Friday 7 December 2018

The Light & Dark of Railway Tunnels

I often start my articles by describing where I am. Geographically, physically. Often, the first paragraphs I write are discarded by the time I finish editing the finished piece. For any long-timers reading my work, you may remember that some of these first paragraphs have indeed made it into published articles. I find that by going through the process of writing down descriptives of where I currently sit, I start to unearth where my mind is also currently resting. By tracing the edges of my current situation linguistically, I am able to start to gather my ideas together and really feel out the details of the corner I am about to start speaking from. 

Sometimes I have been writing from a market squares in North Africa. On other occasions from fancy cafés in Paris. More recently, I've been writing to you from the window seat of my Birmingham apartment. Often it isn’t my physical environment that will dictate where the article heads - it’s where I’ve stepped just ahead of each of these moments. Perhaps this paragraph will end up on the cutting room floor, or perhaps you’ll be reading this with a smile in realising this little paragraph made the cut!

Welcome to my corner of the world, reader. I am in Belgium, writing from a coffee shop balcony in the city of Liege. I’m dancing here for 5 months as a showgirl at the Trocadéro - my dream show, in fact! This was the extra special contract I dreamt of all those years ago when I first leapt from the doors of my dance training college. It has been a wayward path and quite an unexpected one in many ways. And it feels just the right timing. I wouldn’t have been ready for such a contract as this years ago, and it feels right that it’s occurred so naturally in my life right in this moment. This moment, where I no longer look ahead in panic, or behind myself with worry.

The interesting thing about moving to a new place, working with a whole new team of new faces, is that you can technically become anyone you like. No one here knows me. Aside from perhaps a quick scroll through my social media, I am a relative stranger to my new colleagues. When I moved to Marrakech 6 years ago it was a source of great healing for me to be able to shelf what had just experienced. I could embrace a new environment and be known just as Helen the new dancing colleague, rather than the Helen I had just rescued from an abusive situation of domestic violence and fear. I was able to shed my skin a little. Just enough to make space for new growth. Of course, I eventually told my friends there about what had been happening, and in fact I soon learnt they still could see me for who I am. More than I might have given them credit for.

But now? In this walk of life, 6 years on? Who do I introduce myself as now?

Via the writing of this blog and the encouragement of the curious wonders of life itself I have grown into a person who can fully embrace every step I have taken. Even in the moments I fell down or lost my balance momentarily. Every knock came with ricochet towards something I learnt from or that was all the better for me. Every scrape helped me learn to heal all the more thoroughly. As for the gifts, the flights, the joys of my living experiences - I’m still adjusting to those!

I was on a train back from a day out in Brussels the other evening with one of my new colleagues. He turned and asked me about ‘Living Liberté’ and it’s purpose. I found myself feeling as if I was curled up with an old friend, reading from my favourite story book. Within minutes of starting to share the essence of this journey - the one you are currently joining me on - I was able to connect with him far beyond initial 'new person' chatter. My lights and my darknesses became reasoned purpose to what I was sharing with him. My tattooed stories and onward chapters mixing together with his, as we rolled through light and dark tunnels of conversation and railway track on our journey home together.

I have come to learn the strength of collecting together the artefacts of our daily lives, in embracing them as a complete experience. It’s so easy to select what we want others to see of us. To edit out the bits we don’t want understood about us. To filter, to autotune, to blend. We are societally so often encouraged to shield from view our still-healing scrapes and our wobbly days. The every day question of ‘how are you’ is one of kindness and social grace. But we might not always feel freed enough in ourselves to truly share how we really are.

I want to continue to build values of openness into this world. To use art combined with healthy communication to encourage all the more conversations between people on trains about where they’ve travelled in life. To allow people to feel they can be themselves, all of themselves, and share whatever that might be with the world around them. This is my greatest and deepest ambition, beyond the incredible opportunity of dancing that I am currently living.

A life as a showgirl living out her professional ambitions in a Belgian theatre? A dream realised indeed.

My purpose? You. Every single one of you. 

I create my #liberté performance acts to inspire movement, in every sense of the word. I write to speak up for those who can't. I tell new friends stories of escape and adventure on crowded trains so that the message continues to spread in the work I'm doing, supported by every one of you. 

I dedicate this work to every person who might be afraid this evening. To every woman who is planning her escape. To every teenager who is dreading the next day's schooling. To any individual who might be at all unsure if their next steps will be possible for them to take. For you, the reader, in the minutes after you finish reading this. Every move I make, every article I publish, every dance I perform; it is all a  continuous re-introduction and confirmation cycle of  this particular concept of your freedom. 

Hello, world. Welcome to our journey!

H E L E N     V I C T OR I A
Blogger, Creator, Public Speaker

Monday 24 September 2018

#YouToo? 5 questions to ask yourself.

Around a year ago, I wrote an article about the ‘Me Too’ campaign. It explored what the term meant at that moment in time, as well as my own thoughts on what ‘counts’ in regards to it. The article became one of my most read articles. It reached audiences worldwide, and I am still receiving messages and e-mails because of it’s online presence.

But a year on from that article, and the campaign peak of the movement - where are we now?

I feel I could write another whole article on my feelings on all of this. A book, even! Perhaps I might. But I have spent a great deal of time studying and reflecting upon what is most effective in terms of aiding others to free themselves through the utilisation of the #liberté concept. And as a result, I am going to continue to work from the belief that providing tools with which to free ourselves is be the most effective method I can offer.

In a break away from my usual style of writing, I have collected together 5 questions you can use as tools to ask yourself when faced with a situation that you feel might be abusive within a relationship situation. These could be in the circumstances of the first few dates with someone, within a marriage, or anything in between. Relationships come in all manner of shapes and sizes, just as we do, and these questions are non exclusive to any one type of circumstance.

Please note; these
 words are built from lengthy research of relating texts, content from the Women’s Aid website, and my personal experiences also. They are intended as a supportive guide to your thoughts. If you, or anyone close to you, is in a situation of harm then please contact a professional body or the police.

Q1. 'Could I treat someone else in this way? Could I, even if I was very upset?'

Sometimes it can be difficult to work out what counts as ‘overreacting’. In turn, it is a commonly utilised term by the other person towards you, to make you feel you need to accept the unacceptable. It might even be context dependant. And it can be confusing!

In these situations, I stop and ask myself ‘could I treat someone in that way?’. 

If the answer is no, then this indicates that it is not acceptable. It’s as simple as that. It’s tempting to fill gaps with thoughts of ‘but they only ignored my messages because they were busy’ or ‘he only punched that wall because I really wound him up’. But these thought processes are how unacceptable behaviour become normalised within your relationship. And it can lead to far greater harm to you in the longer term.

I spent many years putting down my ex-partner’s behaviour to the fact I was at fault, or that perhaps he was going through a hard time. I explained away all sorts of hurt, both physical and mental, based on ignorance of what I truly felt was wrong. The implementation of moral compass for yourself in the asking of this question can be a great way of identifying what your boundaries are.

If it is not OK to you, then it is not OK. On this you can be sure.

Q2. 'Do I feel comfortable?'

We all have diverse tastes, needs, and preferences. What makes you feel uncomfortable might be different to someone else. And that's fine!

In a situation where we might be being manipulated, it can be hard to hear the voice of our gut. Sometimes, as I have done, we might ignore our instincts because of our desire to stay with the person despite how they’re treating us. It might come from a feeling of what we believe to be love. Or it might fall to social expectation. But your inner voice is designed and present to protect you from harm. Hear yourself.

If the situation is immediate, such as in a situation of being in someone else’s home, try to go to a bathroom to take a breather and really see yourself in the mirror. Settle your thoughts in order to work out how you feel about what’s happening. If the situation is longer term, applying the same method of ‘time-out’ can be helpful. Perhaps turning your phone off for a few hours and taking a walk, or speaking to someone you trust with your thoughts could aide clarity. The main thing to remember, is that if you do not feel comfortable, then something needs to change.

It doesn’t matter how insignificant you may think it all is. Your thoughts are worth listening to.

Q3. 'How do my friends and family feel about this person?'

During my lifetime I have had two serious relationships with two highly abusive men. In the first circumstance, the person was a charm expert. In this way, I was very much trapped by my own confusion at his Jekyll and Hyde switches between behaviour, of which the negative was always hidden from public view. People would congratulate me on having such lovely boyfriend, and this was the narrative I clung to. Ultimately, this made it all the more difficult to speak out. 

The second relationship I had was differing in that immediately my friends and family identified him to be a negative presence in my life. They warned me. They urged me to leave him. But in that period of my life, I didn’t want saving. Eventually, I came to own my choices and made the move to exit the chaos. I can reflect that listening to those I loved at the time could of helped me. But I just wasn’t ready to hear their message.

I have done much self development and education work in the past few years and I am now very capable of identifying abusive men in early stages of dating. But I still ensure I am listening to those around me. We can often see a situation more clearly from the outside, and this is worth remembering in the moments where we might feel we want to reject what’s being told to us in favour of what our heart might think it needs.

Love shouldn't feel like something to survive. You deserve love of the greatest kind, I promise you.

Q4.  'Do I feel like I’m being myself? Am I putting on an act of any kind?'

I think it is fair to say that we all adapt somewhat around certain friends and family. Different people bring out different sides of us, and certain situations will contribute to how we behave at any one time. Which is a wonderfully positive part of life!

But there is a difference between this, and trying to be someone we are not. If you feel yourself trying to be someone other than yourself in order to satisfy a significant person, then this is not something to ignore. In the later years of my abusive relationship experience I very often would pretend to be interested in one thing or another, or to be ‘OK’ with something I really wasn’t, just to appease my abuser. It became my coping mechanism, and in doing so I was losing sight of who I really had been in the first place. It wasn’t normal, it isn’t acceptable, and it wouldn’t happen if the situation was one that was healthy.

If your friends and family are noticing changes in your behaviour also, whether it's around this person or in a general sense, then this is worth listening to also. The key to abuse is manipulation. Manipulation is
intrinsically how it abuse cultivates itself, and how it thrives. Hear your loved ones, and your own voice. Take a moment to hear what they might be telling you. 

Be yourself. All of yourself. Without the need for permission.

 'Is this person contributing equally to my life, in the same way I am to theirs?'

I am a 'head over heels, do anything for you, write you letters, pick you up from work, and make you a sandwich at 2am' kind of person! I am more than happy to give generously, even if it isn’t always quite matched in return. This applies in my friendships, my work, and my relationships. But sometimes there comes a moment when you might start to realise that things have become imbalanced.

You might start to realise that you are routinely providing support of many kinds to this person, but that you are continually neglected the other way. It could be as simple as the fact that you feel you are always making more effort for a friend than they ever think to do for you.

You might be feeling that you are being financially manipulated to fund the other person. Abuse comes in many forms, which often don't fit typical expectation of what it can manifest itself as. 

In a sexual context, it can feel very uncomfortable to realise that your role within the situation is always to please the other person, without thought for your care or needs. It’s important to approach the way you might be feeling with absolute validation for yourself. If you are feeling a certain way, and it is upsetting you, then that feeling needs examining.

Your voice is uniquely you. And it’s important to the world. Don’t let it fall silent.

Readers, thank-you for sharing in this article with me. It is the first time that I have created a research based structured article of this kind, to be used as a tool, and I'm so glad to have been able to do so with so much support.

I will reiterate that my cyber door is always open. You are welcome to e-mail me at anytime, or to reach out across social media to me. Furthermore, if any of the issues or concepts raised within this article have helped you to understand you might currently be in a situation of abuse then please do contact a professional body who can support you from this point. I encourage you, and I believe in you fully.

There is so much love in this world! You deserve the very best of it. Don't allow less than absolute freedom in your life, no matter what happens. Or who walks in or out.

With love,

Helen Victoria

# L I B E R T É

Photo Credit - Fraser McGee Photography

Thursday 26 July 2018

50 First Dates.

We eat to satiate hunger. We dance to loosen up from our restrictions. We drink to quench thirsts, and pain sometimes also. We run to stay alive, in so many dimensions. Fixes to problems, as we may seem them. This is how governments were made, presidents elected, and laws written.

Underneath it all, under the surface of holes in the road - is love enough, to solve our concerns and needs? Can love fill our bellies, or might we still ache for more? 

Is love enough to fix it all? 

Someone asked me a few days ago how long I have been single. I suppose if you were to measure it in days since I moved back to England from the USA - permanently leaving behind my American circus fiancé - you might say it’s been around 2 years. Have I felt single for that long? It’s hard to say. For the immediate time afterwards I was in a period of healing (and a touch of retaliation) and so I cocooned myself entirely in training while settling into Oxford life. 

Then I moved to Birmingham, and decided to give the dating scene a go. In the past year I have been on no less than around 50 first dates! 50 first (and occasionally second) dates. Unlike the famed rom-com movie - I remember them all!

Further to each pre-date grooming session (which mainly involved running around my flat choosing outfits while pausing to message my date to make plans) I went on to meet a wide variety of really interesting people. I met Olympic sportsmen, company directors, and high flying surgeons. I dated musicians and artists. I went to the theatre with men who had been divorced, for dinner with men who hadn’t yet had a relationship, and brunch with men who weren’t quite as self assured as they first made out. I met kind men, and ones who weren’t quite so.

There’s one thing for sure - dating is a great way of collecting anecdotes and interesting experiences to write about! I’ll never forget being asked if “I worried about people thinking I’m transgender, since I have short hair and write about freedom?” I didn’t see him again, funnily enough.

I may not quite be the next Carrie (although with an equal love of style and writing) but I have embraced the local culture and food scenes through my endeavours. Of course, I could have explored by myself or with friends. Tourism wasn’t my purpose, nor the need or want for a free dinner.

My cause was love, as it has always been.

So, the begging question. Why only first dates? Why did none of these men sweep me off my dancing feet and into the arms of a relationship?

In truth, none of these men were perhaps quite what I was looking for. Wonderful as they were, for various reasons it didn't work out. I recently have started to build a relationship with someone I’ve known for a very long time indeed. For now, I am very happy to gingerly step forward a day at a time with him, away from all the posh dinners and the “get to know you” chat. 

What I can tell you, is that I no longer seek the heady, intoxicating feeling that I found when I met my past relationships. I have learnt the hardest way that this path hasn’t lead to happiness. In turn, I no longer carry the vulnerability of mind that I once did which had strongly attracted manipulative men. I could (and intend to) write a book on the early signs and later habits of abusive characters. This was yesterday’s love, for me. In truth, I realise now that this was never true love. Nor it is today’s love. Not anymore.

I regularly refuse to be defined by my past. I stay conscious of this, when I am tempted to hide away in memories and hanging threads of trauma. I remain open, and I am proud to be so. I have learnt in the past few years that love does not exist in control, or overwhelming seeking of my full attention. I have learnt it thrives in friends voices in late night chats, laughter and kindness. My friends, family and amazing dates have taught me this.

Let me know your dating stories, and your tales of love! go on dates, as many as you like. Fall into years of relationships, if that’s what you choose. We’re all in the same boat, working through life the best way we know how. Don’t forget that this is exactly what every new person is doing, when they sit down opposite you.

Most importantly, enjoy the ride. And don’t settle for anything less than what makes you happy, whether that’s journeyed alone or with another. Be gentle with yourself, and with the hearts of others - we all remember those who bruised us, just as we remember those who made us ecstatically, insanely happy. Take opportunities, have fun, and don’t forget to always order dessert!

Helen Victoria

Tuesday 1 May 2018

A 10,950 Day Walk.

I am sitting on a black, stone balcony floor, looking out over fields and fields of the brightest green rice paddies. I am dripping with sweat partly from the humidity of Bali, and partially from the punchbag boxing session I just forcefully threw myself into. 

Not my usual circumstance? Actually, this set up is familiar. I am physically working through some thought while doing something I deeply love. I am leaping through the air, swinging hooks, making shapes that I enjoy. Stopping only to feel the pulse of my heart against my glove as I hold it to my chest in the moments between the songs that are filling my ears through my headphones. These moments are precious, and they are freeing. I have discovered moments like these in ballet studios, gym floors, and athletic tracks. I have found them also, although in less of a physically exhaustive sense, sitting in coffee shops as I write articles such as these. 

As my arms throw punches at something that cannot be harmed by my efforts, I am released. Just as I am when I leap across floors in studios with no audiences, and as I my fingers ripple across keyboards in coffee shops where no one knows me, I am freed. I am freed by my art, and in the partaking of it's process.

This, readers, brings us right back to the start. To where I originally started out with this blog. I began writing the ‘Living Liberté’ article collective 5 years ago. I was, at that time, living in North Africa dancing in a show for 7 months. I commenced writing at a time when I was barely weeks clear of one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and just at the tipping point before I fell into two and a half years of a legal battle against my abusive ex-husband, of which I would at many stages not think I could survive. 

I wrote my first article after spending a few hours dancing and leaping around an empty moroccan dance studio to release some of how I was feeling before I had to put a face of stage make-up on and go out and entertain the crowds. The idea of the blog came to me as I danced, in it’s (and my own) blurred and questioning/newborn state. I carried the vague idea of an online collective of this concept of self-discovered freedom home with me to my apartment above the show venue. I opened my laptop and began to type; to unknowingly begin to type the work that would become my most significant. 

As you may have gathered from my first paragraph, I am currently in Bali, Indonesia! I am here on 3 weeks of travels whilst I turn 30. I am here amongst Hindu temples, jungles, beautiful beaches, and some of the most beautiful oceanic scenery I have ever experienced. I am amongst travellers of all nationalities, smiling locals, and some of the biggest butterflies I have ever seen outside of a natural history museum. There is an incredible scene of cruelty-free living, veganism, and eco conscious groups who regularly volunteer to clear the beaches of it’s washed up plastic, to aide the creatures living here alongside us. I think you might say it may well be a little piece of kindness paradise.

This is not to say Bali is perfect. It has it’s share of moped pollution, tourist culture, and it’s own portion of difficulties. But in spirit, it is lead strongly by faith and kindness that I have not experienced in any other country I have travelled to. There is an integral faith in positive kindness, to it’s most worthy extent. This, for me, is the prism of light that I continually seek. 

This particular travel venture is not for the purposes of work, for once. I am not here with a contract, or with a view to find one. Unlike my travels during the past 7 years, I am here only for the taking time to take time; to be somewhere I have not stepped before. And to spend some time in a place of beauty while I look back over the journey of the last 30 years. 3 weeks, to take in a view of 30 years.

Thirty years. 10,950 days of life. During my lifetime thus far I have suffered at the hands of broken hearts, who in turn made sure they did all they could to break mine. I have harmed myself through not feeding myself as a teenager. I would later go on to harm myself a little more through staying in relationships that ravaged my mind and body just as my eating disorder once had done. 

However, in the seeking brighter light, I have also LIVED. I have happily danced around the world despite only commencing my dancing journey at 19! I have run away with (and once from) the circus! I have loved, truly and absolutely. I have lived with belief. And for it all I am grateful. Of this, I am the most proud. 

In this moment, as I sail into my thirties, I can only be thankful to one entity - you!

You, reader. You, friend. You, the friends who believed in me even when I forgot to. To the family members who quietly got on with the tiring business of helping me back on my feet without making too much fuss. To you, the passers by on that NYC subway who helped me breathe again, as I wrote about in my article ‘I am living happily ever after; so why can’t I breathe’. And finally, I am thankful for you, God. Who without, I wouldn’t be here, in more ways than one.

And so, here’s to our journey together! To 5 years of Liberté, and the 30 years it took to arrive to today’s date with you. Here’s to you all, for supporting this page and making it possible to keep on expanding it's concept. Thank-you for all of the messages, the comments, the shares, and the quiet moments spent reading it’s words wherever you were whenever you did so. I am grateful for every single gift of thought. 

Happy Birthday!

With more love & freedom than ever before,

Helen Victoria

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Changing Trains.

There are, without doubt, moments in all of our lives that we can look to as those that altered our direction. We may have made such choices decidedly, with ownership. Or perhaps we may feel choices were made for us. Made by another person, or by the circumstances that were created around us. In whatever way, we boarded trains that carried us to destinations other than our previous ones. We boarded those trains, consciously or otherwise. Where did you go?

Throughout my high school education I carried home academic reports of my medium to average attainment levels in my studies to my ever encouraging parents, and tried to fit in as best as I could with life as it unfolded. But I never quite found ‘my thing’. The thing that would implicate I might be more of a somebody than I had already estimated myself as being. It wasn’t until I started studying for my A-Levels that I really began to work out what it was that I might be any good at, or indeed who I might like to become. This is not to say that I had low esteem. More that I hadn’t yet found a spark of excitement for the idea of my future self. That person didn’t exist; yet.

The thing about choice is it’s inherent components of rejection. To choose, is to disengage from another option. To effectively utilise the power of choice, we must loosen ourselves from an alternative. This can be tricky, particularly when there is more than one choice. Or indeed when the choice has to be made by mind against heart.

Following on from my A-Level studies I went on to study ‘3D Design’ at Bath University. I made this choice because I knew I needed to be with art in some way. I hadn’t yet found the ‘thing’ I was looking for. At this point I was only newly aware that there may well be a ‘thing’ to be found. Within weeks it was clear that clay was not that thing! But importantly my room mate at the time took me along to my first ballet class. And the rest, as you might say, is my history.

When I confidently dropped out of a perfectly good University course to pursue becoming a professional dancer with no training at all, I wasn’t met with overwhelming understanding for my vision. My family and closest friends supported me unquestioningly. But the dancing schools that I excitedly applied to didn’t quite agree. I was told by one in particular that I was disrespecting the institution of dance, and that I didn’t ‘appreciate’ the work that goes into the vocation. I was also told by a few friends of mine that I was being flaky, and that they were concerned about my path. This, above all else, was difficult to hear. I respected these friends. But I physically felt the weight of their rejection of my ideas. 

In retrospect; I was untrained, unemployed, and with no definite prospects. I was also living with my long term boyfriend who was less and less impressed with my dancing plans with every passing day. At this point, it would have been easier in some ways to have given up on my ambitions, and gone back to what I had been doing. But easier for who? 

Of course, I contemplated leaving my dream behind. Locking it all away as a memory. I could have effortlessly labelled it dutifully as ‘something I always wanted to do’; to be drawn upon only in future pub reflective conversations with friends on some Sunday that hadn’t happened yet. But I knew - just as I had done in the initial moments of that first ballet class -  that life had already made it’s choice for me. I couldn’t change how I felt. Now, or ever.

Ten years on, and much has changed. I went on to fight for my path. I went on to meet wonderful men and women of the industry who shared my vision, and who supported my ambitions. I also met many friends who could see the white light of potential within me, rather than the darker shades of doubt. Within the passionate pursuit of a life of creative and personal freedom, I came up against battles I couldn’t have imagined. And indeed wounds that lasted a little longer than I cared for. But these experiences are far, far outweighed by the many thousands of golden moments of dance, art, freedom, friendship, travel, education, and adventure I have so fortunate to have found. My challenges are fragments of a journey, not definition of it in total. This, above all else, is what I have learnt from the process of taking responsibility for my choices.

If we had every eventuality laid out neatly in front of us would we choose any differently? Would we gather options in our arms and use them to lay brick paths ahead of us? If we could, would it make any difference?

I have just glanced down at my telephone and seen three separate e-mails from followers of this blog sending thoughts about various past articles. Earlier today I received a letter from someone who is recovering from an eating disorder and is using my blog as an aide to do so. Yesterday a friend sent me a photo of a t-shirt she had spotted with the word ‘Liberté’ printed on it, as it made her think of this journey! These are the ingredients of my days that are the most valuable to me. And the absolute signifiers that we, as a collective of this movement of ‘LIBERTÉ’ are undoubtedly on the right path. Moving as one, just as I began to move alone back in those empty ballet studios of ten years ago. Together. 

It’s a gentle Sunday today. I have a busy week ahead of me teaching various workshops here in the middle  part of England. Students yet to meet, dances yet to be danced, and music yet to be lost within. I don’t quite know yet what the week will hold. But I do know it will be one of authenticity, in whatever way life, and I, choose for it to be. 

We cannot guarantee anything in life, much as we may try! Revel in your choices, and the process of choosing. And never forget the genuine power of choosing for yourself what’s right for your path. It's OK to choose to alight that train you're hurtling forwards upon, if it doesn't feel right any longer. Or change and board another. You are not alone in this journey.

And no one ever said you were on a limited ticket.

L I B E R T É.

Helen Victoria

Tuesday 21 November 2017

A Number of Stories.

Every story has some quantity of unmentioned background. Every tale, no matter how detailed, will have some descriptives excluded, or perhaps even characters that aren’t necessarily mentioned. This is possibly because otherwise every story would be a never ending one, reaching further and further for every possible breath, word and piece of history associated with it; not a great basis for engaging storytelling. Beyond this, the teller may not feel that every factor in the building of that story is necessary to be told. Perhaps they are not even aware of the presence of certain elements at all.

A demonstrative example of this might well be our own social media accounts. Are they untrue? Largely no. Do they tell the whole story? Of course not. But still, we share snippets of our lives emphatically, without further thought as to how large a portion of ‘us’ each post is. We want people to know us, to share in our lives, even to appreciate us. We share from our own perspectives, and assume the view it gives of our lives. But we all know that no post, no matter how detailed, can be the whole truth. It is one moment in time. Nothing more than a thought, to be later submerged in the scrolling of time.

But do we mind, really? Do we want or need the whole truth always?

Take your average movie. We begin at a point the storyteller decides. Perhaps it’s not at the beginning, depending on the scene order choice. But it is somewhere. We might be told a little of what has gone on before; perhaps an imagery clue of the time era, or the atmosphere of the situation we find ourselves seeing. We do not know, at this point, very much more. As is the magic of storytelling, we are drawn into watching the slow unfurling of an animal from it’s tightly packed place of hiding. As each limb appears, stretches out, and is placed purposefully on the ground, we begin to piece together what the creature is and perhaps even it’s purpose. We may never know it’s past, or parenting. We may never know it’s early experiences. But from what we see of it, in the telling of it’s current detail, we believe we know what existence it has. We are deciding what we see, based on what is told to us. And inevitably, what we have seen before.

Does this mean that stories of all kinds cannot be deemed accurate, or true to the teller? No, not at all. Fictional stories are defined by creativity, yes. But this does not mean they cannot be real to us, or fail to provide statements of perspective that are truthful. Just because I tell you one chapter of my story, does not mean that the unspoken others are intentionally hidden from view. Perhaps without additional information we may see things more clearly. How many times have you felt confused in a moment of decision making, due to too much information crowding in on you? How much clearer have you felt when you were given a three option menu?

I believe story telling is vital to our human existence. Storytelling is found in all cultures worldwide, enjoyed by every age imaginable, and is often what can define nations and individuals. We use stories to give moral learning examples to children, to invite ingenuity from the students we teach, and to tell strangers who we are on first dates. We use tales to soothe, to excite, and to placate. There is a reason why the movie business is one of the most successful industries in existence, why Amazon continues to thrive upon selling books through the pressing of millions of 1-click orders a day, and why Bollywood turns out hundreds of movies a year for it’s insatiable audiences. Regardless of your opinion of them, we can easily explain why it is that reality television and social media newsfeeds are thriving more than ever before. Ultimately, we want to know about other peoples experiences of the life we all are working our way through. 

Since I was a very small child I have adored all kinds of stories. I have always liked to be read to, and to read to others. I love to be lost - and indeed found - in literature for hours at a time. I was the child whose hand shot up when my class was asked who would like to read aloud. I was also the child who befriended the primary school librarian through the course of spending more time in my favourite room in the school than in any other. My tatty bookshelf in the shed at the end of my childhood garden was a favourite, and I have never lost my adoration for many of those authors whose books lived there on those shelves. In this way, I have grown deep respect for the power of written word, enjoying so many of it’s shared gifts. Upon reflection, it is quite possibly what brings me to be writing these very sentences to you right now in the way that I am writing them.

Numbers? Not so much. I struggled my way through mathematics classes throughout my education, and although I later re-took and passed my Maths GCSE (thank goodness) it wasn’t an easy journey. I still struggle to read a 24 hour clock and to conquer sums without using a pen and paper. It has always fascinated me why my brother absorbs mathematical equations so naturally, breathing in their information with an appreciation for the good they do. While I wrestled with algebra, he danced with each mathematical challenge effortlessly smoothly, bringing each each equation to beautiful crescendo in the way he worked out their purpose and final answers. I watched on in awe as he did so, and still do as he tours the world now delivering accountancy lectures on his numerical discoveries. 

Thanks to the Montessori and later Quaker educations we both had, my sibling and I were never pitted against one another. I remember my brother proudly telling a teacher we had that his sister was an artist, and that we just had different types of brains that were no better than one another. His belief in me, along with that of my parents in the both of us, has been the solid foundation from which we have gone on to pursue our own pursuits and ambitions.

But what if I had been denied a childhood where I was provided with opportunities to read, or spend time learning about the things I was passionate about? What if I had instead had a brother who was naturally competitive, who had ridiculed my numerical contentions? Not every Matilda gets her happy ending, as Dahl depicted in his famed book about the young girl who wasn’t allowed to dream. What happens to those who never meet their narrative saviour?

The question that has occurred to me recently, is what happens to those ‘Matilda’s’ when they grow up? What happens to the young girls who never got to be all they might be, or indeed the young boys stopped from being who they dreamed of, in favour of who their Father dreamed they’d be instead. What happened to those characters, in their real life stories?

As an adult, dance and the performing arts have grown to be a joy for me in the same way reading has been throughout my life. I found that to dance was very correlative in the sense of feeling I got when I read a favourite book, or a particularly powerful piece of poetry. When I read, I am taken from my body and I exist only in my minds eye. This happens for me in the same way when I am able to dance freely, often in empty studios without an audience. In my early twenties, as I have written about before, I genuinely know that dancing saved my life. Without the creative and physical release I could find in empty studios with roaring music to facilitate movement, I would not have survived the challenges I was faced with at that time. 

I was fortunate enough to experience the empowering freedom dance and art could - and can - provide. It is specifically this that I continue to strive to share with others who find entrapment in any area of their life. Whether the trap set is large or small, or set by yourself or another person. No matter how old or entrenched it might be. I know for sure that we can all be freed through the powerful combination that is art and kindness in duo-ability. I have seen for myself the power of this.

Thanks to your support and those of readers worldwide, this blog page is now an established platform from which the ‘Living Liberté’ movement can happily launch. After 5 years of writing stories of truth - with almost 50 articles of this kind to date - I feel ready to take our concept further.Now is the time to reach out wider and gather pace. But how?

I will now employ a writing technique favoured by so many of my favourite writers, although one I have less often utilised - the dreaded cliffhanger!

Because, readers, I think I might just have found a way. One which may be the very making of a very important new chapter indeed. Perhaps the most significant one yet. 

And so, until next time!

With love & #liberté,

Helen Victoria

Monday 23 October 2017

'But does it count?' - an open response to the #MeToo campaign.

I don’t usually write about current affairs. As long term readers of this blog may have noticed, my thoughts and philosophies are usually future based, drawn from past experiences and ideas. I have yet to cover a topic that is in the public forefront in the moments that I am writing. But then came the #metoo campaign. 

As I write, social media is currently being flooded with more and more statements of ‘hey, that happened to me, too.” To scroll through Twitter and Facebook without knowing what the #metoo statement means you could be forgiven for thinking it was a trending fashion. Just another clever hook, concocted by someone with enough followers to create influential waves within our internet screens. After all, it’s only a hashtag. Don't we see them all the time?

But then it clicks, in both a realising and a technological sense; the thousands of ‘me too’s’ are real time. These are some of the people around us who have in some way been sexually assaulted. This isn’t a trend. It’s an epidemic. 

Initially, I didn’t warm all too much to the movement when I saw it start to spill out across my newsfeed. I feared that in stirring up millions of hashtags the real sense of human experience may be lost. But then I realised; perhaps this really is the time to start a conversation. One that won’t get lost in translation. One that can continue long after the tablets and iPhones have been put down for the night. 

So. What is it that we’re dealing with? What do we mean, when we join in saying those two short words?

In the last few weeks I been engaged in conversations with friends and colleagues of mine, as well as readers of this blog, discussing what may or may not apply in terms of being part of the #metoo campaign. Although varying in response, many were united in feeling they had not spoken out sooner because they themselves were unsure if their experience would 'count' as assault or not. This particular point, to me, seemed to be the loophole within which so many situations have been buried from view. 

But the facts are these

If you are made to feel uncomfortable, and there is no way of stopping or halting the behaviour, then this is not OK. No grey shades. 

The ‘Not OK’ I am talking about is the type of feeling you might have when someone causes you to be uncomfortable in your physical self. It is the slice of vulnerability that you are caused to feel when in a situation you cannot escape. It is in the moments you feel unduly uncovered. This can occur without a single finger being laid upon you. It can be by a total stranger or your husband. It can be from the same sex. Sexual assault comes in varying forms, and there is no typical situation or offender. Yes, more women than men typically receive harm in this way. But not exclusively, by any means. 

But when exactly does a situation become one that isn’t acceptable? Where is the line drawn, the line that shouldn’t ever be crossed, or pushed? Is there a way to know for sure?

I was thinking all of this over yesterday while I was driving to an events job I was working on. It was a one off booking, where I was demonstrating fitness equipment in a leisure area of a large  manufacturing centre. My role was to demonstrate the equipment and hand out free samples of health drinks. What should have been a straight forward job turned into a perfect example of exactly what I had been thinking over on the way to it. 

During the 3 hour event I repeatedly had to defend myself verbally against leering behaviour and  inappropriate comments about my ‘sporty legs’. Men ranging from eighteen to in their sixties were ignoring the professional information I was giving them, preferring to crowd around me asking what I did after work and whether I was as flexible as they thought I might be. Yes, they approached me in a comedic fashion, largely to make their friends laugh. No, I didn’t feel in any real danger. Not one of them touched me, or even attempted to. But did that make the experience acceptable? No. Absolutely not.

I could handle the situation. Being a teacher sometimes helps in these situations, as I feel confident to control a crowd that are getting out of hand. But that doesn’t make it OK. It shouldn’t be acceptable just because I got away unscathed. If we were to apply that rule, then we would have to accept that all drivers drinking under the influence are of no harm to anyone, until they crash.

During my lifetime, like many others, I have endured varying examples of inappropriate sexual approach. I have had my bum pinched in clubs by not only men, but women, who wanted to make their attractions known. I have had a Moroccan man grab at my chest in a daytime market while living in Marrakech. I have had an agent I was working with in India try and offer alcohol and sex to me in the apartment I was staying in, in exchange for movie parts and notoriety. My room stayed locked that night. My first sexual experience was at 14, where a popular boy from my senior school told me that we were to play ‘traffic lights’ where he will stop doing what he wants to do when I say red light. I said red light. He didn’t stop.

I feel strongly that it is unhelpful and ineffective to try and grade the level of acceptability of each incident or act over any other. Range in gravitas is not parallel to that of acceptability. In short; any inappropriate behaviour of this kind is equally not OK. The variance is found only in the seriousness of the act itself. But each and every moment of unwelcome approach or invasion of wellbeing is as unacceptable as another.

I can, and will, now state that I was sexually assaulted in my previous relationships. I have been woken in my sleep to find my partner having sex with me. I have been touched in times I did not want to be touched. And I have been coerced into sexual acts I was not comfortable with. This is not something I have written about before, and not something I have shared with anyone barring the police on a few occasions. If I am to continue to open the door to readers and supporters of the ‘Living Liberté’ blog then I must be open in order to cultivate an environment where conversations can be had. I was afraid to for far too long, and I am still yet to allow myself to open up fully with even my very best friends. But I continue to keep pushing myself beyond the guardedness that might feel instinctive, to find a place of truth that can be liberating for us as a community.

Of course, in the full scene of my life as a whole, these darker moments are but small details. They are memories that stay with me, but they do not define me as they might have once. I am all the more grateful for the freedom I now enjoy in my life, and the incredible friends, family and people I meet and enjoy spending time with. I am enjoying dating now, and spending time with good people. My memories serve as inspiration to keep moving forward, and to keep growing the #liberté online campaign via this blog and on social media. 

But the daily occurrences of situations of this kind that are still happening daily all over the world to the men and women we care about. It has to stop. In order to do this, we must start to talk about what’s right.

Because it isn’t the length of our dresses or the volume of our voices that make us guilty in moments of coercion, assault, or attack. It isn’t our culture, the street we live on, or the type of person we are. There is no ‘you were too friendly to him’ or ‘but what did you expect’. Let’s spread the word to our sons and daughters, to our colleagues and friends, and to those we spend our time with - we are of value. And in this way, we are not to be mishandled, mistreated, or made to be objects of entertainment or gratification. You are of value to me, reader. And to so many others.

My high school sex education consisted of learning about condoms and body odour. It did not prepare me in any way to know what was acceptable as a sexual partner. My parents taught me high self value, but I didn’t realise that this was something that I could apply in circumstances I never expected. They say knowledge is power. I agree. 

And so, let’s get talking! Whether it’s via this blog page, in the comments section below, or in a private message. Where you might want to e-mail me, or e-mail a friend. Perhaps you might want to spend some time with a friend you know may need to talk some things over in response to the hashtag campaign. Or perhaps you have friends that you have seen posting their own #metoo statements on their news feeds. Wherever it is, whenever it is, let’s not let this moment pass us by. Too many have sailed by already for us to allow any more to get swallowed up into history. 

Let's celebrate more of the brilliant, loving, caring people we know, and encourage more of the love and brilliance they share with us. Let's use the best parts of our lives and ourselves to light the way out of any shaded darkness wrongly handed over to us or to the people we know around us. Let's take on this battle using the ultimate power of overwhelming  kindness as our tool to do so. This is where we can, and will, overcome. 

The door to freedom can be found. It’s there. Sometimes we may just need a friend, or perhaps an anonymous voice of support, to help us find it’s handle. 

Speak soon, friends. 

#metoo #wetoo

H E L E N  V I C T O R I A