La porta mediterranea

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Technically, there’s nothing special about this photo, taken in Rome – but I do enjoy the clay-like colour and the uneven textures

So, you want to be journalist? Here are 3 tips to help

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You can also click on this image to visit my ‘About me’ page

Over the past four years, while I’m by no means Dr Know It All from the University of Journalism, I’ve learnt a thing or two – or maybe even three – about the obstacle-paved path to a career in journalism. (For an overview of why, visit my ‘About me‘ page – assuming you haven’t already, of course.)

In 2011, instigated by an insomnia-curing careers talk for another sector, I decided that the written word would make my living. (Note, dear reader, that I say “my living” – not “my fortune”. No one, I think, can go into journalism today, as they may have done 50, or even 20 years ago, for any materialistic amour of the Great British Pound.)

Since then, I’ve made far more mistakes than I’ve had successes. However, both the mistakes and the successes have been significant –  no matter how small – steps to where I am today. Of course, aged 23, I still have a long, long way to go. Yet for those of you a few rungs below me on the career ladder, I hope these tips, insights and and anecdotes may give you the non-nepotistic leg-up that I wish I’d had four years ago.

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Me (pictured) when I flirted with a career in front of the camera while PR secretary of University of Exeter’s Men’s Hockey Club


 

 Experience, experience, experience

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North Devon locals Catherine Yates and Shana Little

“Education, education, education”, said Tony Blair on New Labour’s priorities during the 1997 general election campaign. Well, for any aspiring journalist, I say experience, experience, experience should your top, and heavily underlined, and maybe even yellow-highlighted, priority.

I sound so much like a school’s careers advisor saying so, I know, but work experience really is what identifies you as an attractive candidate to potential employers. In short, work experience – and making the most of it, most importantly, when you have it – provides you with both a portfolio and, by extension, a mental notebook of stories to tell about your articles.

While at work experience, for instance, you may have had to ring 15 people to get a comment for an article that you pitched to the news editor: irrefutable evidence of the self-motivation and determination that any successful journalist possesses. As an example from my own portfolio, I stumbled across a series of critical comments from a North Devon resident while I was at the North Devon Gazette about a day community centre facing closure. I traced down this resident and then spoke to her and her friend (pictured above) about the centre’s closure. The story (pictured below) became a page five lead. (I’m not including this story to brag, by the way. Instead, I just hope it helps to clarify my point.)

How do you get work experience? Easy squeezey: pick up the phone and, while it may seem daunting at first, dial the number of your local newspaper, the place for any aspiring journalist to start their budding careers. After you’ve got a few weeks of work experience at local publications on your CV, try the national newspapers. Trust me, as I failed trying the exact opposite, calling up the Times and boldly asking for two week’s work experience, that is the recommended route to take.

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The subsequent story on page five of the North Devon Gazette. Remember: always organise work experience well in advance

 
 

Learn to write by reading

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Gay Talese, 83, one of the creators of The New Journalism

At first, that advice sounds slightly paradoxical, doesn’t it? It’s an axiom that I first came across in an article by Laurie Penny, a contributing editor to the New Statesman. (Annoyingly, I can’t find that article now, but she has written an excellent article on advice for young journalists.)

Since then, I have heard the same advice repeated on countless occasions. Most recently, George Brock, director of journalism at City University London, where I am studying on the Newspaper Journalism MA course, said, “I never trust a journalist who doesn’t read.” In short, good readers – in other words: someone who reads a lot – make good writers and, as a consequence, good journalists.

At school, you learnt how to use a comma, a colon, a semi-colon – but you only understand fully the innumerable nuances of language, punctuation and grammar from reading those who write well. Literary writers, like any other artist, often talk about the influence of other writers on their work. (Oscar Schell, for example, the young protagonist of Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ (2005), shares a number of characteristics J. D. Salinger’s angst-ridden Holden Caulfield, in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ (1951).)

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My feature in the Guardian for Self-Harm Awareness Day

Well, the very same principle applies to journalism: pick a journalist whose work you like, and then read, and read, and read their work – and then try to write better than them. Go on, you can do it. For writers, the point of having heroes is to inspire and, most importantly, to help you improve.

For me, my favourite modern writer is Gay Talese (pictured above), who specialises in creative non-fiction. Sadly, mainly due to the lack of money in print media today, this style of journalism has gradually grown out-of-fashion, like jump suits during the 1980s. Yet I still applied the basic principles of his writing – an intense attention to detail, namely – to a feature that I had published earlier this year for Self-harm Awareness Day in the Guardian.

To finish this point, I would recommend always having this quote in mind from A.J. Liebling, one of America’s finest writers of the 20th century: “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.” If you can do that, after following the above advice, you will be a quick, crafty and sought-after writer.

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Click on this image to read Gay Talese’s ‘Frank Sinatra has a cold’, an excellent example of his innovative style of journalism


 

Be curious and, most importantly, confident

By nature, most journalists have insatiably curious minds. As a stereotype, we are miners of information, with exclusive stories our ultimate, rarest ore. Curiosity is an essential part of what leads us to potential stories: spotting that advert for 50 one-legged kittens for sale, to give one silly example, or even noticing something in another news story that could be investigated further.

Yet curiosity is only half of the equation that eventually equals journalistic success. Without confidence or courage, or whatever you want to call it, it would be impossible to build on that initial curiosity and get the story. You may need, for example, to turn up on someone’s doorstep – known as ‘doorstepping’ – to get comment from them. Similarly, in press conferences, all eyes may be on you when, having raised your hand (probably for several minutes), it’s your chance to speak.

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A story I had published in the Islington Gazette after spending a morning doorstepping residents in a north Islington ward


 
For most people, these sort of tasks can be overwhelmingly daunting – but the results can be equally rewarding. I got the story pictured above, for instance, from doorstepping Islington residents, as part of my Newspaper Journalism MA, about the impact of construction work on their homes – which lead to a resident telling me that her whole house shook due to lorries passing by the speed bumps outside. More often than not, if you are polite and conscientious, people will always be willing to talk to you.

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This story, in the Sunday Times, started with curiosity about hate crimes

At its core, journalism is courage, confidence and self-belief. (For me, in this context at least, the three are synonymous.) As clichéd as it may sound, having courage and self-belief is an essential part of what divides good, bad and great journalists from one another. Of course, on top of these characteristics, a wide-ranging set of skills – writing, data, social media, to name a few – equally set journalists apart from one another.

If you don’t believe you can be a good journalist, though, there’s only one result from that way of thinking: you won’t be one – ever. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a journalist, but it took me until four years ago to reach out to the opportunities around me that would help to fulfil that ambition. The only person decelerating my race to realising my journalistic dream was – as is the case for so many young journalists – me.

For years, I told myself that I wasn’t good enough. Now, four years on, I realise those years were wasted. So, with me as an example, don’t doubt yourself. On the path to becoming a journalist, the greatest obstacle is often your own self-belief. Once you overcome that, you will have the greatest tool to overcome any other challenge you will encounter as a professional journalist. Good luck – and make your own luck through hard work. If you want to get in touch, see my Contact page.

 

Revolutionise society from inside the system, Mr Brand

From Sachsgate to his close-to-the-bone jokes at the 2008 MTV VMAs, Russell Brand’s sense of humour has always polarised opinion. If possible, though, his political beliefs do so even more. Over the past few months alone, he has been heralded the Left’s anti-establishment loudhailer, following the launch of his latest book, ‘Revolution‘. At the same time, possibly due to the interview he gave on Newsnight on 23 October, he has been portrayed as its very own pantomime villain, heckled with each paparazzied public appearance, and ridiculed for his 140-character rants on Twitter. (#PARKLIFE!) On the Right, and maybe even on some parts of the Left, people think that Brand has some sort of Messiah complex – the title he used, incidentally, for his latest stand-up tour. Looks-wise, it’s true, he does bear a surreal resemblance to images of Jesus Christ. Yet with his “them and us” ideology, Brand is more like Moses than any other Biblical figure: a divider of the UK’s shifting political sea. Like Moses, to extend the analogy, he is trying to lead his followers to his own promised land – a place without Forex-fixing bankers, without PR-peddling politicians, where the rich-poor divide is radically reduced. In ‘Revolution’, Brand argues that the coalition government has lied to us, indoctrinated us into believing there are no other alternatives, and invites us to join the revolutionary movement. Of course, as a non-believer might say about Moses’s parting of the Red Sea, such a bold ambition is far from likely to be achieved in this neo-liberalist age – if ever at all.

 

One Mount-Sinai-sized obstacle that lies in the way of Brand’s political utopia is the issue of powerful corporations. Along with the coalition government, Brand loves to lambast the UK’s rich, multinational business – especially their CEOs. In an article for the Guardian, published after his interview with Jeremy Paxman last year, Brand goes after Sir Phillip Green, CEO of Topshop, who he describes as “an arsehole” for failing to pay any income tax on a £1.2billion dividend. “The money he’s nicked through legal loopholes would pay the annual salary for 20,000 NHS nurses,” Brand writes. “It’s socialism for corporate elites and feudalism for the rest of us,” he adds. In ‘Revolution’, also, Brand writes on the topic of General Motors: “Let’s kill General Motors. Let’s take it back from the shareholders, scribble out the name and the logo and let’s use its resources for something more valuable.” In his latest Newsnight appearance, Brand identified this outlandish proposal as part of an “alternative to corporate hegemony”. To use his stance on General Motors as a general example, however, this is where Brand’s attitude towards corporate power reveals a basic flaw in his political vision. Despite the company’s financial trouble, General Motors is not going to ‘killed’ – to borrow Brand’s colloquial, often confusing, lexicon – anytime soon. Founded 106 years ago in Detroit, the spiritual home of America’s automobile industry, General Motors Corporation (now General Motors Company) is still a symbol of its country’s capitalist system. Today, with assets worth more than $166 billion and 396 facilities on six continents, it provides a model for a corporation’s expansion across a globalised market. Although Brand can boast about his activism and a much-publicised book (or wooky book, as he might call it), General Motors is anchored to the seabed of Western society – along with most other big-name corporation listed on the FTSE 500. Instead of fighting against corporate firms, then, like an inmate rattling the steel rails of their cell, why doesn’t Brand harness their power and work with them?

There is nothing at all revolutionary, of course, about the idea of working with corporations. Charities, youth groups and small businesses all do it – and they will continue to do so in the future. In particular, there is one group from which Russell Brand could genuinely learn: The Kindness Offensive (TKO). Set up in 2008, group began when three friends – David Goodfellow, Benny Crane and James Hunter – climbed Parliamentary Hill in north London, and asked members of the public what random acts of kindness they wanted done for them. On that afternoon, one request made was a father’s wish to take his 11-year-old daughter to see the Moscow State Circus – which TKO duly organised, complete with ringside seats and juggling lessons. (Yes, you did read that right.) Since then, with the help of firms such as Barclaycard and Hasbro, the group has provided a toy to each child in a London hospital, given away 25-tonnes of food to the UK’s homeless, and established a free-bookshop headquarters in Islington. Unlike Mr Brand, TKO, with their moto: “Kindness is a one-word revolution”, understands how to access and share corporations’ resources without a full-blown coup d’état. On the subject of Brand’s revolution, interestingly, David Goodfellow says: “We work with Nestlé, Panasonic, Canon – some of the biggest corporations in the world – and our view is not ‘Give us back the power.’ Our view is, ‘Okay, well you’ve got a lot of resources Let’s work together to mould and change what you are doing with them.'” Obviously, if Russell Brand worked with the same corporations, it would completely compromise his political views. Indeed, it is easy to imagine the far Left – currently his steadfast supporters – turning against him and even vilifying him in a similar way to how the Right has recently. If Brand is as serious about instigating change as he claims, though, working with corporations may be the most feasible way of achieving it on nationwide scale.

Autumn

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I took this photo in a Devonshire sculpture garden. Ironically, I thought this was more beautiful than any surrounding artwork.

Interview: Fiona Edwards, The Students Assembly

On 19 November, members of The Students Assembly will march into central London in protest against the coalition government’s higher education policies. Building on the momentum created by last month’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) anti-austerity demonstration, their banners will read: ‘Free education: No cuts. No fees. No debt.’ Here, speaking to Loudhailr, The Student Assembly’s Fiona Edwards talks about tuition fees, student politics and the forthcoming demonstration:

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Completely by chance, I happened to take this photo at just the right angle to get the whole of the photography shop’s sign.

©BenStupples2014

Use #thatPower: my love-hate relationship with will.i.am

Who can remember the year 2003? In politics, if you need a little reminder, it was the year the Bush-Blair bromance unseated Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. In sport, it was the year a drug-pumped Lance Armstrong claimed his fifth of seven consecutive Tour de France victories. And in music, it was the year that The Black Eyed Peas, now one of the world’s best-selling groups of all time, broke into the UK industry with their number one single: ‘Where Is The Love?’

Slouched at home on the living room sofa, I can remember hearing the song for the first time on MTV. By the end of the opening line – “What’s wrong with the world, Mama?” – I had already decided to buy the single that weekend at my local Borders. (Remember, with iTunes less than a year old, this was long before the days of Soundcloud and Spotify.) For the next six weeks, ‘Where Is The Love?’ remained unrivaled on the UK Billboard Chart. Over the same period, the band went on a non-stop publicity spree for their latest album, Elephunk, and I became familiar with all The Black Eyed Peas members – or their stage names at least.* As the group’s charismatic, side-cap-wearing frontman, I found it hard not to like will.i.am, who grew up in Boyle Heights – a housing project in eastern Los Angeles. As a white, middle-class, 11-year-old, however, it was hard for me back then to grasp how truly tough life had been for will.i.am before he found – finally – fame.

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Ramona Gardens, Boyle Heights. Credit: tedder/Wikimedia.

Raised by his single-parent mother, Debra, having never met his father, life was often a struggle for will.i.am and his family during his childhood. In Boyle Heights, as he explained to the Sun in May 2012, “There were a lot of gangs. A lot of my friends are dead, were in prison, on drugs or were selling drugs.” In the song ‘Ghetto, Ghetto,’ taken from his first solo album #willpower (2013), you can get a fleeting sense of what his poverty-plagued community must have been like through the lyrics: “Little kids growing up without no education. / Mom’s on drugs, ‘cause that’s her only medication.” In the song’s chorus, sung by nine-year-old rapper Baby Kaely, will.i.am then provides a possible insight into sort of dreams he may have harboured at a similar age:

I wanna be what’s on TV,
And if that’s wrong, please don’t blame me,
Cause where I live we have nothing
In the ghetto, ghetto, ghetto.

Judging from the opening line, it almost feels like will.i.am obsessed over fame. It was his chosen path – perhaps his only real one – to escape his family’s poverty, which forced him to sleep on a floor-bound mattress during his adolescence. At the same time, as the second line shows, he feels guilty at having such high-aimed ambitions for himself. Understandably, although it would surely have cost him his career, a part of will.i.am may have wanted to remain forever in Boyle Heights. However, as aple.de.ap (real name Alan Lindo) says about his boyhood friend: “He almost had no choice but to make it [in the music industry]. That drive of providing for your family kept us going [when we started The Black Eyed Peas].” Paradoxically, then, one of the reasons for why will.i.am may have wanted to stay in Boyle Heights is one of the very same for why he first left.

Now living in a Spanish-style villa in Los Feliz, an affluent area of Los Angeles, will.i.am has certainly ‘made it.’ From its back garden, complete with basketball court and outdoor projector screen, the villa looks down towards the Boyle Heights housing projects: a constant reminder of just how far he has come since he and aple.de.ap formed The Black Eyed Peas in 1995. But while he has moved to the other side of the city, that is not to suggest that will.i.am now distances himself from Boyle Heights – quite the opposite, in fact. As Joanna Lumley observes in the BBC One documentary: “Will stays connected to where he grew up.” Last year, for example, he donated computers to one of the local libraries to develop its young users’ technological skills. Through his i.am.angel foundation, he has also established i.am College Track, a philanthropic scheme that helps a number of Boyle Heights students to gain a much-coveted college education. Giving back to his old community, as Lumley notes, is will.i.am’s way of showing his gratitude. At the same time, though, as the chorus to ‘Ghetto, Ghetto’ seems to suggest, it may also be an effort to rid himself of the guilt he felt – and may still feel today – for originally wanting to leave Boyle Heights.

Outside of Boyle Heights, music is arguably will.i.am’s most far-reaching means of influencing people’s lives in a similarly positive way. Take ‘Where Is The Love?’. If it wasn’t for that song, I doubt I would be as interested in politics as I am today. Together with the events of September 11, the event that actually inspired the song, ‘Where Is The Love? was the catalyst for my socio-political curiosity. In 2008, on top of that, will.i.am ventured into pop-politics again to support Barack Obama’s Democractic leadership campaign with ‘Yes We Can.’ Recorded, edited and released just five days after will.i.am thought of the idea, the music video sets to music Obama’s post-defeat speech at the New Hampshire primaries. In total, at the time of writing, it now has 25 million-plus YouTube views. More importantly, though, is the decisive influence it had on Obama’s campaign, helping him to steal the lead from Hilary Clinton. To will.i.am, as he told Joanna Lumley, the public’s response to ‘Yes We Can’ was a total revelation: “When it comes to issues that help shape communities and society as a whole,” he said, “I really took that whole experience to heart. To me, it goes far beyond politics. It was like a social awakening on how I can help.”

For a musician with a patent passion for helping others, however, will.i.am spends an awful lot of time making a lot of awful music that – except anyone profiting directly off his music, of course – fails to help anyone with anything. Contrasting with ‘Where Is The Love?’ and ‘Yes We Can,’ for example, is the likes of ‘Check It Out,’ a nauseatingly repetitive song in which will.i.am says the title 40 times in just four minutes. To emphasise the point, each chorus reads: “Check it out, check it out, check it out, check it out, check it out, check it out, check it out, check it out, check it out. Yeah, yeah, I’m feeling it now.” And then, if that wasn’t enough, we have three more: “Check it out, check it out, check it out.” (He doesn’t once explain what the ‘it’ actually is, either.) In the opening verse of ‘#thatPower,’ meanwhile, will.i.am raps: “They call me will-A, / Stay so cool, I’m chilli, / I done made that maley.” Despite the media never referring to him by such a name, the first line does make some sense. The other two, though, are almost imbecilic. Firstly, as we all know (except will.i.am, it seems), chilli is not cool at all; it’s hot, it’s spicy, it makes you gasp, if you’re like me, and frantically flap one hand in front of your mouth. Secondly, unless will.i.am is referring to Willy Maley, the Scottish literary critic from University of Glasgow, the word ‘maley’ has—literally—no meaning.  On one hand, ‘maley’ could be will.i.am’s attempt to coin a ‘fresh’ or ‘dope’ phrase, as he would say. On the other hand, it is a poor choice of words for someone who wrote and rapped: “But if you only have love for your own race, / Then you only leave space to discriminate.”

Of course, in will.i.am’s defense, there are modern-day musicians who make far worse pop music than him. (Nicky Minaj’s ‘Anaconda,’ to name one, may well be the worst pop songs ever made.) Equally, like most money-lovers, there are some musicians who only seem to care about building up a property portfolio of ten-bedroomed mansions. (Miss Minaj springs to mind again, actually.) But will.i.am is different – or at least he seems to be so. He may be materialistic, evident through his fashion interests, but he is also conscious of such issues as poverty, education and global warming. As ‘Yes We Can’ demonstrates, he is a musician who can instigate change, both in our society and in our own outlooks on it. As I said, though I know it sounds cliché, ‘Where Is the Love?’ had a genuine impact on my life. After hearing the song, I wanted to ask my own mother: ‘What’s wrong with the world, Mama?’ (That song, interestingly, is still his most commercially and critically successful song.) Whether to Barack Obama, the United States of America or to people like me elsewhere, ‘Where Is The Love?’ and ‘Yes We Can’ made a difference: they communicated an idea – a message – that subsequently instigated an ‘awakening,’ to borrow will.i.am’s own phrase. If I were will.i.am, I would certainly want to be remembered for that sort of music. At the same time, I would also want the likes of ‘Check It Out’ to be quickly, and forever, forgotten.

P.S. This song, written by apple.de.ap about his native Indonesia, should never be forgotten.

*The Black Eyed Peas’ stage names: will.i.am, Fergie, aple.de.ap and Taboo.

Motorino

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I took this photo on the bus on the way to Rome. In the right-hand corner, you can just see the reflection of the bus’s curtain.

©BenStupples2014

What do you think of UKIP?

Whether you love or hate UKIP, here is a minute-long vox pop video I filmed last week about the polarising right-wing party. If you have any views about UKIP, please do comment below.

The politics of remembering in autobiographical writing

This essay focuses on the autobiography—He de tener libertad (I Must Have Liberty)—of one of Spain’s greatest, most unrecognised political figures: Isabel Oyarzábal de Palencia. Written in December 2013, it explores the theme of remembering, a topic I studied for during a Modern Languages module at University of Exeter. In the text, what Oyarzábal de Palencia does not remember, or chooses not to, is just as significant—if not more so—than what she actually does.

Contexts are charged politically. […] [T]he politics of remembering—what is recollected and what is obscured—is central to the cultural production of knowledge about the past, and thus to the terms of an individual’s self-knowledge” (Smith & Watson). Discuss in relation to He de tener libertad.”

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Isabel Oyarzábal de Palencia

 
In Reading Autobiography, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson examine the political tension surrounding the act of remembering. First citing autobiographical narratives in Eastern and Western Germany helping to negotiate “different versions of national memory” (24), they argue how an ideological struggle exists “over who is authorised to remember and what they are authorised to remember, [and] over what is forgotten, both personally and collectively” (24). In the discussion of this subject, though autobiographical narratives in post-Cold War Germany are undoubtedly relevant, there is one political figure whose autobiography—He de tener libertad (I Must Have Liberty)—has almost been forgotten amongst modern-day critics of autobiographical writing. Described as “la gran feminista española” (Capdevilla-Argüelles 19), Isabel Oyarzábal de Palencia defied the social conventions of her patriarchal Spain to become a respected actress, a successful journalist, and her country’s very first female ambassador: an international figurehead for the Spanish suffrage movement. Written in Mexico City, where Oyarzábal de Palencia remained in exile until her death in 1974, He de tener libertad is a “retrato exhaustivo de toda una época” (Capdevilla-Argüelles 20), an alternative narrative to the Franco regime’s “mythic historiography” (Herzberger 36). Using Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography as a primary source of reference, this essay focuses on act of remembering in He de tener libertad: how what Oyarzábal de Palencia does—and does not—recall contributes to the cultural production of knowledge about the past throughout her lifetime.

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Mexico City, circa 1900

 
With Spain traditionally being a conservative country (almost to the extent of being antiquated), patriarchal authority was an influential socio-cultural force in the Malágan community in which Oyarzábal de Palencia was raised—although her own parents, especially her Scottish-born mother, were comparatively liberal. Whilst a young woman, she remembers how “un amigo le comentó a mi padre delante de mí que mis piernas consituían una tentación y que debería cubrirlas” (75). Feeling the pressure to conform to patriarchal convention, she also writes: “[la] falta de libertad y el constante cotilleo me ahogaban” (90). Towards the end of the 19th century, however, strongly influenced by the Spanish-American War (1898) in which Spain lost its last colony in the Pacific (Cuba), patriarchal authority in Spain was diminishing. During the war, after originally thinking “España iba a ganar” (74), Oyarzábal de Palencia recalls how there were “reyertas calleteras” and “las calles principales de la ciudad [estaban], llenas de moribunds tumbados en el suelo” (74). Along with her memories of openly tolerated sexism in her patriarchal society, this morbid description of the aftermath of the Spanish-American War on Spanish soil provides an insight into the reality of the country, banishing all notions of grandiose surrounding what remained of the imperialistic the Spanish Empire. As Smith and Watson write, they are memories that can “be productively read against the ideological grain” (25): her account of Spanish-American War thus subverts the Spanish government’s “myth-generating mechanisms” (Herzberger 38) Instead of asserting “continuity between the glories of an imperial Catholic Spain and the […] present” (Herzberger 35), which is precisely what the Franco regime attempted to achieve following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Oyarzábal de Palencia depicts a country questioning patriarchal authority. As she remembers one old woman proclaiming following the uprising in Morocco, “¿Por qué nos quitan a nuestros hijos? […] ¿Por qué tenemos que quitarles su tierra [?]” (130).

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Spanish soldiers during the country’s Guerra Civil

 
In El aprendizaje del feminismo histórico en España, Mary Nash discusses the construction of gender identity with Spanish women, arguing “la maternidad […] es un factor decisivo en la construción social imaginaria de la noción de género” (5). Indeed, at one moment in He de tener libertad, Oyarzábal de Palencia remembers how maternity was so admired in Spain “que una mujer puede dar el pecho despreoucupadamente en público aunque no exponga ni una pulgada de su cuello o de su tobillo el resto del tiempo” (51). Evidently, for Spanish women in 19th and early 20th century, maternity and the domestic sphere were inextricable with the concept of femininity. For Oyarzábal de Palencia, however, correlating with Judith Butler’s “assertion that gender is performative” (Smith 214), such a definition of femininity was too dogmatic, demonstrated when she recounts: “Un día [Cefe] me dijo que dejase de trabajar después de que nos casásemos […]: jamás abandonaría todo aquello que había luchado tanto por conseguir” (125). Searching for “más libertad” (63), Oyarzábal de Palencia clearly recognises how “sociocultural structures are always partial rather than total [and] thus there is always the chance of changing the rules” (Smith 57). Certainly, her appointment as the Swedish ambassador of the Second Republic (1931-1939) manifests a successful liberation from the patriarchal definition of femininity, thus making Oyarzábal de Palencia one the very women she describes in Carmen Becomes a Citizen, “striving to direct the ideals of and all towards a higher moral standing” (188). Through her critique of the patriarchal concept of femininity, then, and her subsequent rejection of it, Oyarzábal de Palencia gives a subjective account of the “struggle for existence” (Oyarzábal de Palencia 183) of Spanish women, a struggle that was linked inseparably with the modernisation of Spain as a democratic nation.  This account subsequently allows one to recognise fully the “papel decisivo” (Capdevilla-Argüelles 9) Oyarzábal de Palencia played throughout her lifetime in the struggle of Spanish women against their “tremenda presión social” (Benítez), which echoes David K. Herzberger’s argument of “a subjective life that is always bound up with the past, with history” (40).

Universidad_de_Alcalá._Colegio_de_Málaga,_grabado_de_Mercadal_(1882)

Colegio de Málaga, circa 1880

 
To express the act of remembering, Oyarzábal de Palencia uses what Smith and Watson classify as the narrating I, “a persona of the historical person who wants to tell […] a story about the self” (72). With Oyarzábal de Palencia, her general persona is a modern-minded, independence-seeking woman: “una mujer seria,” as the Spanish poet Rafael Cansinos-Asséns writes, “una intectual” (qtd. in Capdevilla-Argüelles 25). However, behind the narrated I lies historical I, “the person […] whose life is far more dispersed than the story that is being told of it” (Smith 73). In Oyarzábal de Palencia’s own domestic sphere, despite the anti-authoritarian persona of her narrating I, the historical version of herself is actually a woman who often conformed to the patriarchal definition of femininity. As Nuria Capdevilla-Argüelles says, “aunque [Oyarzábal de Palencia] trabaja, también cocina, decora, apoya a su marido, cría a unos ninos” (26) Consequently, in He de tener libertad, there are aspects of Oyarzábal de Palencia’s domestic sphere that the narrating I obscures—particularly with the infidelity of her husband, Cefe. When discussing the woman with whom Cefe has an affair, for example, Oyarzábal de Palencia simply describes her as “una mujer hermosa” (165), and Cefe’s confession is confined to just two words: “confesó todo” (167). With her writing: “La memoria posee una inmensa capacidad de reavivir el dolor aun cuando la causa de ese dolor ya no exista” (165), Oyarzábal de Palencia seems to be avoiding an in-depth examination of her own emotions. Although one can understand this aversion, Oyarzábal de Palencia inadvertently creates a distance between her historical self and her narrating I—a distance that highlights what has been obscured in He de tener libertad. Consequently, by choosing not to “constitute [the affair fully] through recollection for the reader” (Smith 73), Oyarzábal de Palencia’s anti-authoritarian persona highlights the control of the narrating I over the narrated I, “the protagonist of the narrative” (73), providing an insight into Spanish politics during Oyarzábal de Palencia’s lifetime—yet equally obscuring key aspects of her private life. Despite the issues arising from its subjectivity, however, the narrating I remains the most significant aspect to He de tener libertad: autobiographical narratives—a central aspect to understanding and examining the past—would not exist without it.

Works Cited:

Benítez, Enrique. Isabel Oyarzábal: Una mujer ejemplar. Málaga: LaOpinión de Málaga, 2010. Web. 23 Dec. 2013. <http://www.laopiniondemalaga.es/cultura-espectaculos/2011/06/08/isabel-oyarzabal-mujer-ejemplar/428424.html&gt;.

Capdevilla-Argüelles, Nuria. Introducción: He de tener libertad. Madrid: Horas y HORAS, 2010. 9-28. Print.

Herzberger, David K. Narrating the past: History and the Novel of Memory in Postwar Spain. N.p.: Modern Language Association, n.d. JSTOR. Web. 22 Dec. 2014. <http:/www.jstor.org/stable/462821>.

Nash, Mary. El aprendizaje del feminismo histórico en España. N.p.: nodo50, n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2013. <http://www.nodo50.org/mujeresred/historia-MaryNash1.html#fhms&gt;.

—. Carmen Becomes a Citizen. Vol. 226. N.p.: The North American Review, 1928. 183-88. 2 vols. JSTOR. Web. 23 Dec. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/25110553&gt;.

Oyarzábal de Palencia, Isabel. He de tener libertad. Trans.

Nuria Capdevila-Argüelles. Madrid: Horas y HORAS, 2010. Print.

Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. Second ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. N. pag. Print.

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