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