Things I Learned in 2015.

Having just experienced the most eye-opening year of my life, I wanted to write something that would reflect the fact that 2015 was a pretty big year for me. These ‘Things I Learned’ pieces can often come across as narcissistic, self-indulgent drivel, so please know that I am writing this so that others might learn a thing or two as a result.

I learned a lot this year, mainly as a result of opening my eyes to the real issues going on the world – y’know, the ones that matter a bit more than the size of Kylie Jenners’ lips. I met people from so many different backgrounds, people who are now friends, who bore with me as I went from being someone who cared about those who had more than me, to being someone who cared about those who had less.

It’s been an emotional and frustrating but life-changing year. Having spent a decade working in the fashion industry, in one capacity or another, I found myself no longer caring about it. It was a time for a big shake up. I finally realised I have more to offer the world than just drawing or dressing shop mannequins. I am entering 2016 a new person, with a new focus and a new career. Don’t get me wrong, I will always have a soft spot for Victoria Beckham, and I will always find Kim Kardashian’s cartoon-esque body proportions fun to draw, but it’s time to move on to the next chapter. 2016 will be the I learn more, and earn more….and hopefully eat a lot less.

So, with this in mind, I decided to write about a few things I learned  during the ups and downs of 2015.

It’s hard work being a ‘creative’ in Ireland.

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Having spent the guts of three years working as a freelance fashion illustrator and fashion writer, I have found the experience to be great, but, also incredibly difficult and frustrating.

Despite having the most famous woman in the world, Kim Kardashian, share my drawing of her to tens of millions of followers across her social media platforms in 2014, I still found myself getting requests from Irish publications and businesses asking me to work for free. ‘We don’t actually have a budget for this, Holly, but we can share it across our social accounts which will be great exposure for you.’ GREAT! Let me just call my landlady and see if she’ll accept ‘exposure’ in lieu of actual rent money this month. Sigh.

Other times, I would be requested by companies to do a lot of work in a seriously short space of time. ‘We need ten drawings by Tuesday’. I would stay up all day and night getting the work done, submit it, and then have to chase the payment for AGES – sometimes it could take up to six months.

Other times, I was asked to go and speak on TV, without any form of remuneration. Not even travel expenses, despite asking if they could cover a taxi. ‘We just don’t have the budget – sorry!’ This left me €40 out of pocket – on several occasions. It’s just not the direction I want to go in any more, and not something I think anyone should do for free.

White Privilege is a very real thing.

whiteprivilege

Having visited the Calais refugee camp twice in 2015, I began to meet, and become friends with, more and more people with activist backgrounds – who often discussed the term ‘white privilege’. The first few times I heard this I was outraged – how dare someone imply I think I am better than people who are not white? But this is not what it means. Benefitting from white privilege means you can walk the Earth unaware of your colour.

Much like ‘Male Privilege, it is something that those who possess it, are blind to it. White people have, since the dawn of civilisation, had the monopoly over those who are not white. For example, open any fashion magazine and count how many non-white people feature. If youre white, you wont notice unless you intend to. This needs to change, we need to be more inclusive of other races in every aspect of life, and open our eyes to the privileges afforded to us on a daily basis.

The media has a lot to do with this – when someone white commits a deadly crime, he is referred to as ‘mentally unstable’ or ‘a problem child’. If they’re Muslim, it’s automatically a ‘terrorist attack’. If they’re black, its ‘gang related’. It’s these small-minded generalisations that help breed the hate that exists more today than ever.

Working in the media can suck.

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Yes, I have had many many amazing experiences working for myself, but for the most part, I have been lonely, deflated, and at times, felt almost depressed. There is no sick pay, no holidays. No guaranteed work. I had a particularly horrible experience with a national newspaper this year – the the final nail in the coffin.

Having provided this publication with a massive amount of content ideas, and at least two articles a week, I was unceremoniously discarded like a piece of trash for allowing another paper to publish a personal blog post I had written on my trip to Calais.

The day my blog post was published in the other paper,  was the last day I ever heard from the paper I had been freelancing with for a year. I sent Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, and at least six emails, each one going ignored. This horrible treatment and lack of communication lead to anxiety attacks and chest pains for three weeks. I literally had no idea what was going on, I was left high and dry, my bank account was down €500 a month and I  was struggling to pay the bills. To this day, three months later, I have still never being given any explanation as to why I was treated so badly by the paper in question. They didn’t ‘own’ me, but I guess they thought they did.

I have absolutely no regrets, not one. I was already feeling like writing articles about the Kardashians and make-up meant nothing to me any more, and the fact that I am still receiving messages from people all over the world telling me how the printed blog piece changed their perception of Refugees, means the world. You simply cannot buy that feeling.

We place far too much emphasis on our social media popularity.

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Its true, and its sad. I spent many hours wondering why a particular illustration I would do and post on my Instagram would get less likes than another. Had I posted it a bad time? Should I have drawn someone else? Or was it in fact, shit? Wasted hours wondering why other illustrator’s likes and followers were growing by the day, and mine were stagnant. I lost all the love I had for it, over 20 years of scribbles, sketches and illustrations, as I let myself get bogged down by the numbers. I am hoping to rediscover my love for the art of fashion illustration this year, by changing careers, not doing it as a full-time job any more, and simply allowing it to once again become an occasional hobby.

We live in a world where (not all, but alot of) kids are constantly outdoing themselves with selfies, prank videos, and attention-seeking statuses in search for the lauded ‘likes’ that in reality, mean absolutely nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am obsessed with social media, I loved tweeting and I cannot wait to begin my job as a Digital Account Manager for a company called New/Slang this month – I am excited about using social media  to create interesting content and to benefit our clients as opposed to myself.

We need to stand up for those less fortunate than us.

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Having lived in a bubble of middle-class privilege for almost 26 years, it was easy to believe that nothing existed beyond my own day-to-day life. Yes, I have experienced tough times, but I was never in position where I couldn’t ask for a loan off family or friends. This year, I made some very silly comments on Facebook about the people in Jobstown who protested against irish Water charges and who surrounded Joan Burtons car in anger and I am still pissed off with myself posting silly and ill-informed opinions on the matter.

While I cannot say I know what it’s like to live constantly on the bread line, I can now see that people are angry, Irish people are seriously fucking angry. There are families who are having to send their children to school hungry. There are women working several jobs to pay their rent. There are men living in constant fear of something costly happening, like their car breaking down, as they simply do not have the money to fix it.

Just because you can pay your water bills (which I have continued to refuse to do) doesn’t mean everyone can. Just because you can buy a Starbucks every morning, does not mean other people can’t afford a jar of Nescafe.

Ireland is a morally corrupt country, with people in power who have absolutely no experience of having nothing or living in fear of the next electricity bill or doctors visit. It’s 2016 and there still in a need for soup kitchens in Ireland. That alone is outrageous. If you’re not already, it’s time to get angry.

Direct Provision is no walk in the park.

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Direct Provision centre at Lissywollen, Athlone, 2013

If, like I once did, you thought migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were entitled to the same benefits as Irish people, you are seriously mistaken.

The system of Direct Provision was originally introduced as an “emergency measure” in 1999, before the scale of the asylum crisis became clear. Direct Provision is how the State meets its obligations with regards to the accommodation of asylum seekers. It is designed to be a cashless system, with residents in receipt of full board accommodation, with their food, utilities etc fully paid for by the state, In 2002 there were almost 12,000 applications for asylum.

At the start of 2014, there were 4,360 people in direct provision, with more than 3,000 people have been in the system for two or more years. At the same time, there were more than 1,600 people who have spent five or more years in direct provision.  Adults in Direct Provision centres are given €19.10 weekly, while children are given €9.60 per week, and having met someone who lived in DP for five years, it sounds like a truly horrible existence.

You completely lose all your independence, are not allowed cook for yourself, and have to stand in queues and ask for basic things, like nappies or toilet paper and there is no opportunity to work, or to integrate into Irish society. People are robbed of their identities and have little hope.

Knowledge is power.

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One thing I will totally admit, is that I’ve spent most of my adult life regurgitating media-drivel as fact. With no real opinions of my own, I didn’t realise until very late this year that without arming yourself with factual knowledge, your opinion literally means nothing. Without even realising, I would rehash opinions I had read online, passing them off as my own – something a lot of people do without realising.

Volunteering at the Calais refugee camp this year provided me with first-hand knowledge and experience of a world crisis, and the basis to form my own opinion on something that a lot of people think they know everything about.

Now, if I am having a conversation with someone who has informed themselves on the topic, and clearly knows more than me, I find myself talking less, listening more, and then going off and reading up on the conversation in question. Then, next time I find myself in a similar situation, I can voice my own informed opinion.

So there you have it – it was a big year of learning, growing and developing. I am excited for what 2016 will bring and wish you and yours lots of love and light for the year ahead X

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