Why you should think about what you read: what English Literature has taught me this week

Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw may have been published over a century ago, but aside the eeriness of the ghost story, a more literary critical point lies underneath. The principal narrator of the book, the governess, starts off as sounding as more than adequate as a narrator. As the story proceeds, however, one finds her story less believable and her narration unreliable as she recalls her tale.

James was undoubtedly ahead of his time. He brought up the idea of questioning what we are reading and why; and whether reader should fully believe the person writing or narrating. This concept could not be more relevant in today’s world; in a global phenomenon of fake news, swarms of paparazzi and endless clickbait, taking a step back and critically evaluating what we read is vital.

Whilst this may give people uncomfortable flashbacks to close reading at High School, the skills we use for reading in those situations can also be applied when reading any article or information. I’m not saying bust out all your highlighters and pens and look for alliteration; I’m saying think about who is writing this, who they’re writing it for, and why.

Take well-loved Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. I liked him; for a start, almost every article I read was saying how much of a hero he was compared to President Donald Trump – and I believed it blindly until I was fortunate to come across this article by the Guardian. Trudeau, as far as I’m aware, is not a racist or sexist (so far) – but like Trump, he’ll do what he thinks is best for his country. In this case I profoundly disagree selling barrells of oil is best for his country. I don’t hate him, but I don’t see him as a saviour for the West as beforehand.

If it wasn’t for that article, I would have continued to buy the wonderful portrayals of Trudeau and how he could do no wrong. Of course, I don’t feel as strongly against him as the author of the article does (I watched the video of Trudeau and he did say he would sell the oil ‘safely’ and ‘sustainably’ – how he will do this I don’t know).

This brought me to think about how, if we feel so strongly for or against something, we will take on almost any article that supports or believes it. Countless articles link to videos or paraphrase what people said, and before you know it bloody battles are being fought on the well known battlegrounds of Facebook comments, with as much as half of people not even watching the original video or reading the original article or quote. Why?

We like to see what we believe, and belief is a beautiful thing. Anything that comes close to shattering this, we get our guards up and will look for anything that backs our point up. These days you can find any type of statistics and data to back up any point you want to make; if you find something that supports your initial belief or view in a paraphrase, you’re more likely just to go on that rather than check out the original quote.

So what do we do about this? Read actively. Find a quote? Look for the original. Find a statistic? Look for other ones to back it up and its source. Find an article supporting your point? Research the author and look at the newspaper its written for. I’m not saying you should do this for every Buzzfeed quiz or Film Review (though Buzzfeed’s reliability is altogether another question).

Like James’ The Turn of the Screw, a story can have different narrators and these people may or may not be reliable. So don’t just believe everything you read, even if it does match your viewpoints; if you can back up your point having said you’ve looked at all the influencing factors, you’re already further ahead than most people are.

Check out my last blogpost on living far away from your extended family here.

 

Living far away from your relatives: a tribute to my late maternal Grandfather

Last Tuesday it was six years since my maternal Granddad died. This made me reflect not only upon his life, but on how difficult it was to be so far away from your family; my grandparents, cousins and most of my Aunts and Uncles are in India and Malaysia and this can make seeing them frequently very difficult. Of course, I do remember my Grandfather, but I do not have as many memories with him as my cousins back in India do.

This idea made me think of what it was like for many people who have settled in the UK and have their parents – and their sons and daughters’ grandparents – far away. I was quite fortunate to visit India (roughly) every three years or so, yet I did not know my Grandfather nearly as well as some of my cousins did.

Even with the wonders of Skype and instant messaging on Facebook, it’s nothing compared to living down the street from your grandparents like some people have the luxury of having (no matter how much one might complain about their in-laws). When you go see your relatives every few years, the talk can often be the same. “She’s grown so much!” “What year is he in now?” “Do you still like to do…” As a result (at least in my experience) you don’t truly get to know them.

I discovered far more about my Granddad after he died than after he was alive. The more I heard about him, the more I wished he was still alive. I have so many questions that I wish he could answer.

Of course – and as horrible as it sounds – I did not experience as much pain and sadness as my Mum and relatives back in India did when he died. I was very upset, but for different reasons; I never knew him like they did.

There are times I actually forget that he died. I’ll be thinking “I can tell tha tha this…” and then I’ll remember I can’t. I think of all he missed: the entirety of my time at high school; my graduation from high school; and me starting University. He was keen to hear me how I would get on at school, and I used to like telling him.

One of the saddest parts is that my younger brother was only six when he died; I was twelve. He doesn’t remember tha tha as much as I do. He never even met my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young. One thing that being far away from your relatives teaches you is how precious your time with them really is: you want to make the most of it while you are there, because you don’t know if there will be a next time.

However, I’ve not lost all hope. My maternal Grandmother has visited many times and we are seeing her soon. Thanks to phone calls and such, we still communicate and will catch up a lot when I next see her. I know the last thing my Granddad would want is for me to be sad.

I also realise that it’s probably not nearly as hard for me as it is for my parents, who of course do know our grandparents well and have to deal being so far away. I suppose they get used to it, but it doesn’t mean they never miss them. Yet, this is just part of the wider experience of having your roots elsewhere in the world; it’s one of the many difficulties to be endured.

Nevertheless, I want to end on a positive. I have been incredibly lucky compared to some other people. Both my grandmothers are still alive. I intend to see them both – and spend as much time with them and my relatives as possible. I’m still young and have lots of time to make many more memories. My grandfather’s death, over many years of reflection, has taught me you have to make the most of absolutely everything. You just don’t know when it will all go; seeing my Mum with regret was one of the most painful things I’ve seen.

I want to do everything I set out to do – and better.

This article is a tribute to my late maternal grandfather. 

 

 

Types of Flatmates

Out of popular demand (which is an understatement by the way) and a desire to have a good jab at some people, I’ve decided to do types of flatmates featuring…well, my flatmates. No names will be used, but you guys will all know who you are! In all seriousness, I love you all really. Here we go, in no particular order:

The one who always goes missing

This person, no matter where we are, just manages to achieve losing every single other flatmate. They just randomly disappear out of nowhere and it takes AGES to find them. Also, when you do happen to find them, they could be either drunk out of their mind or making out with some old guy (or both at the same time). This person, however, is also secretly REALLY smart and actually can take extremely good care of his/herself. She is very sweet and works really hard. The important thing is, they turn up in the end (somewhere).

The one who always goes off with a guy

This flatmate is dancing with her good friends one minute and making out with the guy dancing next to her in the next. Literally, the next minute. To be honest, she may as well just go up to the guy and get straight to the point with what her intentions are, rather than stringing it out (it’d save everyone else so much time on whether to go home without her or not). She also made up an entire University in her head thinking it was an actual University and thought that Asia was 4 hours away on the plane. Realistically, this person is smarter than she thinks and is super self-sufficient, paying her own way and managing work (just). She also always has great chat and does really good hair!

The one who is basically a baby

This type of flatmate would probably be okay being pushed about in a pram if people would allow it. This person has had everything done for her (I mean everything) before now. If other people hadn’t told her she would have probably thought pasta didn’t need water to cook and eggs didn’t need to be cracked open to be fried. You could put her favourite food on the other side of the kitchen and she’d complain about the walk there.  Although, this person is actually really nice and is surprisingly good at weird things such as DIY. She also buys cool stuff from the supermarket, has a great devotion to prophets and we definitely relate on a cultural level which is pretty cool.

The one who has it altogether

This person, quite frankly, is just annoyingly perfect. She’s doing a really difficult degree, exercising, looking good, staying happy AND having an active social life all at the same time. The worst part she’s just so nice about it all. It’s like, are you trying to make us all feel bad about ourselves? Can you not just mess up once? Can you not just get super drunk, once? Be really horrible? Jokes aside, this flatmate is awesome and makes the best cookies ever. She’s probably doing amazing in her degree already and am sure she will be great at whatever she does one day. Keep killing it girl!

The hyperactive one

This person is just excited. All. The. Time. Please stop randomly dancing in the kitchen or busting out your vocal chords at random times. Oh and don’t run across the road. This person is also someone we’ve all badly influenced; she’s turned from alcoholic virgin to…well, just an alcoholic. Yeah, you ‘don’t drink.’ Annoyingly though, this person can just sober up in a moment of crisis and turn into a doctor from Grey’s Anatomy. Were you even drunk in the first place mate? Also, this person’s food tends to just consist of lentils. And rice. She’s also English, which is another major put off. To be honest though, this person is one of the sweetest people I have ever met and is really kind, as well as being amazingly studious and smart. Her excitement is something I definitely aspire to.

The really blunt Glaswegian

Blunt does not even cut it for this person; she says what she thinks whether other people like it or not! This person also is a party animal, and will literally dance with anyone when drunk. She’s also goes to the gym at like half six in the morning. For spin class. Who DOES that? It’s probably just to check out all the fit guys as she just cannot stop going on about how she wants a fit medic. Like all the time. If someone fit proposed to her right now she’d probably say yes. Also, please don’t scream hello in my face all the time. However, as much as I make fun of this person for going to the gym at crazy times, she’s probably really fit and has the most amazing laugh ever and we both love food. She also looks out for everyone deep down and is pretty much flat mum.

The major procrastinator

Procrastination is one of the many skills of this person. If this person had a deadline the next day and still had to write an essay, she would still put it off – procrastinate isn’t this person’s middle name, it’s their first! It’s pretty annoying as I’m quite sure she is secretly a genius and will probably pass her exams with little to no revision. This person also loves a good party, so much so that she decides to pass out and resurrect again just before people arrive to help her. Thanks a lot, mate. It’s bad enough you rub it in that you do no work, but to basically resurrect from the dead is not cool. Also, how do you make amazing looking food all the time? Don’t lie to us about how you can’t cook, you clearly can. Truthfully, I’m just jealous of what a good cook this person is and how smart she is without revising. She’s also quite cute when drunk and we also relate on a cultural (and biscuit) level, which is always a good thing!

The one with the super cool degree

Everyone envies this person for one reason alone: they hands down have the coolest degree. It’s almost like this person is trying to rub it in your face how cool it is! This person also just happens to just absolutely love their degree and is just amazing at it. Additionally, this flatmate somewhat is all for pres and just ditches us before we go out. As much as I relate to that sentiment, seriously? We’re all dressed up and going out and you just sit there drinking, not even bothering to make an effort? Disappointing. Like, at least dress up a bit or something. Don’t take drink and not commit. Jokes aside, this person is awesome and I’m sure will be super successful one day. She’s really kind and we both like Downton Abbey so that’s a major plus. I also totally get why she’d only do pres – less money, just as much fun!

The lazy one

This person basically sleeps all the time and then complains about not having enough time to do work. 5 hour ‘naps’ and 12 hour sleeps are just normal for this person, as well as just scrolling through social media as she complains about not having enough time to do her essay. At least be awake most of the time if you’re going to try and do work. Also, what’s up with the noises? And the singing? You’re always ‘tired’ and then you’re belting out a tune at like ten am? Yeah, you’re ‘tired’, sure. Seriously though…this person is so lovely. When she does get into doing work and learning, she’s super passionate about it. She’s also an awesome singer and kills it with working two jobs (I don’t even have one).

The really cool exchange student

This flatmate is only here for a short amount of time and is from a really cool place. She seems to have it all together and on top if that is just cool! Almost like she’s too cool for school as people hardly see her. It’s like, are you alive? How do you eat? Are you human? It’s not the floating Trump we have in our kitchen, is it? (I’ll have to explain this another time). This person is actually really nice and it’s a shame she is only here for a short amount of time – hopefully we haven’t put her off from coming back to Scotland!

The one we haven’t ruined yet

This person is just nice. All the time. She is studious, never goes out, she’s quiet and polite. To the point where you just want her to stop and actually just burst out and shout at everyone. Or just get super drunk. Just mess yourself up in some way, please? Just get really grumpy one day, or be really annoying. Just do something that isn’t perfect. In all honestly this person is super lovely and I just wish I could be as nice as she is! She’s smart, kind and always has some good chat when we’re in the kitchen.

And finally… the English student

No prizes for guessing who this is…this person just writes. About everything. Every day. To be honest it must just be really annoying for everyone else. Another blogpost? Another newspaper article? Like, do you do anything else? She also looks super pretentious with her scarves and Starbucks cups. All she needs is a book in her hand and she’ll look like the most pretentious English student ever. It’s probably just to shelter from the fact she’s never had a proper relationship and the number of friends at Uni is the most friends she’s ever had. Also, does this person have any right to be dishing out advice on her blog? She’s only just started University. Like, calm down please. Stick to writing!

 

And there we have it! Types of flatmates featuring my very own group of them. I said it before and I’ll say it again; I love these guys and they’re honestly the best. So, do you see any of your flatmates fit in these descriptions? If they do…good luck.

Photo Credit Alina Brust.

Check out my last article on my first two months of Uni here.

 

 

 

8 weeks and counting: a reflection of my first two months at University

Eight weeks yesterday I had moved out of my childhood home of eleven years and embarked upon a new life in Edinburgh. I was excited but also immensely terrified; I had worked very hard to get into Edinburgh University. What if it wasn’t what I expected? What if my flatmates hated me? What if I wasn’t good enough for the course after all? Questions flooded my ahead and the answers were not immediate; two months later, I’m almost a changed person.

But it’s only been two months! That’s what many of you will think, and that’s why I say I’m almost a changed person. I do miss home in some ways, of course, but I couldn’t have been more lucky since moving to Edinburgh; my flatmates are incredible (more on them soon), my course has been great, I’ve made loads of new friends and couldn’t have settled into Edinburgh life better. In Fresher’s week alone I found myself doing things I never would have otherwise; I’ve pushed boundaries since too.

Yet, it’s not all been amazing. Needless to say I have been a lot more lucky than some other people I know, who have been finding themselves incredibly homesick, stuck with a bunch of uncooperative flatmates or on a course they hated. Nevertheless, a couple of weeks ago, I myself started to really miss home all of a sudden. It wasn’t like I was constantly sad, but I did start to feel more down than usual.

I soon came to realise that many students that are initially on a high from the start of University suddenly get down about halfway through semester one; deadlines are looming and you’re suddenly not going everywhere meeting new people all the time like at Fresher’s.

So what did I do? I got up every morning and kept going. I tried to meet up with new friends to solidify friendships; I met with old friends to remind myself home was not too far away; I worked hard on my coursework – in short, I kept myself busy. This served me well and I’m already feeling better.

In terms of living in self-catered halls, this has proved an altogether different education. What you thought was ‘cheap’ before when spending your birthday or Christmas money is suddenly really expensive  (or, if you get to the point of absolutely denial of how broke you are, you go all out and into your overdraft. Thankfully this hasn’t happened to me). Anywhere with free food is a must go – and balancing your work, social life and making sure you actually feed yourself can be a great challenge. I suddenly woke up and thought one day how much my parents do every single day, as well as dealing with us teenagers and kids. Realising how much you take for granted, you suddenly become a lot more grateful (before you go back to living off your parents money and buying that extra coffee you know you shouldn’t have).

If you’re from a quiet not so heterogeneous place like me, you also realise how much more of a world there is outside your home. My flat alone has eight different nationalities including my own. I’ve met people from all over the world and learnt about different cultures within a matter of days, never mind months. I found a society for pretty much every single culture or country, which was a refreshing experience for me coming from the Scottish Borders.

However, the thing that struck me most about University was that – unlike high school – people just don’t seem to care who you are or where you’re from. Though certain groups do form after some time and circles of friends are established, the social hierarchy is not as it is in high school. There are no ‘popular kids,’ no ‘uncool’, no ‘don’t talk to me.’ There are no horrible cliques or them and us. That’s not to say University is free of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination – it’s far from perfect. Yet, you can go and talk to anyone or attempt to be friends with anyone you like. The worst that’ll happen is that the feeling is not mutual and even then, you have literally thousands of other people to choose from.

University, I have found, is not always perfect; at times it can be far from it. But it’s the time for you to find out who you really are, without being judged (too much) for it. That, for me anyway, is a wonderful thing.

Check out my last article on looks and beauty here.

Looks may matter – but not in the way that you think

In a world where more people are undergoing plastic surgery than ever before and the cosmetics industry is worth billions of pounds, it’s clear people want to make themselves look good. But what does ‘good’ mean? And do looks matter?

Some people will say that looks don’t matter at all; some others will say that the ‘hard truth’ is that looks are the only thing that matters. Personally, I disagree with both statements:  in my opinion, looks matter but it is definitely not the only thing that matters – and that they don’t matter in the ways people think.

So what makes people want to change the way they look – to small and large extents? Do people want to look good for others or for themselves? I started wearing make-up every day when I was a teenager, but I only use eyeliner and a bit of foundation to make myself look a bit more awake in the morning. Others fill in brows or just put in mascara; some won’t be seen dead without a full face of make-up. There is a wide perception that everyone who wears make-up are doing so to look good for others – and of course this is true in many cases. Yet, there are also a significant number of people now who want to do this just to look good for themselves – not anyone else.

I’m certain people have been doing this for a long time, but this is a growing idea in modern society. Memes that show women dismissing guys when they make remarks such as ‘You’re wearing too much make-up’ or ‘You don’t need make-up’, and growing ideas of people being bold with – or without – make-up is becoming prevalent. This is good progress in society as it empowers people to do what they want with how they look.

There is, however, an ugly side to this too. More and more girls are being diagnosed with anorexia, growing trends such as thigh gaps and ridiculously small (and obviously photo shopped) waists. This costs confidence and far too often, lives. Much of the time, people end up at these extremes not because they want to look good for themselves but because society demands it; it is a toxic trend that should be addressed better by the cosmetic and clothing industries.

This leads me to my next point. Looking healthy contributes a great deal to looking good as well, as well as looking and feeling confident (see my article on confidence here). The more you appear confident in yourself and how you look, the more other people will perceive you in the same way; confidence is infectious, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be used as a tool to feeling good about the way you look.

I truly believe that beauty is in in the eye of the beholder; that is, different people find different things attractive or beautiful. Some people will scoff, but I think beauty is relative to different countries and a perception of beauty differs between every single person, however slight or great. What is conventionally attractive in India (fair skin) is not conventionally attractive in the West anymore (tanned skin). Even then, to say that every single person of India’s population 1.3 billion believes fair skin is attractive would be false.

I suppose there will always be those people that everyone just looks at and thinks “Wow.” But it’s important to think that it won’t be everyone who thinks that. What was conventionally beautiful fifty years ago may not be conventionally beautiful today; and what is beautiful today may not be another fifty years. From this, therefore, we can learn that we should learn to accept all types of beauty; if we can learn to say that looks matter without forcing a desired look upon society, then we can go forward.