Impolitic

I have a confession to make: I am 21 years old and I have never voted in a general election. Or any election for that matter. I know: throw me in the stocks and pelt me with rotten vegetables. I’m one of them. That’s what many of you will be thinking. That is unless you are, like me, one of millions who have failed to cast a vote in recent years.

Why haven’t I voted? A myriad of reasons (none of which is ever good enough to excuse my continual lethargy), principle of which is this: I do not understand politics. Voting blindly based on who my parents or friends vote for is not something I see as an option. If I’m going to vote, I will do so based on what I believe in.

I can snigger half-heartedly at satirical TV panel shows, because I know that’s what we’re supposed to do. I’ve been trained to laugh at politicians from an early age. I snigger because the basics have been made plain to me: Tories are selfish, upper class twits, Labour don’t know how to look after money and the Lib Dems tried to please everyone and failed. These are the major parties as I have been given to understand them by the likes of Ian Hislop and Frankie Boyle. As for the other parties, hardly any registered on the radar until recently. The Green Party and UKIP, previously stuck in the political paddling pool, are now dipping their toes into the Olympic pool and everyone is uproar about the implications. All this I express with the utmost disassociation: these are not my opinions. This is merely what I have gleaned from my own extremely narrow experience of politics. So I can snigger at a comedian’s jibe because I know that politicians are to be laughed at. That’s what I have been taught and what the majority of popular culture perpetuates.

I have never taken the trouble to understand it and that is my own fault.

But I have made a decision: I am going to change that.

Step one:

Register to Vote

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (So should all of you, Follow That Link!)

In the lead up to the 2015 UK General Election, I am going to educate myself in the mysterious and confusing ways of politics. I no longer want to be in the condemned section of the pie chart labelled “Non-voters” that seems only to grown. I no longer want to be counted in one of the worst groups of offenders: Young People. My age bracket needs a kick and I’m starting with myself.

The Perfect Pen

As a writer, I have certain conditions in which I like to work. According to my new writing guru, Verlyn Klinkenborg, creating conditions for your own creative process will only become barriers in the long run.

“Anything you think you need in order to write –
Or be “inspired” to write or “get in the mood” to write –
Becomes a prohibition when it’s lacking.
Learn to write anywhere, at any time, in any conditions,
With anything, starting from nowhere.
All you really need is your head, the one indispensable requirement.” (80)

As much as I see the reason in VK’s “short sentences”, I am struggling to follow through on this. There is a specific pen I like to write with. I recently lost that pen and bought a replacement today. Thankfully, it is stocked in most highstreet stationers. What’s so special about this particular pen? Well, for starters, it is the perfect shade of blue. I find page upon page of black biro a depressing spectacle. Blue offers a far more pleasing aesthetic, but it is not too bright of a blue as to be overstimulating… As I’m writing I’m starting to see how picky this sounds. But I shall continue anyway. In addition, this pen has remarkably little resistance on the page. My hand can glide along each line and a beautiful river of letters transfers effortlessly onto the crisp white paper.

page 1

And it’s not just the pen. I don’t like starting a new notepad. I like being able to flick through previous pages, read the occasional paragraph and think, “Man, I write some good stuff.” Those previous pages are a comforting, midnight-blue blanket of prose. Those paragraphs give me the confidence to turn to the dreaded empty page and begin. As a result, there is an old notepad I refuse to throw away because some fantastic essays began in those pages.

And beyond the raw materials, the environment has to be right too. Firstly, excellent light. Not yellowy, low-energy lamps, whose rays fail to chase away the darkening sky as you toil into the night.  Of course, a desk and comfortable chair are a must. And then there’s the noise factor. Everybody likes to work differently. Some people want absolute silence. Others blast heavy metal through their headphones. I need the right amount of ambient noise. Not silence, not heavy metal, but somewhere in between. I want friendly chatter, but not raucous laughter. A reassuring, indistinct melee of noise. I want to hear that buzz of life that reminds me there is existence beyond the realms of the word counter. The ground floor of UEA library was my perfect work zone. Having visited some local libraries recently, I can now say I miss university more than ever.

I am currently battling with drama school applications and that means Personal Statements. Yes, that dreaded task has rolled around again. There is already a post dedicated to my hatred of this task – the whole concept in fact – so I shan’t rant any further. What I will say is this: I have just acquired a visitor’s pass to Reading University library and a brand new pad of paper. I now sit with an old notepad, a new notepad, borrowed wifi and my favourite blue pen. Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

And so, with a hint of panache and some abbreviation, I can now say…

P.S. You Are My Bitch.

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Self-Help Books – The Marmite of Literature

For someone as stubbornly independent as myself, the idea of reading a self-help book is somehow an insult to my intelligence. (Note: Stubborn independence is also another way of saying I like to think I’m cleverer than perhaps I actually am.)  Self-help books carry a certain stigma for a not inconsiderable portion of society. There are those, on the other hand, that swear by them and attribute much of their happiness and success to such books.  Self-help books are the Marmite of literature. To demonstrate this point, I typed the following phrase into a few popular search engines: “self help books are…” Take a look at the most common suggestions:

yahoo self help 2 google self help 2bing self help 2

While Yahoo offers some more positive options, the overwhelming negativity of Google users (incidentally the more popular search engine) is hard to ignore. And Bing users follow the Google crowd (unsurprisingly), though with a somewhat underwhelming use of vocabulary.

So, why don’t we like self-help books? As for my personal reasons, I have already mentioned one: I think I’m too clever and too independent to need advice on how to live my life from a book. In addition, the popularly negative opinion of the genre results in a sense of shame and embarrassment when choosing to buy or read such books.  In truth, while reading my newly bought copy of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers on the train earlier today, as the ticket conductor approached, my initial instinct was to hide the thing, throw it onto the adjoining seats and pretend it had been there long before I boarded, or else attempt to flush it down the train toilet – though such plumbing is often barely able to cope with the passing of its usual contents, let alone a whole book. In any case, association with such literature was to be avoided if at all possible – or so I thought. Continue reading

Selling Myself

About 4 years ago, I went through UCAS and encountered the innocuously named ‘Personal Statement’. Innocuous, it is not. For any of you who have gone through UCAS, you will know that it becomes the bane of your life. How do you sum up your life, your ambitions and your accomplishments in 4,000 characters – or 47 lines of text (including spaces)? Hours are spent poring over the 47 lines that can determine the success or failure of your university application. We must all learn to sell ourselves if we are to succeed.

And do you know what’s even more annoying? From that day forward, there will always be personal statements. Job applications, and pretty much any application for that matter, have sections dedicated to this same hideous task, reincarnated with titles such as “About Me” and “Tell us a little bit about yourself”. It is one of the most frustrating things you will ever write and not just because there is so much you will want to say and find the character counter thwarting you at every turn. The greatest frustration, for me at least, is maintaining what I have dubbed the ‘Confidence Equilibrium’.

Image(Not my best drawing so far.)

When you are applying for a job, or for a place at university, or pretty much anything, you cannot be modest – and this goes for both written applications and interviews. When you are being asked to sell yourself, you can never, in fact, be yourself. There is a version of yourself you are required to present, and not necessarily a version you would like to be. The applicant must balance their account of themselves carefully so as to not tip the see-saw too far in either direction. Drifting to the left side – excessive modesty – means you fail to demonstrate any confidence in your own skills, and if you don’t believe in yourself, why would a potential employer? On the other hand, drifting to the right – excessive self-confidence – appears like arrogance and any notes your interviewer makes on his mysterious clipboard as he analyses you may well read “egotistical ass”, and no one wants to work with one of them either.  So, how to achieve that illusive middle ground? It is attempting to master this skill that will haunt you throughout interviews in your young adult life.

“What is your biggest flaw?” This question is the bread and butter of interviewers, bread and butter that forms the tasty treat in a wildlife trap, luring in anxious interviewees. If you are honest about your flaws then you are in danger of taking yourself out of the running completely. You could go with “Do you know, I just can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I guess I’m just that good,” followed by an awkward attempt at laughter. Or you could go with the classic: say a flaw that isn’t really a flaw. Instead take this opportunity to present another positive about yourself, but in order to appear like you are still answering the question, present it negatively. “I’m just too much of a perfectionist”. This is simply false modesty by any other name and those who employ this tactic are, to my mind, cheating. If there is a right answer to this question, I haven’t found it yet.

Once I graduate, I will be faced with a sea of applications, interviews and auditions – I’m going to try and be an actress, I don’t think I’ve mentioned that yet – and I will be trying to sell myself. I’ll let you know how it goes!

If any of you have employed any of these or your own interview/application tactics I’d be interested to know how it turned out! Leave comments below! Thanks for reading!

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