Category Archives: Musings

On first kisses, worst kisses, transience, and being a hurricane in the form of a girl

My first kiss was also my worst kiss. I was at a school disco at the tender age of 14, dressed in a beige Pocahontas-style fringed top that my mother had decided was the height of fashion, when a slightly gossipy overly-enthusiastic friend approached me to ask if I would ‘pull her mate’. As a late bloomer, I was insecure about my flat-chested, awkward tiny frame, thick dirty blonde hair and rabbit teeth, so I jumped at the opportunity to experience my first kiss and become more like the super glamorous curvaceous teenage girls surrounding me, who smoked, said ‘shit’ and drank Bacardi Breezers on the weekend. One of them had asked me on that same night if I remained a ‘VL’. For anyone who didn’t grow up on the west coast of Scotland in the early 2000s, ‘VL’ was teenage slang for ‘Virgin Lips’, and was definitely a state with which one did not aspire to be associated.

I walked to the centre of the dancefloor where my acne-ridden bespectacled beau awaited me. We’d never exchanged two words but he was in the year above me at school so I believed this made him a mature choice for my first kiss. There was no physical attraction on my part, being an undeveloped 14 year old with confusing lesbian leanings, who was pretty convinced that Heath Ledger’s character in ’10 Things I Hate About You’ was the only male worth pursuing. Nonetheless, it was now or never, so I nervously approached the pale nerdy teenager standing before me. My confusion about not knowing what to do was quickly assuaged when he clamped his larger than average jaw around my mouth and proceeded to dart a cold wet tongue in and out of my mouth, disarming me completely. After thrusting his tongue repeatedly at me, the young man would pause and allow me to move my tongue nervously around his mouth. I’m not sure how long the kiss lasted for, but all eyes were upon me, and it felt like the longest moment of my life.

The next day, gossip followed me through the hallways – the quiet geeky girl had kissed a fourth year, and this was shocking news. Even my Maths teacher asked me about my encounter, and then commented in an amused tone that she didn’t know I had it in me. Despite my misgivings about all this attention, I definitely changed in the eyes of my peers that day. From then onwards, I was no longer simply the weird short skinny girl who spent suspicious amounts of time in the library – I had a name, I was a viable option for boys to admire, and this attention was amplified over the course of the following two years, as I developed larger than average breasts, dyed my hair blonde and started wearing pleated mini skirts to school.

Having found my first kiss to be somewhat of an anti-climax, I ignored boys for about a year after this encounter, until I met A. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, A was probably the most beautiful guy I’d ever seen up close in my short life. With high feminine cheekbones, striking eyes and a ponytail, he was just the right mix of masculine and feminine qualities that stirred up feelings in me I didn’t know I could feel. We went on our first date in town with his friend as a third wheel, before going back to A’s house. When he walked me to his close door, we paused inside the flat building and he kissed me deeply and passionately. It was everything I’d dreamed that my first kiss would be, except it wasn’t my first. It didn’t matter though – by all standards that mattered, A was my first love. We had a perfect four month long love affair and, looking back, I honestly believe that at only fifteen, he was one of the loveliest men I would ever date.

After A, there came many others, but none of them made my heart flutter as he once had, so I convinced myself that he was the one and I’d made a mistake ending our relationship. Over the coming years, I became addicted to chasing these beautiful transient moments with strangers, friends and partners, trying to replicate the magic of the first time.

As the years passed, so did many short-lived flings, one night stands, and messy long-term relationships. I was always searching for something. I kissed bad boys in dark corners, played with strangers in alleyways, and told boyfriends my deepest darkest desires as we smoked cigarettes in the middle of the night. I became obsessed with transience, convincing myself there was no greater joy than in a single moment, and that these moments must be constantly interspersed with reality to make it more bearable.

In every relationship I entered, I thought that we needed to tell each other everything that had come to pass in our lives. The words would come spewing out, and I would reveal too much too quickly. After a couple of months, the relationship would blow up in flames, because that intensity cannot be maintained long-term. If I didn’t feel an immediate connection with people, I dismissed them as not worth my time. Club nights became like gold to me, as I could interact with many people in a setting where alcohol was readily available, allowing us to talk frankly and honestly. I stopped caring about ‘real world’ issues like money, university and work, because I believed that the secret inner life of people was more compelling and relevant than paying bills on time.

I’d always thought of my intensity and passion as being endearing traits. I thought of myself as ‘not like other girls’; more compelling, more honest and mysterious. The men I slept with told me they’d never met anyone like me, someone who felt everything so deeply and threw themselves into everything full force. Around the time before I started dating my now husband, I fell for a guy who told me I was too intense and he couldn’t handle it. This hurt my feelings, and I spent some time reflecting on whether there was truth in what he’d said. It seemed to me that I was caught between two extremes. Men would either become obsessed with me, begging me never to leave, gripping me in the night in fiery passion, or they’d run away frightened. It was the same with my friends – I’d make what I thought were deep, intense connections with people, and then they’d tell me they couldn’t handle my force of personality, and cut me out of their lives. I began to beat myself up, believing that I was messy, intense and unlovable in the long-term. I told myself I was the type of woman who people loved in the short-term, but not worthy of any long-term commitment.

In around 2010, I found some new friends, who took me seriously and listened to me when I spoke. They were interested in the things I had to say, not just my physical actions, and this completely revolutionised the way I thought about myself. My passion, my intensity, my sexuality, these were all factors of who I am, but they didn’t define me. I wasn’t a one dimensional character in a quirky rom-com who the main character ditches for someone more stable but less interesting. I was a complex being with thoughts, and I was fluid and changeable.

When I had my first kiss with my now husband in 2010, I knew for sure that this was love, true love, and not the superficial transient love I had relentlessly pursued for years. The kiss was simple and magical; as we stood at my flat door, full of red wine and optimism, I politely asked him, ‘Will you kiss me please?’ and nervously glanced at the floor. Gently, he placed his fingers under my chin, tilted my head towards his, and gave me the tiniest, sweetest kiss of my life. I knew in that moment that love didn’t need to be rushed, and it didn’t need to be destructive or painful to feel good. Over the time in which we dated, I kept expecting the relationship to become codependent and destructive. I kept expecting him to turn me into his ideal pixie dream girl, and was repeatedly surprised when he treated me like an actual human being. If I made a mistake, he didn’t lose all faith in me or fall out of love with me, because he wasn’t under any illusions that I was anything but a human being.

I still love the thrill of the chase, in all aspects of my life, and I really do believe there is magic in human connection. I still enjoy the odd moment when life seems to have paused and, to paraphrase that wonderful young adult novel, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, in that moment, you feel infinite. I still have days with my husband where everything feels perfect and magical, and like we are falling in love for the first time, and I have moments with friends where we bond so deeply, or laugh so hard we cry, that I realise we are all connected on this planet. When humans are young, we tend to think the world revolves around us alone, but I think it is extremely important, as a human being, as a vegan, as an environmentalist, and a humanist, that I, and those around me, respect our space on this earth, and those beings around us who occupy their own space. The world is not ours; we’re just living in it.

laurencows

x L x

P.S. I’m collecting first kiss stories! I’d love to hear yours!

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Tis the season of guilt and shame

I’m a big believer in second chances. Having made a lot of silly drunken mistakes in my teens and early twenties, I understand what it’s like to cause destruction and hurt in your quest for self-discovery, so I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt when they act like assholes. This extends to giving friends and family second, third, fourth and fifth chances even when they have hurt me beyond repair. Over the last few years, I believe my friends have come to rely on my high levels of patience and tolerance, to the point where people occasionally take advantage of my kind nature. It was in around 2009, when the long-term bully I had called my best friend for eighteen years sent me endless text messages of outright abuse in a disproportionate reaction to some journal entries I had posted that mentioned her name, and I came to the realisation that I had to develop thicker skin.

In the months following my fall-out with my toxic ex best friend, I was an utter mess, crying constantly and torturing myself with an endless cycle of guilt and shame, going over and over every mistake I’d ever made during the years of our friendship, telling myself that I was the cause of her inappropriate behaviour. This all happened five years ago, and at nearly twenty-nine, I am older and wiser now, still tolerant and patient, but less willing to stand for abuse and bullying of my friends or myself. I told myself that I had moved on from my self-loathing guilt spiral, and that I could take anything the universe threw at me. I was wrong.

The winter season in Scotland, and around the world, is a difficult time for many people. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and find the long dark nights utterly torturous, as I’m starved for just a slither of sunlight to bring me out of my dark moods. I invested in a SAD lamp a few years ago, and while it hasn’t entirely cured my seasonal depression, it does offer a little boost on the darker days. That said, Christmas brings additional stress that I always forget to account for when November hits, and I’m only ever reminded when I’m sitting crying on my husband after my family’s annual festive argument. It’s easy for me to get distracted by the shiny lights and cheery music, forgetting that Christmas is always a difficult time for families and friends.

Just when I thought I had it all figured out this year, the universe threw me a curve ball, and I reverted to my old cycle of guilt and shame. A friend of twelve years behaved inappropriately at a social event at my house, and was asked to leave, to which she reacted by sending me a barrage of personal messages that drew attention to all of my past errors in judgment, and essentially told me that my other ex friend had it right about me – that I was a cold and uncaring person who would never maintain a long-term friendship.

I slipped back into my old habits, reiterating the toxic thoughts that had haunted me constantly five years ago – ‘I’m a toxic and damaging person, undeserving of love’; ‘Sooner or later everyone will see my inadequacies and leave me for good’. Of course, this meant that when my family’s annual festive argument occurred, my defences were down, and the cruel words hurled around the room cut me deeply, leaving me believing that I couldn’t trust anyone.

A week later, I came home from work to a Christmas card and a cat calendar that my fearfully strong grandparents had posted through my front door. I’d been beating myself up for a week, worried that my family had all turned against each other, and that I would be left spending the entire festive season with my husband and cat, but my family had all but forgotten the drunken bickering, and was ready to move on.

We cannot choose our families, but we can choose who we allow into our hearts, who we forgive and who we move past in life. For so long, I’ve been desperate to please everybody in my life, and never once did I consider if they were a worthy source of my worry. The Dalai Lama tells us to, ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible’, and he is absolutely correct in this assertion, but it’s important to note that kindness does not equal weakness, and that sometimes relationships fall apart despite our best efforts.

We are constantly evolving beings, and the people who remain in our lives long-term are often those who respect our evolution, willing to move on from our past misdemeanours as they realise we have learned and grown from these experiences. Too often, the people who have been in our lives for the longest want to keep us in little labelled boxes, and they fixate on who we were five, ten or twenty years ago, rather than the people we’ve become. Families are particularly talented at this unwillingness to see our self-growth, but it can also happen with long-term friends and partners.

This Christmas, I recommend that everybody tries to avoid making assumptions of their loved ones’ behaviour and reactions. We are all learning and growing every single day that we are on this incredible planet, and it’s okay for people to grow out of certain behaviours and friendships. You have an opportunity to be kind and forgiving this festive season – don’t let it go to waste.

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Personal vs. Professional Photographs and the Immorality of the Celebrity Naked Photo Leak

I dabbled a little in professional modelling when I was younger, mainly specialising in the gothic and alternative, but also extending to artistic nudes and the odd glamour shoot to pay the bills.  This started out for me as a means of self-expression, when I was having severe mental health issues and struggling to express myself in my usual ways, such as writing and blogging. I loved modelling. I had a good friend who was a professional photographer, and he would indulge whatever wacky project I set my mind on conquering. With modelling, I could go from ordinary little goth girl to creepy ragdoll or sexbomb in a matter of hours. Modelling was my creative playground, and even when I found myself having to take an increased amount of glamour jobs to earn cash, I still relished the opportunity to begin with my own basic creative concept and watch it develop into something miraculous with the hard work of professional photographers, make-up artists and clever styling.

Although I enjoyed the creative freedom of expression and fun-filled photo shoots that my brief modelling career allowed me, there were aspects of it that put me off continuing to do it professionally. It was a physically demanding role which often left me worn out for days afterwards. Inventing new creative concepts, as well as booking photographers, MUAs and hair stylists was an extremely time-consuming task, as was building my network of fans online. Long hours reaped little rewards as I remained a relative unknown and was still often expected to work for free or for very little financial gain. In the beginning, I had found the benefits – self-expression, fun, variety, had out-weighed the limitations, but as I got busier with study and day jobs, I found I had much less time and energy to dedicate to modelling.  After a series of cruel attacks on my appearance from trolls online (one of whom actually turned out to be a friend of friends), I decided to hang up the proverbial lingerie and concentrate more on my studies and day job. To this date I have no regrets about making this decision. I firmly believe that when something you began doing for fun, stops being fun, it’s time to stop. I still occasionally participate as a model in life drawing classes and direct my creative mindset elsewhere.

When naked and intimate photographs of more than 100 famous women including Jennifer Lawrence, Lea Michele and Kirsten Dunst were leaked online, I was, like many people around the world, horrified. When I had been modelling for nudes, I always knew there was a risk that they would fall into the wrong hands. This was a risk I took willingly in the name of doing something I loved. When some coworkers at my day job found my nude photographs online, and used them as leverage to bitch about me behind my back, and I found myself increasingly isolated in the workplace, I had already made a conscious decision to stop modelling professionally. I used people’s responses to me in the workplace as a tool to gauge whether or not their friendship was worthwhile pursuing, knowing that I still had plenty of friends outside of work who were accepting of my lifestyle choices. Since then, I have moved on to a job where my personal life has never been brought into question, or treated negatively.

It was very easy for me to move on from modelling, as the little local success I had enjoyed was quickly forgotten, and new young alternative models came on the scene to take my place in the Glasgow modelling scene. Comparing my negative experiences to the global scale on which the likes of Jennifer Lawrence are currently being scrutinised for their bodies, the trouble I had with trolls and my workplace interactions seems insignificant. There is an important line to be drawn, however, between nude photographs of women made for public viewing, such as the work I did, and nudes shot in private of women such as Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who tweeted, ‘To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves.’ 

I made a conscious choice to release nude photographs of myself into the public domain; these women made no such choice. The nature of the photos released is comparable to that nude selfie you snapped in the mirror because you looked FINE that day; private message threads shared with your husband before you were even married; that intimate first date with someone new. At some point along the way, our culture has decided that the professional is personal and vice versa. We think that because we are offered access to the professional work of actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, that their private lives, and their bodies are also for public consumption. While the attacks I received for my modelling work were cruel and uninvited, this was a risk I had to prepare myself for in producing work for public consumption. Any piece of professional art is open to critique, and nobody will ever please everyone, but our bodies, and the intimate moments we share with our partners, are sacred, and should not be available for viewing without our consent. 

Our society has become so accustomed to viewing and scrutinising female bodies, that it has now been normalised. Viewing the nude bodies of female celebrities may not be viewed as an invasion of privacy because we scrutinise every other area of their lives, from the food they eat to the men they date. We see them dressed lavishly in lingerie for magazine campaigns and justify scrutinising their bodies because they are available for us to view, but when private photographs are leaked, we must recognise this for what it is – an invasion of privacy, and an extension of the flawed concept that women’s bodies are public property. These women didn’t have a choice in making these photographs for your consumption, but you have a choice as to whether to view them and become implicated in this mass sexual assault. Do the right thing and don’t google. 

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The Drunk Girl in the Short Skirt

I learned early on in life that I didn’t fit into a specific clique or group. From childhood, I was a loner, spending my afternoons hiding in my bedroom with Judy Blume books and imagining friends. My parents never had cause to worry, laughing my shyness off because I was clever and hardworking.

When I reached adolescence, I felt myself wanting a sense of belonging. I was part of a big group of goths, nerds and misfits, yet still I felt like the spare part. My girlfriends were tall, well-built, dark and aggressive. I was little and skinny, with dirty blonde hair, and I found myself quite without a sense of identity. I dressed in dark colours and covered my eyes in kohl eyeliner pencil as a defence mechanism; my attempt at a ‘fuck you’ to the more popular skinny blonde girls who seemed to be naturally in possession of an effervescent temperament and presentable appearance.

When I was sixteen, I dumped my goth boyfriend for an older, cooler guy from my Drama club. For months after, the popular girls were gossiping about me. I felt like a celebrity, strutting down the hallway, in my knee length purple PVC trenchcoat and matching Dr. Martens. Before long, I had scored a leading role in the school play, and found some new friends in the Drama kids. For the first time in my life, other students were talking to me, and looking up to me as a talented and fashionable individual. I developed a strong eye for colour, dyed my hair pillarbox red, and wore brightly coloured eccentric outfits.

Again, I found myself trapped between two social groups. I suddenly gained more friends, much to the envy of my group of misfits, yet I didn’t feel trendy enough to hang out with the drama crowd. The atmosphere with my old group of friends had become tense, with them simultaneously resenting me for my new-found popularity, and choosing not to forgive me for breaking the heart of the cute goth boy everyone fancied.

Not long after, my boyfriend dumped me in a Burger King booth, in full view of our Drama club friends. Guilty and confused, I turned to vodka, and became a walking cliché. I would go to parties with my friends from school, all dolled up in 50s style skirts and heels, then end the night on the floor crying over the boy who didn’t love me. When my friends tired of my drunken antics, I began partying with some of the more trendy kids from school. I found a pink cord miniskirt on sale in a high street store and made it my signature clubbing piece, which I would wear with tiny pink boob tubes and chunky heels. I snuck into an over 18s nightclub that didn’t care about letting in under-agers, and danced with boys I didn’t know. I’d make out with random guys on the dancefloor without bothering to learn their names, and never see them again. Despite being a virgin at 17, I quickly gained the reputation of school slut, with the school captain drunkenly mumbling to me in a nightclub, ‘I heard you put out a lot.’

For the first time in my life, I had an identity. People talked about my behind my back. Boys would come to me if they were lonely, and I’d make out with them for a while then never call them. My old goth friends from school encouraged me; if one had a friend who fancied me, I’d be bullied into fooling around with them. Afterwards, these friends would call me a slut behind my back and tell me I’d embarrassed myself.

And so it was that a large proportion of my life was spent being the drunk girl in the short skirt. When I went to University, I allowed my reputation to follow me. The truth was that I was frightened of losing my identity and needing to start afresh, so I went on a spree, cheating on boyfriends with anyone who was available, then dumping them because I didn’t want to be chained down. I was addicted to thrills. I drank excessively, most nights, and took drugs every weekend. I surrounded myself with self-destructive people who encouraged my hedonism. Every night was a new adventure, and anything could happen. Over time, my self-indulgence took its toll, and I became worn out and depressed, feeling that nothing in my life was real; everything was transient; the magical moments I spent with people ended, and they went back to their real lives, while I continued to play the party girl.

In 2008, I moved away to Manchester to work, and lived in a small village with my father, where I was constantly isolated. Partying wasn’t an option most of the time, so I was forced to face up to my insecurity and loneliness. I like to think of my time spent in Manchester as my year in rehab.

Upon returning to Glasgow the following year, I was invited to the party of an old acquaintance who I had always wanted to get to know better, so I decided to go along to try and make some new friends. I wore a black steel-boned corset, frilly red skirt with black lace, knee-high stripy socks and biker boots. Used to being the centre of attention, I was self-conscious amongst this new group of friends, and spent a lot of the night in the corner with those I knew best, drinking wine. I spotted the guy who had invited me from the other side of the room, and fell in love there and then. I had the urge to get closer to him, but he was surrounded by friends, and without my old friends vodka and ecstasy, I was shy and disarmed.

As I hadn’t drunk for most of the previous year, I got tipsy quickly. Pretty soon I got talking to a guy I knew, who had allowed me to pass out on him at parties in the past. It was apparent I was quite drunk, and he was encouraging me to keep drinking. He lifted up my little red tutu and put his hands all over my ass with no invitation to do so. Suddenly, the guy who’d invited me was there, blocking this creep from touching me, offering me a non-alcoholic beverage, and chatting to me like we’d been real friends forever. When we left the party, I told him I fancied him, but rather than jumping into bed with me, as so many had done in the past, he gave me a fiver, bundled me into a taxi and told me to get home safe. That man is now my husband.

After that night, everything changed. I found a group of friends who saw through my masquerade, realising that I was intelligent, capable and in possession of skills that extended to more than drinking and shagging. As I moved into my late twenties, I found a sense of calm that had always been missing, and for the first time in my life, felt content with my life.

I look back on my teens and early twenties as a hazy blur, fuelled by a strong desire for experimentation and a search for an identity that was never lost. I occasionally catch up with old friends from that time period, only to find that they are still seeking the party girl, and haven’t realised she has evolved. They joke that they cannot believe I am in a committed, monogamous marriage, or look surprised when I order a Diet Coke.

Some days I think I have lived a thousand lives, and other days are a fresh start. I now surround myself with people who bring out my best, rather than my worst, and I finally feel like my life has meaning. When the weight of my history begins to get me down, I try to remind myself that my experiences do not define who I am today, or who I will be tomorrow.

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Breaking Cycles of Abuse and Learning to Stop Playing the Victim

I was fifteen when I started dating my first boyfriend. At that time, I was in my gawky pubescent phase, short, skinny, mousy, pale with a gap in my front teeth that has never properly closed. I’d just moved up to a C cup bra, and was slowly beginning to take on a more womanly form. I wore baggy Tammy Girl jeans because I was too small for the ladies jeans department, teamed with black tank tops and tight-fitting mesh spiderweb blouses.

When I got together with this boyfriend (We’ll call him A), I couldn’t believe my luck. I was so awkward, not at all like the beautiful girls with their straightened blonde hair and perfectly manicured nails, those who paraded down the school hallway like they owned it, while I inched quietly by hoping that no one would yell an insult at me. So when A called my house to ask me out, I hung up the phone and screamed with joy. He was the first guy I’d met who made me want to kiss him – strikingly beautiful with high cheekbones, deep dark eyes, and long dark hair he wore tied back in a ponytail; a mesh of masculine and feminine beauty, he stood out from the pack.

I was with this boy for a total of four months, which began with a fluttering of butterflies in my tummy, heart pounding in my chest as he kissed me at his front door for the first time. Before long we were inseparable, speaking on the phone for an hour every night, gripped fiercely onto one another as we swayed quietly to Savage Garden’s ‘I Knew I Loved You’ when it played in a friend’s bedroom, completely unaware of our surroundings.

When Winter came, and the streets iced over, I wore stupidly clunky silver heels to a party, and A carried me across the ice in my knee-length black tutu skirt. I thought to myself that this was true romance; there was no greater love than ours. After about a month of dating, he told me he loved me, and I returned the sentiment.

Our inevitable break-up occurred when I dumped A for an older ‘cooler’ guy, who manipulated me into breaking up with A, telling me that I was beautiful and special, then later smashed my heart into a thousand tiny pieces, telling me I was ugly and stupid, leaving me lost, guilty and alone. I self-harmed in my Mum’s bathroom, slicing up my arms with razors because I thought it was what I deserved for the hurt I had caused. My school friends furthered the guilt complex I had developed by telling me that I was toxic, that the pain I had caused was irreparable, a system of beliefs that would follow me throughout my adult life.

By the time I started dating S, at the age of 18, I felt like an old hand at heartbreak. I told him of the hurt I’d experienced in the past, and we opened up to each other for the first time, exposing our past lives like open wounds. I was not cautious with my emotions in those days, and I was quick to trust and open up to a new love. I told S of the guilt I had felt in my previous short-lived relationships; I told him that I was a poisonous force, who picked boys up and then dropped them callously; that I couldn’t be trusted and was undeserving of love.

In the beginning, S did exactly the job that was required of him. He fell hard. Right away, he was more interested in me than I was interested in him. I liked that he listened to me, and I felt I could tell him anything without him using the information against me. He wasn’t beautiful like A – he was awkward, skinny and hard-looking, with russet-coloured hair and bright green eyes. I wasn’t instantly attracted to S as I had been to A, but the more time we spent together, the more I warmed to him.

We soon fell into the same habits as A and I, becoming inseparable, following each other around like lost puppies, but as we were older now, with fewer restrictions on our behaviour, the relationship was much more intense than any of my previous ones. We sat up till all hours, pouring our hearts out like there was no tomorrow, making promises of forever. I lost my virginity to S, and within a year, we were living together in a grotty little flat, determined never to spend a night apart.

Pretty soon after moving in together, the cracks began to appear. S would ditch a family event for band practice, completely suffocated by our clingy love affair, and I would get angry, asking why my family didn’t matter to him. S would shout at me for not doing the dishes, calling me all the names under the sun. I would stay out late drinking with my gay best friend, then come buzzing on the door at 5am having forgotten my keys. I had a few drunken fumbles with friends, as I was itching to get away from our suffocating relationship, and S would scream at me afterwards, repeating the same hurtful things I had told myself my whole life – that I was toxic, selfish and undeserving of love.

He kept tallies of all my mistakes, then used them as ammunition against me in our fiery screaming rows. We stopped touching each other – he would refuse to hug me if he was angry at me, telling me I wasn’t deserving of his love. If he was really angry, he would threaten me with, ‘I would hit you now if you weren’t a woman.’ It got to the point where I wasn’t allowed to go out with my friends – S would make the excuse that he didn’t like them or that they were a bad influence on me. As I had nothing in my life outside of S, I became isolated and spent my days playing video games and waiting for him to come home.

Before long, I realised I needed out, but S had done a wonderful job of convincing me that I had no friends, and needed to keep him on my good side in order to avoid ending up alone, so I was frightened to break up with him. My subconscious knew it was time for me to end the relationship, so I did the unforgivable, and had sex with a friend I found attractive. After we slept together, the friend asked me to keep it quiet, so as not to jeopardise his relationship with his girlfriend. I think part of me had believed that the friend and I might end up dating, but this was a fantasy constructed by me as an outlet from my confining and toxic relationship. In the end I told S about the indiscretion, and he threw me out of his house (by this point we were living with our parents again). When I told him I loved him, he replied, ‘No you don’t. You can’t love anybody. You’re too in love with yourself.’

Throughout my entire relationship history, a common theme had been apparent. I was 20 years old and I had not been single since the age of 15, because I was constantly seeking another human being to be my cushion, my security blanket, my saviour. I was genuinely terrified to be on my own and face up to my own insecurities, fears and destructive force of personality, so I clung to people that were wrong for me in the hopes that they would protect me from myself. The men I was dating were the worst people to counsel me through my issues, because each of them wanted to be the white knight, saving me from myself.

I was the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, oddly beautiful, adventurous, clever, bohemian, destructive, endlessly screaming ‘save me’ at the lonely clever men who passed; moreover, I made men feel good about themselves, listening for hours to their crazy ideas and engaging with them on a deep intellectual level, fucking them whenever they asked, whilst filling the role of status symbol – I was the girl they’d always dreamt of owning; smart but humble, pretty but not too pretty, brilliant but unsure, endlessly generous with compliments, love and affection, too insecure and frightened to leave. I was trapped in a cycle, being bullied by egotistical yet insecure little boys, but it was a cycle of my own making. I was doing the equivalent of standing in the fast lane with a sign reading, ‘RUN ME OVER I’M AN EASY TARGET’.

After S, I was single for a while, but this didn’t break the cycle. I entered into a deep depression and essentially moved in with my male best friend, R, who treated me like a punching bag. We developed a destructive and clinging relationship much like my previous one, except this one was (mainly) platonic. We would sit up all night drinking red wine, smoking Marlboro Lights, and indulging all of our darkest, deepest thoughts and fears. We loved each other because we were compelled to love each other. We were both selfish, broken children seeking answers, and trying to find them through each other. In the dark of the night, he would turn on me suddenly, if I said the wrong thing, and become aggressive, informing me that he was helping me through my problems, and that I should be thankful for his influence.

During this period of my life, I also began sleeping with a man called B. He enjoyed hurting me and I didn’t stop him, because I felt I was deserving of pain and abuse. R became jealous of B, and for a long time I moved between them, scared to be alone and look after myself. Being caught between two abusers was more appealing to me as a 20 year old than having to face up to my depression and insecurity on my own. The whole thing blew up when R drunkenly confessed to being in love with me in order to try and convince me to break up with B.

I removed myself from the clusterfuck with B and R, moving straight onto M, who was sweet to me in the beginning. He was the first man I’d been with since A who didn’t intentionally want to hurt me, and so I decided he was the one and things got serious quickly. Although M was not directly abusive towards me, there were a lot of problems with the relationship from the get-go. He was unreliable, often lied to avoid getting into trouble, and took no responsibility for his life. We met when we were two lost souls looking for the other one to guide us, and our relationship was founded on this lack of direction. Once I started to grow and change, we stopped having common interests, and the relationship failed to function.

We were together for four years, during which time it became apparent that M was never going to grow up, and it was time for me to get my life together and move on. I was now in my early twenties, and I’d achieved practically nothing. I’d dropped out of University, had no job, and was too socially anxious to leave the house. I was on anti-depressants, I’d made two half-hearted suicide attempts over the last five years, I’d had an eating disorder, I’d lost a lot of friends, and I didn’t even know what happiness was anymore. I’d spent so much time clinging to men to save me, and when they hadn’t been able to do so, I’d forgotten to save myself.

When I was 23, I finally decided to take some steps to improve my life. I went back to University and finished my degree, and when I’d worked up the courage, I ended my co-dependant relationship with M. I’d realised that I couldn’t keep relying on the men in my life to fix everything for me. I got a part-time job in a gift shop, and worked my butt off for two years, during which time I obtained a second Masters degree, while balancing a part-time job to pay my rent on a small flat that I shared with a friend. This was a challenging time, I cried a lot of the time, and I told myself that I’d never get through it, but I made it through, and doing so made me realise that I was strong, and capable of more than I thought possible.

In my mid-twenties, I started seeing Bob. I knew straight away that this one was different from the others. He was five years older than me, and had already gotten his life together. He had a stable job, and a nice flat which he paid for on his own. At first I was sure he would realise what a flaky, poisonous, destructive force I was, and the relationship would blow up, so I kept trying to drive him away. Despite my best efforts, Bob didn’t leave. He didn’t save me either, but he helped give me the tools I needed to save myself. We worked together as a team, and when I didn’t have the strength to fight for something, he offered support, love, understanding and patience. We have now been together for four years, and last year, we were married. Being with Bob was like learning to love all over again. Everything else felt like a trial run.

A few nights ago, I was at a party one of my few remaining school friends. She repeatedly mentioned names from my past, including friends from high school who I stopped speaking to years ago, following eighteen years of systematic bullying.

I thought of my best friend from high school, who had told me for years that I was poisonous, toxic, selfish, undeserving of love, and that eventually everyone would leave me alone. I thought of A, and how I’d dumped him with no explanation, and how I was still torturing myself for a mistake I’d made in my mid-teens. I thought of S, telling me it was impossible for me to love somebody else because I was too in love with myself. I thought of all the friends and lovers and the hurt we’d caused each other, and I choked up with guilt and insecurity; a seemingly inextricable knot formed in my stomach, and I couldn’t breathe temporarily.

When I got home that night, I confided all of my fears in Bob, about not being able to break cycles of abuse, insecurity about the people who had cut me out of their lives, and guilt over the hurt I’d caused. Then Bob said to me, ‘These people didn’t cut you out. You cut them out when you decided not to go back to the abuse.’

All of this time, I’d felt guilt over the relationships that had ended destructively, because I’d made mistakes, and hurt people, and been told repeatedly that I was a bad person. The reality of the situation was that these people had caused me hurt as well, but I was taking the blame for all of it. I’d believed that I needed to break the cycle of destroying everything I touched, that I was a damaging person who needed to learn how to love unselfishly, but in fact, I needed to break the cycle of forming relationships with bullies.

If you are caught in a cycle, you should know that you alone have the power to break it. Ending it is a frightening prospect, but coming out of the other side is like waking up, and realising that you never ever have to go back into that nightmare.

Bob and I on our wedding day last year.

Bob and I on our wedding day in April of last year.

 

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The year I turned 15 was a pretty big year for me. It was the year that little round breasts finally sprouted from my underweight pubescent body, and boys gradually began to notice me, namely my first boyfriend, mentioned previously, who caught my eye in my Standard Grade Biology class and convinced me once and for all that I probably wasn’t a lesbian. It was the year I started wearing eyeliner, velvet tops with elaborate sleeves and baggy jeans (from Tammy Girl, because I was too little to fit in the adult sized ones my friends bought from Flip in the city centre). It was the year I tried (and got tipsy on) my first Bacardi Breezer at a family party and felt oh so grown-up. It was also the year I really learned to love English, and it is this learning experience that I have chosen to write about today.

Mrs S was built like a rake, with cropped dark hair, high cheekbones, a pale Scottish complexion, and long manicured nails with slightly yellowed ends that tapped against your paper when she was explaining a point to you. She wore black tailored suits with simple chic white blouses and constantly effused the comforting scent of strong black coffee and cigarettes, radiating a kind of natural Parisian glamour that, as a short, curvaceous pixie girl with a slightly too long nose, I can only ever dream of imitating. Mrs S was my first real idol who wasn’t a pop star or a girl in my class. She was the first ordinary working woman that I ever looked at and thought, ‘I would like to be like her someday.’

Previously to being taught by Mrs S, I struggled to reach my full potential in English class. Although I loved to read and write, I my grades were just above average before I was first placed in that classroom at the age of 15. As I sat in class that year, listening to Mrs S speak with so much passion, enthusiasm or cynicism about classic texts I had previously thought not nearly as interesting as my enormous collection of ‘Babysitters Club’ books, something changed within me, and I fell in love with the written word; with Charlotte Brontë’s winding and confessional narrative in  ‘Jane Eyre’; the exquisitely poetic descriptions of the American Deep South in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’; and the gruesome villainous sisters of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’.

As I have previously mentioned, I did not enjoy High School, and while a double period of English on a Monday morning might sound like hell for some, it was the highlight of my week. The classes were both fascinating and challenging, not just to my mind but to my moral code and sense of self. When we read Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ in my 5th year of High School, I was chosen to read the part of Elizabeth Proctor. A transformation came over me when I became Elizabeth Proctor for forty minutes a day, as my teacher somehow made the Salem witch trials relevant and relatable to a moody teenage goth girl with bad spots and Bugs Bunny teeth. I never found myself gripped by Religious Education or Social Education – instead I found my morals in literature. After we’d finished reading ‘The Crucible’, Mrs S gave us a moral analogy, asking us to raise our hands if we would speak out against racist jokes, and when myself and a few others raised our hands, she told us that we were the John Proctors of the world. Mrs S didn’t just ‘teach’ us literature. She taught us who we were. At the age of 28, I’d still raise my hand and say that I am a John Proctor – a warrior for justice – and it was Mrs S who first discovered that trait within me.

Mrs S ignited a spark within me that previous teachers had missed, and within that first year in her class, I was achieving some of the top marks in the year for English. I went on to achieve the highest grades possible for both my Standard Grade (straight ‘1s’, for those who understand the Scottish education system) and Higher English (an A Band 1, which Mrs S revealed to me in a flurry of excitement, so proud of the work we had done together), followed by an Advanced Higher English, a 2.1 in English Literature and an MLitt Victorian Literature with Merit from the University of Glasgow as recently as last year. All of this happened because a teacher managed to find some time away from disciplining the uninterested kids and engaged with a shy teenage girl who loved reading and wanted to be a writer. 

About a year ago, my sister (who was taught by Mrs S not long after me) passed on the news that Mrs S had terminal cancer. Despite not having seen my old English teacher in almost ten years, the news hit me hard. To this day I find it terribly unfair that someone who shaped and inspired the minds of others like my young self, should be losing a battle against her own body. For months I agonised over a choice of whether or not to send her a letter, telling her everything I’ve just told you, and thanking her, from the bottom of my heart for helping me to become the successful, ambitious, strong-willed, articulate and often fearless young woman I am today.

Probably rather predictably, the letter never got written, because as we all know, inaction is always so much easier than taking a challenging course of action, and the opportunity for sending it has now passed. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, a Google search for my old teacher showed that in 2011, Mrs S was rated at 100% on Rate My Teacher. I identify as a Buddhist, and, for those who are not familiar with Buddhist philosophy, it centres around the scientific theory that energy which has been created can never be destroyed. This thought brings me comfort at times of loss, as I can see it to be the case wherever I look. Mrs S doesn’t just live on in my memory; she lives on in the memory and spirit of all those whose minds she taught and inspired. She lives on as the part of me that remains angered by the mispronunciation of ‘hyperbole’ on television; as the part of me that will always secretly consider ‘Jane Eyre’ my favourite novel, despite having first read it at the age of 15 and possessing my third disintegrating copy of it; as the part of me that still occasionally finds comfort in the scent of cigarettes and strong black coffee, despite having quit smoking three years ago; and perhaps most importantly, she lives on reminding me to fight for what is right, like Miller’s John Proctor.

Our lives are very hurried, and it’s easy to get swept up in the rush and miss them. It’s easy to spend years pottering along without ever knowing if what you are doing is right or true as the universe intended it. It’s easy to forget the people who made us who we are. Mrs S, I know you’ll never read this, and I’ll never be able to tell you how much you inspired and shaped me as a person, but I do hope that your loved ones did a better job of articulating your brilliance than me, and that they were even half as grateful for it as I am today. I hope others chose action, where I fell back on inaction, so utterly self-involved with my own bullshit that I never told you how I felt.  Most of all, I hope your loved ones have found peace and can see you live on as I do, in all of the spirits you inspired and sparks you ignited. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, if I can ever convince myself I’d do half as good a job as you, I’ll go and teach, so that I can help your influence to live on in the minds of those you never even met.

I have just arrived back from a mini-break in Durham. While I was away, I left an unfinished draft of this post saved in my WordPress account. On my first night in Durham, we went to a Pan-Asian restaurant, which was polished off with fortune cookies. This was my fortune:

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Maybe this was a message from Mrs S, intended to remind me that I am a warrior. Thank you, Mrs S, for teaching me that it is honourable to stand up for what is right. I promise I’ll send that letter next time.

 

x L x

On the John Proctors of This World

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Introducing my writing blog!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’m pretty sure my first word was ‘book’. Okay, that’s actually a lie – I haven’t the slightest clue what my first word was but for the sake of argument, let’s just say it was ‘book’. For most of my childhood and adolescence, I wrote (and read) religiously. I kept diaries from when I was in Primary School, which I filled with my innermost thoughts, usually revolving around my arch-enemy, Donna, making fun of me for wearing the wrong style of Sweater Shop jumper. This was the mid-90s, just to clarify, and a Sweater Shop jumper was the height of cool, so to wear the wrong style of Sweater Shop jumper was social suicide. You could pretty much guarantee that if there was such a thing as the ‘wrong’ style of Sweater Shop jumper, I would manage to wear it, because I was possibly the least cool girl in my Primary School class, and then in my High School class, and so I became ultra-introverted, and bottled up my feelings which I then sprawled into elaborate satin-covered notebooks from the Stationery Box on Main Street in suburban hell as soon as I was old enough to go out and spend my own pocket money on them.

After the Donna-hating years came the angsty teenage years, and I must have filled about five diaries with my angst, of which there was a lot. Years later, I read back over them expecting to be gripped by the prose but instead found myself cringing horribly at my over-dramatisation of every single little incident. When I was 15, a boy finally took an interest in me, and I fell head over heels for him. He was the only boy I’d ever found attractive, with exquisite feminine pointed cheekbones, striking blue eyes, a long dark ponytail and a Cradle of Filth t-shirt. Our four month long, exceedingly complex and grown-up (yes I’m being sarcastic) rollercoaster of a relationship is documented in my lilac lacy-fronted diary, from the moment my friend Emma embarrassed me by telling this beautiful boy I had a crush on him, to my dumping him for an older, ‘cooler’ guy one night after school, and feeling remarkably calm about the whole affair, before realising two months later that I had made a terrible mistake and desperately trying to get him back.

My diaries were always my solace; the one place where I could say anything and no one could ever make fun of me or tell me I was a bad person for thinking those thoughts. When I began studying at University (English Literature, naturally), my diary-keeping moved into the technologically progressive era of the early 2000s, and I created and maintained a LiveJournal, a website which would provide a sounding board to me for years to come, until users deserted the once crowded blogging site for the more relevant forms of social media we all use today. The best thing about LiveJournal was that nothing was off-limits. LJ provided a safe space for anyone to write freely about practically anything, and we did – I did. Every guy I dated throughout my late teens and early twenties (mostly rock star wannabes with God complexes) got at least a small mention in my LJ. Every time I had my heart broken, I would scream and cry as I typed up a full damage report. When my first serious boyfriend, who I lived with in a tiny bedsit on Queen Margaret Drive, and had screaming rows with at 3am, drunk on vodka and thrills, finally got up the nerve to end our disasterfest, I called my then best friend, went straight to his flat, and immediately typed up an LJ entry documenting the whole mess, right up until the heartbreaking moment when my ex coldly told me, ‘You don’t love me. You can’t love anyone. You love yourself too much.’

I’m getting a bit off-topic here, I think. Like with my previous hand-written diaries, I looked back at my LJ years later and found myself cringing at my own hideous naivety and lack of self-awareness. There’s only so many of your own ‘WHY DOESN’T HE LOVE MEEEEEEE?!’ entries you can read before you need to log the fuck out and move on. As hilariously angsty as LJ could be, there was a reason I kept going back to it for so long, and that was because it gave me an outlet for the voice I kept locked inside of me when I was playing the ditzy drunk girl at parties, because I thought that was who I had to be at that time to make people like me. LJ was an avenue to show I had real opinions and wasn’t as much of an idiot as I had painted myself out to be at social gatherings. LJ was also a community of people just like me, people who loved books, didn’t know how to make friends, and were a little lost and unhappy at University, or in jobs, or unemployment. I made some fantastic friends on LiveJournal who I am still in touch with now.

It was at around the age of 23 that I realised it was time for me to get my shit together. I’d dropped out of University and was living and working for my Dad’s company in Manchester. I had no sense of direction and was in an unhappy long-distance relationship, and I realised it was time for something to change. I moved back to Glasgow, returned to University to complete my degree, and worked my butt off for two more years until they finally gave me a degree, and I was super stoked when they did. I then went on to study for two further years because I realised that social anxiety and lack of direction was not an excuse to ignore my love of learning.

Somewhere in between starting to get my shit together, and graduating from my second degree in 2013, I stopped writing down my thoughts and experiences. Part of this was due to me actually working hard for a change, which resulted in me having less disposable time with which to angst, but also because I found that the tool that had provided me with comfort for so long was now bringing me down, as I was indulging all of my most depressing musings while writing.

2014 has just begun, and I am the most settled and stable I have ever been. This seems like a good time for me to begin writing again. I am not promising that everything that I write will be of good quality, or even that anyone will want to read it. I am not promising to update once a day, or once a week; I’m going to settle for once a month, and if I don’t manage that, I’m not going to beat myself up about it, because I’ve done enough of that over the course of my life.

Dear Diary,

My name is Lauren Catriona McMinn and I am 28 years old. I have an M.A. (Hons) in English Literature, an MLitt in Victorian Literature, and I work part-time for a social history museum whilst volunteering with an Arts charity. I am married to a wonderful man named Bob and we live in a small, cluttered and colourful flat in the west end of Glasgow. I’m a leftie Buddhist Athiest pescetarian feminist nerd with a passion for fashion, the arts, Disney, Harry Potter, vintage things, yoga and leggings. This is my writing blog. I plan to write things in it. Oh, and this is me:

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x L x

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