Detox Days

After two excellent posts this month by Emily and Alex, I’m back, and for the first time in a while I actually have something worth saying. A week ago, without telling anyone, I entered into a temporary social media detox. I deactivated my Facebook account for three days, turned off all Messenger notifications and looked at Twitter and Instagram as little as possible. I started writing this post then, as I don’t consider this blog to be social media. After all, what you read here is largely all my own work, and as a lot of you will know by now, it’s been an invaluable outlet for my thoughts and feelings over the last five years, so it escaped the cut. I feel I really benefited from the break and, having now finished all my work for the second year of university (madness), I went into it with some new pastimes in mind.

I won’t lie to you, they did still mostly revolve around screen time or Spotify. I finished watching Normal People, searched for some new music I could listen to while concentrating, and even saw The Lego Movie 2 with Louis. Last night, I actually decided to get some use out of my Netflix (which I’m ashamed to say is neglected far too much), and watched one of the countless well-known films I’d never seen before. In this instance, it was the highly entertaining Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, none of these things abandoned technology completely, but I still felt calmer, like some kind of weight I couldn’t quite identify had been lifted. I was talking to Alex about this feeling just the other day, and how even though giving up social media entirely would disconnect me from too many people, I can definitely see why the idea is appealing to others. My little breather has exposed just how much of a difference focusing on yourself, even for a little bit, can make. I’ll certainly think about doing it again when I feel the need – and next time, I might aim for a week off instead of three days!

Mason

 

Keep Calm, Chop And Change

Hi everyone, my name’s Alex. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow Creative Writing student. I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a post on this blog, but I’ve never done a blog post about me as I’m used to telling other people’s stories, so bear with me!  

I decided to cut my hair from shoulder-length to pixie one Saturday night in January while I was alone in my uni house. I hadn’t planned to go that short when I picked up the Ikea scissors and faced my reflection. I hadn’t planned past the slightly bored thought of “I’ll give it a trim”, which I’d had for the past year. So I snipped in a few more layers, took a centimetre or so from the ends and found myself wondering – not for the first time – how it would look a bit shorter. Maybe a lob length. My sister had just started growing her pixie cut out and I’d admired her confidence when she got hers cut, but felt – because we have different bone structures – that I wouldn’t be able to carry one off. I put on a playlist – I can’t remember it now but it probably didn’t help to rationalise what I did next – took a handful of my hair and chopped it at my jaw. No turning back once you’ve done that, is there? It felt…empowering? Crazy? Like I’d stuck a metaphorical middle finger up? Of course, a lot was behind this, not just the desire to try a new look. I’d spent my whole life feeling self-conscious, awkward, like I didn’t belong anywhere, as though no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t fit in. Nothing really felt personalised in my physical identity.

I felt free to be so drastic partly because I wasn’t with anyone (so didn’t have to worry about being dumped because I’d changed), partly because I was no longer bothered if people didn’t like me (and if they cared then I no longer wanted them in my life), and partly because nothing else had worked. I don’t know how long that first chop took, but I’ve never regretted it. I love that I cut (and still maintain) it myself. No-one else had any part in creating it and there’s something really satisfying in that.

Changing to become more authentic is the most terrifying, empowering thing because it’s a leap of faith. Chopping my hair into a pixie cut challenged me – and not just in my cutting abilities! It challenged me to step out from a role I felt I’d been playing for years that had got good reviews, but wasn’t authentic. I didn’t want to be a carbon copy or a blend, I wanted to be me and I wanted to be that person unapologetically and honestly. Cutting my hair was the first major step towards cultivating a look, a lifestyle, a persona that suits and reflects me. Not society, not socially popular images, not stereotypes, not what’s seen as attractive. Just me.

Lots of people thought I was having a crisis, lots of people thought I was crazy. Lots of people probably still think all those things, but I’d rather be honest about who I am and what I want. Trying to stuff myself into an image that increased self-doubt and insecurities already in existence – due to constant comparisons with everyone else – hadn’t worked. But accepting those insecurities, owning them and stepping out from who I felt I’d always had to be helped to overcome a huge block. I realised that you can change but the people who like you for yourself won’t give a damn what you look like, and if they do? Well, there will be people out there who love who you really are, and you should look out for them.

So that’s the story behind the hair.

Thank you Mason for letting me contribute to your blog!

Alex

Going Beyond The Comfort Zone

Hello!

My name is Emily. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow student, and he’s kindly invited me to write a post of my choice for his blog. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on a blog. The feeling of just letting my thoughts flow and allowing my fingers to just do the typing is all coming back to me now. So let’s see how this goes…

I remember the pre-university excitement as though it was yesterday. The mental lists I made of all the social interaction I was going to do, how many friends I was going to make, how many Freshers’ parties I was attending, and of course, how much fun I was going to have before the semester started. Did any of that go to plan?

Absolutely not.

When I turned eighteen and started university, I thought that was it – that my independent, anxious phase was over. I was going to enjoy myself with my new flatmates, and actually try to socialise. Little did I know that what I thought was an anxious phase is just who I am as a person and cannot be easily fixed with social interaction. I’ve always been the type of girl who would rather spend an evening at home with a good movie or book rather than going out and getting totally shitfaced. However, I thought that for the sake of university, I’d get out of my comfort zone.

That went down like a lead balloon…

It was the first day of Freshers’ Week and the university was holding a Full Moon Party. My flatmates and I had pre-booked tickets to go together, to get to know each other a little better. It came to my attention that this wasn’t their first party, by how they were chugging back shots like it was nobody’s business. I, on the other hand, was younger and was never popular enough for house parties, and hardly drank. So you can already see why this was a bad idea. Flash forward to an hour or two later when the doors finally opened, and the anxiety and panic had set in. I just felt so out of place, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just go up to my flatmates after just getting in and saying “I want to go back”. I decided to give it a chance. Maybe I would like it?

Wrong again.

It got to the point where I felt the anxiety rising and rising until it bubbled over and I started to panic. There were too many people. I didn’t belong there. I felt unsafe. All I knew was that I needed to get out. One of my flatmates noticed I was panicking and helped me get back to the flat safely by calling my friend on campus. I’m pretty sure I ruined his match on Call of Duty.

So why am I telling this story? Well, as someone who has been anxious their entire life and wondered whether university life wasn’t for them, I’m here to say that despite the drinking, the partying and the social interaction, university life can still be for you.

After that night, I was embarrassed to show my face to my flatmates, and even though their personalities were lovely, I knew I wasn’t going to get on well with them because we were different people. On a Wednesday night when they’d have pre-drinks and go out to BOP, I was sat on my bed with a blanket, eating spaghetti bolognese whilst watching Celebrity MasterChef…you see?

If you, an independent individual, end up sharing a flat with party animals, you can still find your own ways to enjoy yourself. On those Wednesday evenings, I had the flat to myself and didn’t have to press my ear to my bedroom door to hear if anyone was in the kitchen because everyone was out. Sometimes I baked cookies and cakes, or went for a walk into Winchester to pick up any food I needed, or just to get some fresh air and be alone with my thoughts for a while. It’s the little things that can sometimes have the biggest impact.

Having said all this, though, the one thing that kept me going was seeing my family at the end of the week. I was lucky enough to get into a university relatively close to home – only 60-90 minutes away on the train (God knows what I would’ve done if I went to my insurance choice, Bangor). So, if like me, you are the type of person who loves their home comforts, applying to a university close to you is probably the most important tip, as at the end of the week, you get to crash on your own bed and realise just how quiet it is within your own four walls.

Emily G

 

Deadline Deadlock

The peculiar circumstances we find ourselves living under at the moment have meant that every student at Winchester has been given two separate extensions on their assignments. As I write this now, my nearest deadline is two weeks away, and some of the others are five weeks in the distance. These great voids of time give us a lot of breathing space, for which we’re very grateful, but we’re also swiftly finding that it poses a problem of its own – that of my old nemesis, procrastination. Think about the fact I have a fortnight until my next assignment is due. Then think about how under the lockdown, with very little to do, I could use any of the hours between now and then to get it done. Do you see my problem? There isn’t exactly a huge incentive to press ahead.

I’m certainly not rushing, but even so, I’d say I’m making good progress. I normally say that it’s better to complete work by doing a little bit here and there, and that’s the strategy I’m employing here, so I should be fine as long as I don’t completely take my eye off the ball! The dissertation wheels have now officially started turning too, and yesterday – as far as I’m aware – everyone on each Creative Writing course received an email revealing the identity of their supervisor. I’m pleased that I’ve been assigned someone who has really helped me to achieve good marks before now – and the fact they’re someone I already know in the first place is also reassuring. It looks like this news will bode well for the work that lies ahead. I’m sure not many other people will say this about their dissertations, but with an idea I’m passionate about and support I think will be excellent, I’m actually looking forward to getting started!

Mason

The Isolation Station

A fortnight ago, as the world became increasingly swamped by the coronavirus pandemic, the university abruptly halted all of its face to face teaching, with two weeks of the semester still to go. I understand why, of course, but I still felt a certain emptiness as a result of not being able to see the term through to its end. Several strange and uncertain months now lie ahead before my third year begins, but I’m entering that period working on some of my current assignments on a rather empty campus. I’ve also chosen all of my modules for next year and written my dissertation proposal – there’ll be more on both of those later, no doubt – but I also have even more free time on my hands, as do a lot of us.

Before I came home from Winchester last Wednesday, I didn’t leave my flat or the campus unless it was absolutely necessary, and that policy has obviously continued back in Somerset too. My total screen time has been even higher than it usually is. I’ve watched, chatted, written and played, and as you may have gathered recently, I’ve listened to a lot of music too. I’m still working my way through the list of albums I mentioned before, but I also got bored enough one day to create an isolation-themed playlist on Spotify. To keep the musical thread going in this blog, I thought I’d include a link. My friends seem to like it, and Lara suggested I share it, if only for what I hope will be your listening pleasure. Click here to get started – alternatively, go to Spotify and search for The Isolation Station. We’re living in strange times, so if this playlist puts even the slightest smile on your face, it will have been a worthwhile use of my time. Dig in – there’s plenty to listen to!

Mason

Press Play, Don’t Skip

In my last post I mentioned how I’d begun listening to new music while working in the library. It’s been bliss, and something of an education, since I’ve tried to restrict myself as much as possible to things released since 2015 (most of my Liked Songs on Spotify predate that). I haven’t just cherry-picked individual songs, either. I’m doing this the old-fashioned way, listening to albums by artists who are both familiar and unfamiliar to me, in an array of different genres. Well, that’s the intention, anyway. I’ve devised a list of the first records from the last five years that came to mind, and as I develop it I’m going to try and work towards making it as varied in terms of genre and gender as I can. As things stand, though, these are the albums I’ve listened to with only one rule in mind. I press play, and I don’t skip, even when I reach the filler tracks that most of us don’t hesitate to stop in their – well, tracks. Have a look at this completely random selection:

  1. Everyday Life by Coldplay (2019)
  2. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish (2019)
  3. Fine Line by Harry Styles (2019)
  4. Seeking Thrills by Georgia (2020)
  5. Gang Signs and Prayer by Stormzy (2017)
  6. Blackstar by David Bowie (2016)
  7. Madame X by Madonna (2019)

There are more on the list I’m yet to delve into, but recommendations are always welcome if you have any. Perhaps I’ll make this post the first part of a series, so I can keep you updated on how I’m getting on and what I think. Maybe it’d be a good idea to restrict my reviews of these albums to three words, to give myself a challenge? Stay tuned to find out…

Mason

Bearing Up

This week has been one marked by contrasts. I entered it on a high, having taken full advantage of the isolation imposed by Storm Dennis to shut myself in the library and get as much work done as I possibly could. At the time of writing, on Saturday evening, I feel I’m leaving it on a slightly lower note – a low-pitched squeaking, rubbing and rattling note, to be precise. That’s the noise currently making my eardrums bleed from an unspecified location. Despite my valiant efforts to trace the source by getting on my hands and knees and shining my iPhone torch into the chair’s inner workings, I am so far at a loss to explain it (although I do think something connected to the wheel could be loose), and since everything is packed into it so tightly, I can’t reach any of the parts. That means I have to leave it to the professionals and wait until an engineer turns up at some stage next week. By that time, I may well have scratched my own ears off. Oh well, at least I’ve got a quiz at the noodle bar where Lara works to look forward to tomorrow night. Let’s just hope I don’t manage to deafen the entire restaurant on my way in!

In the meantime, I’ve returned to the library, and I have a nice quiet booth all to myself. I’ve started listening to music as I work now – I never really did that before as I always felt slightly conspicuous wearing headphones in public – but it’s so much easier to get settled in a little cocoon of sound. I’m trying to use it as an opportunity to discover new music, as I find it too easy to slip into the habit of listening to the same artists, songs and playlists over and over again. Since Spotify offers such a wide-ranging array of lists, I’ve simply taken to reading their names, deciding whether I’ll like them based on that alone, and then pressing play and seeing what happens. It’s been quite exciting so far – maybe I’ll list some of my better discoveries in a future post (leaving out the more embarrassing ones)?

Mason