Carolina, Blogger On Pole: "We were promised a lot of things by other generations"
Palm Vaults is filled with contrasts. Flowing with pink colours and lively plants, this Instagrammable heaven looks like the comfiest place on Earth, one where you might want to just have a nap and dream of unicorns. The music is loud and the crowd is pretty, just like the cakes that land on little round tables. A perfect contrast to the conversation going on at one of those tables. Rough sex, rape, mental health, unpaid internships, exploitation at work – and talking about it is Carolina, 25 and already the definition of an Italian Girlboss. She speaks while Survivor by 2WEI goes on repeat in my head. But Carolina can’t be labelled as a survivor or girlboss, or anything. She takes everything that has shaped her so far and uses it to her advantage. “You know what, I'm personally not a huge fan of labels because I could call myself a hundred things right now”, she tells me at some point. But just for the sake of it, here are few – a pole dancer, PhD student, lecturer, writer, blogger. How does one manage so many things?
Being one thing is simply not enough in our times – especially for creatives who are desperately trying to climb up the ladder of possibilities and passion. Carolina learned that really quickly while doing her BA in journalism. “Journalism isn't really uncovering the truth, and then I realized how hard it was to get an internship and that if you got it, it was unpaid and it was really annoying,” she explains. After graduating, thanks to the experience gained while at university, she landed a job in PR – where both stories start. One belongs to Carolina, the other to fictional character in Carolina's book: Bad/Tender in which Chiara, a twenty-something Italian blogger who just graduated, takes us through the dark journey of an abusive relationship with L, a mysterious, bartender who is sexually obsessed with a new sympathy. But don't get excited – this isn't Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight. L really is a dangerous man, and Carolina has had her own real experience dealing with someone like that. When she speaks of that time, you can see it's over for her – or hope it is. She recalls facts and times, like little dots on a timeline, done and gone.
“It was horrible at the time, I just felt quite hopeless because many of my friends were moving away from London you know”, Carolina recalls the time she was working at a PR job that brought her panic attacks and anxiety. “Which is when I got into that bad relationship. At that time I was feeling like I was losing everything, and this person suddenly either pretended or was truly smitten with me but had a funny way of showing it. We got together and he was the only thing and person that I had here.” As the fiction intertwines with the real story, we follow Chiara through East London's nightlife, her loneliness and the dangerous relationship she enters. The book, just like Carolina's own voice is written in a non-bullshit way. Reading it you'll feel like she's sitting next to you, a good friend, telling you the story out loud. And this will have you pray some things described in the book didn't happen, but Carolina isn't afraid to admit the toughest truth. “There is a rape episode which was true and that's when the relationship ended because I kicked him out and I called the police on him but I didn't press charges. I didn't know what to do, I was so scared.” How do you move on from that? Before leaving for the US and Couchsurfing where she started working on the book and healing, she looked for help in London. “I didn't get any therapy from the NHS, it was terrible.”
“It's been really hard to get good support that was also free”, Carolina speaks about the time she tried to get help with the NHS. “When the whole thing happened I was waiting for the NHS appointment, that was going to be in a month. I was really struggling by the end, I was suicidal, and then the day before it was meant to happen they called me and they were like 'oh sorry we're going to have to cancel.'” Desperate, she called the Samaritans instead, where she was told to get back to the NHS and tell them this was unacceptable. Once she broke down on the phone, not capable of much more at that point, the NHS gave her an appointment the day after “but it wasn't really helpful because when you do appointments like that there’s that stupid questionnaire that is like 'how many times have you thought of killing yourself this week?' Its just very insensitive and I understand that they have to do it but it didn't really work. All you get are two phone calls and two face to face appointments and that's it. Then they kind of evaluate whether you are at risk or not and then, if you're not at risk they call you back in three months.” After one of the suggestions was that Carolina should try yoga, she was put on a waiting list. Left to her own devices, she left for the United States where Bad/Tender came to life, she then completed her MA in Criminology in Australia where she also started her adventure with pole dancing and then ended up coming back to East London and self-publishing her book. “I was tired of changing. So I was like you know what, I'm just going to publish.”
As Carolina smartly notices “You have to choose your battles. Sometimes, when you choose to publish the conventional way they take so much money from you and often you have to change your novel so much and I was at the point where I had gotten quite a lot of feedback and I had changed the novel accordingly, but I was happy with it.” And yet, it wasn't enough. The publishing industry lies behind the closed doors of the few chosen ones, which is why writers must decide if they want to fight for their way in or do things independently. Carolina decided to do the latter. “I was like, 'you know what, I'm sick of sitting on this novel, I wanna do something with it, at least I can move on and write something else’ but again, the conventional publishing industry did not even bother. It's quite interesting to see that yes maybe they are flooded with novels but they don't even give you feedback, it's very unhelpful and it kind of feels like a closed shop.” This quickly takes us to a reflection on our generation, the creative industry and all that's wrong with it.
“I just think we were promised a lot of things by other generations”, Carolina suggests, but quickly adds that this isn't where the fault lies. Having parents who came from poor families and couldn't go to universities, “but by working they carved a nice future for themselves, so obviously when you work hard then your efforts are rewarded, you raise your children giving them the most that you can and making them think that things were better for them, things will get better for us. I think that growing up with this idea that we could get everything and then realizing that this wasn't the truth, it has been very hard for most of us.” But hey, there is no time to grovel, and Carolina knows it and we should all follow her determination to find the life we want for ourselves. Exhausted from doing one too many things, she appreciates that “at least what I'm doing is not something I've fallen into. Now I feel like I'm in a good place but it took so long.”