With love

Despite all the important things I have wanted to write about over these past few weeks, I haven’t been able to face blogging about the thing I most needed to write about: leaving Warwick. I have opened and closed this post many times, and never have I found the words. But today, my wonderful friend Tessa wrote a fantastic blog post which almost made me cry, but has also hopefully helped me to find those words. Deep breath, here goes.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but I went to Warwick a little bit broken. I’d always been lonely and scared of the future, and I thought that that would be how I would always feel. I was hopeful of improvement, but also scared of that hope – so many times it had proved to be misguided.

How wrong I was. Within a few weeks at the start of a heady freshers’ term, I had found a new family in my beloved flat 19. People were friendly and chatty in a way I had never experienced before – and no one seemed at all bothered by my disability. By the second term, I had met the friends on my course who, with wonderful hindsight, I now know will be friends for life. This week, we celebrated graduation together. I have rarely been so proud.

The last three years have truly been the best of my life. Between them the extended flat 19 crew, Warwick Labour and the PAIS Class of 2016 provided more love and laughter than I could have imagined possible. Whether nights at our terrible-yet-loved SU nights and pub, a quick coffee, pub crawls in Leamington, Kasbah in Coventry – even a trip to Ibiza – or just hanging out, they’ve made every new experience brilliant and every memory worth treasuring. In always including me, they’ve made me happy and confident – and changed my view of people, society and myself.

My course was great too; even when the readings were tough lectures were always interesting, and while I still can’t handle the intricacies of political theory I do know quite a bit about international relations and security. I think at LSE next year I may miss the non-pressurised nature of work at Warwick and the sharing the suffering of essays with friends. So many of the lecturers I have had were simply brilliant; extremely academic and yet extremely kind when I didn’t understand – which was often. Leaving such a wonderful place of learning is made better by exceeding my own expectations and getting a First.

There are too many people to thank, but a few must be mentioned by virtue of being extra special. To my friends, especially Becky, Becky and Denning, I cannot tell you how wonderful you are – thank you for everything. I cannot wait for more good times to come and to share the future with you. And of course to my girls, Fran, Fran, Hayley, Gisela and Em, I love you all so much. You have given me everything and I will never let you forget it.

With that, Warwick, and with love always, goodbye.

 

A late night post

It’s late at night and I’m in a pensive mood, so of course I’ve ended up here after a long time away. And as it’s Easter Sunday, I don’t have to feel any should-be-working guilt. In fact, I don’t have anything in particular to say. Perhaps that’s a dangerous way to start a blog post, we’ll see.

So many deeply sad things have happened around the world since I last wrote here and no political debates or rousing sentiments, no matter their real importance, can heal the wounds. They will and must sting forever. And while I am so lucky and personally happy, surrounded as I am with love and laughter and opportunities at every turn, I have lost my once-cherished belief in the inexorable march of progress. While I still remain hopeful of better times, I see that one step forward will inevitably be matched by several backwards, and that there are no simple solutions (writing a dissertation on the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan has definitely seen to that). In fact, I sometimes wonder if there are any solutions at all. But I haven’t stopped trying to find them, if only as an intellectual challenge. And really, I don’t think the world has stopped trying either. Maybe hope and despair are just two sides of the same coin.

On a more personal note. As I reach the end of my undergraduate studies at my beloved Warwick (yelp!), I have been thinking a lot about who I am and that’s always tied up with the questions I have about disability: how does it affect who I am? How will it influence my life from here on in? What needs to be done to make disabled people’s lives better and how do we do it? Is it my responsibility to do something or should I just live life as if it didn’t matter to me? I still don’t have the answers.

Studying politics has taught me one thing above all else: everything is socially constructed. And so I am forced to ask new questions. What does it mean to be disabled? How can I be proud of my social identity while still challenging it? How do we break down barriers of difference and fear? How, how, how. And university has taught me that nothing operates in a vacuum, so we need to look at disability and everything it intersects with: race, class, and most importantly for me, sexuality and gender. I’ve had an article on the latter bubbling around in my head for months now, but I can’t quite tease it out and haven’t had much luck pitching it either. I am determined to get it done somehow though and it is on my post-exam to do list. Once in a while something comes along which feels necessary, as if it has to – is demanding – to be written, and as a writer I think I’d be pretty stupid to let it pass. And this, my god, needs to be said.

I definitely don’t have the answers to this bigger questions. But I have come to one conclusion: talking about these things is doing something about them. Speaking about disability in seminars this term has been so incredibly rewarding, as I have been greeted with support, understanding and, most importantly, an eagerness to understand and know more, even from academics. Recounting these conversations to my mum, she labelled me a ‘one woman campaigner’. But I’m not really, nor will I ever be. Instead, I will keep doing what I’m doing and see if I ever find some answers. And in the meantime, I will keep being honest about what it means to be me. In the end, that’s as much as any of us can or have to do. Look, there’s that quiet hope again.

Summer’s end

I’m going back up to Warwick next Saturday for my final year, which has come around way too quickly. As I desperately try, and fail, to cross things off my to-do list, I am struck by how long it has been since I posted here. I admit I don’t really have an excuse for my lack of blogging; I have been busy, busier than in all past summers combined, but really I would have had plenty of time to blog if I had made the effort. I didn’t. This post is likely to become a long and rambling attempt to make this up (mainly to myself) but I hope it is interesting for you too.

On the bright side, it is not as if I have been lazy. I’ve visited the Edinburgh Fringe and Crete (both hugely enjoyable) and been to Birmingham a few times. I’ve recruited new carers, caught up with family and countless friends, researched masters programmes and done nowhere near enough preparation for my dissertation. At least I now know that I will probably look at the problems of democracy promotion in post-conflict settings, most likely Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Rwanda, but this will probably change and become more refined as I read around the subject. Right now I will just be happy if I manage to write 10,000 words on anything.

The masters research has paid off a little. Although questions still remain over accessibility, I am pretty sure that I will be applying to the LSE, UCL and King’s College London to study international relations. While I do not want to and can’t move back in with my parents, it is time to come home to the city, especially with my career beginning to take off (read on for more!). I miss its unique sense of being simultaneously at the middle and on the edge; a great tumult of humanity, which for me holds so much possibility. For now, my heart lies in the small patch of land outside Coventry that is Warwick’s campus, but London is where I need to be. And so I find myself trying to write personal statements good enough to give me the remote possibility of getting into such prestigious universities and it’s not proving to be easy. Wish me luck.

Best of all this summer, I have been writing. I didn’t quite fulfil my goal of pitching to loads of publications, partly because of business, partly because of fear of the unknown and partly because I have yet to crack the skill of having multiple unique ideas at any given time. But I have officially earned the title ‘freelance journalist’ having continued to write for the Guardian since my internship there. For the first time in my five years of writing, I am even making money from my words. Perhaps you can understand why I have been concentrating on freelance work over blogging. Anyway, I couldn’t be happier. I was quoted in the Week too so I seem to be doing alright.

And what of the summer’s politics? It was dominated by two stories; Jeremy Corbyn’s improbable victory in the Labour leadership election and the heart-breaking refugee crisis. When it comes to the former, I am simply disappointed. I think the media furore around Corbyn’s supposed radicalism missed some deeply concerning social conservatism buried in his economic leftism and, unable to command loyalty within his own front bench of supporters, let alone the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party, it seems unlikely that Corbyn will be an effective opposition to a Tory government in desperate need of restraining. The rhetoric of a ‘new politics’ is all very well, but Corbyn’s version is both a return to the 1970s and a free pass for Osborne. Hardly progressive, and an even deeper shame in light of the progressive, positive centre-left vision set out by Yvette Cooper, the only candidate to inspire a modicum of excitement in me.

But if Labour have driven me to shake my head in bewilderment, Europe’s response to the refugee crisis has left me both angry and deeply sad. There is too much to say here, bemoaning the lack of solidarity between the EU’s member states, politicians’ inability to act with moral conviction, and the complete failure to tackle the desperate situation in Syria. But the biggest issue is politicians’ and the public’s refusal to recognise the reality of the situation: that refugees fleeing the bloodiest war since WWII should be exempt from the politics of migration and instead should be treated with the basic human compassion Europe was built to express. If a mother is frightened enough to put her children aboard an unseaworthy raft, who are we to question her motives? In all things, if you wouldn’t swap places with someone, don’t judge them. It really is that simple.

As I head off for the start of a daunting and exciting new year, answers for these desperate people do not appear any closer than they did at the beginning of the summer. I can only hope that future generations of politics students are not taught that refugee crisis of the summer of 2015 did not presage the crumbling of the European principles of solidarity and free movement, or of the EU itself. They should be defended with everything we have. I hope to be able to make that argument as I write more and more over the coming year.

Lessons from the year

My second year at university saw success on three fronts: more work, more reading and more writing. Somewhere along the way, I learnt quite a bit; about myself, journalism and politics. And so, having, like a lot of journalists, bemoaned the advent of the ‘listicle’ (which I still maintain should not be a word), I present you with the highlights of these lessons.

  • There is absolutely no point in reading an entire book that you don’t understand just because it’s required reading (in my case, political theory from the 18th and 19th centuries). Find one that explains the core text in intelligible English and save time, boredom and exam season stress
  • On a related note, John Rawls is god’s gift to politics students
  • Planning essays is the best way to revise
  • My academic interests lie in security studies, human rights, justice and feminism. I am probably a constructivist but I believe in moral imperatives
  • It’s probably high time I transferred my essay-planning skills to pitching articles (by which I mean: knowing what my point is before I start)
  • There is nothing as gratifying as reward for hard work
  • There is nothing as uplifting as well-loved friends making you laugh on a bad day
  • No matter how inconveniently-timed the urge to read a novel or write something is, do it and don’t feel guilty for not doing other things. You’re probably learning more than if you were writing an essay and the inspiration is fleeting
  • My heart lies with 20th century American novels, the Guardian, New Yorker and New York Times, and inexplicably compelling internet think-pieces
  • I am not an aspiring journalist. I am a journalist
  • Not to overdo things. Take a break if your brain is no longer absorbing information. Lie in if you know that extra hour will help you function at your best
  • Coffee is wonderful
  • I write best between 11pm and 1am. I do not know if this is a blessing or a curse but count me in for the night shift
  • Old friends are precious. So are new ones
  • General elections are simultaneously banal, depressing and riveting
  • Being open about my disability is, with the right people, very freeing
  • I do and don’t need a plan. I wish I knew what I wanted to do after university and what the best course of action would be, but I’m happy to take the time to work these things out – as I am always being told, I have plenty of time

Not bad for a single academic year. And at least I spared you the GIFs.