Thicker than water

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Some people survive and talk about it. Some people survive and go silent. Some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that – without judgement. So the next time you look at someone’s life covetously, remember: you may not want to endure what they are enduring right now, at this moment, whilst they sit so quietly before you looking like a calm ocean on a sunny day. Remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are. Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.

This year has been simultaneously remarkable and harrowing. I always refer to my life as a rollercoaster because that’s how it’s often felt with the ups and downs and the loopty-loops. It still really does. And now as I sit here halfway through 2017, I’m quite thunderstruck just absorbing the fact that half of this year has already passed. Time is slipping through my fingertips at a rather alarming rate. Some days, it’s unsettling. Others, I’m grateful for it. Life is a balance, isn’t it?

I recently made a surprise trip stateside to see my family. Namely, I went back to see my grandparents who’ve not been in good health lately, as I’ve previously mentioned. When I was initially planning to go, I wanted to write about my week when I returned to London because I thought it’d be cathartic in some way. I’ve been back a week now, and my opinion has changed slightly. Part of me wants to spill every little detail about my week and commit it to ink, but the other part of me wants to keep it close, to myself and those closest to me. As a writer, the latter bit stresses me out a little. I’ve been relatively open about massive issues I’ve faced in my life, especially recently, and I do genuinely find catharsis when I put my feelings into writing. But my week in Cleveland was special, emotional and one I’ll forever hold dear. Because it feels cruel to write a blog and mention something as dramatic as a surprise trip 4,000 miles away and not say a peep about it, I will say this:

My week home was heart-warming, exhausting, happy, sad and very, very fulfilling. My grandparents and aunt were so incredibly surprised and thrilled to see me and spend time with me, and that’s all I ever wanted from the trip: to make them happy and aware that I was willing to drop everything in a heartbeat to be there for them. And I was. I was there. And I will be again if and when they want or need me to be.

It was not a holiday. It was not time off. I woke up every morning at 5am because that was 10am UK time and I worked a full day. Every day that week. Then by 1pm, the UK workday was over so I’d get ready for the afternoon and spend it with family. In the evenings, I’d squeeze in a few hours to see friends. I’d fall into bed every night absolutely shattered, mostly running on adrenaline, which seems to be my only fuel source this year. I rolled back into London on a Sunday morning and rocked right back to work that Monday. It was very hard, but I don’t regret doing it. It was the right time for me to show up, and I’m so, so glad I did. However, I have no idea how I’ll ever top that kind of gift! Think I set the bar too high for myself…

I still don’t know what’s next in this long saga of continuous chaos. Some days I’m optimistic and strong and cheery, other days I’m a moody, grumpy lump on a log for no discernible reason. Some days I’ll talk my friends’ ears off about what’s bugging me or what I’m excited for, and other times I force them into an awkward exchange with lots of one-word answers and uncomfortable silences. I don’t know how people are meant to handle the things I’ve been going through this year, and I don’t know that there’s really a guidebook for any of it either. Day by day I take things as they come, and meet them with whatever mood happens to me. I never have proof of my strength and I often feel like a wimpy, whiny baby, but I’ve been told that I’ve been doing okay so I take that as a success and keep moving forward.

My life isn’t better or worse than anyone else’s. While it’s hard not to feel like the world owes me something, I want to believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe this year is a year for hard-earned lessons that will prep me for whatever 2018 has coming my way. I don’t know. I can’t know for sure. But what I do have now that I didn’t have before is experience. I’ve learned way more in these last few months – about myself, life, humanity – more than I ever could’ve imagined I would.

This life is precious. Although it’s cliché, you never know what tomorrow may bring. I do what I can in a day, and then I’m done with it. I make time for what I want and need, and do my best now to strike a better balance between work and my personal life. Work still seeps into my personal life, but it is a choice and not a requirement. I am grateful to have friends both here and in my hometown, all of whom show their support for me when I need it. Life isn’t about merely surviving – it’s about living, right? That’s what they say.

So I guess this post is my thank you to everyone who’s been following my life thus far, offering tid bits of ‘you’re doing great!’ and ‘thinking of you’ comments here and there. I imagine from the outside looking in it’s been pretty dramatic and entertaining, so I can’t blame you for wanting to know how I am and how things are going. Thank you for caring. Thank you for striking up conversations even if I look unapproachable. Thank you for spending time with me even on the days I’m not very communicative. Thank you for being constant beacons of light when I’ve not even realised I was in the dark. I am so very grateful that even on days I feel like I’m dealing with this life alone, I’ve never actually been alone. It’s been quite the adventure so far, hasn’t it? Here’s hoping for tomorrow…

Women vs the world.

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A woman’s place is everywhere.

I’ve been debating whether or not to blog about this subject for quite some time now. I’ve found that if I voice my opinion on the matter, I get a lot of backlash, including from close friends and family. But I decided that’s not a good enough reason to stop myself from using my voice. Especially considering I find that blogging serves as a sort of personal therapy as well. To those who may disagree with my opinion: I respect you. However, it remains my opinion built up through my personal experiences.

So here we go!

I’ve almost chalked up two whole years at my current media job. I started out loving it and feeling very proud of my early success in the field, having nabbed the position shortly after graduating college and in a highly competitive, larger market. But the longer I’ve been here, the more certain negative aspects of the job really stand out. The worst of it all? Sexism and ageism in news media.

College professors warned me and other female classmates of sexism in the journalism field. It is no secret that women are held to a much different standard on-camera. After all, we have more outfit choices than a man’s suit-and-tie go-to, so with that alone, we open the floodgates to physical appearance criticism. I knew this going into the field, but I still find it incredibly hard to stomach. However, I’ve thankfully never had to worry about this because I chose an off-camera career path in the media industry. That should instantly eliminate the worst of sexism for me, right? Well, not exactly.

I am one of 5 or less women news photographers employed in my city. And by that, I mean the women who lug around video cameras and tripods to shoot news stories for local TV stations. (Let me be clear: there are some female multimedia journalists, or one-woman bands, but their job has much different expectations than mine. So I’m not counting those individuals in this explanation.) This means, on any given day that I’m sent out with my video camera and tripod, it’s very likely that I’m the only female camera woman in the field that day. Let that sink in for a moment. Out of the four news stations in my area, there are less than 5 women doing what I do.  I have yet to meet another female news photographer from a different station on an assignment. Ever. I’ve only ever worked side-by-side with men, typically aged 35 or older. And as I’ve found out, these men don’t see me – a woman – as their equal. They don’t say it in as many words, so much as strongly imply it as such. However, I think several other factors weigh heavily into their opinion that I’m not as equipped to do their job as a man: my young age + my petite frame.

So with a one-two-three punch, my gender, age and size chalk me up to an inadequate news photographer in many’s eyes. Some of it I can find understanding, though. I can see how experienced photographers view me as less experienced, because in working years, that’s simply a fact. I haven’t been working in the field as long, so I’m sure there’s lots for me to learn. In other words, my young age may be seen as lack of experience. Fine. And my size? Yes, I’m incredibly petite. And it truly does get difficult lugging around a video camera and tripod that are literally as big as I am. I can see how it could be easier to do my job if I were a big, burly, strong man. And finally, I understand that many moons ago, times were different and women would never be in a job like the one I hold now. And I totally understand that some of my male counterparts at these news stations were working during that time, thus my presence now alongside them serves as a shock and something to get used to. I say these things to show that I try to understand where the criticism is coming from before I let it get to me. I’m not closed-minded, I swear! But my patience wanes when the commentary from these men are said like this: “They sent YOU out to a scene like this?” “You need a big, strong man to help you carry those things!” “Are you old enough to be working?” I am not exaggerating when I say I hear these things, along with many other condescending variations, every single day from men doing the same job as I am, to complete strangers who approach me in the field. Especially considering the fact that I’ve always been hyper aware that I’m unlike most people that hold the same job. I don’t need some stranger pointing it out in the rudest way possible on a daily basis, you know? It’s simply unnecessary and not nice at all! I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate someone saying these things to them either, would they? And I won’t even get into the catcalling and inappropriate advances I get sometimes. That’s an entirely separate blog post on its own! But let’s get one thing straight: I chose this job. So don’t pity me or view me as unfortunate.

When I complain to family and friends, they often ask why I don’t say anything to defend myself. Well, I sort of do. I try and make the exchange into a laughing matter, spitting back with a joke of “oh, yeah! I get a workout every day!” or something along those lines in order to cut the conversation short or make it a non-conversation at all. The problem is, I can’t be rude back. Partly because it’s not in my nature if I don’t know the person, and partly because I need to be a professional when I’m on the job. So despite being surrounded by jerks whose parents didn’t teach them to keep their mouths shut when they don’t have anything nice to say, I can’t let it noticeably get to me because it inhibits my job. When I’m on assignment, I need to get the video I need as quickly as possible, so I don’t have the luxury of getting into a heated debate about why I think I’m capable of performing just as well at my job as a young, petite female. All I can do is fake laugh, get what I need, and make disgusted, annoyed faces or mouth rude words as I walk back to my car. My only concern is excelling at my job, so that remains my number one priority. But the comments stay with me, even long after my work day is done. And that’s the part that bothers me.

Not only do men news photographers in my area not view me as an equal, but complete strangers are constantly coming up to me saying asinine things. No, I’m not an intern. Yes, I can carry all of this equipment all by myself. Yes, a pretty little face like mine actually does prefer to work off-camera. It’s the constant barrage that gets tiring and ruins the job for me. While I understand that with all things, there will be a level of criticism we must endure, I don’t believe that the amount I receive as a professional in my field is on the same level as most of my coworkers. That’s what makes it difficult: having to accept that while this isn’t the norm for most, it is for me. Simply because I’m different.

So let this blog serve as a polite request to kindly keep your criticism to yourself if it in no way helps an individual. My skin is thick enough already, so it needn’t any more. And to those of you young women looking for a career in the news media industry, know this: sexism and ageism is a very real, daily occurrence. And the only way to combat it is to keep encouraging more young women to jump in with us and grow in masses. I’m only one voice, but I know I’m not the only one fighting this. And to all you men (and some women) out there who think I’m incapable of doing my job as well as a man, well tough. Because you know what? I am doing it. And I’m really damn good at it.