7 pieces of advice from Tiny Beautiful Things that shape my life

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There by Cheryl Strayed is one of my absolute favourite books. A compilation of the advice she gave during her time as the anonymous advice columnist, Sugar at The Rumpus (now defunct), Strayed, with her perfect combination of wit, wisdom, compassion and no-fucks-given attitude created an advice column like no other. Sugar is nurturing but tough, ever so giving but concrete when it comes to her boundaries. She will get down in the dirt with you when necessary, but more often than not, instead gently points you in the direction of the answer you already knew in your heart when you were writing to her.

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From the gay kid stuck living with his evangelical parents to the woman still in mourning for her miscarried baby over a year later, you will find yourself in these pages. I’ve written about this book before, but in the same way I have recently come back to it in my own reading, I wanted to come back to it here. My copy of this book is littered with underlining and folded down page corners; wisdom I knew I would want to come back to – do come back to – in moments of difficulty. Today I figured I would share some of it here.

“Go! Go! Go! You need it one more time darling? GO. Really. Truly. As soon as you can. Of this I am absolutely sure: Do not reach the era of child-rearing and real jobs with a guitar case full of crushing regret for all the things you wished you’d done in your youth. I know too many people who didn’t do those things. They all ended up mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions of the people they intended to be.”

“Be about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of being. Your life will be a hundred times better for it. This is good advice for anyone at any age, but particularly for those in their twenties. Because in your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole.”

“Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit?”

Useless days

“Love her even if she doesn’t do what you hope she does once you point out that her paramour is a scumbag. Wish her the best without getting yourself emotionally tangled up in a situation that has nothing to do with you.”

“No is golden. No is the kind of power the good witch wields. It’s the way whole, healthy, emotionally evolved people manage to have relationships with jackasses while limiting the amount of jackass in their lives.”

You’re going to be all right. And you’re going to be all right not because you majored in English or didn’t and not because you plan to apply to law school or don’t, but because all right is almost always where we land, even if we fuck up entirely along the way.”

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Trigger warning: sexual violence, child abuse

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence. Except, sometimes, everything…

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I know there are still three months of it left, but I think I can say now with some confidence that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is going to be my favourite book of 2018. It’s not entirely surprising. Since it was published last year, Eleanor Oliphant has been a pretty Big Deal – number one Sunday Times bestseller, Costa Book Award-winner, Reese Witherspoon movie option. But, weirdly, none of that prepared me for quite how wonderful this tragic, strange, horrifying, funny and hopeful little book turned out to be.

You know that kid you went to school with that everyone bullied? The one nobody wanted to sit with at lunch, not even the nice kids? I’m talking about the kind of kid who, even when as a nice kid yourself, you tried to connect with them, made it really, really difficult for you? That’s Eleanor Oliphant. The perpetual outsider – sad to be alone but equally combative, to say the least, toward any potential friends.

I think that’s what made me like her so much.

Eleanor, at least before you get to know her a little, is not a likeable lady. Her co-workers are morons, her doctor inept and her social worker a complete waste of space – according to her. On the rare occasion she finds herself at the pub if she buys you a drink she expects her money back, in full, by the next morning at the latest. When she and her new co-worker, Raymond, see an elderly man collapse in the street, Eleanor is not particularly inclined to help him – though they do, an action that turns out to be the right decision for so many reasons.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of a traumatised and disconnected person gradually finding her way out of the darkness. You know from very early on in the novel – the first few pages, so no spoilers I promise – that something truly terrible happened to Eleanor Oliphant when she was a child, so terrible that she has erased it from her memory. So terrible that during every annual visit, when her social worker offers her the opportunity to read her own file, she declines.

But Eleanor Oliphant is no victim. Her story is of the life-changing impact small acts of kindness can have on a person. Eleanor has been so closed off from the world, when people successfully connect with her and treat her with compassion, it shows her that connection and compassion are possibilities. Shen she comes to face her trauma – as she, and we all, must – she finds strength in her own survival of the kind of horror most people will, thankfully, never experience.

Eleanor is not the most likeable lady. She doesn’t read social cues well, she can be judgemental and even ungrateful at times. But she’s also very funny, utterly vulnerable and doing the hard work of piecing herself back together – which doesn’t feel adequate to describe the way she really creates herself, building a woman from the ground up.

Rising from the ashes.

Life is hard. The news is relentless. Personal lives are complicated. Sometimes you need a boost, and in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman created a story of hope that brought me so much joy. I can’t recommend it enough.

To Kill a Kingdom

Princess Lira is siren royalty and revered across the sea until she is cured into humanity by the ruthless Sea Queen. Now Lira must deliver the heart of the infamous siren killer or remain a human forever.

Prince Elian is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world, and captain to a deadly crew of siren hunters. When he rescues a drowning woman from the ocean, she promises to help him destroy sirenkind for good. But he has no way of knowing whether he can trust her.

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My goal for October is to become a regular blogger again. Sorry for the radio silence. Life got complicated and busy. And then I went to Amsterdam. But in the meantime I read many things, and over the next few weeks I will write about them I promise.

When I was in the midst of a very stressful period, I picked up To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo and it was everything I needed. Christo’s rollicking adventure of murder, love and pirates made for the perfect distraction material. Ruthless siren women, swoonworthy princes and a crew to rival the dregs – yes, I would like a Bardugo-Christo crossover novel, please – as the ocean carries the Saad so does Christo’s writing to her novel’s dramatic, nail-biting climax.

Meet Lira: known as The Prince’s Bain, the siren to end all sirens. Crafted for a life of brutality by her mother the Sea Queen, Lira steals the heart of a prince every year on her birthday. And I don’t mean steal in the metaphorical sense – she’ll rip that sucker right out of your chest and laugh as you bleed. Literally. Your girl keeps hearts under her bed. Lira is vicious and scheming, out to grab (or steal) every opportunity for success life throws her way. Her life has taught her to be ruthless; with a mother who punishes her for showing humanity, she quickly learned she must kill in order to survive. Another way didn’t seem possible… until one day, banished from the sea, stripped of her siren capabilities by her evil mother and tasked with killing the charming Prince Elian with only her newly human means – it did.

Meet Elian: Oh, Elian. The reluctant prince. Like Moana before him, there’s a line where the sky meets the sea and it calls him. Man, does it call. Dubbed by his future subjects The Pirate Prince, all he wants is to sail away from his royal responsibilities. Usually, right into danger. For Elian the Pirate Prince has tasked himself with ridding the world of the sirens. Every heart torn from every chest, Elian takes personally. He cares about his mission almost as much as he dreads his future kinghood – if he can’t defeat all the sirens he plans to die trying. Boy doesn’t want to be tied down to anything, most especially anything royal – that is, until a certain siren princess shows up on his boat. Not that he knows her true identity, of course. That’d be no fun.

Yep, I did just list all the ingredients for the perfect love story.

In many ways, To Kill a Kingdom is a story we’ve all read a thousand times – a disconnected person learns the value of human relationships. It’s about how it feels to be part of a team for the first time – like you’re filling a cup you never even knew was empty. It’s about the fundamental need we all have to feel like we’re part of something – and, once we are, the realisation of how unbearable life was before it came along. It may be a familiar story, but I will never get enough of it. To Kill a Kingdom is a ridiculous story of sirens and magic and princes, but it’s also a universal story of hope that things can be better. Like I said, exactly what I needed. Exactly what we all need, I think.

August favourites

I’m not going to lie, August has not been a fun one for me. From career set backs (or, as my friends are determinedly rebranding it: new opportunities) to a sudden family crisis (all turned out fine) to a horrific stomach bug that took me down for days, I have spent a disproportionate amount of August feeling sorry for myself and not much like reading — or writing about it.

But, despite the repeat plunge into the unknown I’m going through right now and the big change coming up that, unfortunately, is very much not a change I wanted, for the past few days I’ve been feeling unusually optimistic. It’s been a hard couple weeks; hard enough that, for once, I’ve sort of let myself off the hook. I have a very loud, negative, naval gazing interior monologue that I pretty much leave to chunter away unimpeded to call me a piece of shit regardless of whether I’m doing something helpful or nothing at all. But the past couple weeks as I’ve struggled to meet work deadlines around hospital visits (like I said, everything is really fine now) I sort of realised the time had come where I needed to be on my own side a little bit. Like, life is hard enough without me making it even harder for myself, you know?

So that was a realisation I’m trying to carry forward as I plan the next stage of my life, a process that will also include the need for me to cheer for my own team of one. I bring this up because I feel like that’s important for everyone — be on your own team a little bit. It helps.

Anyway, as this is a officially a monthly favourites post, here are a few:

Reading: Elle September issue

slick-woods-elle-ukI haven’t written about it much on here, but I care very much about trying to be more ethical and environmentally sustainable in my buying, particularly when it comes to clothes. After I watched The True Cost documentary a couple years ago I knew I couldn’t go on buying in the way that I had done before, so ever since I’ve been gradually searching out shops that care about the environment and the people producing their stock as much as I do. This issue of Elle was entirely dedicated to just that and I had a really fun time reading it — there was little in there I didn’t already know, but it makes me happy to see ethical clothing lines getting the credit they deserve.

If you want to know more about making ethical buying choices I would recommend either watching The True Cost (it’s on Netflix) or reading Slow Fashion by Safia Minney, founder of People Tree.

Listening: My Dad Wrote A Porno

220px-My_Dad_Wrote_a_Porno_logoYes, you read that right. In this podcast Jamie Morton and his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine perform a dramatic reading of Jamie’s dad’s self published erotica series Belinda Blinked — the least sexy, most anatomically confusing porno book you’ve ever heard. Would recommend headphones.

 

 

Watching: Luke Cage

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I am yet to watch the last episode because I’m horrible at finishing things (also I need to watch it during the day because I have a feeling it’ll be stressful enough that I won’t be able to sleep after and haven’t yet had the opportunity) but I have loved this season. Season one, I was in two minds about — I enjoyed the beginning but lost interested a bit after Mahershala’s surprising early exit, then came back around again for the last few episodes. But this season — with the exception of the Danny Rand episode — has kept me gripped throughout. I love the way Marvel’s Netflix shows complicate villains so authentically. They are both super evil but I am actively dreading the inevitable demises of Bushmaster and Shades (please don’t spoil me) — that’s another reason why I am yet to watch the finale.

How was your August? Any faves I should know about?

 

No One Tells You This

If the story doesn’t end with marriage and a child, what then?

This question plagued Glynnis MacNicol on the eve of her fortieth birthday. Despite a successful career as a writer, and an exciting life in New York City, Glynnis was constantly reminded she had neither of the things the world expected of a woman her age: a partner or a baby. She knew she was supposed to feel bad about this. After all, single women and those without children are often seen as objects of pity, relegated to the sidelines, or indulgent spoiled creatures who think only of themselves. 

Glynnis refused to be cast in either of those roles and yet the question remained: What now? There was no good blueprint for how to be a woman alone in the world. She concluded it was time to create one.

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I have been really into non-fiction lately. In this seemingly endless slump of mine only it and the occasional thriller seem to be holding my attention – and keeping me awake on the train. When Ann Friedman interviewed Glynnis MacNicol about her new memoir, No One Tells You This for the summer reading episode of Call Your Girlfriend, barely five minutes into the interview I knew I needed to get my hands on this book, hardback be damned. One fortunately timed Amazon voucher later, and Glynnis’ memoir – which has an enviablely stylish cover for its genre, btw – was in my greedy hands.

In this honest, emotional and ultimately inspirational read, Glynnis MacNicol takes us along with her on her fortieth year – months of inner conflict (husband? Baby? Should she? Does she want? What does it mean if she doesn’t?), travel, empowerment and grief as she deals with her mother’s rapid decline in health after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. In this gorgeously written memoir, Glynnis dives deep into the minutiae of her life as a single, childless woman in a society still stuck on both as measures of female success and happiness – which, don’t get me wrong, for some people they totally are. But it’s not for everyone.

“Being alone sometimes felt like a solitary tree atop a very windy hill; there was nothing between the world and me to break its impact. I had to root myself very deeply in my belief about what was good about my life so as not to be tossed to and fro.”

This book is essentially about how societal expectations fuck with us all. Despite a life in which she is pretty much successful, fairly happy and financially stable (with the occasional hiccup), Glynnis still can’t help but but feel like she has done her life, somehow, wrong. Her friend’s mothers often reassure her at parties that there’s “still time” – for husbands. Even for babies, at a push – and when she meets a man even slightly promising finds herself calculating how long it might take them to get married and pregnant. It’s not until she’s 40, the societally agreed age at which women cease to be relevant (lol), that she starts to really interrogate these notions, and to ask whether these calculations add up to anything she actually wants. 

When she really thinks about it, she finds that husbands and babies were something she assumed would be the endgame of her life through constant conditioning rather than any real desire. In one of my favourite passages in the book she goes to stay with her younger sister to help her look after her new baby. Every night Glynnis sits with her newborn nephew in her arms and forces herself to confront the question of whether or not she wants children, whether or not she’ll regret not having them. She finds she doesn’t, and as for regret – well, there’s a risk of that in everything.

What felt so deeply authentic to me in this book was that for every moment of empowerment Glynnis felt, she experienced equal boughts of insecurity. Scrolling through her Instagram feed looking at her friends snapshots of life with their husbands and babies that familiar pull of do I? Should I? resurfaces. But then, away from The Feed she knows those lives have as many complications and frustrations of their own. Even her friends in good marriages spend a lot of their time wondering if their life might be better had they made different choices – so really, their situation is not at all different from Glynnis’ own. She differs in having the burden of moving forward in on a path without a recognisable blueprint, where often strangers will perceive her life choices as a threat to their own.

No One Tells You This shows all of the wonderful progress in attitudes towards women, but also all the garbage we still carry around. Oftentimes it seems the main sources of Glynnis’ insecurity are external, whether that be the random acquaintance questioning her choices, the barrage of images of love and romance as the Ultimate Goal that suffocate our culture, and, of course, The Feed, which invites us to create stories about people’s lives that very rarely have much in common with the truth. It’s crazy that forging a path as an adult woman choosing to be alone is a revolutionary act, but it still is. And in writing about it, Glynnis MacNicol has create a revolutionary book.

No One Tells You This is a beautiful book about fighting for yourself, believing in your decisions and creating a life that is truly your own. It’s a vital to read for everyone, regardless of your relationship status. It isn’t a book about being alone so much as, actually, a book about being yourself.

Redefining Realness

Trigger warning: sexual abuse

In this profound and courageous New York Times bestseller, Janet Mock establishes herself as a resounding and inspirational voice for the transgender community – and anyone fighting to define themselves on their own terms. With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalised and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realisation, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another – and of ourselves – showing us as never before how to be unapologetic and real.

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I’ve been a big fan of Janet Mock’s for a while now. I loved her Never Before podcast (the Kris Jenner interview!) and her journalism is fantastic, as is her jealousy-inducing Instagram account. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading her first memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More. I mean that title alone screams Lydia, READ ME.

I think sometimes my subconscious tells me to put off reading books until I’m ready for them, and that was very much the case with Redefining Realness. As someone who has spent much of the last year or so consumed by questions about identity (‘be yourself’ is about the most stress inducing advice a person can give me), reading Janet’s story hit me hard. So, next time you’re beating yourself up for not having got to a particular book yet – relax. You’ll read it when the time is right.

In Redefining Realness, Janet details her life from early childhood up until she goes to college and ends with her reassignment surgery. The book is a mix of Janet’s own story with contextualising elements regularly added to place her personal experience into the wider struggles that many trans women, and especially trans women of colour, deal with. She emphasises that her story isn’t representative of the entire community and acknowledges the spectrum of gender, particularly when it comes to parts like her need for reassignment surgery – a procedure that was necessary for Janet specifically, but one that she takes pains to explain is not necessary for all trans women.

Redefining Realness is a memoir that is also a great introduction to transgender identity, the systemic prejudices trans women face and the sometimes deadly consequences those injustices can have.

What I loved most about this book though, was the nuanced, compassionate and equally resentful way that Janet writes about her family. In writing about her parents, Janet navigates the dichotomy of the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parent with ease. Both of her parents were pretty disastrous, unreliable people while she was growing up. She quickly learned that she had to provide for herself, financially and emotionally, as both her parents had limited room for her needs because they were consumed by dealing with their own. Though both her parents at times appear villainous – her mother with her total focus on her own romantic life at the cost, repeatedly, of her children; her father similarly consumed by his own relationships, drug abuse and a need to impose his ideas of masculinity on the child he didn’t understand – they are also loving, complex people all of their own. Though both regularly let her down, they never let her go. Whether it was her mother nursing her back to health after her surgery, or her father’s response after she came out to him (defensively, aggressively) – “Your disrespect for me is apparent… But I’m the parent and you’re the child and it is not your job to love me the way I love you. My love for you is unconditional” – Janet shows that even in their neglectful moments, both her parents still proved their love for their daughter. Families are complicated, painful, delicate ecosystems and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that represented in a way that felt authentic to me until this book.

Janet’s unflinching commitment to describing every inch of the painful, frightening and vulnerable process of becoming yourself pierces right to the heart of the struggle of growing up. A sense of being in hiding from something is, I think, a state very familiar to many of us, and Janet’s gradual inching out of the shadows is inspiring to read as she comes to terms with the abuse, shame and hardship that led her to becoming the person she is today.

She is fucking epic.

Becoming a person is a long, hard process that requires an awful lot more patience than we ever imagined when we were young. Reading stories like Janet’s is a much needed reminder that struggle, pain and frustration are only one aspect of a long, complicated life. And, once again, that there is a lot of baggage behind even the most glamorous Instagram feed.

July favourites

There goes another month. How has everyone’s summer been so far? Are you wearing sunscreen? I hope you’re wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen is important.

I don’t have much in the way of favourites at the moment. I’ve either been working or at the beach – it has been consistently sunny in England for several weeks now and people are starting to lose their shit.

Unless you’re a farmer, I think the sun is a strange thing to complain about seeing as it rains 90% of the time.

Anyway, on to this month’s faves (discussing the weather isn’t one of them):

Our Tiny Bees Vanilla and Honey Body Scrub

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetSo I know this is pretty far off normal topic but I recently started regularly using a body scrub and lemmie tell you: it is a game changer. The lovely one I use functions as both exfoliator and moisturiser leaving your skin feeling smooth and gorgeous and it smells great. Obviously be careful what brand you’re using – you don’t want to be sending anything awful down the drain. I would recommend going for something with more natural ingredients so you can be totally sure you’re avoiding any harmful plastic microbeads. This one, for example, is mostly made of sugar. So good.

The Skincare Bible: Your no-nonsense guide to great skin by Dr Anjali Mahto

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI purchased this to keep me entertained on the long drive back from holiday last month and it exceeded my expectations entirely. Dr Anjali is just that – a doctor and trustworthy source  – and is all about debunking marketing myths and skincare fads (layering, anyone?) to help you find a routine that works for your skin – without spending thousands in the process. It’s a super informative read (did you know you should still wear sunscreen if you’re inside all day because the rays can still get to you behind glass?!) that avoids market-speak and jargon and left me feeling like I have a much better idea of what I should be doing for my skin going forward.

Podcast: Gossip

GossipI’ve been feeling a bit fatigued by my serial podcasts lately (does anyone else feel like the last season of The Bright Sessions lost its way? I sort of feel the same about Alice Isn’t Dead, as much as I don’t want to) so I was thrilled when I came across Gossip. Written by the brilliant Allison Raskin it spans the regular lunch dates of three friends who get together and gossip – about their neighbours’ polyamory, that time the mayor may have punched a florist in the face, but most importantly, whether or not the local priest is a serial murderer. Her friends think she’s mad but Bethany just can’t let it go…

What were some of your favourites this month? Any podcasts I should check out? I’m particularly interested in serialised stories like Gossip at the moment.