Post-holiday inspo reads

Hey! I’m back from holiday a week ago.

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Though I know the month is now at its end, according to the fashion magazines I read while I was away (the one and only time of year I ever read a fashion magazine) September is the new January, so I arrived home feeling all inspired to make over my life. This was helped by the fact that in addition to the magazine, I also almost always buy some sort of self help guide while I’m on holiday, in the hope the feelings of relaxation and excitement that come from being in a new place, going for fun days out with people I like tends to produce in me might somehow be transferrable to my life every day.

If it hasn’t happened yet, I figure it’s because I haven’t read the right book.

(Or because I never really work to implement the advice within any of the books because taking practical steps to actually fundamentally change yourself is very difficult, and I keep hoping that with age and change of situation I’ll just transform into the person I wish I was without really trying, and remain more disappointed than I have a right to be when every change that occurs in my life doesn’t seem to instigate a similar one in myself. Also, therapy is expensive.)

Today I thought I’d list three ‘post-holiday inspo reads’ that I enjoyed the most.

The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well by Louisa Thomsen Brits

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Through various lifestyle articles and the Happy documentary, I have come to the realisation that the Danes are doing life better than the rest of us. Since Denmark is consistently rated as one of the happiest countries in the world it seems the Danes have cracked the code to the good life most of us find so elusive.

I’ve learned from this book that the secret has a name: hygge (pronounced  hue-gah) a word with a broad definition that Thomsen Brits has broken down into six concepts: belonging, shelter, comfort, wellbeing, simplicity and observance.

I haven’t finished reading this one yet, but since starting I have begun to burn scented candles more regularly and get back the enthusiasm for cooking I recently lost to busyness and the overwhelming desire to watch countless episodes of Bojack Horseman.

How to be a Parisian Wherever You Are by Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Anne Berest,

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We are all deeply concerned about the potential effects of Brexit on the lifestyle book sector. Though, as with most potential effects of Brexit, the majority of us have no idea what they are.

This is probably my most regularly thumbed lifestyle tome. It sits next to my bed under my collection of American Poetry and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which I have never got around to finishing.

This book is an absolutely delightful guide on how to live the life of no fucks given – with style. It’s a book encouraging women to be demanding, contradictory messes with great shoes.

Yeah, it’s not self-help as such, but it’s a good reminder not to take everything so seriously.

How to be Bored by Eva Hoffman

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I consume media obsessively. If I’m not watching Netflix, I’m reading and if I’m not doing that then I’m listening to a podcast (have you heard I Only Listen to The Mountain Goats yet??). When I stand in line, or I’m waiting for a friend, or I’m forced to watch a particularly long Youtube ad, I get my phone out and check Twitter or Instagram. Sometimes when I’m watching a show and I don’t know how I feel about it, I get out my phone and read think pieces about how other people feel about it while I’m still watching it.

After a while, this behaviour results in a kind of emotional numbness.

To an extent this was the aim. I use avoidance as a coping mechanism (don’t we all?). Even as I’ve grown up and it’s stopped for working me – in the literal sense that there are certain things that can no longer be avoided, and in the sense that I can see it having a negative impact on my relationships – I’ve clung to that coping mechanism like a dirty, ill-fitting comfort blanket.

So I’m trying not to do that anymore. Hoffman’s ruminations on boredom, presence and the 21st century problem of over stimulation provide some good tools for moving through life in a way that allows you to actually experience it – like Domhnall Gleeson does at the end of About Time.

And aren’t we all aiming to lead a life as good as Rachel McAdams’ outfits in that movie?

Do you have any quick inspo-reads you return to a lot? What are they and why? Do you understand Brexit? I sure don’t!

 

 

 

 

Big Magic: Or, Some Pre-NaNoWriMo Wisdom

NaNoWriMo is a month of fear and excitement. It’s thirty days of creativity, pressure and bloody minded determination that sometimes ends in 50,000 words. NaNoWriMo, whether you’ve done it tons of times or are making your first attempt, is a pretty daunting prospect, and I can think of no better advice to get you started than that given by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Because we all need a little NaNo-spiration.

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On fear (and getting started anyway)…

‘Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones making any decisions along the way.’

On living a creative life…

‘You can live a long life, making and doing cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits, or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.’

On writing…

‘Most of my writing life, to be perfectly honest, is not freaky, old-timey, voodoo- style Big Magic. Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust in the least.

But sometimes it is fairy dust. Sometimes, when I’m in the midst of writing, I feel like I am suddenly walking on one of those moving sidewalks that you find in a big airport terminal; I still have a long slog to my gate, and my baggage is still heavy, but I can feel myself being gently propelled by some exterior force. Something is carrying me along – something powerful and generous – and something that is decidedly not me.

On originality…

‘…the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.’

On rejection…

‘…editors could reject me all they wanted; I wasn’t going anywhere. Whenever I got those rejection letters, then, I would permit my ego to say aloud to whoever had signed it: “You think you can scare me off? I’ve got another eighty years to wear you down! There are people who haven’t even been born yet who are going to reject me someday – that’s how long I plan to stick around.”

Then I would put the letter away and get back to work.’

On being an artist without losing your mind…

‘The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented creative life, goes something like this: “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).’

On life, the long game…

‘All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration I can neither see nor prove, nor command, nor understand.

It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.

I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.’

 

Brain Food

This Is Water, by David Foster Wallace, is one of my favourite essays about adulthood. I first read it when I was seventeen, and vowed that when I was an actual grown up, I would remind myself of it daily.

I also vowed to read Infinite Jest, Wallace’s 1079 page masterpiece.

To be totally honest, I haven’t stuck to either vow, but have continued good intentions toward both.

This is one of my favourite passages of This Is Water:

‘Because ‘here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible — sounds like “displayal”]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some fingerwagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.’

You can read the whole thing here.

Please read the whole thing. David Foster Wallace was and is an incredible writer. Finding your way into his work might be the best thing you can do for yourself today.

How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are

You may not know this about me, but I absolutely love a lifestyle book. Specifically, I like books in the category of How To Be Amazing. You know the ones I mean. They have a stack of them in the corner of Urban Outfitters.

Yes. I am one of those people.

And yes, How to be Parisian Wherever You Are, the joint effort of Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Anne Berest is one of those books.

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It’s the best. I got it for Christmas because my mother knows me very well.

This is the sort of book you keep by your desk for a quick pick-me-up during work. It’s the one you lounge around with on a Sunday afternoon or flip through on a Friday night while planning your weekend micro-adventure.

There is a lot of ridiculous to be found within it. One of the sections is called The ABC’s of Cheating (very informative), another teaches us about the Simones (Veil, De Beauvoir, Signoret) and another still on the correct lighting of a home, room to room.

My favourite part is called Off the Radar.

You have no real reason to be there: you’re not meeting anyone and no one is waiting for you elsewhere. You will stay as long as you like, and leave only when you’re ready. On a whim you can decide what to do and how to do it: there is something a bit dangerous and yet delicious about freedom.  

It is, as the quote suggests, about the strange appeal of time spent alone. I like to have adventures by myself. I’m big on aimless wandering, too. There is something wonderful about self-determination.

There are many pages that suggest slowing down and taking the time to reflect and appreciate your surroundings. To immerse yourself in your culture rather than stepping on the surface of it, never looking down.

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How to be a Parisian simultaneously takes on the inherent game of life while allowing – even urging – the reader to hold close their sense of self and authenticity.

It says take a long bath or get lost walking through the city, then go home and have flowers sent to yourself so the guy you like thinks he has competition.

It says don’t bother with make-up at the office, but wear red lipstick to the bakery, just cause you feel like it.

It says forget your anxieties for a while, and read.

The Alchemist

I am preoccupied, right now, with the idea of success. Obviously this has a lot to with my final year of university, during which I was told – on multiple occasions – that I am never going to succeed at the thing that I want to do.

(writing).

A few months ago my school ran a career day called Working with Words. It was a series of lectures with people working in publishing, journalism and radio. I went to a talk about the process of getting published. The first thing that happened was a man from a small publishing house based in the city told us that none of us would ever make a living from writing.

Believe it or not the day only got more discouraging from there.

But it’s not just the whole writing issue that has left me so preoccupied with the notion of success. It’s not just the likelihood of failure the well-meaning people in my life keep reminding me of.

What I eventually realised was happening when I would leave each career event, my heart tying itself in ever more complicated knots in my chest, was that was realising that I didn’t really have a definition in my head for what success even was.

But I was beginning to think it wasn’t the kinds of jobs I was being told it should be. It wasn’t living in London. It wasn’t throwing myself into the strong currents with the competitive people I was surrounded by who did their first internship when they were nine or whatever.

I was not interested in any of that shit.

It’s only been a couple months, but getting out of that environment has given me some much needed headspace. It’s given me the opportunity to think about what I want to do without the influence of the girl behind me in the lunch queue who just can’t wait to tell me about the job she has lined up at Penguin this summer.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is a book about success. It’s a fable about a shepherd boy called Santiago who has a prophetic dream that there is treasure buried for him at the Egyptian Pyramids.

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Spoiler alert: it takes him a while to find it.

Coelho describes the process of success as a literal and spiritual journey. Each part of the literal journey contains a spiritual lesson. It’s based in religious teachings – Coelho is Catholic – but not in such a way as to be alienating to the less religious types. He describes the difficulties that must be overcome in pursuit of success. He describes unlearning your childhood lessons about the inevitability of failure and of going forward fearlessly in the face of discouragement and defeat.

All of my own thoughts on success have led me to one solid, but unfortunately cringe-worthy when articulated conclusion. Following your heart is the way forward, even when it feels like your heart has no clue what it’s doing. The lesson at the centre of The Alchemist is the same. Follow your heart at the world will do what it can to aid you.

Another feeling I took from reading this book – and one that I am self-aware enough to realise is probably unique to my current time of life – is that success doesn’t have to be a burden. There is a quote in the book where it is said that all people eventually come to believe the biggest lie of the world – that eventually everything is determined by fate. And even at my age I have believed that at times. When I’ve been stuck talking with my peers about their publishing internships and the graduate scheme they just got an interview for while nursing my wounds over a rejection from an arts administration placement I didn’t even want, I have found myself thinking that it’s already over –  that I’m already this massive failure when I haven’t even started yet.

To remember that there is no fated outcome and everything is subject to change is a good attitude to take going forward, I think.