Artwork and Words by Kate Towsey
Artwork and Words by Kate Towsey
Last summer was supposed to be my summer of healing. Recovering from the last of a chronic illness that had plagued the majority of my first year, my overwhelming feeling was gratitude. I felt lucky because I was, for all intents and purposes, ‘cured’. It wasn’t until this summer that I realised what it feels like to actually heal.
Taking things day by day, I didn’t realise that I had spent the best part of 2018 living cautiously, half enjoying things, either preoccupied by pain or worried that I was over exerting myself. Even though by the time summer came the worst of this had gone, a part of my vivacity had gone with it. I felt lost – not having completed my exams, spending so much time at home alone, missing out on events with friends. Even though my pain and illness had gone away, it had taken a part of me with it. The result was a summer of feeling lost, anxious about going back to Cambridge and being behind, feeling like a disappointment for not Making The Most Of My Summer, withdrawing myself from friends and feeling guilty for even feeling these feelings in the first place.
This summer I healed when I didn’t know I needed to. I felt myself collecting up all the parts of myself that I didn’t realise had been sucked out of me. I’ve spent this summer between two cities that could not be more different, Delhi and Boston; Delhi for six glorious weeks working for a women’s trade union, and four weeks in Harvard on an exchange program. Both cities pieced me back together in their own ways.
You gave me back my love.
You reminded me of the importance of platonic love, how wonderful my friends are, and how they never went anywhere, even when I did. You gave me new friends, some fleeting, some firm. You reminded me that being surrounded by the right people can turn the worst situations into the best stories.
You reinvigorated my love for women. You blessed me with the oasis of Women Only carriages on the metro and working in an office every day where the only male presence was the man who brought the tea. You surrounded me with the whole spectrum of womanhood; women who were CEOs, matriarchs, street vendors; ninety year old farmers who were fitter than me, and young girls deciding what kind of footprint they wanted to leave on the world. You reminded me that, as a woman in most places, it is often the case that to exist is to resist, and existing can be fucking exhausting.
You reminded me of my passion for the causes I believe in. Giving me the time and space to read, to learn from people I was surrounded with and the work that I was doing, you reignited a love that had been dulled by a bubble of self indulgent privilege.
I was afraid to visit you, far more than I was to visit Delhi, but you gave me back my courage.
You gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and meet new people, and the courage to not try and be someone that I’m not, regardless of whether it might be the easier option.
You gave me the courage to take up space. You reminded me that my opinion is valid and my voice matters, even (and especially) in an institution where it might be an unpopular one. You emboldened me to push back; whether it be against casual racialised remarks designed to make me feel small, or a white lecturer airbrushing history.
I was anxious to write this. I didn’t know where to start because I hadn’t spent my summer thinking about how everything I was doing was Making Me Feel and What Lessons I Was Learning. But sitting down to write this the first thing I mindlessly noted down was “feeling happy”. I have felt happy, and I have felt like me again, and that is enough.
Two years ago I had the worst summer of my life.
I was suffering from the most intense wave of anxiety I’d ever experienced and it was making it difficult to leave the house for long periods of time. One of the things that helped a lot was swimming.
Swimming didn’t cure my anxiety, that’s an ongoing process which has evolved as I’ve gotten older, but it helped me to gain a sense of control over a body that I felt disconnected from. Like a moving meditation, I used to repeat mantras to myself with each stroke to block out the thoughts and feelings which threatened to overwhelm me.
I heard the voice of my childhood swimming teacher:
Pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide, pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide
I replaced it with the words I needed to hear:
I am alive, I am alive, I-am-alive, I-am-alive
I am ok, I am ok, I-am-ok, I-am-ok
This will end, this will end, this-will-end, this-will-end
I spent the last two summers in Berlin where I was working for my year abroad. I lived in a suburb in the south west, an easy train ride away from large lakes perfect for swimming. I took every opportunity to go, alone or with friends, to feel the cold water and the rhythm of a good swim.
When I moved last summer, I needed that calming feeling again. I needed to feel a sense of control after it felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under my entire life. People talk about how a year abroad is fun and life changing, but they forget it’s also terrifying and settling can take a long time. Swimming gave me the feeling, if only temporarily, that everything was normal again. For a few minutes I could be back at the pool with my mum, thinking about the coffees we were going to have when we got out. Or I could be nowhere at all, zoned out and trying desperately not to think about anything at all.
This summer I’ve been back to the lakes more times than I can count. I waited all spring for the water to melt and for the temperature to rise enough to make swimming bearable. I am able to swim now just because I love it, rather than to escape my reality.
The lakes surrounding Berlin are deep, formed by glaciers, and as I swim out to the middle I like to think about the massive expanse which has opened up below me. I am floating above a chasm which I will never see the bottom of, made by something so huge and ancient. I sometimes find it hard to see what people find so interesting about pots and vases in museums, but when I am in the middle of the lake, I feel a deep sense of connection to the past. I imagine it is the same feeling they get when they look at objects made by humans long ago. I know that I am just a tiny slice of this lake’s history. I am a passer-by.
I am not a particularly good swimmer, but I love to swim, especially outside. There is something deeply satisfying about the feeling of pushing off into water. It feels like breathing out. There is nothing like the weightless glide and cold shiver of the first dive. I’ve been swimming so long that my movements are automatic and I can let my body take over. For the most part, all that runs through my head is the steady rhythm, pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide. It is time to myself and to look after my body.
Looking towards the coming year, I want to keep prioritising looking after myself. This year away from Cambridge has been great for my mental health as I’ve taken more time for self-care and self-reflection. I want to keep my focus on my well-being and remember that personal success is more important than academic success. And of course, I’m planning to keep swimming when I can. Because at my worst I still need reminding: I am alive, I am ok, and this will end.
Image credit: pics_by_nics
It’s late August. The shops are crammed with ‘back to school’ regalia; school jumpers in every imaginable colour, fluorescent highlighters, sensible shoes. But, for the first year since I was 4, I will not be joining the hordes returning to education. Slightly terrifyingly, I won’t be going into anything at all.
At the start of the year I considered this to be the worst possible outcome: to have nothing secured. As an addictive planner I had applied for countless jobs (with an equal number of rejections), desperate to have something confirmed for the following September. Not to do so, I thought, would somehow be a failure.
Instead, like so many millennials, I have moved back home with my parents. Swapping the stress and excitement of university life for the bumbling countryside and mundane summer jobs seems jarring. This post-university nothingness feels like a directionless blur, something I have somewhat dramatically begun to refer to as the abyss.
I realise I am in a privileged position, with parents who are willing and able to allow me to move home for a while. For this, I am grateful. But, with the prevalence of Instagram compare-culture, it’s sometimes hard for other people’s exciting lives not to make you feel inadequate.
Many seem to be in the same position, however. A recent article in The Times reported that a quarter of those aged 20 to 34 were living at home last year. Only a handful of my peers have dream jobs and apartments secured. Most are similarly taking time off to figure out what they want to do. When discussing this phenomenon with a friend, she commented on how we’ve been driven for so long that to take some time off to relax, re-evaluate and have fun seemed an alien concept.
Slowly, however, I’m beginning to the realise that real life doesn’t operate from September to September. That it’s ok to take time off to reset and rethink. That it’s fine not to have a plan, whatever well-meaning older relatives may say to the contrary. That perhaps the abyss isn’t something to be feared but celebrated and enjoyed. To have time to read books for enjoyment rather than for essays, to exercise, to see friends, to explore the world, all without the pressure of the imminent return to a desk, a freedom I might never have again.
Success is not instant nor does it necessarily result in happiness. In fact, I’ve come to realise the times when I’ve been happiest had little to do with success at all. So instead of planning my next career move, I’m jumping on a long-haul flight with two of my best friends in the whole world. And, after that, who knows? For once the addictive planner has no plan. I’m trying to see this as liberating rather than terrifying. Wish me luck…
Cover photo source: author’s own photo.
This summer sees the introduction of a new podcast by Grace and Alistair Campbell (yes, that one), a father and daughter pair that is funnier than it should be. Alistair is a politician, best known for being Blair’s ‘spin doctor’; Grace is a feminist activist and comedian. Each week, they invite a guest to discuss ‘football, feminism and everything in between’, and while they always begin on either football or feminism, the conversation frequently veers off into the ‘in between’ category. Part of the strength of this podcast is how different each of the guests are from one another: some notable ones include Ed Miliband, Ebony Rainford-Brent and Rachel Riley. The guests come from a variety of backgrounds, so their views and experiences of football and feminism are rarely the same. When the topic shifts, it can be to anything from private schools to whether politics is the best way to change the world.
Grace and Alistair make for a quick-witted and intelligent pair of interviewers: unafraid to openly criticise one another, their interactions are always lively and they bounce off each other with ease. As explained in the introduction, football is Alistair’s passion, feminism is Grace’s passion, and this podcast aims to integrate these two topics. As a staunch feminist and lukewarm football fan, I was at first skeptical as to how much I would be able to understand and enjoy the conversations about football. What has surprised me is that, although of course there is some discourse about the various managers of football teams through the years, football tends to open up into broader conversations about how to connect with the people important to you in your life, and how football is an extremely effective way to do this.
Rachel Riley is a good footballer in her own right, having played for her university team. However, her introduction to it stemmed from a reason other than a love of the sport: ‘it was the way I interacted with my father’, she explains. Multiple guests have brought up the fact that they become invested when England is playing, but they would otherwise not be termed a football fan. This revelation in particular is brought up near the beginning of each episode, where the Campbells ask their guest to rate how much of a football fan they are, and then how much of a feminist they are, from 1 to 10. Their answers are hardly ever straightforward, and lead onto the nuances of being a feminist and the different levels of football fan.
In a similar way, conversations that begin with feminism tend to open up into broader discussions about the difficulties these people have faced in their lifetime, and how they managed to overcome them and become successful. Especially relevant is the interview with Gabby Logan, the ex-gymnast who presented the BBC showing of the Women’s World Cup. Having been a sportswoman as well has having a footballer father and a rugby player husband, Logan represents the perfect overlap between the two main focuses of this podcast and contributes to probably one of the best episodes in the series so far. Logan, upon being questioned over the criticisms surrounding the USA women’s team’s celebration in their 13-0 win against Thailand, offers this response: ‘they beat the record after 11 goals – they became the biggest scoring [team]. Can you imagine if England’s men last summer stopped celebrating against Panama (which was the most one-sided game I’ve ever seen)? They wouldn’t have stopped celebrating. There’s a double standard with almost everything in women’s football… it’s like everything has to be justified: the crowds, the goals…’. Having had a wealth of experience in both men’s and women’s football, she is well-placed to make these comparisons; prior to this analysis, she gives a short history of women’s football in Britain, and her ultimate message is that things are improving: ‘watching the opening ceremony I was thinking ‘wow, this World Cup feels different already’ – in the crowds there were men, women, families – because of course this is important, there is no point having women’s football being watched only by women … it is a game-changer.’
The reason why this podcast is so enjoyable is because it is not restricted to a particular area of interest. The lack of structure allows the insights and reflections of the hosts and guests to shine through, whether they are discussing feminism in politics or how to deal with grief. Given the distinct differences between the life experiences of the guests, this means that each episode leads down a different path, the specific topics of football and feminism never being a barrier to getting the guests to talk about – well, basically anything. The podcast ends with the question of how best to make meaningful change in the world, where each guest is asked what their six-a-side team to change the world is. This feature reveals a lot about the person: some choose writers and artists, believing that culture is the best way to shift people’s perspectives; others choose motivational speakers and politicians, with the aim of altering policy. In any case, this podcast makes you laugh and also think about the dynamics and relationship of football and feminism.
Cover art source: audioboom.com
I have been attending male football matches for years, but only recently have begun to watch women’s football. Does this make me a bad feminist? Perhaps – but I would hope my newfound enthusiasm for the women’s sport rectifies my past ignorance. And I do not appear alone in showing such enthusiasm. My conversion to women’s football reflects a growing trend, with rising TV ratings and match attendances. Indeed, 11.7 million people watched England lose to the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-final in early July – the most-watched TV event of the year.
That semi-final also served as my full introduction to the US Women’s Team. Of course, I had seen a few of their earlier matches and caught the headlines centred around Rapinoe’s attacks on President Trump. However, as I followed the American women’s progression into the final, I was struck by the sheer volume and pride in their queer representation.
On July 7th in Lyon, as the crowd cheered the United States’ win in the Women’s Football World Cup, Kelly O’Hara ran over to kiss her girlfriend. Behind her, engaged teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger celebrated, as did co-captain Megan Rapinoe, and head coach Jill Ellis. Whilst O’Hara had never publicly commented on her sexuality, all of these other women were publicly and unashamedly gay. O’Hara, meanwhile, felt comfortable enough to out herself on live, international television.
This victory snapshot illustrates one of the core aspects of women’s football that has made me such a fan: its unabashed inclusiveness. This is something that the women’s game appears to have taken on and celebrated – highlighted by the official Twitter account for the US Women’s National Team’s tongue-in-cheek re-tweet of Rapinoe’s quote, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before. Ever. That’s science right there,” with the caption “Told ya”, following their World Cup victory.
This tweet was no attempt to play down some of the players’ queer identity to make them more palatable to a wider audience, or to attract greater sponsorships. No – it was a bald statement of the inclusive, vocal identity the team has taken on, spear-headed by Rapinoe. After all, this is also a team who sued the US Soccer Federation for equal pay with the men’s side – leading to chants ringing out following their win of “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!” – and used their World Cup victory parade to reiterate their demands. Rapinoe was also the first white athlete to kneel for the American National Anthem, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and during the course of the World Cup, attracted criticism for refusing to put her hand on her heart for the anthem.
Contrast this to men’s football. Political causes are rarely part of its discourse, and queerness is largely seen only in the context of homophobic chants and jeers. The fact that so few male players have ever publicly come out as gay is testament to the fact that men’s football simply is not a safe space for it. It was not twenty years ago, when Justin Fashanu, the first professional footballer to be openly gay, killed himself in 1998, and it is still not today. This is not to say that no efforts have been made – the Premier League did partner with Stonewall for the Rainbow Laces campaign with the aim of tackling homophobia in sport – but inclusiveness appears largely as a top-down policy, orchestrated by governing bodies, whereas the US Women’s Team demonstrated a more grass-roots approach.
However, inclusivity in women’s football goes beyond the US team. In many senses, women’s football feels like a more radical space than the men’s sport. Indeed, the existence and success of the sport itself is a challenge to football’s traditionally masculine association and assumptions, if not yet its inherent power structures. Following on from this, the queer representation at all levels of the women’s sport helps support a wider shift in how society accepts queer women. These women are strong athletes, great commentators, and masterful tacticians, not merely a punch-line in a joke, or reduced to a category on Pornhub.
This inclusive politics does not take away from the football itself – instead, it adds to it. I am able to invest far more in teams I identify with, who have players I follow off of the pitch. The support that the US team has garnered is merely an example of this phenomenon. Football has never just been about the pure, unsullied game on the pitch – pub disputes over penalties given, the buying of your team’s scarf, player transfer speculation and the chants sung during the match all serve to make the game so popular, and so integral to many people’s daily lives. For me, queer representation in the sport is an extension of this.
For too long, my sexuality has led to a feeling of otherness, of uncertainty and, predominantly, simply not feeling safe, when combined with my love for football. However, the more inclusive politics of the women’s game, introduced to me through the US Women’s Team at this World Cup, has opened the door to new possibilities for me. Rapinoe’s kick of the ball was not a magic solution to the problem of homophobia and discrimination in sport, but the success of the World Cup did give me, and others like me, a sense of hope and validation. It was, in many ways, a lifeline; I am allowed to love both football and women, and the Women’s World Cup was a glorious space to come to terms with this.
Cover image source: the author’s own artwork.
In case our readers don’t have/follow us on Instagram, could you please give a little introduction of who you are and what you’re up to at the minute?
Hi, I’m Issy and I’m a postgraduate student studying for a PGCE at Cambridge. I love being creative and try to draw as frequently as possible in my spare time. I’ve been embroidering sporadically for about a year- I started embroidering on shirts originally (an avocado was the first thing I embroidered) and well, it grew from there! Following the series of comments that embroidery is an ‘old lady’s hobby’, I’ve been trying to ‘get with the times’ and have recently started experimenting with digital mediums and sharing my work on social media.
How would you describe your art?
I would describe my art as quite abstract and simplistic- it’s just a series of lines really!
What drives you to create? What or who inspires you?
Aside from other feminist artists and line drawings that I like, I’m also heavily inspired by female experience. Being surrounded by amazingly empowered, educated women; at uni and in life, I wanted to find a way to convey and solidify the beauty & power of female strength, form and experience through art. Creativity and art are also a way that I can switch off, so I’m driven by my own sanity as well!
Do you have a few stellar Instagram accounts you would recommend?
YES- so many! In this day and age (I sound like an old lady again), Instagram is such a good platform for sharing art with the world! From an artistic perspective, there are a series of illustration accounts that I love: @arewenearlybareyet is a great one- the simple colours are beautiful, @gemmacorrell is fantastic for aspiring adults and the reality of day-to-day life. From an embroidery perspective: @ohmygollyembroidery is brilliant and very creative, and from a general life point of view, @danschawbel is stellar; very inspirational.
Do you feel your art has a trajectory and do you think it needs one?
No, I don’t really feel my art has a trajectory- I fear that having a rigid ‘trajectory’ could put a bit of a dampener on my creativity; the need to create something within a time frame would be quite stifling I think, so I just work as and when I have time or want to. At the moment I’m just trying to develop my own personal style and way of working.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given to do with your art?
The best piece of advice that I was given was by my friend Alex and it was that: “nothing else matters” when art is involved. Other people’s expectations and personal insecurities should go out the window and I should just focus on the moment and what I’m doing. A beautifully profound comment really.
Make sure to follow Issy’s art account on Instagram @by_issy_
I was so fortunate to have Harriet Lamb onto my Camfm radio show. An international development stalwart and Cosmopolitan’s 2008 Eco-Queen, Harriet’s career spans decades of working in organisations such as the World Development Movement (WDM) and as CEO of Fairtrade UK and now International Alert. During the show we spoke about her varied experiences in this field, including protests and more organisational work, as well as observations and advice she would give to a woman hoping to go into international development today. Read on to see what this amazing woman had to say on these topics.
Tell us a bit about your degree in Cambridge.
When I first came to Cambridge (Trinity Hall) I read English because I wasn’t aware of all the different options there were. I was good at English and loved it – among other things, it helps you think about words and how you present them. However, I became more interested in politics and switched to HSPS – this was a gift of being in Cambridge as I was lucky to be able to switch. Then I was able to begin work on the love of my life: politics and social activism.
Were you always interested in world affairs?
As a child I spent 3 years in Maharashtra in central India because of my father’s job, thus I was exposed to and always knew about terrible poverty. Yet I also learnt from that age that though imperial history has kept them poor, countries like India are also more than capable of tackling poverty themselves. I then went back to India when I was 18 to teach English, and began thinking more about these issues. After Cambridge, I went back again for 2 years and lived in villages and worked with small NGOS. Then when I went on to work for Fairtrade I had seen what it is actually like to work for a Co-op and take on big forces. That experience always kept me grounded.
How did you envision and start your career?
I’ve never had a grand plan – I’ve taken opportunities when they’ve come and so far it’s worked out really luckily for me. I struggled in my final year of Cambridge, wondering if I wanted to go down the G&T or brown rice route. I chose brown rice! After India, I did an MPhil in development studies in Brighton at Sussex University. This gave an intellectual framing to what I’d learnt first hand. I then decided I didn’t want to work oversees, but back in Britain as we also had to sort out our own problems.
I worked first on low pay – campaigning in those days for a national minimum wage. This taught me that what some think is impossible and everyone thinks will be an economic catastrophe can and does work! Economists say all kinds of things are impossible, but you actually can introduce them.
I then worked with refugees in the North of England from Palestine, Ethiopia and then for the World Development Movement, which focuses on how England works with developing countries, particularly in cancel the debt and arms sales. For example, we wanted to highlight the financing of fighter jets of Britain to Indonesia, which was using them to bomb people in East Timor who were fighting for independence. I’ll tell you about a protest we did: we actually bought a share in Midland Bank so we could attend an AGM in the city (I still have my £1 share) then drove a hired tank through the city of London (having told the press) and went to the AGM, put up our hands and asked why they were financing the sales of these fighter jets. I did wonder if I was going to get arrested… But actually it was fine!
Did anything happen – did they change their policy?
Not immediately, but we were trying to put the spotlight on them. I’ve always believed in campaigning – sometimes you are lucky and have short-term wins, but more often that not you aim to shift the ground. Then these companies learn that there is a risk of protest and the risk factor is taken into account more and more so the next time they will think harder about it.
When campaigning you are up against enormous forces – look at Britain selling weapons to Saudis who are bombing Yemen and then we send aid to Yemen. What you come up against all the time is that people are mainly preoccupied with making profit, leading to ever-increasing inequality. You hope logic is what they will answer to, but it comes down to money and short-term profits. For example, Fairtrade is more expensive, but in the long run it helps the company position themselves as attractive and ethical. So you need to convince companies and corporations to put long term profits above short term. It is the same argument for divestment! If the university wants to situate itself in the future it has to think about divestment! It has to show that it is ready to take the high-ground and be a leader.
How did you pick the areas of international development you wanted to work in? You did so much!
While working for WDM I thought: what are the structural things that keep countries oppressed? Arms, aid and trade. Given the power of multinationals and the impact they have on trade, we then started pushing for a general code of conduct, which the world still doesn’t have. For an example we looked at bananas and campaigned against the use of agrochemicals and the suppression of trade unions in Latin America. We dumped a tonne of banana skins in front of Del Monte HQ in Kent to protest. I then got hooked on bananas! They are a symbol of so much that is wrong with how international trade works. How can we create a bubble where we show that you can do it differently? Bananas and Fairtrade.
You’ve done such a mixture of large-scale organising and protest and activism!
I did more protest at that time and then worked for Fairtrade for 15 years, which was about always creating a positive solution to show it could be different. The power of the positive alternative is so important.
Can you tell us about your experience of being a woman in international development – did you see equal opportunities?
It is a sector that seems to attract a lot of women. But then you look at leaders and they are very often men! This is because of sexism, but also women leave to have children. Though it is much better now than it was in my day, there is still not enough support for women or available and affordable childcare. Many employers don’t make juggling easy. I have been lucky with employers who let me work part-time after my second child. It’s great working part time at 3 or 4 days a week. I lived and worked in Germany and there part-time was much more normal: people work in the office and then are creative and help their family or community. You can still succeed with part-time! I also did a job share once and I think the organisation benefited hugely as it had 2 brains instead of 1.
Do you think women will only find equality when society becomes less fast-paced and focused on productivity?
I actually found that women and people who worked part time were more productive! They know they have to get things done. Why are we so obsessed with a 5-day working week? Why not 4 and get more people into work? We have such a fear of a societal re-structuring. And now, although we have more economic growth, people’s leisure time has decreased, and with phones and laptops you can be expected to work all the time…Yet there are more and more opportunities for women. It is incredible how much has changed, if you think that just before I came to Trinity Hall it was all men!
Do you think we are losing focus on Fairtrade and workers’ rights?
We should not have to pick between Fairtrade and organic and vegan. We underestimate how much companies listen to what customers want: we can ask them to produce their products ethically and must never feel shy to do so and reward those who do the right thing and congratulate them.
We should also push on the fashion industry. We did struggle with Fairtrade cotton as the fashion industry is so fast paced – it is very hard to get them to respond. But how can you be paying the workers well if you are only paying £10 for a pair of jeans?
Though it does take a long time to push for social change, we can see how so much change can be achieved! Look at veganism: 10 years ago you wouldn’t be able to get a vegan meal so easily!
Tell us about the organisation you are CEO of now, International Alert.
I’ve always felt that the three big issues are poverty, conflict and climate change. The three are interconnected – conflict keeps people poor and climate is the exacerbating factor. We work with communities to bring people together across different sides of conflict, for example refugees from the Syrian civil war: when you meet other people you immediately find that there is more that connects than divides you. When they first enter the room everyone blames everyone, but by the end they are working together for social activism, etc. However, it needs to be taken to a whole other scale – conflict is rising and yet there is no proper adequate response to it. Strangely there isn’t a peace movement the way there was in earlier times. What can we do to raise awareness and what can we all do to help build peace? With Fairtrade we landed on something that everyone could do, but we haven’t found that with peace-keeping. You can email your MP and Jeremy Hunt etc. But we all must help to build a society of love and compassion against the competitiveness and aggression. Respect others and slow down.
Do you have any advice for students hoping to go into international development?
It is annoying, but the best way is to start working as a volunteer for organisations. I spent many a happy hour stuffing envelopes!
I also always believe that you must keep a work-life balance – keep work in perspective and have fun at it! You should enjoy it. If you do you keep up your stamina.
Any final thoughts and reflections?
What is that vision we want of internationalism in the future? How can we build a future that tackles inequality? At the moment we are hearing and seeing the voices of anger, but we need to put forward another vision of a more fair and peaceful world.
I hope you enjoyed reading Harriet’s thoughts on life in international development. If you would like to hear the whole interview please email us and we can send it to you.
Also, for more information on the Fashion Industry and its effect on the environment, I really recommend you watch The True Cost: https://truecostmovie.com/
Thank you and let us know if you would like to write a Grad Talk of your own with a graduate you admire.
To me, Elizabeth Day was an obvious choice for someone to interview for Grad Talk. For those of you yet to discover her she is a best selling author and journalist currently writing a weekly column for the You magazine in the Mail on Sunday and is the host of the very popular “How to fail” podcast. She is releasing a book of the same name “part memoir, part manifesto”, all about learning from our mistakes, that comes out very shortly.
Before all of this success she graduated from Queens College Cambridge with a double first in History. At the end of Lent term, on International Women’s Day no less, I was lucky enough to chat to Elizabeth over the phone and ask her a few questions on life after Cambridge and how she felt her time here prepared her for the real world. Although we veered off track slightly during our conversation, I managed to ask a few of the questions I prepared so I hope you enjoy reading Elizabeth’s answers and hearing her advice.
B: When you were at University were you still able to enjoy writing and use it as a creative outlet or did you ever become bored of it?
E: I’ve never in my life been bored of writing, which is a really lovely thing given that’s how I make my living. It’s interesting, because I didn’t actually do that much creative writing but I did an enormous amount of journalism; I was a section editor on Varsity, I edited my college magazine (a satirical magazine) and I was the JCR communications officer that involved doing a quarterly newsletter. I did try to write a really terrible play, which quite rightly got absolutely nowhere.
Elizabeth remarked that she didn’t write novels because in her head it felt like a “craft and a skill that I had to learn” and she didn’t feel ready to do so. This led us to discuss how odd it is that writing is best learnt by doing, yet so often people are too scared to start. Elizabeth believes “ 95% of people have a novel in them, but very few people can sit down and write it”. One of her tips for novel writing is “the most important thing is getting words on a page” and that it can always be edited!
B: Did you feel the pressure of perfectionism when at University?
E: I massively felt it. I did come from an all Girls school and the cult of perfectionism was very strong there as well. I was an internal perfectionist: I felt I got rewarded when I got good grades and that became a sort of inner loop in my head. But I also think Cambridge is an incredibly stimulating environment in the right way because there are so many people thinking in different ways and you are actually encouraged to think differently so I found it a bit of release after school, being stuck so rigidly to a curriculum. Where I found it really difficult was revision, it was like an arms race for revision hours. It becomes its own hot house!
Elizabeth went on to say she felt 4 hours of revision a day was the optimum for her. This was hugely reassuring to hear after having seen people trapped in the library for so much of last year’s Easter term and dreading the prospect of it. It also just reminded me that we all learn in different ways so trying to compare ourselves is pointless.
B: Perhaps because everyone here has hyper-achieved, they need to find another level of competition?
E: Yes and I realised quite quickly that I couldn’t do everything whereas at school I did lots of different extra curriculars. So I focused on the thing I really loved which was writing. If people are brilliant at everything across the board there is a danger that they then get a bit lost in adult life because in adult life the reality is you can’t be good at everything all the time!
(We then bonded over the fact that we both play the trumpet and noted the lack of female trumpet players so I just wanted to flag it up as a plea for more women to learn brass!)
E: Something I would give as a piece of advice, is sometimes at Cambridge it felt as if I was not one of the best and brightest of my generation but actually life is reassuringly long and it might just be you are not in that patch of life where you are at your most fulfilled and that will come to you in your 20’s or 30’s or 40’s!
B: When you had just graduated from University did you experience that limbo as so many graduates do?
E: I was approaching that sense of limbo in my final term of second year. [After graduation] I thought to myself I would do a postgrad journalism training course or go onto work in the local paper but then a friend dragged me to a careers fair. The first man I saw was the deputy editor of the Londoner’s diary on the Evening Standard and it was completely random that he was there. He said to come in for some work experience so I went in for a week in summer, by the end of [it] I had a full time job there. I couldn’t believe it. I went straight into that job after graduating and I knew how lucky I was. The reason I can relate to the feeling of limbo is that Max Hastings, the editor who had given me the job, left a few months after I had arrived and it went through quite a chaotic time. I started to feel like I was stagnating slightly and I didn’t know how to get on to the next thing and I found that a really tricky period of my life. Similarly I felt like everyone else had it sorted, but they didn’t. It was just the impression I was torturing myself with. The great thing about being at that stage of life is you can take gambles, because you don’t have dependence. So I was able to leave that job on the idea of getting something else.
Another piece of advice from Elizabeth concerning journalism is that you can genuinely learn on the job, so to go for it.
B: I wanted to ask how has writing “How to fail” compared to writing novels and your work as a journalist?
E: I’ve always dreamt of being a novelist [but] I’ve loved writing How To Fail in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I think the reasons are twofold; one is that I’ve now been a journalist for 18 years and there is a confidence that comes from just having done something a lot and with this particular book I was surprised to find that I had so much I wanted to say and it came to me quite naturally. I loved the process. [In journalism] there is always a word count and an editor who wants a certain thing from me. With How to Fail I could write it exactly how I wanted it to be and I found it so liberating. With a novel you have to invent an entire world, but with How To Fail the groundwork was already there because it was my lived experience. The other thing, a practical thing, [with a tight deadline] I went to LA for a month, said no to all other journalism and wrote everyday in the sunshine and it was such a happy period of my life, getting this stuff of my chest and a tan at the same time…
B: As it’s International Women’s day and this is for Girl Talk, I wondered what your experiences have been of gender discrimination in Publishing and Journalism?
E: Publishing is incredibly female dominated and I love it and I work with amazing, strong and extremely kind and clever women. It has been a joy from beginning to end. I’ve had the same editor for every single book, she’s called Helen and she is amazing and the way she expresses herself is so respectful towards me and my writing which is not the case with journalism. The only place [sexism] has made itself felt is in the jacket choice for book covers and historically a lot of female authors have been marketed a certain way. A man would write about family and it would be called ‘a state of the nation novel’ and a woman would do it and it would be called a ‘domestic drama’.
In terms of Journalism, I would have said the same thing until the #metoo movement. I had gone into journalism at the stage where I still felt very grateful for being allowed into this predominantly male space, I didn’t feel I deserved to be there. I was constantly saying yes to things. I now realize I should have been questioning the entire system and not afraid to claim my own space. A lot of things I was asked to write about were “Women’s interests” as it was at the time when editors were desperate to get more women reading papers. It’s been wonderful to see how journalism has adapted and become so much less binary and I honestly think it’s because of a generation of younger women who are calling it out. I needed that to happen to understand my own history.
B: Finally, what are the three most valuable takeaways from your Uni experience (and life in general) and what advice would you give to people at Cambridge now?
E: The first advice I would give is know there is more than one way of looking at something. You might think that something has happened that is really bad and you’re failing at, but I promise you that there is another way of looking at it which makes those difficult moments into opportunities.
My second piece of advice is don’t feel you have to do everything at Cambridge. It is completely fine just to do your degree. You are enough doing that. You don’t have to be everything to everyone or do everything at once.
And my third piece of advice, I was about to say something that made me sound 85… but appreciate the extraordinary opportunity you have being at Cambridge and try and stop yourself at various moments and breathe it in.
B: Thank you so much! It’s been so lovely to talk to you.
E: Pleasure, thank you for thinking of me!
I immensely enjoyed chatting to Elizabeth and am so grateful to her for giving up her time to do so. A particularly lovely thing about our conversation was that she continually expressed how grateful she was for her time at Cambridge for the friends she made there and the opportunities it provided. So much so that she pays tribute to Cambridge in her novels with little “winks” to people and as a mark of appreciation to it.
So often we talk about our university lives with a negative rhetoric so hearing someone looking back with such fond memories was a well-needed reminder to truly embrace the wonders it has to offer.
She did not in anyway ask me to promote it but for your own enjoyment I hugely recommend that you pre-order her book How to Fail and have a listen to the podcast to help keep you keep grounded over Easter term!
Link to Pre-order: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008327323/how-to-fail/
Cambridge Girl Talk committee
As a committee, we have become accustomed to taking some time to write some short contemplations at the end of each term, thinking about how we feel at the end of Cambridge and what we have noticed and learnt.
Already term feels like a million miles away from me as I sit at home surrounded by all things familiar. Going home is always an odd experience as whilst I feel completely comfortable and safe, it’s not as easy to slot into life as it once was. I’ve found it tricky being surrounded by people all of the time, learning to share my time with others and I can feel myself craving my independence again while simultaneously dreading the reality of next term full of revision and exams. Now I’ve been back for a little while, I’ve figured out a couple of ways to establish some of my own space and thought I’d share something that’s really making a difference for me.
As a challenge for lent I’ve taken up doing yoga everyday and yes I know it’s a bit cliché but it’s allowed me to have some time completely to myself each day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. I’ve not been that strict with it as I feel that defeats the purpose, but instead am actively making an effort to find time for it as much as possible. It’s keeping me grounded and is something I can continue to do in term to try and make that tricky transition more seamless. If you would like to join me I would hugely recommend Cat Meffan’s youtube videos. I’ve been following her #yoganuary series and its fab, alternatively just you can just flow to your own rhythm, Namaste!
Looking back on the last few months, I am filled with so much warmth and gratitude. Among other things, I celebrated my 21st birthday, joined by friends visiting from Dublin and some amazing Cambridge people. Moments, days and weekends like these reinforce again and again just how important friends are and the love and loyalty they bring to life. After a difficult Michaelmas term, I made an effort to go out less and relax more, enjoying theatre and films, as well as all of the amazing art and beauty in Cambridge. Being an MML student, I will be leaving this city and my friends in September for a year – it will be sad as well as exciting, but taking time to appreciate Cambridge and all it has to offer this term has helped to prepare for the goodbyes.
Adjusting to home life has been somewhat more trying this time, and I think it is precisely because I had been surrounding myself with so much Cambridge before coming home. Allowing myself to just spend time doing nothing can be tricky when accompanied by the persistent Cambridge habit of a need to be occupied and productive. It can also be hard to re-adjust to chatting with people who don’t have similar opinions to me, accustomed as I am to therapeutic rants with close like-minded friends at all hours. However, I am adjusting and I have been able to do this with time, as well as taking in the beautiful Irish countryside I live in through morning jogs and walks – in such a pressurising and individualistic world, it is more important than ever to just love each other and ourselves.
I don’t really know how I feel about how this term went and the thought of writing a summary of it daunted me. As usual it has disappeared in a blur marked by a few highs and lows that stick in my mind. Stumbling across this random selection of drawings in the back of different notebooks I had forgotten I carried with me was strangely reassuring. They are proof of time spent simply stopping to think and reflect, not in order to be productive or meet someone else’s expectations. They remind me of moments where I was doing something with no ultimate goal or outcome in mind. Finding these scraps – which bring back memories I would have otherwise forgotten of me still being me despite external pressures – makes me hopeful that I can make time for more of these small acts next term.
This term was very full. Full of events (three from Girl Talk!), changes and excitement. Eight weeks whizzed by but also dragged on. As much as I tried to engage myself with the architecture of 14th century Cairo or Hegel’s theory on art, the biggest thing I learnt this term was definitely about resilience. In the past eight weeks I was dealing with chronic pain, the end of a relationship, a bit of disappointment and a lot of essay crises. Overall, I’m a very lucky and privileged person and none of these things were ever life-changing or terrible, and I’m grateful for that. However, I’m also grateful that the spot of a tough time I did go through has allowed me to understand resilience and see that I actually have quite a lot of it.
I don’t know about anyone else, but at my school resilience was this ‘buzzword’, empty of any real meaning. Throughout this term however I’ve begun to understand it a bit more, or at least what it means to me. What resilience means to me now is being able to recognise that as bad as things feel, eating super noodles with friends late at night will always make me feel better, and the worst-case scenario I had imagined is often not that bad. I learnt that I’m pretty good at taking care of myself and staying positive, and that I have great supportive friends who help me do that. This term has been very educational! Though perhaps not in the way my DoS had hoped…
Whenever I think back on term, I find it hard to map all the time that has gone past. I have written about this before, in previous Girl Talk reflections – sometimes mapping time can be done by keeping little tokens from places I have visited, sometimes it is through music, sometimes it is through drawing little doodles in my notebook.
This time, I’m looking back on term and I find the little pieces of text and verse I have written down. There is one from somewhere at the beginning, about the snow. The snow which drifted down in the darkness, whilst I sat in the library. It settled for a moment and when I stepped outside to take a look, it had already vanished in little rivers, down the pavement, soaking into the grass.
There is some verse about the pink and white which lay itself over the sky around the middle of term, when I was walking to the library in the morning. I took my watercolours out apparently, later that afternoon I suppose, and mixed those colours on to the page. Then there was all the rain and wind which arrived towards the end, and I wrote whilst sitting in a café by the window, hearing the force of the water against the glass next to my ear.
I find that all this writing feels quite removed from what was actually happening in my day to day life – I don’t really tend to describe who I was with, what I was doing but rather, what was going on around me. And I find that remembering these little scenes I was set in, whether it was a sudden flock of birds flying out from behind Queens as the sun was setting, or a punt I watched pass beneath me as I walked over a bridge in the rain, or even the little details of flowers I found in the greenhouses of the botanical gardens, allow me to remember, too, the thoughts I had then and the emotions I brought with me to that place.
Featured image by Berthe Morisot, source: antiquesandthearts
On the 4th of March at 5.30pm we gathered in the Locker Café for some cake-ing and creating. Accompanied by delicious brownies and vegan tiffin, our guests took some time out of their week 7 flurries with two hours of creative serenity. Read on to see some of the art produced in our four stations: collage, colouring, collaboration and haikus.
As ever, this proved our most popular initiative: through the course of the evening we all ended up gathering in the collage corner, ripping up pages from magazines and newspapers and re-writing our own stories, moods and images.
We provided pictures of women who inspire us along with some colouring pencils; our guests then coloured in these powerful images.
I set up this station, spending an hour coming up with some different ideas for artistic consequences and expression. I just wanted to see what people had to say when prompted with some fun and unexpected titles…
Finally, our guests had an opportunity for some poetic expression; our sub-editor Julia provided some beautiful haikus and image poetry written by female poets and asked for some responses in poetic form.
Thank you to everyone who came and got involved in this creative cake venture! We hope you enjoyed taking some peaceful time out, whether through creating or simply reading this contemplative summary. As always, let us know if you would like to get involved in our blog by emailing us – we would love to see your own art too!
Read on to hear from our second spotlight artist, Cambridge-based Sara Pocher:
1- In case our readers don’t have/follow us on Instagram, could you please give a little introduction of who you are and what you’re up to at the minute?
Hi, I’m Sara and I’m a second-year student of Chinese at Cambridge. I have been drawing since I was a kid but have only recently started to publish my work on social media and in magazines. I am currently mainly working with illustration and collage, often combining images and words to explore how each can complement the meaning of the other and have just started to experiment with digital drawing.
2- How would you describe your art?
I would describe a lot of my work as dreamlike and slightly surreal.
3- What drives you to create? What or who inspires you?
I take a lot of inspiration from my personal experiences and my feelings. Art and creative expression represent a therapeutic outlet through which I try to make sense of my surroundings: the physical act of creating a piece of work helps me control the sometimes-overwhelming tide of thoughts rushing through my brain, bringing a sort of order and structure. I am particularly drawn to questions of identity and like to explore how the interaction with the outside world can alter the perception I have of myself and others. I often incorporate elements from my daily life into my work, such as books or movies that I find particularly inspiring, discussions I have with friends, my thoughts and dreams.
4- Do you have a few stellar Instagram accounts you would recommend?
Sha’an D’Anthes (@furrylittlepeach on Instagram) is an Australian illustrator I find really inspiring, I love how playful and incredibly creative her work is! Other artists I really like are @phoebewahl, @daralnaimart and @cafeinacoli.
5- Do you feel your art has a trajectory and do you think it needs one?
As I practice more and more, I feel like I’m getting closer to develop my personal style and I’m starting to think about concrete ways in which I could implement my art into my future career (whatever that might be). Right now, my artistic practice is deeply connected with intimate and personal topics, but I’m constantly learning and growing, both as an artist and as an individual, so I’m curious to see how my art will evolve and mature with me. For the time being I’m trying to keep an open mind and experiment with different creative mediums and outlets as much as I can.
6- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given to do with your art?
Don’t comply to other people’s expectations and try to follow your own intuition as much as possible. What I find most inspiring in a piece of art is its ability to convey an individual’s personality and their own interpretation of the world, so rather than doing what everyone else thinks you should be doing, let your work reveal your own voice! Also, and this is something that I constantly try to keep in mind: creativity is a never-ending journey, so have fun with it!
Make sure to follow this incredible artist on Instagram at @_nutmeg98_ !
For a movement that concerns every single person on the planet, it is surprising that nobody seems to have really agreed on what it means to be a feminist. I have always noticed how often debates about feminist ideas devolve into disagreements about the movement’s very definition. Is it about equality, or fairness? Do they mean the same thing? Are men welcome in the discussion? What does ‘empowerment’ actually mean? Finally, and perhaps the most frequent: can you be a feminist and still do X, Y or Z? My response has always been to try to simplify the definition of ‘feminist’- if it is a simple, uncomplicated ideological belief, then everyone can uncontroversially call themselves feminists if they hold that belief, even if they aren’t going to become activists or outspoken critics of the patriarchy.
For this reason, I have always called myself a feminist, and have defined this as simply holding the ideological belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. I have thrown this catch-all definition at boys who have told me they are not feminists because they believe in ‘equality’ and so have no need of a concept which ‘only advances women’s rights’, and girls who have worried that particular actions weren’t feminist enough, or even contradicted their feminist beliefs. I wanted ‘feminist’ and ‘sexist’ to be mutually exclusive terms, because it made everything so much simpler.
But recently, I have changed my mind. I attended a debate at the Cambridge Union about whether or not Margaret Thatcher was a feminist, and on going in, I voted ‘yes’ in the pre-vote without any hesitation. Thatcher believed she should have as good a chance as any qualified man to be Prime Minister, therefore, surely, she was a feminist. Maybe her policies weren’t overtly or explicitly feminist, maybe she never used that word to describe herself, but she believed in equality, so she must have been a feminist. But by the time I left the chamber at the end of the debate, I had been swayed in my opinion.
Margaret Thatcher may well have believed in equality of the sexes, yes, but her policies, as I learned, affected women disproportionately and almost completely disregarded the disadvantages they already faced in society at the time. She was dismissive of the issue of expensive childcare which often prohibited women from working full time, advising them to find a relative who would be able to watch their children whilst they worked, and remained stubbornly oblivious to how impossible this was for many. She experienced first hand the male-dominated world of Westminster yet was silent about ways to make it more accessible, promoting only one woman into her cabinet during her time in office. She heavily implied a moral obligation on women to remain at home, unemployed, whilst their children grew up, and many of her economic policies have been shown to have affected women living in poverty far more than their male counterparts, because they failed to take into account the level of financial dependency these women frequently experienced.
A belief in equality is obviously a necessary part of being a feminist. This is why the argument in defence of Thatcher, claiming that she must have been a feminist because she inspired many women, will not work. She demonstrated that women may rise to the highest spheres of power in this country, and that was hugely significant and inspiring to women. But it would have been perfectly possible for a fiercely individualistic woman who did not believe in equality to do this, and so the simple fact that a woman emboldens others cannot be proof of her feminism.
Margaret Thatcher presumably did believe in equality of the sexes. But despite the necessity of such a belief to feminism, it becomes meaningless when the believer has the opportunity to act on it, and chooses not to. The level of opportunity people have to act on their belief depends on how much power they have, and as prime minister, Thatcher arguably had more opportunity than any other person to make significant changes to the lives of women while she was in office. Her failure to do so means that her policies did not reflect her beliefs, and is therefore incompatible with the idea that she was a feminist.
This is why men and women in power who identify as feminists cannot escape from their responsibility to advocate and advance women’s rights and issues. A person working for minimum wage who has not had the opportunity to read feminist literature, who has no time to attend marches and protests, and who does not know how to challenge gender norms effectively, is still a feminist even if all they have is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. But for someone who has had a high-quality education, who has the social and economic opportunity to effect change, or who has legitimate political power, this is not enough.
These people have an obligation to look beyond surface level equality and try to understand how entrenched patriarchal structures mean that women are affected by certain policies in different, perhaps not immediately obvious, ways and to different extents based on factors such as race, sexual orientation and class. They have an obligation to see that just because they have not experienced disadvantage related to a particular issue, this does not mean that it is not a legitimate feminist concern. Margaret Thatcher was one of these people, and she did not do any of these things.
Inspiring others is not proof of feminism, and a feminist woman does not even have to inspire any other women. I don’t think she has to look a certain way, and I don’t think she has to either challenge or uphold any exterior model of a ‘good’ feminist. But I do think that she has to make use of opportunities which she has to act on her feminist beliefs, even whilst acknowledging that not all feminists have such opportunities. If someone does not practice what they preach when given the chance, their sermon ultimately has no significance.
Featured image source: picswe.com
Sofia Weiss Goitiandia
Work-life balance is undoubtedly one of the subjects I write most about. Why? Put simply because in 2019 the phrase is popular, but the practice is not. We live in a culture that demands near relentless productivity and as a consequence, many of us lack a conception of when to stop, or even the need to do so. We blur the lines between work and home, compulsively check our inboxes, and may even believe that writing essays at 1am is the norm (sadly, it might actually be in Cambridge). All this, in many cases, to the detriment of our wellbeing.
I’ve lived the consequences of overwork first-hand. Your type A perfectionist woman who has felt the need to prove herself since she could crawl, I’ve used work as a coping mechanism time and again, suffering burnouts worse than a thrice-used match as a result. Luckily, I now consider myself to be ‘in recovery’, and am quite fascinated by what it takes to achieve that elusive equilibrium between books and bed – especially in the midst of a Cambridge degree. Whilst I haven’t ‘achieved’ it as such, there’s a few helpful strategies I’ve learned during my (ongoing) journey.
Firstly, if there is an activity that you need to do on a regular basis for the sake of your sanity, make the time to do it sacred. Whether it be a weekly yoga class, music lesson or counselling session, write in your diary and view that ink almost like a tattoo: permanent. Unless there is a legitimate reason – for clarification, this does not include a reading list – you should not skip that appointment. For me, it’s my weekly meetings with the therapist who has guided me through my eating disorder recovery, and now helps me generally to be more mellow, as well as more ‘myself’. I think at this point that someone would have to fight me (and win) for me not to attend. I would rarely encourage anyone to follow my lead, but on this one I do: book those appointments, and go.
Secondly, if I am debating whether to study or whether to attend an event that is not strictly academic, I ask myself the following question: ‘how often does this event happen?’ If the answer is once, I close my laptop and leave for whatever interesting talk or concert or [insert activity here] it is that may be on. For example, this weekend I definitely could have worked, but I chose to attend a public speaking workshop for women instead. Not only did I leave feeling more empowered than I would ever have felt by writing up lecture notes, but the event was a one-off with a speaker from the other side of the country. By contrast, my lectures are nearly daily occurrence, so I’ll find another time to tackle their content.
Note that had this piece of work been a deadline, and the workshop another Wednesday Cindies, I probably would have stayed at home. Not to work into the night though, but to sleep, and hence study more effectively in the morning. Whilst I lament Dolly Parton’s experience of the 9-to-5, I do believe it’s actually quite an appropriate working time-frame to adopt at University.
Finally, finding a work-life balance means – for me at least – learning to let go of perfection. Let me give you an example. Oftentimes the injunction to put work away for the day sounds fine, but the moment you’re stepping your foot out of the library door you realise you haven’t done something as well as you could; you turn on your heel and walk straight back in to do it right. This would certainly have been me in the past, identifiable by inch-long bags under my eyes and a litre bottle of coffee pretty much surgically attached to my hand. What did I get at the end of it? On average, 5% more on an essay. This, on reflection, is simply not worth it. Nowadays when the daunting realisation that I could do more rears its obnoxious head, I question: how much will this matter in one month? What about one year? Usually the answer is ‘not a lot’ and I bid adieu to the library.
Now if all else fails or the above seems too difficult for the moment, do not despair. There have been very many times during this journey where I’ve given in to the annoying roommate living in my head, who seems to think I’m a supercomputer never wanting nor needing rest. Even so, when this side of me wins and I fixate more on my work, I still try to find respite. How? For two minutes I put down my pen, look outside, and try to embrace both the wonder and insignificance of life.
I don’t want to pretend to live whilst actually buried in charts, assignments and to-do lists. I doubt anyone does. Work-life balance is a worthwhile quest and – I believe – achievable; but it is a process of iteration: fail, try again – you know the drill.
Featured image by the author
There are sure signs that spring is slowly on its way: the sun has started to feel warm again and the weather is nice almost every other day. Though there may still be some greyness and gloom in these final throes of winter, don’t let the practicality that February weather demands to curb your optimism or fashion choices. Indeed, there is a very special quality to February as a month: it is a time of contrasts. Winter is melting into spring: the clouds may be grey, but the crocuses by the side of the road are in bloom. Take some pointers from the world around as now, more than ever, pops of colour and interesting layered styles are what’s needed to find the brightness in even the drizzliest of Cambridge days.
It can be frustrating to wait for the right weather to start wearing favourite spring and summer pieces again. But don’t let yourself be constrained by circumstances! Simply adapt the way, in which you style more summery pieces, so as to make them appropriate for the chilly February wind. I like to wear my summery wrap tops and blouses with a simple grey or black turtleneck underneath, for example. Simply pair with jeans for a more relaxed look, or – if you’re feeling dramatic – a black velvet mini skirt, as I like to. Heavy (faux) leather boots will complete the look, while keeping your toes nice and dry when you inevitably step into a puddle on the way to lectures.
Another personal favourite style tweak this February has been to add fishnet tights to what would otherwise be a very toned-down outfit. A chunky grey jumper and black skirt is a very comfortable and relaxed outfit – but add the fishnets and it becomes interesting. The obvious downside of this favourite wardrobe staple is the fact that it does not provide much warmth. So, consider wearing fishnets underneath a pair of culottes for those colder days when you still want to add a little detail to your outfit.
In the same vein of adding a statement detail to a simple look, why not consider a statement scarf? A simple red scarf will add an eye-catching pop of colour and pull your look together. A classic outfit (dark top and trousers, or skirt) becomes a blank canvas that allows for self-expression with little details like that. Jewellery has the same effect: I have recently been loving tortoiseshell and medallion jewellery for the slightly vintage and folksy vibe it brings to my outfits. Find small pieces like that, which you can use to express your personal style and interests without forfeiting the comfort of a cosy layered look.
Another thing worth doing is trying to get a different perspective on things now that we’re moving into a new season. Why not try and wear that long jacket or shirt as a dress? Or perhaps that fancy blouse would look nice paired with dungarees for a more casual look? You can appropriate any item of clothing to the look you want it to be, and this can be a nice way to break away from constraints you set yourself. Why not even try your hand at altering some clothes by shortening them, or adding patches? For example, I’ve been wearing this rust-red charity shop find as a dress a lot recently after removing the shoulder pads from the jacket.
There are many ways to find style inspiration this February and there’s absolutely no reason to resign yourself to a month of purely practical clothes. If you’d like to inject some fun into your wardrobe, or use the opportunity to make a style change (no matter how small or radical), there is no better time than the present. And February is no exception to that!
When I initially decided to make time for a doodle each day of the week, I was anxious about remembering to fit in this daily five minutes of creative reflection. I’ve always found myself to be an all or nothing person, either to be found throwing my full self into as many activities as possible or in complete burn out mode. While I am grateful for the array of activities on offer at Cambridge, it provides the perfect environment for perpetuating this cycle of strenuous activity and exhaustion.
Two days into my doodling I received a head injury at taekwondo that left me with a mild concussion. All of a sudden the black and white of my all or nothing approach to life felt like it was left with the complete blank page of empty days stretching ahead, unable to focus long enough to attend lectures, too nauseous for exercise and frustrated at my inability to read. Ironically, the doodles that I thought I wouldn’t have time to complete became a quiet moment in my long days of silence and frustration. Days like Saturday and Sunday are most representative of my everyday experiences; part of that weird Cambridge ability to pack a million and one things into 24 hours; making campaign posters at an NUS meeting, a social housing exhibit, catching up with old friends, stressing over Karl Marx in the library and the inevitable Sunday evening rush to taekwondo.
My doodles for the rest of the week used a similar style, but felt somehow like a creation of my day as opposed to an account of my experiences. A week packed full of drawing, colouring in, walking, catching up with good friends and A LOT of baking felt like a week in which I was fashioning my own day as opposed to simply living by the structure of my degree and extra-curricular activities. These doodles weirdly represent a visual display of a week of listening, listening to podcasts, listening to the advice of friends telling me to relax, but largely of listening to myself and the messages that my body was sending me, telling me to relax.
I have never really understood when people say that you can understand a lot about a person from the style of their drawings or their handwriting. However a closer look at my own drawings made me reconsider this. These doodles are not abstract in any way, they are all a “say what you see” in terms of my daily experience, featuring the faces of friends, the covers of books or things I ate. The lack of shading or variation in colour is a far cry from the bright patterns I am usually drawn to in my clothing and furnishings. These doodles, I guess, belong to a mind that finds it difficult to deal with silence and uncertainty, knowing that the day will be full of a million tasks and things to achieve. One thing I have learnt this week while completing these doodles is the importance of trying to see the blurred lines and the grey areas, the areas of compromise and peaceful existence between the extremes of living in black and white (or maybe I have simply had too much thinking time this week).
Introducing the first artist in this new series of Spotlight Artist! Anja Huddart is based in London and has a very active Instagram showcasing her art: @anja_inthemaking. Having seen her varied and beautiful aesthetic, our co-director Bea got in contact with her and asked her if we could feature her on our own account and if she could answer some questions about her style and life as an artist. These are Anja’s thoughts on the questions we sent:
1- In case our readers don’t have/follow us on Instagram, could you please give a little introduction of who you are and what you’re up to at the minute?
I’m currently a first year student on the BA Costume for Theatre and Screen course at Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL. In school, my favourite subjects were Art, Textiles, Photography and English Literature – so a lot of the references in my work come from books or great art masters. What’s fun to me now is transitioning from a flat canvas to one on the body, and layering my ideas with those of the director / designer.
2- How would you describe your art?
I think a lot of my art comes from the common yearning to do something bold and unexplored, which often amasses itself into multimedia work. I like to play with colour first and foremost, and from there figure out the high and low points of interest in the image, where to place the texture and what should fall to the back. But I always have an itching to bring something out of the frame, to make it tangible and ‘real’, so in my downtime I like to experiment with small canvasses on which I layer scrap fabric from my collection to create fabric palettes for personal inspiration, like a sketch but in material form. They help ground me before I try for something larger.
My newest pieces are all topics that have been widely explored before; politics, the female nude and the depiction of women in the art-world. While the subject is fairly simple and therefore easily understood, a lot of my thinking, as a woman looking at women, is figuring out how different my view is from the ‘Male Gaze’ that has come before. The nude has become somewhat controversial, with fewer men seen stripped down in the paintings in galleries, the equality of nakedness out of balance. Yet to me it is a new area to explore, born from intimate sittings with a model, the act of looking before pencil touches paper burning in anticipation.
3- What drives you to create? What or who inspires you?
My motivation has always been to have a go at all techniques and see how I can combine and layer them to create new meanings and ways of looking. I don’t think you can ever exhaust these topics. Nature rules all – plants, flowers, organic contrasts in colour or texture that I happen upon. I also used to do ballet, so the way the body moves by itself and within a certain space is also something I find enchanting. Off the top of my head, the artists that I love include: Guerilla Girls, Tracy Emin, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois, Anselm Kiefer, Giacometti, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Sir Howard Hodgkin.
4- Do you have a few stellar Instagram accounts you would recommend?
I love to see an artist’s process, so that’s often what I seek out on Instagram.
@emily_jeffords is absolutely terrific, as are @_hiedra_ @ryhew @andrew.salgado.art @ineslongevial @emmacutrie . The list could easily keep going!
5- Do you feel your art has a trajectory and do you think it needs one?
I think my art will naturally develop as my position and ability to find time for art changes. For now, its personal, and a challenge to myself to stimulate new ideas from my experiences. Artists are born narcissists, but that’s also what people are interested in! I would love for my art to mature into something more serious, and I think keeping a future goal of some kind is important for self-belief, but what will happen next is a mystery to us all.
6- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given to do with your art?
Not to doubt my instincts, and to remember to take a step back often so I don’t get caught in the corner ignoring the rest of the canvas.
Thank you! xxx
As someone interested in both the representation of women in media and in a career in the field, I was so excited when I saw that a new society had been set up this year for Women in Media. I quickly sent an email to the committee asking if I could be involved, then received a really friendly reply and went to a welcome meeting.
The founders, Anya Cooper and Natalie Brierley, have shown such enthusiasm in spreading awareness of their new society, but also of the broader image we receive of women in media, be it music, TV, journalism or another area. In just under two months they have managed to put together what looks to be an amazing conference in the Union, with six keynote speakers who are prominent in the media, taking place on the 3rd March. I recently sat down with these two lovely ladies to talk about the conference and what this society means to them.
What inspired you to start this society?
Natalie: We were so surprised that there wasn’t already a WiM society in Cambridge, considering that there is such a big journalism, blog, podcast and creative presence here. We want this to be not just for networking, but also to discuss ideas around the ways in which women are presented. It is important for women to be more present in all careers within media as if there are no women in those roles then the way they are presented will inevitably be skewed.
Anya: This summer I helped organise a conference by Amnesty International on Student Journalism; there I met students from Manchester who had already established a WiM society in their university. A national initiative was then started whereby societies would be set up in several universities in order to build a network of female support across the UK.
Tell us about your launch night with the Hip-Hop society
Natalie: We co-organised a hip-hop society night as a kind of launch for us, which was for fundraising, but also for celebrating this platform for women in music. Music is still an area where women are strangely under-represented, particularly in styles such as hip-hop and, in fact, the Hip-Hop society is looking for more female members.
What are your hopes for this conference you have planned?
Anya: We are hoping that this conference will empower aspiring women and NB students and will give an insight into the nuances of different experiences in the field. For example, this summer I saw Lindsey Hilsum from Channel 4 speak about her career as a reporter in war torn countries. She explained how, unlike their male counterparts, female correspondents pretty much always get 100% of the story in the Middle East, as they are given access to communicating with more people in these areas: as a woman, they are seen as less of a threat. I don’t know about anyone else, but I become frustrated when every women’s talk I attend is restricted to talking about how women are repressed. These conversations need to be supplemented by evidence of empowerment and achievements. This is why Hilsum’s ideas about how being a woman can be used as a tool in unexpected ways in journalism were so inspiring to me. It is also important to represent the different intersectionalities in our society and culture, and so we have women from various backgrounds coming to speak.
What are some thoughts that you have been having on women in media?
Anya: We want to include male allies and hear their experiences about journalism and about working with women. We think it is fundamental that men are included in the conversation, as dialogue is such a significant element of any solution.
Natalie: There can be a tendency for women to be pressured to cover topics only about women – they should feel confident to cover that but also more!
Anya: We need to tackle the objectification of women – this is essential because issues around Women in Media go beyond the boundaries of the profession. Media is everything that we consume – it is not limited to journalism but everything we watch, listen to, read – it fundamentally effects, and often skews, our perceptions as a whole.
What are your future plans?
We want to make the conference an annual occurrence! We are also currently discussing ideas around organising an art show which looks at the way female and NB bodies are presented in media – if anyone is interested in being involved do let us know! We are also thinking of including men in a panel and hearing about their experiences of working with women and representing women, and see how we can create an open collaborative atmosphere. CV workshop events will also be on the agenda for those who are focused on the career aspect.
After this year’s conference we will be looking for a committee as half of us are graduating! It is so important to us that this society continues to flourish and so we hope to organise more and more opportunities and events.
Thus my conversation came to and end with these women, who are so motivated, fun and friendly! Make sure to book your tickets for their fantastic conference, the first ever of its kind in Cambridge, which is taking place at the Union on the 3rd March.
All information can be found here:
Following on from Blanca’s doodles last week, I thought I would document this week with drawings, too. Like any week in Cambridge, it was filled with lots of varying ups and downs, exhaustion and also the most fun I’ve had in quite a while – days here are so oddly spaced out, hardly seeming to begin before the sky starts to darken and the library lights click on, signalling that yet another little seventh of yet another week in Cambridge is drawing to a close. It does make me feel slightly nervous, how structured each day is, and that when I arrive at its end, it seems I have filled in a box, which carries me closer to the end of term – but sketching for five minutes slowed this down and allowed me to think about marks on a page other than the letters in the essay I was writing. On Monday, I stretched the definition a little, and included just some grass I had picked up and decided to press in a notebook.
None of the drawings are accurate depictions of all the things which happened in my day and flowers did not really stand tall and bright around me as I worked away in the library. But I found that adding small twists like the thin layers of light pink and blue brought my days a little bit of magic which perhaps they were lacking, objectively. Week Four at Cambridge wasn’t what I wished it had been, in terms of how long I spent outside the library at concerts, or at talks, or any of the other events everyone always seems to be going to and talking about afterwards. But there were more than enough moments of excitement which stretched through my days, and now allow these drops of happiness in pink and blue to make their way into my drawings.
Unless you lead a Facebook-free life then you probably won’t have failed to notice that this week in Cambridge it is Pink Week! It came to Cambridge in 2014 and entails a week of both fundraising and events with the overall aim of raising awareness of breast cancer. It begins with a ball and is followed by a series of events from exercise classes to formals. The week is also about education: the committee aim not only to de-stigmatize the often ‘taboo’ topic but also to inform women (and men!) at our university of how to check for any abnormalities, so as to improve early detection rates and prevent unnecessary scares or anxiety.
I am not in the amazing team behind pink week this year, but I did attend the panel discussion they organised on Monday evening at the Union. It was a conversation chaired by Sofia Weiss between four incredible women who work in various fields concerning breast cancer, from the charity aspect to a breast cancer surgeon. Half of the panel had also experienced breast cancer including blogger and motivational speaker Heidi Loughlin, author of ‘Storminatitcup’, who has stage four inflammatory cancer and Liz O’Riordan, a breast surgeon who was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer in 2015 and recently finished treatment for a local relapse. The conversation shared was insightful and informed, prompted by excellent questions from Sofia Weiss and the audience members.
Something that really made me think was the discussion of “Pink publicity” and the pink label we have given breast cancer. It reminded me just how important the way we paint a topic in society really is. Given that men get breast cancer too, pink could be seen as exclusionary in its traditional gender role. However, we are slowly erasing these gender binaries and, moreover, breast cancer is broadly speaking a woman’s issue, as though men can develop it and should be aware of the warning signs, for the 54,800 cases seen in woman each year in the UK only 390 men are diagnosed (Cancer Research Uk statistics). Another issue with pink is that it is often seen as a somewhat innocent, sweet and happy colour, thus begging the question: does pink branding trivialize the important issue at hand?
The panel had plenty of thoughts on this topic. Heidi remarked “pink stinks” and confessed to hating the colour, but still recognized the value it has in spreading awareness of breast cancer and how various retail brands can use it as a talking point or a way to raise money for research. The danger seems to be that pink is often abused. The panel mentioned inappropriate products they’d seen in pink, such as “pink ghds”, when people with cancer so often lose their hair due to chemotherapy, or pink gin when alcohol can’t be drunk by those undergoing treatment and is a risk factor of cancer to begin with. These seemingly commendable charitable products can come across as distasteful and insensitive. There is also the danger of pink being misused in advertising and retail in the absence of any fundraising or awareness, with the colour simply being commodified.
A representative from Breast Cancer Now spoke about the charity’s recent efforts to ensure their branding was appropriate for their audience, introducing grey into their logo for example, but that pink was still used because it had become a sort of symbol. It is a colour we all associate with breast cancer, largely thanks to Estee Lauders’ pink ribbon campaign that began in 1992 following her own experience with breast cancer, with their commitment to helping create a “breast cancer free world” doing wonders.
Although clearly problematic, pink can also be empowering for those with or who have been through breast cancer. It can be worn in solidarity by other members of the public and is often a way to inject a little joy into a painful journey for many.
Pink week is an example of the power of pink. It strikes a perfect balance between putting on unique and fun events to attract attention and interest while simultaneously providing resources on education and the support systems available, accompanied by enormous charitable efforts.
Another buzzword of the panel was ‘battle’, something we often use to describe people’s journeys with cancer. For some survivors it can be an empowering self-identification to refer to themselves as ‘warriors’ as it signals their strength and acts as a mark of what they’ve been through. But for women like Heidi who has an incurable form of breast cancer, labeling it as a ‘fight’ makes her feel she has been put, without choice, into a category of ‘losers’ along with the other women who die because of their breast cancer. Although it can have the greatest intentions, referring to someone who has been through cancer as a ‘fighter’ or ‘warrior’ is a slippery slope and potentially results in that person becoming defined by their cancer.
The panel discussed a plethora of other issues including the controversial topic of screening lead by Dr Rosalind Given-Wilson a consultant at St.Georges hospital and a discussion on the lack of desperately needed post-chemotherapy mental health support in the healthcare system.
Yet the main thing I took away from this panel was just how important it is to consider the way we discuss cancer and display our support for those diagnosed. We must be careful not to tiptoe around it, but also ensure we are sensitive, un-patronising and aware of the impact our words and actions can have and not underestimate the power of pink.
If you would like to also use pink wisely and support Cambridge Pink Week you can! Their own merchandise is available to purchase, linked below and check out the rest of their website for more information on what they do and why.
Pink week stash – https://www.cambridgepinkweek.com/pink-week-ball/stash/
Pink week website – https://www.cambridgepinkweek.com/
Alternatively you can support incredible charities funding vital research and education in all sorts of ways, a few are linked below.
CoppaFeel – https://coppafeel.org/
Breast Cancer now – https://breastcancernow.org/
Breast cancer care – https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/
A small contribution I made last year was purchasing a tee shirt from the incredible Girl vs Cancer tit-tee shop. Mine is adorned with embroidered bees but they have some great designs worth checking out and other products like bags, jumpers etc. plus 25% of all profits go to their partner charities. It was set up by Lauren Mahon who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was under the age of 30 and aims to “open a dialogue on this sensitive subject” and stop “scaremongering” in the media from putting people off getting their symptoms checked. All round a great venture to support.
GirlvsCancer – https://girlvscancer.co.uk/shop/
Featured image source: Pacing Around the World Photography