Fine Lines

Who knew shopping for a new moisturiser could be so emotionally stressful?

There are so many dramatic, confidence-coroding words to wade through. Defying. Minimising. Reduce the signs of. Fight the signs of. Repair. Fix. SOS. Anti-wrinkle. Anti-ageing.

Anti-life.

The lines of my body and the lines of yours are the storylines of our lives – and I’m so, so tired of being made to feel like I have to fight the signs that I’m actually a living, breathing human who’s lucky to be growing older, and maybe even growing wiser, every day. I’m tired of the impending sense of fleshy doom companies drip feed me from all angles. Tired of heart-deep skin worries. Tired of filters specifically designed to “beautify” and hide “flaws” and distort features; filters that mess with the insides as well as the outsides of our heads. I’m tired of airbrushing. And I’m tired of chasing unattainable, ever-changing perfection.

No cream, no balm, no serum, no filter can substitute for the storylines of a life well-lived.

These are some of my body’s lines…

Little cardboard cuts scratched across my fingers and forearms – the bane of supermarket workers the world over. Palm lines that hold my future and my past, or maybe they don’t, who knows? Teeny, tiny fingerprint lines, all mine. Spidery blue lines just below my skin – beating, flowing, rushing lifelines. Hairband lines – most days one found on my right wrist, some days one found right round my tresses, the ugly ghost of a ponytail. Centre parting line, something I have always, and will always, refuse to change no matter what hairdressers say. Anklet lines, my inner bohemian/hippie/magpie released. Bracelet lines painted against my pulse. Watch strap lines telling fleshy time. Tan lines, pale moon-white skin versus slightly less pale and freckle flecked skin. Sometimes, fake tan streaks. Occasionally, wonky eyeliner. Most days, lipstick smudges. Sock lines dug into my calves. Worry lines etched deep on my forehead, maybe even carved down into my skull, from years of not knowing how to let anxieties go. Smile lines that crinkle by my lips, always ready and waiting to make an appearance, from years of knowing the best family and friends. Teary mascara streaks across my face when it all gets too much. Bra strap lines that dent my shoulders and stretch across my back. Uncomfortable underwire lines that trace up to my armpits. White dashes on my fingernails and jagged, broken lines of varnish. Burn lines, guilt infused. Bleary red veins that creep and crawl in the whites of my eyes after too little sleep, bleary red pillowcase creases that thread across my cheek bones after too much. Stretch marks, silver tiger prints blooming on my thighs, my hips, my breasts. Bikini line, ahem. Crinkles above, below, behind my knees. Little lines on my ears from earphone wires. Face mask lines on my nose, something new to get used to. Mini crosshatched lines tattooed to my hands and knees from my yoga mat. Muscle lines – be careful, I’m stronger than I look. Big lines from chair edges pressed into the backs of my thighs. Lines of book page edges printed to the fleshy bit below my thumb. Necklines – higher, lower, what will people think, why do I even care? Jean seam lines, waistband lines, cuff lines. Careless ink lines slashed across my hands. The whisper of crow’s feet lines beside my eyes, memories of laughter.

I could go on and on.

These are some of the lines of my life.

And they suit me just fine.

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between the world and me, rebecca, the salt path, & my sister the serial killer

These are a few of my reading highlights from the last few weeks…

BTWAMbook_edited

between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a raw, heartfelt, and compelling letter by the author to his son on the subject of race in America. Not only does it lay bare the sustained experiences of racism most black Americans face in their lives, it also unpicks the idea of the American dream itself. It’s a beautifully written, brutally honest, and insightful book.

‘You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable… The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.’

RebeccaBook

rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I ordered a copy of Rebecca from the library just before lockdown, and finally got my hands on a copy earlier this month (yay for libraries re-opening!). I found it just as twisted and gothic and haunting and suspenseful as My Cousin Rachel – although I did find it infuriating to have such an aloof main character (she’s never even named) despite appreciating that this detachment was a deliberate (and, granted, effective) narrative tool. It’s a classic for a reason, so I won’t bore you with more of my analysis – basically, if you read it it’ll mess with your mind and keep you on your emotional toes.

‘He would never love me because of Rebecca. She was in the house still… she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall… and in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs.’

the salt path by Raynor Winn. Weirdly, I started The Salt Path last year but returned it to my TBR pile for another try when I didn’t get into it as much as I’d expected to. And I’m so glad I saved it for future reading, because when I picked it up again last month I clicked with it instantly. The book follows Raynor and her husband, Moth, on the physical and emotional ups and downs as they walk the South West Coast Path in England after they’re made homeless and as Moth struggles with the effects of a debilitating illness. It’s a raw account of hitting life’s rock bottom and rebuilding from what’s left. Be careful, though – it’ll make you want to go for a really, really, really long walk.

TheSaltPath

my sister, the serial killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Every now and again, I read a book that I just want to press into the hands of every passer-by I see and shout dramatically: “read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets!”. My Sister, the Serial Killer is one of those books. I’d seen it all over instagram and the book blogosphere for aaages, but was nervous a book about a serial killing sister would be too macabre for me. Turns out, I was totally wrong. I loved it. The story itself is simple but addictive, the characters are lovable if a bit morally adrift, and the tone is incredibly witty despite the dark subject matter. Read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets.

‘Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.’

MSTSKbook

• Have you read any of these? • What did you make of them? • What have you been reading recently? •

all at sea

the shiny early morning.

the bustle and butterflies and getting ready. the backpack and its almost broken zip. the going, going, gone out the door. the grey, grey roads. mirror, signal, manoeuvre. the parking up.

the walk, walk, walk.

the slooshy, silver sea and glassy sunlight. the tarmac to beach ombre. the flip-flops flipped off sandy toes. the picking a spot, backwards, forwards, back again. the nerves, nerves, nerves. the trying to forget my body. the quick strip down to my costume. the quick march to the water and the cool, cool, cool of it against feet, calves, knees, thighs, tummy, arms. the deep, deep breaths. the sinking slowly down to shoulders. the unsucking of feet from sand, flip-flapping them. the slip sliding forwards. the rippling waves slapping chin, cheeks, nose. the absurd thought of sharks. the imagining of pointy teeth, fins, death. the less absurd thought of jellyfish. the imagining of tentacles, poison, death. the closing of eyes and the don’t, don’t, don’t think thoughts. the stopping. the treading water. the goggling at blue skies all above. the resting. the bobbing. neck back, head up, hair wet, heart calming. the tippy toes peeping above the water. the tide tugging, pulling, teasing. the splash marks on sunglasses and the gulls crying. the paddle boarders. the serious swimmers, caps and suits and goggles. the runners on the shore. the cruise ships hanging on the horizon, sea cities turned to ghosts. the goosebumps flooding skin. the press of time, time, time. the strokes towards the beach. the soaked soles on shifting sands. the walking. the fear of falling over. the nerves, nerves, nerves again. the trying to forget my body again. the quick steps across the beach. the sand plastered to ankles. the relief of hiding in a gritty towel. the lying back. the gentle hush of waves. the tired lungs, tired arms, tired legs. the tingly skin. the icy breeze. the tangled hair, sticky and messy in a ponytail. the book, its pages snapping in the wind. the shimmering, sea-slicked shells. the wait, wait, wait to be mostly dry. the packing up. the double check. keys, phone. keys, phone. phone, keys. the drive home with a salty smile on my lips and a little weight lifted from my heart. the rest of the day sunny and sea drunk.

the dreams, dreams, dreams.

all at sea.

reading at the beach

Armageddon Tinsel

Last year, I wrote this piece about what living with generalised anxiety disorder felt/feels like, after I was diagnosed with it in the summer of 2018 – but in the end I was, hilariously, too anxious to actually publish it. *facepalm*

It’s been living in my saved drafts, taunting me, ever since.

I’m still anxious about publishing it, but I’ve reached a point where I’m as at peace with that discomfort as I’m ever going to get – and, seeing as this week marks two years since I ended up in floods of tears opposite my GP trying to explain the amount of chaos and confusion and fear my brain was drowning in, it feels like a good time to finally share it. It took an embarrassingly long time to write (and it’s probably going to take a long time to read as well, sorry). I kept having to take breaks away from it because the line between catharsis and relapse turns out to be quite a thin one. I’ve left it how I wrote it last year, so the timeline is all wrong and there’s one word near the end that made me cringe when I reread it (you’ll see why when you get there). Also, as of March this year, I’m back on the SSRIs and back in therapy (yaaaay) to try and address the body stuff I’m still struggling with, so my “therapy free life” comment at the start definitely no longer stands. Aaaaand lastly, I know some parts of this post might sound self-pitying or pity-seeking but that’s really not what I wanted to get out of writing it – I just want to share some of the experiences I’ve had. The more I read, the more I listen, the more people I meet, and the older I get, the more I realise that we’re all struggling with something, we’re all just winging it, and we’re all just trying our best with what we’ve got – and that growing sense of perspective has been invaluable. My only hope for this post is that by sharing these things I can help anyone who’s been through or going through similar experiences to feel a little bit less alone.


Armageddon Tinsel

What Life With Generalised Anxiety Disorder Feels Like

MudTightrope

Back in February, after five months of CBT, I was officially released back into the wilds of therapy free life.

I was treated for generalised anxiety disorder, which – at the time – felt like a rubbishly undramatic and pathetic name for what was happening inside my brain. But, to give the name its due, it means exactly what it says.

everything + anxiety = disordered thinking, disordered behaviours, and a disordered life.

This is what it feels like…

Your brain is wired all. the. time. but it’s not wired for useful things or happy things or things that will improve you and your loved one’s lives – it’s flaring like a nuclear reactor siren for all the things that could go wrong, all the things that have gone wrong, all your failings (recent and ancient), and all the world’s failings (recent and ancient). And that anxious inner monologue is like a dog that just won’t stop barking – painful and mind-numbing to listen to, incredibly annoying, and unbelievably distracting.

You can’t sleep because, although your body is dead to the world, your brain is busy convincing you that you might never wake up; that maybe the hob is still on; that maybe all the doors and windows are unlocked; that maybe you forgot to put your car’s handbrake on (not weird worries); that maybe you said something unforgivably nasty to someone during the day and just can’t remember saying it; that maybe you ran over a cyclist whilst driving home and just didn’t notice (getting weirder worries); that maybe your foot is itchy because you scratched it on a syringe and just didn’t realise and now you have HIV or hepatitis or both; that maybe you’re the ugliest human that has ever lived and should stop leaving the house in case you make people unwell with your disgusting face; that maybe you put bleach in your cup of tea earlier and just can’t remember doing it; that maybe you randomly wrote the c-word in the middle of an e-mail, maybe wrote a whole paragraph’s worth of them, and just didn’t realise (definitely weird worries); that maybe there’s a sinkhole under your house and you’re about to die; that maybe there’s a plane tumbling to earth above your house and you’re about to die; that maybe another world war will break out and you and all your family will die; that maybe you’ll start sleepwalking and accidentally kill your family (triggered by this story in the news – fully fledged weird worries); that maybe someone in your family will start sleepwalking and kill you; that maybe you’re not real and the world isn’t real and that there’s no point to anything.

You struggle to make decisions – big and small – because you’re sure whatever you decide will end in disaster – big and small and all shades of disaster grey. You can’t concentrate and sometimes struggle to even talk because your brain is too busy processing absurd scenarios that it thinks it might need to deal with to focus on the actual task in front of it or to focus on the sentence it was half-way through saying. You stop trying new things and stop practising old things because you’re afraid of failing and afraid of ruining things that you love with your rubbishness. You refuse to put your heart on the line – refuse to put it anywhere near the line, eventually stop noticing/believing other people might be close to the line – because you’re embarrassed by your mental messiness and convinced of your physical ugliness, and you’re sure if anyone gets too close they’ll just hate you like you hate yourself.

Your memory is shot to pieces. You nod along blindly as people reminisce about events you were physically there for but mentally absent from – absent from because you were too busy trying to locate all the emergency exits; too busy wondering if there were glass shards in your drink or in your dinner; too busy imagining all the fat in your body tearing through your clothes; too busy trying to figure out how hideously disgusting you looked from 360 different angles; too busy assessing people’s faces for signs that they were repulsed or sickened by your physical appearance; too busy scrutinising an awkward moment from three minutes/days/months/years before; too busy picturing your house burning down; too busy working out if the ache in your head was actually a headache or if it was a brain haemorrhage in headache disguise; too busy praying that the sirens in the distance weren’t the police coming to arrest you for a crime you couldn’t remember committing; too busy contemplating the likelihood of gunmen appearing, which direction they would most likely appear from, and the chances of everyone’s survival.

You become vulnerable to bad people doing bad things to you because you stop trusting yourself and stop knowing which instincts you should believe in, because you blame yourself for those bad things when* they do happen, because you feel so worthless you assume no-one could be bothered to do anything bad to you anyway, because your default reaction is to shut down and convince yourself that the bad thing can’t have been real, that maybe it was just an anxious thought slipping into your perception of real life and that what you really need to do is just get a fucking grip (THIS issue is the biggest fucking kicker, I swear).

*and, unfortunately, it’s most likely when and not if – bad people know who to pick on.

AnxietyScreenshot
This is the delightful mindfuck my brain decided to treat me to after I was assaulted by a customer at work in May 2019, and this message was sent to one of my best friends as I sat crying on my sofa unable to face going on a night out to a crowded festival. I spent weeks not only worried that I might be assaulted again, but – after I reported it to the police – I became terrified that people would randomly accuse me of the same thing. It was the shitty cherry on top of an already shitty cake.

You startle constantly at the smallest things: a customer walking through the door, a friend’s hand on your shoulder, a cute little butterfly fluttering passed on its cute little way to do cute little butterfly things. You cry and you cry and you cry because you’re exhausted and don’t understand what’s happening to your brain, because you’re frustrated that you can’t just pull yourself together, and because you feel unbelievably pathetic. You hurt yourself because it puts some of the pain in your mind onto your flesh, and flesh can’t think and chitter-chatter and babble away like a mind can; and because you’ve reached a point where you really don’t care about mistreating your body anymore – burning, bleeding, and bruising feels like all it’s good for.

You’re so, so ashamed because you don’t know how one person can be filled with so much negativity and badness and horribleness, and you feel guilty because you don’t know how you’ve wasted so much life – life that could have gone to someone else, to someone who would have done something useful with it.

Round and round in circles you go – minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. Weeks, months, and years pass. The circles get smaller, but they, somehow, encompass more worries. They, somehow, spin faster. Your centre of balance tries to shift, tries to keep up, but the dizziness balloons and grows and morphs until you’re bursting at all the threadbare seams that are, somehow, still keeping you together; until you’re pitching left, right, forwards, and backwards on an ever shrinking life tightrope; until you’re actually not sure if just giving up and falling off that life tightrope is really such a bad idea anymore.

You realise you maybe, possibly, perhaps (desperately, desperately, desperately) need some help.

You wait months before actually phoning the doctors because you’ve invented a scenario in your head where the receptionist will tell you to stop wasting their time and strike you off the surgery’s list and then that’ll be the sign from the universe that you definitely have to die. They don’t strike you off the list when you eventually ring (funny that), but you do have to wait a month for an appointment. Then you finally, fina-fucking-ly, get to the appointment – the day before your 26th birthday – and break down the second you walk through your GP’s door. You cry, and blubber, and soak the whole lower half of your face in snot and tears (classy).

You’re lucky – so, so lucky – and have a doctor who listens through your incoherent sobbing; who politely ignores all the stuff dripping from your eyes and nose, and quietly hands you a box of tissues; who takes you and your misfiring brain seriously; and who – most importantly – comes up with a plan that gives you hope that things can change, a plan that doesn’t involve you dying.

Phew.

Replace all those ‘you’s with ‘i’s and – tadah – there’s messy old me.

*waves awkwardly*

*also makes preparations to go and live in a cave to avoid facing family/friends/colleagues who didn’t already know this story*

There’s no start date for me plus GAD, no stressful epiphany, no big trauma, no pantomime villain. My therapist and I raked through a lot of things, and the words “perfect storm” are the only ones that fit – no matter how clichéd they are.

I love, love, love a cliché.

Lots of little things led me down the anxiety-brick road. I had all the life ingredients and all the personal traits to go right ahead and make myself a big old anxiety disorder cake. And I baked that cake to perfection.

What can I say? I’m a good baker. *flicks hair over shoulder sassily*

Generalised anxiety disorder is addictively habitual. It’s superstitious – if I worry about it every second for twenty four hours then maybe the bad thing won’t happen because I’ll be ready? But maybe I’m making the badness gravitate towards me by thinking about it? Fuck, which one is it supposed to be?’ – and it’s so, so delusional. Painfully delusional. It’s a hall-of-mirrors lense that tricks you into thinking you’ll see the world more clearly – in beautiful, crisp focus – if only you just take a look through it. But once you’ve leaned in to see what’s behind the glass, once you’ve leaned in to take that sneaky peek, it shows you a kaleidoscope of horribleness instead – and you don’t know how to tear your eyes from it, don’t know how to unscramble the picture that’s being painted before you.

Being painted by you.

That lense is all you think you have. It’s all you think you can rely on.

With each day, week, and year that passed GAD became inseparable from my whole sense of the world. I decorated everything I loved, all the things I dreamed of, all the hopes I had for my life with its awfulness – some Armageddon tinsel here, a few epidemic* baubles there, plus a sprinkling of sudden death glitter on top.

*okay, so let’s not talk about this prophetic word choice. 2020 is turning out to be some epic exposure therapy. *laughs awkwardly, breaks down in tears*

Every day, my brain still tries to get out that sudden death glitter and make the world sheeny-shiny with horribleness. Every day, I have to remember to put the GAD goggles down and back away from the black hole of worry lurking in my heart.

I think I’m getting better at it.

Obviously, I worry that I’m not. It’s a hard habit to kick.

But mostly I’m finding it easier to dismiss the anxieties that before would have hijacked – hook, line, and sinker – my mind for hours and days and weeks. Mostly I’m able to get on with doing the things I need and want to do. Mostly.

And for now, mostly feels like winning.

For always, mostly is winning.

*

Some links, tips, and resources that might come in handy:

  • I was helped by Steps 2 Wellbeing (a NHS service based in Dorset and Southampton, UK).
  • The Samaritans – you don’t have to be feeling suicidal to call them (maybe this is stupid of me, but I didn’t know that before I went to my GP), they’re there to help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year if you’re feeling bad and need to talk to someone.
  • Mind have lots of useful information on their website.
  • And so does the NHS.
  • Made of Millions have loads of great information, advice, and resources on their site too.
  • There are useful links for support on the Heads Together website. Heads Together is a charity founded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to tackle the stigma associated with mental health issues.
  • Arm yourself with knowledge. Whether it’s through books, tv documentaries, podcasts, or radio programmes – learn more. It’s comforting to know you’re not alone and gives a sense of perspective that is invaluable. I find authors like Bryony Gordon, Rose Cartwright, and Matt Haig helpful. You might not have the same symptoms or diagnoses as them or me but it’s remarkable how similar the patterns of mental illnesses are, and there’s no harm in learning more about other people’s experiences.

HelpfulBooks

  • If you work for a larger company, they’re likely to have a helpline for their employees to ring (that should probably be anonymous, but double check if you’re unsure). Ditto unions.
  • And please, please, please contact your GP – don’t let make believe scary receptionists put you off.

If anyone has other charities/organisations/books/tips they can suggest, please do!

bitesized book thoughts

So, the real world is still being weird and scary and stressful. But, have no fear! If you’re looking for some papery, fictional worlds to distract you, I have a couple of books you might want to consider for your reading list (although most of them aren’t set in worlds that are actually any nicer than this one)…

a different drummer by william melvin kelley

a different drummer by William Melvin Kelley. This is a powerful and unique, and utterly unputdownable, book that explores racism in a (fictional) Southern state in 1950s America. In it, we follow a handful of the white townsfolk of Sutton as they grapple with the meaning behind an exodus of all the town’s, and wider state’s, black citizens. It’s inevitably painful and hard to read but it’s also so, so good. The writing is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the characters – the good, the bad, the ugly – come alive on the page. I would highly, highly recommend this one for your TBR list! (I first heard about A Different Drummer via Books, Baking & Blogging – Anne’s review is excellent and well worth a read.)

my cousin rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. Oof, I had so many feelings about this one. It’s incredibly tense and unsettling and uncomfortable, it plays so many mind games, it leaves so many questions unanswered, and it throws up so many issues. I found it painfully infuriating and painfully intoxicating all at the same time. Philip Ashley lives a comfortable and sheltered life in Cornwall under the guardianship of his wealthy cousin, Ambrose. When Ambrose leaves for Italy one winter and marries a mysterious woman during his stay, Philip is mortified. Mortification turns to devastation and suspicion when Ambrose dies suddenly after suggesting his new wife, Rachel, is poisoning him. And when Rachel turns up in Cornwall, Philip’s suspicion descends into twisted obsession. Despite loving me a story full of twisted obsession, I was hesitant to start My Cousin Rachel, ummed and ahhed over it for ages, because I was worried it might be a bit dowdy, a bit stale, a bit old fashioned – and although it’s a book that’s certainly of its time (beware some very offensive language), it was anything but stale or dowdy. I could not stop turning the pages. It’s safe to say my first foray into Du Maurier’s gothic world was a success.

my cousin rachel by daphne du maurier

machines like me by Ian McEwan. Ah god, this was a funny one. I liked it… aaand I also hated it a little bit. It follows Charlie, a self-employed financial speculator in an alternate history version of eighties London, as he adapts to life with an AI robot called Adam. The plot itself doesn’t feel very eventful or gripping – the focus of the story stays firmly on the moral can of worms that living with an artificially intelligent, and possibly conscious, machine opens up. It’s peppered with loads of wry humour which I loved, and the questions it raises are undoubtedly interesting, but it just didn’t hit the book spot for me – perhaps ironically, it was full of clever, intriguing brains but lacked a beating heart.

machines like me by ian mcewan

tales from moominvalley by Tove Jansson. *sighs dreamily* This collection of short Moomin stories is just perfect – each one is life-affirming, heart-warming, surreal, thoughtful, and delightful in its own way. Travel with Snufkin, discover a tiny golden dragon, build a fun fair with a Hemulen, overcome worries with an anxious Fillyjonk – explore the weird wonders of Moominland in all their whimsical glory. Moomin books always make the best comfort reading!

• What have you been reading recently? • Have you read any of these? • What are your thoughts on them? •

Reads – The Mermaid of Black Conch

*looks to the heavens for help*

I’ve been trying for a whole week to think how I can review The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey in a way that will do it justice.

But I don’t think I can.

Put simply, this book is utterly, utterly beautiful.

‘The flat dark sea broke open. The mermaid rose up and out of the water, her hair flying like a nest of cables, her arms flung backwards in the jump, her body glistening with scales and her tail flailing, huge and muscular, like that of a creature from the deepest part of the ocean.’

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

The Caribbean, 1976. David Baptiste, a fisherman, is out in his boat one morning – not fishing, but smoking, singing, and playing his guitar. His music lures an ancient mermaid – the legendary Aycayia, a young woman cursed to live as a mermaid centuries before. Over time, David and Aycayia form a tentative bond. He, a hopeful performer; she, an intrigued spectator. But the arrival of two American fishermen in the town spells trouble for the star-crossed pair, and the effects of those troubles ripple through the whole community.

‘David was strumming his guitar and singing to himself when she first raised her barnacled, seaweed-clotted head from the flat, grey sea…’

This is the sort of book that’ll leave you bereft when you finish it – it’ll leave your emotions all at sea, your heart achy, and your soul spellbound. It’s the sort of book that’ll make you look at your TBR pile and sigh forlornly, knowing your reader’s heart is spoken for. It’s the sort of story that’ll sink down into your skin and weld itself to your bones; the sort of story that’ll leave you listening for cackles of laughter in the wind and have you double checking for silvery scales on your legs.

‘What had happened?… Had she done her time in exile?… Men had pulled her from the sea, where she’d been safe but lonely. Now she was contending with another life, one with reggae music, peacocks, cake and people who wore clothes.’

People who wear clothes, cake, peacocks, and reggae music – plus love, trust, curses, pride, jealousy, and a mermaid.

Together, they make one magical book.

a tale of one bookshelf

Yesterday, I built a little bookcase using scraps of wood from the garden and a lot of blind hope (mixed with only a small amount of blood loss).

I was more than happy with the end result…

HomemadeBookcase
it actually works!
HandmadeBookcase
it’s not wonky, it’s rustic…
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pretty patterns

Despite having a bit of an incident involving a saw and my right thigh; despite kneeling in chicken poop (fyi: I was much more upset about the chicken poop); despite deafening myself and my neighbours with a lot of sanding, nailing, and swearing; despite forgetting to wear sun cream and ending up with burnt shoulders; despite winging most of the measurements; despite having pretty much no idea what I was doing (my brain: “straight pieces of wood + nails = bookcase.”); despite spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to find pencils/bradawls/rulers/nails I’d only JUST THAT ACTUAL SECOND put down… despite all of those things, I feel that the whole DIY experience was a positive one.

And the shelf hasn’t fallen apart yet, so that’s another plus. #winning

All of this is good news, because I’m going to need to build another one VERY soon.

Note to self: must. stop. buying. books.

Change Is Needed

Never in my life have I felt that if I said the words “I can’t breathe” to a person in authority that there would be a chance they wouldn’t listen to me and try to help me. That basic feeling of security – that feeling that I don’t even notice, that feeling I don’t consider each time I step outside my house, that feeling that doesn’t keep me second guessing how any action I take or any things I say could be misinterpreted, that feeling that wraps me up safe and lets me know society values my life – is a privilege (along with many, many others).

It’s a privilege that’s handed to me on a plate simply because I am white.

And that is outrageous.

That feeling should be a basic human right.

Black voices matter. Black stories matter. Black cultures matter. Black experiences matter. Black history matters. Black representation matters. BLACK. LIVES. MATTER.

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The rest of us need to listen. We need to do better. We need to ask uncomfortable questions and challenge uncomfortable realities. We need to open our eyes to the things that have happened and the things that are still happening every single day all around us, big and small. We need to stop pretending this isn’t our problem too. We need to accept that silence and inaction perpetuates injustices. We need to learn – not just now, but always. We need to be open to criticism and not become defensive if we’re told we’ve messed up. We need to offer our support and action for when it’s wanted/needed.

Personally, books/stories feel like the best way for me to try and make a difference, and the best way to educate myself. Going forwards, I will be reading more books by Black authors (as well as more by BAME authors in general), and I’ll make sure I write more reviews/post more bookstagram recommendations for these books too. I’ll keep my mind wide open, ask hard questions, speak up, try to be aware of unconcious bias and challenge it. I’ll check my privilege. I will listen, listen, listen. And I’ll put my money where my mouth is for the causes tackling racism and raising awareness for Black voices whenever I can. I know these things aren’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I hope they can contribute towards positive change.

The world NEEDS to be a better, fairer, more just place.

We all have a part to play in making it so.

There’s one day left for this fundraiser by Inclusive Indies. If you can contribute, please do!

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/inclusive-indies

a flowerfall of roses

The weather here has been perfect for the last few weeks. Blazing blue skies. Glittering sunshine. The ocassional wandering, lonely cloud.

And, to top it all off, there are roses, roses everywhere.

I am obsessed with the Mayor of Casterbridge rosebush in our garden at the moment.  It’s overflowing with blooms; a flowerfall of pink petals and leafy greens. And it smells beautiful too, like a lush, floral summer-punch to the nose.

I’m spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to capture its beauty with my camera and on my phone. Different days, different lights, different angles, different (and undignified) stances to get those angles, holding my breath, trying to keep still, cursing any breeze but then delighting in the waft of rosy air that washes my face after it.

None of the photos seem to come out right, though, no matter how many I take.

If I could invite you all over to see it in the flowery flesh, I would.

But, for now, these three photos will have to do instead.

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I hope your June is filled with sunshine and rosy moments.

Right Book, Right Time

Some books* are like roses – they need just the right conditions to grow on you, and you need to catch them at just the right time otherwise you’ll just see a mess of bleak branches and threatening thorns rather than a wonderland of beauty and colour.

*maybe all books are really – but I think this a whole other (and probably very long) blog post.

I recently finished One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and it felt like a rose-book to me.

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one hundred years of solitude

‘… experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spinning into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.’

There’s so much I could say about One Hundred Years of Solitude, but not much I can add to the already extensive debate surrounding it. It’s a mindbogglingly successful book that has had a massive cultural impact, that helped to spark the fires of magical realism as a genre, and that has baffled/bewitched millions of readers around the world for over fifty years.

Personally, I ended up loving it – despite a lot of intitial confusion/frustration/bewilderment and thinking that there was no way I would be able to muddle through to the end.

It turns out the conditions and times were right, though, for this rose-book to grow on me.

‘It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days.’

I have a few take aways from it for anyone thinking of giving this epic and surreal family saga a try…

  • it’s a whirlwind. Wars are begun and ended in a single sentence. Characters suddenly ascend to heaven whilst hanging out the laundry. Flowers rain from the sky and have to be shovelled off the streets. The book is a tornado of weird emotions, disturbing relationships, mini dramas, mega dramas, magical happenings, and dizzyingly complicated politics.
  • there are A LOT of characters with the same name. Get used to seeing Aureliano and Arcadio written on the page and good luck trying to distinguish between those characters based on the names alone. I could only differentiate between them by their behaviour and the characters around them, and even then I slipped up.
  • the imagery is insanely good. The book is a kaleidoscope of magic and wonder – I had to keep taking little moments just to absorb all the incredible mind pictures Márquez was painting on the page.
  • reading it feels a lot like fighting your way through a tangle of roots. But – after a while, hopefully, if you still like it and want to stick with it – those roots unfurl into a jungle of lush green leaves and colourful flowers. It’s still chaotic and wild, but it’s an interesting and hypnotic world to be in all the same.
  • it needs devotion. It’s not a book you can dip in and out of – it’s too mad for that.
  • it’s uncomfortable. There are creepy, icky relationships and creepy, outdated attitudes and neither of those things makes for a comfortable reading experience.
  • it will make you appreciate how normal your family is. If you’re beginning to find lockdown family life a bit tedious and samey, just be thankful you’re not in lockdown with the Buenidas.
  • it’s funny. There’s a lot of absurd humour to sink your teeth into.
  • it’s really, really weird. This is just worth reiterating.
  • it’s captivating. Despite everything – and there’s a lot of everything, I know – the story has a gravitational pull that’s hard to resist. It’s wacky and strange and disorientating, but magical in its bizarreness.

‘… both continued living on their own, cleaning their respective rooms while the cobwebs fell like snow on the rose bushes, carpeted the beams, cushioned the walls. It was around that time that Fernanda got the impression that the house was filling up with elves.’

To be honest, I’m really not sure that I would have grown to love One Hundred Years of Solitude if I hadn’t had a couple of days free to lounge around in the sunshine and get completely lost in it. I can easily see how in different circumstances I would have slammed it shut and vowed never to open it again.

A holiday week in lockdown had some unexpected reading benefits, at least.

Right book, right time.