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.

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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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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #5

Another month in Spain, another review of what I have achieved. At times it doesn’t seem like much. But then there are are moments, where I have had a successful interaction, and it probably seems a bit silly how excited I get by it. I don’t get many interactions, because I don’t put myself out there a lot. But I successfully asked my doorman for another key (for visitors) and a few days later got a key. He is pretty much the only person I speak to in Spanish on a regular basis.

Case in point: I went on a hike with a massive group of mainly Spanish people, and only really spoke to other English teachers. It was a day that was amazing for so many reasons, but it was also painful for other reasons. At the end of the 17/18km we had a cheap paella as our reward. However, we were misinformed about the process, and not being able to access the language meant we had to queue up again, when we were so close to being served (I was hangry). A failed conversation with some Spanish people who couldn’t speak English made me feel embarrassed and reminded me of being in Vietnam, that kind of awkward laughter from everyone, not really knowing what was funny. Why did I find it so hard to speak when put on the spot?

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One of the other teachers I met on the hike also unintentionally hit a nerve. When I asked how their Spanish was, they said they were half-Spanish. Like, obviously that means you can speak the language. It hit a nerve, because, okay, it’s only my grandfather who is Spanish, but my dad is half-Spanish and pretty much everyone on that side of the family has struggled with trying to learn Spanish – my dad, my uncle, my cousins. Wouldn’t it be so easy if the language had just been passed on? I know other people can relate to this frustration, from Latinx people in America, and one guy I heard about whose parents were both Spanish but brought up in the UK ended up not being able to speak it properly.

This is why I strongly believe that languages should be passed on. It seems especially silly for family members not to pass on Spanish, when it’s one of the most spoken languages in the UK. I mean, what were you thinking?!  Both my paternal grandparents can speak Spanish, so it’s a continual frustration. In another life, I could have been bilingual. Instead, I have this strange hole I feel the desire to fill with Spanish. As if I am a fraud, as if my heritage is not in my blood if I cannot speak the language. At times I think my whole reasoning for wanting to learn is silly, but the motivations are something unexplainable to a degree. I must be repeating myself, but it’s especially embarrassing with my name.

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It has been a lot harder to learn than I anticipated, and although I sometimes rush things, there are two things I can think of that I don’t rush: making new friends, and learning languages… All I know is that if I keep going forward and push myself every now and again, then I must be making some progress, however small. And I could spend more time on it, but I also want to do other things, like making friends, and writing, and reading and travelling! Oh, and I do have a job to do too! They tend to take up times.

So, for now, like on the hike, I started, so I will continue…

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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #4

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In my final two weeks I’ve been ill. I struggled through most of it because I wanted to see the Christmas show … which I ended up missing because I was teaching. At work we had a Christmas buffet, where I made up for the lack of alcohol with tortilla and lots of water (I was trying not to drink, but succumbed to two small glasses of red when the water ran out).

I saw a couple of friends on the Saturday, and rested the whole of the Sunday, but the sore throat was still lingering. Sore throats always make me paranoid due to a close-call at university where I was being tested for leukemia, and could have contracted ME. I also had one of the new teachers staying this last weekend in Spain, so it wasn’t the best timing. But they did buy me some lovely coasters as a thank you, meaning I can replace the terrible glass ones I had bought before. Glass + Spanish floor = dangerous.

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Oh yes, as well as the cold, I also discovered some glass in my foot, perhaps a day or two after it went in. When I moved into the apartment, there was a lot of glass that I discovered on random occasions, but I think this particular injury was due to those pesky coasters. Thankfully, I had sorted out my medical card and doctor’s surgery already. However, I needed help from my boss when I had been given the incorrect information for booking appointments on an old leaflet.

I managed to book an appointment with a nurse the next day, and one with a doctor on the Monday. It was confusing, but we used translation apps to understand one another. I got brought from one room to another, where the nurse tried to remove the glass. It still hurt, so they said to come back again if I needed to, but was told I needed a doctor’s appointment to have my throat looked at. I was given a bunch of thick plasters and bandages, as well as an unknow red-orange liquid.

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It had done the job, but the sore throat remained (I also strangely had a nose-bleed, but didn’t think that was relevant). So, I returned on Monday and thankfully was granted an extra day of rest, given a ‘baja’ and a couple of things on prescription. I used the Spanish I had memorised, and even if the doctor did speak English, I was able to speak at snail-pace as she listened patiently and only resorted to translation once, when I was confused about the sick note, thinking I wasn’t getting one, when it was merely that she could only offer one day rather than two because it was red, but there was no sign of, I guess, tonsillitis, or similar.

I told the pharmacy that I could only speak a little Spanish, but before I could say anything, they already took my card and gave me the medication. The cost was hard to understand though, as the ‘seis’ just sounded like ‘ei’, so the cashier told me in English when I appeared confused (though I was paying with a 20, so my confusion was more that she wasn’t just taking the note). One of the main challenges is listening, though I was proud I was able to understand most of what the doctor said.

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Other recent achievements include, being able to understand a group of people who had paid an entrance fee and telling them ‘otra puerta’ (not that they seemed to listen to me, but seconds later I heard them repeat the same thing when they realised). Having spent too much money on Christmas presents, I also once needed to return a box of cereal that was advertised as 80 cents, that came up as 2.99. I managed to tell them in Spanish and got my money back. I always hunt for the discounted boxes, and I mean, that one didn’t even have chocolate in it. Another big thing is that I memorised the basic verbs available on Spanish Verbs, so I am now onto conjugating in the present tense, which shouldn’t take me as long. Here’s hoping I can keep it up over the holidays…

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My top 8 favourite things about Córdoba.

 

1. It’s beautiful.

When I first moved here, I walked around the streets in disbelief that I had the fortune to spend a year in such a beautiful city. Being surrounded by beauty has a way that lifts the spirits. Sure, it was bathed in summer sunlight then, but even in winter, it often is still and the fresh chill in the air doesn’t make the streets any less beautiful. I love the traditional cobbled streets, white and yellow houses with balconies, and the statues that are still popping up around the city. I was also lucky enough to bag my own apartment in the centre, which is equally as pretty inside.

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Pretty, even in the rain.

2. It’s chilled.

The general vibe of the city is pretty chilled out. People are friendly, and forgiving for those like me who struggle to speak Spanish. This means I can enjoy my job relatively stress-free, and day-to-day life is easy-going. Whatever reason for the happy-vibes here, it has had an enormous impact on my wellbeing and mental health. I used to find it hard to relax, but now whenever I get a voice that says what I “should” be doing, I am able to justify my decisions, whether that’s going for a long lunch at De Tapas instead of staying in and being “productive”, or whether it’s taking time out of Spanish classes (which had been stressing me out) and going swimming instead, or even just making more time to indulge in reading. I write poetry regularly and naturally, and whenever I sit down with the intention to write a short story or article, it feels unpressured and enjoyable.

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3. It’s sunny.

Okay, I’m not going to lie, the weather was one of the main motivations for moving here. My first focus was that I wanted to learn Spanish, but I didn’t even look at places in the north like San Sebastian. Long days, that are often sunny and often without rain, are naturally going to make you feel good. With bright blue skies, you can’t complain.

4. It’s small.

Along with the sunny weather, something that is paramount for my mental health is not having to travel on tubes and trains everywhere. Growing up in London, you get so used to its chaos. I’m a highly sensitive person, and I’ve been reminded of certain aspects of this recently – parts of myself that I hadn’t truly taken note of, having not realised the emotion impact. It is absolute bliss to be able to walk everywhere. It’s under five minutes to walk to work, under two to the gym, and the friend that lives furthest from me is only a twenty-minute walk. I’m surrounded by restaurants and shops. Everything I could want is practically on my doorstep. Sadly, it’s impossible to find this situation in London – either too expensive or too difficult to live near work. I know I want to come back to the UK, but moving back in with my parents is a massive compromise on the happiness and independence that I have here.

5. It’s clean.

This point doesn’t need much explaining. It goes along with the beauty, that it needs to be maintained. During the night, the streets are washed down, made fresh and sparkly clean for  the morning.

6. It’s cheap. 

Again, the fact that I can afford an apartment on my own, with a fairly modest wage, right in the centre of the city, is incredible when compared with the UK. I can eat well for less, and eating and drinking out is cheap to, having already mention De Tapas, where you can get a caña for 60 cents, and a small dish for 90 cents. It’s 2.50 for churros con chocolate at Marta’s, and you can get an ice-cream for between 1-3 euros, depending on size. Perfeco!

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These skewers from Mercado Victoria are the best!

7. The food.

So, speaking of food. I had to change this from 5 to 8 things, because I couldn’t leave out the food. I love the typically Spanish dishes such as tortilla and paella, but one of the reasons I love going to De Tapas is that I am surprised by so many new dishes. It’s also very unlike me to enjoy something like that, as I usually order the same things if given a choice, and I don’t tend to fare well with the unexpected. But I like how it forces me to relax and be in a state where I am not in control. It’s also all so delicious.

8. The culture.

It’s a strange thing to feel connected to Spanish culture, but also that it is still something  from which I am an outsider. I love walking through the streets to hear the music play, and recently got to see the most amazing flamenco show. The passion of their voices, the skill in the movement, the rhythm of the music. I want to write more about this, but I almost find it hard to describe. I just know that each day I am making memories, and I will look back on this year as a highlight of my life.

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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #3

It’s been around a month since I last posted, and nearly two since I’ve been in Spain. Has my Spanish improved? Well, if you were to believe the concierge of my building, or my housing agent, the answer would be yes.

Don’t believe them.

The concierge said my Spanish was better after I asked him ‘Que tal?’ (How are you?) and my housing agent said so after I said ‘Vale. Perfecto. Gracias’. (Okay. Perfect. Thank you). I even had to Google Translate her response. This is pretty basic stuff.

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It is also things I already knew. And as much as I do know more new words, stringing a sentence together in real life conversations. I appreciate their enthusiasm, and it’s amazing how much it encourages me to attempt to speak more to them. Despite not knowing all the words to form a sentence. But that’s how you learn, right?

Being both a student and a teacher has really made me see how people in my class must feel when they don’t have the language. And even just responding with a smile on your face to students is so important. It’s not their fault when they lack some of the language.

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Every lesson I feel like crying. It is so frustrating when I don’t know the words to speak, or if I’m not given the time to think about my answer. My lessons are too difficult and fast-paced and I am struggling, but they are also a perk of the job, so I don’t feel like I can say to slow down when other students are able to keep afloat.

At times I feel like I’m drowning, especially recently when I missed some lessons. But I keep going, and try to hold back my frustrated tears. I’m planning to dedicate a chunk of my weekend to studying.

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I have also been regularly using apps to help. The best ones I have been using are Duolingo (obviously) and Spanish Verbs (Brainscape), which using a technique where you rate the confidence of each flashcard. It makes learning verbs fun, because you feel like you are gradually absorbing the words.

It is hard to find the time, but it is possible when you make it a priority. Obviously, other things can take over – work, friends coming to visit, and also wanting to lead a creatively fulfilling life. But as long as it is at the forefront of my mind, if I keep going, I will improve.

Now, I just need to find out about that Friday intercambio…

 

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Late Bloomers

It was recently National Poetry Day, and a feeling waved over me that has been kept at bay since being in Spain. It has been around a month now, and I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. Aside from the usual stresses that come and go, especially when settling into a new place, I have had no doubt that coming here has been the right decision.

Yet, I still feel a pull back to London, something partly a fear of missing out (FOMO), but also more than that. FOMO has become all the more common since the age of social media. This means that I am seeing so many of my peers in poetry do all these amazing things I wish I was going. To be clear, I am pleased for their success, but I feel a gnawing at me that I have never really given myself a chance to truly reach my potential in writing.

I know that with full dedication, I am capable of doing what others are doing, in carving a space in the poetry world where it is possible to make some sort of living from what you love doing. So, I know that I want to return, to give myself that chance to blossom without having to dedicate so many hours to a full-time job. At twenty-eight, I will be doing this much later than anticipated, but I wouldn’t necessarily be where I am now if I had done anything differently up to this point. And, like I said, I’m happy where I am.

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Beautiful Cordoba

The point is, that one of the things that has been infringing on my contentedness is my own habit of comparing myself to others. Especially when others are younger than me. I berate myself for not having that version of success, for not doing what they’re doing. Even when I’m actually doing something completely different, with its own set of goals. I mean, how amazing would it be if, by the end of the year, I could actually speak Spanish. If I could write and perform poems in Spanish. I’m having an experience that may just be for this one year, and so I need to appreciate every moment of it.

I came here to learn Spanish, to make that my priority. I’m going to be having around 8 hours of lessons a week, plus homework, plus living somewhere that I can gradually use it in everyday life. The concierge at my block of flats already told me that I was getting better… after I asked how he was. I’m in the lowest group at A1 level, but I hope that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of Duo Lingo, that I can improve. I’m also obviously working to teach English as a foreign language, and still acquiring a whole lot of skills whilst doing it.

I’m still writing all the usual things – poems, stories, articles… blog posts! Just because I’m not earning money for the writing I’m doing at the moment, doesn’t mean I have to hand back my “writer” badge. So, in the vein of these thoughts, I wrote a poem that I started in the early hours of the morning following National Poetry Day having been busy with things not poetry related. It’s dedicated to all the late bloomers out there. Enjoy.

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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #2

It’s the end of September when I’m writing this (posting later, because I don’t have the Internet currently) and it’s still around 30-degrees outside. I heard that it was the last weekend for outdoor pools to be open. Where’s Tooting Bec Lido when you need one? It will still be warm enough to swim for at least another month, and I love nothing more than swimming in a ice-cold pool on sunny days, with a book and pretending to be on holiday.

I went in search of a pool, and saw a good one on Google Maps, a twenty-minute walk away. However, I got there and it appeared to be closed. I tried another one, but I saw nothing but tennis court. “¿Donde es la piscina?” I asked the man in the office, pointing at the photo on my phone. He ended up speaking in English, and told me that it was closed, and when I asked if they were all closed, he said yes. I wished I had gone the previous weekend, having had the opportunity when someone I had just met was going.

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The closest I came to an outdoor pool.

Instead, after walking over an hour in the heat, a toe starting to blister, I researched a gym I could sign up to. It didn’t have an outdoor pool, but I found one about 2 minutes walk from where I live. If I couldn’t pretend to be on holiday, I could at least challenge myself by trying to get a gym membership and have some exercise that weekend. I used Google Translate to write down some key sentences, and everything I would need to set up a membership.

I rehearsed the first sentence the next morning: “Quiero usar la piscina hoy y estoy interesada en ser membiero.” I didn’t know how accurate it would be, but I memorised that and took the paper with me. I always find that in reality it is much harder to speak even when you do know the words (I once forgot how to say thank you in Portugal when faced with an actual human being). I felt so nervous that I didn’t want to do it. I started to say things to myself to put me off it. Like, I wouldn’t have time to  go the gym, that I wouldn’t be able to afford it because my rent is high and my wage is low, and I prioritise food and a social life. Plus, I bought a yoga mat and have exercise apps, so what more do you need?

However, I need to push myself into these situations if I am ever going to learn. Attending Zumba classes on Saturday mornings may mean that I pick up the language a little bit quicker. And that, aside from the beautiful weather, is why I’m here. So, I did it. I managed to say the sentence I had memorised in about five minutes. I mean, after that we had to use Google Translate on the computer in order to communicate, but I was proud that I at least tried. And when he spoke slowly, I was able to understand quite a lot of what he said. Enough to get a membership and know that it was for 3 months and then after that I could choose what to do. Hopefully in 3 months I’ll speak better Spanish.

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The pool itself was a whole other challenge. Thankfully there was a man who spoke English in the pool. I started by getting in and bumping into a woman who was swimming. I then didn’t know you had to wear a swimming hat, and had to be given one by the staff and pay afterwards. People also wore Croc-type shoes or flip-flops, which I’m really hoping aren’t obligatory because I don’t want them at all. I also managed to get my key stuck in the locker. A woman helped me speak to the staff, although the manager spoke excellent English. I was in a bit of a flap.

I don’t like to generalise, but the people here in Córdoba are very helpful and friendly. Even though the man who helped me in the pool made a lot of inappropriate comments, or “jokes”, which made me feel very uncomfortable, I think that his intentions were good, and I also saw him speak to some others. I guess people here are more direct than I’m used to in England, and for that there are pros and cons.

I’ve not even been here three weeks, and as easy as it would be to stay inside and speak minimal Spanish, I want to keep challenging myself, so this weekend has been a successful one!

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“She used to run a night.”

When I lived in London I was working full-time, commuting about 3 hours a day, and on top of that I would, like clockwork, do something to do with my creative practise. Increasingly, this felt like I was doing more and more admin (such as things to do with running my night, She Grrrowls) and less actual writing.

Some people may think that since I’ve quit my job and moved to Spain to teach English, that I’m no longer pursuing these creative endeavours. Hell, they may have thought it before, since I was working full-time before, and just changed location. The difference is, I guess, at least I was connected to the world of poetry before; in Córdoba this just won’t be the same, and any poetry is likely to be in Spanish.

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However, as Paula Varjack explores in her show, ‘Show Me The Money’, a lot of writers have other means of income. Even if they’re not honest about it. There are many different ways to be a writer and a performer. That said, I’m not planning to stop any of what I’ve been doing. I took a teach and travel break, and now I’m making a change.

Moving to Spain is not something I would have thought about doing seriously until my partner planted the idea of living abroad. I had always wanted to learn Spanish, and it seemed to be a good way to do it. So, after exploring South East Asia, I came here. I also thought that a change of scenery would also be good for my mental health, as well as encouraging me to be more independent.

I couldn’t believe it had been five years since I had been to university, which means five years of living with my parents. That’s why, when I heard the expression “perpetual adolescence”, I thought ‘that’s me!’ At the age of twenty-seven I am now living completely on my own. I’ve already set an oven glove on fire, and cut myself with both a knife, and a pair of scissors.

So, this year I am shifting my priorities. I have decided I want to make a real effort to learn Spanish; that’s my number one priority. However, I have a theory that this focus might help me write more, as it will be what I do with my spare time, for fun. Even my Netflix-time will be a form of studying, and being in South East Asia, I still wrote a lot – both blogs, articles for The Norwich Radical, and poetry.

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I’ve been in my new apartment for just over a week at the time of writing, and without WiFi (which may also be an influence) I have prepared lots of blog posts, written some poetry and completed one short story. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, and I’ve been more in tune with when I need to take breaks.

One of my problems is that I also set myself too many goals. This is why I’m trying to focus on learning Spanish as a focus. I see writing as something that will naturally happen, and beyond trying to schedule some time to do it, it’s not something I need to stress out about. However, I do want to keep some other things ticking along. I still want to write journalism, and I still want to keep She Grrrowls going, albeit in a different form.

I’m planning to start up an online zine, where I will feature poems in print, and hopefully videos, and essays, rants, pictures and so on. This way, I can hopefully keep people in the loop about re-launching the event on my return to the UK. I’m also thinking of taking the event to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, inspired by going the previous year, as well as fellow Kid Glove member, Joel Auterson, taking his and Jake Wildhall’s night ‘Boomerang Club’ there this year.

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I do have a show I want to write (and the idea was Highly Commended by Ideas Tap when I got to the interview stage for the £30,000 fund). But I’m not going to rush the process, especially as I found out from Jack Rooke (another inspiration, with his show ‘Good Grief’) that Soho Theatre have opened up their writing project up to 30-year-olds, and obviously I will be 28 by the time I’m back!

So, the point I’m trying to make, is that I’m not going anywhere (to those people who put thumbs down on my YouTube videos). Obviously, something I need to work on is the fact that I still care what people think…

Anyway, so the plan is to be able to write poems in Spanish… then back to London, where funnily enough, my partner may be moving after all these years of long-distance. Let’s hope he likes it and wants to stay. I will then have enough experience to get some income from teaching English as a foreign language, and run some workshops. I want to apply for funding for She Grrrowls, which I would have to do in June in order to make a swift return after the Fringe! Ideally I can then make my show with Soho Theatre, and generally do more writing, performing and freelance stuff!

So, there you have it. That’s the plan. Working full-time before meant my old five year plan hasn’t really worked out. But as you can probably tell, I’m itching to write a new one, and even more excited about enjoying the process a bit more, trying to be more present in the moment and generally continue living life to the full, through both tears and laughter!

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No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #1

Throughout my life I have felt the influence of my dad being half-Spanish. The food we ate at home was always more Mediterranean than typically British dishes – my parents make fun of me complaining in my late teens that we never ate traditional food, having discovered I loved cottage pie and other such dishes that I hadn’t had in my youth. The only reason we started having Sunday roasts was because of my demands, and even then it comes with a salad.

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Note the salad bowl.

My dad made me aware of our heritage, and told me about discrimination his dad faced in coming to England, as well as his own experiences at school, being called a “half-breed” and so on. We took regular holidays in Spain, but the language was something with which we all struggled. The problem was that my Spanish granddad, or abuelito, left the home when my dad was a child, and had never passed on the language. My Gran can speak Spanish, among many other languages, so it’s unfortunate as she too didn’t pass it on.

At school in London, obviously very multicultural, our varied backgrounds were something to be celebrated; I started writing poems about being Hispanic, and this part of my ancestry became a big part of my identity. My parents tried to complain when they put me on the “French side” of the school, and I wanted to learn Spanish so much that I actually cheated on a test so get put up a set, so that I could study both. I switched to Spanish at GCSE level, but I had an English French teacher, and was in a low-set with constant disruption, not to mention that I also got split up from my friend for talking too much, which was completely unlike my behaviour in other lessons.

I didn’t practise enough, and my confidence was low. I had the option to do the Higher paper, but I worried about the difficulty of the speaking exam, so instead I did the Foundation paper, where the most I could get was a C-grade, which I did. Looking back, I wish I’d taken the Higher paper, and gone on to study at A-level. Because when it comes to language learning, you have to put the effort in, and a language is such a good skill to have.

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Now I’m in Spain, and whilst part of me hoped that I could simply absorb the language, it hasn’t taken me long to realise that if I really want to speak Spanish, it’s going to be hard work. If that is the reason I came here, I need to make it the number one priority and it needs to be what I spend most of my spare time doing. I’ve been looking up online tips for language learning, and I’m going to put them into action, and I can’t wait to get the internet in my apartment as then I can watch lots of Spanish TV and films, or at least have Spanish subtitles on English-language programmes.

Coming to Córdoba without being able to speak the language. On a night out with some other teachers, I joked about how funny it was that I couldn’t speak Spanish, and how I butcher my own name by Anglicising it, exaggerating this. My name, “Carmina” is a derivative of “Carmen”, and you’re meant to roll the r, but obviously, we don’t do that in the UK. My surname, “Masoliver” is also Catalan, and though technically double-barrelled with “Marlow”, I’ve gone through most of my life thinking it was just the former name, which makes it feel really odd when people cut it off and address me as “Ms Marlow”. Being in Spain and not being able to speak Spanish, whilst having the name “Carmina Masoliver” is just frankly embarrassing, and it makes introducing myself pretty painful.

Being here has made me question this part of my identity. In the UK, I have had some experiencing of “Othering”, simply because of my name, but now it feels like maybe I am “Ms Marlow”, rather than “Ms Masoliver”. Like I should be named “Jo” instead of “Carmina” – the name I strangely wrote in some books as a child in the “This book belongs to…” section. Joanne Marlow. How would I feel about this part of my identity if it wasn’t for my name?

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Here, my dark curly hair means nothing. The people here kiss on both cheeks, and although something I have grown up with my paternal side of the family, nothing makes me feel so uncomfortable and foreign. I want so badly to be able to just try to speak, but most experiences start with “No habla Español”. And if they don’t speak English, I have only been able to muster words like “dos días” with hand gestures (I moved here two days ago), and “¿donde es… grande? and pointing at the bin (where is the large bin I put rubbish in?).

So, feeling this way, the only thing I can do is really try my best to learn this year, to immerse myself in the language in every way I can. My biggest obstacle will be my confidence. Even when I know what I’m saying, I speak too quietly and slowly to be understood. For example, I said “Tengo una bolsa” but the person didn’t hear, and instead of getting louder, I got quieter, until I retorted to English. I also live alone, so I will have to try extra hard than those with Spanish flatmates. That said, I’m sure my Gran won’t take much convincing to help me practise with her over Skype! If I can just learn to string a few sentences together beyond “hola” and “gracias”.

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Patience and Dealing with Uncertainty

When I attended CBT, one of the biggest revelations that emerged was that I have great difficulty dealing with uncertainty. This makes me incredibly impatient with myself, and other people. This is exacerbated when there’s a problem. Anxiety affects people differently – some people put things off, but, for me, I feel that I can get rid of that anxious feeling if I can deal with it as soon as possible. To the extent that, even if it is not possible, I will try to make it possible. The same goes for when things don’t go as planned; it’s like forcing a jigsaw piece into the wrong place, and it never does work.

Dealing with uncertainty means you have to accept that something is out of your control. I’m currently undergoing a learning process as to how to actually do this. Accepting we can’t control something does not mean stewing and constantly thinking about whatever it is, and doing things surrounding the matter. What I think it means, is taking a step back, and occupying yourself with something different.

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As I write this I’m currently waiting for a number of balls to get rolling. Or rather, dominos, as they are all linked together. My patience is being tested since moving to Spain. The first test was finding a place to live. In my head, I had about a week, had booked a hostel, and imagined having viewings every day, and simply selecting which one I liked best. I remember it being quite simple at university in Norwich. However, the reality didn’t quite match up to my expectations, which is one of the main points about uncertainty – your mind tries to manage the uncertainty by creating these imaginary scenarios, none of which are really helpful.

I managed to arrange one viewing, but I didn’t know what to say to the agent when I came out. What I learnt from this was how important aesthetics are to my wellbeing, and I tended to much prefer the more modern spaces, with light rooms and bright colours. After finding out that the next day was a public holiday and I couldn’t go to any viewings, I spent the rest of the evening trying to arrange them for the next day.

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¿Habla usted inglés? This was not Norwich, it was Córdoba. I couldn’t speak Spanish, and after a negative answer, I translated a few key sentences through Google for the next attempt. The person on the other end of the phone understood me… but I didn’t understand their answers. Both conversations resulted in them hanging up on me. After just one successful conversation with someone needing to call back because they were driving, I gave up, and they didn’t call back.

I spent the next morning continuing my search online, and then walked around the city with one of the other new teachers. The day after I had the idea of texting instead of calling, as well as getting some help from my place of work. In the end, I managed to find the perfect place through the agent I’d first met. However, when I was unable to get enough money out for that evening’s contract signing, I was upset and frustrated. I wanted to do it immediately, but it was impossible. I was up late that night on the phone to Barclays to try to retrieve the PIN for a card I didn’t usually use, to make sure I would have the whole amount needed the next day. This was a waste of time, as I then easily got my mum to find it for me at home.

So I was able to get the money the next morning and moved in that afternoon. Having a base now is helping with the next set of challenges. I still have to wait for an NIE number, which I need to be able to open a bank account, which I need to be able to set up the Internet. I also need to wait for my timetable before I can really start looking at course books or planning any lessons. I have no choice but to wait. Obviously, my impatience isn’t solved overnight. However, I’m trying to make the most of the free time I will be wishing I had in a week’s time, especially currently being without the distraction of Wi-Fi.

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I have done a lot of walking, and a lot of shopping for things I needed in my flat, as well as a lengthy exploration of supermarket shelves. But I have also written a short story, a poem, and a couple of articles. I have played Adventure Time Card Wars, and completed puzzles in a puzzle book. I have been reading books, magazines, and my Spanish phrase book. I have even meditated. I tried watching TV, but my Spanish isn’t up to that level. And lastly, I’ve been cooking again, which I haven’t done on a regular basis since university (and I graduated in 2011).

So far, I’ve been distracting myself from thinking about my fear of everything I’m uncertain about, and it’s been working. It also helps to reflect back on what I learnt from the previous few months travelling and working in Vietnam. I’ll being working mornings and evenings, with a big break in the afternoon. In Vietnam, like many language schools, it was similar deal. What I learnt was actually how adaptable I am, so knowing this about myself now has challenged preconceived notions of myself, and also means I can reassure myself that I will find my routine, but that there is no rush to do so. Meanwhile, I’ll try to enjoy a slower pace, and ease myself into what is a big change in terms of both job and country.

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