Playing peekaboo with a squirrel

What a first month to 2017. Particularly the last ten or eleven days. The news has brought one shock of disappointment after another, quickly evaporating any hope that Trump’s presidency might not be as bad as it looked. As a UK citizen, seeing the way May has handled herself has made me sick to my stomach. We appear spineless, naïve, collaborating – Chamberlain and Hitler all over again, if you want to take a very pessimistic view. The sneaking tendrils of the policies of both leaders are weaving themselves into my life and the life of those around me, in ways that make me frightened for my future. I am lucky that I am 28 before my government has made a noticeable negative impact on my life – unless you count the university tuition fees which tripled in time for me turning 18. But seeing what these fees have done since, I don’t feel I have much room to complain about the £25,000 odd debt I still have round my neck. These policies making people feel unwelcome outside their own country, pushing the poor deeper into poverty, and spreading hate and stupidity are affecting everybody now, even if we can’t see it straight away.

The news this month has been overwhelming in new ways, a bit like having your head held in a toilet by the school bully while they flush it over and over again. I started the year feeling good on some new anti-anxiety drugs – indeed I’m now wondering how anyone is getting through at the moment without them (joke). But the last ten days or so, I’ve started getting dragged down if I spend more than a few minutes a day on facebook, where I am bombarded with people’s statuses detailing the latest horror, or NYT article after article explaining why we’re going to hell in a handcart. Every now and then, we all need a break. But the worst thing is that when the news is this bad, it has some kind of centrifugal force that keeps us spinning round and round it, trying to pull away but kept in place by this weird effect of negative gravity. This week, I am trying to take a stand, and return to a few habits I had in the first weeks of the year which were keeping me feel centred and grounded. For me, it’s a combination of looking at the very big – and the very small.

The very small first. I spend a lot of my working week sitting down, so at lunchtime, I try to go for a half hour walk. Next to the office complex where I work, there’s a mosque. Sometimes in the summer, presumably when there are too many people to fit inside, men pray on the pavement outside. Other times I’ll come out for my walk at the end of a service, and there will be so many people filling the road that the occasional car struggles to get through. I watch the people at the mosque, with innocent human curiosity about a religion I don’t know enough about. I hope they take my glances as curiosity, and nothing more sinister. When I see them I wonder how much attention they get, how much courage it takes to walk outside wearing what they wear, marking themselves as “different”. On one of the lampposts by the mosque, there is a battered, rain-drenched flyer about inclusion, and welcoming refugees. I wonder if it was put there by someone at the mosque, or whether it was someone else trying to offer them some support and solidarity, to let them know that not everyone in England feels like they should “go home”.

After five minutes of entirely uninteresting pavements, my walk takes me to the canal, which is lined with houseboats. Next to the canal is a strip of greenery and trees, a wildlife garden set up around 15 years ago that’s gone slightly to seed. The small ponds are stagnant and covered in algae, some of the fences are in need of repair and there’s a general unkempt feel to many parts of it. A wooden walkway squishes slightly underfoot, as if (and I think it’s probably the case) the wood has rotted underneath. In one area, I often find three grey squirrels. Grey squirrels get a bad rap in this country: introduced by somebody sometime, they turned out to be rather more aggressive than the native red squirrels, which lost more and more territory to the grey squirrels, and now red squirrels are only rarely to be seen- mostly in Scotland, in pine forests. The grey squirrels also get a lot of grief for their habits of digging up plant bulbs, or stealing food in bird feeders. My dad will run out into the garden at odd intervals shrieking a battle cry or brandishing a cane, trying to get “the little bastards” away from the feed, and prompting my mum to say: “your father’s taken leave of his senses”.

Poor grey squirrels. It’s not their fault they’re greedy and extremely good at procreating. I have made friends with one of the squirrels in the wildlife garden, whom I have christened Chubs, for no real reason other than it’s a comforting sort of word, and he’s a comforting sort of squirrel. He stops and stares at me often when I walk past, interrupting his game of chasing the other squirrels round and round trees, either in an attempt at flirtation or to get them away from some buried treasure, I’m not sure which. One day, he was staring at me and I was staring at him as he held onto a tree trunk upside down. After a moment, he disappeared around the other side of the trunk. I waited, and a second later, he peeked his head round one side. I made a sudden, ha! I see you! action to that side, as you would with a small child. He disappeared. Then appeared on the other side of the trunk. I did the same thing. He disappeared… and reappeared again on the other side! I had to laugh at the sheer ludicrousness of what I was doing: playing peekaboo with a squirrel. He peeked round each side five or six times before he remembered the buried treasure, or the mating, whichever it was, and wandered off.

It’s the little things, the moments and pictures that make you feel grateful, even for only a little time. The benefits of interacting with nature are well-documented, and it’s nice to know it’s possible even in the middle of a large city. I’ve also watched coots diving in the canal, fascinated by their disappearing, reappearing act, and the smoothness of each of their dives. I’ve watched robins singing in trees – something that strikes me as actually quite rare, to be watching a bird sing. I watch birds, and I hear them sing, but not often do I see the bird that’s singing.

So if these small acts of nature watching on a lunchtime walk help make me feel centred in a whirlwind world, I’ve started turning to non-fiction to ground myself. Oddly, because I wasn’t keen on the subject at school, I am taking refuge in science. Specifically, physics. I read Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics at the start of the year, then followed it up with his examination of similar themes in Reality is Not What it Seems, which has a greater emphasis on quantum gravity. How much do I understand? 40-70%, depending on what he’s talking about, I think. I also lose the specifics very quickly, which is frustrating. But I enjoy reading about people discovering things we take for granted, or things that are too weird for us to have comprehended yet. The stories of failure and trying again are quite inspirational, especially in today’s culture of failure being something so monstrous nobody is allowed to fail – everyone gets a medal for participation – or nobody tries because they failure is too difficult to entertain. Science is a beautiful subject in that it is, in some ways, so ready to take criticism. If someone disproves something, then okay, we move on. Einstein proved Newton wrong on some things. Einstein was wrong about some aspects of quantum theory. We are all wrong, and it doesn’t make us bad or useless people. I am finding comfort in that.

I am also enjoying using my brain in different ways, and I’m intrigued to learn how relaxing it can be. Until now I thought to really RELAX I needed to be watching Friends, or reading a Mhairi MacFarlane novel (excellent intelligent “chick lit” which is actually genuinely funny, even if the plot is more or less identical in each book). But I’m finding I can relax with my brain engaged. I am rediscovering the joy of learning, which I think I lost a little after my Masters degree. Reading about quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity and the history of autism (Neurotribes, EXCELLENT book – a pamphlet summarising it should be required reading for everyone) has shown me that I can learn about things I thought I would never understand, and feel better for it. I’ve also read a couple of Jon Ronson books, on public shaming and psychopaths, which are certainly lighter and easier to read, but which I wouldn’t have considered standard ‘relaxation’ fare either. As I found during my degree, placing myself in a wider history or broader story is comforting. Even though looking back on mistakes and seeing them reflected in today’s world is sometimes discouraging, you can take heart from the changes that did eventually come. Paying attention to new facts and history makes it obvious how ignorant many people still are about things they really shouldn’t be ignorant about, but seeing how change eventually arrived in many areas is also heartening. I’m talking here about advances in science in many arenas, physics, but also psychology, as documented in Neurotribes and Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. Neurotribes really deserves its own post as its messages are so important, its approach to people who are “different” and how we respond to and interact with those people. I’d like to send a copy of that and The Psychopath Test to Trump (I’m fairly certain he’d come out as a psychopath) but I don’t suppose he’d be interested in learning anything new outside his own self-centred, self-interested, stupid view of life. I am grateful that I do not think like him. What a prison it must be.

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2016: My Year in Books

I’m planning to write a few ‘Review of the Year’ type blog posts in the coming week or two. Some might address the general shitshow that we all believe this year to have been, but others I want to be quite light and more positive too. Here are a list of my favourite and least favourite books from this year. I’ve noticed that most of the favourites have a bit of a theme: they are about hope. No wonder they were my favourites in 2016. Let me know what you think!

The Good

All the Light we Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

I walked past this book and picked it up and read the back numerous times before, one day, it was the right day to actually buy it. I’m so glad I did: it is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The story follows a young French girl and a young German boy through the Second World War. The girl is blind and escapes Paris with her father, while the boy is a whizz with radios and electronics and gets inducted into the Hitler Youth as a result. The innocence and fragility of their young lives is stunningly well-written, and the moment when the two eventually meet made me incredibly emotional. I’ve sought out other books by the same author since, and haven’t been disappointed. About Grace is also a gorgeous, if at times painful, story of love and loss.

Girl meets Boy, Ali Smith

Not published this year, just one I got round to this year. It’s amazing. One of the most gorgeous, hopeful books I’ve ever read. It’s all about gender fluidity, feminism, and standing up for what’s right. Totally accessible, small but perfectly formed. I loved every word and the end made me sob like a baby, but with happiness.

The Art of Happiness, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

Speaking of happiness: I read this classic this year. I think it will need a few rereads, as some of the ideas take a while to sink in, but it was very well-written and engaging. I loved that it used mixtures of Eastern and Western philosophy and showed how often ideas from totally different backgrounds match up, even if one is rooted in science and other in philosophy or spiritualism. The thing that stuck with me the most was the idea of being honest as an antidote to anxiety. If you are honest with other people about what you can do, you have no need to be anxious. It also quoted this classic piece of advice: if you can do something about it, do it instead of worrying. If you can’t do anything to change it, there’s no point in worrying. Easier said than done!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Close and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers

I haven’t read much science fiction but I absolutely adored these books. They can be read as a series or equally as stand-alone books. She has really gone to town imagining different species with totally different customs, examining human nature and society with real insight and compassion. Her examination of people’s feelings, gender, love, and what it means to be alive is brilliantly thought out and, again, very very easy to read. She also veered away from a common plot line in fantasy/sci fi of things going steadily to shit, and then a big battle at the end, and then things are good. She mixes it up and messes things around, but also keeps most of it on a wonderfully low key- the books are by no means uneventful, but I was never too stressed out by them. Can’t wait to see what she writes next.

The Descent of Man, Grayson Perry

A late entry as I just read it this week. I think Grayson Perry is brilliant and fiercely intelligent so I was really interested to hear what he had to say on masculinity. It was thought-provoking and engaging, even if it did feel a little bit like a draft of an essay that one of my old lecturers would say needed polishing, tightening, and a rework to bring the main argument front and centre stage. Very much worth the read though because he challenges so many aspects of patriarchy that one might not have thought of, and some of his examples are very useful. Extremely well-written and easy to read.

The Bad / Unfinished

I try not to leave books unfinished, but have also started abandoning them when I am really not enjoying them at all. Thankfully most were acquired from the local library. I walked away from a few classics this year – apologies in advance if this offends you!

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Apologies to all those who thought this was phenomenal. I got about a hundred pages in and stopped. I have a strong dislike for books that go off on endless tangents rather than getting to the sodding point (unless it’s Ali Smith, who is just too awesome for me to care) and I found I just gave zero fucks about any of the characters or any of their stories. I didn’t even get to the bit where the boy finds out he’s magic or whatever, which may have been a mistake. Just the endless stories about noses and whatnot made me start losing the will to live.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

I was given this as a gift so I’m not sure it’s advisable to include it on the list, but the gift giver was my best friend so I’m thinking we’ll be able to work past it. Both she and my partner love this book, and I loved Neverwhere, so I was expecting to love it too. Instead I found the main theme of the story – that we have gods now but they’re of electronics etc – quite dull and one-dimensional, and I also found the fact that there were basically no female characters who weren’t sexual objects exceptionally tedious. There also seemed to be a lot of unnecessary references to their breasts, or other women’s breasts, or just breasts randomly, and I found that pretty dull too. That probably speaks to my own issues rather than anything else, but I get enough of teenage boy humour around me in life in general, I can do without reading about it too.

Left of the Bang, I can’t remember the author

Got it out of the library. I don’t know why. Girl has unsatisfactory relationship with boy, meets other boy from her past, has fantasies about him, does bugger all of use about it. Meanwhile her boyfriend starts having sexual fantasies about children. How About No.

Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

I was really excited about this for the first half, and then sort of faded out of it. A big part of the mystery of the bookstore was revealed, and not as exciting as I’d hoped, and the boy starts going to save the day as per usual while his girlfriend tags along as sidekick. Also, as with American Gods, the teenage boy-ness of it started getting me down. OMG, my girlfriend is super intelligent, geeky, and really attractive!! FFS. Stop being surprised and give her some freaking flaws to make her an actual person. And again with the boobs: the lead’s mate runs some company making tools for software companies to make perfect, realistic CGI breasts. Which were used to make some beach volleyball computer game. Give me a fucking break and take me out of this teenager’s wet dream.

High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

It might not be fair to include this as I read literally about five pages. Douchebag runs through list of break-ups; isn’t fussed about most recent one, tries to work out when he’s next going to have sex. Broke up with girl at school because she wouldn’t let him touch her – you guessed it – breasts. I swear to god. This year’s books have done nothing to get me past my fear that men are obsessed with perfect boobs. The guy sounded like a complete arse and I put it straight in a bag to go to the charity shop.

Author of the Year

Agatha Christie

I have read SO many of her novels this year. They are perfect when you are ill, or in a book rut, or just want something that doesn’t require any effort but still has an amazing plot. They are so easy to get into, and I never ever guess the outcome. What an incredible brain. How did she think of all those plots?! I know many people think her books are ‘light’, or simplistic, and they are light in the sense that they’re so well-written you don’t have to work to find them interesting or enjoyable. But I think her talents as a writer are often underestimated. I would love to write a single book with such an enjoyable and unguessable plot, never mind however many she managed to write. Stand out books were Then There Were None- fabulously creepy; and The Secret Adversary- almost more of a spy novel, but just brilliant.

Also:

Josephine Tey. Another female detective writer. Love her style of writing and again, brilliant plots.

Uprooted, Naomi Novik. Loved this. A really different fantasy novel with some great twists – also really quite frightening. I never quite got to see the characters as fully rounded people, otherwise it would be in the favourites list.

Hurrah for the end of January: Empathy, Labyrinth, Rules of Civility

First of all, congratulations to everyone on making it to the end of January. All my close friends seem to have had a terrible January for one reason or another. If it wasn’t total job upheaval, or anxiety spinning out of control, it was relationship struggles, or having to move house. In some cases, it was a jolly mix and match of all of the above.

When you are having a difficult time at the same time as those around you, it can get very difficult for you all to really help each other. I recently read Brené Brown’s book I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn’t) and one of the focuses of this book is empathy. Some of us may think we’re pretty good at being empathetic – I thought I was – but after reading some of the points she made I realised that it’s more complicated than it sounds. There is a big difference between sympathy (from over here, I can see that this looks bad and I’m sorry for you) and empathy (I am seeing this through your eyes, and I want to understand). When we are all struggling with things, and someone starts to talk about their own problems, it’s easy to get frustrated and respond in a way which shuts down what they’re feeling.

Some of the barriers to empathy that Brown talks about are the ‘stacking the deck’ response: I see your break-up, and raise you a father with an illness. “Oh, you think you’ve got it bad? Wait ‘til you hear about my day.” Sometimes of course it isn’t that black and white. People can think they’re ticking the empathy box by saying “Oh, poor you.” But then cut off the other person’s problems by expanding at length on their own, without giving the other person a chance to expand. Or someone might talk to you about something, and you can’t immediately relate to what they’re saying. Someone might say: “I have been thinking about self-harming lately.” And you think “Wow, this is heavy. I don’t know anything about that. I’ve never considered doing that. I don’t know what to say. So I don’t risk saying the wrong thing, I’ll say nothing at all.”

When somebody shares an emotional pain with you, it’s often easier to step back than step forward. Especially if you are having a hard time yourself, and don’t feel like you have a lot of energy or time to give the other person. But empathy is a two-way street. Showing empathy to somebody else helps you with your own issues. Maybe you haven’t experienced the exact same thing as that other person, but you might have felt something similar. Maybe you’ve never thought about cutting yourself when you’re feeling frustrated or unhappy, but you can probably connect to the idea of release that people can experience when they do that, even if you experience that release in less self-abusive ways. And if you listen to them, and respond to them, they will probably be happy to hear you, and will be in a better place to listen from a position of giving and thoughtful response. Empathy really is the practice of truly listening to and hearing others. It’s so common to try and explain a problem to somebody, but they will only half-listen and fill in the rest of the gaps for themselves. In the end the person reaching out is left feeling diminished and small because they haven’t been heard, and the person who hasn’t been able to fully hear them is feeling frustrated and bored. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to stop and fully listen to people.

Another point about empathy, which is part of this notion of giving empathy being as useful to the giver as the receiver, is that empathetic conversations are two-way streets. I speak to several friends every day, and we are all very good at talking about ourselves for a while, but making sure we also respond to the other person and ask questions and make them feel heard. I’m sure you all know how quickly a conversation dies when only one person is asking the questions, especially over text or email. The person doing all the asking will often eventually give up and respond without any questions either, and the conversation dies without having anything new put into it. It’s often very difficult to fully show empathy over electronic communications, particularly as we’re often replying quickly and may not have read every word of the message. It’s a good idea to slow down for those few seconds, and think about what you’re writing. If the other person has said they’re struggling with something, respond to that in the first half of the message. Then talk about yourself in the second half. Of course there are exceptions to this, but I think it’s a nice rule of thumb for making people feel appreciated.

There are many more aspects to empathy that Brown talks about in her book, but this is the one that really stuck with me and that I found most useful, this concept of truly hearing and listening to other people, and having the courage to reach out to others when we are feeling down. Reaching out in this way can be very scary, so it’s important that you know how to respond if someone does it to you: if you cut them off or make them feel unheard, they probably won’t reach out to you again. It is less painful to not reach out and to keep painful emotions to ourselves than it is to reach out and get knocked back.

I know this is a pretty heavy topic and many of us have had a pretty heavy January, so here are some other things from this month that are more cheerful:

After the terribly sad death of David Bowie, I finally got around to watching Labyrinth for the first time. What a bizarre movie. Apparently they’re making some kind of sequel, which got me to wondering how on earth they’re going to do the Goblin King without Bowie. How on earth he still manages to be sexy while sporting the worst wig I’ve ever seen, flowing blouses and those tights I don’t know. I was saying to a friend that it was bizarrely attractive but I don’t think anybody else could pull it off. Do you think anyone has ever asked their partner to dress up like that as a fun sexual fantasy type thing? “Yes, so a blonde wig with a kind of mullet, and a lot of silvery eye make-up, a low-cut blouse, and tights that are VERY tight in some places and strangely baggy in others… I don’t know why this isn’t working…”

I was ill in bed for a week this month, and discovered that I’ve finally overplayed Friends. It just isn’t so much fun when you realise that you’re older than the characters are, especially if you’ve been watching it since you were 12. I felt very old. My new mindless TV is now Sex and the City, which I was actually too young for when it was first around. They’re all a few years older than me so I have some time. This may be a sign that I should investigate getting Netflix or something, but the internet signal in my room seems to have been on strike for January so maybe it would be a waste of money.

I read The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat a few weeks ago. It’s incredibly gripping and interesting, and makes you feel supremely lucky for being able to do simple things like recognise faces, or for having proprioception – an awareness of the your own body. One of the women in the book lost proprioception through a freak incident with some antibiotics. She cannot feel her own body. She has had to relearn how to move and walk visually, because she doesn’t know where, say, her arm is unless she is looking at it. Extremely odd but many of the stories were surprisingly life-affirming and optimistic. Highly recommended.

I also tried to read The Knife of Never Letting Go this week. Not recommended if you are having any kind of struggles with anxiety or depression. It is BLEAK. I have sought solace in Rules of Civility, one of my absolute favourite novels, set in 1930’s New York. The writing is delicious, with such lines as: ‘The game had changed; or rather, it wasn’t a game at all anymore. It was a matter of making it through the night, which is often harder than it sounds, and always a very individual business.’ In honour of the characters in Rules of Civility, let’s raise a martini (or martini glass containing your beverage of choice if you think martinis taste like toilet cleaner) to a good February.

Highlights of 2015

I’ve been reading a few articles looking back at 2015, and most of the news has been bad. With the notable exception of marriage equality in the United States, most of 2015 has been pretty depressing. Plane crashes, a refugee crisis, a dreadful UK election result, many senseless deaths, the rolling back of women’s reproductive rights, and all too often a huge absence of human understanding and compassion. So I’m going to give a summary of all my highlights of the past year. They are often small and are all entirely insignificant to the world at large (apart from the one on what3words), but I’m hoping that by outlining a few, you’ll remember the better parts of the past year, and the joys of life that can be forgotten all too easily in the constant barrage of negative news.

Films

I think most of you know from this blog that I am a big film fan, and in particular a big cinema fan. One of my favourite memories of 2015 was this year’s Oscar season. I went to see several of the frontrunners, including Birdman, Whiplash, Foxcatcher, and The Theory of Everything, all alone and mostly in the middle of a weekday (hurrah for being a student, a time now sadly over). All the films were very good and when I think about any of them, the feeling of tranquillity I had when I went to see them comes back to me. It was a great few weeks. Another less highbrow film highlight of the year for me was Trainwreck, which I saw twice, once with my boyfriend and again with my best friend. I haven’t laughed so much at a film in years.

Amy Schumer

Of course, Amy was the star and writer of Trainwreck, just one high point in what has been a phenomenal year for her. I think she is an amazing woman and I can’t wait for what she does next – I am hoping with all hope that the rumours she and Jennifer Lawrence are writing a film together are true. They’re two of my favourite people. Here’s a link to 50 of her best quotes from this year. One of my favourites is: “I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I will speak and share and fuck and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it.” I like her particularly because I know that if I showed my Mum any of her stuff, right before she got freaked out by how sexual and uncouth it all is, she’d say: ‘Oh, she’s not very pretty. And she’s not very thin.’ And I’d be able to say that it doesn’t matter a damn. Because she’s awesome.

The Ragtime Gals

This video of Jimmy Fallon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a barbershop quartet version of Rihanna’s ‘Bitch better have my money’ (a song I’ve never heard the original of, because I can’t see how it could top this) is my absolute hands-down favourite video of the year. It makes me laugh no matter what, and even got me out of an anxiety spiral a few months ago that stopped me going to sleep for bloody ages. I watched this video a few times, and at least was convinced the world wasn’t about to end. Thanks Jimmy.

A first date, 30th April, 3pm to 9pm, Foyles café and Zizzi

The beginning of something amazing. You know who you are. I feel very lucky.

Candles

I didn’t realise until this year how much of a massive fan of candles I am. My bedroom is now a fire hazard every evening. But I love watching flames and find them very soothing. Also the smell when you blow them out is gorgeous.

10th September, 1pm, SOAS

I handed in my MA dissertation, drawing a line under two years of work. It was a great two years and I enjoyed most of it, but I was very, very happy to see the back of that dissertation!

Books

Favourite books of 2015 include but are not limited to:

  • The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – fantastic adventure.
  • Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – I have a notebook full of quotes from it, one of my favourites being that one of the most important career decisions a woman will make is whether or not to have a life partner, and who that partner is. Women are still far more likely to make career sacrifices for their partners or family, so you need to be damn sure your partner is supportive. Great book. I’m looking forward to seeing Dawn Foster in January, who has written a book called Lean Out, arguing that Lean In is too focussed on women in corporate jobs. I agree in principle but I hope she’s not going to spend the time picking Sheryl Sandberg apart. As Amy Poehler wisely said, more women need to be able to say: ‘Good for her! Not for me.’ Fighting each other all the time isn’t helpful.
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – beautiful and amazing and unexpected.
  • Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman – so many fantastic characters, and now I’ve joined the angry mob asking why he hasn’t written another full-length novel in the same universe.
  • The Garth Nix Old Kingdom series – I’ve read them before but I reread this year for the first time in a while and wow, they’re good.

 

Dancing

This year I went blues dancing in Madrid and Toulouse. I don’t think I need to explain why those trips were a highlight of the year!

Yoga

This year I finally tried yoga for the first time. I’d read several stories from people with depression saying they’d found it useful, but I’d also heard some horror stories about people being humiliated by unsympathetic teachers in classes, which put me off. Then my friend Gillian said she watched videos on YouTube by a woman called Adriene. Her bedtime routine has genuinely changed my life. I have been bad at sleeping for many years and around September had got into a habit of taking a very long time to fall asleep, mainly because as soon as I lay down I’d construct imaginary situations in my head of things going wrong, or of having terrible arguments with people. Unsurprisingly I then didn’t sleep and when I did I had restless, nasty dreams. For a few weeks I did Adriene’s bedtime routine most nights, and not only did it help me sleep on the nights I watched it, it’s reprogrammed my brain so I can now switch off much more easily when I go to bed. I’m doing more of her other ones now too, although building myself up slowly as in the first week or so I went at it a bit too strong and pulled muscles around my shoulder blades, which made sitting at a desk all day very painful!

A TED talk on addiction

The message of this video about how to tackle addiction makes so much sense, particularly as the way most societies and governments approach it right now clearly isn’t working. The video made me cry, though, because I know addicted people and although it rang very true, it’s also such a difficult attitude to remember when it’s someone you know personally who you cannot seem to help. It might then seem an odd choice for a highlight of the year, but it’s also representing TED talks in general which I always find fascinating, and I did find it useful to watch a video about addiction with some hope in it.

Awards for what3words

The company I work for, what3words, has had an incredible year. what3words is an app that gives every 3m x 3m square in the world a unique 3 word address, and in 2015 the brilliance of this simple concept was recognised by the United Nations, The Tech Awards, Cannes Lion Festival of Creativity, and many others. I’m currently writing from nets.hatch.truth. What are your 3 words?

The concept of hygge

A couple of times this year I’ve come across the Danish concept of hygge, meaning “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things.” I have tried to bring more hygge into my life in the last few months, since I heard about it, but I think it will be a big project for next year.

Friends

I’ve said it before, but I’m very lucky to have such a supportive group of close friends. I have six or seven wonderful people who I just have to say “I’m not okay today” to and they know what to say and do. Although obviously I would prefer not to have to rely on people for a lot of emotional support, some things can’t be tackled on your own, and I’m proud and thankful that we’re at such a good level of communication that so few words can convey so much. Thank you all.

Corgis

I hadn’t really noticed before how ridiculous and brilliant corgis are. They’re like real dogs, but they don’t have proper legs! I find them incredibly comical and now have a goal in life to have one of my own. I don’t see how you could ever be sad when you’re looking at something so cute and funny.

Happy New Year everyone!

January in Review

Unlike most of my posts which have some point to make or idea I want to work through, this one is designed just for giggles. Mainly because I feel like writing and I’m waiting for the oven to COOK MY PIZZA YOU PIECE OF SHIT.

So we’re already a month in to 2015, and January had its ups and downs for me as I’m sure it did for most of you. Here are a few things I noticed in the last month:

1. I have truly atrocious taste in men. I had cause to reflect on my dating history recently, and realised that in the last year the people I’ve been interested in or had brief, fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “relationships” with have included:

  • A gay man. I didn’t know he was gay, obviously, although when I found out it made a lot of sense. That would explain why he was so easy to talk to, sweet, funny, and happy to talk about women’s rights
  • A man who said “call me Daddy” when we were in bed together. This was actually 100% worth it because it’s many, many months later and I am still laughing
  • Someone who thought a good idea for a first date was ‘hip hop karaoke.’ After I went back to him saying “Wow. Absolutely not” he pestered me about it for so long and irritated me so much that in the end I told him to just forget the whole thing
  • A guy who had been ‘involved’ in a ‘community’ that was ‘flexible’ about exclusivity for the past year and only chose to broach the subject after we’d been going out for six weeks, when he was on holiday for a fortnight, in an email. And then had the nerve to tell me when we saw each other again (after I’d told him he could take a long walk off a short cliff) that I should have known about it because he once mumbled something about ‘the kink scene.’ WTF.

2. Right now, I have the best circle of friends I have ever had. Honestly. Never Had It So Good.

3. I am generally in a very good state, head-wise. Despite the past month having several shit fireworks exploding in it (as in, fireworks of shit, not rather mediocre fireworks displays) I have remained mostly cheerful and upbeat. I have also felt genuinely happy for no real reason at several points. I have had bad days – I had one this week which scared me because I hadn’t had a day when I just wanted to cry all the time for a while, and once you’ve had depression for a period, when you have days like that you always fear that it’s the beginning of another episode, and not just a shitty day that can be remedied with wine and a takeaway. As it turned out, it was just a bad day that was solved with blues dancing and a decent night’s sleep. I think it’s easy to forget sometimes how much a few not brilliant nights of sleep can build up to make you overtired without you noticing, and I’d been waking up at 5am and not getting back to sleep for a few nights in a row. So it shouldn’t have surprised me really. But I am very happy with how I keep bouncing back.

I have no idea how long the pizza has been in the oven. Oh well. It’s not burnt yet, so I’ll carry on.

4. I am not good at time management. I am currently trying to juggle working two days a week, being at university for my Masters three days a week, dancing two or three nights a week, swimming two mornings a week, writing as much as I can, watching episodes of Friends to relax (you absolutely cannot beat it, it’s so comforting), reading lots and lots, and seeing friends, eating, sleeping etc. It’s the work and uni balance which I’m struggling with most. I tend to get into work and take a few minutes to remember what I do there, and the same when I try to do stuff for uni. This means that I am a week and a half away from an essay deadline and I don’t yet have a title for the bloody thing. It will get done, one way or another.

Making time for reading is particularly important. It’s not just uni reading, which I obviously have to do, but fun reading too. I’ve read some crackers this month. Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams, a re-read of The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt, which is astonishing, and then her The Summer without Men too – which was excellent and not ‘women’s fiction’ portraying women as moronic idiots who spend all their time thinking about men and shoes as the title implies. Ignore the title, and also the dreadful cover, especially the title font and the fact they chose a quote from the Daily Mail. It is quite light, particularly compared to her other stuff which has more psychological depth, but it has a lot more to it than it looks like it will. I’m now reading Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and it’s everything I hoped it would be already. But really, I do need to start organising my time better. Little things like my Masters degree result and The Future depend on it, a bit.

My pizza is done and only slightly burnt, so that counts as a success. I hope 2015 is working out for you too so far.

(I now have a greasy keyboard as I’ve been writing, editing and eating at the same time. Please see note on poor time management, above.)