Tuesday, 26 March 2013

My life isn't sorted, and that's okay with me.

Taylor Swift has done it again. With a few words strung together, she’s reminded me that at 22, I really don’t need to have it all together yet. “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical oh yeh!”

Before anyone goes ahead and thinks I’m currently an emotional mess who is panicking about what I’m meant to be doing with my life, I’d like to confirm that I’m not. In the grand scheme of my whole life (excluding the years from my birth to the age of, oh, let’s say nine), I feel more together now than I probably ever have. This is, I expect, because I’m focussing on finishing my degree. There’s no space to be an emotional wreck for any reason, no space to think about what I’m doing next. It’s dissertation and essays day in, day out for the next eight weeks. It isn’t so much that the lyrics have confirmed that what I sometimes feel is okay. It’s that the grand old age of twenty two isn’t actually so old after all.

Take a look at some of my favourite lyrics: “It feels like a perfect night for breakfast at midnight”, “Everything will be alright if we keep dancing like we’re 22”, “You look like bad news, I gotta have you”. T-Swift clearly isn’t the expert on what age we should start acting responsibly, but this picture of twenty two year-olds doesn’t scream “responsible professionals”. Of course, the lyrics aren’t perfect: I hope that I will never be too old to have breakfast at midnight; if I’m twenty two right now, and my life as it is is supposed to be “alright”, I hate to think what quandaries I will have come up against by my thirtieth birthday. But these are irrelevant to the general spirit of the song.

Regardless of this image, there seems to be a huge contradiction in opinion as to what people my age should be doing. I’m graduating this summer. I’ll be twenty two. Most of my friends/fellow graduates will be twenty one. I’m sure that quite a few will still be twenty. Throughout our final year of university, we get bombarded (or so it seems) with emails from the careers department, as well as various student websites, telling us to fit in those final volunteer placements, sort out our CVs, decide what career we want to enter, and apply for internships, placements and graduate schemes.

Excuse me? I use the phrase “because reasons” to explain things that I can’t be bothered to address, I still manage to dye my clothes in the washing machine, and I got disproportionately excited at being shown menthol-capsule cigarettes. In what world should I know what I want to do with myself when I grow up?

I get told by articles on the internet, people I meet, and my parents’ painstakingly-assembled photograph albums that my 20s should be the best years of my life. I watch films where people in their twenties spend more time exploring the world, making mistakes, and doing jobs simply to make money rather than because that’s the job they desperately want to do. But ask my careers department and they’ll tell me that I should have it all figured out by now. Not that I’m bashing them: it is their job, after all. And in the current (foreseeable) economic climate, it does seem sensible to find a steady job and get onto that first rung of the career ladder.

It turns out that I’m not a sensible person. I don’t know what I want to do, I have no desire to get into a long-term-but-mind-numbingly-boring job (blame, or thank as I do, my father for that), I haven’t applied for graduate schemes or internships. Luckily, I think I have the whole thing figured out. I think that on the serious-job/have-all-of-the-fun tangent, I’ve got it right for me. I’m moving back home, working a boring-but-it-adds-to-my-CV-and-references office job for a while, and then going travelling.

Too many places, not enough time
There are some people lucky enough to know what they want to do, and who have their lives sorted at least for the next year. Whether through masters placements, PGCE courses or internships, their lives are headed in some sort of logical direction. In some ways I’d really love to be as sorted as them. But I don’t necessarily feel unlucky to still be apparently floating in the sky of What Shall I Do Next. When people ask me what I want to do next, my utterly truthful answer is ‘Travel’. My choice to explore the world isn’t one made because I don’t know what to do. I genuinely want to travel, and I don’t want to get into a regular job and then regret, seven years down the line, that I didn’t take the opportunity to experiences countries and cultures so different from mine. Luckily my not knowing what I want to do coincides with this decision, but it didn’t dictate it.

Most people make a choice that is right for themselves, but I expect that some would rather throw caution to the wind and take off on an adventure than step onto the path that someone else has chosen for them. Luckily my family is (at most times) onboard, and I have an older cousin who did the same thing and isn’t a bum living off benefits and floating from squat to squat. I just wish that what I’m doing didn’t, at times, make me feel that society is judging me. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Selective Veganism For Sort-Of Lent

Over the past year, for some reason, I've become increasingly interested in nutrition. Mostly it comes from spending too much time procrastinating on the internet, reading food blogs and nutrition articles, and I find it fascinating. I wanted to try being full-on vegan for a bit, thought that Lent was a good time frame, and decided to give it a go.

I'm not doing this for any religious reasons, nor for any beliefs about animals. Some people say that eating no animal products gives them more energy, makes their skin and hair more beautiful etc etc, and I'm simply interested in whether being vegan does make a difference.

Anyone who knows me will attests that so far I've been a terrible vegan. I haven't even been a particularly good vegetarian! Initially I thought that this would be easy. Thoughts on veganism went something like this: I rarely eat meat or cheese (except when I've had a bad day and Cambozola is on sale at Co-op and I inhale the whole cheese in five minutes. Don't judge me). On the few occasions I have some sort of spread on bread it's usually sunflower or olive spread rather than butter, and I can do without it. Eggs are delicious, but I can manage not to eat them for forty days. It's not that long. I use natural yoghurt for mayonnaise/spread in sandwiches/as a substitute for crème fraiche, and I like soya yoghurt so that's that one solved. I only have milk in tea and coffee, and I don't mind soya milk so no problem. Sweets, chocolate? Not really my thing to be totally honest. Nope, this was going to be a breeze.

Goodness. Could I have been more wrong? Ladies and gentlemen, this has been hard. As soon as I told myself I couldn't have these things, I wanted them. I wanted them all. It's a simple case of denial, and wanting what you can't have. And also that I seem to have eaten out a lot since I started this, where there's very little vegan food to be had. If I'm paying for a specific dish I like to get the best-looking one on the menu, which almost always involves meat. I've been corrupted into getting takeaway as well, especially after my birthday when my hangover was chronically bad. Don't turn 22, it ruins your life. But that's another story. Food at home has actually been easy, I've stayed vegan there, so perhaps I'm not doing as badly as I thought.

There is one thing that I can't give up, though. Milk. I've had soya milk and almond milk before, and it's been fine in coffee. But not in tea. It is so wrong in tea. I love tea, most people can tell you that. It cures everything, especially headaches when paired with two chocolate fingers and a teaspoon of sugar. My ideal mug of tea is not-too-strong, nice-and-milky. And I will not give that up. Soya tea doesn't cut it. Since this has nothing to do with animal rights and more to do with nutrition, I'm allowing myself this one luxury. I'm in what is definitely the most stressful term of my time at university, and I think I'd go mad if I couldn't have milky tea.

This week I'm starting afresh. There's no point in simply giving up at the first hurdle, so I'm turning over a new leaf. I've worked out a new way to keep me interested: interesting cooking. I love to cook, but usually I don't have the money for expensive ingredients. Vegan cooking, however, is a new experience, so I've hunted out some recipes to try. I say "some". I have 23 recipes open from a single blog. Whoever says vegans don't eat are talking a load of rubbish.

I've taken all of these from The Detoxinista, whose recipes look delicious.

I'm actually excited to make some of these, to make food that looks and tastes slightly like the food I normally eat. I made some almond butter this afternoon, using The Detoxinista's recipe. All I did was dry-roast the almonds at 200c for 10 minutes, and then blend. And blend. And blend some more.

I added some ground cinnamon and it tastes delicious. Almond butter has such a gentle taste that it's great for adding spices - I think I might try a chilli one next...