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.

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

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.”

Advertisements

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

luke cage

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.

20180817_155923[1]

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.

Gone fishing

I am on holiday.

I had this whole plan where I wrote enough posts to cover my time away or even – gasp – blogged from the safety of my holiday bed, but it is becoming increasingly clear, after the first thing didn’t happen that the second won’t either.

I am lazy.

See you in a couple weeks x

 

Moxie

Look who’s BACK.

(me).

Happy 2018!

TW sexual assault, harassment

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with sexist dress codes. Fed up with gross comments from guys during class. Fed up with her high school teachers who let it happen! But most of all, Viv is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a punk rock Riot Grrrl, inspiring Viv to create Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her class mates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and begin to spread the Moxie message: Moxie girls fight back!

And before Viv knows it, she has started a girl revolution.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu is a delightful but fierce feminist call to arms for teenage girls everywhere. I loved it. It reminded me of being sixteen and reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks for the first time. Like it was formative, somehow.

Much like Frankie, in Viv we meet a girl who is torn between desperately wanting to fit in, and dying to disrupt the status quo. She attends what might actually be the Worst High School Ever (reading this book made me weirdly grateful for my own high school for the first time. Growing up in a place where teachers included feminist and gender theory in nearly everything and where posters that said things like ‘Some people are gay. Get over it.’ hung in hallways and classrooms was something I for sure took for granted as the norm at the time). Her school is completely ruled by the boys’ football team. The boys on the team are allowed to behave with impunity – whether they harass and bully girls or defy school rules, their actions never seem to come with any consequences. It doesn’t help that the captain’s dad also happens to be the principal.

All of this is to say that the patriarchy is in operation in full force in Viv’s school. When girls speak in class boys often respond with ‘make me a sandwich’, and should the girl stand up for herself it is often she who is punished for her ‘bad behaviour’. Similarly, girls are targeted by the school for dress code violations (which sometimes boil down to simply: having breasts), while boys are allowed to come to school wearing shirts bearing sexist slogans with no repercussions.

There was so much to love in the multiple feminist awakenings that happen in this book. For Viv, creating Moxie came from the values she’d grown up around but suppressed because, in the words of Bridget Jones, there is nothing quite so unattractive as loud feminist ranting. Seeing the combined forces of her own brewing anger and her friendship with Lucy, a new girl at the school and loud and proud feminist push Viv out of the teenage girl zone of wanting to be liked and into feminist activism – albeit secret feminist activism – made me so god damn happy.

There was something deeply authentic about the various reactions to the brewing feminist activism at Viv’s high school. One of the most potent storylines for me was how Viv’s best friend Claudia responded to the cause. Claudia is not into it. She feels weird about taking on the boys, and alienated from her best friend who has suddenly embraced a cause, and a new friendship that she doesn’t understand. It’d be really easy to hate Claudia, but Mathieu’s skillful storytelling uses her journey to illustrate the resistance to the idea of feminism that so many girls experience – the but I like men group, if you like.

While Moxie wasn’t perfect – I don’t think the perfect feminist novel exists – Mathieu did a really fantastic job of introducing the concepts of feminism to a teen audience. While she doesn’t expand on it as much as I would have liked, she introduces the concept of intersectional feminism – when Moxie first starts, Keira, a black girl in Viv’s class asks her whether or not it’s just a white girl thing, and it is mentioned on several occasions that the school has a race issue – though it doesn’t really go into it in a particularly deep or interesting way. In a book about a white girl though, the concept of intersectionality is present and something she and the other women in her life – at one point her mother criticises the overwhelming whiteness of the Riot Grrrls – are conscious of and learning about, so my final impression of the book was an inclusive and positive one. Also there’s a feminist reading list in the author’s note, for which Jennifer receives full points from me.

This was one of my favourite YA reads of 2017. I’ve never read a Jennifer Mathieu book before, but I intend to read all of them now.

Reading slump solutions

Today I want to talk about the biggest enemy of the book blogger. It’s not Netflix, an active social life, demanding job or insecurity about your place in a community that you’re increasingly uncomfortable with.

No, it’s that most dreaded of non-physical ailments: the book slump.

Characters who would have usually lit up your life for a week lie dead and limp on the pages, plot twists that would have you reaching for your phone to tweet a GIF in reaction seem pedestrian at best. Worst of all you might find yourself reading the blurb of a YA contemporary in which two young people (her ‘too skinny’ and him possessing a surprising amount of sexual prowess for a 17-year-old*) fall in love under adverse circumstances (recently traumatically deceased parent/best friend/ acquaintance from school they just can’t forget)and think it seems… stupid.

*just me?

Obviously such a situation can’t be allowed to fester. So pop the kettle on, light up a pumpkin spice candle, ease your feet into your slippers and relax. I got you.

Bookstagram

Bookstagram is without a doubt one of the dumbest things we do in the book community. It’s all aesthetics and no substance, which is pretty much the opposite of what reading is about. But I love it. Looking at aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised book pictures makes me imagine the aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised life I might have if I were only reading more.

Booktube

If there’s one thing that gets me more pumped than pretty pictures of books, it’s videos of smart people being excited about books. Kayley Hyde is my favourite, if you’re in need of recommendations.

Newsletters

If you’re getting lost in a novel, maybe you need something a little shorter. Everyone and their mother has a newsletter these days. Newsletters can take the form of something like Lenny, a feminist e-zine that hits your inbox once a week with a treasure trove of original writing by women ranging from personal essays to interviews to the most poetic horoscopes you’ll ever read; to something more like The Bleed, the newsletter of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast*, which is a summary of news items, articles and pictures Aminatou and Anne wanted to talk about over the month but didn’t have time for.

*Have you listened to Aminatou’s interview with Hillary Clinton yet? Omg.

Read poetry

A reading slump is often indicative of our emotional state. If you’re feeling crappy and looking to see that reflected somewhere, read poetry. Poetry is raw emotion with all the exposition of a novel removed. Sometimes cutting to the heart of the matter will snap you out of that slump and reinvigorate more than just your reading life.

Shake things up

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

One of my biggest ‘post-grad realisations’ is the importance of shaking up your routine. When you don’t have the beginning and ending of school terms doing it for you, you have to do it for yourself. This applies in all areas of your life, including reading. If all you’re reading is YA contemporaries and you’re feeling bored, pick up a novel that is completely outside of your wheelhouse. Try some non-fiction, or a classic, or look up the Belletrist pick for the month because it’s bound to be beautiful, clever and personally and politically relevant.

You’re not growing if you’re not changing, or however the saying goes.

S’later, slump!