Love Thy Fear

Fear

The emotion of pain or uneasiness caused by the sense of impending danger, or by the prospect of some possible evil. Now the general term for all degrees of the emotion; in early use applied to its more violent extremes, now denoted by alarm, terror, fright, dread.  (OED)

1546   J. Heywood Dialogue Prouerbes Eng. Tongue i. iv. sig. Biv   Feare may force a man to cast beyonde the moone.

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I have been recently waking up with blood pounding in my ears and my heart punching its way out of my chest in search of a more relaxed owner. You see, life has become quite scary. I’m facing a long, painful and mostly fruitless process of job hunting. On top of that, being a writer by night is scary. That thing that I’m so passionate about and in which I have been pouring any remaining energy, aka my story, I’m petrified that I’ll disappoint it and it will abandon me. I delight at the stories that I get to explore and the characters that take hold in my head. They are a bit like old friends (even the mean ones) who deserve the best I can offer.

Yet, a blank page or job application presents boundless possibilities for failure. And as much as I keep telling myself that it should not matter, my anxiety has shot through the roof. I’ve been trying to tame it. I’ve explained gently that I write because I love it and will keep writing even when nobody else reads my scribbles. That I need a job but it has to be the right fit, for both me and the employer. That the right job is on the cards, but if I don’t put myself out there, I will never find out what I am capable of. That I have written all my life and will continue to chip away at stories and novels, even if they never get published or read by anyone because this is who I am: a writer and a lover of words.

I owe it to my characters to give them the best chance I can. I need to fight for them and their right to be read. I charm the fear by drawing maps of exciting journeys from A to B and promising to get stronger with each wobble because boundless possibilities for failure are twinned with boundless possibilities for progress.

O.K. I will be the first one to admit that it is much easier to steer clear of any unpleasant experiences. Being lazy is the antidote to fear. Just don’t do it. Abandon the short story when the going gets tough, and the initial excitement feels more like drudgery. Don’t send out that CV because you are more likely to get a ‘no, thanks and good luck with your endeavors’ back than a job offer. Why expose yourself to relentless rejections?

Well, because fear can also be rocket fuel to my creative engine. My fear of ‘what might have been’ is a million times worse than  my fear of ‘what if they don’t like it/me/think I’m a stupid loser.’ And this fear keeps me on my toes. Keeps me running even when I’ve hit the wall over and over again. And failure is my mentor. Because of it, I’m determined to get better. I ask for feedback, as cringeworthy as the comments might be. I face my weaknesses and embrace the fear and failure duo because they point out what I should be focussing on to achieve my goals.

So far, my written work has been bouncing back unpublished and I welcome it, clean its wounds and nurse it back to life. Then I send it out again, with a kiss and a good luck wish. No job and an unsuccessful interview later, I  asked for feedback. Explained that I was keen to improve. And you know what? Most of the time people are generous with their time and comments, and I got a great boost of confidence from that particular rejection, and a lot of encouragement from the interviewers.

To me, the fear of not writing is greater than the one that whispers in my ear that my poem will never win a major competition and my novel will never find a publishing home or loving readers. I embrace my fear because it is lovingly guiding me towards what really matters to me. I know what I want and what I’m prepared to work for.

Nobody’s perfect. I will never grow out of fear on my way to what I define as a success but I am grateful for having it in my life because my work is here not in spite of but pretty much because of fear.

Happy creating everyone!

From the Language Hole HQ

I love listening to You’re Booked

I love reading  The Stories of English by David Crystal 

I love watching Rebellion  

 

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Women’s Football. What’s the problem?

Football

Any of a number of games played between two teams and involving kicking or in some cases handling a ball (OED).

Women

The female members of a family, household, or other group, etc.; womenfolk. (OED).

v

A short history of women’s beautiful game 

Go back almost 100 years, and you would be surprised to discover that you can’t get into a big Boxing Day game played by, yes, women footballers. You might be less surprised to discover that women’s game was officially banned in 1921 because it was ‘quite unsuitable for females’.

Now, almost a century after the ban, women’s football is growing in strength and popularity, but it seems like some menfolk struggle to accept that it’s here to stay.  At Down the Language Hole HQ, I have spent hours clarifying and womansplaining to various representatives of the male species why women’s football is not a joke or a hobby sport.

If you exclude one group from playing a sport, claim it for yourself and have all the time in the world to build your reputation and popularity, those re-entering the pitch will not be able to compete with your achievements and history. And your global fan following that stretches well beyond friends and family members. So, yes, women play to nearly empty stadiums and get paid pocket money. None of the male football stars would ever lower themselves to that level for the love of football. And yet, women turn up on the pitch, day after day, despite the jeering and lack of interest.

Be a game changer

To help you argue better in defence of women’s game, I have listed a few ideas you might find useful. And don’t forget to watch at least some matches in the Women’s World Cup. You might enjoy them!

  1. The power of storytelling and identities. Football, as it is today, is often the main connecting narrative in many men’s lives, spanning across generations and communities. It’s part of their collective identity and anyone who has ever seen boys or grown men trying to bond will realise what a powerful WD-40 it is in most social interactions. For men, to find a fellow club supporter at a party is to welcome one more brother from another mother into their tribe. Women’s football has never been part of those narratives but give it a generation or two of girls and boys watching it and playing together and see what happens.
  2. Football is about power. The Man Utd supporters find their strength in numbers. Watching their favourite football team win is equal to them belonging to something bigger and much greater than themselves. And they can legitimately get their innate urge to kick other men’s asses out of their system, mainly by chanting songs, not wielding swords.Today’s footballers are superhuman athletes who are everywhere – in adverts, on posters and in countless collections of football cards. Boys want to be like them. Grown men act as if they were at least Maradona. As a result, men’s football has become a global money-making machine that women cannot compete with. So, instead of earning millions each month, most women players train alongside their daytime jobs. Not to disregard Messi or Ronaldo but there is a lot to be said for women’s motivation to turn up to training without the same rewards. Just saying.One way to solve it would be to ask major clubs to invest their spare millions in improving access to sporting facilities for all; it would be a right step towards us becoming a more egalitarian and healthier country.  It wouldn’t hurt to equalise earnings a bit more as beyond a certain threshold nobody needs another million or 25 in the bank.
  3. Gender politics. When talking about women’s football we just can’t ignore the G-word. If I got a penny for every time a guy told me that women’s game wasn’t as good as men’s football, I would be rolling in it by now while wearing CR7’s new line of (unworn) underpants on my head.Why are women expected to imitate the male style of kicking a ball and scoring goals? Surely, there must be more than one way to play football and make its fans roar with pride (or weep tears of disappointment) after each goal.  Also, pitting women’s teams against men or teenage boys only discourages girls from playing football for fear of being ridiculed. Such tactics reinforce the damaging stereotype that only men know how to play real football. How about, please hold your breath and bear with me, accepting women’s football for what it is: a sport which is played and owned by women and which is valuable and deserving respect in its own right? Revolutionary, right?

What’s next?

Whatever gender you identify with, give women’s football a go. Go ahead and criticise it but watch at least three beautiful games played by women before you judge them.

Question the morality of the male stars’ pay and demand social justice. So much more could be done with a fraction of their and their clubs’ profits to give children in our communities access to facilities that will set them up for a healthy and fit life.

Lastly, for any hardcore football fans out there, women’s football can give you a much-needed closure.

Have fun!

From the Language Hole HQ

I love listening to Always Take Notes

I love reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

I love watching Women’s World Cup. Obviously.

Feminism is broken. Here’s how we fix it.

Feminism

Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this (OED)

1913   ‘R. West’ in Clarion 14 Nov. 5/2   I myself have never been able to find out precisely what Feminism is: I only know that people call me a Feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. (OED)

What kind of feminism do you subscribe to? Twitter activism? The type that once upon a time broke the mould, but who has now been reduced to click-baiting headlines whenever she needs to sell a book? Do you prefer to reduce men to a bunch of awkward pre-teens by randomly adding the word period into conversations, especially when rare steaks are being served? There are as many definitions of feminism as there are feminists, and feminism’s real purpose often gets lost amongst all the noise. Its key issues become pushed aside and blurred by the constant debate about definitions. So, maybe we should not be so shocked about many women distancing themselves from the concept. We get bogged down in identity politics so much that we have allowed a bunch of white privileged men who have no respect for women’s agency and their freedom to decide what happens to their bodies introduce an abhorrent abortion ban.

So what?

By searching for a perfect singular definition of feminism, we have left a few cracks open, unanswered, and therefore left the movement vulnerable to endless Twittercism (Twitter criticism – you’re welcome) without achieving its real goals for ending oppression. But then again, maybe it’s worth paying attention to some criticism, because it may tell us something important about what feminism should focus on.

Should feminists fight for the rights of women in their own country or women oppressed everywhere? Should they focus on white women, BAME women, working-class women, women with children or no children, trans women, gay women, women who have survived domestic violence, poor women, rich women, unhappy women, disabled women…? Trying to justify one’s choices could take a lifetime of deliberation without ever reaching a meaningful endpoint.

So, consider approaching feminism from a different perspective, starting with a ‘veil of ignorance’. Imagine that you have no idea what your class, gender, race, religion, level of education and health, attractiveness or your sandwich preference is. You don’t know if you have children or a spouse, or if you or your children are healthy and whether you have a career that pays enough. Not seeing what lies ahead, may help us recognise that oppression is rarely about just one thing: maybe you are a woman of colour who has a disabled child or society stereotypes your religion or you fight the age discrimination. Our lives contain ever-shifting multitudes which those in power should respect and value.

Increasingly, there is an urgent need to extend equality beyond singular terms to encompass the diversity of life circumstances. By virtue of our place of birth, through no doing of our own, we all have very different life prospects, very different mountains to climb. Some are rolling hills with signposted paths; you barely break out into a sweat on the way up, before unrolling your picnic blanket and commenting on the glorious sunshine and landscape around you. For others, there are rugged edges and mountaintops obscured by the clouds. The safety equipment is out of reach because you had to choose food over a harness, and even if you get to the top, the risky climb will leave you shaken and your body bruised.

Feminism 2.0: Sounds like fun!

Next, think about the kind of society you aspire to live in. What principles would you choose to govern it? Of course, some people may always be happy to take risks, and choose values that only reward monetary success and abandon anyone in low-skilled and low-paid jobs, leaving it up to food banks to make sure they don’t starve.

To most of us, it may become clear that values such as compassion, cooperation, respect and dignity for all would be more desirable than wealth. Offering everyone access to good quality education, regardless of whether their parents can afford either a very expensive mortgage in a good middle-class state school area or private school fees, might become a priority, alongside removing other barriers.

If your starting position lacks the superiority of class, gender, race, health or education, you will be concerned (hopefully) with the well-being of all human beings while recognising that the wheel of oppression is a complex machine that keeps on turning because it is powered by so many intricately connected cogs. Only by working across all sections of society we can hope to dismantle it. It is not unfeminist to worry about the fate of white working-class boys while fighting for women’s rights. Because these boys will then grow up to respect women’s and everyone else‘s rights, instead of ignoring their humanity. We may then feel more compassion towards those who have fallen through the cracks, whether through their own or nobody’s fault. We may feel more compelled to redefine success and make our citizens’ wellbeing a priority.

Stand up for everyone’s rights. A revised manifesto.

 Choose your battles wisely to have a maximum impact because today you may be a City trailblazer, but tomorrow you could wake up as an unemployed factory worker who after decades of low-skilled and backbreaking labour feels suicidal. Therefore, I propose that the next wave of feminism should be about advocacy of equality of all, and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of all citizens; the movement associated with this. So, let’s revise the feminist manifesto and direct our energy towards shaping a more compassionate and just society. Because only when we aspire to and fight for making everyone’s lives better, we have a chance to transform society into a place for all.  How about that?

From the Language Hole HQ

I love listening to A Good Read

I love reading to The Abbess of Crew by Muriel Spark

I love watching Happy Birthday OU: 50 Years of the Open University

 

 

Noceur

noceur

Noceur

A reveller; a rake, a libertine; a person who stays up late at night (OED)

Mothers who want to foster their creativity while shoving food into hungry mouths, often start a freelancing career and quickly discover that they can work only for a couple of hours at a time without having to mediate a peace agreement between toddlers and pets. Inevitably, they become unintentional noceurs. Sleep-deprived revellers always on the brink of entering that hazy stage where ideas come as visitations and, if not written down swiftly enough, join the forgotten dust bunnies behind radiators. When not preoccupied with trying to make a living or feel awake, they search for their voices, become novel- or poem-whisperers for a few minutes after midnight.

Night-time reading is often fuelled by chamomile teas and chocolate digestives. The bliss of not having to update schedules of playdates, wipe dirty bottoms or memorise all the Premier League midfielders. The never-ending domestic to-do-lists disappear while the fairy godfather gets through the insurmountable piles of laundry.

None of them asked to have this one label pinned to their foreheads: mother-caretaker-PA-cleaner-chef-chauffer-dogsbody. Obedient toddlers, loving Scandinavian-looking boyfriends and the magic ability to whip up a Victoria sponge while finishing their fifth bestseller were part of the plan, not this being sweaty, exhausted and trying to have it all, all thanks to Working Girl and Margaret Thatcher. Olympic gold in time juggling is theirs but nobody is interested.

Funny how even their mothers failed to mention the price of feminism. Want to have a successful career in the City? Grand, go for it as long as you do not mind popping out your baby while you are still finishing an email at your desk, handing them over to a nanny or manny or partner or granny, seeing them sixteen years later, and wondering when that bundle of screams and goo has turned into a stranger with a booming voice and weirdly styled facial hair?

Fancy committing yourself to your children full time? Brilliant, imagine entering the grand old age without a pension, surviving on food banks and handouts while spending your fertile years relying on your partner to pay for everyone and everything, and coming to terms with them swapping you for a funnier and less nagging model at some point.

You are still convinced that you can be the first Superwoman to achieve it all? Then be prepared to live your life in halves. In a half-decent job that pays half-your salary while you are expected to manage fulltime workload and extra hours with the efficiency of a robot on subatomic steroids.

That’s not all. You will worry about your commitment to everything, including a stray sock. You will worry about money. Constantly. And you will worry that you are never there for your kids or that you get annoyed with them when they get sick because work is busy. You will be stuck between not loving them enough and smothering them with affection. And when you do not nag at the dog to pick up the crap after itself, you will cry into the pillow wondering how come that happy-go-lucky girl has been reduced to being a whinging cow. You will do none of the above very well. Most days you will feel grateful for what you have got. Some days you will dream of being hit by a bus.

So, when the dishes are still in the dishwasher and the food waste is growing a yet undiscovered strain of mould in the recycling bin, the working mothers are reclaiming this fancy word for themselves: noceur… with its promise of excitement and bohemian lifestyle. It will keep them awake in the hope that if they stay up and use their time wisely, they will one day crawl out of the sewers into a sunny meadow. They want to be able to say that they did it. They managed to have it all.

The rest of us will applaud them while chipping away and waking up from our slumbers with keyboard keys firmly pressed into our foreheads.

From the Language Hole HQ

  • I love listening to Something Rhymes with Purple. Words, words and more words with Suzie Dent and Gyles Brandreth. Bang-a-bonk anyone?
  • I love reading to Everything Under by Daisy Johnson– a dark tale of childhood memories entangled with family secrets and language.
  • I love watching Deutschland 86 – history, German, English… a linguist’s and history geek’s paradise.