The Empty Semester of My Masters – The Other Side

Back in June, I made a post about what had been my plans for the empty semester of my Masters and how I’d adjusted those plans according to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. I was still hopeful that I could get a lot done in the time before my next semester started but the pandemic had a massive effect on my mental health and therefore my productivity so it took me a long time to gather myself enough to do anything even vaguely productive. So while, in pre-pandemic times, this list of completed goals probably would’ve felt disappointing, I’m trying to shed those expectations and be proud of what I’ve achieved considering the current circumstances.


MANAGED TO DO:

  • Sort through my clothes – I actually did this twice because I know that I get decision fatigue and end up keeping things that I don’t want because that’s the easier option. So I did a second sort through, reducing my wardrobe further. There’s still more than I’d like to get rid of but I feel like I made a serious dent in what felt like a pretty overwhelming situation.
  • Watched some of the things on my To Watch list – For a while, I only felt able to watch familiar things because it didn’t feel like there was the space in my brain for new stories or characters but eventually a few things started to catch my eye and it turned into a really good method of escaping all my anxiety about the current situation. I’ve also been watching quite different things, which has been fun. Plus, it’s a great source of inspiration while not much is happening in my personal life.
  • Improve my piano skills – I’ve spent a lot of time playing piano during this unstructured time and not only has it been really fun, I have actually improved. For a long time, I couldn’t hear or see any improvement but recently, I’ve been able to do things or pick up things much quicker and much more easily and that’s really exciting, even if there is still so much more to learn. To be fair, it’s not like that isn’t a universal fact.
  • Music Theory lessons – These didn’t even up happening the way I thought they would but I’ve spent some solid time working on my theory in the hope that it will make the upcoming Musical Language module less stressful and more fun.
  • Shot a music video – Despite the current circumstances, somehow Richard Sanderson and I managed to come up with a safe way to make a music video for ‘Back To Life‘ (from concept, to planning, to execution). It was actually fun, despite the high levels of anxiety I was experiencing. I hadn’t thought we’d be able to do it but somehow we did and I’m really proud of the result.
  • Get caught up with my photo albums – Despite the death of my computer, setting up a new one, reorganising my entire photo library, setting up the albums on the computer, and choosing photos for the eighteen months I was behind by, I somehow managed to get my photo albums up to date. It was a massive job, a much bigger one than I’d anticipated, so to have done it feels like a really big achievement, especially given how long I’ve been wanting to do it.
  • Start coming up with ideas for my Masters final project – As I said in the original post, the project isn’t for several months still but I wanted time to find a concept I could really engage with. I’ve jotted down a list of potential ideas (which I do have to find as it’s apparently wandered off…) and spoken to one of my tutors about it. He was really enthusiastic about the ones I mentioned so I feel like I’m off to a good start.
  • See a meteor shower – Me and my Mum drove out of the city and lay in a field to watch the Perseids meteor shower in August. It wasn’t the best meteor shower I’ve ever seen but we saw a handful of fairly decent shooting stars and it was a really clear night so just looking up at all the stars was a beautiful, pretty profound experience.
  • Catch up with my friends – Obviously when I set this goal, I’d imagined hanging out at people’s houses, movies nights, going to the beach, and so on. But then the pandemic happened (or more specifically, began…) and none of that was possible. Considering the amount of anxiety I’ve been dealing with, I think I’ve done an okay job of staying in touch with my friends, doing video calls and Netflix parties. Since the restrictions have eased a bit, I’ve seen a couple of friends too (socially distanced, of course), which has been really nice since I do find the constant communicating via screens exhausting.
  • Write new songs/work on old songs – I haven’t been as productive as I would’ve liked to be during this period but then my creativity is always negatively affected when I’m struggling with my mental health. But I’m trying to remember that I’ve done the best I can. At no point did I give up (beyond taking a break to avoid unnecessary distress) and when I couldn’t directly write songs, I worked on surrounding areas, like production or chord progressions and so on.
  • Have as many cowriting sessions as possible – I’d planned to do as many cowrites as possible, with as many people as possible, and while writing sessions have been possible via platforms like Zoom, I must admit I find it much more difficult to be creative and collaborative when I’m not in the same room as my cowriter. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible and I’m pleased with what I have managed to do but doing it this way has meant that I haven’t done nearly as many sessions as I’d hoped, especially as I have found Zoom sessions with less than familiar people harder to do than spending time with less than familiar people. If that makes sense.

IN PROCESS:

  • Catch up with my diary – I’d really hoped to have caught up with the diary I was behind on and then aborted when lockdown began, wanting to document this surreal experience in real time. I’ve been trying to catch up alongside everything else but I’m still behind and with everything going on at the moment, I’m behind in the current diary too. So when I start university again, I’m going to be trying to write three diaries at once, which feels very stressful. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that but I’m going to have to figure it out because, if I haven’t said it before, OCD’s a bitch.
  • Update my songwriting book – Initially I made quite a lot of progress, writing up a decent amount of my more recent songs, but then I realised that I’d somehow left out a significant number of songs. That was very frustrating. And since then, I haven’t been quite sure what to do. I hate the idea of having them out of order but I’m also reluctant to add to my workload by making the decision
  • Sort out my bedroom – I’ve made a lot of progress over the last several months and it looks and feels so much better but I’ve been waiting for a couple of sets of shelves to arrive to help me better organise all the ‘loose ends’ of my stuff, if that makes sense. There’s just still a lot of bits and pieces around that don’t have their own space. I think that, once that happens and once all those things are a bit more organised, I’ll feel like most of the work is done. I’m looking forward to that.
  • Create my studio space – Again, I’ve made a start. I don’t have all the equipment I’d ideally want. For example, I wish I had some better speakers. But I’ve set up the equipment I do have, although it’s still a bit trial and error when it comes to the most effective set up. I’m still not super confident when it comes to all of this but I’m learning all the time. So we’re getting there, step by step.

COULDN’T DO:

  • Mental Health Awareness assemblies – Obviously these didn’t happen as the schools were closed when Mental Health Awareness Week was happening.
  • See Waitress The Musical again – This wasn’t possible as the show’s run closed during lockdown. I think it’s so sad that they didn’t get the finish. The show closed after Sara Bareilles’ last show so she and Gavin Creel (who played the male lead) had their closure but I’m sure Lucie Jones and David Hunter were really looking forward to coming back. Plus the rest of the cast must’ve been sad to see the show end with so little warning. They’d earned the chance to celebrate the incredible show they put on and the amazing run they had and it’s heartbreaking that they haven’t been able to do that.
  • Concerts – Concerts are only continuing to be rescheduled and even though some socially distanced shows are happening, I’m not at all convinced that it’s safe yet. I miss them so much but I can’t imagine feeling safe in that sort of environment for a really long time.
  • London gigs – Again, I’ve had a couple of booked gigs rescheduled multiple times but then it’s so hard to make concrete plans when we have no idea what the even near future holds. So I’m just trying to take things as they come, make responsible decisions, and not worry too much.
  • Get back to swimming regularly – Obviously for a long time the gyms were closed. When they opened up again, I went to see what their precautions were like but I really didn’t feel safe. The gym have been great about trying to make it easier for me to access their facilities as a disabled person but I’m still not completely convinced. We’re continuing to try to make swimming a possibility and maybe now that so many people are back in school, there will be more periods with less people. We’ll keep trying. I really miss it.
  • Improve my guitar skills – As I’ve already said, it took a long time for me to manage anything beyond staring at the TV in a perpetual state of panic and then, just as I started to feel capable of doing things, I developed awful pain in my arms, from my shoulders to my fingertips. Sometimes it was sharp, shooting pains, sometimes it was a deep ache, and sometimes I’d wake up to find my fingers completely numb. That’s been going on for most of this ‘semester,’ although it has started to improve recently. I still have a specialist doctors appointment at some point to assess the problem so hopefully I’ll be back to playing guitar soon.
  • Read some books from my To Read List – My ongoing anxiety has done a number on my concentration, particularly when it comes to reading. I’ll try to read a book, only to realise that I’ve read several pages and have no memory of what they said. I miss it and I am worried about what will happen when I get back to uni work but that’s the situation as it is at the moment. I’m talking to my Psychiatrist about it at my next appointment.
  • EP Gig – Since my timeline for the Honest EP has been pretty flexible, I wasn’t sure when the last single would be released and when therefore when we’d have the gig to celebrate the EP’s completion. As it’s turned out, the final single isn’t out yet so that’s not something I would’ve had to worry about, even if we had been able to put on events.
  • Start learning the Kalimba – Just as I’d managed to wrestle my motivation towards the Kalimba, I discovered that there was a problem with the one I’d bought and so won’t be able to start learning it before university starts again but I do still really want to learn. So I’m just going to have to reschedule that to a later date.

DIDN’T MANAGE TO DO:

  • Create a space to make YouTube content – This wasn’t hugely high on my list of priorities so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s one of the things to fall by the wayside. Plus, I haven’t completely finished the practical elements of my room so I think it’s something I can pursue without too much difficulty once that’s done.
  • Take some classes on Skillshare – I’ve struggled with my concentration throughout lockdown but most especially when trying to do things that involve absorbing new material so I didn’t manage to do much extra curricular learning. I managed a few TED Talks and read articles but I haven’t managed any in depth study like taking classes on Skillshare.

So, as I said at the beginning of the post, I’ve been trying to realign my expectations as to what has been possible during this time, based on the lockdown restrictions and my fluctuating mental state. With everything so uncertain, it was impossible to know what I’d achieve. Looking at this list now, I’m proud of myself. For the most part. And in the moments when I feel frustrated or disappointed, I acknowledge those feelings, let them have their space, and then try and let them go. I don’t always succeed but I try. Because, given everything going on, I think what I managed to do – especially looking back at how I was (or wasn’t) functioning at the beginning of lockdown – is something to be proud of. And when I can’t feel proud, I practice proud.

Now, on to the next semester.

On JK Rowling’s Recent Comments

I’m sure many of you have seen JK Rowling’s recent comments on transgender people and how including transgender women and cisgender women in the same group erodes the experience of cisgender women. As this all began on Twitter, that is where I’ve been most vocal. I’ve shared articles, shared the experiences and reactions of trans women, and made my stance clear: trans women are women.

(If you’re not up to date with what’s been happening, these two articles – here and here – have been recommended to me as good representations of the timeline of events and some of the reactions.)

But beyond that, I haven’t written much, haven’t written anything more in depth. I’ve wanted to but with my mental health and cognitive skills (including my concentration) so drastically affected and constantly fluctuating due to my pandemic anxiety, I haven’t been able to sit down and finish anything that I felt said much more than ‘I disagree with JK Rowling’s tweets,’ something which I have already said. I would never want my voice to take the space that belongs to a trans person but then I don’t think this post will do that: it’s simply my little corner of the internet where I get to talk about the things that are important to me and this is important to me. And to remain silent feels like a betrayal. If you are transgender, I support you. If you are non binary, I support you. If you do not fit into society’s expectations around sex and gender, I support you. I support your right to explore who you are, be who you are, and live your life unchallenged, unlimited, and unafraid, and I will do all I am able to help that become a reality.

As the topic has, in this case, been brought into the spotlight by JK Rowling, I’d like to write a little about her. My relationship with all JK Rowling is has become increasingly complicated as time has gone on and as I have grown older and more aware of the issues in our world and the discrimination against different groups of people in our world. 

As a child – I must’ve started reading the Harry Potter books when I was about seven or eight – I didn’t really connect stories with their writers. They were just glorious worlds to fall into with characters whose journeys you followed. The writers were simply a name on the front cover. I loved the world of Harry Potter and many of the positive experiences of my childhood (and beyond) are connected to it. It had a massive impact on my life and my own desire to tell stories and for that I’ll always be grateful. 

Then, as a young teenager, I became more aware of JK Rowling as a person, both in connection to the world of Harry Potter and as a person, and was honestly really impressed by her: her creativity, her dedication to her work, all of her charitable work and contributions (losing her billionaire status after donating more than £120 million to various charities), and how she stayed in the UK and paid her taxes because she believed it was her duty, having received financial support from the government before her writing afforded her such wealth. I really respected her for that and while I still respect those good choices, they do not excuse her recent comments, for which many people (myself included) will never be able to truly forgive or forget, even if she takes it upon herself to apologise, learn, and take serious positive action.

I know that as a cisgender person I cannot truly understand what it’s like to be transgender and I can admit to having limited academic knowledge. But I do have multiple transgender friends who have been generous enough to share their experiences with me and I have been close enough with some of them to have been present during some of the discrimination and difficult experiences they’ve faced. That has made it a very emotional issue for me, having seen my friends hurt like that. I do want to have a more intellectual understanding as well though so, as soon as I can focus enough to read again (as I mentioned earlier, the cognitive symptoms of my mental health problems have worsened since the onset of the pandemic), this is something I really want to pursue. I’ve sourced a collection of recommended books and reputable articles to read as soon as I can actually concentrate and absorb the information.

As nice as it would be, it’s probably naive to believe that we can simply divorce the creation from the creator. Rowling’s prejudiced comments are cause for concern about whether these harmful views are present in her work, are present in the world of Harry Potter. There are certainly problematic aspects, for example the naming of Cho Chang, the anti-semitic stereotype present in the Goblins, and the slavery of house elves – the existence of the latter two could be ‘explained’ by the fact that magic doesn’t automatically make for a perfect society had anyone seriously addressed the prejudice and inequality but they didn’t, apart from the odd comment or throwaway plot line. Having said all of this, the books are out in the world and I think that the best we can do is discuss the issues they raise, how they translate to the real world, and how we can address these prejudices, individually and as a society* – not an easy goal but a worthwhile one nonetheless.

(*in an understandable and digestible way considering the age of the reader.)

I would just like to touch on Fanfiction briefly because I think there’s a certain kind of magic in that it allows us to dig into the holes and stereotypes and problems and write stories to challenge the problematic parts and flesh out the things that weren’t properly explored. I’ve read some great stories that seamlessly integrate transgender characters and how Hogwarts accommodates (i.e. the rules about who’s allowed in which dormitories), some that explore the history of different magic (such as the development of wands in order to control who can use magic and how wandless magic may have evolved so that women could use magic without them), some that have the characters examining why history so often repeats itself, some that challenge the stereotypes of the Hogwarts houses and the repercussions that they can have on impressionable eleven year olds, and so on. Fanfiction allows us to make these worlds bigger and more complex and look at them through different lenses and I think that’s a really wonderful thing to have access to.

But back to the matter at hand, I don’t think that all of this – JK Rowling’s obvious (and harmful) views and actions – necessarily has to ruin the stories or the positive experiences we gained from Harry Potter, especially considering all of the good messages in them. But then I don’t know if I’d be able to say that had I not started reading the books before I connected them to authors with opinions and prejudices and big platforms on social media. I know that for many people this will have irreparably damaged their relationships with the stories and that makes me deeply sad. I’m reminded of what Daniel Radcliffe said in response to the tweets: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.” Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could store away the things we love(d) in a time capsule so that they could remain untouched by the outside world?

I confess that I’m having trouble reconciling my feelings for the woman I admired as a young teenager and the woman I’m now seeing as an adult. I’m grateful for the gifts she gave me, both through the world of Harry Potter and the telling of stories, but I cannot and will not support her while she spreads such harmful and incorrect views. If she’s going to comment on something that has the potential to endanger an already vulnerable group of people, especially with a platform as big as hers, it is her responsibility to be thoroughly educated on the topic. I am deeply disappointed with her lack of empathy.

So, to conclude this post, I’m going to celebrate Rowling’s recent birthday by making a donation to Mermaids (a charity that supports transgender and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families) and to a series of personal fundraisers to help some transgender people get the support they need.

“I think trans women, and trans people in general, show everyone that you can define what it means to be a man or woman on your own terms. A lot of what feminism is about is moving outside of roles and moving outside of expectations of who and what you’re supposed to be to live a more authentic life.” – Laverne Cox

My Lockdown Favourites

As stressful (and often traumatic) as it’s been, lockdown has provided the opportunity to try out different pursuits, things that we didn’t have the time or mental energy for previously. Even though said lockdown isn’t actually over yet, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’ve discovered or things that I’ve been finding relief in during this difficult time and thought I’d share them, in case they’re helpful or comforting to anyone else.


The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy – My therapist gave me this book just before lockdown and I read it all in one go. It’s comforting and inspiring and the illustrations are just stunning. But even though I’ve read it, it’s a really good book for just dipping into, for just opening at a random page, and ruminating on the message of the words – while there is progression to it, it’s not in a traditional story format so you can simply read it in this way.

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My Kelsea Ballerini sweatpants – Obviously any good pair of sweatpants will do but my favourite pair come from the merch line accompanying Kelsea Ballerini’s third album. I know that a lot of people have talked about needing to get up and get dressed as they did pre-pandemic to be productive but I’m honestly more productive when I’m comfortable and these are just super soft and cosy without being too thick. I’m pretty sure they’re one of the best pieces of merch I’ve ever bought.

Kalie Shorr – I’ve loved Kalie’s music for years, especially her debut album, ‘Open Book,’ which came out last year. Her music really is unique: her lyric writing is brutally honest and perfectly balances detail and metaphor, her melodies surprising yet effortlessly catchy, and the production not only perfectly matches each song but takes you on as much as a journey throughout the album as the lyrics do. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard and as a songwriter, I learn more from it every time I listen to it. I’ve been playing to it a lot during lockdown and even learning some of the songs on the piano as I try and improve my skills. It’s so cohesive, emotionally, lyrically, and sonically. It’s so utterly Kalie. I hope that, one day, I’ll be as assured of my musical identity as Kalie is.

My keyboard – I love playing the piano but between life and managing my mental health, I do often find it difficult to just sit down and play simply for the fun of it. If I have a university assignment or song idea, of course I’ll work at it until it’s perfect but I struggle to fit in time to just play because I like the sound or learn a song I love or practice a specific skill. So having this extra time has allowed me to do that. There’s also the added bonus that piano playing takes up so much concentration for me that I’m distracted from my near constant anxiety, something I’m very grateful for.

Absentia – I’ve been meaning to watch this show for ages; it’s been on my To Watch list in a number of bullet journals now. But I always felt guilty for putting the time aside to get into a new show. In these current times though, it’s been the perfect escape and I found it so addictive that I ended up watching a season a day. If you like a mix of crime show and thriller, plus an awesome, well developed female lead, then this is a show for you.

Banana Bread – It’s a bit of a lockdown cliche but seeing everyone making banana bread inspired us to make it again. I haven’t had it in years and oh my god, I’d forgotten how good it is. We went a bit overboard, probably making (and sharing) at least fifteen of them…

Fanfiction – As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been struggling to really get into reading. Whether it’s my anxiety about the pandemic or my mental health in general, trying to absorb brand new characters, settings, and storylines just seems to be too much for my brain and I just can’t concentrate. Reading stories set in familiar worlds (Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary, Harry Potter, Criminal Minds, etc) with familiar characters just feels more possible and I love how they build on and fill out something that I already love. I’ve always found it to be a really good form of relaxation, a really good way of escaping reality when everything gets too much. Maybe one day I’ll make a post listing my favourites because some of them are genuinely among the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read.

1SE App – I’ve been a fan of the 1 Second Everyday app for years but I’ve found it particularly helpful and enjoyable during lockdown. It reminds me of the good moments, that I am actually achieving things, that we are moving forward. I don’t know if lockdown is going to have a definitive end but if it does, I may post a one-second-a-day-of-every-day-in-lockdown video. Otherwise I’ll probably post the video of the whole year at the end of 2020.

Lauren Cimorelli – I have been loving Lauren Cimorelli’s recent music, especially ‘Atom Bomb’ and ‘Rabbit Hole.’ The lyrics create these beautifully dark and romantic images, they’re super catchy, and the production is awesome: vivid and chaotic but glittering and iridescent. They really inspire me to get better, particularly at production.

Isn’t It Romantic – I’m not usually a huge fan of romantic comedies but me and my uni friends have been having regular movie nights, taking turns to choose the movie. I can’t remember who chose this one and I was prepared to simply watch it and then forget about it but I absolutely loved it, so much so that I’ve watched it three or four times since that initial viewing to show it to other people. I loved the ridiculousness of it and how it made fun of the romantic comedy genre, while still being a really fun, feel good film.

Broadchurch – My brother and his Mum watched all three series in a week and insisted that me and Mum would love it so we tried it out and got through it in even less time. It follows the partnership of the moody, complex DI Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and the bright and bubbly DS Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) as the try to solve cases (one per series) in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It was thoroughly gripping and we repeatedly went to bed hours later than intended because the cliffhangers were so intense.

Taylor Swift – I know folklore only came out yesterday but I’m already completely obsessed with it and I know I’ll be listening to it daily for a LONG time. I do miss the big, bold, glittering production from her previous albums but I also love this new sound for her. I’m finding it completely impossible to choose a favourite but I absolutely adore ‘the 1,’ ‘exile (feat. Bon Iver),’ ‘my tears ricochet,’ ‘mirrorball,’ ‘this is me trying,’ ‘illicit affairs,’ ‘mad woman,’ ‘epiphany’ (although it’s actually painful in its sadness), and ‘peace.’ It’s a stunning album.


So these are some of the things that I’ve been enjoying in lockdown (the words ‘enjoying’ and ‘lockdown’ in the same sentence sound very strange). I hope these are interesting to you and if you have any favourites of your own, please share!