The First Year Without You

aIMG_3583IMG_0105 copyYou died a year ago today. I could feel my life splitting into two parts. Before and After. I hoped I might get back some of the things I left in Before, but I am not sure how it works. I saw your Dad this morning. He said, this last year has been a bit of a blur, mostly focused on surviving. He’s right. It has.

People say you know you’re getting old when your friends start dying. That means I got old last year. It was the year of death; I lost childhood friends, family friends, treasured mentors and worst of all, you. I’d been having a whale of a time being young, being happy, inching towards success when suddenly cancer, suicide, accidents, funerals, eulogies, graves and cremation threw themselves into my path unexpectedly. I think a lot of me is still mourning. My dreams are filled with all the people I’ve lost, even the ones still alive, the ones that got away. Sam told me, Will told me, my Dad told me: you need to get over this and move on.

But I can’t get past it. I don’t have the right coping mechanisms and I’m scared of going forward without you jumping through the same hoops with me, as you always have done. And besides, you’re everywhere; you’re in my lyrics, in my playlists, in my wardrobe, in my Favourite Contacts, in my stories and anecdotes, in my inbox, in my cat ears, in the colours of the leaves, in pumpkins, in the names of all our unborn children, in Will’s stupid jokes, in my harddrive, in unedited photos and hours of rehearsal footage I cannot watch.


People say that when somebody dies young it can remind you how precious life is, and how important it is to live every day to the fullest. This is a nice sentiment, except that is how I lived my life anyway. It turns out that there is a limit to carpe diem; if you push it too far it’s dangerous. It’s reckless, it’s breaking into where you shouldn’t be, it’s fooling around, losing things, insulting friends, drinking too much, staying out too late, worrying strangers, horrible, messy, not giving a shit about waking up tomorrow. It’s just easier.

You would hate this, you would hate me worrying about it, throwing so much away and taking the time to write this. What confuses me most is this: how far away are we going to get? You were 25, and I’ve caught up, as I normally do. Except next year I’ll be 26 and you’ll still be 25. That’s all wrong. What about when I’m 30? It’s so much time to miss you. What if I get all the way to 40?! What then?! We were all so young. What happens when we grow again? Will we think, oh, we were so young when we were 25..? What does that mean for you?

You would not be at all happy with me this year. I’ve done all the things you told me not to, and I’m far quicker to get angry about things: boys, money, not being white. I’m either tired and lethargic, or restless and wild. I’m evasive and avoiding us. I mention you a lot – subconsciously, I catch myself after and feel stupid. I’m scared of our stories continuing without you.  My Dad’s brother died when he was 27. I didn’t even know my Dad had a brother until I was about 12. I asked my Dad, why don’t you talk about your brother more? He looked at me kind of blankly and said, well, it was a very long time ago.

You and me won’t be like that. I’m so grateful, I’m so happy you were here – and you were here, you were here, YOU WERE HERE. You were here with me, you chose to spend your time with me, you chose to support me, you chose my projects, my gig, my shout, my birthday, this, us. I am so lucky I got that. If you were here you would probably choose all those things again. I have to think that. And sometimes, for a moment, the sun shines and makes everything golden, and the leaves are orange, orange everywhere, and I turn the volume up, and I remember that YOU WERE HERE and you chose this, and it makes me so so happy. And it is just for a moment, but it is a moment more than I had a year ago.


aIMG_7678Photo on 01-11-2015 at 13.59


image1Whilst in Mauritius I spent a lot of time with one of my cousins and his adorable kids (pictured, do you see a likeness?). He’s the eldest cousin and I’m the youngest. Despite the differences in age and circumstance there is a lot the two of us share beside our grandparents; a sympathetic disposition, a tendency to laugh off serious statements, a keen interest in how our families have shaped us.

My eldest cousin spoke touchingly of his dream; to have the four of us cousins, our four collective children and our one remaining parent (mine) all together in a room. To just be together like that. He spoke so wistfully it made my heart ache. I have many friends who see their entire families every Christmas, every wedding, every funeral. I’ve met my cousins only a handful of times through my life, divided as we are by continents and expensive flight routes. I wish I were of more use to them, lame as I am with my poor grasp of language; my alien career choice; my bizarre hometown; my youth and naivety; my sincere unknowing of life.

My eldest cousin noted the similarities between all of us cousins. We are all independent, almost to the point of being loners. We are all sensitive listeners who try and help everyone out, but none of us are any good at asking for or accepting help of our own. We are actually terrible at accepting help: quick to retreat, happy to analyse our problems in solitude. We don’t like letting people in. We are all pretty laid-back about the trials of day to day life, saving ourselves for the bigger dramas. The kind of dramas that brew up over a lifetime because nobody knew what to do. The kind of crisis that can cause the rest of the family to dash across the globe and throw their best of intentions at; well-meaning but rashly executed.

Photo on 05-02-2015 at 21.51

I don’t really know what the role of family is. People to teach you, to support you, people who know you best, people who cared about you unconditionally? These aren’t really things I associate with my family. My local family is just me and my parents; three people with a backlog of misunderstandings and confusing geography. With the rest of my family, I know we are all similar people but we’re just too far away – and there’s not enough to go on, not enough to be getting on with.

The attributes of family are instead are the things I associate with my friends. It’s my friends who lift me up, it’s my friends who enlighten me, it’s my friends who support me. Why is that? Is it the age I am and the society I live in? Is it because I see my family so little? Is it because my family and I share the same flaws and therefore cannot look after each other properly? The same cracks in alternate mirrors, the same blots on our differing landscapes. It’s difficult to say.image2

A Response: What It’s Like Not Being White

writing, notepad, pen and paper, bedroom, laila, bed, journal, journalism, article, want to writewriting, notepad, pen and paper, bedroom, laila, bed, journal, journalism, article, want to writeThree weeks ago I finished a post that had been knocking around in draft for about 7 months. I’m a chronic perfectionist. I wrote about my life and my experiences, as I always do, and I didn’t hit publish until I was happy with it. Whilst I’m pretty open, this post was a little more personal than usual, and I thought it might get a few more hits than normal. 40, 45, maybe even 50.

After an hour the post had reached 100 views. It’s a very, very rare day when I hit more than 100. I ran downstairs to show my housemates – look, this is insane, I’ve gone from 12 views yesterday to 100 in an hour. I kept running back downstairs as the stats skyrocketed. 300, 400, 500. It was 1000 by the time we went to the pub; we joked; maybe it’ll go viral. I thought that was it, a weird fluke day, but the views kept climbing over the weekend. 3000 on Saturday, me frantically checking whilst out on a date, 5000 on Sunday morning, me frowning at my dying phone, 8000 that evening, laughing it off with my housemates whilst feeling utterly confused.

By the time I left London on Monday things were crazy. Comments by the hundred, comments that were actually lengthy posts about other peoples lives rather than the two-line comments I normally receive. My inbox overflowing; requests for interviews, names of journalists, people who just wanted to reach out. I went to Edinburgh, away from the internet at the largest arts festival in the world, out of the house for 18 hours a day and living utterly in the moment, partying, working, drinking. Fleeting moments of internet catch-up were overwhelming with my stats up by 5000%. I was on the front page of BuzzFeed, I was Freshly Pressed on WordPress, I was trending on Medium. Most of the madness happened without me really observing: catch-ups with friends would start “so you’re on BuzzFeed?” before moving onto safer territory like work, friends, the festival around us.
writing, notepad, pen and paper, bedroom, laila, bed, journal, journalism, article, want to writeA lot of people thought it may have been cathartic or difficult to write my last post. It wasn’t. I wasn’t speaking up. I wasn’t raising my voice. I wasn’t trying to start a discussion. I just said what I was thinking: the same thing I do every day in my posts, in my songs, in my stories. Evidently, this was something that needed to be said. I really didn’t think my experiences would be that widely felt. I received hundreds of comments and retweets from all over the world, and the vast majority can be distilled into four words: “thank you” and “me too”. So many of us, it seemed, feeling the same things and thinking “it’s just me”. It’s not.

There was little backlash: I prepared myself for an onslaught of negativity which really never came. A few people told me I’m hypersensitive, that I need to chill, that I’m obsessed with race, that I’m the problem – attitudes I addressed in my original post. There was one comment saying they wouldn’t have read had my “attractive” pictures not lured them in, another saying I was beautiful despite my decision to write the post, a number of people saying that it’s equally hard being white. I responded to all of them.

Many of you responded to each other. Every comment was published, and every question that was asked, I answered. This is my blog, and these are my words, and I want to be accountable for them. I’m SO grateful to all those who read them, for sharing them, for responding and sharing their own words with me. I feel a lot stronger with 5000 strangers supporting me from afar. If your comments taught me anything it’s that we all need to speak up and call it out, we can’t laugh stuff off and ignore it and just suck it up or it will never end.writing, notepad, pen and paper, bedroom, laila, bed, journal, journalism, article, want to write

I live in London, in the UK. Where people like Katie Hopkins and Jeremy Clarkson are allowed to throw stereotypes and racial hatred around in the name of entertainment and journalism, where “immigrant” is a dirty word, where just 6.6% of our parliament is not white. I didn’t write about topical issues in this country or mounting racial tensions or social crisis in other countries. I wasn’t trying to share the “London perspective” my local MP Jeremy Corbyn is accused of having. I just wrote about myself.

I’d like to write more. I’d like to write more about my experiences, more about growing up in a white society, more about being mixed race; I’d LOVE to write about what it’s like being mixed race. I don’t get paid to write this blog, it’s my personal space, and it takes time just to get through the comments as I want to read them all and take the time to reply appropriately. But there’s more to come, I have more to say. I hope you’ll read my future posts.

If any of you have any ideas where I should write more, or what about, then please get in touch. And in the meantime you can follow me on bloglovin, or twitter, or wordpress, or my blogs Facebook or sign up directly for my e-mails or my personal facebook. It means a lot. And let me know when you have to #callitout with me – just this morning this happened. Thank you.

writing, notepad, pen and paper, bedroom, laila, bed, journal, journalism, article, want to write

SOME OF YOUR COMMENTS – if you’d rather not be quoted here please let me know, and I would really refer everybody back to the entirety of the comments on the last blog, as there were so many valid and interesting points raised: here.

“Even if people say we’re being overdramatic by pointing out micro aggressions, we really aren’t and everyone needs to be properly educated on the impacts of these types of discrimination to stop them” – Abby R

“Telling you to ‘not make a fuss’ is people not wanting to admit they’ve made mistake, don’t doubt yourself because other people are too afraid to confront their own shortcomings. Society needs people like you to stand up and make a change.” – richardhp

“The ‘exotic’ thing is seen as a compliment when really it is a vocalisation of ‘difference’. You are different, you are not from here.” – impublications

“Most people don’t intend to be racist, but intent doesn’t have to present.” – GamerDame

“There are an army of us out here, batting away the insult and marching on.” – Nadine

On Not Feeling Part Of The Sisterhood

Laila tapeparade red skirt floral jumper feminism womanhood sisterhood feeling a part of somethingYesterday was International Women’s Day. Amongst the articles celebrating women who broke the mould there were posts all over the place about how great it is to be a woman. Feminism is a hot, trendy issue and the supposed markers of womanhood seem to be everywhere.

Certain attributes seem to crop up more often than others. Wanting to make the most of your appearance. Playing around with the way you look. Harnessing your sexuality in order to get what you want. Having long, rambling friendships with other women. Getting catcalled on a daily basis. Life-long girlfriends who “get” you. Having the upper hand over boys by being alluring and mysterious. Hating your periods. Having days where you sit around and do nothing and imagine you look gross. Knowing how to be glamorous. Being simultaneously sexy and smart.

I would categorise the above markers as being different from the traditional stereotypes associated with women because these are the kinds of things women are saying to each other in an effort to bond and connect. I’ve seen these things on countless reports and articles – and more worryingly, on the blog posts of my peers. The prevalent message is “we’re all in this together because we all know what it’s like”. Statements like ‘Hey sister, period pains? I feel you’ or, ‘Ooh look, even *blah female celebrity* has those days in a sweatshirt with no make-up, she must be a real woman like us’ or ‘I was just having one of those days where I felt shit – you know when you can’t even look in the mirror’.Laila tapeparade red skirt floral jumper feminism womanhood sisterhood feeling a part of something I’m sure lots of people can read that list and nod along in renewed camaraderie. That’s great. However, anybody not covered in that self-constructed manifesto gets shoved out. I can’t even describe the number of times I’ve read a post supposedly celebrating all the best bits about being female – or alternately, reflecting on the trials of being a woman – and been left feeling like some weird alien who doesn’t get it. The bad parts must be awful, and the good parts must be great, and I’m happy and sad and conflicted for all the women who experience these good and bad things. But I can’t correlate my own life into that mix.

I end up feeling completely invalidated as a woman because none of those things apply to me. I actually feel more comfortable when people jokingly describe me as a “lad” or an “alpha male” because at least those words have some identifiable tropes I can connect with, rather than the self-perpetuated ideas I’m offered by my own gender. It’s ridiculous. There’s not one way to be a woman. I’ve tried to talk about this to other women in the past and I am primarily met with disbelief. “But everybody has those days” or “You must feel like that sometimes” and so on.

The message is that I’m either lying or weird; NOT feeling the same as everybody else isn’t an option. Other times I’m met with anger or disregard- “Well, you must be one of THOSE girls then” or “We can’t all be like that!”, followed by an abrupt pause in the conversation. I feel like shouting, one of what girls? What are you talking about? When was this secret code of womanhood created and why didn’t I get a copy? Laila tapeparade red skirt floral jumper feminism womanhood sisterhood feeling a part of something I’m all for equality. And if you want to specify further to gender equality, then I’m still all for that. Let’s fill this town with feminists. But let’s not use shallow generalisations to inspire a feeling of community and empathy with our fellow females. In our efforts to bond and rally round each other, let’s make sure we don’t fall into crass generalisations.

It’s never a good idea to speak on behalf of everyone. It’s ridiculous to imagine every female on the planet could feel the same as every other female and it’s stupid to think we all go through the same things. Let’s not use random made-up tropes to communicate with each other. Let’s just talk. Let’s not create empathy with things women are supposed to understand. Let’s just find common ground and empathise over that, on an individual level.

Let’s get over these universal signifiers to communicate with people and just BE PEOPLE. Let’s not ostracise (even accidentally) people who don’t fit the mould – let’s welcome everyone in. That’s what equality means. The great thing about equality is that you get to be whoever you are and it’s valid. You can be a woman without an opinion on menstruation, or a girl without girlfriends, or a tomboy who has never once harnessed her appearance, or a magical solider wielding a flamethrower mohawk, or whatever the hell you want, and it’s still valid. Let’s make that the marker of our sisterhood.Laila tapeparade red skirt floral jumper feminism womanhood sisterhood feeling a part of something