Monday, October 03, 2016

Put on your headphones and feel raw love

I'm wrapping my scarf around my neck. (Wrapped around once with just enough left to tie a knot under my chin. Or "shorter than we consider stylish these days" as Henriette Lazaridis describes that particular tie in a article I read in ELLE on the plane the other week. I like it tied like this, it makes me think of my Mum dropping me off at school.) I'm wrapping my scarf around my neck, and throwing my arms into my coat and I have to find a song to play for my walk home that'll keep my mind feeling as alive and full of ideas as it is now. It's easy enough to stop at the pub on the way home from work and have a glass of wine and a generous bowl of green olives (two cocktail sticks) and finish a book. It's better still, lucky even, to feel buoyed by that arrangement. To have things that pop and fizz around your head and require a receipt or slip of paper to scrawl them onto. But then how do you transport yourself home without popping the bubble?

I listen to Steve Reich, who is always at his best when you're kinetic. His strings, his clarinets are lively and cinematic when one foot is moving in front of the other and you're on the go, with a destination and a delight in the getting there. I listen to The Four Seasons: I. Strings because it's high up on the quick-to-click top-rated list. I much prefer Steve Reich when I'm walking. Once I was listening to him whilst walking around Manchester in the evening and came across an empty convertible, all doors flung wide open in the middle of the street outside the glassy Hilton skyscraper. Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid but I convinced myself, I became absolutely certain, that it was about to gloriously blow up. I was listening to Desert Music, the sort of high-octane yet gloomy soundtrack that lends itself to the obvious culmination of exploding car. A car must explode when there's a chorus of operatic voices. Of course nothing happened, and I walked on with only my heightened anticipation, but the point is that Steve Reich, or in fact the majority of music listened to through headphones on the move feels cinematic.

I don't mean cinematic in an egotistical "i'm in a film" sort of way. Really, I'm sure I don't have to explain it at all. The success of the Walkman and two generations of music-in-ear devices comes down to the fact that we all understand that entrancing state. Just like me in the pub, we're with people, surrounded with them, but without people. All alone with the music. It's unnatural to be walking around without the accompaniment of the real sounds around us (stillness, leaves, footsteps, car horns) But it's right! It carries you along, it gives lends your movement a rhythm, it frames a moment in exactly the way a cinema screen frames a moment. The frame of the camera. The frame of the screen against a darkened room. The focus of you inside the room, the world safely outside of the auditorium.

With headphones in your ears, a sort of focused mental frame comes down. Suddenly, with the removal of outside-world sounds, there's less to distract. An awareness of the movements of the people on the street becomes heightened. Sometimes they're heightened because you've had one glass of wine on an empty stomach but. So I walk down Columbia Road and it's properly dark now. My hands are deep down in my pockets, my scarf cosy and tight and the sharp air is drumming little stabs at my knees. A warm upper body and a cold lower body is usually delightful for about two weeks right at the start of Autumn. The novelty soon wears off. But for now it's truly on. This is a great stretch of walk. I'm glad I started taking this short cut. Internally i'm cooing at the fronts of the houses along the street, and how, in the darkness they make me think of Victorian London and kids with hoops. I feel like an American tourist. I never want to stop loving cities like this. If I ever stop loving cities like this I honestly may as well be dead.

Walking down Broadway Market people are bundled up in their coats eating Italian at the tables on the pavement under heat lamps. Up above us in the flats over the restaurants, two men lean out of their windows and hold a conversation across the street.

Back at the pub the things I wrote on the back of a receipt were: "there is only me, this evening, here on earth." From a passage about an acquaintance, an actor known for his powerful monologues, who is reading Beckett to an small audience in his apartment after a stroke has badly affected his speech. Sometimes you underline a sentence in a book and come back to it only a few months later and fail to understand the significance it held. Maybe tomorrow I won't even feel the same way, but sitting alone with a Picpoul and a briny pile of olives it means something. It makes me think of how no two theatre performances can ever be the same, and how that marks a gorgeous unique energy between a cast and their audience. We will never have this ever again. It makes me think of making eye contact with a stranger on a train. Only a stranger you've enjoyed noticing of course, and standing beside them as the carriage snakes and bounces along. And that moment of shared eye contact says the same thing. This is it! Now or never. I am constantly falling in love with strangers on trains. Aren't we all, though. We don't need to know anything about the other person, only that if you'd said something to them, really said it out loud then you'd inevitably end up embarking on that one great affair. A longer than brief encounter.

I finish the book - Vivian Gornick's The Odd Woman and the City. I'm probably going to read it straight away again, something i've never done. This book has really caught me at the right moment. I check Facebook. "It's too late for sympathy and prayers, so please spare me - i'm now trading only in raw love," this is the latest post from an old family friend. Seng-gye is a character. Calling him a 'character' actually just sounds condescending and doesn't do him justice at all. He's bloody marvellous. And he's important to me, even if I haven't seen him for around 11 years. He and his family lived in the flat downstairs when I was between the ages of 3 and 10. He wore one of those army surplus-type utility waistcoats with all those pockets. Lots of khaki. Always bare feet, even on the streets of Redland in Bristol. He has a bald head, a long grey beard (now temporarily banished with the chemo) and one eye, after a motorcycle crash in his youth. He kept the eye in a jar of formaldehyde in a jar in the flat! I was in absolute awe of it when I was little. He didn't wear a glass eye, or cover it up with a patch, one of the sockets is just sort of... dark. I thought this was very cool. I still do. He lived with two partners and their three children. I'd never been to a house that had three adults in it like that. I absolutely loved them. I was always hanging out with the kids, mixing perfumes from lavender and sage and water in the garden, arguing with them and getting to understand the varying levels of feelings in very sensitive human beings, having them show me slow worms in the garden out the back. My Mum left the latch to our door open do I could come and go, racing up and down the stairs to hang out with them. I'd jump into their beat up Land Rover (sometimes Seng-gye would scream at us to be quiet in the back so he could focus on the fucking road!!!) and later into their old American Chevy (it had actual carpets and armchairs in the back and a heavy sliding door!) and we'd all go to the 24 hour Tesco Superstore in Eastville and get baked beans and chips at the cafe. (We'd go late at night! Like, 11 o'clock at night!) He's recently been diagnosed with what looks like terminal cancer. In his Facebook post Seng-gye scientifically outlines the pros and cons of chemo and the realities of the poison and asks "if you need to visit, bring good food! If you need to see me, you have NOW!" I don't even feel that sad. Of course this is another it's now or never! but it just feels essential. We're all waiting for it, and here it is, explained peacefully. Yeah. What else is there to say? Here's my raw love. I have it. I love this man, and I love his family. I think about the time he put on his roller skates (rare footwear) and cycled over to my Granny's house to help her out because her back was bad. The strange, important adults in my life. They went into her bedroom and closed the door and he clicked her into place and we could hear all these comedy noises coming from the room and my Mum and my Mary absolutely pissed themselves laughing through the whole thing. I looked up at them and didn't really understand why it was funny but I joined in too because it's fun to all get the giggles together.  I have raw love for so many people who are and aren't here. It stays though.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Stop at Thompson Chemists

By September 19th the heat in New York is truly intense. The humidity has grown from damp hairline sweat to aggressive hot rain that always finds a way under your umbrella. Without a dramatic storm to cut through it all, the air is heavy like a wet towel. Because of this and more, I feel restless and easily teary. 

So I take myself to Strand books. What I really want is a sofa to sink into and hold me while I leaf through a pile of paperbacks. But of course bookstores can’t have inviting sofas. They’d be much too tempting for loiterers. I’m a loiterer! 

I buy three books (all, in degrees, about big cities and learning to know yourself. Themes I will maybe, at some point grow out of) and two pairs of socks (Botticelli’s Venus! The Statue of Liberty!) and feel that some new sense of purpose. I’m also aware that spending $50 in order to feel better about yourself is not a sustainable solution. 

Still, I walk down to Washington Square Park, where the mist from the fountains dampens passerbys several feet away. I watch the biggest St Bernard I have ever seen. It’s the size of a small car, sitting with a view over the knock-off Arc de Triomph. A dog it would be a true delight to grow up with, to ride on it's back and cling onto it's brown mane. What a childhood, to surrender yourself again and again to that pet on the floor, giggling NO! as it snuffles and licks at your face. To grimace as it shakes a walks worth of rainwater (and whatever else) onto you. To be fiercely protective when your friends try to clamber onto his back, to show them how to mount him the right way, more carefully than you are in the habit of doing. To experience the raw depths of pet-heartbreak long before the end of a romantic human relationship. I fantasise about all of those things, but am free to walk away without a dog companion. I can browse suede tasseled skirts at the nearby vintage shop without having to ask my St Bernard if he’s okay to wait outside. 

Another way to counteract restless is, I figure, to go to Sephora and have somebody put makeup on me. The heat melted what I’d put on my face in the morning, and having a stranger tilting my chin gently and saying “look up” would hit the spot. I think, after spending a lot of time alone, I want to be seen. Even if that's by somebody fetching me glitter rollers at Sephora.

Plus there’s the matter of sheet masks. I want to buy them for me, and for Simran who has been waylaid at Toronto airport for 28 hours. A sheet mask with a girlfriend is a calming activity and one I never do as much as I’d like. I think of Amy Sedaris talking about doing masks with her friends when they come over, like it’s the most casual thing. A cut off pair of tights holding back a fringe, a white wet balaclava accompanying gossip. 

Sephora is not meant to be though. Because Thompson Chemists pulls me in with it’s primary green front. It looks like a place that might contain answers. Answers in the form of tangible ailments but also in herbal smelling pots of cream that can smooth things out in the short term. I have a certain tolerance of quackery when it smells good. 

Of course it all comes down to nostalgia. Nostalgia may not be cool, but it is comforting. This pharmacy triggers a retrospective longing for herbal smelling Grandparents. It smells like being small and being allowed to scoop grains from deep buckets in health food shops that smell of oats, spice and Ecover washing liquid. 

This is what I think of when I smell the olive oil and peppermint soaps wrapped in a fern leaf adorned package. That, and, for some reason damp fronds on a drive through the Pacific Northwest in a Volvo 740 Estate with Stewart Brand in the back seat. Something – clearly – I have never done. But all the same, associations that any of this old-style packaging triggers in me. 1970s wellness before Instagram and marble backdrops and paying three times the price for social capital. Woody Harrellson wellness! Hemp, commitment, bio-diesel travel. 

Thompson Chemist has it all. Janeke toothbrushes in gold, chrome and faux horn. Mason Pearson brushes for ponyish hair. At the counter are Altoids, tempting kazoos and bouncing balls. A collection of natural sponges asking to be doused in water and squeezed over a soapy back. The shop is small, and everything has a place. Floor to ceiling shelves holding bottles, answers. An ode to storage solutions, if nothing else. 

An expansive pharmacy with more than one floor is exciting. You can browse hair dryers and get your eyes tested in the same trip. But it’s easier to walk in and forget what you wanted. Here you can buy bouncy balls! 

“Let me know if you have any questions,” the woman says. And of course I do, because isn’t that the whole point of a place like this? To find answers, you just have to speak to people. They don’t have sheet masks but they do have all these clay masks in pots and she’s tried them all. 

A man walks into the shop and he has questions too. Head lice kits? He looks like an older Dad, who might be raising his second family. It looks like the head lice situation is tiring him out. The woman finds a kit from the around the back, with all of these bottles packed in a big clear zip-up bag. It looks like a jet pack. Maybe it even has straps – I can’t quite see – but that would be cool. To get this groovy, see-through rucksack to wear to school with your new Tea Tree smelling hair. 

“That’ll get rid of them!” I say, while I wait to pay for this stick of Baxter’s – the final chance I’m giving to the natural deodorant cause. He smiles at me and shakes his head, mumbling something like finally. He drops a note of paper and I go to pick it up for him but he waves me away. I feel bad about rushing to pick it up, like he was too old to do that himself. Sometimes you offer your seat on public transport to somebody with white hair and they’re like I’m not old, child.  Maybe back at home he’d sit with his son or daughter between his legs and run a small comb through their hair in front of the television. Maybe there’d be a St Bernard sprawled nearby!  

I pay for my olive soap and my deodorant, and then a last minute bottle of Thayer’s peach and witch hazel astringent. Something probably quite mundane to anyone familiar with the American drugstore but charming to me in the same way as Arm and Hammer toothpaste, or Smith's Rosebud Salve. 

I leave armed with a recommendation for Sunrise Mart and the possibility of sheet masks for a couple of dollars. It feels like there should be a bell on the door when I leave, but there isn’t. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Falling in love in five seconds

A woman on West 23rd Street cackling HAHAHA I forgot how much I love this city.

Two elderly Chinese couples ballroom dancing on a tarmacked tennis court, their classical music drifting to soundtrack the nearby runners and teenagers playing basketball.

City cowboys sprawling on benches without their cattle.

An old guy on the steps of his apartment building with a regal parrot on his lap. It's green with a tuft of feather hair and observational head turns that make it look startlingly human. "Beautiful parrot!" I shout from a distance, and he nods slowly. (The man, not the parrot.)

The Empire State Building, every time it comes into view at the end of a street.

A cute-assed waitress wearing head-to-toe white: Levi's and a James Dean t-shirt and not a coffee spillage in sight. She seems the type to ask More Tea Darlin'? but this is New York, not Tennessee.

Any of the Tall Men on Park Avenue making Bold American Eye Contact while passing me on the sidewalk. The passing bit is important. You never want these men to open their mouths.

Solo margaritas at a bar that's playing the very best songs from B'Day. Green Light. Upgrade U. Get Me Bodied. A huge dog - a Chou Chou apparently- sits next to me. This is the sort of dog I usually laugh at, not with. It's a sheepskin rug. A teddy bear. A Lion with a blow dry. He is called Richard and that alone means I fall in love with him. Richard! He doesn't need my love. He cocks his head and stubbornly looks away every time I try to take a photograph. Every body in the room is pulled towards him.

Three firefighters at Ladder 20 standing around and drinking beer on the warm afternoon of September 11. On the pin board outside there's a sign commemorating Twenty, the Dalmatian pup given to them in the days after 9/11 to boost morale. There's a photograph of her sitting on the steps of an engine. She looks like the kind of dog with a strong tail that mercilessly knocks objects from surfaces, and a sandpaper-licking tongue too loving to refuse. "I can't say enough about what she did to help us," the paper reads. "She went on all the runs, she'd jump in the truck, stick her head out of the window and bark."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Picking one thing

Photographs at Tate Modern

My Mum went to Tate Britain recently, and after looking at a couple of Henry Moores decided she'd look only at the sculptures in the collection. She told me this when we met up afterwards, over a spread of Turkish food balanced in large-lipped plates on our small table. "Do you have any side tables?" I'd asked tentatively. They didn't, so we stacked the plates up. I felt like I really needed my Mum that week, and was pleased to have her visiting London, sleeping on the sofa bed in our sitting room, filling her days with good things while I worked. She'd chosen the sculptures to get an idea of how that one specific medium had changed over time in Britain. No musing over the paintings to get in the way of seeing how Hepworth and Nicholson and Moore had carved wood and stone and moulded, and what sculpture looked like before and after these three.

Part of me thought that wasn't very adventurous when there are so many beautiful paintings in that building to gawp at up close. I like looking at paintings up close because i've always craved the ability to put colors on canvas with the conviction of knowing what to do. When I get up close i'll look for actual clues to see how the thick the colour is, and how steady the strokes are. Does it look like the painter had a plan or were they just channeling some deep painterly instinct? Whenever I've painted (rarely) my dominant thought has been "Right... I'm painting. Yes.. i'm painting. What am I painting?"

Willy Zielke

But deciding to stick to one thing- looking only at sculptures, painting only apples or shopping only for fuchsia coloured dresses is comforting in a pragmatic way. It's manageable. And I say that because "manageable" can feel so important in a big city. Otherwise how would you ever know where to start? It's like that paralysis of choice Malcolm Gladwell spoke about when faced with dozens and dozens of jars of spaghetti sauce. Having categories and filters helps us to get through a day. (Pick the jar under £3. Pick the jar nice enough to use afterwards. Pick the same jar your Mum always picked.)

Today i'm at Tate Modern. And because I recently treated myself to a membership, I can go into any of the current exhibitions without needing to pay! So what did I do? Unable to pick between the two options I wandered into the free galleries... There was so much I liked, and I liked it all even more because I'd got out of bed early on a Saturday, eaten a giant almond croissant for breakfast, and felt like my hair looked nice. I looked at a sleeping young woman, lying neatly across the frame. Her pillow tucked under her shoulders in a way i'd never think to tuck it.  So comfortable looking! A Duncan Grant painting with Richard Diebenkorn-esque blocks of colour in ocre, mint green and browns brushing up against chair legs. I looked up close. He looked like he'd had a plan for his brush.

Then I walked into the next room, and this is where I appreciated my Mum's "pick one thing" approach. Because this room was just black and white photographs of glasses. Wine glasses with hexagonal bases. And boob-shaped dessert glasses- hopefully once filled with a spherical scoops of ice-cream. Eaten with a teaspoon! Glasses that made me think of holidays in Europe. Or maybe holidays in Europe that i've seen on-screen; characters drinking from glasses like these on the dark terrace after a hot day. Katherine Hepburn in Rome. Tilda Swinton on Pantelleria. Short glasses throwing shadows and tall glasses distorted so they looked like buildings, those early photographs of awe-inspiring skyscrapers in the 20s and 30s that are


I liked the order in this room. I imagined being the curator and thinking right, glass! and going to the archive with a mission. I didn't feel like I needed to go in any of the other galleries after that. Glass will do for me today!

Which is funny because now I'm sitting upstairs in the cafe with a view over the city and all I can see is glass. The glass sheets covering buildings aren't as satisfying as the round glasses on tables though. I can't imagine them being drawn out of a furnace and turned in circles in the same way as a wine glass, or a bottle, or anything that holds a liquid. They're glorious but they're majestic in a distant way, like they separate people. Glass with no openings. Glass that's glass but not a window. I know this because I struggle with my desire to throw open a window when I work in a place without them.  Where does it open? These buildings surely throw shapes like the drinking glasses. It's a shame we can never get far away enough to see how the light marks their shape in shadows across streets. Maybe that's why people take helicopter tours over cities. (Actually- let's face it- it's probably not.)

There weren't people in any of these photographs but they were implicit in the arrangements. You can't see a collection of used dessert and wine glasses on a table without thinking about the people they've brought together. An evening of filling and pouring. Social props. A glass so pleasing to look at, it makes the drink taste better.

I go and buy a beer!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Golden Years

A photograph that Ava took of me at The Barbican this evening.

We all notice our moods lifting and rising throughout the day like little levers that get nudged easier some days than others, depending on time or weather or the month, or whatever else. It's incredible how quickly the moods can change. Medium, medium...high high HIGH! Wowwww down again and low. One minute you're red-cheeked, drinking wine and eating salt cod croquettes with a girlfriend at a bar, and the next you're emotionally floored. I think those feelings are heightened when you're living in a new place. This month I moved to London! I packed up my lovely pink room in Manchester and i'm here! I'm subletting a room, and I'm working in a new office. I am constantly leaning on kitchen counters making conversation with people I'm not used to talking to.

This evening I went to watch a film at The Barbican with Ava, and after we parted ways I sat on a bench in the blustery-as-hell courtyard and looked up at the flats (as we all do at The Barbican, sighing a little bit) and I hungrily shovelled some leftover popcorn into my mouth, while the fountains churning through water, drowning out city sounds. Sitting alone on a bench at Barbican in the bluster, when the sky is fading towards evening is a very newbie in London thing to do, and I felt high, like I'm here! Sometimes that feeling is very real, and sometimes it's mustered without realising, from a corner of your brain where film scenes are stored and quietly marvelling in a big new city feels like the right (cinematic )thing to do. It felt real though. It was both of those things. As I walked to the bus I could feel that moment fading fast, as all around me other people also made their way home. Jesus, there are 8 million of us here, I thought. You know that feeling when you want to phone somebody because you feel a little internal shriek saying 'I'm a human!' and you should probably sit with that feeling for a while and let it pass, but you can't quite bring yourself to, and so you end up doing that mental checklist of who fits the bill? I was quickly in that headspace.

I phoned my Dad, and launched into an update. Can I call you back? he asked, I've just arrived at work. Sure, I said. I'm used to his late work hours but I sensed that he was in fact sitting in a bar with a Gin and Tonic in hand, and in that headspace that is stronger, when you decide to not go through your mental list of close people, and to sit quietly instead. I know that headspace, I protect it too when I'm in it. But it's hard to understand that when you're making your way to a bus stop in the bluster in the capital city and you're 24 and suddenly things have a way of feeling very tricky to navigate. When I was 14 or 15 my Mum and I went to a cafe, and I spotted my Dad at a table in the far corner. As we ordered drinks at the counter I phoned my Dad and waited to watch his face as he answered and I could tell him to look up, but instead my Mum and I watched as he took out his phone, hung up on me and returned to his drink. I can't remember what happened after that, I just remember being like "it's cool!" to my Mum, and trying not to act too traumatised, but now as i'm writing it and feeling it in my stomach I feel so fiercely protective of that 14 year old. How do we protect our own mental headspace without treading so un-carefully across those of others? 

A nice shade of pink.

Six months after David Bowie died, i'm still feeling affected by his death. It feels like you should reach a place- after a few days, maybe- when you don't feel weird about a famous person dying anymore, and i've ended up stayed too long at the party. (The wake!) For me, there's obviously more wrapped up in Bowie's death than Bowie himself (he died the morning before the 1 year marking my Granny's death, and as with so many families, Bowie was a legitimate connecting thread between our generations) but also there isn't more to his death! Or there shouldn't need to be. I'm letting myself still feel sad about Bowie. I have varying levels of grief in my body. Last week I cried at a Richard Linklater listicle, last year I lost one of my most Important People. I'm fucked off about watching my Dad hang up on me, and with all of this I honestly don't know where one grief starts, another ends.

One thing though, that is such a relief, is that Bowie is still here! As long as you have a way of accessing music, you can access him whenever you want! You can listen to Wild is the Wind, or Slow Burn, or Heroes, or Without You, or Five Years when you're feeling a bit tender and like you want to lean into it. When you need a pep talk from beyond the grave you can listen to Rock 'n' Roll Suicide ("Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful") or Golden Years ("Don't let me hear you say life is taking you nowhere") and if you really want to finish yourself off you can listen to Dollar Days from Blackstar ("If I'll never see the English evergreens i'm running to, it's nothing to me. It's nothing to see.") This is why music is so important, it's a comfort in so many moments, but especially when you have a pair of headphones in your bag and the itchy-fingered urge to phone somebody because you think an external pep talk is the only thing for your head. (Sometimes it is, but i'm trying to be better at not doing that so much. Ranting down the phone to your long-distance love isn't always good for either of your souls, when you could find personal solace somewhere else first.)

When my Granny was dying she told me "I'll always be close" and I believed her. After she'd died I felt angry, like Well?! Where are you? when I needed her, and her presence was intangible. But you have to trust that closeness is as much a feeling you produce in your own head, as it is something you feel from others. There's a crossover. When I'm walking down Exmouth Market at lunchtime, or under the last fall of the Cherry Blossoms around Islington (as I did last week) I feel close to her. I know how excited she would be for me, to be in this new city, getting paid to write words during the day. When I listen carefully to Bowie's lyrics on Blackstar, of survival sex, of accepting what you will and won't do and not being able to give everything away, she is incredibly close, and that's why I continue to feel so strongly about Bowie's death, because he's become like this artistic and emotional conduit to my Granny. Where on earth do these people go when they die? And isn't it just the greatest gift to have all this leftover art to absorb and comfort ourselves with?

I have this urgency to string words together in a beautiful way, and pick through feelings and give people a knowing nod, and I know who that came from. Sometimes I look back at the few blog posts i've written in the past year and I feel self-conscious that so many of them are about this Important Woman in my life, but you have to find your ways of working through those delicate moods, and picking through things for yourself, sometimes before sending your best friend a "give me a pep talk?" text. (I'll talk about those soon, because that's a whole other gorgeous can of worms.) Pouring it all out into a text box continues to bring comfort. Into the place i've been figuring out how much to keep in, and how much to put out for almost ten years. I figure it's going to take years worth of effort to build a shell against blustery winds that turn from high to low in a matter of minutes, or perhaps grief will fade and the skin will grow back. Either way, taking words in and sending words out continues to be such an utterly comforting way through, as I'm sure it will always be. That, and a plate of creamy scrambled eggs, covered in smoked salt and eaten in bed. Look after yourself!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Style apathy is a thing, but eyeshadow fans the flames of a fire emoji

Something I miss: writing unselfconsciously about fashion. I lost it when I decided it was okay to not be so dedicated to naming a look from a particular fashion collection, of seeing a side-parting in the beauty pages of Vogue and knowing 'Prada'. And then I stopped feeling qualified to comment on the party at all. Instead I thought I'm going to learn ALL THE STATE CAPITALS in the United States! and wanted to become as well-read as some of my friends. I started to feel uneasy about fashion as another endeavour hell-bent on creating more shit to take up space in the world. 

Actually, there's a specific moment when my desire to write about fashion took a hit- it was walking over London Bridge after a show at London Fashion Week and I starting crying and thought Fuck This, feeling utterly crap in the outfit i'd liked until I was positioned in a crowd of assessing eyes. Being in your teens and having well-known street style photographers take in your outfit from head to toe and then walk past you like 'no' was enough to make me leap into the arms of the early rumblings of Normcore. Steve Jobs knows what's up, I thought, and a pair of New Balance trainers, moss green cords and rotating knitwear got me through my first year at Manchester where it was mostly grey and I was trying to figure out whether or not I really enjoyed taking drugs, with a new bunch of friends. I started to judge what I wore in correlation with how easy it was to 'get shit done' whilst wearing it; could I feel comfortable cycling around the city, buying vegetable and flowers which I'd purposely position so they stuck out of my panniers, and could I walk into a lecture without needing to hoik my skirt? I developed a crush on the guy who lived upstairs and wore old Dickies dungarees with the arms folded around his waist and grey felt Birkenstocks, mostly because his style seemed to encapsulate this approach. His girlfriend wore transparent rain macs and they'd lock themselves into departmental buildings at the University as the Occupy movement kicked off. I liked the idea of being able to sit through political planning meetings and not be disheartened by the fact there was always one guy who'd stand for 20 minutes talking about something entirely unrelated, while everybody politely gave him a platform.

It's not uncommon for a steadfast teenage commitment to fashion to waver. The tricky layered Venn Diagram in which changing physical shape, body image, capitalism, diversity, environmental responsibility all overlay with fashion played into the wavering, but even though I'd always think who are these people? whenever I read a style profile about a rich woman in Vogue, I was still interested in fashion. I'd still see women in the street, or at festivals wearing just the right sort of suede jacket, or carrying herself in a way that made me want to follow her, and that was always down to clothes. Reading blogs, sites, magazines in which women said something about fashion and style that went beyond "I love this!" has always been an antidote to the wavering; those women who tell a story about how a Cerulean eyeshadow can make them feel as blissed-out and ON as the bottom of a swimming pool, or how a period of depression implicated the way they felt about their favourite pleated dress. I'm always thirsty for these stories. 

The last couple of weeks I've been thinking about how I can dedicate my time to writing the sorts of features that tell these stories, and the extent to which I can afford to do this (writing purely about the good stuff is a luxury unless you have an income coming from other places too) In the process I've become hooked on Stacey Nishimoto's The Selfie beauty column for Into The Gloss which reminded me god, I love the things we humans can do to ourselves to feel good and distracted and make it through the day and to fan the flames of the fire emoji. Connected to this same headspace: i've been wearing a new pair of bright white Reeboks everyday and enjoying the hang of my grey winter coat and feeling VERY ON (sartorially speaking) and reflecting that spending money on things that make your heart sing is always valid. 

Stacey's column appeals to my current need to not waste so much time on the little details in life that really don't matter. (Me: spending days searching for the right Airbnb apartment, checking the menu online before visiting the restaurant so I can select the optimal dish.) Stacey Nishimoto is serious about beauty, but she also takes the approach that aiming for perfection will take the fun out of the endeavour, which is to experiment, look bloody fantastic and wear lipstick on your cheeks if you want to because, jesus, there aren't any rules. This week I've worn baby blue eyeshadow à la The Face, defined my eyebrows and bought copper coloured glitter to go wild with because what's the point of feeling like I 'don't get' make up and that it's an area of expertise for other people, when I could just get stuck in.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Weekend List: No. 23

I've missed this little textbox, which I temporarily sidelined whilst focusing on ££, among other things. I'm trying to remind myself the purpose of a blog; to put words into a space where everything doesn't have to be polished and full of purpose. We (I) are too obsessed with efficiency sometimes. The view from here: it's February, so- early nights, not going out much except to the cinema or maybe drinks at someone's house. Cranking up the heating during the day, weeks passing very much in the same fashion (suddenly we're always back to Saturday), feeling weighed down by the amount of stuff I own and so big sorting piles emerging through which i'm trying to find some happy compromise- somewhere between honouring the fact I like stuff and whether or not it sPaRks jOy. Small joys in things like walking an hour to work (even in the rain), getting back into podcasts, trying to find the sparkle I seem to lose each winter, and indulgences like taking long baths three nights in a row. February is weird, isn't it? It's when I particularly cling to the memory of wearing sandals to the shops and the smell of buying flowers on a Saturday morning when the air doesn't taste cold anymore.

Here goes; some of the reads and listens that have given my brain a nice little massage in the last month..

"Back when I was at my loneliest, I decided it would be a good idea to force myself to do all sorts of things alone...One June evening, I determined that I would go dancing. I didn't want to - of course I didn't want to, I didn't want to do any of it." A cut-out-and-keep by Sadie Stein (thank you Ava.)

Yesterday lunchtime I was batch-cooking a big pan of Thai Curry and In Therapy came onto Radio 4 and caught me completely off guard. Quite suddenly in the middle of a weekly session John, a retired railway unionist was vulnerably declaring his love for Susie (Orbach), his psychotherapist. What is this? Is this.. real? I stopped chopping and sat down and listened.

"The frontline of labour disputes had shifted from picket lines to worry lines and collective grievances had become individual psychological battles." Sometimes I feel I trigger stress by thinking about how Stressed I am.

"Evan never made me watch sports with him, or complained when I took ages getting ready. Evan had never taken a selfie in his life, but he called me 'selfie queen' affectionately." Solid Dudes!!!

Get serious about your Fuck Off Fund.

"The joke in the field is: The male pill's been five to 10 years away for the last 30 years" Why Isn't Birth Control Getting Better?

Bowie x3: "The guitarist was going on about an art exhibit, and how much Mr Bowie would love it. Then he caught himself, realising whom he was talking to, and said, "Oh, you can never go there; there's too many people." Mr Bowie answered, slyly, "You'd be surprised the places I'm 'able to go."" David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker is so nice, and goes well with this anecdote: "People think: that's David Bowie, surely? Then they see the Greek newspaper - no, can't be, just some Greek guy who looks like him."And then there's this Jezebel piece which I really didn't want to read, but I did, and it made me uncomfortable in various ways, and was probably of the most real value. "We can't value one without devaluing the other."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hold music

Lav goals: some pink toilets I saw (used) in Tokyo in October.

Hi, hi, hello, hi. In the past couple of weeks I've had two people ask me if my blog was still going? The answer was yes, of course, and then I paused, did the maths and realised quite how long it's been since I last posted. What is there to say, except 'I've been trying to make money' and dedicating as much time as possible to writing that pays me enough to survive. In short, it's been a really great past few months, and I've been writing for publications I've adored since I was a teenager and started this blog in the first place, which sometimes punctuates a day with a nice, glowy proud moment (especially when that day is the day in which I get paid for a piece.) The blogging will continue, and you can also find some of my recently published pieces over here.

In the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I am actually entering the tenth year of blogging which is insane because I started this blog when I was 15 and that just means there's a steady documentation of my teenage and not-so-teenage thoughts all neatly archived online for strangers to rummage through. But also, I really feel that things would have panned out quite differently if I hadn't thrown myself quite so keenly into blogging in the first place, while I studiously avoided homework and focused on critiquing fashun with the blogspot set and for that I am truly #blessed.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pride Weekend

Charlotte Rampling, in a still from Andrew Haigh's 45 Years.

Tonight was one of those nights when coming home feels like a battle. Summer 2015 in Manchester has been an ongoing series of roadworks, bridges being bulldozed and 12 meter sinkholes opening up main thoroughfares. New tram tracks are being laid down, layers of ancient bodies unearthed along the way, whilst a couple of streets away the real, alive bodies of the homeless are shunted again, further out of public view, the latest push by the council, their belongings even cruelly thrown onto waste trucks, another tick box task to dehumanisation. A summer is funny when everybody takes it in turns to go away, and the city isn’t quite itself, but this summer it feels like Manchester has started to eat itself out of restlessness. I wait at the bus stop and watch diverted buses passing against the orange sky, but none of them are mine and there are cars beeping and beeping and inching along. Nobody is getting to where to want to be very quickly. Every moment feels slow but there’s also an excitable buzz hanging over the city; Pride Weekend. Horns and Mardi Gras beads abandoned on pavements, rainbows on cheeks, crowds of people smoking and wobbling outside of bars. Shoppers weaving amongst it all, also trying to get home. A van containing drunk and equally excitable people pulls up beside the bus stop and somebody leans out and shouts “YEAH! PRIDE!” and the people at the bus stop laugh, and one man says “it’s funny when they shout and then they just have to sit there until the light turns green.” And true enough, we watch the man lolling in the back of the van and he watches us back. Our bus still doesn’t appear, and I walk towards the train station instead. 

My head is in that foggy state of re-orientating after watching a film, and spending a couple of hours in another world. The world was a damp and lovely Norfolk, and the film was 45 Years. I fell fully into this world; the woman next to me was smoking an e-cigarette, the blue light occasionally falling into the corner of my eye line, and I didn’t even mind that much. I remained in my real world enough to notice that she was twitchy and birdlike, in her fifties with a woven braid at the front of her bobbed hair and an electric blue denim coat, nicely fitted, with badges from towns, cities and beach resorts around the world sewn onto the back. She had it laid over her like a blanket, and there was nothing annoying about her, even with the flash of her e-cig, because she was alone and I was alone and she and I were spending our respective evenings exactly as we liked. Each morning Charlotte Rampling wakes and walks Max, her Alsatian, through the fields which are foggy and verdant and British. The sky is that grey which is so bright you can’t tell if it’s close-by or deep and open, and sometimes you reach the afternoon without feeling like you’ve woken properly. Her mannerisms are slightly off-kilter and she walks like maybe she has recovered from a stroke, but maybe our bodies and joints just find new ways to sit as we grow older. Sometimes she shares silences with the man she’s been married to for 45 years, and much of their interactions feel comfortable and steeped in familiarity. Sometimes she misreads his mood, asks the wrong questions, and it’s a reminder that two people will always be separate, even if their identities slide higher on a scale of interdependent association as they age together. She plays the piano for the first time in a long time, reading Bach from a sheet of music. Then she puts the sheet away and improvises, and watching her hands I think of two times in the last two years I watched my Granny play the clavinova piano bought originally for me, and reclaimed when I lost interest. She taught herself to play beautifully, making it up as she went along (an approach replicated across many areas of her life) and the first time I listened, sitting at the end of her bed in her garden flat I was taken aback by this new skill; surprised and impressed and moved. Then she played again in her new house, in the attic she enjoyed for a short while as a studio. She had a Tchaikovsky figurine propped up on the surface of the clavinova which I didn’t recognise, so it was probably newly found in a charity shop. She played with her back to me, as I leaned on the banister and I cried a little bit because it was after her diagnosis and it felt so special to hear her play on one of my short visits back from Manchester. Quite mundane and just very sad. By the time she’d finished and turned around I’d stopped crying, because how boring it must be to be dying from cancer and have people crying on you all the time. She probably knew though. I watched Charlotte Rampling’s fingers move across the piano and had a cry in the cinema too. I thought about having sobbed quietly but uncontrollably a few months earlier in a screen whilst watching Love Is Strange, in a scene involving easels and unfinished paintings, which triggered the same feelings of Granny’s attic. I watched that film at the start of the year, so around 7 months ago. Some days pass uneventfully, but rarely is there a week that I don’t find some evocative association has crept up on me and I have to let myself go, right into it. Often I think about the whole compulsive sobbing thing, and feel a bit self-conscious to be experiencing such raw feelings over a grandparent when so many of my friends lost their years ago, and have even lost parents since. But sitting there in the cinema I thought about the line in Leslie Jameson’s The Empathy Exams which I had underlined on my lunch break today because it reminded me of my Mum, but which also felt comforting to me in that moment. “I would tell her she is going through something large and she shouldn’t be afraid to confess its size, shouldn’t be afraid she’s “making too big a deal of it.” She shouldn’t be afraid of not feeling enough because the feelings will keep coming- different ones- for years.” When somebody dies you lose them, but you lose that space in the family too, and so everybody has to move around accordingly and figure out how and where to stand without stepping on toes. They also have to figure out how much it matters if sometimes they do stand on toes, because, and I think I’m beginning to understand this, as you get older you want to feel more sure, and so compromise less. But you have to get the balance right of being very careful with the feelings of others, and very careful with your own. In the wake of a death the sensitivity surrounding this business is heightened and so this “something large” to be going through involves a small family quite consciously having to readjust and grow up even more, even if they are all grown-ups already. Because the grown-ups that were once right at the top aren’t there any more, and we’re having to learn to look down from new places. I watched as Charlotte Rampling sometimes says the wrong things, but is mostly always “true” to herself in order to be careful with her own feelings. I realise that any fantasy I had about a sense of sorted-ness coming with age was exactly that; a fantasy.

I finally get back to my house and it’s rather quiet, but I don’t mind too much because there’s a parcel waiting for me just inside the door that I wasn’t expecting. A house at night can be quiet, but an unexpected parcel at least stops it from feeling lonely. When you know that somebody has been thinking of you, the rest of the evening doesn’t feel quite so aimless. Like me, my aunt Mary acutely feels the gap of the ‘sensitive advisor’ role left by my Granny. Sometimes we both miss and need it very much and so we’re learning to go to each other for this comfort instead. The parcel was from her; inside, wrapped in beautifully illustrated paper (I know who we’re both channeling in our minds here) was Infragreen, a recently published collection of poems written by our cousin Kate. I feel thought of, and connected to Mary, and to Kate who represents the side of the family we feel a familial closeness for (and desire to be closer to) even though we see them rarely; most recently two funerals, a wedding and the novel lunch I shared in her garden when I visited London last summer. There’s something about poetry that elicits a school-ish feeling inside me, of somehow ‘not doing it right’, of reading poems self-consciously as if they are above my ability to understand. But I put my keys on the table and lie back on my sofa and plough through twenty in one go. She writes of green, wet gardens and rain, footprints on car brakes, and waking up in the early hours (mind racing but also dumbly half-awake) and the municipal journey of a tulip from a loved one, from Holland to wobbling over the edge of a vase at home. This doesn’t feel like a battle, and I turn each page feeling reassured by descriptions of nature which feel like the Norfolk scenes I was enveloped in a couple of hours ago. I read about foreheads and try to guess which family member they belong to, if any at all. I project memories of my trip last summer onto the words, imagining kitchens described as I remember hers. It seems right to be reading about the earth continuing to turn and school runs, and empty plastic milk bottles on counters and to have spent an evening alone feeling the presence and familiarity of a faraway loved one quite close, and not-so-faraway relations closer.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Weekend List: Cut-out-and-keep special

Two of my friends running butt-naked into the chilly Pacific in April 2012. 

In this special 'cut-out-and-keep' edition of The Weekend List, I've asked some of my friends, and favourite online writers to share the essays and articles which have affected them for personal or professional reasons. I'm excited to round-up meaningful links from this bunch of people, some of whom have actually led me to my own cut-out-and-keeps or moments of reading something glorious. (I'm thinking lying on Formby Beach reading Juliet Jacque's Q&A in the Women In Clothes book in particular.) These are the reads that have helped to consolidate an idea previously hard to pin down; the oh yes moments that changed a way of thinking, or led to an enthusiastic sharing of links amongst friends and conversations in pubs. In short, these are cut-out-and-keeps worth returning to, and they're compiled together into one killer post, a go-to kit for bolstering and yes!ing. 

I used to keep a scrap book of the magazine and newspaper articles which affected me; they're still glued into an fluorescent pink notebook. There's a beautifully-written profile of Natasha Richardson, an interview with Jane Shepardson from when I was sure I wanted to work in the fashion industry, and a run-down of a morning at BBC Radio 4's The Today Show from 2011 when working in radio became far more appealing. There's a feature about Dave Gilmour and his son and their personal film club (and how Gilmour allowed his son to leave school at 16, so long as he continued to educate himself through cinema.) This article was from a 2008 edition of The Guardian- a tell-tale snapshot of me aged 17, cruising along at college, desperate to be done with education and throwing myself into my new found hobby- solo trips to the cinema. I'd forgotten about lots of these cut-out-and-keeps before I leafed through my old notebook just now, but at the time they all felt important and worthy of holding onto. More recently, after a string of flirtations and romances that didn't go anywhere, that left me feeling cold and like the people I'd been opening myself up to couldn't reciprocate, or couldn't see me, I read this Ask Polly column and suddenly had a new vocabulary for this sort of man: tepid. "You need to tell tepid to fuck right off," Polly said, and when I read that lots of things fell into place and I returned to valuing and loving myself and demanding that anybody I was going to be romantically involved with absolutely had to do the same. On my second date with my boyfriend (though I didn't realise that's what it was at the time) he asked me about my love life and I told him I was only interested in people who thought I was fabulous, and this new rule for myself and for others felt personally revolutionary even though in retrospect that seems like such a necessary wish to have for oneself. This is a celebration of the essays, columns and words which have allowed, and continue to allow these moments to fall into place.

But I Invested In You
Last year, my friends and I all read The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. Afterwards, we referred constantly to this review by Sheila Heti, who analyses the troubling power imbalance in the book between Nate and his girlfriend Hannah (a “seven”/“co-worker material.”) The insight of Heti’s that bashed us over the head was how Nate “outsources the work” of their inevitable break-up to Hannah. “The women around him do the heavy labour of making relationships honest and tender, because that’s their position culturally…” Jessica Stanley, Writer and Freelance brand strategist, London.

Athletic Aesthetics
Brad Troemel's essay talks about ‘a new species of artist flooding the internet with content [inviting] the audience to complete their work by loving their brand, making the artists themselves the masterpiece’. This intrigued me: I'd always been fascinated by Nietzsche's imperative to turn oneself into a work of art, making it the basis for a short story that I first drafted in 2002 and rewrote several times over the next ten years. But the process that Troemel described was all too familiar, particularly where he talks about how social media (as well as precariousness, debt and unemployment) has led artists from making works to ongoing self-commodification, with the audience becoming part of the medium. Any loss in quality was offset by each public statement - a blog, a tweet, whatever - becoming an opportunity for personal connection with the creator, but after documenting my transition in the Guardian and on Twitter, I'd found this constant contact had utterly drained me, and I needed a new way of working. Troemel helped me to break my obsession with broadcasting every aspect of my life, and accept that I didn't need to be visible all the time - I was far better off taking as long as I needed to make work that I could be proud of. In the two years since I read it, I've become far happier as a writer, reconnecting with what made want to do it in the first place rather than remaining caught up in the endless churn of opinion. Juliet Jacques, Writer, London.

Structuring Life With Depression
I suffer from anxiety and depression; it's not something I make a secret of because what good does it do to further internalize fears and worries? (Not much). I came across this Rookie essay about routines and depression a few months ago during a rough patch, and within a few lines, I knew I'd be sharing it with everyone. The best part? When I shared it in my TinyLetter, my readers were also moved by it. I've found that I often share things online for the possibility of sharing a "you too?" moment with others. 2015 has been a bit of a strange year, but the guiding idea of this essay—"Might as well"—has been so helpful. It's so good, I'm just pasting a paragraph here: "My day starts with making the bed, and I’ve discovered that if I can complete this one task, the rest follow with barely a complaint. This is the principle of Might As Well. I made the bed, so might as well do the dishes, and shower, and take some blog photos, and get back to that bit of writing. Might As Well is the queen of forces: Never underestimate its power, for it is singular in its capacity to motivate while maintaining the lowest of low-key profiles—you get stuff done practically without noticing. You got out of bed, so you might as well have a productive day." Sarah Galo, Freelance Writer, New York City.

Yes, Men Are Better Writers
I encountered this blog post by Helen Addison-Smith almost exactly a year ago, when I was in an unhappy marriage trying to be a mother and a wife and someone who needed to write all the time. It resonated so much for me. After a year of trying to be more selfish, I'm now a single mother, but I'm still writing. There are no easy choices for us, and this goes a fair way to explaining why. Kate Feld, Writer, Manchester.

Since Living Alone
My first attempt at writing this was just pasting the long quotes from Durga Chew-Bose's piece Since Living Alone that most affected me since first reading it when it was published, back in January. Now, in this version, there are fewer long quotes from Durga and a little more from Brodie, but that only serves to reinforce how excellent she is at describing what it means to be a woman alone in apartment—as I've been for just a few weeks now. Durga writes like I wish I could write, with such self-assurance and the kind of references and connections I can relate to and recognise immediately but would never think to draw myself. She writes like someone who's well-read but who doesn't want to rub it in your face and make you feel bad about not having the same cultural touchpoints or not having read the books she refers to. I mean—fuck, man—she makes the act of eating a pear seem like the most important and romantic act a single woman can perform in her own space. I am so obsessed with and jealous of and in awe of her ability to make me feel at once understood and envious. "I’d been avoiding myself with such ease that even when an obstacle presented itself—like the pained limits of a friendship that had run its course—my response was to adapt around it the way we circle street construction on our way to the subway without much thought, as if the ball and sockets of our hip joints, anticipating those orange pylons, swerve so as to save our distracted selves from falling into crater-sized holes…It takes me fourteen steps from my bed to my bookshelves and nine steps to walk from my front door to the globe lamp I’ve propped on a stool under a wall I’ve half-decorated, of which a poster I’ve framed hangs asymmetrically next to nothing more than blank white wall. That globe lamp is the first light I turn on when I return home. For nine steps when I walk in at night, after shutting my front door and placing my keys on their hook, I navigate the slumbered mauve and moon-lit darkness of my space. It welcomes me; the darkness and I suppose the lamp too." Reading this piece makes me feel the same way I did when the credits rolled on Life Itself, the Roger Ebert documentary: at once inspired to write better and tempted to give up the game because I'll never be this good. Brodie Lancaster, Writer and Editor, Melbourne.

One Year Later

My friend Bethany wrote this incredible post about reclaiming the word 'fat' as a factual description rather than a pejorative evaluation, which I read and send to people all the time. Regardless of your body type, it's a fantastic mission statement about self-acceptance and casting off the weight of societal norms. "Denying that I'm fat is denying me the chance to find any beauty in it," she writes. "I enjoy my appearance, whether or not you do. And that's priceless." Laura Snapes, Culture Writer and Contributing Editor at Pitchfork, London.

If He Hollers Let Him Go
One of my cut-out-and-keep articles is If He Hollers Let Him Go, written by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for The Believer. Written in 2013, it’s a bit of an older one, but it really hit me when I first read it. I would have been a bit more green back then, and I remember thinking I wished I could write with her sensitivity, condor, and confidence. Since reading this she’s become one of my favourite journos of all time, and then as now, Dave Chappell is a personal hero. I don’t want to give too much away, because it have a really perfect ending, but it’s such a great study in how to write about a celebrity and a hugely covered subject in a fresh way, while still being respectful and treating them as a person. Funny, last month Good Good Girl held a workshop for writers and editors and we were speaking about certain articles you return to again and again for whatever reason. This is that article for me. I find it frustrating, because in the years since it ran I’ve never approached it for quality. But whenever I feel dejected about writing or my work it is also endlessly comforting that if done right, your words can be so effecting. Wendy Syfret, Editor at Good Good Girl, Melbourne.

Ask Polly: How Do I Make My Boyfriend Listen?
"And then there are smart women with lots to say who are also very sensitive and weird and analytical and incredibly talkative, who ALSO listen very closely. These women are often labeled “a little too intense.” We think way too much, and slice and dice everything under the sun like a Ginsu knife that’s been sharpened one too many times and is now capable of cutting a watermelon in half like it’s made of crepe paper." I've emailed this essay to all of the smart, special, sensitive women in my life. I grew up in a household where talking about my feelings was normal. When I was at university, I found myself surrounded by a group of people who were deeply uncomfortable with talking about feelings, let alone analysing them. To them, my tendency to delve into matters of the heart was seen as overly-emotional, hyper-sensitive and "taking things too personally." When I read this particular Ask Polly (and there are so, so many great ones), I realised that I wasn't an annoying weirdo. I was simply a sharp knife. Simran Hans, Freelance writer and film programmer, London.

If je ne suis pas Charlie, am I a bad person? Nuance gets lost in groupthink
I still think about this article and regularly allude to it in boozy political/social justice-orientated conversations. I first posted this article on Instagram under a photo I took of a mural that read Je suis Charlie in huge block letters that was located on one of the most traveled streets in Los Angeles. At the time of posting, I felt a bit nervous of getting into a social media conflict with a follower and friend about posting something other than absolute solidarity with the Je suis Charlie cause. My precariousness to press the "share" button is author Roxanne Gay’s point exactly; having a nuanced opinion is not appreciated in situations where groupthink has taken over. This point has undoubtedly been made before but is becoming more relevant when thinking about social media campaigns (think KONY 2012 or the rainbow-ing of Facebook photos in allegiance with marriage equality). I respect Gay for the bravery it took for her to write something like this for an international news-source knowing the backlash she would recieve. Her message is something I think about all the time when interacting in communal virtual environments. Kara Hart, Medical Genetics Programme Coordinator, East Hollywood.

The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain 
When I was twenty I was with a man who was the great love of my life. He ended the relationship when I told him I loved him in a terrible nightclub. Although we carried on loving each other messily afterwards for many years, the end of the love as I desired it (uncomplicated, happy), was a direct result of the confessing of it. You would expect the effect of this to be a fear of making my emotions audible, but the opposite happened -- I didn’t mean to be the woman inspecting, and asking everyone else to witness, my wounds – I knew what kind of ancient dialogue/fetishized mythology this entered me into - but I was helpless to it; I was bored and embarrassed by my own pain, and I bored and embarrassed the people I loved with it; but still, over time, however shaming, it became something I defined my life by. So when I found The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain by Leslie Jamison who asks the question, “why am I talking about this so much?”, it became almost holy to me; I pored over it; I carefully printed it out for the wounded women I knew (there were many), and passed it to them with reverence over pub tables. I carried it in my bag like a piece of scripture; a love letter granting me the permission to hurt, and to transcribe this hurt into the poems I was working on, without defending myself from “the old litany of charges” against “The Girl Who Cried Pain”. She writes, “I’m tired of female pain and also tired of people who are tired of it”, and in this line, and all the many others of its kind in this remarkable essay, I was first able to live with my pain, and then to move on from it, and to see, what she calls, the “last alchemy, pain-to-art, as possibility”. To use the Anne Carson line she references, “it pains me to record this, / I am not a melodramatic person”, but I will forever be in Leslie Jamison’s debt for creating a language for my pain, and showing me how “to find something in it that yields”. Harriet Moore, Literary agent and Poet, London.

Don't Try This At Home: Mooncup Edition
Stevie Martin's article on the humble mooncup is so bladder-shakingly funny, that when I originally read it way back in 2012, after semi-winding myself with laughter, I promptly shared it with all of my fellow Women of the Womb. But more pertinently, it really took me aback at how this ostensibly cool, clever girl was so comfortable about writing the gruesome, sticky details of periodhood. It's gross. But if it's normal for half of the population, why the hell are we so ashamed of it? I am now a proud "over-sharer" of my very normal monthly visit from Aunt Flo. And to this day, if anyone asks me what my favourite accessory is, I answer "my mooncup". Frankie Tobi, Radio Production Coordinator and Writer, Manchester.

George Saunders Had Read The Best Book You'll Read This Year
I first read this on my laptop, in bed in my flat in Shoreditch on a Monday night, a month off finishing my Masters. Outside it was grey and cold and snowy and I had this weird, poignant sense of anticlimactic disappointment. All my education was coming to an end, and what was it for? I had gotten a job that was objectively my dream job, and in many ways everything was great! But, but (my lip quivered) – is that all there is?? I wondered, pointlessly, about the future, about life. And then I read this profile of George Saunders, which is brilliant because it’s a cleverly-written, sensitive profile of an author, but also because it’s about George Saunders, an author who has taught me ultimately that life is going to be OK. Because it is. And because the whole point of it is that sometimes you are disappointed and sometimes you are angry and sometimes you are joyous and it’s all big, wide and expansive and maybe it’s OK if you can just try really hard and be kind at the same time. I can’t believe it took reading a profile in the New York Times Magazine to get me to realise that. I’ve sent this one on to many friends – and revisited it myself many times, when I’ve forgotten – since then. Those final lines in particular have become a mantra for me: “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.” Ana Kinsella, writer, and editor at Bon Magazine, London.

Going With The Flow: Blood and Sisterhood and the London Marathon

The story about Kiran Gandhi free-bleeding at the London Marathon resonated with me because my best friend is an elite runner where I live in Sheffield and he's always trying to improve his times despite injuries or other setbacks, and although he doesn't menstruate, health, injury recovery time and mood on the day can really affect performance. I appreciate why Kiran didn't want to start mixing up her routine with menstrual management that might irritate or chafe during the run. No menstrual product is every going to be leak free, no matter how shaming the ads or how great the innovations. My own comedy and (menstruation-orientated) education and engagement work aims to take the stigma out of leaking in a fun, tongue-in-cheek way and I was so glad to see someone doing this for real - it happens more and more lately and it's great that menstrual taboo-breaking is gaining momentum. Chella Quint, Comedy writer and Education consultant, Sheffield.