Highlights of 2016

THERE WERE NONE, I hear you cry. Well, the other day I found a piece I wrote this time last year on highlights of 2015. Apparently I thought 2015 pretty much sucked in terms of news items as well, although I don’t remember it being particularly bad – apart from the Conservatives winning the UK election. Reading back through the post I remembered lots of little things I enjoyed about that year, and although 2016 was rubbish in terms of democratic votes, gun shootings, and celebrity deaths, it’s important to also think about the good things. This isn’t going to be one of those list of good news for the environment etc which have been doing the rounds lately, but rather a list of my own personal highlights. Some are tiny, and some are life-changing. What were your highlights of 2016?

The Guilty Feminist Podcast

This year I finally started listening to podcasts, and this was the first one I tuned in to after it was recommended by a friend (thank you Gillian!). Female comedians discuss a range of topics, from shoes to periods to nudity, and examine their complicated and at times contradictory relationships with femininity, feminism, their own bodies, and the people around them. It is hilarious and thought-provoking, wonderfully forgiving and a real tonic if you think feminists are shouty and irritating. Some are like that, but some of us don’t have a clue! The show starts with a list of brilliant ‘I am a feminist but…’ quotes, such as: ‘I am a feminist… but I often find myself promoting this podcast by saying, it’s about feminism, but don’t worry, it’s funny.’

Dancing at weddings

I’ve been to a few weddings this year with my partner. I struggle with weddings. I find the logistics of getting there, finding somewhere to stay, talking to people you don’t know, and figuring out when it’s okay to leave very stressful. But I’ve discovered that dancing at weddings with my partner is the best. This summer we went to a stunning wedding of a friend of mine (the same Gillian who recommended the Guilty Feminist podcast – congrats on the awesome wedding too!) in rural Kent, in a big marquee and the groom’s family’s back garden. I was panicking about what to wear up until the last minute, and got changed 30 seconds before we had to leave into navy trousers and blazer and a red shirt (then got self-conscious when my partner said we looked like we were heading to a business meeting). Anxiety + free champagne meant we were both wonderfully silly by the time we sat down to eat, and still pretty tipsy when the music started. We both love dancing and we barely stopped for the next couple of hours. Several people complimented us on our dancing, which felt wonderful and all in all it was a fabulous evening. I like weddings now.

Lazy corgi fight video

I love the beginning of this video, with a corgi lying on its back with its feet in the air. What is it doing?! And then the “fight” – I’m going to snap at you… and then just go and lie over here… and bark at…nothing… These dogs are just ridiculous. Corgis themselves make no sense. How are their legs so short?! So comical.

14th May, Canterbury

I moved to Canterbury this year after ten years of living in London. This was one of the life-changing highlights to the year: I moved in with my partner and started a much longer commute to work. For the most part living together has been lovely, and although the commute isn’t my favourite thing in the world, I love living in Canterbury. When I got back after Christmas it felt like home. And although there are pros and cons to being out of London, I certainly don’t miss the tube or the weekend crowds. Or the exorbitant rent. Although the rail pass does its best to make up for that!

Started anti-anxiety medication

This might be a strange thing to put as a highlight of the year. Having to take medication is bad, right? I certainly thought so for a long time. Even though I’ve been blogging about mental health for a while now and I am very supportive of friends who are on medication, I really fought going on anxiety medication myself. I realised that I still saw it as a sign of weakness. I thought I should be able to get past it on my own. And I put a lot of work into that and when I was feeling generally okay, the self-care worked. But when you’re tired or something knocks you so you take that lift back down to the beginning again, sometimes it’s too tough to haul yourself back up all the stairs on your own. I’ve been on anti-anxiety medication for six weeks. I’m on a very low dosage and it still sometimes gives me nausea, but I also have some more space in my head to combat anxious thoughts. I’ve achieved things that I’m not sure I could have done if I hadn’t been on medication. I don’t know what will happen, whether they’ll keep working, whether I’ll need to switch, or whether I’ll need to up the dosage, but right now I think they’re working. It’s easier for me to take a step back from anxious thoughts. There’s no point saying to myself “you don’t need to worry about this” because that doesn’t work. But I am finding some relief from going a step further and thinking “you don’t need to think about this. There is nothing saying you need to spend time and energy going over this. Let it go.” Just gaining that step and finding a bit more stability is feeling great. Keep your fingers crossed for me that it stays good.

Dyeing my hair

While in most areas of life I’m quite frightened of change, as we all are (I heard someone on the radio recently say everybody is scared of change, and if someone says they’re not, they’re lying) when it comes to going to the hairdressers I LOVE change. The bigger the change, the better. If I have a haircut and come out looking more or less the same, I’m a bit disappointed and have generally forgotten I had the haircut by the time I get home, so someone saying they like it confuses me. You like what? It’s the same! This year I dyed my hair red for the first time. I’ve wanted to do it for about a decade so it was pretty exciting for me. It didn’t go quite as bright as I wanted so I’m planning to get it done again soon. I look so quiet and demure that most hairdressers are worried I’m going to get upset, so they tend to – consciously or not – tone down what I ask for. But my current hairdresser in Canterbury seems to trust I want what I say, so I’ll ask him to dye it next. Hopefully it won’t come out some dreadful shade of pink.

Driving home for Christmas

I passed my driving test four years ago, then only drove on the odd weekend at my parents’ house for the next four years. Now I’m living in Canterbury, I have my car with me here. Unfortunately the years off and the fact I was driving somewhere I barely knew meant I started getting extremely anxious about getting in the car. Panic attacks and heated arguments with my partner while driving ensued, and although I kept at it, I was still struggling with nerves. I would be so anxious about driving fifteen minutes to the nearest stables for a riding lesson that I could barely stand due to extreme nausea. Then I started anti-anxiety medication, and although I was still anxious before I left the house, once I was in the car I was fine. So I took a somewhat bold and impulsive decision – I do this sometimes – to drive myself from Canterbury to Suffolk to stay with my parents at Christmas. I hadn’t been on a dual carriageway for four years and had never driven on a motorway. But for some reason I decided that having a parent come down and sit in the car with me, or drive in front of me so I at least knew where I was going, was not as good as going solo with the Google Maps app and ‘winging it’. Well, I was right. I had a couple of fun moments at roundabouts and risked speeding tickets here and there (with added adrenaline rush because when you take my little car over 80 miles per hour, the steering wheel shudders) but the sense of achievement was second to none. Definitely a highlight of the year.

Other people’s achievements

I am very lucky to have an amazing circle of friends, family, and partner. They share in my achievements and my worries as I share in theirs. Although there have been difficulties and sadnesses this year, several of my immediate circle have also had wonderful news that I have loved sharing with them. My best friend is pregnant and expecting her baby very soon. I love that I was one of the first to know about the pregnancy, and I’ve loved keeping up our dinner routine while we can and checking in on how she’s doing. Apparently my general cynical nature has been a great tonic to her when all she wants to do is complain about feeling fat and having rib pain and most of the people around her are saying OMG YOU MUST FEEL SO BLESSED!!! My ‘yeesh, poor you, that sucks’ has been very useful, she says, which I’m very happy (and relieved) about. In other news, my partner had his first academic book published this year. It’s a huge moment and I felt so very proud going to the launch and hearing him talk about it. Getting to read a published book by someone you know and love is really wonderful, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

There are more great moments but I feel like this post is already quite long and gushing. I encourage you all to note down a few things that went well this year, even if it was just a great book you read or a brilliant movie you saw. Looking back on them in the future is really encouraging, and god knows we all need some good things to remember about 2016.

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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.

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!