The People Who Treat You Differently After Sex

It’s not your imagination. You had an intimate encounter with a friend, and somehow, it seems that your genitals zapped them through to the Twilight Zone. Suddenly, they are calling you “bro” and “pal”. Or perhaps planning your wedding? Or even serving you up some cold, fresh apathy?

What gives when you give someone head one time and they let it swallow every meaningful thing that previously happened within your friendship?

I thought I had intimacy issues. And I do. I can’t stand to be touched unless I’m very comfortable or familiar with someone. Even then, it’s no guarantee – not by a long shot. Most of the time, proximity is a poison to me, but I have a lot of experience with my own idiosyncrasies and my own inexperience. I try to respect my own boundaries, but at the same time, assure others that the problem is mine and I’m working on it. My own mental health issues and my social unbecomings are points of sharp awareness and clear visibility, perhaps to the entire universe. No matter how embarrassing, I like to explain myself and over-explain myself, just to make sure no one is seeing my issues as a reflection of themselves.

I think lots of people with higher self-esteem and a more experienced touch than me have intimacy issues too, but rather than clumsily acknowledge them, it is far more unspoken. The blame ends up falling upon whoever stumbles into its haphazard path. It’s difficult not to take other people personally in respect to what they make you feel, but it’s important to live through that emotion and observe its patterns. Eventually, the results will come back negative: it really isn’t you, it’s them.

Sure, sometimes it seems initially awkward to interact with someone after a sexual encounter. But it becomes quickly apparent when temporary awkwardness morphs into a completely different beast. Genitals may look like aliens, but friendships shouldn’t feel that way.

I have known some amazing creatures and some utterly bullshit humans. Mostly, though, they have fallen somewhere in between. The complexity of imperfection is that it is difficult to distinguish who is a good person treating you badly, and who is a bad person who treats you well when it suits them. Even my life’s villains have not always been figureheads of cruelty. Generally, they are apathetic, selfish or just emotionally reckless. People don’t tend to realize they’re doing something unkind, either through denial or ignorance. If they did, I like to think that they wouldn’t do it. Nonetheless, the accountability is still there, but so is forgiveness for those who deserve it.

Dysfunction sometimes comes to a head during intimacy – pun intended. Other than their flesh, people are a bit like computers. And while sometimes you might need an expert’s help to tinker and debug you, it’s pretty handy to have some basic savvy with your own circuits and to understand malfunction in those of others. You can’t learn anything about why someone operates in the way they do without cracking open some motherboards to see what makes them tick, even if it doesn’t always go as expected.

Perhaps I cannot expect everyone to be super in-tune with their thoughts and actions at all times, but I can sure call attention to it and see if they respond with a willingness to communicate openly. Sometimes, the plain truth can shock others into sincerity. “Is there a reason for the fact that ever since we fucked, you’ve been refusing to stand without a six-foot buffer zone between us, as if you’re standing at an appropriate distance in an ATM queue?” may sound like a horrifying mouthful, but it’s scarier on the receiving end and its directness commands a similar directness in return. When it incites defensiveness or cock-and-bull excuses, there is an answer in that behavior as well. Bare butts are a lot less frightening than looking someone in the naked eye and owning your words.

Sex shouldn’t have an impact on how humanized or dehumanized someone makes you feel. Hang up on their hang-ups.

If they try to make it weird, make it weirder.

 

The Psychotherapist: From Trainee to Professional

The first reading I ever completed for my three-year psychotherapy diploma program was in the summer before starting the certificate (In the UK we get our Postgraduate Certificate before we can progress to the Diploma). I can’t remember what book it was from, but the author seemed very determined to instill in the reader that any trainee counselor was going to need an incredibly strong support system (they called it an ‘anchor’) in order to survive this course. I thought they were being overdramatic. I read this aloud to my boyfriend-at-the-time’s mother and she stated that she expected her son to fulfill this role. He left before he had to, but that’s okay because by then I had my cat, Lucy.

Lucy became my anchor – my cat was the reason I got up to go to work so I could buy her food and treats. She was the only way I began to create any sense of attachment theory. I hesitate to describe her as a transitional object, but I can’t deny that I see myself very differently now than I did at the beginning of this course. I arrived believing I knew everything but was secretly terrified of having to sit with someone face-to-face instead of over the phone (my background is in peer support hotline work). What if they didn’t speak? What if I couldn’t help? What if I wasn’t good enough? I am now leaving this program fully aware of – and embracing – what I don’t know; yet feeling much more confident in my ability to sit with a client no matter what is brought – and survive a possible hour of silence with a stranger!

My journey to becoming a counselor began many years before that summer. At age 17, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Fearful of speaking to my parents about it, I took myself off to the general practitioner surgery where I was prescribed Propanolol. The doctor was my mother’s own doctor when she was pregnant with me and thus he had always treated me as an extension of a family friend. By just giving me some pills, he managed to cement my idea that I was broken and needed to be fixed. It was only after I hated the pills (initially I hated the idea of them, but then I disliked the way they made me feel) that he suggested I look into counseling, which ironically made me feel even more broken. I didn’t know anything about counseling then, other than what I’d seen in films about psychoanalysis and that scared me. I made the appointment over the phone in my friend’s bedroom and ended up sneaking out of school every week for eight sessions of CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy.

I’ve been in and out of counseling ever since. My style of therapist and senses of accomplishment have varied, as have the labels I have acquired from different professionals. I’ve stomped my feet every step of the way. I’ve been angry at the system, angry at not feeling heard, angry at feeling that my age prevented me from being taken seriously. I’ve disagreed with nearly every label and fallen out with nearly every therapist. But I can’t argue that they’ve helped get me here. I can’t say they hindered me -just that it’s been an uphill battle. My counseling history has helped me now find therapists that I enjoy and taught me how to feel comfortable in my own practice for my own clients.

I began my course angry with the way the system worked, thinking that if only I could get my foot through the door with a qualification, I could attack it from the inside and perhaps gain a greater understanding about how people fall through the net or get left behind. I could help bridge the gap. I could help make this system work.

I’m still angry and I still want to change the system. However, when I was asked why I wanted to do my course, I originally refused to give this reason, because I thought it would be mocked or seen as naive. Whilst I can still see the possible naïveté in it, I don’t believe I could continue to do this job without that anger, without that strong desire to make sustainable mental health more accessible.

So it’s ok to be angry.

It’s also ok for me to say goodbye to my course. The three years have gone by in the longest blink. I notice in my client work, I’m always aware of making sure it’s okay for my clients to leave at the end of a session; can they return to the real world as their outside selves? I really value the time it may take them to put their outside faces back on and slip back into who they need to be. I’ve done this. I’ve cried my tears. My makeup is fixed. I’m okay to leave.

I’ve said before that I think this course is really more a driving test; I’m only going to learn to drive once I’ve passed. I have a whole new journey ahead of me to discover just what type of counselor I really am, once the reins have been cut. I’m really excited to start.

That first reading was right. This course has been testing and it has completely restructured how I view the world around me. But I think what it’s taught me most is to be my own anchor. Whilst Lucy is a wonderful companion to come home to and ride a train with, it’s me that I take everywhere I go. She cannot physically sit in a therapy room with me, although I can channel the self I provide to her to be the self I try to provide to my clients. But it’s me that I need to be able to rely upon – my knowledge and control of my selves that I need to have faith in. This has been difficult when also factoring in a long-term illness that means my body might not always be able to be relied upon and brain fog is never too far away. But I’ve done it. I’m here.

I’m ready to leave. I’m ready to pass. I’m ready to support my clients through their own versions of this journey. I’m also ready to continue learning in my own way. After seven years of university, I’m ready to let go of the ‘trainee’ title and embrace the ‘professional’ one.

 

Clutter

the house looks like that kind of anxiety you can’t really talk to people about
because it smells like rancid dish water and stale, endless
masturbation
dust and dog fur mingle on hirsute heirlooms
my eyelids feel like the jowls of a bloodhound
I grind my teeth and breathe in peace-scented candles until I cough and cough
and cough up mucus more productive than me
texts to tyran that I feel guilty about
crafting collages until I’m cross-eyed
episodes of judge judy to convince myself that I am fierce
and to-do lists I write over and over so I can forgive myself for never completing them
but now my sheets are crunchy with resentment and if I clog my bin with lists
one day I will need to step outside
and empty it

Interview with Alex Creece, July Featured Author

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Starting this month, Rosewater will be having a “featured author” each month. The editors choose a contributing author, ask them a few questions, and focus that month on publishing many of their pieces. This month, we have chosen Alex Creece, a dedicated Rosewater contributor. Alex’s pieces have historically crossed genres, focusing on personal narratives, virtual reality and occasionally the overlap between the two.

Where did you grow up? How did it shape your writing?
 
I grew up in Australia and Dubai (UAE). I’ve always been extremely shy, but I think this trait has helped me become perceptive and find my voice through written words, rather than pressuring myself to talk for the sake of merely filling the silence. I’ve also met lots of vastly different people in my life so far and I try to strike up a good balance between upholding my ethics, but still being open to new information and making sure I am respectful of diverse opinions, not just ones I already agree with. I am passionate about my principles, but I like to make sure I am never too proud or righteous to be wrong or learn something new.

Which authors have most shaped your writing style?
 
Octavia E. Butler, H.P. Lovecraft, Margaret Atwood, Franz Kafka and Maya Angelou. I love oddities and honesty in literature.
 
What is your favorite Rosewater piece that you’ve written?
 
Witchcraft in the Modern Workplace. It has a lot of heart. And witches.
 
Describe your writing style in six words.
 
Whimsical, unashamed, vulnerable, introspective, sincere and…playful.
 
What advice do you have for young writers?
 
Share your work. I used to be terribly secretive about my words, even with my friends. At some point, I think I just became more interested in getting the feedback than I was afraid of it anymore. I’m so glad for that. Keeping my writing to myself didn’t give me enough opportunities to improve and expand on my ideas. It kept me in a bubble of self-preservation. Vulnerability is one of the most refreshing aspects of literature, and it’s even more wonderfully vulnerable if others can engage with your words too. No piece of writing will ever be universally appreciated, but if it matters to you, it will probably resonate with at least one other person. Your words cannot hold as much freedom if you clutch them too close to your chest.
 
Some of your pieces have dealt with difficult topics, like cat calling, mental health, and body image. Is writing your self-care? Do you have other ways to take care of yourself?
 
Writing is an important aspect to my self-care but I try to make sure I do lots of little things to help myself, just as I like to do for others. I was talking recently to my beautiful friend Tyran about stress management and he told me that I needed to make sure I was setting aside some time every day, even just fifteen minutes or half an hour, to dedicate to writing or any other kind of thoughtful catharsis. This has been helping me a lot, as I am trying to frame my own needs and well-being not as a pipe dream, but as a daily priority. Even in small bursts, dedicating regular time purely to my own interests makes me feel less suffocated, and as if I am switching off the other channels so I can listen to myself and properly tune in.
 
Where else can we find your writing?
 
Ramona Magazine, Antipodean Sci Fi, Literary Orphans…I actually have a list on my website, but it is in need of an update: http://www.creecedpaper.com/works/
 
What is next for you, writing-wise or in general?
 
I’d like to write some more short stories when I get a chance. I’d also like to get out of my comfort zone and try a new style or genre, or attend a workshop, or even read some words out loud where other people might hear them. As for what’s next in general, I’d like to continue finding ways to use my powers for good while still dressing like a villain. I hope that takes me somewhere interesting and helps a lot of people along the way.

On Becoming My Own Boss

I’ve never worked a real job in my life. At least that’s what I tell myself.

The minute I graduated college, I started applying for jobs with furor. Writing gigs, editing, blogging – anything and everything creative I could find. Looking back now, I realize that I had no idea what I was doing. I was given little career advice from my college, other than a few meetings at the career development office where a friendly well-dressed woman named Meredith gave me a few pointers. I would spend hours crafting “the perfect cover letter” then would ask more experienced friends and family to edit them for me before sending them off and crossing my fingers. In return for my hard work, I was rejected – constantly. Applying for jobs is emotionally and mentally exhausting. Half of the time I just wanted to write:

I’m applying to this because I need the money and I’m currently using my degree to write blog posts on topics such as, “20 of the Weirdest Etsy Items.” So please hire me NOW.  

Weird Etsy
20 Weirdest Things on Etsy

I hated every minute of it – the struggle to find the rights words to encapsulate why you were the perfect person for this job and how you just knew you would love working there. Then emailing your letter off into the internet abyss and waiting. Waiting was the worst. It could be a few weeks, it could be months. I tried to follow up by email or even phone calls if I was desperate. Most of the time, I felt like I was shouting into a cave, my voice echoing back at me in the face of this invisible company that was aloof and stony-faced.

Meanwhile, I was bouncing from internship to internship, while also working part-time jobs on the side. Despite feeling like I was wasting my college degree, I felt lucky to work in a beautiful tiny tea shop, with earthy wooden counters, surrounded by iron teapots and huge canisters of pungent tea. The shop’s mission was to focus on the art of tea, with food that was made with care and organic ingredients. Most of the customers were wonderful and intriguing. I also discovered my love of event planning and rediscovered my love of poetry there. My second job was in retail, which I mostly hated because, despite the quirky, beautiful atmosphere, the company culture was catty and all the managers played favorites. But it did help me make friends in my austere isolated suburban town. I also now have plenty of fuel for writing if I ever need to write about rich white women and their attitudes towards sales people.

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Sip Tea Lounge

Long story short, one and a half years go by and I’m pretty much in the same place. I don’t know what I want, but I find jobs I want. So I apply, but I just don’t quite have the ‘thing’ they’re looking for. Part of it is that I’m terrible in interviews. I hate being put on the spot and talking myself up. I turn into a nervous stammering wreck, who loses track of what I’m saying and then ends up trailing off.

At the time, I was in a long-distance relationship. Every time I visited my boyfriend, I felt so sad to leave him in a city that was actually affordable, where there were a million things going on and the possibilities seemed endless. Part of this was because we were still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. But part of it was also the fact that I was returning to a place where I spent most of my time at work or home, where I was working so hard to pay my student loans and save money but I still just seemed to be treading water. I found myself sinking lower and lower into a funk. I started applying to jobs in Baltimore, hoping for a change. I went on a few interviews and continued to be my messy self. It was like stepping into the room turned the interviewers into demons and my inner self-doubt emerged to dance around the room, taunting me.

I didn’t have a job waiting for me, but I had a loving, supportive boyfriend, so I took a leap and transferred stores to a Maryland location of the store where I was already working. I quickly discovered that being in Baltimore was different and exciting. I suddenly had a big group of friends. There were things to do. Cheap things – sometimes free things. It helped lift my funk.

But moving locations doesn’t necessarily mean anything changes. You can’t escape your problems. Two years went by and I still didn’t have the full-time job I longed for. I felt incredibly guilty for moving from one support system (my parents) to another (my boyfriend). I felt like I had tried to make a change but I had reverted to my old patterns.

When I was let go from a contracted job after just three months, I decided I was done. Frustrated and fed up. I decided that it was time to take my career into my own hands. I would try freelancing. I was already managing a family friend’s Twitter account, so I listed this on my resume. I started applying for freelance gigs. Through a connection (funnily enough through the job I was let go from), I managed to get a marketing and social media part-time position at an organization that focused on women business owners. I attended a happy hour hosted by the organization and met tons of interesting women. Through that, I got another gig. It didn’t pan out. But still, I’m getting work and I’m doing work that is relevant to my skills.Through a list serve, I got another gig. I feel confident and capable. I thought it was going to be an uphill battle, just like applying for jobs, but for the first time, I feel like I’ve taken my life into my hands and created something, instead of ending up in tears over rejection.

Freelancing is a whole different game. Being my own boss is incredibly hard and sometimes lonely. There’s no office chit chat, no one to explain things to me when I’m confused and no one to complain to when another coworker (or in my case, client) is being a pain in the butt. If I don’t know how to do something, I have to either commit to researching how to do it or reach out to ask for help from someone else who might know. As a woman, I find my skills second-guessed and questioned constantly by male clients who are more experienced (or at least think they are), consistently interrupt me and have a certain idea of how things should look.

Freelancing becomes a lesson in standing up for myself. I have to learn what to charge people and how to value my worth. As a writer, a woman and someone who has low self-confidence, this is a huge deal. But, I’ve learned how to look objectively at what I know I’m good at and what I think I could do better at. Sometimes, I have to explain when I’m out of my depth and know that this is ok. It doesn’t make me weak or inferior. It just means that it’s a chance to learn something new. This is something that most people learn in their office and then are taught by someone who has done it before. I don’t have that, so I am figuring it out on my own. Sometimes, I have no choice and I have to figure out how to complete a task, even if I’ve never tried it before. It’s hard – really hard – and it’s terrifying but it also makes me feel so proud of myself when I can manage to untangle a problem.

I have to learn how to advocate for myself and not be afraid to insert my opinion. I’m slowly learning how to convince myself that I have a lot of experience and I DO know what I’m talking about! At least once a day, my inner voice tells me that I’m a fake and I will never succeed. I am a constant victim of imposter syndrome. In an office, there’s someone to give you feedback, which is at least some assurance that you are on the right track whereas here, I’m my own worst critic and it’s like I have my very own Miranda Priestly living in my head. It gets so bad that sometimes I almost want to cry. My imposter demon will sneak up behind me and whisper, “You are a f**king joke. What do you think you’re doing?” If I’m struggling with a problem, it will smirk and say, “Why are you even trying?” I’ve started writing down these thoughts in the hopes that I will look back on them in a few months, realize how horrible they are and understand that it’s all in my head, that I’m doing the best I can.

Becoming my own boss has its pros and cons. It’s a many-headed beast that I sometimes tame and sometimes it tries to devour me. But in many ways, it’s freeing. If I don’t like the work I’m doing, I can always walk away and find something else. I can make my own schedule, work where I want and travel where I want, as long as I get it done. Whenever I tell people that I work for myself the usual response is how lucky I am. I think that they imagine me as a character from Girls, spending my days watching tv, baking cupcakes, working on art projects and meeting people for coffee in the middle of the day, while occasionally working. It’s not like that. That is a glamorized Martha Stewart version of what I do. My job is hard in many ways that are different from a 9 to 5 office job. If I don’t get work done, if I can’t complete a project, it’s on me. I have to learn to get along with clients because even if we don’t work together in the future, they can be the key to my next job. I have to know my worth and be completely unafraid to tell people that I have to work for a certain amount and no I can’t go any lower. I need to make a living and my work is valuable. This is my career. It’s empowering, it’s terrifying and it’s mine.

Kareers 4 Kooks

Job hunting is a competitive sport, and representing yourself accurately is not the winning strategy. Truthful responses fall far short of rehearsed ones. And it is your responsibility to know what trick questions might come up, and how to navigate them. You can flatline your chances with mere honesty.

Frankly, it is difficult to even get interviewed without combing your applications to remove any implicit signs of humanness, of age, or of gender. I’m lucky. I have a unisex name so I can at least evade the latter bias up until the moment they see me. Nonetheless, I resent the existence of a bias I need to carefully evade, not to mention the look disappointment on the interviewer’s face when first meeting me. Not only am I young and female, but my clothes aren’t beige and pocketless, I rarely wear makeup, and my clothes resemble those of a Dennis the Menace who grew up to become a garbage man. It’s not that I’m unclean but simply that I can’t afford to buy a blazer or pencil skirt to impress an executive with a big head and a small mind, nor do I think it should have any bearing on my employability.

As you can imagine, my job search ain’t yielding much love.

It’s illegal to discriminate, but I can’t exactly call the emergency services just because a man who interviewed me looked me up and down, asked, “Did you know you were coming in for a job interview?” then wiped his hand on his slacks after I shook it. Ultimately, they are not only hiring a person, they are hiring an image for their brand. I know I’m a hard worker, but I also know that comes second to my ability to portray myself as bland and pant-suited. From what I have seen, even in creative or presumably progressive companies, the person rich or powerful enough to decide what the company values is often someone who has no interest in what it is meant to serve. Some non-profit companies are run by people extremely interested in profits. Services intended to help people may be owned by those who are completely absorbed in helping only themselves.  I think this is part of the reason why outdated aesthetics and work lives are still the majority – because the fat cats up the top haven’t changed very much either.

There is something particularly obsolete about this process of acquiring a job. All opportunities suddenly hinge on factors that aren’t supposed to matter anymore. The advice people give sounds reminiscent of that once offered to young women trying to catch a beau in the 1950s. Wear high heels. Don’t tell them your age. Don’t ask questions about money. Be confident, but not too confident.

Oh, my stars! They might as well hand me this nifty guide:

men

It feels like I can only score myself a job if I first score myself a selection of lipsticks. Or perhaps if I become well-versed in the art of lying by omission, lest I actually dare to admit that I have any flaws other than working too hard, or that their company is not necessarily better than every other, or that I am afflicted with the zest of having a personality. Although I like to express my admiration for a company if they offer particularly good services or uphold ethical values, I can’t pretend like I’ve followed their business dealings since I was a toddler. I can’t pretend that I want to make a blood oath to live and dream customer service. My pale eyelashes and sincerity seem no match for the eyeliner tricks and blood oaths that others seem to be purporting in their interviews.

Until then, I will just keep sending out applications in the hopes that somehow one of them will not get lost in this space-time glitch that seems to corrupt the job-hunting process, where suddenly people once more work in cubicles, wear nude low-denier stockings and gossip at watercoolers, and where equal opportunities are an empty promise.

Why a Psychotherapist?

At the end of one of our sessions, a client apologized to me for leaving me with all of their problems. This wasn’t the first time a client has apologized to me for this and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We were running out of time and my rushed response became a garbled, “Oh please don’t worry about it, this is my job.” I heard the words come out of my mouth and immediately hated them.

I should have taken them back, but I didn’t. I kept quiet because it was the end of our session and there wasn’t time to discuss this in depth and I needed to get ready for my next client. I heard the phrase, “this is my job” as it came out of my mouth and thought about what it would sound like to my client: this is my job, to listen to other people’s fears and complications. This is what I do all day, and often the only thing I want to do all day. What does that make me sound like? What type of a person wants to wade through a stranger’s misery day after day? I want to say it’s because I want to help. I think I can help.

Given the opportunity to think about it, I would have liked to have offered a short summary of how listening to their problems is what I am trained to do, that I have my own supervision and therapy I can go to if anything said to me became too much. But I would have reiterated that the space is theirs to use as they wish, as am I. There’s a part of me that wants to reassure and rescue, to reiterate how much I love my job and remind them that they aren’t burdening me with anything. But that’s not necessarily what my clients are asking. And to say they are not a burden may suggest that their problems are not as heavy to me as they feel to them, which would also be a lie.

There’s a really fine line between taking what my clients tell me and holding it in the room instead of taking what they tell me home. To hold it in the room is to do my job to support my client. Not letting it leave the room and taking it home is my job as part of supporting my own self-care. But to explicitly describe this feels clinical. Telling someone that I am sitting with them because it is my job feels superficial, as though the time they spend with me is simply a paycheck — which could not be further from the truth.

In reality, when it does get heavy, I will measure how the heaviness is affecting me and discuss that with my supervisor. I will discuss it (anonymously and confidentially, with no identifying details) with my peers and I may practice the different responses I might try in the next session in a role play. I may look for extra readings, I may work out a little more in the gym, or buy an extra bottle of wine and binge watch something on Netflix. I will endeavor to bring up how I’m feeling with my client because it may be something that they themselves have been struggling to name and my opening up might help empower them to name their own emotions. I might stomp my feet a little and berate the way the world works. I will always return to the room, to the client and sit in the muddy puddle of whatever emotion feels most overwhelming. I will bear witness and I will try my hardest to hold because that is my job – that is what I am there to do.

In truth, I believe without a doubt that this is what I am supposed to be doing. So yes, it’s ok that you tell me everything you’re worried about, everything you don’t like or even your deepest fears and your most superficial ones. Because it is my job, but also because it’s what I love doing; because it’s what I believe is my life’s purpose; because if there is some divine providence somewhere that’s dictating my life story, “Listener” is scribbled all over my book’s cover.

I would love to tell my clients just how privileged I feel to be able to listen to what they wish to tell me; how lucky I feel to know that I can make a living out of something I believe in; how yes, this is my job, but it’s also my calling; how actually, they may be giving me far more than I could ever give them back.

 

 

Tell Me Your Stories

Entrust
Wikimedia Commons

Lately, I have discovered that I love to hear people tell me their stories. My past few jobs have been in the service industry, and gave me the opportunity to interact with the public on a daily basis. In all of those roles, the part I liked best was listening to what customers would share about their lives and what journeys brought them to my workplace. 

 Recently, a woman came in tea shop I barista at, and I ended up having a short conversation with her and one of my coworkers. She told us that her son plays the organ and because of that was able to spend a year at Eton, a private boys school,  in the UK. While attending there, he got to have a brief conversation with the Dowager Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the current monarch. I was incredibly impressed. How many of us can say we got to converse with the Queen Mother herself?

Queen_Elizabeth_the_Queen_Mother_portrait
Wikimedia Commons

I can’t quite explain why I like hearing about other people’s experiences so much. Maybe it because I’m a writer, and real life can be some of the best inspiration. Or maybe it’s because I’m an empathetic person and I want to know what the people around me are feeling.

These intimate moments of connection with strangers are some of the more meaningful parts of my day. Life has infinite possibilities and we are never going to get to experience all of them. But our lives are enriched when we learn about someone else’s background. When I am empathetic, I feel like I can live vicariously and experience people’s lives alongside them.

 The show Bojack Horseman on Netflix has a line that has stuck with me since I watched the episode it’s said in.  “In this terrifying world, all we have are the connections that we make.” The more I think about it, the statement holds true. We often define ourselves by how we connect to others.  Everyone is someone else’s something. 

So many of life’s most important moments happen because of the smallest things. Moments become memories, memories become stories. Stories are shared and the circle of connection grows. I feel such joy when I realize that by hearing people, I become part of that circle.

With all of the ugly events that have happened recently, more than ever we need to connect. We need to listen to each other. And this isn’t meant to be a simple blanket statement about sharing good feelings. We really need to listen and try to understand the experiences of those who we share the world with.

Please don’t stop sharing your stories.

 

Contour Queen: The Power Of Makeup Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called “Send In The Clowns”. As a photography student who was enthralled by feminism and bodily autonomy, I captured my thoughts on makeup through a series of pictures that expressed my confusion- whether weaing makeup was feminist or not. Two years on, I would’ve never thought that my makeup journey would have progressed this much, and my thoughts around feminism related to makeup have finally become clear.

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I’ve had to defend my choice to wear makeup amongst feminist circles countless times, which was disheartening, to say the least, when I started out experimenting with makeup. I’ve always seen makeup as a form of self-care, so to be met with negativity (especially from people I looked up to) made me question whether I was damaging my feminist integrity.

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I can’t say when the turning point was. I just stopped caring. I slowly began to realise that I loved what makeup could do for me, and starting owning it. Being a perfectionist, I would spend hours upon hours replicating beautiful looks I’d seen, getting frustrated when I couldn’t get it 100% right. However, slowly but surely, I started getting it “right”. I didn’t have to meticulously plan out every look I was doing the night before, making sure I had all the right palettes ready for me to start first thing in the morning. It was so empowering.

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I still had thoughts that were harmful to myself and others around me; maybe I was better without makeup on, more natural, maybe I would be seen as intimidating to others by having strong brows and bold lips. Was I supporting an industry that makes it’s money by tearing women’s self-confidence down, telling them that a blemish is the end of the world, and that no one will love them if they have chubby cheeks? After some tough talks with myself, I came to realise that it was the intention behind my cosmetic obsession that what was really mattered in my personal journey. I wore makeup as an extension of my personality, as a creative outlet, and as part of a self-care routine; and identifying this felt profoundly feminist. 18579307_1898696840350555_2027954573_n

From this long and exhausting journey, I started to love my own skin. I became aware of why my skin would break out, and learnt to forgive myself for mistakes. I became more conscious on what would give me the best value for money in regards to what products I was buying, and hugely boosted my creativity. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and reaped the benefits of it. As I realised that I was good at what I do, I was being told that I looked confident, and I felt it.

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I have become aware of the flaws in the beauty industry. I try not to ignorant. I give advice where I can, and I learn as much as possible. I dedicated my Instagram to purely makeup (give it look here), and I practiced, practiced, practiced. I write makeup pieces for Rosewater. But most importantly, I feel confident, inside and out. This weird and wonderful art of makeup has allowed me to embody the sharpness of my eyeliner wings, the glow of my highlight, and the holographic wonder of my glitter. And even after a long, hard, exhausting day, if my cheekbones are contoured sharp enough to kill a man, it’s all worth it.

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Prevenge: Murder, Mayhem, Motherhood

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

A slasher film about a pregnant woman committing murder with a kitchen knife sounds like some weird version of Mad Libs, and not necessarily a watchable movie. Nevertheless, writer, director and star, Alice Lowe has made a movie like Prevenge a tense, yet funny, gory, yet artistic, horror film. Filmed during Lowe’s actual pregnancy, the movie’s main character, Ruth, is a British woman expecting her first child. Ruth’s partner, as we gradually learn, died in a climbing accident due to the apparent negligence of the other climbers.

Prompted by the voice of her unborn daughter, Ruth kills the people she holds responsible for her partner’s death. By taking advantage of how others treat her in her delicate state, our heroine shockingly becomes adept at committing murder. 

I learned of the film when a trailer appeared as a suggested Facebook ad. I was hooked the minute I started watching. As a fan of both women-led media and horror films, I knew I would enjoy Prevenge. The film plays with society’s notion that pregnant women exist in a state of bliss, full of love and motherly devotion. In contrast, our main character Ruth is hindered by her pregnancy and frightened by the will of her daughter.

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The fetus is extremely verbose, complaining about the people and world around her. She speaks in a cutesy demonic voice that sounds like Peppa Pig on drugs. “You can’t shake me, I’m fury.” Ruth tries to lecture her daughter, but it’s pretty clear who is running the show. As Ruth’s condescending midwife says, “Baby knows best.” But unfortunately, what the midwife doesn’t know is that the baby wants people stabbed to death.

While the movie’s premise has the promise of a cheesy B-Movie, it’s actually the opposite. Slow moving and deliberate, this is not a stylized or exaggerated film. Ruth commits her murders in a believable way and the story is all the more effective for it. Aside from the murder, you could be watching a movie about a woman mourning and working her way through a difficult situation. Ruth having her autonomy stifled by the wants of her unborn daughter offers an exaggerated metaphor of women feeling that their body no longer belongs to them while pregnant. 

Music by the group, Toydrum, adds to the freakiness with a synth soundtrack. Even in the film’s calmest moments, the soundtrack reminds you that all is not right and something menacing is right around the corner.

I was impressed that Lowe took advantage of her own pregnancy to play Ruth. It added a layer of creativity to her project that otherwise wouldn’t be there if someone else was playing her. It’s rare, unfortunately, that we see a film with such a strong female presence behind and in front of the camera.

Some people could interpret the madness aspect of the movie as hinting at pre and post-natal depression. Yes, Ruth is not all in her mind and clearly depressed. But the film does not go into detail about what can be a complicated illness. Ruth’s midwife never brings it up in conversation during her appointments. Whether that is a deliberate story choice or neglect by the character is not commented on. However, women who have experienced pregnancy-related mental illness may relate to Ruth. Having never been in that situation, I can’t make that judgement.  Prevenge is more art than exposition, if you are looking for an in-depth discussion of the disease, you may have to look elsewhere. 

Would I consider Prevenge a feminist film? Yes. A female character does not have to be a shining beacon of morality to be a good character. Society praises women who are loving, kind, and feminine, and female characters who don’t follow this are often derided by fans. Look at how people responded to Breaking Bad’s Skyler White and her criticism of her husband Walt’s meth dealing. The hate got so bad that actress Anna Gunn wrote an article about it that can be read here.

Ruth is a three dimensional. Yes, she is going around committing murders, but her partner died, leaving her pregnant and alone. Along with the violence, we get scenes of Ruth sadly contemplating her situation. I for one just wanted to give her a hug.

In the movie, Ruth criticizes the expectations of how women are supposed to act during pregnancy in a great scene to disparage how mothers-to-be are poorly treated in the workforce. She attends a job interview as a ruse to meet with one of her victims. The woman interviewing Ruth tells her that while qualified, she wouldn’t be hired because she is pregnant. After she slits the woman’s throat, Ruth throws a sexist comment back at her as a post-kill one liner.

Finally, nothing beats Ruth as she gets ready to commit her last murder. This mild-mannered and ordinary woman transforms into an avenging goddess, red dress flowing around her, with a face painted like a skull. 

While I really enjoyed the movie and all the squirming feelings it produced, I thought that the ending was a little rushed. Prevenge was wonderful at creating suspense, I don’t want to spoil the climax, but it loses steam as it nears the finish line.

That being said, I know that Lowe gave her best performance. Ruth was never a cardboard cutout, such as when she kills a man and then lovingly putting his senile mother to bed when she wanders out of her room. Prevenge is unforgettable, I sincerely hope that this is not the last we see of Lowe.

Prevenge is available to watch on Shudder.com.