No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #9

So, it seems fitting that this is only my ninth post about my time in Spain. As a person who likes round numbers, it leaves a door open for future opportunity to return. For this last post, I have complied a list of things I’ll miss about Spain, as well as those things I’ve been missing from the UK. I came to the country not even a beginner in Spanish, and have since done an online test (from a language school in beloved Battersea, of all places) and the test placed me as a Pre-Intermediate 3 (A2.3 on the CEFR). I have been in Spanish lessons all June, and spent last Saturday reading a story book at the pool, plus the doorman to my building just said I have improved (though he seems to say that a lot!) I’ve been to Granada, and will be finishing my trip in the beautiful Cadiz, where I’ve never been before.

So, here we go with Spain vs. UK.

Weather

So, it’s always around 10 degrees warmer here in Andalusia. That said, it is very hard to keep to a good temperature because it is so expensive. In winter, my apartment just has a choice between air conditioning and an electric radiator. In summer, it’s windows or air con. Bills have been expensive as it is, so it doesn’t feel like much of a choice. The fact there isn’t central heating makes as much sense to me as the UK not having air con (so, equally silly). The summer sun is more reliable here, but I’ll be back to the UK’s unpredictability soon enough.

Food

Whilst away I’ve missed roast dinners, and despite getting my fill over Christmas, I’m salivating now just writing the word gravy (which, by the way is really hard to describe in Spanish – un tipo de salsa?). My favourite Spanish dishes can be had in the UK, and with that in mind, what I appreciate in the UK is the variety of cuisine, and it has made me want to try food from even more nationalities. Even with the summer heat now, the lack of gardens also means a lack of BBQs, which I’ll also look forward to sinking my teeth into on my return. What I will miss most is the availability of churros con chocolate, which are a dessert option in some restaurants, but here are a staple of any good cafe. As well as that, I love that sandwiches are generally plain (no mayo), and on massive delicious bread. Like this tortilla one.

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Drink

Anyone who knows me will know my chocolate and milk habit, which I have as an evening treat – a reward for my hard work. Milk in Spain is not the same, and generally tastes sweeter. I did manage to find a decent skimmed milk, and have recently been popping a mug in the freezer so it is extra chilled. On the other hand, I have no idea how I am going to fill the void of both still lemon juice, and tinto de verano or vargas.  Yes, I can get lemon juice in the UK, but it comes in relatively expensive cartons, and not the nice big bottles you have here, and you can get a bottle of vargas for under a euro. It is so fruity and has low-alcohol content, so it is delicious.

Places

There is an Irish pub in Córdoba, but just isn’t the same. A good pub maintains what is meant by its full name: public house. They are cosy, family-friendly, and serve proper pub food (see: gravy). British children often grow up going to pubs, usually with a playground to accommodate them and I have many fond memories of The Leather Bottle, playing wit friends and eating salt-and-vinegar McCoys with a blackcurrant cordial. I’ve now changed that order to a pint, but what I will take back with me is the smaller measures in Spain. Obviously, they’re more liberal with the spirits (best gin con limón ever), but I love being able to get just a caña or maceta. I feel like I might start getting half pints when back in the UK. Another plus here is that you can get cheap tapas whilst drinking, and sometimes it’s even free.

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Entertainment

I feel a great connection with Spanish music, and have also enjoyed some of the flamenco fusion nights, which are filled with people of all ages, often dancing traditionally. The festivals in May will definitely be calling me back. This kind of culture just can’t be found in the UK if we think about what is traditionally British in terms of dancing… Morris dancing? I’m sorry, but no thank you. In my opinion, nothing quite matches the dancing here, and I would love to learn the sevillianas so I can feel more of a part of it. Despite this, I know I can learn this dance back in London, because again, the UK trumps every time when it comes to variety. I am spoilt for choice having had the fortune to grow up, and still currently be able to live there on my return.

Lifestyle

As much as I miss my family, having lived with my parents for the past five years, living on my own in Spain has been a dream come true. I paid about half my salary to live alone, but I relished this space, not to mention my independence. I’ve been eating less meat (mostly only when I go out), whilst meat or fish is a staple with every meal with my dad’s cooking. For the time I was living and working in London post-university, I started not to take lunch breaks, yet now having the long ‘siesta’ afternoon breaks (I don’t siesta), I have appreciated the importance of a proper break away from work at lunch, cooking my main meal during this time. Of course, this is made easier by living less than five minutes walk away from work. That glory is what I am most going to miss. Still, working in the day time is preferable, but it’s likely that any TEFL work I do back in London will be evening work too. That said, I find this kind of pattern means I see work as part of my day, rather than something to get over and done with.

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People

I’ve made friends here, and I hope to come to visit them next year. That said, a year just isn’t long enough, especially with the transient nature of this work, and if I had better Spanish I would have liked to make more Spanish friends (a lot of the locals who engage with English teachers tend to be men…) I just wish I had come sooner, but like there aren’t enough hours in the day, sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough years in the lifetime. In some ways, I have found it difficult to be away from friends and family, and this was more so when hearing of the news of terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, another fire in Bethnal Green where I used to work, and more personal matters, such as my Great Uncle passing away just last week. I was lucky in that I had friends and family visit, but I am so looking forward to seeing all my friends in the UK again, friends I’ve known from age four, from secondary school, from university, from poetry.

Home

This brings me to one of the things that makes me feel most at home in the UK: our lovely poetry communities. I have already signed up to take part in the Poetry Cafe fundraiser. I’m also going to be at Edinburgh Fringe festival with She Grrrowls (Black Market Room 1, 7:20-8:20 pm). I am feeling anxious, but also excited. So many of my friends have achieved such amazing things in the time that I’ve been gone, and I just can’t wait to see them doing these things (and join in a bit too, hopefully). There’s so much that I want to do, including continuing learning Spanish, and although I obviously won’t be able to do this in the same way without physically being in Spain, to have only been to one poetry event, this is possibly the number one thing that I missed in the time that I have been gone, because I was almost starved of it.

So, I leave here in July, relating to this quote from Suzannah Weiss: Few are familiar with the concept of going somewhere, loving it, and, nevertheless, leaving.

 

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13 Reasons Why

I understand there has been a lot of criticism about 13 Reasons Why, much of it valid in dealing with such a sensitive topic as suicide. I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone who is suffering or has suffered from suicidal thoughts and feelings. Netflix have now added a warning before the first episode, which really should have been there already.

Yet I have to admit that I was drawn into the story that was based on the book by Jay Asher, which I have not read. I was gripped by the narrative, and although it may be questionable to use such a subject matter in this way, I got a lot from watching it. Whilst it was a story of suicide, it was also about love and friendship. And although messages about suicide can be problematic, the basic idea of openly communicating with others and reaching out to those who may be in need, is a positive one.

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Being a teen drama, it brought me back to my own teenage years, and I related to Hannah’s character, who we know from the onset has killed herself. I didn’t just relate to Hannah because of her long, dark, curly hair. When I look back over those years of adolescence, I would now say I was depressed, though I had no clinical diagnosis. I feel a sadness for my younger self and my mum at the memory of screaming that I want to kill myself. I associate a lot of negative feelings with those years, despite there being some positive elements. I went from someone who loved going to primary school, to struggling to make it through each day, just trying to exist.

There’s a video of me as a child saying ‘I’m not weird, I’m Carmina.’ I’ve received a text from a friend meant for another saying I’m weird, received a light-hearted card from a friend about being so strange I make them feel normal, and the head-teacher of a school I worked at once joked that the teachers had had a meeting and concluded that I was strange. For the most part, this isn’t something serious, but throughout my life I have often felt like an outsider. And my closest friends would probably admit they are a little strange too.

Then again, I remember going for counselling once, and the man told me I was okay and didn’t need to come back. It is something that I often feel therapists think about me. Sometimes I think my ability to articulate myself to them means I manipulate them into thinking I’m “normal” and everyone else is “crazy”. Since then, a doctor has nonchalantly told me I’ve got cyclothymia (a very mild form of bipolar disorder), and I’ve been treated for anxiety disorder. Being told I’m okay or normal doesn’t exactly help, because although I’m high-functioning and my mental health doesn’t generally have a big impact on my life, being told such things doesn’t match up to my life experiences – how I am treated, or viewed, by others, or the feelings inside me that may not been obvious to others, but are very much real.

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So, when I was a teenager, my mental health was much worse (as I think it can be for a lot of people during this time). It can be damaging to think of this as simply a phase, when support is very much needed whatever age. I think being a teenager can be the most difficult time in your life, but then I’m only 28, so we will see. I had issues at home, and I had a difficult time getting on with everyone at school, and, although I had friends, I often felt like a target for a lot of different groups. Our school had a hostile environment, from the pushing up and down stairs, to the power games in the cafeteria.

I was also desperate for male attention, being at a girls school, but was also terrified of boys. I was like Raj in The Big Bang Theory, only able to talk to the opposite sex when fueled with alcohol (as a slightly older teenager). This naturally led to slut-shaming from boys (and some girls too). Boys who called me a beast, who slapped me round the face, who knocked me with their bike, who rated me out of 10. Boys who cheated on their girlfriends with me, without my knowledge, who said I was fucked up, who called me chewbacca, who said they’d like to rape me, who circled me at the bus stop aggressively saying things I couldn’t hear over my headphones (okay, that was all one boy). Plus, so-called friends revealing things told in confidence.

So, long story short, when I could see these issues reflected in Hannah’s story, it did trigger me, but not in a way that was negative. It brought back these memories, and it allowed me to progress them. I cried a lot, but in a way that was very healing. Whilst I agree with the criticism of the show, and can see it is not something that is suitable for everyone, for me, it helped to see my own life reflected in the story and helped process these feelings that I find difficult to let go.

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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #8

I have just finished stage one of packing for going back to the UK. I still have over a month, but having accumulated more than I came with, I felt the urge to check I’d be able to fit it all. I had to purchase an extra suitcase, but I had a sudden panic that it wasn’t enough.

I bought the suitcase for just €9 from an app called Wallapop. The service enables people to sell second hand goods to local people. I also used this app to buy my dress for the feria. I went to one woman’s home her husband was also there, their apartment was immaculate, like a showroom, and I went into a bedroom to try the dress on.  That one didn’t fit, so I found another I liked. The owner of the first spoke very fast Spanish, so it was difficult, but the second woman I visited spoke English.

The dress was beautiful again, and though it didn’t fit, it seemed possible simply to get it taken out a bit so that the zip could do up. I agreed to the price of €80 if the woman could come with me to get it adjusted. It was only €10 and did the job, and I just had to pick it up on my own. You can find out more about the feria in my article for The Norwich Radical.

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As things are coming to an end here, I also have to start cancelling things. I’ve been writing messages to my agency to arrange a date for the key and deposit exchange, which I’ve been doing in Spanish. At one point she left a voice note instead and I painstakingly tried to write the message down in Spanish. I got the gist, but it was important, so I asked for the written version and understood the same. I started the cancellations by ending my gym membership. I attempted to speak in Spanish, but was saved somewhat by a woman who could speak English. I’d wanted to go to one last zumba class, but they wouldn’t let me.

One thing that can be annoying here is that they are so rule-orientated. I guess there aren’t perhaps as many rules as other places, but the ones they do have are enforced in such as way that can seem unreasonable. Whilst the gym was happy for me to pay for the time before the first payment, yet couldn’t allow me a few days when the payment leaves my account on that same date. I was frustrated also at my recent relaxing trip to a public outdoor swimming pool and they lifeguards were adamant for me to take my glasses off in case they broke. I tried to explain in Spanish that I needed them to see, that they were prescription. So, I had to swim in blurry surroundings. Still, can’t complain too much. I will be returning as much as possible to spend days reading and swimming. They even have a cafe there, so on weekends I could go from 10am-9pm!

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I’m hoping to go back to Spanish classes, and definitely want to continue learning when I’m in the UK. My friend Laura also came to visit for a second time (she’s lived in Barcelona for two year before), and we were approached by two Spanish men who tried to encourage us to speak Spanish, so we had a bit of practise, but inevitably ended up speaking more English than Spanish. For those thinking about going to Spain to improve their Spanish, I would say to study beforehand. I feel that if I had studied the amount I have done now then I would feel more confident to practise speaking more. Still, it can be difficult to meet people who aren’t other English teachers.

I’ve got my eye on a language exchange in London, and I may even land a job at an academy that has Spanish there too.

Hasta luego!

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Election Thoughts: 7th June

Ever since I heard about the snap election, I had been wanting to write something. The time has flown by and now I find myself just days before the election, still struggling to find the right words to urge people to vote for Labour. Since there there have been terrorist attacks in London and Manchester that have left me shaken up. There’s something about being away from friends and family that leaves me with an overwhelming desire for connection, yet it cannot be satisfied with such distance. Today I have been trying to carry on as normal, but unable to do so, feeling strange and emotional, breaking into tears a couple of times, unable to sleep at night. Perhaps this seems extreme, but I’ve always been an emotional person. This was one of the things I wanted to try to do today, so in writing I will try to heal and strengthen and focus my thoughts on positive change.

Nevertheless, this is so much connected with London being my home, where my friends and family are, feeling they are in danger. Just days ago in Kabul there was an attack with over 90 people killed, and as I type this I have found that suicide bombers have killed seven in yet another attack there. Overall, ‘Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 per cent of fatalities over the past five years.’ So, one of my fears, along with incidents like this happening in my hometown, is that people will use these events as leverage to spread hate and divide communities, which serves to exacerbate all kinds of violent extremism, whether in connection to Daesch, or right-wing racists.

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I believe that the Conservative Party will divide the country more, putting its citizens safety at risk. Reading through its manifesto and hearing Teresa May speak, it is hard to read between the lines. In her statement, May said there has been ‘far too much tolerance of extremism in our country’, which is a confusing thing to say, and seems to contradict much of the rest of her speech. I don’t understand the ways in which anyone has tolerated extremism, and it begs the question of what the definition of extremism is.

I wanted to write a post where I tried to bridge the gap between potential Conservative voters and myself, but what I struggle with is when people have clearly different values. Those I have spoken to for their reasons in voting Conservative has come down to money. People with good jobs and nice homes, worried about getting taxed too much, or not getting enough inheritance from their wealthy relatives. And frankly, I find it hard to bridge that gap because it disgusts me that people would put their individualistic desires above those for the common good. But perhaps these people don’t understand how damaging the Conservative Party policies can be. At times it seems like people don’t want to know, that they would quite happily bury their head in the sand. I’m not perfect myself, but the least you can do is try to extend your care to others beyond your own life.

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When I was younger I was more idealistic, and in the past I have voted for Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. Without Proportional Representation in our voting system, I have come round to what my parents had told me growing up, that it is a fight between Labour and the Tories. Whilst at times both parties have been more obviously centrist that left or right wing, with Jeremy Corbyn I felt like there was a true shift towards the left and away from the centre. I don’t like to hold anyone on a pedestal, but he has even been able to spark a moment of hope in those who had become apathetic about politics.

So, some of the things that I think should be considered before voting for the Conservatives are as follows:

-Refusal to tax the highest earners more, and instead hit those who are poorer.

Disability cuts and illogical assessments of people have already been carried out under our current government.

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-Using the money from the ‘tampon tax’ to fund an anti-abortion organisation.

-Providing free breakfasts as opposed to free lunch for primary school students, in order to save money.

Privatizing the NHS, thus destabilizing the access to free health care, which is obviously paid for by taxes and is a basic human right, in my opinion.

-Questionable methods of dealing with mental health: from what I know, the Conservatives have been pushing CBT because it’s cheaper, whilst previously it was possible to get psychodynamic therapy.

-Forcing victims to evidence they have been raped if they have the child or face losing money through tax credits.

Closure of domestic violence support.

-The ‘dementia tax’: despite the linked article at the bottom of this piece stating that pensioners will stop paying for their own care, £100,00 isn’t enough when considering how much house prices actually are, and there have been cases where people are now concerned that as well as their parents dying, they may also be homeless. The fact that they introduced a cap as an afterthought to the criticism just shows how clueless they are about everyday people.

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-Immigration: the Tories use immigration as a scapegoat for other problems such as the housing crisis, and their negative rhetoric has meant an increase in hate crimes, as though it is acceptable to spout racist and xenophobic views.

Fox hunting: like, why is this even a thing?

Funnily enough, I thought this summary of what Labour are offering as the opposition is quite handy. This is the one for the Conservatives.

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10 Hour Poetry Challenge

Fellow member of Kid Glove, Maeve Scullion, has been organising a charity fundraising event for Child.org whereby poets write and perform poems for 10 hours straight. Wanting to take part, but being in Spain, I decided to participate online.

I rarely share my poetry online, and although I have been wanting to record more poems, sharing first draft poems, fresh off the page is something else! I managed to complete the challenge, and I really enjoyed doing it… I had to teach from 5-9pm afterwards, including a group of 9-10 year-olds, so I am exhausted!

Poems can be viewed on Instagram. Please make it worth my time and donate via my sponsorship page. The target between myself and Michelle Madsen is £300, so we have a long way to go!

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So tired, treating myself to a pre-work popsicle.

 

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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #7

So, a friend of mine asked how the Spanish was going today and so I thought about writing this. Here’s your answer, Alys!

I’ve had to be flexible recently as it’s been Semana Santa. It also means I’m having to try to get back into those habits that I’ve now broken, including both physical and mental exercise routines! Instead of using my apps, I’ve done a lot of text-book studying and I’ve got through a lot, which feels like progress. That said, I will have lots of revise too – learning anything is a lot about repetition, which is at times isn’t as fun as learning something new and understanding it.

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Semana Santa processions

I did my first solo trip outside of the UK. to Madrid. I’d been away semi-solo before, and in reality this trip ended up being quite similar. I was in a female dorm in a “party hostel” which was had a great group of girls staying in it and so I had a couple of people to hang out with a lot of the time. Going away made me think how easy it can be to make a home somewhere, for something new to become a comfort zone. It was as if I had forgotten that I had actually come to live in Spain without knowing anyone. Córdoba has become another comfort zone of which to push myself out. And then that hostel room became a comfort zone of sorts.

That said, I did take myself off one night, when my hunger didn’t match up with that of others. I wanted something cheap. I loved Madrid, and with each day I imagined more what it would be like to live there, but it was hard to find good, cheap food. I spoke in Spanish at one place nearby that was shown as cheap on Trip Advisor, but there was no tapas. I spoke to them in Spanish and the cheapest they could offer was a half portion of eggplant at 6 Euros. I apologised, explaining that it was too expensive for me, and left. All in Spanish. Score. I ended up getting Chinese food for the same price including a bunch of noodles and spring rolls and expanding my variety of vocabulary!

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First day, on the walking tour.

In Malaga, with two friends from home, I tried to practise when I knew what to say. I was impressed by one friend who didn’t even study Spanish, but also a little jealous: how could she know all this vocabulary that’s taken me all this time to grasp?! But she also has some knowledge and interest in other languages, such as Greek, Italian and German. They say it’s easier to pick up languages when you know some of others. Then again, both friends were impressed when I was able to tell the waiter at our evening meal that the sangria was good, but the food was not, and managed to get us four tapas taken off the bill.

Initially, I started this journey wanting to become fluent within 10 months. I’ve always been one for setting unrealistic expectations… It stressed me out and tired me out. It was just too much. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry as part of the “40 Sonnets” group… although this year aiming to write one Terza Rima a day. I just finished catching up yesterday and spent all morning writing my diary. I also want to get back into my short stories. And I like to watch Friends with my lunch. So, occasionally I might watch Spanish TV, listen to Spanish music, and speak in Spanish. But I need these other parts of my life in order to feel balanced.

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Malaga

What I am happy about is that I am working hard, enjoying studying, and not feeling worried that I’ll be back at my parents’ house in three months. It’s a starting point and as long as I am consistent and make time to study in some way each day, then I can only go forward. I feel really inspired by students who have studied for 3-4 years at home and have a good level of fluency in English, including grammatical concepts. It makes me think it’s possible for me too, that just because I’ve haven’t yet learnt Spanish from  a couple of years at school, it doesn’t make me “bad at languages”. And it keeps me going to imagine a time where I can travel back to Spain, and go to other Spanish-speaking countries and communicate, that maybe it could even expand my ability to understand and be understood in terms of poetry and literature too.

That reminds me, I really must pick up those graded reading books again…

 

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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #6

I last updated this series around two months ago. The major change that has happened that makes learning a another language so much more important is ‘Brexit’.

Theresa May has signed papers that mean this is actually happening. The “United” Kingdom is leaving the EU. Whilst part of my anger at this is about the freedom of my own movement, and the injustice at having to buy a new blue passport (not to mention the economic impact), what I am really lamenting is my home changing. In some ways, the bubble has simply burst, but a lot of London people like myself like to celebrate the diversity of the capital and parts across the country. Perhaps with rose-tinted glasses, my childhood is remembered as a melting pot of cultures, my own Hispanic roots included. The older I grew, the further afield I went, the more divided communities seemed to me, and fearmongers appeared to up the ante. And now this. Although London voters as a whole wanted to remain in the EU, the rhetoric of the Leave campaign has given free reign to those committing racist and xenophobic attacks all over.

I had a student ask me if I thought that now English wouldn’t be as necessary to learn now. The computer engineer student is interested in working abroad in the future, but he wants to remain in a European country, possibly to to still be close to his family. The city where I am living has so many language schools full of students learning the English language, but after all these years studying, they’re having their future tampered with by, frankly, ignorant people. Ignorant, because it was revealed how many people regretted their vote and didn’t realise what it would happen, or even that it would happen at all. And so, in continuing with my line of work teaching English, the least I can do is keep up with my struggle to improve my Spanish.

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So, I’ve been trying to speak more, confusing the word ‘make-up’ (maquillaje) with ‘butter’ (mantequilla) and feeling awkward in various situations. I’m now ahead on my lesson plans, so I’m spending more time with my head in books, on apps etc. I’ve also been able to speak to more locals and actually practise speaking Spanish with them, resulting in coming home at 2am on a work night – from an Irish bar, of all places (it’s okay, I have Thursday mornings off). I enjoyed it so much, my English workmate was like ‘Why are you speaking in Spanish to me?’ when I tried to keep it up.

I’m also hunting for a traje de gitana/flamenca. This has meant looking at Wallapop, my new favourite app, where you can search for second hand things that are nearby. So, today I walked for half an hour to meet a woman to try on her dress. She had a perfect home, and my ideal dress – red and white varied polka dots, long and traditional, yet modern. As always, when I tried to say how bad my Spanish was, she didn’t seem to understand and still spoke fast and expected me somehow to understand. Sadly, the dress wouldn’t go over my shoulders as the arms were too tight for me. ‘Es muy bonita, pero es demasiado poco en los hombros y los ambroz’ I think I said… I should have said ‘pequeño’ (small) instead of ‘poco’ (little) and ‘brazos’ (arms) instead of whatever the F that word was at the end.

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Earlier on in March I also took part in Grito de Mujer. An incredibly nerve-wracking situation, I was more concerned with not knowing what was going on than reading my poems. Other than missing out on the first few takes of a group photograph, and some of my translations getting lost, it was all fine. Someone did have to translate a bit when I wasn’t sure what the host was saying to me, but at this event, and another, I tried to absorb the Spanish around me. The photo was also in the newspaper, which is pretty cool! You can find out more about the night here.

Lastly, I’ve also started to do the speaking exercises in my textbook by recording myself. I figured it’s better than skipping exercises, and maybe I’ll get to see some progress! It’s super embarrassing to share, so I’m still working out whether I will share more or not, but my first post inspired someone to take up a language, so that seems a good enough reason to keep it up!

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P.S. Give Gibraltar back.

 

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Paying Poets: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It’s International Women’s Day! So, on to a topic that impacts on all artists, but arguably more-so women: payment for our labour.

Pioneers for advocating paying poets include Kate Fox, who started up the Poets Network; Paula Varjack, who is currently doing a show called Show Me The Money; and Vanessa Kisuule, who has been whipping up a storm recently with her response to a recent request for her to travel 4 hours for a 50 minute performance and be paid only £30 plus 30% of the door sales. Ridic. If she accepted, it would mean she was paying to work. Would you expect anyone else to do that in any other profession? No. So, she obviously had to refuse.

Despite my own struggles trying to run events and pay artists fairly, which has always been something that’s been important to me, I also recognise that some people, like me, are also doing low/unpaid work in organising these events, on top of accepting rubbish from trying to be a poet. However, it’s important to address issues of payment as they are integral to the ethos of the event. With She Grrrowls, part of the ethos has been that there’s no hierarchy of performers. However, it’s becoming clear that actually what’s more important is that women are valued for their work in monetary terms. I would still like to aim for equal payment for acts, but in July I am going to apply for funding and hope that it is this way that I can afford to pay artists what they deserve and stop apologising. (Though I’m bringing She Grrrowls to the fringe, I’m told it’s different there and that such nights don’t pay acts, and hey it’ll probably cost me around a grand to go myself, so as long as the acts will already be performing, I don’t think I can help that).

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It was Bryony Kimmings who reminded me of this issue a few years ago, when she politely declined a gig that I shouldn’t have asked her to do, but did so on the off-chance, too exhausted from my day job and commute to properly reflect on the reality of what I was asking. She told me about  illshowyoumine, which is about getting living wages for artists (please click that link, so worth the read!). It’s just not fair that being an artist is not valued as a profession, that it is something that only an elite few can pursue, that the starving artist cliché is something we are too close to emulating. In August I am going to take a risk and go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and from this point I’m going to be making my art a priority, and getting paid for it will be my focus rather than accepting another full-time job out of fear that I am not worth the money, a message that is implied by everyone from family and friends, to society at large.

With this in mind, without naming names, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly, of my experience being a professional poet over the past decade, albeit a part-time one.

The Good

  • £150 for a performance at a festival
  • £75 for curating a one-off event
  • £100 commission for a 15-20 minute set of poetry on a theme
  • £350 for shadowing a series of workshops and taking part in an event + £85 travel costs
  • £100 to read a poem and participate in a discussion on a topic
  • £100 plus professional mentoring to create new work

The Bad

  • No payment, but the only artist on the bill and able to sell books. Then the gig was cancelled without much apology or offer to reschedule.
  • Lots of unpaid gigs, workshops that are booked and then get cancelled, and awkward gigs where literally nobody showed up.
  • Being told you’re being booked to up the number of women, rather than because of anything else. I think this one paid with exposure too.
  • Being paid, but not realising that the host is taller than you and they’re looking at your breasts instead of your eyes. Well, that was a first. Like, in my whole life.

The Ugly

  • Repeat performances and never offered more than £10 for travel, then treated disrespectfully, being patronised and humiliated by the host.

So, in a few months I will working towards getting more of ‘the good’. For now, unable to afford striking today, I will be teaching English and hustling to get some paid writing work so that I can, like, actually eat whilst in Edinburgh.

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02.03.17 – Grito de Mujer

As part of Mujeres Poetas Internacional: 8pm, Patio Vesubio, Cordoba, Spain.cordoba-poetry

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Hypocrite

I was at primary school when I first learnt what the word ‘hypocrite’ meant. I remember because I recall shouting it at other players during after-school netball games. I say shouting, but I’m quite softly spoken and so maybe I wasn’t all that loud. But I remember one friend laughing at me as I said it. Those who get close to me will learn this strange mix of vehement-quiet-girl still exists within me (why I’m so excited for the Shy Radicals book).

It was when I was a teenager, that I began to see my parents – and adults in general – as human beings. With flaws. One of those flaws being that they were massive hypocrites. As a child who had school reports detailing my strong sense of right and wrong, it was only natural that I developed this idea that being a hypocrite was not something I wanted to be, and with that I found it hard not to be overly righteous in defending my views. I never believed that I would become a hypocrite.

But maybe I was wrong. If I am to analyse the details of everything I do, I regularly go against what I believe in. I can do a lot better. And although I’m taking steps towards doing better, there will always be things I do that don’t live up to my ideal version of myself, especially when it comes to making money. For example, my current day job is teaching English as a foreign language. It can be a very rewarding job, yet, a big part of me is also uncomfortable about the fact that there is so much demand to learn English. It reminds me of how privileged I am to have been born where I was. Such a small country, such a widespread language, such a horrible history of colonialism.

And here I am, post-Brexit, living in Spain, not able to speak the language – because if you know English, why bother with any other language? Even the one of your heritage. My plan, to return to the UK, hopefully better acquainted with Spanish, and focus on my career as a writer. I feel I haven’t given myself the chance to properly try to live my dream. For a dream, I know it will seem less of that in reality, that it will be a struggle. But then so is working full-time and trying to work in the arts as a second job. It’s time that I make it a priority.

And in doing that, it’s likely my morals may be called into question. I might still be a hypocrite, and I might face dilemmas. Except maybe the money will be too much of a temptation, because I already auditioned for an advert for Transport for London because it paid more than my annual wage at the time (I’m now earning about half that annual wage, but my mental health is a lot better and I’m living in my own apartment instead of with my parents). And this dilemma is if I am lucky. Whenever I have seen other poets at Buckingham Palace, or on adverts, I have been excited for them, knowing that (despite the moral implications) I would be honoured to be asked and can’t imagine doing anything other than accept it. Even if I did feel uneasy about it.

This is for the same reason that I accepted my first job offer after I finished my MA and stayed there for 4 years. Because I have been taught that things are so bad that I should be grateful for whatever I can get. But right now, I have taken a risk and applied for Edinburgh Fringe Festival and booked to stay at a hostel for a month. It’s nearly double my current rent. I’m trying to save, but I am worried about being able to afford it. I thought about applying for some extra work that would ease these worries – £1000 for a month’s work online – but in the end, I wasn’t sure I would be able to commit to it on top of my full-time job teaching.

So, to imagine the fee that comes with doing adverts, such as the Nationwide ones, knowing that it could enable me to live my dream. It would be too good to refuse. And as another poet pointed out, it is the system that is the problem, and most of the time we are just trying to live. I’ve worked for minimum wage for WHSmith, JD Wetherspoons and Sainsbury’s. It doesn’t mean I agree with what they stand for, so if I was asked to pen a poem for those same companies, would it be any different? Perhaps it would, being that you are publicly associating your own brand as a poet with their brand, therefore it is a kind of endorsement that isn’t as true being a sales/bar assistant, which carries with it an element of anonymity, of being part of a uniformed mass.

In the midst of debate around the Nationwide adverts, although admitting he respects the poets in the ads, poet Luke Wright sparked debate with his poem Renegade Poets, which I think is what was intended. It is not so much the poets in the ads being targeted, but rather opening up a discussion about what it means when we accept these opportunities, especially for those of us who write political pieces and are vocal about things like Feminism and Capitalism. ‘McGough is doing Waitrose, and Clarkey’s doing chips…’ Wright says, while acknowledging it’s not about one specific case, and that it’s not new.

He laments about the art that is lost, the compromise you have to have, when selling your work in this way. One line that struck me was: ‘if nobody wants to see your show, it’s probably not good enough’, because part of me thinks there’s more to it than that. For example, with She Grrrowls, the audience can vary widely in numbers, and sadly I think being a feminist night, featuring women, this makes it more niche. Then again, there’s also music and comedy, which are arguably less niche than poetry. I have also had a promotor basically tell me that I don’t bring enough audience to the show. Whilst that may be true, I would never say that to one of my acts. It’s rude and patronising.

Nevertheless, the sentiment harks back to that line in Wright’s poem. If you are familiar with Wright’s work, you’ll see that at least in this sense, he practises what he preaches. How do you make something good enough? You work hard at it. At the night Homework, as well as in his solo shows, you can see the effort that goes into creating quality pieces, and the poem Renegade Poets is a great poem too, with an ending that really drives the point home.

quote-i-would-rather-be-a-bad-feminist-than-no-feminist-at-all-roxane-gay-79-56-29

The point being to think more about making these decisions, instead of doing what I imagine I might do – just see the money and and say yes. So, yes it’s important to think about this topic, but at the moment, I don’t think I’m able to make a decision. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong in all contexts, but something that comes down to an individual company and what they stand for, and the person making that choice.

When I did my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship five years ago, part of me thought that if I had the right tools I could be successful in the arts. I grew up with two teachers as parents and they worked hard in their field and have been able to provide me with a good life. I have become slightly disillusioned since graduating and working, that although we were taught that the “struggling artist” cliche is a myth that doesn’t have to be fulfilled, I still fear know that by taking a risk later this year, I will living on the “cabbage budget” and may never see the “champagne budget”.

Disillusioned, but only slightly. I still hold on to my dream, and feel I have to give myself that chance. On another  related note, Roxane Gay recently pulled publication of her next book How to Be Heard after ‘alt-right’ Milo Yiannopoulos received a $250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster. It is an act of protest. She has been able to stand by her morals and principles, but she has also been quoted by The Guardian as saying ‘I can afford to take this stand. Not everyone can. Remember that.’ Whether these moral choices are something we can do from the start of our career, or whether it is something success enables us to do so is still up for debate. I may be a hypocrite now, but I will try to push myself and do better.

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