That feeling of “what now?” when you finish an MA

It is almost a week since I finished a Masters in Magazine Journalism with handing in my final project. A whole year of working, trying to be a journalist and creating, culminated in a few minutes discussing my final project with my tutor during a viva voce, and any problems I’d encountered along the way. I have, after a week reflecting realised that the only real problems have occurred after, and not during the MA.

Journalism is intense, you spend four days a week working closely with others on your course, learning new skills and swearing at computers. I’ve learned more this year, than during any other qualification I’ve done before, because this is so different. Journalism is very practical, yes you have to be a good writer but there is so much more to journalism than that, and it’s developing these new skills that will make you sink or swim. I always remember my tutor saying at the very beginning “you have to learn to read and think like a journalist.” It is also an incredibly network driven industry and this to most people can be a daunting and overwhelming prospect.

On Friday I skipped into uni feeling elated, “it’s nearly over” I thought. “The next time I walk through these doors I will have done everything possible to get myself another freaking masters.” I’d of course been there before, four years earlier at Durham when I did the youth work MA. It really was a strange feeling. It was only when I walked out of the doors of the media centre half an hour later, armed with the words ‘good luck and keep in touch’ from my tutor, that I wondered “what am I supposed to do now?” I went across the road for a coffee to compose myself before going home. I’d asked myself this question several times before – but this time it felt different – like it really meant something. I’m 28 and as you get older appearing ‘sorted’ seems more relevant, I really should have worked my life out by now, in more ways than I will ever bring myself to write about.

As I sat there and pondered this further, I realised that universities are great at preparing you academically and for what is expected of you on the course, and I’ve never really struggled academically (unless you count maths), but no one ever prepares you for the “what now?” questions. No one talks about the feelings you will feel, the sense of numbness and confusion, when you walk out of that university campus for the final time. I felt very prepared with what to read, what books to buy, who to ask for advice and even how necessary shorthand really is – although I did go to outside the university for a few of those. I knew where I had to be and when, deadlines to work towards and was given support to improve my writing – basically everything you’d expect from a journalism degree. Although there was something missing – there is a transition period after university – ‘graduate depression’ is beginning to be recognised as an actual thing, so why wasn’t this ever mentioned? That after the final day, you’d feel more lost than you have ever felt before.

I am at a crossroads, having gone from such an intense year, that even included a Guardian interview in between two exams, to absolutely nothing. I’ve felt this on different levels before but now I’m at a stage in my life when whatever I decide to do seems more important. Applying for jobs is made more challenging when I know there are some jobs I just can’t do. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll have an idea why, but regardless of my strengths and weaknesses, that has made shorthand and some areas of youth work impossible, everyone leaving university has these feelings. The feelings that are in part the reason why I chose studying again, and the stress it brings, over some of the other options.

I’ve decided after a week of thinking about my future, to take some time (hopefully partly away) to work out what I want, where I want to be and to make a plan. I’m going to do things I enjoy, see people I care about and decide what it means to be me, so I can really answer the ‘what now?’ question. I loved my time at journalism school, training to do something that I enjoy and I know I am good at, but I wish someone had prepared me for having to do this. That the first few days will almost feel like a bereavement and that you’ll need time to adjust and come to terms with something even though you don’t quite know what that ‘thing’ is yet. I of course have to work some of this out for myself, and it’s important to do so, but having those conversations about the world beyond the course would have been beneficial to us all. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to remember that what goes on after university is just as important as what happens (or doesn’t) while you’re there.

But YES I have finished an MA and I am super proud to have got here! And I had wine to celebrate.

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Hand in day was with everything considered, a good day…

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A Level results day – 10 years on…

I keep meaning to write something about results day in 2007, and now it’s 10 years on and my little sister is currently on her way to school to pick up her results as I type, now seems a more poignant time than ever.

Year 13, was a time when to put it bluntly I basically ‘lost the plot.’ I didn’t think that I’d get a place at uni, given how distracted I became in my final year of school – although complaining when I did get into my 1st choice of university seemed counterproductive. I did well in my A levels and I’m the sort of person who convinces my friends that I’m going to fail a degree and then do the opposite.

Results day in 2007 began with waking up at Folkworks Summer School, at Hild Bede in Durham. I left my friends for school – this was before smart phones (they might have just been invented, but I know I didn’t have one,) so unlike my sister and her friends today I couldn’t check Ucas first thing to be reassured that I’d got a place. I entered the school into what felt like the unknown. In the evening, I returned to Folkworks. The music felt like the best celebration ever, more so now when I realise with the benefit of hindsight how much playing fiddle did for me during those ‘make or break’ years.

I remember one girl from my year being featured in the local paper (and on the news,) I also remember her being everything I know I am not – someone the teachers thought the world of and was popular with everyone she met. I remember seeing that news item and feeling physically sick. When I turned 18, the realisation that I was an adult scared me more than it should have, so my natural reaction was to almost mess up my A Levels. I got all four A Levels though, so who am I to complain? This was also the first year I finally went along to see a doctor about my mental health – someone medical telling a teenager that she’s “definitely not depressed and that it’s just a phase” isn’t helpful for anyone in the middle of exams. I always knew that I would struggle more than most in certain jobs, but hadn’t really worked out how yet, or had any conversations about how my Dyspraxia would translate in the world beyond school. The one thing I would change if I could go back now, is for people to have these discussions with me. it might have made a difference to my A Level music grade, there is of course more to academia and doing well in exams. Of course we say that, those of us who have been there and are doing alright several years later – but is telling an 18 year old not to worry about results because they don’t mean anything helpful? Of course not. Whenever I heard that at 18, I wanted to bite persons head off. They do matter and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise.

My ten years on advice is a long list of ‘don’t do what I did’ – so I won’t do that, but what I can say is that results are important, so celebrate them, make a plan if things aren’t as expected, have fun with your mates and enjoy your time at uni – you will never again have so many experiences, (unless you decide two masters is a wise move, but again I wouldn’t recommend that decision unless you’re absolutely certain.) University the third time around has taught me to do what you enjoy, and find what you’re good at. I’ve spent ten years getting here, and I’m still working it out. Today is stressful, tomorrow might be too but if you work on your strengths rather than who society expects you to be, you can’t go far wrong.

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Going through a career change when you don’t feel equipped or ready for it…

A year ago I sat down and thought about my future and where I wanted to be in a few years time. At 27 I’d entered the ‘late twenties’ bracket and this terrified me. I’ve always felt the pressure to be at a certain place by a certain age, prompting questions when I’ve always appeared miles away from where people expect me to be. Meeting societies expectations is a rubbish way to live your life, no one should have to justify themselves to others. But we do – all of the time. “Why do people always want to know why?” As I pondered during a recent phone conversation with a friend. A career change was certainly something I’d hoped I would have to think about a few years off yet, but there I was. Pondering. And watching the news. Advice: never watch the news when you are having these kind of thoughts.

Four years ago I trained as a youth worker, I loved my training, my time at Durham and I really do enjoy working with young people. However recent events made me reassess this decision. A year after I qualified I had to deal with the bereavement of a friend, which in hindsight contributed to my patchy start to youth work. No ones fault – just one of those life things we all have to deal with as best we can. There’s no manual telling us how to cope with the unexpected, and even if there was I doubt it would be much help. I’ve been a sessional worker ever since which has meant that work has been infrequent and often unreliable. When I took time off at the beginning there was no paid leave, I was only paid for the hours I worked, so it doesn’t take long to financially fall apart. It also means that there’s no certainty or predictability, routine is often non existent, hence my failure to actually eat lunch so often. I certainly can’t make any long term plans to move away or any other plans that require consistent sources of income (i.e. driving), something that I want to do sooner rather than later and has become more of a necessity as I’ve got older. I’ve lost count of the number of jobs that my lack of driving has prevented me from applying for. Since I qualified the job market has got worse, with services being cut, council youth services becoming non existent and youth centres closing. I grew up in a time when about ten youth workers worked in the same building but not anymore. You’re lucky now if you have one youth worker and several volunteers running a whole youth project. I really felt this austerity when I began looking for jobs.

I’ve always had to work with what I’m good at, and unlike my siblings and many of my friends have been unable to get ‘filler in’ jobs as a student until something ‘better’ comes along. I’m too Dyspraxic for retail or bar work and I’ve been very aware of this. When I tell people this I’m often met with phrases of ‘you’re putting yourself down’ and ‘you will be able to pull pints if you try’. (I always remember and giggle at that episode of the IT Crowd when Moss accidentally ends up behind a bar, and wonder if I’d be similar if I tried…)  I’m not snubbing these jobs by any means, in fact quite the opposite – I’d love to be able to have something with a consistent income and more routine. I’m also very aware that I’m lucky and possibly fortunate to be in the position when I don’t have to struggle in retail or similar, as I know there are many people with Dyspraxia who aren’t. In terms of youth work I am good at the most lucrative kind and the jobs that everyone wants and are applying for, so naturally there is more competition – delivering training, youth participation and issue based workshops. As services are being cut and managers are applying for lower level jobs, leaving newly qualified youth workers little chance of getting to the interview stage.

So last year I reevaluated everything I wanted to do, which is pretty scary for a 27 year old who had hoped it would all work out after qualifying. I’d hoped youth work would be something I could do for a few years yet. I wanted to give young people the same opportunities I had growing up and I felt (and still do) incredibly passionate about this. I also realised that I had always been good at writing, and that anything I do from now on had to include it.

Those who have been following this blog (or my life) for a while will know that I decided to go back to university, to pursue something that is probably more competitive and difficult to get into, but is something I could be good at. I chose to study another Masters in Magazine Journalism – I knew I would enjoy it, so in that sense the decision was made but I shouldn’t have had to feel forced into a career change that has left me feeling almost as ill-equiped as before. I certainly wasn’t ready three years on from qualifying in something that I thought was going to be my career. That said this course has been one of the best decisions of my life.

As a student I have encountered confusion but also assumptions as to what they consider students to be. People often think I’m younger than I am, and mistake me for an undergrad, so when I explain I’m doing an MA, they often don’t know how to respond. “You’re at university AGAIN?” They say. “You’re a student, you must spend all of your time partying?” They ask. Well no, I spend most of my time worrying about my future, that of my friends and where this country is heading. I’ve dealt with lots of awkward conversations in the past but the ones about being a student really do win at awkwardness. Mental health problems amongst students are a bigger concern than we are given credit for (or understanding), and it’s no wonder given how burnt out and exhausted we all feel. It’s rare to find someone who gets that deciding to become a student again was not an easy decision.

As this MA comes to an end, I face the prospect of looking for jobs again and the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough. Most writing jobs are scarce as it is that I appear seemingly under-qualified for (adverts often ask for X amount of experience) – volunteering is great but it’s not possible to live on fresh air, or the alternative to staff jobs being having to set up a business. I am definitely not in the right place for the latter and the former seems a repeat of a time I knew before. I don’t feel I can call myself a journalist yet, despite journalism being something I’ve spent all year doing, and haven’t worked out a name for what I am. Friends who are already freelance tell me that it is definitely not the easy option. For people in their 20’s and 30’s, finding where they ‘fit’ takes longer than it did years ago. Those whose skills are more ‘specialist’ like mine and many of my friends find it so much harder to secure that ‘break’ or to climb an increasingly unstable career ladder. Changing careers before I’d barely had my foot in the door of the first one is a very odd feeling. We really are living in uncertain times. My advice for anyone in a similar position as I was a year ago, is to go with what you’re good at, find something you enjoy and work the rest out from there. We’re all just working it out as we go along, aren’t we?

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We finally made a whole magazine!

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Moderating a politics debate for young people (as you do…)

So where am I now? On Friday, something amazing happened – in amongst the election chaos and uncertainty, we sent our magazine to print. A magazine we’d been working on since February, having had the initial idea as early as November, following a three hour Trump rant. Who needs to learn about financing magazines when there’s politics to talk about?

It was either a stoke of genius or luck, or simply the timing was write, that we gelled so well as a group and chose politics – something that with 72% of young people turning out to vote, showing that young people are interested, want to talk about it and most importantly are determined to be listened to. This was clear when I attended the Corbyn rally in Gateshead, when over 5,000 people packed into the area outside the Sage, and he directly addressed young people. Everyone from all walks of life were there, young, old, from all faiths and with disabilities – uniting for change. Young people who I interviewed for a piece following the Corbyn rally (that features in the magazine), demonstrated that they feel empowered now more than ever to get involved. Our magazine has, since more political events have unfolded over recent months gone from strength to strength and become more relevant than ever. The election wasn’t on the cards back in February, we were going along the lines of a ‘ year on from Brexit special’ but since events have changed, as with all good journalism – so has our magazine. We now have a whole general election coverage section to reflect that. We’ve also written about disabilities, mental health, body positivity, super heroes, protest music and millennial nostalgia. Many of our sources have been politicians, lords or celebrities, but we’ve also interviewed activists and young people who have a story to tell and deserve to be in the magazine too.

On Friday we (I wouldn’t say woke up) as we were up, the most one of us got was five hours sleep, closely followed by two hours and then the rest of us stayed up all night. I’ve certainly realised that I can’t deal with all nighters like I used to, how I managed to stay up playing tunes and then walk to breakfast at Folkworks Summer School, before a long day of playing fiddle is beyond me.

This week has been a long week, when we practically moved into the media hub, finishing articles, working on design and sourcing images. We’ve sacrificed food and sleep, and any social life we once knew for something that’s turned out to be quite special. On the night of the election three of the team were in the hub, working on design, following events and live tweeting to write an election night timeline, whilst Steph and I were out interviewing people. Steph went to the Sunderland count and I was tracking down MP’s. Off the cuff interviews, on one of the most intense election nights in years when you’re sleep deprived is quite something. Siarlot our designer was forced to go home at around 4am to get some sleep because we needed her genius skills in the morning. The rest of us soldiered on, following the live coverage and writing up interviews.

By morning we were all exhausted, but three of us arrived at uni early to get this magazine finished and to print. It was, if anything a good distraction from the terrifying possible DUP/Tory deal. As I headed in, and the taxi driver was telling me how sorry he felt for May and some equally appalling views that I must have blanked out, I knew that the day ahead would be the longest but probably the most important of this MA. It was intense, and tiredness only made things longer but more funny. It took three of us to work out where a comma should go in a sentence, and twice as long to sub edit. On one occasion I told everyone to shut up, because I kept reading the same sentence over and over again and getting nowhere. We got there though, and designer Siarlot was on top form.

Up until now journalism has been a fairly solitary experience, yes I’ve had to speak to people but it’s always been up to me to get the articles written and submitted. This magazine happened because a team of people came together who all have very different strengths and interests, that we’ve all learned so much from. Since I started this MA I’ve discovered more about spears and historical re-enactments and hip hop. Having a friend who owns a bow and arrow is possibly scary but brilliant at the same time. Lee’s journalism is based on hip hop, even managing a entire news module around it which is pretty impressive. Then there’s Steph who’s heavily involved in LGBTQ+ rights, has a wealth of political knowledge and constantly feeds us chocolate and finally Hannah who is basically a walking encyclopaedia of films. We’ve become a good team and stronger friends through this magazine, that wouldn’t have happened without any of us being part of it. Just after five on Friday the magazine went to print, with Steph and I on tenter hooks in case anything went wrong. Thankfully the hub didn’t collapse, the computer didn’t explode and after a last minute front cover panic, it all went to plan. In a week we will have a physical magazine to show for the months of hard work, being able to say “I made that” will be a great feeling.

I know that I haven’t shut up about Stand Up, since the project began. There’s a reason for that, that makes this magazine more than just a means to get through a university module. To pass semester two we certainly didn’t need to make a 68 page magazine, run a social media and crowdfunding campaign or facilitate a debate. We decided to go beyond what was expected of us because we felt so strongly that our project had to give young people a platform. I’m deeply proud by what we’ve achieved, and excited to see it in print. This MA has been one of the best decisions I’ve made that has been well worth sacrificing sleep and food for. I know people who have ran marathons, and this certainly feels like the marathon of journalism.

In the words of one of the young people I interviewed; “It’s about making sure that your views and your needs are being heard and being met. You cannot always rely on others to represent your interests – sometimes you have to be in the room making the points, or outside the room making the noise.”

We hope that Stand Up strikes a chord with young people, and that our journalism makes people think and listen to those who have often been forgotten or shut out from politics.

“For the many, not the few,” as Corbyn would say.

Next Friday we launch our magazine to the world.

We did it!

If you’d like to order a copy of Stand Up Magazine, you can do so here.

 

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Semester two and Stand Up magazine

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I am now well over half way through this magazine journalism MA, and to accompany this piece about why I’ve spent most of this second semester writing about politics, I’ve made a video:

 

To sum up what I said there, we’re now in the final stages of writing a magazine – and with just a month to go, we really appreciate everyones kind donations towards our Crowd Funding campaign.

Not so long ago, I was confused with the world, unable to make sense of political events and like most people my age unsure what I could do to make ‘it’ and people feel better. I was lost. We all were. So following the EU referendum I wrote this in June last year.

As time went on, and people were literally wondering (including most politicians) ‘what the fuck do we do now?’ It became apparent that young people overwhelmingly voted to remain, and if 16 year olds were given the vote we could be looking at a very different outcome. This decision was going to affect our future, more than anyone’s in years to come. A year on we still don’t know what that future is going to look like, because no one has a clue. Now that we are heading towards a general election, the future for young people looks even more bleak.

In September, I came together with a group of journalists, who despite being incredibly different individuals, with diverse interests – we all share the same vision and values – to ultimately change the conversation around young people and politics. There is a campaign to ‘change the conversation around mental health’ in the media, that I absolutely support, but it’s also about time that we work together to change the conversation about young people. Lets make them feel valued and listened to. The amount of times I’ve heard young people being described as lazy, or uninterested and worse. There is certainly a stigma of young people, and if you are a young person with a mental health condition and other difficulties, this marginalisation compounds these feelings even more.

In February we became Stand Up Magazine (although we first considered the project back in November after the Trump election) and the campaign, support and conversation has gone from strength to strength. Stand Up aims to empower young people to get involved in politics and to provide a platform to have a voice.

As a team, we want to make a small difference, to change the discourse and discussions, and to make young people feel included. Stand Up is written entirely by young people for young people, we are all under 30, we are all from different backgrounds and we are all keen to produce journalism that listens to young people. The pieces include voices from all groups in society (LGBT, disabilities and refugees amongst others are represented) as well as lighter content about millennial life style, (everyone loves a bit of nostalgia!)

To make this happen, and for Stand Up magazine and the brand to be a success we have launched a Crowd Funding campaign to pay for printing and to distribute the magazine nationally. Anything that you can afford to support us would really be appreciated.

Thank you so much to all our friends, family and strangers who have donated so far. We’re so close to the end of this project, exhausted, tired of the ‘B’ word but deeply proud of what we have achieved so far.

 

Next time I write here, I will hopefully have a printed magazine to tell you all about…

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Semester two has begun…

As most people know,  I’m at uni (again) doing a Masters in Magazine Journalism. After various career attempts and working out what being an adult meant to me, I decided that more education and another MA would be an almost logical step. (Although I still don’t understand what being an adult means…)

I’m a third of the way through this MA and almost nine weeks into semester two now, and if I’m really honest, this absolutely terrifies me. Although graduating from any degree is scary – it doesn’t make it any less overwhelming third time around. Since I last wrote about Journalism here, I have given up shorthand – having realised that despite how much I tried (and I persevered for six weeks), Dyspraxia and shorthand just don’t go together. Almost like attempting to climb a mountain in flippers – you wouldn’t get very far.

Once I’d decided to drop shorthand, I finally completed semester one, with the arrival of exams towards the end of January. I hadn’t sat any exams in seven years. After managing to get through my youth work degree without exams, and with only a few at undergrad, the last formal exam I sat was when I was twenty one.  I was, as you can imagine just a little bit terrified. My first introduction to Journalism was media law, something that every journalist has to do. Learning what you can and can’t do, both ethically and so you don’t get arrested. With this comes learning lots of laws, acts, codes and numbers. I struggled, of course I did – and anyone who tells you they find media law exams a breeze, I’m almost certain they’d be lying. They really need to stop writing laws, otherwise journalists in twenty years are going to be there forever trying to remember them all and the McNaes textbook would equate to war and peace. Exams and exhaustion aside and with the knowledge that I’ve got through law and Public Affairs, we are well into semester two.

This year, the MA focusses on developing the skills to make us into an ‘all rounded journalist’- I’ve always been wary when people want allrounders because I know it is one thing I am not. I can probably write my way out of most things, but asking me to solve a simultaneous equation or to do anything practical, would have different results. Shorthand is a prime example of this. On top of being able to write, journalists are encouraged to understand at least the basics of photography, production, infographics and video.

As someone who struggles with spatial awareness and Visual perception, and who sees the world in words and not pictures, means that working out how far away the subject I’m taking a photo of is or if the box I’ve drawn on indesign is straight has caused lots of swearing at computers and led to confusion over design. Deciding how to frame something or understanding perspective, has been a challenge because most of the time I often can’t see it. The mechanics of a tripod even baffle me, and thats before I’ve even got a camera out. This all comes down to being able to process the visual information around you accurately to determine what is needed to take a good photo or having the coordination to make sure the tripod doesn’t fall over. Writing is what I love though, so if I don’t get all of these nice added extras it’s not the end of the world. That said, I am giving everything a go, and I’m certain I will get it all eventually. I’ll even make someone like me enough to want to take me on for a placement, that at the moment is a long list of rejections – something I’ve started to get used to.

The most exciting project this semester, is to design, print and distribute a group magazine. Back in November we awoke to the unthinkable happening in America, how could they be so stupid? We said. The same questions we asked as we woke up to the news that we were leaving the EU, although our generation, the under 30’s had overwhelmingly voted to remain. Then,  we didn’t know each other but individually felt that something must be done to ensure that young people are listened to. Now we do know each other, and nothing has changed – we are five different voices who have been brought together through journalism so that we can make that difference. The day after Trump was elected, we all turned up at uni – lacking sleep, but full of anger and a determination to make things better. Our lecturer saw that doing anything on the planned financing magazines session wouldn’t be productive – so he gave us the three hour session, to rant, be angry, debate and almost cry.

“As a group of Journalists, you can do something” he said.

And that is exactly what we resolved to do.

After Christmas we returned, with that same passion and determination to do something. And so our project generated from that angry conversation about Trump began. The magazine is now known as Stand Up magazine and has become something that we are all deeply proud of. Stand Up aims to empower young people to get involved in politics, and is a way to channel our anger towards recent political events and anything that affects young people disproportionately. We wanted to demonstrate that young people do have something to say, giving them the platform to have a voice. The magazine will cover the stories of young people and marginalised groups who are often silenced, from LGBT, disabilities, animal activists, women, Asylum seekers and refugees. We’re trying to be as representative of society as possible.

Of course there’s a lot to do, from crowdfunding, printing, advertising to launch parties, as well as the actual writing of articles and hunting down sources. We’re practically taking on and running a business alongside the MA. I’m working with one of the best groups of people I could ever ask to work with on this project, so I know that it’s going to be something really special. The support Stand Up has had on Twitter and through our other social media platforms has been overwhelming, we covered the Unite for Europe march on Saturday and couldn’t believe the responses. Our phones didn’t stop buzzing.

As a young person I always felt that I wasn’t listened to personally and more generally. I was fed up of having to explain and justify myself to others. I didn’t feel that my voice was valued and campaigned to make young people’s opinions count. One of the reasons I trained as a youth worker, was to make a difference to the lives of young people, and to give them the voice that I never had. So when the the magazine group agreed on a magazine addressing issues so close to my heart, I knew that the answer to: “Have I made the right decision to start this Masters?” was yes.

I went into journalism, because I know that writing has always been my strength but I also wanted to tell the stories of those who are forgotten about in the media. Words are important, and being able to convey others voices well is something that I am determined to do.

Journalism aside, and I really do know that I have made the right choice and career change. I’ve found a sense of belonging here, more than I have ever felt before. As cheesy as it sounds I almost feel ‘at home.’ I don’t have to justify myself to anyone, I can just be me. This alone is pretty special for someone who has never really fitted in. The magazine cohort are a great team, complimenting each others strengths and being supportive where necessary. Our group chat gets in the way of uni work most days but the gif wars are often worth it. I am really proud to be part of such a great group of people, and to be entering a profession of equally talented and brilliant people.

If you’d like a copy of our finished magazine, do get in touch and I’m sure we can arrange something. We have also booked our magazine launch party and ordered a group mascot – so the pressure really is on.

 

 

 

 

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I’m Vegetarian, not awkward

I don’t normally write response pieces to articles in national newspapers, but I felt that this vent had to go somewhere. I recently saw this Guardian piece posted on Facebook, that has since promoted some debate (and ignorant comments too.) As I’ve got older I’ve tried to avoid justifying myself or my decisions and choices to other people, because quite frankly it’s none of their business and I shouldn’t have to offer explanations of things they should just accept. But this article has prompted me to make that justification.

The author discusses accessibility, and how they feel that restaurants do not have to meet people’s needs. Opening with ‘You don’t like the menu, you know what to do.’ This immediately demonises vegetarians and anyone who has a diet that is not seen as ‘normal.’ This includes many of my friends who will get ill if they eat certain ingrediants. It also makes anyone who has specific needs feel difficult or that they have a problem, including those with disabilities or any access requirements. The truth is that anyone who holds views other than a need to be inclusive are the problem.

I’ve grown up as a vegetarian, and whilst I have never eaten meat or have any desire to, I have been met with some hostility, confusion and often bafflement around my diet choices. I found this most extreme, age 14 when I became vegan for a short time and my friends on a summer camp decided to hide my vegan chocolate I’d brought away with me.

Like the article, people’s reactions to me choosing not to eat a steak or have a bacon sandwich for breakfast, have made me feel awkward, as if I’m a problem or making a fuss. I’ve felt different most of my life, being a clumsy, slightly hippy, vegetarian certainly made me stand out at school. People’s amazement when I say I’m veggie is quite something. So you’ve never eaten meat? Not even a burger? What DO you eat? so you survive on vegetables then? As if they think vegetarians are some weird breed of rabbit, munching on lettuce all day. Just for the record – we don’t. And even if we did, why does it concern you so much?

Being able to go out for a meal and find at least one decent veggie option on a menu is a rarity, but it shouldn’t be such luxury. Vegetarians have as much right to choice as the next person. It is also significantly cheeper to buy veggie food than meat, so there shouldn’t be a financial implication. Menus that are clearly labelled also help, so you aren’t looked at as if you’re an alien from another planet when asking for alternatives. ‘How dare you ask for meat-free options?’ I imagine them thinking, as my request appears to be seen as awkward or a hindrance to their day. People who eat meat can and do eat vegetarian food, you only need to be at the back of the buffet queue to realise that the limited veggie options tend to go first, often leaving me and other vegetarians who can’t get to the front quick enough with little to eat.

People’s reaction towards me being veggie has made me come to the decision to avoid mentioning it to people unless I really have to. I was far more vocal about the reasons behind my vegetarianism when I was younger, but as the years have gone by and the teasing continued, I’ve become less talkative about why.

The article goes deeper into accessibility and what this means, saying that a peanut allergy affects 1% of the population and therefore they shouldn’t provide nut free deserts because they are a small part of the population. Is this saying that because minority groups – are well minorities,  we shouldn’t cater for them? Would it be okay to offer this same treatment to someone in a wheelchair? To say, well not many physically disabled people come here, so I’m not going to provide an accessible toilet? I think not.

The author mentions people ‘whinging’ about loud music, small print, lighting to name a few. A number of things that can affect people with hidden disabilities, and shouldn’t be snubbed at as if they are a small child having a tantrum.

I recently had a run in with a man on a spiral staircase.

“You’re meant to walk on the left” he said. As he came down the same side of the stairs as I was going up them.

‘But there’s no handrail on that side, and if I let go I’ll fall over” I shouted back.

I have Dyspraxia, affecting spacial awareness, so I will literally fall over if I don’t hold onto something  while I’m going up and down stairs. Spiral staircases are also a nightmare for dyspraxics. I shouldn’t have to explain or justify myself to a rude, ignorant man or anyone – there should be accessible facilities in place.

If we add all of the so called ‘minority’ groups together, they would make up the majority. A majority that have as much right for their needs to be met as everyone else. To be able to go out, feel comfortable and not feel awkward.

The article concludes ‘a restaurant does not have to give a damn about you and your needs’ Well I say that they do.

Its not hard to offer reasonable adjustments, accommodations or to provide alternatives on a menu, and we shouldn’t have to constantly explain ourselves to other people.

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