Pizza Autonomy

A few weeks ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was having a conversation with Mum in which I uttered the following ten words:

“Mum, you don’t understand. I need to have pizza autonomy.”

Let me tell you that I absolutely loved how “pizza autonomy” sounded out of context. Straight away, I typed it at the top of a new draft and saved it here, certain that it would make a brilliant blog post title at some point (almost as good as my previous food-based choices, such as ‘Grapeness’ or ‘The Cultural Relevance Of Apple Crumble’). Beyond being a silly soundbite, though, it does have some actual significance, so I thought it would be a good idea to contextualise it after all. You see, what it refers to is my recent habit of choosing when to have my own dinner, which I’ve written about before – it’s something that allows me to take back some form of control over what is currently a rather unpredictable life. More specifically, of course, it refers to pizza, one of the only meals on Earth that never really disappoints. It’s also one of the only meals I can conjure all by myself, so long as the pizza is already made and frozen, so you can imagine why I was miffed when Mum suggested she could heat it up for me instead that afternoon. Firstly, I’m 25, and secondly, how dare you dictate when I eat? What is this, a police state?

I’m joking, of course, but you get the picture – this independence, this private time, is very important to me, even if it only comes in small doses. I didn’t quite know then that I’d be getting more pizza autonomy than I’d been expecting heading into 2023. More autonomy full stop, in fact. And why? Because – as some of you might have guessed – I’m back in Winchester!

To my amazement, I’m staying in my original flat on the university campus until mid-June, while I look for some work in the area. I’ll freely admit that it’s a risk, but at this stage I think it’s one worth taking, and in any case I’m thrilled to be back somewhere I love so much. I have already made a little bit of progress, since I have an interview for a part-time job next week, and that’s taken some of the pressure off for the next few days. I’m looking forward to updating you on my fortunes, at least whenever I have consistent web access – I’m writing this sat in the library in town, because I’m not connected on campus yet. Hopefully, by the time I am, that won’t be the only good news I have to share…

Mason

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Back In The Driving Seat

This piece was written for the December 2022 issue of Caitlyn Raymond’s fantastic Details Magazine, which is out now – you can find out more about it by clicking here!

Whether it’s for this magazine, my own blog or any other outlet, I always try to write about my own life from a ‘glass half-full’ perspective. And why wouldn’t I? After all, there’s enough misery in the world at the moment without me adding to it. Unfortunately, though, my sunny disposition on the page isn’t always reflected in real life, and that’s never more true than now, at the tail end of nine months of unemployment (so far). I sit, I dwell and I overthink, and it seems like there’s something different for me to mull over every single day – I never quite seem to be able to catch a break. It’s hard to admit that without moaning, but I’m just telling my truth.

Last week, that troubling thing was time itself – more specifically, the feeling that it was passing me by, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d turned 25 and I was sitting there, in the thick of November, with seemingly very little to show for my year. That’s a hopeless situation, let me tell you, and when you’re down in the dumps like that it can be very easy just to wallow in self-pity. I definitely know what that’s like, because it’s usually when the comfort eating starts! So when it happens, what do I do about it? I take control, I make changes, but not necessarily the kind you might expect.

They aren’t major life alterations. There’s plenty of time for those, and in any case, it’s always much better to take baby steps – and I mean baby steps. I’ve realised I have to seize the initiative wherever I can, even if that means deciding to eat my dinner an hour after Mum and Dad have finished theirs, as I have done recently. It’s caused a little bit of debate, and I suspect they think there’s something driving me away from them, no matter how many times I try to convince them otherwise. But the simple fact is that they won’t dictate when I’m hungry: I will. They can’t complain if I spend too long in my room either, because if I have my solitude, I’m calm and content, and those moments are worth their weight in gold.

You may well think I’m immature, or I have a screw loose (now that I’ve written about my dinner routines, I’m wondering if I do too). But in a life that’s increasingly felt like it’s getting away from me, it allows me to climb into the driving seat and get back behind the wheel. That might only be for five or ten minutes at a time, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable. It provides a light in the darkness, it helps to guide me through uncertain times, and it makes the long-term unknown that little bit less daunting.

Mason

Not The Christmas Market

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Winchester, and on Friday afternoon I finally got the chance to have a look around the Christmas market I’d been excited to see for so long. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people, meaning it was very busy (even more so on Saturday, when I aborted an attempt to go back because 400,000 people had seemingly decided to drop by at once). I had to be vigilant however I moved, lest I knock over any children or elderly people in haste, but I was still glad to have gotten in for a browse. I couldn’t help but be amused at many selfies and family photos I had to duck out of – I’ll be very surprised if I haven’t been caught in a few, and immortalised in photobomb form!

The stalls there were selling all kinds of weird and wonderful things, from Christmas decorations, bath bombs and fudge to salt and pepper mills shaped like chess pieces. There was plenty of choice in terms of things to eat and drink, too. One of the first things you notice is how much you can smell, be it gluhwein, roasted chestnuts, hot dogs, fish and chips, or any of the other sweet and savoury delights on offer. You’re also struck by the joy that all of this stimulation is bringing people – there’s so much to see, listen to, feel, and all in the shadow of the majestic cathedral that looms over you as you take it in. Being able to witness it means it’s an even bigger shame that I couldn’t get a clear photo of anything, that I couldn’t capture any of these wonders to share them with you, although I should really have anticipated how popular they’d be.

I therefore came away empty-handed, but I was still determined to have something on Third Time Enabled for posterity, and what better alternative is there than the tree in the high street? It’s always impressive, but I personally feel this one is the biggest and best one yet, and I hope you agree. It might not be a photo from the Christmas market, but I feel it very much captures the magic of the season, the occasion, and my little holiday.

Mason

Anybody’s Guess

Sometimes, I just find myself wanting to dash off a quick post with some simple news on it. No big point to argue, no tangent to go on, just an update that I feel warrants a mention here, especially after the last few months. So here it is: I have some freelance work. And – once it’s all done – it’ll be paid! It’s only ten days in total, but even so, you have no idea how good it feels to write that. Not only because it gives me the opportunity to earn some money, but also because it genuinely feels like it might be a turning point in my year. So far I haven’t had much to smile about, but since mid-July I’ve been volunteering for a charity, and now they’ve tasked me with proofreading their annual report – something I haven’t been tackling lightly at all. As things stand, I’ve done two days, which saw around 30 double-page spreads thoroughly checked over the course of many hours. It arguably shouldn’t have taken quite as long as it did, but I’ve always liked to leave no stone unturned, and I’m hoping that when the powers that be recognise that, more commissions will follow. I didn’t have ‘unexpectedly become freelance’ on my 2022 bingo card, but I’m not complaining! The unpredictability of what might come next is, of course, scary and exciting at the same time. It’s anybody’s guess, but I’m ready for it…

Mason

Live At Your Own Pace

This piece was written for the August 2022 issue of Caitlyn Raymond’s fantastic Details Magazine, which is out now – you can find out more about it by clicking here!

It all started with talk of first kisses.

“I was 16 when I had mine…”, said Caitlyn, as we discussed how we might incorporate the theme of ‘coming of age’ into this issue. Oh dear, I thought. She thinks 16 is late? I was 21! It was then that I realised it was going to be hard to relate to any of the typical teenage experiences the others were going to talk about. I often tell people that a disabled life isn’t a bad one, just a different one, and what that can mean is that it moves more slowly than everyone else’s. Admittedly, I’ve always been somewhat shy and introverted, so you could argue that that’s partly been down to choice. But there’s no doubt that I have had a sheltered upbringing, one that led me down another path, and perhaps that meant that I was never in the right places – or the right circles – for certain things.

I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve always got on pretty well with most people, and I was never really subjected to any of the bullying that some other disabled kids get at school. On the other hand, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call popular either. For a long time, I didn’t really see the few friends I had at weekends or during holidays, and I certainly wasn’t invited to any parties or other gatherings as I got older. I’d listen to the stories people would tell about getting drunk on cider in a field, or finally getting off with someone they’d been pursuing for months, or the amazing trip they’d just been on with their very best buddies, and I’d feel like those things were happening in a completely different world. Of course, at least two of them aren’t massively important, but back then they seemed huge and unattainable, and I’ve never felt less normal (whatever that is) than I did at times like that. And that was just adolescence.

Even now, in my mid-twenties, I still can’t truthfully say I really feel like an adult. Maybe it’s good to retain youthfulness, but I can’t help feeling I might have retained a little too much – and that must surely be because I missed out on many of those formative rituals that develop you to a certain extent. Whenever I’m explaining life with cerebral palsy to someone, I always emphasise how independent I am – how I get out and about in my chair, wash and dress myself, et cetera – but how independent am I really? Sometimes it feels like I should have gotten to 25 with a little more to show for those years. If I’d had more of those aforementioned experiences, maybe I’d have gone further, met more people, and been a more social creature than the generally withdrawn one I’ve come to regard myself as. But then again, I’m still only 25. As I’m continually reminded, we only get one go at this thing called life, and none of us should rush it. 

Some people pack more into ten years than others do into eighty, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to. Like a lot of people, I’m often prone to scrolling through social media, seeing people who were in my class with jobs, houses, husbands and wives, and wondering why I’m not at the same point. Given my condition and the difficulties it poses, it might take me longer to obtain all of those anyway, but I still fall into the same trap almost every time. Perhaps I ought to heed a quote I saw recently, attributed to Noel Gallagher. When asked about the meaning of life in an interview, he said:

“I enjoy the trip. Wherever you’re going is where you’ll end up. Don’t worry about that. Enjoy the scenery on the way.”

Now, a rock star may not be the best person to be taking life advice from, and I certainly don’t agree with everything Noel says, but I think those words make perfect sense. Whatever happens, I should always remember to live at my own pace and never lose hope. However long it might take, I will be less boring – and perhaps a little more grown up – eventually…

Mason

Broken Record

I’m always thinking about what I can try on this blog that’s new and different – even though you might not think so, given that the material never strays far from what’s going on in my own life. Every element of it has been carefully considered in some way at one time or another, from the text, to the imagery, to the design of the site itself. Unfortunately, none of the vague plans that exist in my head have come to fruition just yet. I haven’t even used that aforementioned imagery nearly as often as I should, but that hasn’t stopped me creating little quirks and continuities that might have passed you by. Up to now, at least!

There are things I’ve become quite fond of including over the last couple of years in particular. I treat them as private self-deprecating jokes, and by that, I mean really private – between me and myself, to be precise. I realised one day that I’ve developed two accidental habits while writing these posts, and the first is my tendency to contradict myself. This most often happens when I announce my intention to focus on or pursue something, only for it to be mentioned once months later or simply never again. The second habit is my continued use of the phrase “…as I’ve said before”, or variations thereof. At first, this appeared genuinely innocently, but I eventually realised just how often it popped up and decided to keep it in. It’s arguably also there to save me having to rifle back through to the previous post where I mentioned the thing in question, but it mainly makes me smile, even if nobody else notices or appreciates it. Whatever the case, it demonstrates how not everything in life can be linear. We all make mistakes, and we all contradict and repeat ourselves now and again, so sounding like a broken record sometimes can’t be all bad, can it? The world is full of these fluctuations, so I’m embracing them in my own little way, and giving this blog a discreet and somewhat ironic pair of stylistic hallmarks in the process.

Mason

Souligner!

You know when you make notes on something to refer back to later, but when you do they’ve been scribbled so hurriedly that they no longer make sense even to you? I’ve found that that’s happened rather a lot lately as I try to adjust to my new job. The notes have been growing by the day, whether I’ve been recording new conversations, methods or even interviews, but with every new scribbling has come the increased risk of confusion. Ironically, though, these may still be more of a help than a hindrance.

Back in Year 8, when I was doing French at school, I found myself doing pretty well (a few years later, I decided not to do the subject at GCSE, and my teacher was devastated after I broke the news). I could write it confidently and I wasn’t bad at speaking it either, with an increasingly accurate accent. There was, however, one small thing I couldn’t quite master doing work in my textbook – using a ruler. That wasn’t exclusive to any one subject – in every class, I thought the lines already on the page would be sufficient to keep my writing straight – but in French it seemed to be a particular problem for my teacher. With every passing week, it would slope further and further downward, and the same word would appear next to it without fail: “souligner!”

What does it mean, I hear you ask? Simple. “Underline.” It must have been there for weeks or even months on end, but I still wouldn’t make the effort to hold that ruler straight. When you have cerebral palsy, fine motor skills can be a tricky thing to master, but eventually, having seen one “souligner!” too many, I realised that particular ability was one I really needed to get on top of. Ultimately, of course, I did, and I’m willing to bet I did so much quicker than I expected to beforehand. I’ve never forgotten it, because it’s one of those tiny things that taught me never to be afraid of notes or feedback, regardless of how harsh they might seem, because at the end of the day they’re there to push you forward. That time in Year 8 taught me two things – a piece of French vocabulary and the correct way to use a ruler – and I’m keeping that in mind with every note I’m given in my new job. I’m bound to slip up mere weeks in, or even once I’m firmly established there, but what matters most is not the mistakes I make, but how I learn from them. Life is, after all, one big learning curve.

Mason

Graduation

My graduation ceremony is now just under four weeks away, and I write this having recently booked my tickets, photographs, and gown for the event. Clicking those confirmation buttons made my one remaining university obligation seem that little bit more real, but I’m nevertheless looking forward to seeing everyone and celebrating their achievements, even if it is the last time I’ll see certain people (such as Lara and Nora) for a while – or ever, as the case may be. That’s both a sad and slightly odd thought, isn’t it?

In a stroke of amazing coincidence, I finalised all of that almost three years to the day since I moved into halls in Winchester, and it’s come at a time when I’m graduating in a couple of other areas of life too. In my last post, I alluded to an exciting new opportunity coming my way, and at long last I feel it’s advanced far enough that I can talk about it (for those who don’t already know). Very soon, I’ll be starting as an Editorial Apprentice at Haymarket Media Group, rotating through the three car magazines they own over a period of 18 months. It’s an invaluable chance I can’t wait to get started with, but besides being a new job, it also means I have to relocate to the bright lights of London – so it’s not only a professional change, but a personal one too. One I’ve never seen the like of before, in fact.

Given my disability and its associated challenges, I need to find somewhere that is accessible as well as relatively affordable (although, as I’ve said to several people, the latter in particular can be easier said than done in London). This is the main barrier to taking up my new post, so even though I’ve signed and returned my contract, I don’t have a start date yet – the idea is that I and my three fellow apprentices will all start at the same time, so I need to have some idea of where I’m going before that can happen. Thankfully, Haymarket have stepped in to offer whatever help they can, and I’ve been doing a spot of networking myself to get the ball rolling as much as possible. This has led to a small breakthrough, as Mum and I have a Zoom consultation booked in for Monday afternoon with a company who help disabled people into appropriate accommodation. I’m not sure quite what it’ll lead to, but it’s nice to know there are people out there willing to fight my corner and help me to reach my goals. You can rest assured I’ll update you very enthusiastically when I do find the right place from which to start my next journey. Let’s just hope it isn’t too long before that comes along!

Mason