Marriage in the 21st Century

Warning – this post may not be for you if you are the cynical type.

….But in actual fact, neither is this blog really, so maybe I didn’t need that disclaimer.

So anyway, many of you reading this will be aware that I’m engaged to my best friend/soulmate, so obviously I am pro-marriage. Luckily I am not aware of one single person who has questioned our decision, which I think is pretty cool and shows our loved ones are respectful of our choice even if their personal preferences aren’t quite aligned with ours.

So why do I believe in the importance of marriage in the 21st century? Well, there are a a billion reasons. But the main three are as follows…

Tradition.  I am, at heart, very traditional and have some old-fashioned family values. This is rooted in the experience not only of my own family but also of others families, which I have lovingly collated in my mind and woven together like an old familiar patchwork quilt. Mismatched and jumbled, but one that feels just right. In many ways, my family environment was an unconventional one when I was growing up as we were foster carers, for the bulk of my childhood my mother worked and my Dad retired very early and worked from home. I have learnt so much from them in both their marriage and divorce, and the marriages of others such as my Grandparents to have a very clear idea of the right and wrong things to do. (Or at least, try my best to do).

My Grandparents are a fantastic example of a solid marriage that has stood the test of time, as well as two of Nav’s relatives who were married for 60 years. So, I reckon that if my ancestors saw marriage as an acceptable way of life and commitment, and it worked so well for so many people, then who am I to shun a tried and tested way of living life? I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Art of Marriage’ and there’s a beautiful phrase in there – ‘The Democracy of The Dead’. What a wonderful way of thinking – the majority of all these people who have been and gone long before me did it, and it worked for them. Why wouldn’t or shouldn’t it work for me? Taking this to an extreme and taking the opposing view, you can argue that some things like racism and sexism are very likely to have been the attitudes of most of my ancestors, (what with them living all that time ago n’all) but just because that worked for them doesn’t make it right. But I’m not talking about racism or sexism, I’m talking about marriage.

If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Family. Now that is another reason marriage is important to me. I would never choose to have a child before I had a husband. Maybe it’s the traditionalist in me speaking again, but it’s important to me that my child shares my name, and I share my name with their Daddy. Getting engaged to someone, then marrying them, is the ultimate commitment that you are serious about your life together. What a brilliant environment to bring your children into, with two parents under no illusion about what their life together has been, and what the future holds for them as a couple.

Love. Being in a relationship with your best friend is something that you cannot even attempt to put into words, it’s that wonderful. Then being engaged? Well it’s positively delirious ecstasy. Then a wedding, followed by a long and happy marriage. I could almost spontaneously combust with joy, haha. Those of you that have experienced love know what I mean when I say nothing on earth can match the feeling of being in love. Having your lover, best friend, counsellor, play mate, partner in crime and best friend all rolled into one. Plus you get to wake up next to them every day, and they’ll still love you when you’re hungover in your pyjamas with your fake eyelash stuck to your eyebrow whining ‘Take meee to the baconnnn’.

And as for those of you that haven’t experienced love yet? Boy oh boy you’ve got so much to look forward to!

Now I try my hardest to be a ‘live and let live’ kinda girl. Those that don’t dig marriage? Well that’s cool with me. Those that don’t dig having a family of their own? Well that’s cool with me too. I’ll be honest though, those that don’t dig love? I’m such a Disney girl I believe everyone has their One out there somewhere, they’ve just got to find them. I can’t help but think that the only way you wouldn’t dig love is if you’ve been very hurt by it, or you haven’t found it yet. Although I’ve been hurt by it, and I went 21 years without finding it… *shrug* I digress, again, sorry….

Anyway my point is that I respect that choice the same way I expect my choice to be respected. Having different opinions about stuff is wonderful, and wouldn’t it be lovely if we all respected each other’s differing opinions & the world could be a bit brighter?

Here is a picture of me and my man seconds after he popped the big question. This photo gives me dizzy butterflies in my belly and feet that want to jump about everywhere. I am loved, and I can only wish that everyone felt as loved as I do. It’s cool 🙂

The Digital Age (Just cos you got the power, doesn’t mean you got the right).

As someone who admits to not knowing a great deal about technology, it is something I have quite a strong opinion on, as a whole (surprise surprise…)

I have recently been due a phone upgrade, and as it ties in nicely with the release of the iphone 5 I’ve decided to go with Apple for the first time. Now, I don’t particularly like itunes, and the mac laptops I use for my youth work often utterly perplex me and leave me cross eyed muttering ‘No left click? NO LEFT CLICK?!’ however for various reasons the iphone appealed to me so I decided to go for it.

I’ve had mixed responses, some people think it’s OMG EXCITING BEST THING EVER JIZZ JIZZ and some people casually, snottily have shrugged their shoulders or shaken their heads sadly and wondered why I didn’t go for something more advanced (which ended up with me in irritated, tight-shouldered state ready to spit venom at the next person who commented on my choice. Luckily, nobody has since then.

However it’s got me thinking about technology in general, not just mobile technology, but social media in general, and in the wider scale – spaceships and aeroplanes and television and radio etc. And what social and political responsibilities come along with technological advancements.

You see, I think technology is cool, and advancements can only be a good thing. One argument may be ‘Just because you  an have an all-singing all-dancing phone doesn’t mean you should’. But I reckon that if it’s possible to do it, then why the hell not? Technology to me is a bit like magic. I can’t get my head around how you can point a bit of metal (and glass, plastic, etc) on a football game, and that bit of metal can capture the visuals, and then it can get sent through the air via other bits of metal, and then I can turn on my piece of metal in my living room and see what the football fans can see. I think that is AMAZING and I have muchos respect for those that understand how these things work.

However, with smart phones and the internet and television and all of those other things comes a responsibility. Kind of similar to religion, you know? In the right hands it’s the best thing ever, in the wrong hands it’s dangerous, tyrannical, nation controlling and damaging.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Kind of like Motorhead ‘Just Cos You Got The Power (Doesn’t Mean You Got The Right).

I can’t believe I just quoted Motorhead to argue my point. I don’t even like Motorhead.

But you know what I mean, right? I think it’s the responsibility to anyone who uses modern technology to make sure it is used responsibly (and while this all sounds very sombre I don’t mean responsibility in the same vein as ‘seriously’ – everyone loves a bit of Angry Birds from time to time). I think we need to educate our young people on the correct way to use social media. Technology can be damaging to developing social skills. Many young people would rather sit in front of their Magic Screens talking via the internet instead of hanging out together. I think that this is wrong, and something we need to stay away from.

To summarise; just because you are a 13 year old young person that can approve friend requests from strangers on the internet, doesn’t mean you should. Just because the owners of facebook can compile personal data from people’s profiles, doesn’t mean they should. Just because you can use CCTV to keep tabs on the general public, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can tweet your abuse to celebrities on twitter, doesn’t mean you should. You catch my drift?

With technological developments comes a moral, ethical question of what is right and wrong, and while mistakes have, and are being made, I have faith that one day we’ll figure it all out and can advance into our robot-infested, flying-car future with a solid knowledge of what is the right thing to do 🙂

Facepainting tales

For the last two years I have been the resident facepainter at Youth Discovery Ventures, and I’ve done a bit of freelance facepainting here and there for other organisations, such as ‘Kate’s Craft Parties’.

I’m a real believer in young people being young people and not growing up too fast. You’ll notice that I NEVER use the word child, it’s one of my pet hates. It’s because of years of being referred to as a ‘child’ even when I was a young woman, and feeling restricted and patronised by this. I refer to girls as Ladies, and boys as Young Men. Why disrespect a person because they are 3 and I am 23? They’re still a person and I live by the ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’ motto. It’s like in restaurants when me and my fiance are referred to by the waiter or waitress as ‘guys’. I am not a guy, I am a lady, and we are adults. Even ‘folks’ is better than ‘guys’. Anyway, I digress…

You only get one chance in life to be young, so why shorten the amount of time you have to embrace that?

I see facepainting as so much more than simply getting some paint, and putting it on your face. You can break it down into so many aspects of amazing moments where you have an affinity and connection with someone else.

When young people get their face painted by me I try and make it an experience, and one of those things you’ll remember from your childhood when you grow up.

I almost always wear my septum piercing, which proves fascinating for many of the children I paint. Initially, most are wary of me because of it, but once they’re sat in front of me and I get chatting away to them most begin asking questions about whether it hurt, and if they can touch it. Often they ask me why I have ‘an earring’ in my tongue, and I make sure I always tell them about my piercings being a form of self-expression, and that it’s okay to have them if you want them, as long as you’re not upsetting anybody else by having them. That they do hurt when they’re done, and that they can seriously limit your opportunities in your career and affect the way others perceive you, because unfortunately not everybody likes them. I make sure they understand that they must wait until they’re old enough because otherwise it’s illegal, and that they must go to a body piercer who has a license and knows what they’re doing, then make sure they look after it afterwards.

I also enjoy telling stories while I’m facepainting, as not only does it make the day go faster it means the young person is more likely to sit still and listen rather than getting bored and wriggling, but also because I love storytelling and I think it’s a mode of communication that’s lessening as the years pass. I always ask the young person their name when they first sit down, and a few basic questions to make them feel important (E.g. how old are you, do you have any brothers and sisters, what are you doing for the rest of the day). Without fail, when they tell me what they have chosen to be, I will always tell them that they’ve made a very good choice and that they will be the scariest Monster/prettiest Mermaid/most fearsome Lion that there’s ever been.

And then that’s when the fun can begin.

As I’m painting I’ll ask them if they’ve heard about the little girl who lives in (insert place here, e.g. Stretford or Moss Side) that didn’t believe in fairies until she found a purple one stuck in a spiders web, or the little boy (who looked just like you do!) who was scared of monsters until he realised that his biggest monster was his fear and if he stopped being scared then he would be the most powerful superhero in the world. Sometimes they believe me, and sometimes they don’t. But they always go along with the story. This is real life magic.

Facepainting is exciting for a young person. They get a few minutes to be fussed over and pampered, and that glorious moment (which I will never stop loving) when they look in the mirror for the first time and the reaction they have. Having your face painted is a way of encouraging creativity and imagination, because after all, what better way of being a convincing tiger than not only acting like one, but looking like one too? It’s the best feeling in the world to be packing up my brushes after an event, and noticing for example that the family sitting on the floor drawing pictures that before was a mother, father, their daughter and two sons, is now two nurturing leaders hanging out with a butterfly, Spiderman and a soldier embarking on an epic imaginative roleplay?

99% of the events I work at offer free facepainting as we will make sure the organisers pay us, so we can offer our services to participants for free. I think this is also important, because we often work in deprived areas where there is little provision for the creative learning of young people. The 2 minutes of painting a face is an investment in the rest of the day’s experience for a young person where they can be whoever or whatever they have chosen to be, and nobody is there to tell them they can’t.

Anyone can facepaint. I can’t draw to save my life and have always scraped by in Art at school. But I can copy a design easily enough, one that’s effectively just made up of different shapes that you have to do in order. Anyone can do it, I’ve trained enough people to be sure of that. It’s all about practice, confidence, and fixing your mistakes under pressure. (In two years I’ve only ever done 1 person’s face that I thought ‘Oh dear, that looks awful’ – but the girl’s mother still made a big fuss and took loads of photos, so it wasn’t all bad.)

Facepainting is interactive, modern-day, real life magic. It’s an example of taking something pretty standard and using words to make it something special.

My Hero – John Cena

John Cena is a WWE Superstar who has won 19 Championships, including 10 world titles. He’s done acting & recorded records.

Bad things you could say about Cena?

His technical wrestling ability is somewhat limited.

He is a bit of a one trick pony.

Probably others.

Good things you could say about Cena?

He provides a positive role-model for adults and children alike. Cena’s character has been, excluding his very very early days wrestling, a All-American superhero character. He promotes hard work, humility, respect of others and putting the hours in to get to where you want to be. How can you argue with that? While the reality is ambitious and often unattainable, these ideologies are ones which I feel we should all aspire to.

He has granted over 300 wishes for Arizona children that suffer from life-threatening illnesses as part of the Make A Wish Foundation (the ill child gets their wish granted whatever it may be). Can you imagine (God forbid) being the parent of a child suffering with an unspeakable illness, and their biggest dream is to meet their hero face to face. Can you imagine how indebted you would be to that person taking the time out of their day to meet your child, to spend time with them, and make their dreams come true?

His logos and merchandise. ‘Rise Above Hate’ is Cena’s latest slogan and it ties in with his promotion of a positive outlook and focusing on bettering yourself in every situation. Wearing this phrase emblazoned on your t-shirt sends out a statement to others that you are not afraid to stand up for what’s right regardless how silly it may make you look. This is why I wear my Rise Above Hate t-shirt with pride. I am a 23 year old woman living an independent lifestyle, and while many look at Cena as this childish, unrealistic figure, I see him as an icon of all that’s good in the world and in all honesty I actually feel a little sorry for those that scoff at my love of Cena (friends and loved ones alike…). How is it weak or childlike of me to look up to someone that represents good prevailing?

His campaigns. ‘Be A Superstar’ is an anti-bullying campaign that the WWE run, where the Superstars go into schools and do talks about their experiences of bullying and encourage awareness and a zero-tolerance policy on bullying. Wrestling is fundamentally about creating the illusion (sometimes reality) of inflicting pain on others, which may seem a little at odds with an anti-bullying campaign. However, I think – you know what? Wrestling is what it is, and this has been the same for generation after generation. It will never change, people will never stop enjoying watching others hurt others. But what a pro-active way of combating the idea of fighting by promoting tolerance and acceptance? And keeping your tongue well and truly in your cheek about that never ending debate over the realism of wrestling.

Another good point? His sense of humour. In 2011 throughout the duration of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s rivalry with Cena, The Rock called Cena a Fruity Pebble (A multi-coloured American breakfast cereal), referring to his variety of brightly-coloured, child-friendly merchandise. The Rock intended this as a witty slight on Cena’s integrity as a genuine threat, however Cena bounced back with a promo (short backstage videoed clip) of him tucking into a huge bowl of Fruity Pebbles and relishing it. By taking ownership of this insult it came back on The Rock as Cena took it on the chin and saw the funny side. All of a sudden, Fruity Pebble t-shirts and banners were seen at Monday night WWE RAW shows, and Cena demonstrated the power of ‘Rising Above Hate’, and coming out on top. The fans loved it. (I remember gasping in a ‘Oh No He Di-dn’t’ way when The Rock first said it, and then laughing my head off, and then cheering the next week when I saw Cena’s promo.) What a response.

I love the WWE with its theatrical performances, occasional gritty matches, backstage drama, outlandish story lines, oily male wrestlers with grotesque throbbing muscles, Divas (the female wrestlers) that look like they chose their career in wrestling because they were too fake and unattractive (!) for trashy low-budget pornos. I smile when I am told the patronising ‘You do know it’s not real?’, because of course it’s not ‘real’. But what is real? I tell you what’s real, The Undertaker throwing Mick Foley 16 foot through the air, through a table in Hell in a Cell 1998. Foley dislocated his shoulder, had one of his teeth end up inside his nose, and had loads of other injuries I can’t even remember now.

Go and watch that, then come back and tell me wrestling isn’t real!

Cena is my hero because I try and live my life like a Superhero. I challenge you to watch this video below and not smile.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZlUg662xwk

Manchester Riots

In August 2011 I was a a participant on a project run by Blue Sky youth organisation in Macedonia, called ‘The Road to Gender Equality’, which explored issues of gender affecting those in the EU, and there were other participants from Macedonia, Albania, and Holland. I spent a week learning, laughing, loving talking about my nationality and culture and what it means to me.

On the train home from Luton Airport on Tuesday late afternoon, we got word via mobiles/mobile internet that the rioting had spread and Manchester, my city, was about to suffer. I live very centrally in Manchester, so arrived back very concerned and scared.

Throughout that fateful eveing we saw many people, mostly young, on bikes come past outside, hoods over their heads and weapons/stolen items in their hands. The huge music shop Dawsons in Piccadilly Gardens (the dead centre of Manchester) had been smashed in and items stolen, and we watched many young people pass our pub holding guitars as well as stolen alcohol, clothes and shoes etc.

At one point, the riot was pushing right past our front door by mounted police, which was really scary for me, however I felt protected as there were some big tough people in my home and nearby ready to defend themselves! I was definitely concerned for the safety of my home at various points that night, and I have never felt in that way before.

The next morning I woke early after a bad nights sleep, and made it to the centre of Manchester by 8:30am wearing a tshirt and hoodie from Youth Discovery Ventures, and armed with a dustpan and brush, and my facepaints! While I was on the Momentum Leadership Course a few weeks ago I discovered my ability and enthusiasm for using facepaint as a way of connecting with people, so I saw an opportunity to see if it worked.

I looked around my city and cried at what I saw.

I felt a strong sense of loyalty for not only my Manchester but also my country against what I would describe as an internal threat. I walked around the city and cleared up a bit of glass, however Manchester City Council had been amazing during the night and managed to sweep away most mess from the streets. Shop workers were dazed and crying in their shops, trying to make sense of their half stolen stock, their broken windows, their damaged property.

Throughout that day I estimate that I painted over 75 faces, with messages such as ‘I LOVE MCR’, English flags and other symbols of pride, and to almost every person I painted I spoke about the sadness of what had happened, but also the amazing morale and community spirit that was crackling in the air. My intention was to remind people that these young people rioting were a minority, and many more young people were present during the day with brooms and rubbish bags to help clean up. I refused to paint any negative or confrontational messages even though I was asked a few times.

I’m no matyr, and I’m not writing this to boast or to seek approval or praise. I was among almost 1,000 other citizens who turned up for the same reason, to try and claw back our city.

In light of these events, it’s more important than ever to be proud of your city, your country, or even other people in the world making a stand for all that is right. There are so many news reports on tv, in newspapers etc at the moment focusing on the negativity of this generation we are losing to disillusionment, laziness and greed, so I wrote this article as positive force to counteract this. I’m now reposting this on Casting a Hero, because it is still as important and relevant now as it is then.

Youth Discovery Ventures, the organisation I am a Director of, is all about creating, learning, understanding and growing, and it’s a cause I believe in. We need more organisations to get involved in positively tackling the issues that affect young people or things are very bleak for the future of our communities. I feel too unequipped and unresearched to comment on the influence other complicated issues such as criminal justice, discipline, and poverty has had on recent events, but I think these are also important factors to consider in an attempt to understand – not excuse, what has happened, and to learn from it.

In my opinion, people are inherently good, but there are various reasons that cause them to do things that are not so good. We need provision for young people in deprived areas. We need focus on bringing citizenship, access to work and lifeskills into the curriculum in a innovative and interactive way. We need faith and respect in our young generation as they are the leaders of the future, and we will one day be putting not only our future, but the entire future of humanity in their hands. This shouldn’t be scary, this should be exciting. The only way we can do this is through being less apathetic and finding out what part we can play, however big, in making our world more beautiful.

What do you think?

Today

Image

Today I woke up at the alarm at 6:30am. I roll over and spoon his sleeping form, smiling a secret smile. The room is stuffy and uneasy, too hot with the heating on, so I roll back over and switch the lamp on before I fall asleep again. I shower in my usual routine and am back in our room in under 8 minutes. I moisturise, blow dry and straighten my fringe, apply make-up in deft swipes and look out of the window. I go into the kitchen, hold my breath and drink a bottle of activia. I leave the flat, go down the fire escape and walk to work.

I move through the city and notice the pavements, glistening with dewy rain. Everything is grey. Charcoal, achromatic, monochrome.

I squint and it looks almost sparkly. I see at the builders, waiting on the wall outside the library. They meet there at 7:30am each day and talk Polish and smoke cigarettes and don’t look at me twice when I walk past. I wonder if they’d look at me if I wasn’t wearing my oversized coat. I walk past Groom and look at the wedding suits in the window. I walk down the alleyway and feel content knowing I’m about to see My Church. I overtake a slow walking man with an umbrella and the secret smile appears again . I win the race.

I arrive at work, and by the time I finish I have a hard tight knot between my shoulder blades.

But when I leave the air is crisp as it has been raining again. The wind tastes amazing. I put my headphones in and listen to Bruce Springsteen. The way he sings makes a picture of my head that looks a bit like the West Side Story film looks. I put my head down and march until my calves feel hot.

I get home and run up the stairs as fast as I can, my heartbeat quickening and my bag pulling my right shoulder down slightly. I leave my bag on the kitchen table, kick off my shoes, and glide into the living room.

I’ve had a love affair with the streets of my city, my footsteps beating out its pulse, the heartbeat of water gushing through gutters and swirling happily down drains. And as my other love envelops me in his big gentle arms, I smile my secret smile because tomorrow I can do it all over again.

Everyday hero

What is an Everyday Hero? It’s a Japanese video game, a fundraising website (similar to Just Giving) and a phrase that may be used for someone who exhibits heroism on a day to day basis.

What is a Haveago Hero? It’s the phrase you see plastered all over newspapers when a person steps out of the ordinary to do something spectacular for the benefit of others.

I think looking at heroes is the perfect place to begin this blog, because they make up a huge part of WHYTHEWORLDISBEAUTIFUL. This is just a written transcript of some things I’ve been mulling over recently, so it may not be a very well formed argument as I’m not really too sure where I stand on this myself!

So, what is a hero? Well, the word originated from Greek mythology and was used then to describe characters who ‘In the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self-sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good of all humanity.’ (Thanks Wikipedia…)

So what is better, someone who tries doing heroic things on a day to day basis or someone that steps up to the mark should the situation call for it? And can these two different ideologies merge and overlap? I think they’re both worthy of respect for different reasons.

For example, the other night I was flicking channels (probably trying to find a middle ground between Keeping Up With The Kardashians and the latest Speedway meet, to try and find a compromise with my unimpressed fiance) and there was a programme on TV called ‘World’s Greatest Heroes’. It showed real footage of life-of-death situations and where Joe (or Joanne) Bloggs has stepped in valiantly to change destiny. For example, two men were in the middle of a street beating another man to within an inch of his life. When the beaten man was on the floor bleeding and the two men continued to lay into him, a young woman marched over between traffic and broke the fight off, and scared the men away. Effectively taking her life into her hands.

And it got me thinking, what motivations do people have for heroic acts? I imagine the most dominant motivation is a fight or flee instinct, but did some of these people do these things to look ‘good’ in the eyes of society, their friends, their God? And does their motivation really matter anyway if they did a ‘good’ deed?

So the people interviewed on ‘World’s Greatest Heroes’ were living examples of the Haveago Hero in their element.

As for the Everyday Hero, I think back to the time I was waiting on the pavement for a car to pass so I could cross the road. An elderly couple began crossing the road, clinging to each other and their sticks. The car did not slow down and the couple were not going to make it to the other side of the road in time. A young man in officewear appeared from nowhere and in the blink of an eye had darted across the road and ushered the couple quickly out of harms way. The car passed with its horn blaring. He disappeared before I could get anywhere near him, but in reterospect – what would I have said to him anyway? ‘Hello brave stranger, thank you for saving the lives of those other two strangers? ‘

I see this as an example of an Everyday Hero. Someone that sees something happen in their everyday life, which may not be a big deal for them, and responds to it. This is a dramatic example, but it is in a similar vein to those that offer their seats to the disabled, open the door to those behind them, manners and curtosey which, when accumulated, can be seen as heroic.

So these two people, the young woman in the fight, and the man in the office wear.  Which is braver than the other? Which is more deserving of their praise, their thanks, their place in Heaven?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and I’ve come to the conclusion that neither is more deserving than the other. Trying to be heroic on a day to day basis is something admirable of course, and some people go through life without ever being in a situation where they have had the choice to be a Hero, or not.

I wish I was someone’s Hero. I try really hard to be an Everyday Hero, and I hope that one day should I ever need to be a a Haveago Hero, I’ll suck up my courage and do what needs doing. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and I know who my heroes are. But that’s a whole new blog post.

Are you someone’s hero?