Thursday, 20 March 2014

In Praise of Less Than Perfect

Perfection.  To ME.

We use the word "perfect" far too often.  The truth is, perfection exists in only a tiny way.  A 100% test score can be described as a perfect result.  But as people, we rarely achieve "perfection."

You can reach the top of your chosen career, but that's not to say you're perfect at it.  Why?  Because we're human.  And humanity is not perfect.

We are all, without exception, imperfect in some way.  I don't mean because of some religious context; I'm not saying that none of us can be perfect because of Eve and the apple in the garden of Eden.  I'm saying that it's a simple truth.  We are, none of us, perfect.  And that's okay.  In fact, it's more than okay.  It's our perceived flaws that make us who we are.

Take the woman who is, in my eyes, the most beautiful person who ever lived.  Audrey Hepburn believed that her nose was too big and her neck was too long.  She didn't see herself as beautiful.  In fact, it was her "flaws" that made her so incredibly unique; her long neck was elegant and swan-like.  Her nose?  Well, if she thought hers was big, I'd hate to hear her opinion on mine.  Yet, Audrey was stunningly beautiful and is still considered a fashion icon, despite not being "perfect."

I won't lie; I had my hair cut short in the hope of looking Audrey-esque.

It's my opinion that perfection doesn't really exist.  Why?  Because perfection implies that there's no room left for improvement and here's a newsflash:  There always is.  You can be an incredible singer, but that doesn't mean you stop practising and trying to push yourself to hit notes you've never reached before.  You can be an amazing dancer, but that doesn't mean you decide to give up learning new moves. 

And as I said, humans are, by nature, flawed.  Take me, for example.  I can do elegant, when required.  I can put on a smart dress, speak nicely and pass for a proper lady (get me, Eliza Doolittle).  But the illusion will be quickly shattered by one of my biggest flaws - I'm the clumsiest person I know.  Give me something precious and I'll almost certainly drop it.  It's a wonder I'm allowed to hold the babies at work...  I trip over more often than I care to admit and I'm forever bumping into things.

But the fact is, I believe there's someone out there who'll see me as perfect, in spite of my physical and personal flaws.  Because whilst there's no such thing as being perfect full stop, there's definitely such a thing as being perfect for someone.

Once upon a time, I believed that I had to try to be perfect.  It's only as I get older (ha, I manage to make 31 sound ancient, don't I?!) that I see that perfection is impossible and the most important thing to do is to be the best we can be in life.  To be kind and considerate to others and to aim to do as well as we can in our chosen career.  We''ll make mistakes, we'll get things wrong and there'll almost always be someone who's better than us at things.  But that's okay.

Aiming for perfection sets you up to fail.  You're trying to be something that you can't be; you're looking for an end goal at which point you don't need to try anymore, because there's nothing left to achieve.  Aiming to be the best you can be is much more realistic and it encourages you to acknowledge that you're only human. 

I'd rather be someone who recognises her flaws, but does her damnedest to be the best version of herself she can be, all the same.  As the saying goes:  Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Healthy Obsessions

I have such a moon face.

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about unhealthy obsessions with celebrities.  I stand by absolutely everything I said in that blog (if you've not read it, you can do here), but you know what?  I feel bad that I ranted on about those who make fandom seem like a scary thing, without focusing on how awesome it can be when you're a (healthy) fan of someone or something.

Take the Manic Street Preachers.  I mean, not literally.  Don't take them away from me or I'll break you.  BREAK YOU, I TELL THEE.  Aherm.  Healthy fandom.

I've written about my love for the band before, so I won't eulogise too much about why they mean the whole world to me, but they do.  I love a lot of bands - Blur, Kaiser Chiefs, Green Day and several others - but the Manics are more than just my favourite band.  They're a part of my life.  A part of me (literally, seeing as I have their lyrics tattooed on my person).

Being a massive fan of the band for half my life has given me experiences I would never otherwise have had.  I've met people whose paths may never have crossed my own, had it not been for our mutual love of the Manics. Yes, I've had bad experiences as a result of meeting some of those people, but that's just life; sometimes good things turn sour.  Crucially, the four most important friends in my life are all there as either a direct or indirect result of the Manic Street Preachers.  I met my best friend Lydia on a Manics internet forum (thus proving that you can meet nice people online).  I also met my amazing friend and gig buddy, Kirstie, on a Manics forum too.  Through Kirstie, I met her sister Lizzie, who is now one of my closest friends and someone I frequently go away for mini holidays with.  I also met Kirstie's oldest friend Kate, who again, is now one of my dear friends and who I went abroad to Prague with last year.  Those four girls are friends I couldn't be without and in one way or another, I met every single one of them because I'm a Manics fan.

So, thanks for that, boys!

Being a Manics fan is also rather unique, in as much as it indulges my love of dressing up.  The band were known, in their early years at least, for the striking visual appearance.  As a result, many fans still opt to dress in a variety of weird and wonderful outfits when they go to see the band live.  From glamour-puss to military chic and everything in between, there's nothing quite as exciting as planning what I'm going to wear to see "my boys" in concert.  And in the interest of sharing (and, to a degree, showing off, here are a few of the outfits I've graced gigs in):

Let me tell you: there is only one band I would walk through the streets of Cardiff, dressed as a "sexy" sailor, on the day of a big rugby game, for.

But you do that sort of thing happily and without the slightest hint of embarrassment when you love the reason you're doing it.  I don't tweet the band every day (actually, I rarely ever tweet them at all), nor would I send messages to individual members telling them they're gorgeous or that I love them or anything like that, because I don't know the band and I have no desire to appear stalker-like.  But will I dress like an idiot for them?  Hell yes.  Will I defend them against criticism?  You bloody bet.

Being a fan of something can be wonderful.  You can feel as though you're a part of something; there's a sense of community that you get from talking to other people who love a certain kind of music as much as you do, or who watch the same TV show and love analysing the plot arcs as much as you.

You don't have to ever feel ashamed of being a fan of something, when you're expressing your love of it in a healthy manner.  I express my love for the Manics by going to see them in concert, or by buying and listening to their music.  And yes, by having a lyric that means a lot to me tattooed on my skin.  I have Manics in-jokes with certain friends and I use their songs to get me through hard times, when I need to.  All of it is fine.  I wouldn't dream of stalking their houses, or sending them inappropriate gifts, or making out like I'm in love with the band members.  I've no desire to tweet them, telling them they're gorgeous or sexy or anything like that.  And you know what?  Although I would cry if they announced that they were splitting up, I'd have years and years of memories to thank them for.  I'd still have their songs for the rest of my life.  What I'm saying is, when the end comes, I'll live.

I have other healthy obsessions, too.  I'm a Whovian.  Indeed, I blogged about my love for Doctor Who on this page last year, just in time for the 50th anniversary.  I have long, rambling conversations about characters on the show, or interesting plot twists that have taken place.  I collect anything Who-related.  I slept in a TARDIS onesie last night, for crying out loud...

I feel no shame.

What I'm saying is, I indulge my love of all things Who on a pretty much daily basis.  You'll be unsurprised to hear that my ring tone is the show's theme tune.  When I get a text?  Yeah, you've guessed; my phone makes that whooshy noise that the TARDIS makes.  I'm totally unashamed of my geekiness over Doctor Who and always will be.  It means something to me and it gives me an enormous amount of joy.  An enormous amount of sadness at times, too.  If you can watch The Angels Take Manhattan and not cry then, rather aptly, you must be made of stone (and yes, I just made an in joke that only fans will get).  And as for Matt Smith's final episode...  Well, he's my Doctor and I'm not embarrassed to say that I pretty much lost my body weight in tears when he uttered his last lines.

But it's all good.  These things are a part of us.  They're part of what makes us tick.  They can inspire us.  They can encourage us when things look bleak (I genuinely thought of the Doctor's speech from The Rings of Akhaten recently, when I was feeling very low about stuff and it made me feel tough enough to shake off my malaise).

I can't hear these words without getting goosebumps.  Oh Matt.  I bloody love you.

The thing with having something you're passionate about is that it gives you fire in your belly.  It makes you want to go out there and do something, even if it's just putting a silly outfit on and travelling somewhere you've never been to support a band you've loved your entire adult life.  And that passion is great.  To believe in something - to want to be a part of something - is a beautiful thing.  

A passion for a band/artist/show etc can be truly brilliant.  It's something that's yours.  Nobody can take it away from you.  As long as you're not allowing it to overshadow everything else in your life and as long as you're not deluding yourself that a celebrity crush will magically fall in love with you if you just stalk them hard enough, being a fan is something you have every right to cherish.  And cherish it you should.  

You know what I feel, when I hear a great Manics song, or watch a brilliant episode of Doctor Who?  Pride.  Enormous pride.  

Which is ridiculous on some levels, because I've not done anything and I don't actually know any of the people involved in making that song or that episode.  But I'm emotionally invested in them.  I'm supporting them.  And I'm proud to be so.

Yes, people get scary.  Yes, crossing the line from fandom to dangerous obsession is something that shouldn't happen and should be warned against.  But when there's none of that scary stuff and you just love something...  When you're happy to simply listen to an album and let the music take precedent over anything else? When you watch something that genuinely moves you as well as entertains you?  That's bloody brilliant.  That's when you get that swell in your chest.  That burst of pride that makes you think "yes.  I LOVE this."  

That's when being a passionate fan of something is absolutely amazing.  And we should never be ashamed of it.  We just have to remember to stay sane about it.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Why Is Being Objective So Objectional?!

Look!  I was in a magazine!  FAME AT LAST!

I once wrote a book.  Well, actually, I wrote three.  In fact, if you want me to be an enormous pedant (and I'm sure you do), you could argue that I've written quite a few more than that; but to date, only three have been published.

A funny thing happens when you publish something, whether it's a book or an online blog.  People read it and they say what they think about it.  Suddenly, that thing that you slaved over and which you were convinced was good, might be picked apart by someone who disagrees.

I was really lucky.  I never had a negative review for The ABC Animals.  In fact, in many ways, you could argue that the biggest critic of the books was me.  Three years after publication, when I read them I am inclined to nitpick.  "Why did I use that word?  This sentence is far too long for a children's book.  Did I really have that character speak twice in such quick succession, or is this an editing error?"  And so on.

Yes, I admit, I am very self-critical when it comes to these things.  But whilst I sometimes get cross with myself for picking holes in my own achievements, I am at least glad that I'm able to take a step back and try to be objective.  Because it seems to be something that too many people are either unwilling or unable to do.

Nobody likes to hear people criticise them.  I certainly don't (in fact, I'm oversensitive about this stuff; criticise me too badly and you'll see a grown woman cry).  But a very important part of becoming a fully functional adult is accepting that you can and will make mistakes and that when you do, you really ought to be learning from them.  And however self-analytical we may or may not be, sometimes we need another person to point those mistakes out.

But not like this.

Being told that we've done something badly, or that our firmly held opinions might be wrong is never nice.  But being able to look objectively at our work or our own behaviour is the difference between maturity and... Well, not so much maturity.  And I can objectively tell myself that that sentence, which was meant to be witty, is in fact shit.  But it stays, because damnit, I love to prove a point.

The thing is, more and more, I'm seeing people point blank refusing to be objective about themselves or their work, or even their likes and dislikes.  Over the last week, this has been brought into pretty sharp focus.

Last week, I blogged about celebrity obsessions and unhealthy fan behaviour.  I had a whole heap of comments about it on Twitter; largely positive ones from people agreeing with the points I had made.  But I also had some tweets from someone mentioned in the blog.  Now, this person wasn't named (because, duh) and I won't be naming them today, either, but they recognised their behaviour as being one example I had given in the blog and they contacted me to tell me that I simply don't understand their relationship with the celebrity in question.  We had some back and forth discussion and eventually, the fan sent me a blog about her "love" for the celebrity and I told her I wished her luck in her life and hoped she would someday find someone in reality, who'd love her the way she wants to be loved.  

What stayed with me, following the conversation, was the realisation that most obsessive fans are either unable or unwilling to see anything concerning in their own behaviour.  There's a whole discussion to be had about the implications of that, but now isn't the time to have it.  It did, however, prompt me to look at the issue of looking objectively at our likes, dislikes and indeed, ourselves as people.  Because, had I been faced with someone asking me to look at my own behaviour and assess why some had concerns about it, I like to think that - however hurt or angry I might be - I could do it.  

To put that comment into context, I'll level with you.  It's honesty time.

My blog last weekend was inspired by obsessive fan behaviour seen online, largely through Twitter.  But it's something I wanted to talk about, because I couldn't understand the fans' inability to look at their own behaviour objectively.  And I felt that way because I once had to look at my own fan behaviour.  Now, let me preface the next paragraph by saying that at no point have I (or would I) EVER tweet a famous person, saying I was in love with them.  I've never sent endless presents, or tweeted that I'm outside a theatre/recording studio etc and demanded that the celebrity come out to see me.  And I'd never dream of tweeting the girlfriend of a celebrity crush, in order to threaten or abuse her.  

But I did once allow a crush to mess with my head for a brief while.  I had a thing for a now quite famous comedian.  At the time, he was still travelling the country, playing relatively small clubs.  Being a lover of live comedy, I went to see him and thought he was brilliant (in fact, I thought he was better then than he is now, but hey, that's just my opinion).  Anyway, I met him a few times and a pretty major crush developed.  I remember going to the toilet after one comedy gig and when I came out, he was waiting outside the ladies' loos to chat to me.  Then a few weeks later, on my birthday, he dedicated a love song to me on the radio and well, yes, I admit that I thought "oh bloody hell, imagine if this was mutual?!"  A totally and utterly ludicrous thought with hindsight, but it's very easy to convince yourself of something if you'd rather like it to be true.  And so I decided to give him my number when I next saw him.  Long story short, he never called and this is where I differ from obsessive fans, because I reacted by looking at my own behaviour.  I admonished myself for mistaking his friendliness for something else (however briefly) and I told myself that perhaps it would be wise to avoid comedy nights where he was on the bill, at least until my crush had subsided and I felt less embarrassed about it all.  I reminded myself that I had loved live comedy before I knew who this guy was and I criticised myself for having become less interested in gigs where he wasn't on the bill.  In short, I looked at myself objectively and had a bloody major word with myself.  Truthfully, in the grand scheme of things it was something and nothing and I was overly hard on myself really - it's not like I was screaming "I LOVE YOU" from the front row or anything, after all - but I'm making a point here and like I said, I bloody love to make a point.

Analysing your own behaviour is a really important thing to be able to do.  We learn from our mistakes and we grow as people when we're able to look at our flaws and work towards improving them.  I know that I still have certain flaws I ought to work on, such as my being a little too sensitive.  I'll never be perfect, because there's no such thing as a perfect person, but I'd rather recognise when I say or do something wrong and try to stop myself from saying or doing it again, than blindly refuse to respond to any kind of criticism.

The trouble is, some people seem not only unable to objectively view their own behaviour, but unable (or unwilling) to even accept criticism of their likes/dislikes.

Last week, I was casually declaring my love for the Kaiser Chiefs (in the musical sense; I wasn't sending them tweets asking for some sort of group-marriage or anything), when a couple of friends told me that the band are rubbish (not "I think they're rubbish" but "they ARE rubbish," thus confusing fact and opinion...).  Another friend told me that I have exceptionally poor taste.  Aside from my general rage at anyone thinking it's okay to lump their ideals on others when it comes to music (or anything else which is entirely subjective), I found myself wondering why I should have to defend the band.  I mean, it's my choice who I listen to, right?  So I decided to say "well I love them" and leave it at that.  

I do wuv them.  Especially that one.

Some people, however, don't appear to be able to tolerate criticism of the person, band or thing that they hold in such high esteem.  Make a negative comment about the thing they love and they seem to take it as a personal attack and feel compelled to lash out.  Never mind the fact that we're all different and it's those very differences that make the world such an interesting place in which to live; some people seem to be unable to participate in a discussion with someone showing anything less than total agreement.  Others will defend the thing they love, even in the face of actual evidence that said person/band etc has done something awful.  Now, if the Kaiser Chiefs (or the Manics, or Blur, or any other band I love) were to write a song that basically said "All women are shit and should be murdered," not only would I expect people to ask "HOW can you be a fan of this band?!"  But I'd be the one saying "WHY was I fan of this band?!"  It's a pretty extreme example, but I know that if there was a genuine issue with something or someone I'm a fan of, I'd be able to look objectively at what had happened and not simply leap to the defence of the person/band/TV show/whatever else.

The same can't be said for everyone.  Recently, I tweeted about my dislike (and by "dislike," I do of course mean "RAGING DISGUST") of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.  I mentioned that it's unsafe and inaccurate BDSM and that it romanticises abusive behaviour such as emotional manipulation, isolation from friends/family, stalking and threats of violence.  Twitter being such a public space, within seconds, I'd had two responses from fans of the books.  I won't bore you by relaying the entire conversations I had with these fans, but I'll tell you that I was very open and honest with both of them and I explained that I recognise abusive behaviour, having been in an abusive relationship myself.  Now, I don't know about you, but if someone tells me that they've been in an abusive relationship, I tend to react with empathy (and sympathy) and even if they're referring back to that experience to criticise something I love, I'd like to think I'd listen to what they had to say.

Not these Fifty Shades fans...

No; the first one told me that if I had been in an abusive relationship, I must have wanted it at some point and therefore I should understand women wanting their own Christian Grey, because I'd already had one.  So, you know, a nice bit of victim-blaming, there (you must have WANTED to be abused, Emma!).  The second one responded to my admission with: "Sorry, but that's an insult to real abuse victims."  So they were actually completely denying my experience altogether.  Why were they both being such utter dicks?  So they didn't have to listen to criticism of a book series they've enjoyed.

Seems appropriate.

Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised at their reaction.  EL James herself refuses to listen to those who've questioned the behaviour of the male lead character in her "love story," instead choosing to deploy the "block" button to anyone on Twitter who does anything besides fawn over the books.  She seems utterly unwilling to listen objectively to criticism, even when it comes from those who genuinely know what they're talking about (abuse survivors, charities etc).

And that brings me back to my original ponderings...  Just how have we gotten ourselves to this point at which so many people are utterly unable or unwilling to listen to an opposing view?  Are we really so desperate to protect something as frivolous as the love of a book (or band, or TV show) that we will blindly defend it, no matter how insulting we have to be in order to do so?  And if we can't accept criticism of things we love, how are ever going to learn to look at our own work, let alone our behaviour objectively?  Because make no mistake, it stems from there.  When I went crazy at the tweeter who'd said I was insulting abuse victims (and, speaking objectively, maybe I used the word "fuck" too many times), she responded by being patronising and telling me to block her - adding a smiley face at the end, in case I hadn't quite got the message that she didn't give a shit about what she'd actually said to me or how offensive it really was.  That level of arrogance - and that's exactly what it is - isn't helpful to anyone in the long run.

Of course, I say all of this as someone with a very passionate side and fiercely strong opinions.  If I think I'm right about something, I will argue until my voice goes hoarse and then I'll write a blog, because... Well, that's what I do.  And I'll defend the things I am passionate about - of course I will! If you criticise the Manics, I will defend them.  If you mock my love of Doctor Who, so help me, I will quietly seethe at your ignorance.  But I'll also listen.  I'll listen to why you feel the way you do, even if your words irritate me more than sandpaper knickers.  And if I do write an angry blog about it, I'll almost certainly read it back to myself later and find things I'd do differently next time.  Because we should all be able to look at ourselves - and everything in our lives - objectively.  And if we can't, we need to learn to.  Because nobody is perfect.

Not even you.