enjoying the newness of it all, but when she and all my other pals go back to Durham in October I’m going to have to find someone to talk to, or risk living vicariously through Instagram and Snapchat until I can visit. So, that’s the task for this week: find friends that aren’t the 3 year old I now live with.

Hopefully by the next time I write I’ll be able to tell of all the new friendships I have blossoming. What’s more likely is that I embarrass myself in front of the first person I attempt to befriend and decide that maybe hanging out with 3 year olds isn’t so bad after all.

 

-Megan, listening to the new Taylor Swift album (you could say I’ve changed for the better yes)

My Relationship With Reading

I learned to read long before I went to school. My parents used to drive to our seaside holidays down South overnight in hopes my brother and I would sleep on the journey, yet I read in the light of car headlights driving by. By the age of 10 every librarian in my local library knew me by name. Yet since I started second year I’ve only read 2 non-academic books; what the hell happened?

As a child I was completely addicted to reading. I remember sitting up until midnight just trying to get to the end of whatever book I’d checked out of the library that week. My Dad would hear that I still had my radio on (because I was a weird kid that listened to the radio to fall asleep) and see my lights on when he was heading to bed, only to be met with the excuse of “I’ve only got a few more pages”. Sunday afternoons were reserved for going to the library and coming out with an armful of books, to the point where I was bored of the kids section and had moved onto the teenage section way earlier than was probably sensible. I loved escaping into a different reality and learning about different lives as I went, feeling as if I were worlds away from the very homogeneous environment that is rural Cumbria.

When I eventually got to secondary school I was suddenly made aware that I was a massive nerd. Reading a lot was a bit of an add on to the fact that I succeeded in school and was a tad of a teacher’s pet at times. For a while I flirted with the “yeah God reading is so uncool” thing and followed along with everyone else in denouncing books (which probably coincided with the emo phase I’m definitely not secretly still in). It obviously didn’t last very long, because I found social media and a whole community of people in Booktube that adore reading as much as I did.

But, since Sixth Form, I really haven’t read that much. I struggle to get through more than a couple of non-academic books in a term, which is quite surprising considering that a large part of my degree is reading, it just happens to not be in English anymore. In 2017 I only read 13 books. When I was 13 I’d have gotten through that in 2 months.

The thing is though that I don’t think I’ve necessarily fallen out of love with reading. When travelling I usually spend all of my flight time with a book in hand, and tend to take one out on my Metro journeys. I love waking up on a Sunday morning with a small workload and rain outside lending itself to lazing around in bed with strong coffee and a good read. I think the honest truth is that I just need to make more time for it, rather than spending the little time I have at home watching Netflix and oversleeping.

In conclusion: books are good and I want to read more of them in 2019. For some reason, I’ve pledged to read 40. If you want to watch me fail at that then you can check out my Goodreads, and if you’re interested in book-related posts; let me know!

-Megan, listening to The Wombats on Christmas Eve like a 15 year old anti-festivity indie stereotype

2019 Goals

I wish I could say I hated clichés, but the reality just isn’t true. Surely if millions of people do something they can’t be wrong, right? (I mean, thousands of people elected a Tory government and they certainly weren’t right, but the idea fits the narrative of this post so forget the actual logic here)

Today’s cliché is making goals for 2019. I’m writing these out on the 2nd of January, as for New Year’s Eve I ended up choosing to go to a party with Alex at the last minute. It was a fantastic night and I had a great time, but unsurprisingly had a little bit of a bad head yesterday and had to wait until today to start on my goals. I feel like that’s not just me though, New Year’s Day definitely doesn’t count.

1. Complete dry January
One of my friends from back home has done this before and is choosing to do so again, and this year I’ve decided to join him. As a university student drinking culture is literally everywhere, meaning I usually waste a lot of time and money on being drunk or hungover, and I’m getting a bit bored of it. There are certain situations I enjoy more with a drink sure (clubbing Meg, you mean clubbing, because you’re far too anxious to do it sober), but most times I don’t really need to be drinking. I also have a lot of uni work due in at the end of this month (which I definitely haven’t started oops), so I don’t have time to be spending days hungover at the moment.

2. Run 10k
I’ve been into fitness for quite a while, but over the winter period I abandoned running completely. Back in the summer I was capable of running around 7km and was really building up to getting to my longtime goal of a 10k race. However, now I’m struggling to even do a basic 5k, because I’ve been neglecting cardio and opting for weights and toning work. I loved running when I was into it though, so I’m going to get myself signed up for a 10k race and start training.

3. Read 40 books
This is a very silly goal. In 2018 I read 29 books, the most in a lot of years. So obviously the most natural thing is to decide to read way more than I’ve read in a year since I was probably about 14. Amazing job Megan.

4. Stop buying from Amazon
Amazon are an absolutely terrible company. Their record on workers’ rights is nothing short of shocking, and since I finally got around to joining a union on New Year’s Day (really it was about all I achieved that day) I’d feel like a huge hypocrite if I kept supporting such a parasitic company. They’re also horrifically bad for the environment. I’m going to finish reading what books I’ve already bought on the Kindle app then hopefully find a new option for ereading, if anyone has any ideas let me know!

5. Take a photo everyday
This time last year I decided to post everyday on Instagram. It lasted a few months, but I soon learned that my life really isn’t exciting enough to make it Insta-worthy every single day. As a result I just stopped taking pictures, which is quite frankly a bit dumb for someone like me who spends half of their life looking back at old pictures because they can’t remember what happened yesterday, let alone years ago. So I thought fuck it, I’m taking photos for me now, the sillier the better.

6. Become a better activist by learning from others & campaigning more
I’m a bit of a lefty guys, it’s no secret if you follow my Twitter. At the end of last year I started campaigning for the Labour Party and I absolutely love doing it. It’s fantastic to get out on the doorstep and talk to people about why I believe what I do, and with the likelihood of a General Election this year it’s going to be more important than ever if we want to elect a Labour government. I’d also like to keep being involved in student politics before I head out on my year abroad, and hopefully get involved in the trade union I just joined. I just want people to have better lives, it’s really quite simple.

7. Practice my languages more
For someone who’s probably moving to South America at the end of the year, my Spanish really isn’t all that great. Or rather, I have zero confidence in speaking it whatsoever. I need to read and watch more in my non-native languages, as well as try and seek out more opportunities for speaking practice (I’m looking at you Amy, we need to reinstate cuppa & French/Spanish chats). I wish learning a fourth language was on this list, because after Milan and Berlin I’m absolutely dying to learn Italian or German, but I need to be patient and get good at the three I already speak.

 

I think that’s all. It sounds ridiculous to say this at such an early point in the year, but I have a good feeling about 2019. I’m in a very good place, and have so many exciting travels planned, which is all I could ever ask for really. What are your main goals this year?

-Megan, listening to a playlist entitled “Alternative Love Songs” (no, I’m not sure why either)

2018: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

We’ll talk about where I’ve been for a month and a bit in the next post, because before I truly start 2019 off on the blog I want to look back. I get weird and nostalgic at this time of year and tend to tweet too much and post too many pictures of what’s happened throughout my year. I thought the best way to relaunch my site would be to write about all of that, crazy emotions, highlights and lowlights included

The year started not with a bang, but a whimper. The lovely Alex hosted a fantastic New Year’s Eve celebration, before I went back to working for the rest of Christmas break. In January I got my second ever tattoo and saw my first ever premiership rugby game. My return to Durham included snow, Burns Night formal, and more Friday night Klute (if you know you know).

 

February was a very low month. It mostly consisted of walking miles and miles in hopes that I’d fix the mess in my head and generally struggling a lot. On the plus side The Feast of St Cuthbert happened, so I got a nice break from myself with added black tie, and spent a weekend seeing both Dead! and Marmozets.

March began with a breakup, and for some reason running back to the very hometown that was so intrinsically central to that old relationship in a snowstorm so bad that I almost got stranded. Looking back is so strange now, because I honestly think it was for the best and that I’ve grown exponentially as a person as a result, but it was obviously a difficult time. Anyway…. despite the sadness most of March turned out ok. I planned summer holidays with my friends, threw myself into Durham life, finally saw Moose Blood live and went to France on my final ever exchange. Before that trip I was struggling a lot with being back home and my identity, but after a social media break, immersing myself in French and meeting some fantastic new friends I began to stand a little taller once again. That was probably helped in part by starting therapy, and in part by starting to exercise and focus on myself again.

 

The last term of first year soon rolled around, a term essentially of two halves. To begin with obviously it was exam season, and whilst the exams themselves weren’t overly terrible I had periods of real low mood and spent a lot of time crying or sleeping. Not pretty, but it taught me that recovery is a process rather than a solution. In Durham we all stay around for a little while after exams, and I had such a great time! I had probably one of the best nights of my life at a college Eurovision party, saw Twin Atlantic, went to my first ever pride, visited Edinburgh, Cuth’s Day happened, we went to the seaside and I had visits from home friends. I also started this blog back then, something I’ve loved working on and being creative with ever since. On the last morning of term in June myself and my flatmates woke up at 4am to watch the sunrise together and it was everything.

 

This summer was chaotic, at times crazy, but downright fabulous. It all began with travelling to Berlin, Prague and Budapest with the best team I could ever hope for. After a week straight of work after landing back in the UK I headed down to Dorset to hang out with the same great pals. We enjoyed some rare British sunshine by the sea for a few days, and then headed up to Oxfordshire for Truck Festival. It was a bit of a beer-infused blur but I saw some amazing bands and got a questionable tan. I came home, got a recovery themed tattoo and went fully vegetarian because I’m a walking stereotype. I also climbed High Spy & Catbells, went on a good few nights out and took a trip to York.

 

I moved into my second year house in Durham a little earlier than most at the start of September, and I won’t lie, it was quite lonely. To solve that problem I quite literally ran away to Italy. I went to Milan for a few days on my own, and genuinely really enjoyed seeing a new city from the perspective of being a solo traveller. I also visited my school friend in Edinburgh (again) and went down to Manchester to finally see Halestorm live, after a lot of years of waiting. These trips were a good approach to feeling better in the short term, but my overwhelming memory of September is that of depression. Luckily, it didn’t last long.

 

Not long after I returned from Italy I started second year, and oh man it’s been good. I adore (most of) what I study this year, get to live with my best friends and love my city. I got involved in student politics for the first time this term, being elected LGBT+ officer of the Labour Club and helping with an NUS delegate elections campaign team, which has brought me a whole group of lovely new friends. I saw countless gigs, meaning I spent a lot of weekends in Manchester and nights driving to Newcastle and back. This term has definitely been the best one yet, and I honestly can’t wait to go back to Durham.

 

Since coming home between working and studying I haven’t really been up to all that much. I had a lovely quiet Christmas with all of my family and I just feel very lucky at the moment. I’m properly excited about what I do, (mostly) healthy, (mostly) happy, and (mostly) living my best life.

So apologies for the very long post, but 2018 has been a huge year for me. It’s had some highlights that I’d even consider life highlights, but at the same time has been a hard year in many respects. I feel like it’s been a year to progress, deal with things, and prepare for making 2019 the most kick-ass year ever.

-Megan, listening to Placebo (and wondering why I haven’t listened to them in a long while!)