Social conventions, is it really worth the stress?

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There is always a lot of weight put on social convention. On what is expected of people, rather than what they want to do. As long as no laws are being broken, what harm is there in wanting something that suits you out of life? I spent a long time fretting over social expectations when I was younger, and it is only in recent years that I am able to embrace who I really am. And trust me, not one part of me fulfils social expectations.

When I was a teenager, I had bad skin, bad fashion sense, was ridiculously clumsy, went from beanpole to curvy in a matter of weeks (thank you puberty), and generally had a gloomy and teen-aged view of life, love, the universe and everything. I also had a love of books and comics, a very mixed taste in music, very little interest in television and a very, very small pool of friends.

Due to teen magazines, advertisements and unending peer pressure, I had a set view on what I should look like, dress like, and how I should think. I was unable to keep up with any of these social expectations. I viewed the girls in my school as rungs above me on the social ladder, as having reached completely unattainable heights. I tried my best to fit into the pigeon-holes that had been created in my school, but I had too varied a taste in everything. I liked comic books and nerdy things, but wasn’t smart enough to fit in with the nerds. My taste in music was so wide that I fit in with neither the pop princesses, nor the goth girls. In short, my own personality made me a social pariah, and this was not a fact that I took lightly. I became withdrawn, took on some very unhealthy behaviours, and by my leaving cert year in school, I was a ticking time bomb. I was obsessed with my weight, my appearance, having the right haircut and colour, the right clothes, being right, and fitting in.

Let’s fast forward.

After school ended and my life actually began, I discovered a hundred new things about myself. One of which was that everything does get better. my skin improved once the stress of secondary school was removed, I grew into my chin(!), my body shape corrected itself to what it wanted to be, which was a curvy but still slim hourglass shape. Curves, as people used to tell me, that I should be proud of. My fashion sense was still based on magazines, but what are you gonna do about that. I started to feel more comfortable in my own skin.

It gets better.

It’s now ten years since I left school. In those ten years, there have been inevitable ups and downs, dark times and happy times, the usual fluctuations of life. Bad teenage experiences have been dealt with, parcelled away and labelled as “life lessons”, and have faded into my history. I am now more comfortable with myself than I have ever been. I’ve got my body image issues like all women, but I have accepted my wobbly thighs, soft curves but overall alright figure as just ME. The realisation that everyone is different is one that I didn’t reach for a long time, but now that I have it, I want nothing more than to shout it from the rooftops.

I have realised (in particular over the past two years), that I am my own person, and that I can look however I want to look, and be whatever I want to be. I have stopped reading fashion magazines – honestly one of the healthiest things I have ever done, ditch those mags right now, they give such an unrealistic view of women and will just make you feel inadequate about your body, fashion sense, career, whether or not you have children etc etc etc – I stopped listening to social conventional ideals of what you SHOULD do. Eg; wow, you’re 27 and still in college/ when are you going to have children, you’ll be 30 before you know it/ have you started saving for a mortgage yet? Oh please. It’s my life. That is something I have only recently discovered. The usual rules do not apply to everyone.

My current priorities are:

Finishing college. I’m in my final year of nursing, a fairly gruelling year is ahead of me, but at the end of it, I will have a career I can take anywhere.

My relationship. My boyfriend and I are currently moving in together. He is excited, I am terrified. And I’ve discovered that it’s ok to be nervous about it, some of the greatest things that I have ever done have completely terrified me. For the record, I am also excited, I’m just hard to live with!

My body. I’m putting this in here because I am more than accepting of my body these days. I’m sure with hard work and the denial of sweet things I could have the sculpted hard-body I think of occasionally. But you know what, I love food. I’d rather have dessert once or twice a week and walk the dog every second day, than work out round the clock and count calories forever. That’s just who I am, fair play to anyone who has any other opinion than mine. As long as I can keep a handle on my shape and am happy with it, who cares.

My future. I have so many people several times a year asking me when I’m going to get married and have children. My answer is usually “does it matter?” I don’t even know if I want to have children, and it’s nobody’s business whether I do or not. As for getting married; yes I would like to, but that doesn’t mean I will. It honestly depends on circumstances, finances and a whole host of other things. As for the question of mortgages or housing, I’m coming round to my boyfriend’s way of thinking that buying a house over renting is mostly about what is expected of us, rather than what we want.

So, my life is not panning out how I had thought when I was a spotty teenager pouring over magazines and obsessing about celebrity diets or airbrushed skin. I am breaking the social conventions because that’s just who I am. Who cares if I’d prefer to travel the world than have a savings account? Who cares if I never marry or have children? Who’s business is it anyway?

These days, if I don’t like a current fashion or trend I simply don’t partake in it. If all the girls in my course are out every weekend in nightclubs, kudos to them, I usually have a date with a glass of wine, a movie and my comfiest pyjamas. I rarely go out drinking, and I don’t drink an awful lot any more anyway. I don’t wear as much makeup as my peers but I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about that! I’m also more comfortable in a jeans & top than anything else, and I’ve stopped dressing to impress anyone else but myself. And you know what, since I realised that who I am is ok, that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks but what I think of myself, I am so much happier. I think that it is something everyone should do. Why not be the person you want to be, instead of what magazines and trends tell you what you should be. Happiness is really what’s important, not what others think of you.

Changes

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Years pass like minutes; in pages of diaries, postcards & movie tickets.
Life packed into boxes & bags, waiting placidly to be moved.
A new start paved with the memories of past lives,
strange how decades can be organised, compartmentalised & wrapped, slotted into new places seamlessly,
with no consideration for emotion.
I stand, surrounded by pieces of my old life, waiting for a new one to start.

Interrailing writings

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As you know, I was travelling in Europe for 3 weeks over the summer. I’ve been reading back over the poems & tidbits that I wrote while I was away & came across something I wrote while travelling from Paris to Amiens. I’m going to share it with you because it gives me a little longing for that sense of freedom again, but also because when I read back over it, I think it did capture how I felt at the time, watching the world go by from the train window.
I hope you enjoy it :-)

Train cars & steel cables, a concrete jungle of machinery.
Forcing it’s way along fences & through sleepers on the track,
lilac grows wild, untamed, apologetic in it’s beauty.
Further from Paris buildings give way to fields.
Poppies dot the landscape, waving their pretty heads in greeting as the train shoots by.
Paris & it’s suburbs fall away, replaced by yellow fields & rolling hills, tiny towns snuggled into the niches of the landscape.
I catch glimpses of life in this picturesque land -
a teenage girl brushing down a patient horse, a dog stretched asleep in the sun, a child & her mother crosslegged on a platform bench, watching the train pass.
Every few miles, fields & hills give way to the domination of forest, broad bands of trees grouped together, their secrets hidden from view.
Church spires pop up over every horizon,
& cemeteries with towering spires & mausoleums add their voice to the choir of nature,
& dotted along the track, all the way to Amiens -
Lilac. Lilac everywhere.

My interrailing adventure, Summer 2014

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Friends,
I’ve been trying to put into words my experience while I was backpacking, but honestly it’s very difficult to articulate. There were so many individual things that happened that I could turn into stories (& I probably will at some stage!) & it’s hard to place them in any type of order. So I’ve decided that I’m just going to keep it in the order of when it happened. So here goes.
I flew from Dublin to London with my heart in mu mouth. I spent months planning the trip of a lifetime &when it finally came round, I couldn’t quite believe it was actually happening! I’ve been to London before, & frankly it was important for me to start somewhere that was somewhat familiar, as I was going to be travelling alone at certain points.
London was lovely. The trip was, for me, a cultural tour of European cities. Art galleries, churches & museums are some of my favourite things & it was an opportunity to see some things on my Bucket List. I took a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe on South Bank which was just so enjoyable.  The history of the building & Shakespeare’s works was fascinating. I then wandered around the Tate Modern, which I had very much mixed feelings about. I’m not a huge fan of the very modern art, I love the abstract but some pieces of modern art make no sense to me. Anyway, the Tate is an impressive building.
I stayed that night in college halls that are rented out for the summer, that was fun :-)
I had to leave really early the next morning to catch the eurostar to Paris. For anyone travelling that route, I’d highly recommend that route! Its quick, its comfortable & there is a real novelty at taking the Channel Tunnel…provided you don’t think too hard about whats over your head!
Paris was…well, it was Paris. I had never been before, & had probably not paid much heed to the city apart from reading Hemingway or old classics & imagining the city as the fabulous playground of the rich and famous! (I completely live in a fantasy world half the time.) I hadn’t realised how vast Paris was, it was much bigger than I had imagined, everything is so spaced out! Needless to say, my legs were well & truly walked off when those 3 days were over!
Ruairí met me in Paris, to have our first holiday abroad together. It was really wonderful. Before I met him at the train station I hiked to Sacre Coeure to see the cathedral. Standing on the top of those steps at the door of the church, a huge section of Paris is laid out at your feet & it is breathtakingly beautiful.
I sat on those steps for a while & just took it in. By the time I went to meet Ruairí at Gare du Nord I was blissed out from the view from the hilltop.
The three days in Paris were amazing. It had been on my wishlist to spend 8 hours in the Louvre, we managed 6 hours so I’m counting that as an achievement! I can’t even begin to describe the effect that the Louvre had on me. Its an absolute dream come true being surrounded with not only fabulous works of art, but also ones that I had bookmarked in my mind as ‘I hope I get to see that someday’. & I have to admit, even though my expectation of the Mona Lisa was that I would be disappointed, she’s pretty dn impressive when you stand in front of her & realise her history & her creator. I could dedicate an entire blog to the wonders of the Louvre, but for the moment it’s enough to say that if the opportunity to go there ever presents itself; go, & spend as much time there as you possibly can. It is almost impossible to see everything it has to offer, 6 hours & we didn’t manage it!
Just to wander around Paris is to witness beauty & magnificent architecture. It is an unbelievable city. The eiffel tower is impressive, & so is the light show that it puts on in the evening, if you wait till dark it is breathtaking. We also spent time in Les Invalides which has a huge collection of military artefacts & weapons from across the centuries. There are halls upon halls of swords, muskets, one-shot pistols, ancient rifles & knives, it’s really cool! Also, Napoleon’s tomb is there. That man was beyond mad, he had what can only be described as an obsession with Rome & Caesar, seeming to think that he was the next Caesar himself. His tomb & it’s church are covered in Roman symbols & paintings, it’s extremely impressive.
Another favourite of mine was Notre Dame.  I saw Notre Dame cathedrals in several cities but none were as vast or beautiful as Paris. We weren’t able to go up the bell tower to see the gargoyles but Ruairí has promised me we’ll go back someday! 3 days is definitely not enough to see Paris in.
After an unbelievable few days, Ruairí returned to Ireland & I went on, backpack strapped on & really wonderi how I was going to get on being alone. My first solo stop was Amiens, & unfortunately it was not what I had expected. Jules Verne is buried in Amiens & being a huge fan of his, I was planning to see his grave. It didn’t happen however due to a few different issues. Dejected, I went for a walk in their fabled floating gardens to cheer myself up & followed a family of ducks around the lake for a while. While there, the weather turned quickly & what can only be described as a monsoon hit the city! I managed to escape a small island that was rapidly being turned into part of the lake & retreated to the hotel to watch television & eat french crisps.
The next morning, I caught my train to Bruges with high hopes for the adventure getting better. & it really did. Bruges is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. It is so enjoyable to just wander the streets of Bruges. The people are so friendly, everyone speaks English (which really does make a difference, I have to admit!), there are beautiful bridges & pathways over the many branches of the river, street performers, vendors & just all manner of wonderful things there. As an Irish person, the movie In Bruges was what drew my attention to Bruges, but I can tell you that it is even more beautiful than in the film. The first evening I was there, Belgium played in the world cup & I stumbled across a town square that was decked out for the match with food stalls, beer & a giant screen. I decided to stay & watch the match with the thousand people that filled the square & I really had a good time cheering them on.
I climbed the fabled bell tower early the next morning & I’m very glad that I did it early, less people equals less squeezing past bodies on the stairs, because the stairs are so narrow that it is terrifying to hang on to the wall while letting others climb past you, panicked looks in everyone’s eyes! But I would recommend it, very highly. The view from the tower is indescribable, I took photos but they do it no justice, Bruges & it’s rooftops are as beautiful as everything else in the city.
I took a boat tour of the river too, its a great way to see the city & all it has to offer. The captain of our 40 seat boat was a great entertainer & made the journey even better.
I visited the Notre Dame of Bruges, which was beautiful & holds a real treasure – Michelangelo’s virgin & child sculpture, which was so moving to view.
When I left Bruges, I could have cried. It was such an enjoyable place, I will have to promise myself that I’ll get back someday.
After the magnificence of a place like Bruges, any regular city is soul-destroying. Brussels was next on my trip & I was not prepared for either how much I’d miss Bruges, or what Brussels is like. I wasn’t a fan, I admit that it is not a place for me.
Starting to feel a bit lonely, I sought out my true comfort & found a huge second hand bookstore that had quite a large English book section. I spent a more than happy half hour there & finally settled on 2 books, remembering that I had limited space & weight in my backpack. I then found an Irish bar & spent a few happy hours curled in a window seat reading a book & nursing a good Belgian beer.
The next day it was raining really hard but I was determined to find a good side to Brussels, so I put up my hood, steeled myself to the rain & trekked to the natural history museum. It holds the largest selection of dinosaur fossils & bones in Europe so I was told, & it was really cool. I love dinosaurs, I am the generation that Jurassic Park was made for & since then, they have always been an obsession of mine. So to spend a considerable amount of the day surrounded by them was pretty great for me! I also got a selfie with a t-rex who was nicknamed Stan :-)
So that was Brussels, some beautiful buildings, the main square is very picturesque but it is not the place for me. I went on to Amsterdam hoping that the adventure would improve there. & it really did. I’d been to Amsterdam before, when I was about 19 or 20, & smoked a lot of weed but did little else. This time I was determined to spend as much time as possible in the Rijksmuseum & wandering, taking in the city. By this stage, I had developed a real love of wandering round cities & doing whatever took my fancy at the time. Amsterdam was no different. My hostel was in the form of a boat with tiny cabins with bunk beds & a shared bathroom & shower. But it was clean & the novelty of it was too much to pass up on it! It was great fun, I spent time sitting on the deck in the sun reading in between wanderings. I hit the Rijksmuseum on my second day & was more than rewarded with a view of 4 (yes FOUR) Vermeer paintings hanging in what they’ve simply named the Master’s Hall. Vermeer is, as you might have guessed, my favourite artist. That doesn’t even begin to describe how much I enjoy his work. The hall of Masters work in that museum is fantastic, the room itself is impressive, let alone the artwork. Having gorged myself on art & sunshine (it was 29 degrees that day), I resumed my wandering. Amsterdam is beautiful, reminded me of Bruges actually in how pretty it is.
I left Amsterdam a very happy girl, & headed to Frankfurt to my uncle & aunt who lives there. As a coincidence, my other uncle had taken a trip out there too so I had an almost family reunion in the train station!
I had a relaxing few days in Frankfurt, I did go to the art gallery there which has quite a selection of Christian art & also a beautiful Vermeer :-)
Four nights with family had me refreshed & ready for the last leg of the journey. I caught an early train to Nurenburg & then a 3 & a half hour bus ride to Prague through fabulous countryside, the forests in Germany are beautiful.
Prague is a city I would recommend to anyone. I had been there with my mother 5 years ago & was delighted to discover that I needed no maps, I remembered my way around like I was following the ghost my footsteps from the previous trip. Everything in Prague is beautiful, the astronomic clock, the town square, the hundreds of churches scattered around the city, the palace at the top of the city with even more of a  fabulous view than from Sacre Coeure in Paris. The cathedral at the palace is also amazing. Due to having a lighter bag from discarding clothes as I travelled, I actually indulged in a little bit of shopping in Prague, which I didn’t do anywhere else. Wandering in Prague is so enjoyable, theres so much to see & even crossing the famous Charles Bridge takes almost an hour when you stop to admire the view & all the statues along the bridge. It was the perfect end to my backpacking, I was so happy to be back there.
I flew home after 18 days of travelling. I visited 8 cities in 6 countries & honestly had the adventure of a lifetime. I was so grateful to Ruairí, my mother & my manager at work for letting me follow a dream. I learned a lot about myself while I was away, & came home feeling more grown up, more comfortable in my own skin & really looking forward to coming home & settling into my life & the plans that I have made.
Coming home was strange, I almost felt like I hadn’t been away at all! For the week after I returned I woke in a panic every night, not knowing what bed or hostel I was in!
The feeling has remained though, that I’m more settled after fulfilling my wanderlust. I literally fulfilled a dream & I haven’t had much opportunity to say that before. I am ready for my next step, for my next college year, to finish my course, get my degree & fulfill another dream of mine.
Obviously there are little stories & curiosities that happened while I was away but to put them all in here wpuld take forever! I am working on a ‘things I leaned while I was backpacking’ post but it’ll be a while before its ready.
So thanks for reading friends, its been fun reading blog posts that I missed when I was away.
Until next time :-) <3

An update to my absence

Hello my fellow bloggers & bloggees! It’s been a while :)

My absence has not been for naught. After NaPoWriMo I had essays & exams to battle with (& I’m happy to report all went well!), I have also been getting more hours at work & my piece de resistance, I have been planning my summer inter-railing trip.

Happily, I have also been writing. Something is taking loose shape on paper & word documents, – & frankly, the odd beermat! – & so far I am definitely somewhat satisfied with it. From my inner critic, that is high praise indeed, so I am labouring on with it!

Back to the details – in a week I will my jetting off on what we are fondly referring to as “my inter-railing adventure”. I will be hitting several European cities over 3 weeks, & enjoying museum tours, art galleries & architectural marvels along the way. This is my dream trip, the culmination of several years of wistful planning & finding the determination to finally do it. I am beyond excited. So those of you who keep up with me can forgive me for posts becoming about travel, art & museums for a while. :)

On the trip, I am planning to write. I have notebooks & pens aplenty – more than clothes if I can be honest! – & a slightly formless idea of what I’m going to do with it. For those three weeks, the plan is to just write write write, & edit, chop & paste when I’m home, seeing if anything I’ve created is worth what it’s written on. You’ll know what I mean, my fellow writers, when I say that I have an idea based simply on a word & a feeling, & a thought that it can be turned to something tangible. Time will tell, & we will see. :)

Friends, I look forward to sharing the summer with you. I will be in touch soon.

NaPoWriMo day 30

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The last day of NaPoWriMo…I am so proud to say that I made it, 30 poems in 30 days. I am actually proud as punch of myself because I wasn’t sure if I would make it! But I did eventually, and I’m so glad I participated.

It’s strange, but doing this challenge did not feel like a chore, or a way of forcing myself to write. Rather, it felt like setting my creative mind free, giving it reign to do what felt right for a month. It was a way of thinking in poetry, of watching out for moments that inspired something in me, and then scrambling for phone or paper to write it down to decipher later. This was a most enjoyable challenge, and if you are thinking of participating next year, go for it. Poet or not, it gives your imagination a free road for once, something I doubt very many of us do past the age of ten.

It has inspired me somewhat, to write more, to give myself more freedom, to stop restricting the daydreaming lover of words that exists in me. I hope that through this, I will be sharing more poetry and short stories with you before NaPoWriMo 2015. I would love to say that my last poem this year is a poignant and fabulous piece, but it’s the same old, I’m afraid.

It’s been emotional, folks. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And now to my last NaPoWriMo 2014 contribution.

NaPoWriMo day 30

Dusk sinks into dark and brings with it
the soft patter of rain.
The death of the month is silent and swift
as always.
Looking closely, birds can be seen
settling in their nests for the night,
ready for the morning’s chorus.
The creatures of the dark stir and stretch
in the shadows, avoiding the rain as they can.
Moths replace butterflies,
cats flit from wall to bush,
glad of their mastery at seeing in the gloom.
The night closes around us like a blanket,
gets comfortable, arranges it’s velvet cloak
to watch until the dawn.
Silence creeps in, and sleep takes those of us
not nocturnal.
Peace holds the land,
for now. So sleep, sleep to dream.
And dream of May.

NaPoWriMo day 29

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I wake with a start,

sweat clinging to my face and neck,

eyes wide against the darkness,

trying to remember what I dreamt.

This is a nightly occurance,

blinking in the dark with the webs

of my dreams clinging to my skin.

I dream of loss, of reaching

but falling short of my heart’s desire.

I dream of lonliness, the one thing I fear

above all else.

But there are times when I dream of hope,

a thing so delicate, it has the wings of a moth.

It lights on my skin and whispers to me

in dreams.

And I wake, trying to catch it in clumsy hands

that are not made to hold suuch fragile things.

I wake with loss on my lips,

the memory of distant dreams.

NaPoWriMo day 28

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Sometimes it’s best to feign strength, have others

compliment you on being the Strong One,

holding the title while your heart silently breaks

behind lying eyes.

The ultimate coping mechanism of pretending that you

have the strength to make it through the tough and

turbulant times.

If only they knew,

that behind it all, pieces of you stretch tight and strain

against paper stitches, begging to fall apart,

begging to let go, just once.

There is danger in ripping those stitches,

fear behind the fresh wounds.

The facade of being a lioness, head up

against the world, waiting for what comes next.

Inside, you are a mouse in paper-mache clothes

hoping no-one asks to see the lion,

clinging to the title with tooth and fingernail.

However,

the lion is the lie that you have learned to live

and not one that can easily be cast aside.

Inside you beats the heart of a mouse,

but that mouse believes he is a lion

and so, you are always the Strong One.

NaPoWriMo day 27

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Dawn belongs to the birds,

at the moment the sky lightens with the first rays

they are up, and busy.

While the rest of us sleep, make coffee, or yawn ourselves awake

the birds have been singing,

announcing to us that there is another day.

Rejoice, for the world is seeing the sun once more,

the eternal war between light and dark is settled

for another day.

I hear the call and song of them from my bed,

and know without peeking from the curtains

that there are three varieties of bird

singing from the trees that line the garden.

They lull me back to sleep, and as I drift off

I think that the world does not belong to humans

as we think it does,

there are times that it belongs to others.

And dawn definitely belongs to the birds.

NaPoWriMo day 25 & 26

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Day 25:

Time weighs heavy on me at odd moments.
When I see my life stretch before and behind me
and feel, like some opressive cloud, that time
is linear,
that I will never be in that moment again,
and I have wasted it.
However,
is time well-spent balanced with time wasted?
Do we live on a sword-edge of ‘doing’ and ‘idling’?
Is balance key to happiness
in our linear life?
Irony in all it’s forms; only time will tell.
 

Day 26:

Despite my occasional peace with words;

times when I feel them flow from my fingertips

and form some verse that pleases me -

I find words themselves a mystery.

Double meanings;

alternative spellings;

silent letters;

they swirl around me in a confused haze

and I am stuck, spiked on some

meaningless nonsense of my own making

that whirls ’round my head, that I can neither

sense nor seperate.

English, as a language you can be as beautiful

and elegant as water, but

used unwisely,

examined too closely, you inspire confusion

and frustration.

I have changed my spinning mind -

I have no way with words.

Rather, they have their way with me!

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