You know when you get some good news, and instead of feeling happy like you’re supposed to, you descend into an unexpected grump?
You know when you get a promotion at work, and instead of thinking “Great, well done me,” you think Shit, what if they find out that I can’t do it? What if they find out that I’m a fraud, that I’m not as clever as they think I am, that everyone else is cleverer and more capable? What if I can’t cope, what if I make a mistake?
The fizzy wine has gone back in the fridge, unopened. I’m too full of churning doubt and anxiety to enjoy it. The first task on the list: smile and be pleased about having a new job. I’ve messed that bit up already – failed to live up to expectations.
I think it’s important to have truthful conversations about mental health, which is why I’ve started this one.
I’m working on an assignment about Instagram and I’d be delighted if you’d spare a few minutes of your time to help me out.
My research question is: How accurately do the images that users share on Instagram represent their ‘real lives’?
To get me started, I was hoping that a few of you (those that use Instagram, ideally) would post some thoughts about the following issues:
Why do you post on Instagram?
Do you follow people you know offline, online? People you don’t know? How do you choose who to follow?
Are the photos that you post on Instagram different from those you post on Facebook or elsewhere? Are there some photos that you won’t share?
Is your profile private? Why/why not?
Do your photos represent your life? Some parts of your life?
I might not be asking the right questions here, so any other thoughts about Instagram and what you get out of it are also very welcome.
I’m hoping to conduct some interviews in the coming weeks, either face-to-face or online. If you’re interested in being involved, please let me know.
(More background: I’m working on an assignment for my Fieldwork & Interpretation module; the main aim of the assignment is to critically analyse my choice of fieldwork methods to answer the research question. My MA is in Research Methods in Education, and the main element of the projects I work on is large scale quantitative analysis. The obvious choice might have been to do a survey about a topic in education, turning opinions into numbers and looking for some unambiguous facts. But I do enough of that in my day job (and my other modules), and I don’t like to always do the obvious. Besides, being taught by a ‘proper anthropologist’ has made me think that maybe the subjective, constructivist approach makes perfect sense after all.)
Ooops, sorry. I didn’t blog for a few days, then it accidentally slipped into a few months and now it’s been over a year. Life has changed a lot for us in the past year. My role in the family has changed a lot (although in some ways, not so much) and it’s taken a while for me to find the right time to come back to the blog.
At the end of 2011 things were a bit chaotic. Chris found himself unexpectedly unemployed. I was working freelance as a Phoenix Trader, and he was doing very occasional freelance work. It turns out that claiming benefits while both partners are self-employed is practically unheard of, and it took weeks for the Jobcentre to get their heads round our claim. We’re very lucky to have family who were able to support us – I don’t know how we’d have managed if not. Then, in January 2012, our luck turned. I got a job, working in education research. I probably wouldn’t have applied for it if we weren’t so desperate – the contract was only four days a week and we really needed a full time income. But I went for it, and they liked me so much that the job is now full time, and they’re funding my part time Masters degree too.
In a lot of ways my job has meant a complete role-reversal at home. Chris now looks after the boys full time, doing the school run every day and taking Boy2 to toddler groups and baby gym. We tried to do a straight swap with the housework, so he’s now responsible for the majority of cooking, washing up, laundry, etc. It might sound a bit clichéd, but the swap has given us both an insight into the pressures the other was facing when Chris worked full time and I ‘kept house’.
I feel I should warn you now, my change of lifestyle will probably mean big changes to the content of my blog. I’m looking at the list of categories now, and my breastfeeding and babywearing days are long gone. Another cliché: as my boys get older, I don’t want to invade their privacy with the blog. Although I expect I’ll still over-analyse the everyday conundrums of parenting.
I said in my last post that I’d be blogging more about ethical shopping and fashion. I’ve stuck pretty faithfully to my ethical shopping plans, buying most of my ‘new’ clothes from charity shops, mixed with the occasional new purchase from People Tree or the fabulous Nancy Dee (post definitely to follow!). Hopefully I’ll get round to sharing a few ethical bits and bobs on here.
The thing that’s really consuming my thoughts at the moment is my MA in Research Methods. I’m learning all about the different ways to do research, working out what I think of it all and digesting so much new information. One of the main reasons I blogged was to work through all the things in my head, and I still want to do that. But the things in my head now probably aren’t relevant to a lot of my old readers. Hopefully I’ll find some new ones, or even better, hopefully some of the things I’m working on will be of interest to some of you. Where I work now, they’re very into the idea of ‘evidence-based education’. They think that the things we do to our kids in schools shouldn’t just be based on a hunch or ‘common sense’ about what works; they should be underpinned by rigorous evidence. It’s made me think a lot about what goes on in our schools, what ‘education’ ought to be like… big questions that are important to every child in this country. I’ll try to write about those thoughts clearly and accessibly, so that you can understand them without having to sit through all the lectures and seminars I’m currently attending.
I’m not saying that life is perfect at the moment. With one parent at home full time (available for occasional freelance photography and other multimedia bits and bobs) living costs ever-increasing, money is always tight for us. In a couple of years when I finish my studies and both boys are at school, I’m confident things will improve on that front but at the moment, it’s hard (as I’m sure it is for so many these days). But aside from that, we have an awful lot to be grateful for.
So, yeah… it’s nice to be back.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in my life at the moment, but I won’t let that stop me from thinking about what I’d like to achieve and from setting some broad goals for the coming year. I don’t know the detail of what job I’ll be doing or how our family dynamic will end up, but my hopes and values will, I think, remain constant. So, for 2012…
I will run another race. Without the fixed target of the Great North Run last year I’d never have managed to get as fit or run as far as I did. So many times I could have taken the easy option and stayed indoors, but I got out and ran because I knew that those 13 miles were getting ever-closer. I got an email today about registration for GNR 2012. It costs £48, so it’s totally off the agenda for now. But there are lots of races out there that are cheaper (and shorter, hurrah!). I’ll be doing at least one of those.
There was a time, a long time ago, when I considered myself well read. At 15 I’d read more books than most other 15 year olds. Now, at 28, I don’t think I’ve read more than most other 28 year olds. I’ve read hardly anything that’s popular and current, and haven’t read a classic for ages. I have a Kindle, it shouldn’t be hard. When I do make time to read I really enjoy it, and I need opportunities to think and develop ideas. I think these days I spend too much time reading the news, worrying about massive problems that I can’t change*. This year I want to get back to the philosophical ideas, the feelings that underpin the big questions and decisions. in 2012 I will read more books.
I live in a beautiful area. My village has a lot of history. Just today in the library (at the Church-run cream tea afternoon – it’s very cheap and their scones are very generous) I learned that until the 1960′s, my street had four other streets at the end of it, where there’s now a forest. Fascinating. I’m not expecting it to be a massive project (although never say never!) but this will be the year I learn more about local history.
Whatever happens job-wise, I’m certain that I want to grow my Phoenix Trading business. I already have one team member, and I’d like to add three more this year. To make sure I reap the benefits of that, and to ensure I have a strong business for the festive season next year, I also want to make my personal volume target every month. I’ve already received my advance copy of the new 2012 brochure and it looks great – the cards are organised really well and they’ve added some brilliant new designs to the range (a post on my favourites to follow as soon as the 2012 images are available!). I am really confident in the products, I just need to put in the work and I know I can succeed.
I feel I should also mention ethical shopping here, as although it isn’t a new goal it’s something that has influenced a lot of my decisions and I’m sure will continue to do so. I decided in March that I wouldn’t buy and more new clothes and I’ve stuck to it almost 100%. I have at least one post in mind about how it’s gone so far, and looking for ethical ways to consume has become such a central part of my life that I think the blog may go down an ethical shopping/ethical fashion route in 2012.
Which leads me to the blog. I’ve had ups and downs and had some big gaps with blogging at the end of the year. I have wondered over the last few weeks whether I should keep it up and I concluded that I am a blogger. This is me, this is what I do. I will be here (here at Imperfect Pages or maybe elsewhere on the Internet), thinking critically and sharing my life, in 2012.
* I appreciate that there are lots of amazing people out there challenging the government, challenging big business and standing up for what’s right on a grand scale. That’s not me, not this year.
Way back on 30th December 2010, I wrote a post on this blog about my plans for 2011. Not resolutions, but things I wanted to achieve. So how did I measure up against my goals?
My first plan was to do the Great North Run. When I wrote that post I hadn’t signed up, I hadn’t started training, I just knew that I wanted to do it. It got to around April and I realised that if I wanted to do it, I had to get on with things… I registered for a place with Bowel Cancer UK and in September I completed the race in 2 hours 30 minutes. I have to admit that I’ve hardly been running at all since then, but when running is good, it’s totally awesome. I didn’t expect to love it, but I do – being out in the fresh air, running up a hill in the forest – this is living. I feel that I’ve discovered a sport that can offer me endless challenges and inspiration, as long as I put the work in.
My second plan was to take lots of brilliant photographs. I’d intended to learn how to use the DSLR; I bought a book, but didn’t read it. Instead, I took lots and lots of photos on my iPhone. Plenty of them aren’t brilliant, but a few of them are, at least to me. I love the idea of capturing and editing an amazing image using only your phone, so that’s where I focussed my attention last year.
I said that I would have a job by now. Things haven’t turned out the way I expected at all. I’ve had a few interviews this year and every time I’ve narrowly lost out to a better candidate. Then Chris lost his job offer and things really came to a head – I upped my search and now I have a job in a bar. It’s just under new ownership and they have lots of exciting plans to turn it into a quality food venue, so although bar work isn’t my long-term career plan, it’s somewhere I’m really happy to be working for now.
I also threw my energies into starting my own Phoenix Trading business. I’d never have guessed a year ago that I’d have taken the plunge, but as I saw my friend doing so well with her Phoenix business, the idea took root and I’m so glad it did. I worked hard over the Christmas period doing lots of local events, making sales but more importantly, building up my customer base to give me a good start to the new year. In a lot of ways I find Phoenix more satisfying than my old jobs, as I know that every little success I have is down to me making the decision to get out there and make the effort to push the business forward.
I’ve a couple of job interviews lined up in the next couple of weeks so it could be all change again, but whatever happens I’m certain I’ll be sticking with Phoenix too.
I wanted us to have a family holiday. We ended up having two: three nights on the Northumberland coast in February and two nights in Leeds around August (where we spent a lovely day with Penny and Gemma and families at Yorkshire Sculpture Park). We all enjoyed ourselves and it was great to get away, but we didn’t manage the full week that I’d hoped for – one of the downsides of Chris’s old job was that he never felt able to take more than a couple of days off at a time. However our current situation resolves itself, hopefully the result will include a job where it’s possible to book a week’s annual leave and stick to it!
My last plan for 2011 was to learn more about being in the world. I’m not sure about that one – I didn’t touch any Heidegger. I didn’t spend any time doing ‘proper philosophy’. But I spent a lot of time with my family, learned a lot about what our priorities are, and took plenty of time to smell the flowers. I like to think I had an authentic year, pursuing truth and trying hard to value myself.
And, of course, the blog. This time last year I was deeply in love with my blog. Recently, not so much. My time and my head have been full of so many other things. But, as I said when I started my NaBloPoMo attempt, I’ve poured a lot of time and energy into this blog and I don’t want to see it go to waste. I have ideas for posts all the time. I’ve got so much out of blogging too. I’m still discovering new blogs and new ways of doing things. I’m not sure what 2012 will bring but I’m here, writing, right now.
We’ve been through some big changes in our house in recent weeks. My Chris got a new job. He resigned from his old job. Then his former boss gave him a reference which led his new potential employers to withdraw their job offer. We’re yet to see the reference, so haven’t yet made a decision as to how to proceed, but in the meantime his new employer confirmed that there is no appeals process and that they have to take the reference on face value – which leaves my husband unemployed. We’ve gone from delight at his new job and the positive changes it would bring for our family, to total disbelief and dismay as the opportunity slipped from our grasp.
One of the most difficult aspects for me has been the change in my self-erception. I consider myself left-wing, very liberal and open-minded. Yet now that we’re living off the state, I realise that my judgements about people on benefits are actually negative and deep-rooted. As much as you think the anti-’scrounger’ rhetoric of the Daily Mail passes you by, I find that some of these ideas have wormed their way into my consciousness. The thought of people on benefits having expensive gadgets, new clothes, holidays or indeed, enjoying themselves at all at ‘my expense’ starts me tutting and grumbling. So now that we are some of those people on benefits, I’ve started scrutinising my every spending decision.
I’m very grateful to receive state support and, for want of a better phrase, I don’t want to take the piss. So now the money that I’d already been given to buy myself a Christmas present from family has gone into the household budget, along with any money Chris would have spent on a present for me. I’d already bought some presents for the boys – there are a few more things on the list that I’d have liked to get them, but now I’ll just stop with what I’ve got already. My trusty black handbag has started to tear and I’d like to replace it, but now I’m thinking “we’re on benefits – surely I should just use the torn but functional handbag, or my perfectly good brown handbag that doesn’t match my shoes and clashes with my hat?”. The other day I found myself cooking ox-tail stew in the slow cooker, embracing the frugal lifestyle – sadly it was greasy and unpleasant and not that cheap anyway. More lentils next.
A side-effect of this spending guilt is that it’s left me at a bit of a loss about the blog. I was planning to do a post about my favourite iPhone apps (on the dole with an iPhone?! When hard-working families can’t afford one?) and about some products I’d bought and liked. Is it a total contradiction to be writing about living on benefits and about stuff I have bought, or would like to buy?
I still haven’t figured out how exactly our benefits will work. On the plus side, we’re allowed to make a joint claim whilst both remaining self-employed. This is great news as it means that I can continue to build up my Phoenix business, and Chris can maintain his skills, keep improving his design portfolio and make new contacts through more freelancing – as long as we each work under 16 hours per week. We submit our profits when he signs on every fortnight – whether the level of benefits we’ll receive is a simple ‘x – profit’ calculation or something more complex, I’m not sure. But even if being self-employed makes us worse off financially, I think it’s still very important to keep up as it means that when one of us gets a job, the other will have a part-time income that they can continue to develop as the kids get older (which was always our intention anyway as we were both looking for jobs).
I’m a positive person. There are lots of good things about our situation. We’re all together, all in good health. There are people worse off than us in every town in the UK, and families living through crises all around the world. We are very lucky. Chris is spending every day caring for the children alongside his job hunting (as am I). If we don’t find a job straight away, we can use this as an opportunity to study – Chris had signed up for a Maths GCSE course to start in September, but the long hours and travelling he was doing meant that it just wasn’t feasible. Now he’s planning to start the course in January, and it could lead to A-levels and opportunities to pursue his new-found interest in physics and astronomy. I’ve been looking at college courses myself – when I left school and did a Philosophy degree I was thinking only of my interests and not of developing skills for a sustainable, recession-proof career; here’s a chance to reevaluate, assess my strengths and find something that really suits.
I can’t lie, this is a bad time for us – probably the worst thing to happen in our relationship. But we are positive, we are happy. Life moves on, we will cope, and we will come out of this stronger and happier than ever.
I’m always keen to save money where possible, and with the price of groceries going up and up I’m always looking for ways to cut down our shopping bill. I try to bulk up our meals with veg and pulses, and today I tired a new version of my bolognese recipe that cut right down on the beef but still fed our family of four comfortably.
I’m the kind of cook who adds pinches and handfuls, not carefully measured quantities. When often use recipes for inspiration rather than following them to the letter. I commented in reply to Jenny the other day that I find writing up recipes quite hard work. But I don’t think they need to be, on this blog. I’m not a food blog, I’m just talking to you a little bit about how I cook. So with that in mind, here’s my very casual interpretation of a recipe for frugal bolognese.
I usually buy a packet of mince from the supermarket, either 400 or 500g. I’d aim to have some left over from this, but often we just get a bit greedy and stuff in a second helping when we could have done without, so nothing is left over for the freezer anyway. Today I bought 340g of mince from the local butchers – less than £2.30.
- a small onion, finely chopped
- a large carrot, grated
- a medium courgette, grated
- 340g beef mince
- a tin of chopped tomatoes and a splash of water
- 1/4 cup of green lentils that had boiled for 10 minutes
- a little bit of dried rosemary and oregano
- worcestershire sauce
- a beef oxo cube
- pepper (no more salt for the babas – although we added more to ours at the table)
- a tiny pinch of chilli flakes