The Journey of Spiritual Growth

There is a journey that not everyone goes on, thus it is considered an optional journey in this series. Truth be told, I didn’t think I’d ever go on it myself but surprised myself by doing so. It made me think that perhaps spirituality is in all of us. This is the Journey of Spiritual Growth.

I suppose there’s more than one way to go on this journey. While some go on it through the medium of religion, whether born into or turning to it during life, others just “feel spiritual”. Whilst I could go into both journeys here, the religious one appears more obvious and I don’t have much experience in it. Thus, I’m going to go for the latter.

Sometime shortly after my skull fracture in October, I turned to Headspace once again to try and beat my anxiety. Additionally, I also started going to a yoga studio a short walk from my flat. These two activities – meditation and yoga – are commonly associated with Buddhism.

But no, I did not become a Buddist.

These two activities combined with a certain facet of gameplay in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you pray at statues to convert spirit orbs to heart and stamina containers, to drive me to a wikihow entitled ‘How to be Spiritual Without Being Religious’. I searched around this because I wanted to be like Link, praying at statues and feeling a connection to everything on the planet. I do know that connection and I understand how every animate – and indeed inanimate (seeing as your Ikea Billy bookcase had to come from somewhere) – object is connected but it was another thing to actually feel it. For once in my life, I felt a sudden appreciation and admiration for everything around me and I walked around with an unbreakable sense of calm and contentedness.

I wanted to pray, even though I didn’t believe in a deity, and eventually settled on simply praying to myself. While some pray to a God for strength through a situation, I prayed to myself as a kind of “mind over matter”, if you will. As it went on, I started looking to what I called “Universal Force”. It’s a scientific fact that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only transferred, thus energy moves through everything, and this principle is what guided me to “Universal Force”, a bit like the Na’vi beliefs in Avatar. I felt like I had so much to give to the world to the point that instead of doing something for myself, I wanted to spend my birthday volunteering for others. Sadly, there weren’t any opportunities around me so I spent my 21st doing not very much. In all, spirituality was an all-consuming feeling that I carried with me all day. Judging by what I’ve read, I guess that others feel like this when they have this “spiritual awakening” too.

I think this journey is one that you have to do something towards for it to happen. The weird thing about it is that you don’t even have to be aiming for it. I never expected what happened. I didn’t even know it was a thing! I think that’s like all these journeys: you don’t go searching for them, they just… happen. And it’s true most of all for the Journey of Spiritual Growth.

Without sounding clichéd, this journey is an enlightening one. It opens your mind, brings acceptance to your being and calmness to your soul. Positive affirmations are always a good start; I can speak for myself when I say that having an affirmation of “Anxiety is not dominant. Anxiety does not intefere with my relationships,” actually got rid of my anxiety. Occasionally I get a bad thought here and there but it’s basically all but dead. I can look forward to the future without fear now, can enjoy the sunshine on my face without thinking about anything else and can be a better and calmer person for myself and others.

The meaning of life is not happiness, it’s connectedness. To feel close to those around you and to nature, to what you touch and what you think and feel and to know that it’s all okay, that is the meaning of life. Happiness naturally follows that but more importantly a sense of contented calm is what ultimately results…

… and that sense of clear-headedness is so valuable in a world as chaotic as ours.

On Becoming a Full-time Writer

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It was today, Monday 5th June 2017, that I officially started my life as a full-time writer.

I’d call it my job, when someone asked me today what I do I said “full-time writer and support worker”, but I don’t ever want my writing to feel like a job. It is my life, the life I’ve always dreamed of and desperately waited three and a half years for – ever since I wrote Dawn. Of course I’d been writing before that, a book called Vulnerable that will exist in some form in the future, but Dawn was when it got somewhat serious. And I say somewhat because it’s still not bleeding done.

I’ve spent most of the day on a website called Scribophile, a place where writers can post their work and it will be constructively critiqued by others on the site. It works on karma points, where critiquing works earns you karma points and when you have enough, you can post your own work. Of course, you can also skip this by buying a premium membership that allows for unlimited posts without the need for karma points. However, I’ve gone from a poor student to a poor writer and can’t afford such luxuries at the minute when I have peanuts to save to buy next year’s car insurance so I’ll be able to continue to drive to my job as a support worker. So I’ve spent today critiquing three pieces of work to earn points and have now been able to POST MY OWN!!!!

I think it’s clear to say that I’m stupidly excited about posting my own work. I know it’s not perfect. I’ve a very good idea of the work I’ve still to do on it but it’ll be nice to hear what strangers think of my writing, free from the pressure of lying to be nice to a friend. I’ll still continue to work on Dawn, the second draft isn’t finished yet, in the meantime. What I did find strange was the description I gave to my book:

Efira’s brother, Mathis, is executed by the government for murder. She can’t conceive the accusation to be true and as she starts her own inquiries, she begins to get suspicious of the government’s plans for the future of Skylar. After a risky move, she flees her hometown with her best friend, Briye, determined to find out the truth about Mathis and prove it to the government.

An adventure, psychological suspense novel.

It makes it sound like some crime novel even though it would be soft crime at best. Dawn focuses more on the adventure aspect of the story and if you look up the genre of psychological suspense, you’ll find that it fits nicely. One website I’ve been on summarises it as “… not as whodunnits but as whydunnits… (roughly) the story of a crime, not the story of the tracking down of a criminal.” Dawn is about Efira wanting to know why her brother got killed, not who did it. That becomes very obvious very early on. In fact, you find out that answer in the excerpt published hereon my website. Sadly, the genres “adventure”, “psychological” or “suspense” aren’t available options on Scribophile… so it’s gone down as young adult mystery instead.

If you have an account with Scribophile, you’ll be able to find my work by searching “Dawn” and mystery novels. Failing that, my author name is Emma Aspen. (Yes, my first name is actually Emma.)

I’ll probably keep you all updated with my writing progress, now that I’m, you know, a full-time writer. So enjoy! This is only the beginning.

Edit: I’ve had my first critique and it’s all I could have asked for. I love being a full-time writer!

The Journey of Personal Growth

I spoke in The Journey of Knowing Oneself about getting to know yourself, defending yourself against others and so on. The next journey that people go on isn’t always something that happens. If you’re really stubborn, you might avoid it but chances are you’ll make life extremely difficult for yourself if you do. Thus, it takes an awful lot to admit that the person you are, perhaps due to your brash attitude, lack if social skills or general arrogance to name a few, isn’t getting you anywhere favourable in life. This is The Journey of Personal Growth.

I’m always one for saying “Be proud of who you are” but what happens when who you are repeatedly gets you into trouble? You might think “I shouldn’t have to change for the world. The world should change for me!” I thought this too. It was years before I finally welcomed changed and it was through an unfortunate time in my life, as all these journeys seem to happen in.

At the end of April last year, I spoke about getting sacked from the nightclub I worked in. The reason was because I went on a massive feminist rant via text message after I got groped at the end of my shift about how this shouldn’t be allowed and nightclubs in general should make a very public and proactive stance against it. Sadly, nightclubs don’t tend to share that ideal and not being on any form of contract, the owner decided he couldn’t be bothered with me and sacked me. When I discussed this with someone else who worked there, he said that sometimes you need to adapt who you are to the situation. To me, this meant being unintegral and going against my second value. If I couldn’t express my full self at all times in all situations then the world was at fault, not me. Of course, this was wrong. People never act the same at work as they do with family and subsequently don’t act the same with family as they do with friends. We always mould ourselves to fit what’s acceptable in a situation to get on and it took me a while to realise that I wasn’t lying by toning down the feminist side of me when working in a typically male-controlled nightclub where it’s about money, not ethics. Instead, it was just holding a part of me back or expressing it more carefully and diplomatically. However, the damage was done and I no longer hand a job…

… until three and a half months later.

I got my job back and vowed to be more talkative to people when I didn’t want to be (as people noted me as being quiet, even though I generally am not) and to keep my feminist values away from the owner. This worked a treat and it was through this that I’d learned that I wasn’t ditching my integrity by moulding to a situation; I was simply making my life easier and stopping the cycle of getting sacked from jobs for standing on my soapbox where it wasn’t wanted.

It was difficult to admit that the fault was with me and not the world. Of course, I still maintain that nightclubs should make a public and proactive stance against all forms of harassment and that society needs to do more to teach people that it’s not even an option but to send a rant of such material to the general manager via text message because I was angry was not the best idea. I could have dealt with the situation better. It’s no use speaking out about causes you’re passionate about if you’ve pissed off the people who would otherwise have listened. That’s where diplomacy comes in.

However, I believe in a direct approach. My friends have always liked my directness and honesty but others think it rude. What I did when I got sacked was not only direct but aggressive. I can be direct without shouting and I can be honest with my opinions without being rude. It all comes down to tolerance.

After getting my job back, I continues my journey by being more accepting of others. I realised that their genetics, upbringing and experiences are unique to them and so you can never truly understand someone else’s opinion and never completely abolish it, unless it causes serious harm to others. Thus, you have to tolerate the opinions of others, whether you agree with it or not, and attempt a calm conversation on said controversial topic. All you can expect of the other party is the same. Lead by example. Be open and tolerant.

This is my journey of personal growth. Yours might be different. You may learn other lessons on your journey and that’s okay! As everything stands now, I don’t have my job at the nightclub anymore. When they condensed staff in February/March I didn’t make the cut but I didn’t really argue. I think I was ready to move onto something else and I now have a job as a support worker. This personal growth will come in useful as working with people rather than lights is likely to test me but with the lessons I’ve learned and the journey I’ve been on, I’m ready. Sometimes, changing is necessary…

… and necessity is my number one value. Integrity comes after that.

Three Years of Uni… Done.

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Today at around quarter to six in the evening, I handed in my last university assignment. Three years of university – sometimes happy, sometimes hateful – came to an end with the click of a mouse button. The closing of the laptop was somewhat more symbolic as Ellie Goulding’s Still Falling For You blasted from my speaker, one of three songs of hers that I’ve bought and all of which are related to films. I danced to the last chorus, pouring my soul into the moves and scaring my cat off the footstool and into the hallway. I couldn’t stop smiling as I worked out the nervous energy from reaching the end of a lifetime of education and when I called my mum to tell her the news, I cried – most likely out of relief.

Back in April I was in a state of frequent daily breakdowns over the workload when my mum said “You can do it, you know.” I knew even before then that I eventually would; it was just a matter of actually doing it. At any point did I finally feel motivated to do my assignments? No. The only reason I did them was because of the threat of the final, final deadline in 24 hours’ time… every time. With the exception of my last assignment, which I had to finish earlier than my deadline, I didn’t start writing any of my assignments until 24 hours before it needed to be finished – dissertation foolishly included (but I don’t regret that) – and for the whole time I spent writing I still felt the same apathy, the same “I really can’t be bothered with this”, that had driven me to leave them all so late. The only reason I was doing them was because I wasn’t going to finish uni with nothing. Do I feel better now it’s over? I don’t know. My brain still needs to get out of Impending Obligation Mode and it still continues to scare me about going to sleep by associating bedtime with frightening thoughts about climate change and population growth. Some habits are hard to break. I need to re-learn that they’re just thoughts, just like anything else, rather than giving them special attention. At least the episodes are shorter and less frequent though. I just hope my plan for a quiet life doesn’t turn into the summer of two years’ ago where I spent every day in the grips of panic attacks and dark thoughts. Understandably, while I look forward to my new freedom, I’m trepidacious about its potential negative effects. So long as I live week to week, like last summer, and have something to do with my life – like work and write and sing and dance and paint and write music and yoga and meditation and activism and learning languages and gardening and any other artistic and/or activist activites I can think of – I’ll be fine. Hopefully.

There’s no point in worrying about the bad that may or may not come because thinking about it will only make it happen. Just live day to day, week to week, seizing opportunities for spontaneity and visiting family and friends.

I’m eager and scared. Mostly scared. I tell myself it’s okay, that others probably feel like this too.

Uni’s taught me to be scared of downtime. Time to break that record and find a new one. I was so happy and excited about being free before I started uni. What happened? Uni happened. I want to get back to being naïve, to forget that uni ever happened (except for the bits that made me happy and made me grow) because I need to let go of this fear. I’ve grown considerably over the last three years but there’s one big challenge left: leaving fear of the future behind with uni.

It’s funny, really. I cried at the thought of going to Hallam, that it was the loser university next to the University of Sheffield, but I was so excited when it came to it. Now I’m crying because I’m scared and because I’m excited. Time will decide why I’m crying. I don’t need to worry.

I don’t need to fret.

I don’t need to be anxious anymore.

It’s over… it’s done…

…time to get back to where I belong:

Happy.

(That’s gonna be the title of my first song in over a year: Where I Belong. And I think I’ll record it with the studio-quality equipment that’s coming tomorrow.)

Vigil for Manchester

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I suppose it’s a little bit after the fact now but in an effort to keep it in public awareness, rather than getting to next Monday and the atrocities are forgotten about, I’m still writing this post. (I suppose it’s bad that I feel the need to explain myself. Stupid fast news.)

On Tuesday at 6pm I attended a vigil in my city. I’d never attended a vigil before and it wasn’t until my spititual awakening (which I’ve still to talk about) that I actually gave it some thought. I’m a believer in connectedness, the Norwegian Youtuber Cornelia Grimsmo considers connection to be the meaning of life, and to stand in the Peace Gardens surrounded by people of all walks of life felt very uplifting. At the event, members of the council and various faith leaders all stood to talk. While I don’t follow any faith and instead choose my own brand of spirituality, I stood and listened to what they all had to say. There was a major theme of “one people”, all coming together and being tolerant of one another, which I listened to and hoped that all those attending would take that message home in the long-run. That’s the thing about these tragic events: everyone comes together and vows to be stronger and then three days later it’s forgotten about. We return to harbouring condemnation and prejudices against those we pass on the street and on public transport. Suddenly “one people” is forgotten about.

The Jewish speaker highlighted this in the best way. He reflected on how we always come together at times of upset and distress but we find reasons to get out of happy events, like marriages and christenings. There was an advert on TV, I can’t remember what for, but a man kept sending out invitations for them to join him at Christmas and they all wangled their way out of it. And then one year he sent an invitation to his funeral and everyone amd their mother showed up to find that he was not only alive but that he was inviting them all to Christmas dinner. He said in the advert, “It was the only way I could get you all to come.” That is sad, that society has reached a point of only battering down the barriers of individualism in order to mourn the passing of people. They seem to be our only memories with other people. Sad times should not be memories. Given the choice they shouldn’t even exist. Happy times should be memories, full of laughter and smiles and love. We should work towards the good times, the things that make life worth living rather than coming together in bad times and saying “Oh it’s absolutely awful. We need to fight it,” and then resuming daily life amd forgetting about what happened within three days. It’s a point the Jewish speaker made and he ended by saying “Here’s to us all coming together in happier times, not just the sad ones.”

The vigil was powerful to attend. Upon arriving I felt lile I’d walked into a sacred place of worship and I stood and listened uninterruptedly for the whole generation. The only reason I got my phone out was to take this picture:

That wasn’t even everyone in attendance. There were plenty more on the grass behind me. It was so wonderful to see so mamy there and from so many faiths and cultures. It shouldn’t matter your race, religion, disability, orientation, gender or whatever else. We are all people. We are all human. We all wish to live in peace. So, for once, after a tragic event such as this can we vow to work towards that vision, “one people”, for longer than three days?

University is one of the Biggest Regrets of my Life

I’ve been thinking about this post for a few weeks now, thinking I’ll write it when I finish uni, but I find myself unable to do any assignments so I’m writing it now.

University started off good for me. It was the freedom I’d impatiently waited four years for and I finally had it. I made a best friend on the first day and a few months later met my boyfriend. Everything was great – until I decided to move out of my university accommodation too early but even then it was mostly fine. It was when first year was over and done with and the summer began that it all went topsie turvy (but you already know that story).

In second year my best friend decided to drop out and suddenly I had no one. My attempts at getting someone failed and this loneliness and feeling of being an outsider became the theme that carried me through the rest of uni.

I tried to undo it at the beginning of third year, throwing myself into loads of sports and societies in the hopes of finding friends… but that kind of came to an end when I cracked my skull two weeks in which leads me quite nicely on to tonight.

Why is it tonight that I’ve decided to write this? Because tonight I went to what I have decided is my last ice hockey session for this year. I basically started training a semester late because of the aforementioned skull fracture, meaning after the first couple of weeks I had to practice stopping and going backwards in my own time while everyone else had a couple of months in first semester to be taught that stuff. I’ve basically had to teach myself. For the first few weeks this was fine but now that all the teams – and subsequently all the different skill levels – have mixed together, I’ve realised that all I’m doing is getting in the way and holding everyone up with my inability to do anything at the level they expect. So it’s while I sat next to my car crying my eyes out in the ice rink car park after I left early that I decided to write this.

Psychology was my back-up that became my decided degree of choice when I was thinking what to apply for and I always had writing as something I’d do on the side. You know, the whole ‘have a back-up plan’ thing that parents tell you to have if you want to be a singer or an actor. Psychology was that back-up plan for me; a way to ensure I could earn some money until my writing career took off. This decision has not made me happy.

I come from science, fantasy and all round nerdiness. Nerds are not a common phenonemon on a Psychology degree: my best friend was one, another friend was another and to my knowledge that’s about it. So because my best friend dropped out I was left with one person who wasn’t in most of my modules and is in none this semester. I am living a very lonely existence. This loneliness is worse than the loneliness I felt at school; in fact, I think I’d rather have that loneliness again than this because this is just crippling! Because of uni, I have neglected my family. Because of uni, I don’t see my friends from college as much as I would like and as a result some of us have grown apart. Because of uni, I have thoughts about family members dying and my biggest regret being that I didn’t see them more often. I didn’t see my nan for over a year and when I finally did I felt so happy because it was someone else who cares about me. I hate uni for the loneliness it’s cursed me with. I hate uni for the way it fucked with my mental health and then rubbed salt in the wound at the hands of its incompetent therapists. I hate uni for the overwhelming, overriding, crippling unhappiness and emptiness it’s left me with. There is only one reason why it’s not the biggest regret of my life…

… because I met the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.

I will never be able to say “I wish I’d never gone to uni”. If I try to say it I choke up before I reach the end of the sentence and then break down in tears. To say that would be to say I wish I’d never met my boyfriend and I don’t wish that at all. I’m so far away from wishing that it’s unbelievable…

… but this cannot fill a hole left by the friends and family I left behind.

In part, I blame myself for not calling more, for not making time and for making too many excuses but that’s what uni does to you: takes your time and gives you pathetic excuses. To say “I can’t; I’ve got uni work to do” is utterly pointless when you just spend the evening watching TV. I left my family for something that ultimately has no return and that is the most unacceptable thing one could ever do.

But you’ll get a degree at the end of it, right? Yes, I’ll get a piece of paper that tells me I can think but that piece of paper does not – ironically enough – get me a job as a psychologist. No, I have to do more training in the form of postgraduate study to do that and considering all the damage uni’s done to me and my family, it can go fuck itself frankly enough. I’m entering into a job that doesn’t actually require any specific qualifications, but an NVQ in Health and Social Care is seen as desirable. Are you kidding me???? I’ve spent five years doing A-levels and a degree and could have got the same job spending two years doing an NVQ? And again, this job is just something to tide me over, to pay the bills until I publish a book that sells enough for me to live comfortably.

The truth is: if I went back three years and you asked me would I go to uni knowing what I know now, my answer would still be yes… but I might choose a different subject or do things in my first year differently so I don’t get left like this. Nothing good has come from my course. I’m excluding the two friends I feel I have on it but ultimately I haven’t enjoyed uni, it’s been a hell of a lot more of a chore than a charm to actually do anything towards it and my choice of course was probably the biggest mistake I ever made. In fact, it is the biggest mistake I ever made because if I’d picked something nerdy then I’d probably be a lot happier and I’d still have my boyfriend.

So to sum up: going to uni is one of the biggest regrets of my life because of the damage it’s caused to me and my relationships with those closest to me. Any personal growth that happened during it (which I know I’ve still to talk about) has ultimately been from the people I met in extra-curriculars and nothing to do with my course and the biggest mistake I ever made was deciding to study Psychology. If I have kids and they want to go to uni, that’s fine. If they’re not sure, I’m going to tell them to think long and hard about whether it is right for them and whether the course is right for them because spending the last month of your third year breaking down in tears every single day because you’d rather clean sewers than do your assignments is honestly the worst thing I’ve ever been through. It’s the worst I’ve ever felt…

… and it’s still happening now.

The Journey of Knowing Oneself

There’s a lot of talk in society about ‘knowing yourself’ and ‘finding out who you are’. Some people embark on this journey through the medium of travel, others through the medium of ancestry. Some may feel their faith defines them and that it gives them the knowledge of who they are. No matter how this journey is embarked upon, I believe it to be something that happens to everyone when you are ready.

When I worked an open day at university, we got onto the topic of confidence and not caring about what others think of you. The students around me were still at the point where they had confidence issues and felt the need to ‘fit in’ as opposed to ‘stand out’. I, meanwhile, proudly exclaimed how I was past that point and wasn’t afraid to show the world who I was. One of my lecturers who was listening to this conversation said that everyone gets to that point where they just don’t care about societal judgement anymore but it takes longer for some than others. The fact that I had achieved it so young was rare, as it’s something normally associated with those in their 30s/40s, and I believe I know why: I was bullied.

I’ve spoken about this before about being bullied by a variety of people nearly every day for the entire five years I was at secondary school and it eventually resulted in receiving counselling (this time period is also when I started this blog so if you navigate to January/February 2012, you’ll find it). This counselling helped me gain confidence, simply by just talking about stuff. I remember writing down on two pieces of paper how I was at 15 and how I wanted to be after my 16th birthday and upon showing this to my counsellor, she said that it showed that I was ready to stop having counselling. It gave me a head start as I walked into college as someone who was proud of their individuality and wasn’t afraid to show it. I was among like-minded individuals, there to study the same subjects I was because they wanted to rather than being forced, and it was in this environment that I met my friends for life and also came to realise who I was.

I was so aware of myself at the time that I could watch the wounds of bullying healing and with that my interests came back, including in Harry Potter to my own surprise. In this time, I also wrote Dawn. What staggers me most of all though is just how effortless getting to know myself was. I didn’t make a conscious effort to watch my reactions and take note of my interests; instead, it’s almost as though they just let me know. And this is my point: people put so much effort into getting to know themselves and you may need some effort to kick start it – most likely a period of introspection, which for me was counselling – but after that it just happens. You know your good points and you know your bad points and you may wish to improve them or you may not. I was happy with my flaws, proud to defend them, to the point that I came up with this amalgamation of words:

Your strength of fire can be measured by how willing you are to defend yourself. Don’t hide yourself, be yourself; don’t apologise for being yourself, defend yourself!

This is also where the name RantLikeFire was born. It was a time where I looked to Naudhiz, the viking rune of necessity. It had been my driving force since the summer before starting college, to adopt a certain stubbornness in times of hardship, and I found myself generating many more motivating quotes – all of which I saved and still have now. I think one that definitely taps into what I’m getting at with confidence within yourself is this:

I won’t support charities to make myself look good, or because someone’s asked me or because it’s expected of me… I will support charities because I want to and have a heartfelt reason to.

This is as it says: don’t go along with what others are doing, do what you want. To do something when your heart isn’t in it is to ultimately be fake but it’s more than that…

… it’s lying to yourself.

This lying places a mark on yourself, almost like guilt and you can feel it in your chest. It’s a source of distress that will fester until you admit that this is not what you want to do. This is why people suddenly explode and withdraw, I feel. They agree to do things that they’re not that interested in but someone’s told them to and it gets to the point where they wonder where their right to a choice, to an opinion and to free will has gone. Of course, you can end up in this situation doing a job you don’t like, which is a little more complicated to get out of. Otherwise: if you find yourself saying yes to everyone but yourself, say no! Take some time to reflect on what you want. It seems selfish but I’ve seen people torn apart from doing stuff for other people with no reward, or what feels like no reward because when it’s something you don’t want to do, any reward is meaningless. What I say to these people is you have to be selfish sometimes. Help other people if it makes you happy but when it doesn’t, stop. Helping others can be a way to try new experiences, and maybe you’ll find something you like. However, if there’s something you know you don’t like, as far as is practical don’t do it.

On the topic of new experiences, I’ve learned that when I’ve sat on the edge of doing something because I’m not sure whether I should/want to or not, to go ahead with that experience is usually the best option. You don’t tend to regret the things you have done, only the things you haven’t. It sounds awfully clichéd but when I decided to do Dancing with the Officers on a cruise ship (their version of Dancing with the Stars, which is the American version of Strictly Come Dancing) I had no regrets. I was a runner up and had people coming up to me for the rest of the cruise saying I was really good, sometimes even saying I should have won. It became one of my defining moments. In fact, any experience like that when you don’t know and you go for it seems to be a defining moment. It helps you figure out who you are, what you like and gives you some good memories to look back on!

The Journey of Knowing Oneself needn’t be difficult. I think why people associate travelling with getting to know yourself is probably because it’s just you and the world so it’s very introspective. It also opens you up to a whole world (no pun intended) of people, cultures and experiences. That exposure lets you find out what you like and seeing new people all the time gives you confidence. Yet, if you can’t afford to travel then know that all of this can be done at home. I did it. We live in a multi-cultural society with more opportunities than ever before. Join a group doing something that sounds interesting. Go to some classes. It doesn’t matter how: just open yourself up to the world and it will open itself up to you. And now I have a new quote to put in my bank of quotes. Above all, though: be fearless. Approach new experiences with reckless abandon and don’t let a bad experience prevent you from trying something again. There’s probably a reason why people say try everything twice because first impressions do have a remarkable tendency of being wrong. So push yourself, try everything twice, take some time to think…

… and then you’ll know who you are.

Maybe it’s Okay not to be Scientific

posted in: Ranting, Uncategorised, Writing | 0

It’s a well known fact that jobs in the sciences tend to be some of the most prestigious and well-paid. As children, parents may push us into the sciences so that we can earn a good living and thus enjoy a good quality of life. It was no different for me. My older brother was always into the sciences and is now a systems engineer and I’ve followed a lifelong tradition of copying him by going into the sciences myself, except I’ve gone into Psychology. But I wasn’t always like this.

I still remember my SATs marks from Year 6 at primary school: 5a in English, 5b in Maths and 5c in Science. Science was my least favourite subject and the one I did least well in. During the first half of secondary school, this trend continued and I’d say that I didn’t like science despite being good at it (but I was good at everything; an all-rounder, if you will). In Year 9, when we had to pick our options, I was struggling. My brother had picked triple science for GCSE to avoid the performing arts column (as our school had performing arts status so out of the four columns to pick options from, one was dedicated to performing arts with a get out clause of only triple science and media studies) and my parents asked if I wanted to do the same. I wasn’t even sure on doing double science but I didn’t favour much in the second column either (where the option for double science was) so as a compromise between single science and triple science, I picked double and picked media studies out of the performing arts column (as I wasn’t interested in dance or drama and didn’t play any musical instruments well enough to do music). Through GCSE, I came to like double science – and science in general for that matter – and develop a strong dislike for media studies which was mostly because I didn’t like the teacher (but in true form, I got an A in it – jack of all trades, master of none and all that). I also had a love/hate relationship with maths at this time as I found it hard and went to after school booster classes in it and somehow managed to get an A* in it. So when I got to college, I picked Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Maths and while everyone else I knew who took Biology and Maths dropped Maths in AS year in favour of Biology, I was the opposite and dropped Biology because – while it was hard – I preferred Maths. Obviously, then, I applied to do Psychology at university and now we’re back to the present day.

However, while I was preparing for a viva assessment at university I was pointed towards the HEA Employability Guide, which is specific to Psychology students, and within it is a table of attributes. There are six. The really sciencey ones come under the title “Investigative” and while I matched up to some of these, the one where I hit nearly every single one is “Artistic”. This was quite a shock.

I’ve always been attracted to the sciences, been encouraged into the sciences by all I know and even felt like I had to do the sciences so I didn’t let down the feminist inside me so to find that I fit the label of Artistic better was odd. The sciences and the arts tend to be in opposition to each other and, at degree level, a BSc is held in higher regard than a BA (something I spoke quite loudly and brashly about in Critical Psychology) but as I read down the column, especially where it suggested jobs in areas such as writing, singing and translation, I began to cry (but the stress of the viva had me crying a lot during those 24 hours). I’ve spoken about this before but if there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do, indeed always done, it is write. I wouldn’t have Dawn sat on my computer hard drive waiting to be redrafted if I didn’t. This finding, though, has another implication.

Having always been interested in playing musical instruments, dabbling in painting and drawing tiny (and quite good) portraits, learning languages, dancing in my bedroom and singing to my heart’s content on a frequent basis, I thought there was something wrong with me because these weren’t science-based activities. I always thought they’d be hobbies on the side, of which they total a lot, and I’d have to put them off in favour of a career in the sciences. Yet, the thought of going into the hard sciences and research just sounds like too much effort to me whereas the thought of writing a 110,000 word book (which I have, and that’s not even the final number) never did . And so I thought, “Maybe I’m not lazy about my degree; maybe I just want to do something else” because when all is said and done: I’ve always had an on-off relationship with science. I haven’t with the arts. Their only drawback is earning potential: you either get paid a little for a standard job or make it big and earn a shitload. Regardless, I have realised the following:

Maybe I’m not built for the sciences. Maybe I was built for the arts.

Granted, I can do the sciences and do them well but I’ve said a few times in this post about seemingly being good at everything. That isn’t me bragging: I’m simply highlighting the fact that being good at it holds no relevance because I seem to have a good level of proficiency in everything. They say do what you’re good at: so what about when everything seems to come naturally to you? I could fall on the argument my brother uses with me in that I have the ability so to not is a waste of knowledge but just because I can doesn’t mean I should and more to the point: maybe I don’t want to!

This is something I’m still getting to grips with: the concept that I don’t have to go into the sciences. During an attempt at changing my degree to Chemistry last year (which was probably nothing more than an attempt to fulfill my feminist agenda and my brother’s wishes, now I think about it), I said to my parents I didn’t want to do Psychology and just wanted to write and they said “Then do that! You don’t have to use your degree,” but in truth, I put heavy psychological elements of mental illness and so on in my books so my degree wouldn’t be a total waste. Maybe it’s less of writing being secondary to Psychology and more of Psychology being secondary to writing.

So if you find yourself in a similar position to me where you’re doing the sciences, or are being pushed into it, but want to do the arts: go for it! You do you. Screw what anyone else says, whether that be family, friends or teachers, and do what you like. And if you still can’t decide, ask yourself this: what feels like it’ll be a lot of effort that you can’t be bothered with and what feels like a dream come true? Chances are, the one you’re most passionate about will be the latter because no matter how much effort it takes to do it, it won’t feel like effort to you…

… and that is what matters.

I Got Vegan into my University

posted in: Ranting, Uncategorised | 0

Sometime after going vegan during the last academic year, I got annoyed at my university’s lack of vegan options in its outlets and so I asked them, point blank, what I could have as a vegan. The answer (with undertones of embarassment for them) was either some olives at this outlet or a jacket potato at another, neither of which would be that filling or nutritious. Less than two weeks after, I was working an open day and when I went to ask what I could have for lunch, the catering manager’s face lit up when she saw me and she disappeared into the kitchen and came back with Perkier bars and vegan sandwiches. She said she’d tried the bars herself that morning and said they were really nice. After that, they went on general sale across the university, along with the sandwiches.

However the sandwiches didn’t fit with the ethos of the outlet I originally challenged them in (locally produced etc.) and so I thought it a lost cause…

… until the beginning of this academic year.

Now, they have grab-and-go cold meal options, like houmous and falafel with cous cous and salad, and a salad area where you can pick a couple of hot items (which are nearly always vegan – samosas and spring rolls being a fantastic usual) along with a potato-based side and lettuce and beetroot. Even the flapjacks on the cake stall are now labelled as vegan! The shelves are even marked with QR codes so you can scan them and see all the ingredients for yourself. That, to me, is one hell of a result.

Of course, this is only half of the story. I’m also a student trustee for the university’s students’ union, meaning I could challenge their use of brioche buns (and their poor excuses for not labelling the menu with allergens) at board level. Now, the brioche buns are gone and an entire section of the menu is headed with the words “Go vegan” in big letters, letting you know that it’s definitely vegan. This makes me so unbelievably happy and I can’t wait to try their burgers now I can actually have them.

There’s a reason why I bring this up. I want to say that this isn’t all my own doing. I simply pointed out a failing in the two institutions and it was their choice to act on it in the fantastic ways they did so I definitely don’t take credit for it. In fact, I feel as though I shouldn’t take credit as I believe I am just a part of a chain of events that led to this. That being said, I don’t think they would have made such changes had I not made the need for them apparent. Thus, this story goes to show that one person CAN make a big difference and it’s only when I saw a picture of the students’ union menu on the local vegans and vegetarians group that I realised that I had a major part to play in this. I still thought I was just carrying on the daily fights of a vegan, not actually winning! And the successes aren’t just within my university. If I look to the wider movement, Go Vegan World is now placing ad campaigns around my city about the truth behind farming and dairy farmers aren’t even denying it! There’s now adverts for Alpro and Koko dairy-free milks on the TV and businesses are carrying on from last year’s boom by continuing to offer more vegan options. It makes me so happy to be part of a movement that, although internally fractious at times, is having a very good and very noticeable impact.

In a world where things only seem to be getting worse, it’s nice to see some good long-lasting change happen.

review: Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

posted in: review, Uncategorised | 0

So, the Nintendo Switch, along with its launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released on Friday 3rd March. It’s been out four days at the time of writing this and in that time I have proved to myself that I do have enough time for uni work (as I played it for twenty hours in the first 36 hours of having it) and that it’s really f*cking well built. I didn’t expect the motion controls – or their integration of them – or just how seamless transition between the game and the home screen is. As for the game, there’s so much to do and it’s built so differently from other Zelda games I’ve played. Let’s go into detail with the Switch first.

It’s obvious, and quite unoriginal of Nintendo, to call it the Switch as you can “switch” between three different ways of playing it: plugged into its dock so you can play it the traditional way through the TV, in your hand with the controllers attached like a long PSP and resting on its built-in stand on a table with the controllers in your hand. Personally, I prefer the Switch’s codename – the NX – because it sounds more game-y but never mind. When I consider the technical side of the Switch, it makes use of a “sleep” function which allows you to suspend gameplay so you can go to the Switch’s homescreen and settings and start games quickly. This is really nifty, and is what gives the Switch its smooth and seamless feel, but you can actually switch it off by holding down the power button (as I worked out when finding out how to restart it after the wifi scanning function decided it wasn’t going to work – this rectified itself after restart and hasn’t happened since). As a result it’s fast and the controls are fantastically precise and responsive. The Switch also makes use of the Nintendo eShop to purchase and download games (if you don’t get them in physical format on a cartridge that looks a hell of a lot like an SD card but apparently tastes less than pleasant). However, you do need a Nintendo account simply to open the Nintendo eShop. It’s not integral to the Switch’s day-to-day running, though – simply an extra if you want it.

Out of the three modes, the Switch is definitely best played through its docking station on the TV for no other reason than it’ll give you less than three hours of constant game play on its own battery otherwise. I know this from playing it on a long-distance drive to Cardiff (in which I was a passenger, just so you know). It charges through the fairly new USB C type cable, so if you’ve got a Google Nexus or something else that charges with said cable, you’re kind of covered (I would, of course, recommend using the proper cable that comes with the Switch as that will deliver the current at the correct rate for the Switch to charge properly). In fact, where cables are concerned it’s much less fuss than the Wii (I can’t speak for the WiiU as I don’t own one and haven’t played that failure of a console). All that comes with it, and indeed all it needs, is a charging cable and an HDMI cable to plug it into the TV and if you’re playing it handheld on a full charge, no cables at all!

One thing that’s struck me about the switch is just how much understated functionality there is packed into it. Being Nintendo, motion controls are now a given as they were considered a game-changer when the Wii came out and it’s no different now. They’re not easily noticeable in conventional gameplay, though (i.e. Zelda, where they’re used during aiming with a bow and when using the Sheika Slate’s functionality) but obviously are the centrepiece in games such as 1-2-Switch. Additionally, Nintendo’s also packed NFC functionality into the Switch to make use of Amiibos (something that came about during the WiiU’s “reign”), which should make those transitioning from the WiiU’s more “gimmicky” features happy.

Overall, Nintendo aimed for the Switch to bring hardcore gamers back to their market and I believe it’s done just that. As someone who wants to get back into serious gaming, the Switch was the best thing to jump back in with (not least because the Xbox One and PS4 probably aren’t worth buying as they’re likely to be halfway through their lifeycles) and while I didn’t intend to make so much use of it, I really like the Switch’s portability as it means I can lay in bed with it on a morning, play it through the TV on the sofa and keep playing volume to a minimum when my partner’s having a nap by playing it handheld. It is, like the NES, the Gamecube and the Wii, a quintessential game changer for Nintendo and it brings Nintendo closer to its gaming roots while continuing to make casual gamers happy. Its power, for such a small device, is quite surprising and it’s very clear that Nintendo worked long and hard on it. Retailing at £279.99, it’s worth it! Definitely.

Now, Zelda. This game was built for the Switch (which is funny because it was originally made for the WiiU but delays meant that it eventually got made into the launch title for the Switch). The Sheika Slate in the game is so shaped that it looks like the Switch/big controller on the WiiU and I believe that’s no accident. It plays really well (but since taking control of the second Divine Beast, I have noticed some sparse, and very minor, lag but this hasn’t been a detriment to gameplay at all) and the storyline is engaging. You start off waking up in the Shrine of Resurrection after being asleep for 100 years with no idea of how you got there, what happened before you were put there and why the world is like it is now. The world is on the brink of being thrown into total dystopia and it’s your job – as is usual in any Zelda game – to put it back to rights. Within the first ten minutes, I made comparisons with Saints Row IV and Skyrim. These were namely because the whole idea of waking up in a world that you don’t know and figuring out what you can do is like when you first get into the city after breaking free of your own personal “utopia” (which, of course, is secretly made of everything you hate) and the storyline mechanics of having main quests and side quests is rather like Skyrim and quite different to the likes of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess and I love it! While you do have the main storyline of save Zelda/the world, characters that you talk to in the game will give you little side quests and there are also a load of puzzle-filled shrines for you to visit, giving you spirit orbs that you can then trade for heart containers at prayer statues dotted about the world. The shrines also have a second use as a way to bounce between areas of the world by teleporting to them and towers that you’ve activated. This saves you a lot of time and legwork that would otherwise be soul-crushingly spent running or galloping from one end of the map to the other. The graphics are amazing, as has been slated by critics, and the view that greeted me upon emerging from the Shrine of Resurrection almost brought me to tears through its sheer enormity and beauty! There’s so much to learn and do in Breath of the Wild that if you end up bored, you’re not playing it. Quite simple. Forget not playing it right; you’re not playing it at all.

What you may have seen mentioned is the difference in the dungeons/temples compared to previous Zelda games. Instead of the traditional dungeon model that you may be used to in Zelda games past, the only “dungeons” you get now are the divine beasts, which are actually quite easy. I’ve had shrines stump me more than the dungeons, to the point that I’ve searched for walkthroughs-in-progress to help me whereas I haven’t with the dungeons. The bosses, however, are a different story. I’ve learned that the game’s preferred method of murder when it comes to the bosses is a sporting bout of archery. You have to pick the right arrows, though. Normal arrows will do the job but they’ll take ages and you’ll need a lot. Instead, pick ones with special effects. In Zora’s Domain and Divine Beast vah Ruta, electric arrows were most effective (and were the ones the game told you you needed to get in order to get inside). In Rito Village and Divine Beast vah Medoh, you were told you’d need bomb arrows. Having the right arrows is imperative for defeating the bosses without dying a million times. In Divine Beast vah Ruta, I only had three left and so I had to get creative with bombs, close-up battle, and normal arrows. I died… a lot. In Divine Beast vah Medoh, however, I shot repeatedly from a distance with bomb arrows and managed to kill the boss first time and without pulling my sword out once. So a tip: when the game tells you what arrows you’ll need to get into a beast, scalp the land for expensive stones, sell them and get double the recommened amount (which seems to be twenty, so get forty) and you shouldn’t have too much of an issue.

So Breath of the Wild is full of challenging quests and interesting storylines and it manages to keep your interest throughout as you learn more and more about what happened 100 years ago in the lead up to the big fight with Calamity Ganon. While the game is expensive, (£59.99), it certainly makes up for its price in weeks of game play (unless you do nothing but eat-sleep-play, in which case it’ll probably take you a few days).

In total, do I recommend the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? You can bet your very powerful sword that you’ve grown very attached to but will probably break after a dozen swings I do! I was lucky that I bought it as shared property with someone else, rather than entirely footing the bill myself, but as I said to my mother when her face fell open at the price: at least it’s not the Xbox One or PS4, which both retailed at £400-500 when they came out.

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