Here it is! Spread to the Edges’ first superhero movie article. And neither Dan nor Adam could bring themselves to do it so hi, my name is Elise. I’m just a girl who likes films and has somehow not lost complete faith in the Marvel universe yet. So prepare yourselves for very little technical review and lots of personal response.
First things first, let’s deal with the ‘H’ word. Black Panther has been incredibly hyped, however, it’s all for good reason. The representation in this film is long overdue, both in superhero movies and Hollywood as a whole. I don’t want to get too into the politics here, but films such as Black Panther, Get Out and Lady Bird just goes to show the power and complete sense behind letting people tell their own stories, instead of letting rich white dudes dictate it for them. Black Panther is nuanced…
You’re tired of hearing apologies and I’m tired of giving them. That being said – sorry for the absence. Assuming most of you are my friends, or twitter followers, or tutors, even, you’ll know that it’s been that time of year. Assessment season. Plus Christmas and New Year and all of that but really it’s been all about the assessments. An unfortunate side effect of said period is the absolute disinclination towards doing a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g other than work, and an unfortunate result of such is that this blog has fallen into a bit of disrepair. Or neglect. Or a combination of both. To be honest my brain has been well and truly fried, poached and boiled.
But here we are: new year, new me. It’s the final semester for me here at Nottingham, and whilst that is terrifying, it’s also exciting. In classic me fashion, however, I’m trying to jump the change by making other changes to lessen what will in fact be the real change of leaving the university bubble and stepping into the real world. By that I mean I’ve dyed my hair ginger and bought a suede coat and gloves and now drink coffee on the go. Although, turns out if you say to everyone ‘Hey, look at my new lady coat!’ it kind of ruins the facade of being a capable lady. You win some you lose some.
Anyway, enough of that. What I want to start this new year with is a quick ode to the best discovery of last year, my new favourite writer, and favourite woman in general, Virginia Woolf. Roll your eyes, I know. What female English student doesn’t like a bit of Virginia? Well, me from two years ago for one. We studied her briefly in the aptly named ‘Studying Literature’ module of first year and safe to say, me and V did NOT get along. I experienced To The Lighthouse via live audiobook, one of my friends reading it aloud as I cleaned the flat after a house party. Probably not the best environment to read Woolf in but it was first year when work and socialising were a joint endeavour. Neither me or the audiobook friend liked it all that much, and me being less literary than a lot of my peers, I dismissed Woolf as something not right for me. Fast forward to September 2017. Whilst picking out modules for third year, a good portion of my friends opted to do a single author study module. None of the modules we’d taken thus far had focused on one author, and that was a really attractive prospect. They all chose to do James Joyce though and I was not about to throw myself into that snake pit. The other option was Virginia Woolf, and my thought process was something like ‘Heck it, why not’.
Four months later, here I am, shoehorning Woolf into every literary conversation and essay I can. I love the woman. But I’m not here to sell you on Woolf. It’s been a while since I did some good ole psychoanalysis on here, and boy are Woolf’s works rich for it.
Now one of my top (possibly number 1??) books ever, The Waves was pitched to us in class as one of Woolf’s harder novels. However, I didn’t really find this to be the case. Perhaps due to the fact I took a trip to the hometown without any chargers which resulted in no phone or laptop for the long train home, I blasted through it in a few sittings. I’d argue it’s best read in this way, though, as the reported speech style Woolf uses to narrate the characters’ internal thoughts requires a bit of a switch in your reading process. Generally described as soliloquys, the passages of the novel are written completely through the internal workings of the six characters’ minds – there’s no external description whatsoever. The result of this is an incredibly intimate experience, as the only judgements you can make as reader are literally through the eyes of another. No objectivity here, thank you. Woolf was an extensive essayist, diarist and letter-ist, meaning a lot of her working processes are documented. The Waves is one of the lesser explained of her works, however, Woolf’s most allusive comments being that of ‘writing to a rhythm not a plot’. An initial subheading to the book, Woolf aimed to write ‘The Life of Anybody’ in this book, to write an experience both intimately subjective yet untied to external reality. And she really succeeds, in my opinion.
‘I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.’
Six characters narrate The Waves: Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda. Woolf once wrote in a letter that she perhaps intended the six to be facets of one person, and the possibility of such permeates the book – ‘I am not one and simple, but complex and many’, says Bernard. Paired with Woolf’s aim to represent all parts of humanity, this means that the characters in The Waves often come to represent the different people within us all. Bernard needs people, Rhoda despises company. Susan is steeped in nature, Jinny lavishes in the superficial. Neville is a poet, Louis desires order. There is something to connect with in all these characters, good and bad. However, what I found genuinely heart-wrenching was the way Woolf describes the dark parts of life through Rhoda.
Rhoda exists psychologically in what is a severely psychological book. Where most of the characters find some grounding in their external world – Bernard in his phrase-making, Susan in her farm, Jinny in her sexuality – Rhoda has no such connection. She struggles with her place in the world, saying she has ‘no face’, ‘no identity’ like those around her. Nonetheless, she longs for anonymity – ‘I like the passing of face and face and face, deformed, indifferent. I am sick of prettiness; I am sick of privacy. I ride rough waters and shall sink with no one to save me’. This is the tragedy of Rhoda – she cannot exist in the world of her friends as she has no sense of self, yet she will not let go of the anonymity that has comforted her all her life. She despises human beings for trying to chain her down in one spot, snatching from her the ‘white spaces that lie between hour and hour’ but without them she will drown in the nothingness. Despite being not dissimilar to Bernard’s fear of solitude, Rhoda’s struggle often goes unnoticed by the others. Bernard sees her and Louis as ‘spies, conspirators’, as more because of their introverted experience. He says ‘Rhoda was wild – Rhoda one never could catch. She was both frightened and clumsy.’ From the outside, perhaps, that is how Rhoda appears, introverted but content with it. After all, she attends the social events, she has a sexual relationship with Louis, so Bernard sees her isolation as a choice and an admirable one at that.
‘Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness.’
‘I will fling myself fearlessly into trams, into omnibuses […] I am flung upon this woman, upon this man, I am not injured, I am not outraged by the collision’. Rhoda speaks these words in the wake of Percival’s murder. It is in a passage of settlement, Rhoda creating a ‘dwelling-place’ amongst the anonymous faces of Regent Street, making peace: ‘Wander no more, I say; this is the end’. However, in the final passage, Bernard tells us ‘Rhoda, always so furtive, always with fear in her eyes, always seeking some pillar in the desert, to find which she had gone; she had killed herself’. Too late, he reaches out to her in a vision, a memory, and tells her to please wait for the omnibuses to pass. Rhoda does not think it will harm her, she sees her collision with the omnibuses as the only way to collide with other human beings, and assumes this will protect her. Rhoda was detached from her physical existence, and so she flings herself against the physical world in a desperate attempt to connect to it. The others, multitudinous as they are, never quite made the connection to Rhoda that could have saved her life.
Woolf writes internal existence so well to the point of fear. Reading this book scared me in more ways than one – it made me confront all aspects of myself, including the dark parts that Rhoda represents. Yet Rhoda’s suicide was not the part that hit me hardest about this novel. It was Bernard’s, and the rest of the characters’, failure to see Rhoda’s experience for what it was – fatal. Bernard admired her solitude – he admired her suffering. He thought she was more whole because of it. It is this aspect that I wanted to write about in this post. Like Septimus Smith in Mrs Dalloway, Woolf touches on the grandeur that suffering is attributed in art and the power that exists within pain. Bernard only wishes he could harness this artistic potential, he envies Rhoda to the point where he can no longer see what is really happening. For both Septimus and Rhoda, whatever beauty exists in their suffering, whatever artistry, it means nothing in the end. They choose to fling themselves hopelessly outwards rather than be trapped inward a moment longer. Bernard sees Rhoda’s suffering as admirable, as poetic, as an artistic goldmine right up until the moment she kills herself. No one would call suicide an artistic expression, so why should we revere pain as we do when we are alive?
‘To let oneself be carried on passively is unthinkable.’
Of course I am being hypocritical. Woolf herself followed in the footsteps of Rhoda and Septimus, throwing herself into the River Ouse with her pockets full of stones. Without her sadness, we may not have got these outstanding works of art. Yet Woolf’s message in these characters is not that we should admire their pain, but rather we should see it for what it really is, and more importantly, do something about it before it is too late. Pain is not beautiful, suffering is not to be envied. The Waves is an incredible piece of art, devastating and deeply affecting. It is masterful, wonderful and full of light. It has some of the most uplifting phrases I have ever read. Yet it is also a warning. The long suffering artist – is there any image so dangerous?
The Waves by Virginia Woolf was published by The Hogarth Press in 1931. My copy is the 2015 edition published by Oxford World Classics and edited by David Bradshaw, available in bookstores and online. All of Woolf’s works are available for free on Amazon Kindle and in various places online. If you are looking to start reading some Woolf, I recommend beginning with Mrs Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own and her essay, The Narrow Bridge of Art.
Featured image courtesy of theintelligentlifemagazine.com
On the 7th of November I woke up at 5.30am in my old, single bed. Surrounded by flowery wallpaper and the sound of heavy snoring, I was back in my dad’s house. The night before I’d hopped on a train from Nottingham and sped back to Sussex, heading – almost immediately – to the pub. I may have only been home for 8 hours but I was sure as hell going to get a glass of wine in there somehow. During the catching up, one of the girls asked me what exactly I was doing London the next day. My answer – ‘I don’t really know, honestly’.
So, why am I writing this a month on? Haven’t I basically forgotten everything? A lot, probably, yes. But in that time several of the other attendees have written similar posts, and when reading, I’ve realised my experience seemed kind of different to theirs. So here’s that.
After waking up in the purest darkness I’ve seen for a long time, I shot a couple grumbling messages to those two pub friends about what a mistake it was considering we all had early starts, downed a coffee and a slightly hard pain au chocolat (thanks Dad) and headed to the station. The train was full of business-looking people in suits on their Surface Pros with large coffees. I was in the midst of the commute. Being a student, I never really see this part of life, and it was horrible, frankly. Everyone just looked so sad.
An hour and a quarter later, I arrived at Blackfriars. Scurrying out into the street with my overnight bag in tow, I fumbled with my phone and Googlemaps until I decided to just follow the young-slightly-arty girl in front of me. Lo and behold, she walked right into the correct building. This is where the fun (and panic) began, as upon entering there were sofas and sofas full of young-slightly-arty-but-also-scared looking people. I tried to strike up a conversation with one or two people, but the nerves hadn’t yet simmered and no one had had caffeine in hours so it proved slightly tricky. My heart did sink a little at this point, I must admit.
However, we were taken downstairs, given tea and coffee and a seating plan. Finding my table, I sat with a girl I found out lives a couple of towns away from mine in Sussex. Very weird. Slowly the table filled, we got chatting and opened the goody bags left for us on our chairs (including a hardback copy of Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend!). More chat and I found I had mutual friends with the girl sat on the other side of me. This was looking up.
So, the agenda begins. Essentially, we were delivered a series of short talks by members of each section of Hachette: Editorial, Sales, Marketing, Publicity, Rights, Contracts, Finance etc. Most were focused on telling us how they got to where they are, with only a quick overview of their roles at Hachette. This part concerned me, as I didn’t feel like I was getting to know all that much about the workings of the company itself, but more about the people who worked there. However, that all changed when at the end of the first talk, we were told to look under our chairs. There was a pack, with documents, flipboard paper, markers, a laptop etc. And one piece of paper that said the words: Vlogger/Blogger. We were then told that this was our group’s pitch proposal pack. We were going to design and pitch a book by the end of the day. Gulp.
Each talk ran much the same, with an absolute stand-out discussion by Sharmain Lovegrove of Dialogue Books, Rising Star and all-round incredible human, asking us to consider our approach to each section in our pitch. We had a kind of booklet that we filled out along the way. Luckily for our table, lots of us had experience watching and reading the content of our genre (watching YouTubers is my main form of procrastination) so there was a good base for us to work from. A main critique I’ve seen of the event was that we had nowhere near enough time to solidify ideas in our groups before the next speaker was up, which I do agree with. There were, however, a LOT of speakers, so the agenda had to be pushed quite a lot to stay on track. Lunch came and went, some fresh air grabbed (there were no windows in the otherwise awesome meeting space) and a bit more chatting done. Due to the lunch spread, the coffee and tea had been removed so me and my new pals had to go on a bit of an explore to find that sweet, sweet caffeine. A lovely woman named Sylvia who was helping run the event showed us where to go, and made the incredible suggestion to try the hot chocolate. It was so sugary I think I was feeling it for days after.
The second part of the day began similar to the first: talks, brainstorming, talks, brainstorming. It did begin to get a bit repetitive, and bless the girl who had to do the finance talk, but by that point people were getting a bit weary. A fresh face, however, was Lizzy Kremer of David Higham, a literary agency. Passionate, funny and kinda angry honestly, Lizzy did make for a change – there was a bit of tussle between her and the Contracts speaker, and I’m not entirely sure how jokey it really was. The talks ended, and here came the panicked part.
We got given half an hour to create our pitches. Half an hour! 5 out of the 10 of us had to present, and it just sort of worked out on my table that 5 people would want to and 5 didn’t. Miraculously, the sections of Editorial, Production, Design, Sales and Marketing all fell into the hands of people who wanted to present those particular areas. I was doing the Marketing and Publicity, and sort of felt like I took a bit of control of the organising. I was enjoying myself, I thought I had good ideas, and we got shit DONE. Our group were third or fourth in the track listing, so we had a few groups warm up to show us what worked and what didn’t. This was probably a bit unfair to the first groups, especially since they were presenting to the Big Cheese, Martin Neill, but I guess that’s just how it had to work. We made our pitch. It went well, we only left a few details out and the feedback was mainly positive. Sitting down, I felt relieved and full of adrenaline. It was kind of a rush. With big smiles from our lovely group, we took our seats to watch the rest of the pitches play out.
After every group had pitched, the HR ladies ran us through some CV and cover letter tips. You could see everyone scribbling furiously during this part – vital, vital info. Some tips included: they won’t get to your CV if your cover letter isn’t good; always always always check your work for spelling and stupid errors (one person addressed an application to Penguin instead of Hachette); and don’t tell the company how awesome they are – they know – tell them why YOU would be awesome for THEM instead. And that was it. Day over.
We were then invited to go up to the roof bar and have a drink with some of the staff. Unfortunately, me and another of my table girls were both looking at 3 hour journeys back to uni ahead of us, so we made our thanks and headed out. In hindsight, I really wished I’d stayed and just resigned myself to getting home at 1am, but the physical and mental exhaustion had really kicked in. I loved the people there, I loved the atmosphere, but I was completely networked out.
To the conclusion, then. When I mentioned the other blog posts I’ve read, I said my experience felt different to theirs. I loved the event completely. I didn’t see much wrong with it at the time, I thought it was a really great insight into publishing (ey). However, with time I see what they mean about organisation and timings. It did all feel a little rushed. I think I was just incredibly lucky with the group I had – we were quick to get off the mark so nothing felt too panicked. But there were probably more speakers than there needed to be. Lizzy was a refreshing addition, but I feel like we probably could have done without, if only for time’s sake. But these all seemed insignificant things to me.
The biggest issue I’ve seen is that this event wasn’t for certain people. Whilst I think Hachette did a really great job of giving a wide variety of invites (there was a concerted effort towards gender balance, racial diversity, and subject/degree/job backgrounds), they perhaps didn’t think about those people who aren’t natural networkers. To get a group of people interested in books together and not expect some introverts seems a little naive. From this, I understand others felt a bit disillusioned with the way publishing houses are run. You need to be a people person, it seems. I’m not sure to what extent I believe this is true but I can see where they are coming from. The day was incredibly draining. Especially since many people, like myself, had travelled for hours and hours to be there, there was a lot of pressure on the attendees to be on top form all day. This, obviously, isn’t entirely possible. I know that by the end of the day, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to be alone in my room. But as I found out from this event, I am a natural talker. I can lead conversations when others don’t want to, but I like to step down and let other people talk. My group all got so comfortable with each other so quickly, and I do think that’s mainly due to the outgoing personalities within each of us.
So, yes. This event was… socialiser exclusive. It was intense, long and taxing both creatively and physically. It probably wasn’t for everyone. I know that it challenged my limits, 100%. But that’s why I think I found it such a success. I barely knew anything going in and came out with a true feeling of ‘Yes. This is what I want to do.’ That’s invaluable to me. With time, I’ve been able to ruminate on what I’ve learned and apply it to my life. The things that were talked about have obviously resonated with me and made me feel so much better equipped than I was before. I loved the place. I loved the people. I loved the atmosphere of it all. More than anything, I felt at home. So, thank you, Hachette. For an amazing day, an amazing company and for showing me that I made the right decision pursuing this industry. Until next time.
Yes, this is a post about musicals. No, you should not click away. Cliche as it sounds, Dear Evan Hansen is not your regular piece of musical theatre. It’s a triumph of art that can (and should) be enjoyed by all, whether you like the medium or not. Here’s why.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this show doesn’t exactly fit most people’s preconceptions as to what a musical is. For one, it’s completely new. Even I, as a moderate-to-avid musical theatre watcher, would have struggled a few years ago to think of many shows that came from nowhere. Broadway reflected Hollywood in this way – everything seemed to be an adaptation, revival or completely unwarranted musicalisation of our childhood faves (seriously, who asked for Shrek the Musical???).
Then along came Dear Evan Hansen. A new concept, devised by Pasek and Paul almost 8 years ago during their studies at the University of Michigan, Dear Evan Hansen is still the most current feeling piece of art I’ve consumed in a long time. The set feels reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, very dark with digital screens and harsh spotlights. At times it feels boundless and empty, at others completely overwhelming with flashing images of social media feeds. That’s where it’s effect lies, I suppose. The story is very centred around this idea of social media and hyperconnectivity, of which both the set and the music portray to incredible effect.
The music. Usually, if I try to sell someone on a musical, the score isn’t the first thing I go to. Weird, I know, but I’m assuming here that the person I’m talking to needs convincing out of some pretty anti-musical feelings. Some people don’t like the old razzle-dazzle and that’s fine. I totally get it. But the music of Dear Evan Hansen is so fresh and modern that it could be played on the radio and you’d be none the wiser to its origins. There’s also a chance that you’ve already heard Pasek and Paul’s work in the past. Heard of La La Land? Yep, that’s Pasek and Paul, Oscar-winning composers. La La Land has done for movie musicals what Dear Evan Hansen is doing for the stage – bringing a wider audience in, and leaving them spell-bound. Waving Through a Window, the best-known song from the show, has been covered by all kinds of popular artists, including dodie and Owl City (remember them?!).
The score is gorgeous, the instrumentation feels modern and the voices, good lord. Rachel Bay Jones, Tony-winner, switches from poppy opening song, to raspy rock, to soft lullaby all within the same show. Ben Platt, who also won a Tony for his performance of Evan Hansen, has the most incredibly vulnerable yet powerful voice in any genre as far as I’m concerned. That vibrato though.
Okay so, the music is good, the singing is good. So what? Isn’t that like, the bare minimum for a musical? Yeah, good point. BUT. What really makes this show as special as it is is the story itself. Steven Levesnson’s book for Dear Evan Hansen is just as accomplished, nuanced and beautiful as the music. In my opinion, this is where many musicals fall down in people’s eyes. The music can be brilliantly orchestrated and performed, but if the story isn’t there to back them up, it can fall flat. But this story is incredible. Without spoiling too much, Evan Hansen is a socially anxious teenager who falls into a lie where he claims to have been close to a classmate who committed suicide. However, because of this lie, Evan helps the grieving family to heal, as well as doing good for the community and fixing himself a little on the way. The intricacies of Evan’s character are flawless, Ben Platt’s performance bringing out Levenson’s writing in the most beautiful ways. Platt has been hailed hugely for this, his commitment to Evan’s physicality and anxiousness requiring him to go to physical therapy so as not to develop a hunchback. But you never leave Evan’s side. You understand him the whole way through, which I think is a big compliment to the writing as well as the performing. All the characters are fleshed out, all are relatable and all are devastating in their own ways. They’re all wonderfully acted too.
More than just being a great piece of art, Dear Evan Hansen is important. As I said, this is new. Whilst a risky thing in the current Broadway climate, the show has experienced unadulterated success and has possibly changed the face of Broadway for the forseeable future. Thanks to the likes of Stranger Things, nostalgia has been dominating our media for a while now. And while I love it, and completely get why people want to distract themselves from the current moment, it’s important to think about it sometimes. Dear Evan Hansen brings forth some really prominent issues. Social media, anxiety, suicide. Feeling lost and alone when everyone around you is posting their whole lives online. Trying to connect with the people closest to you and failing. Trying to connect at all. The way in which these things are dealt with in the show is raw, I won’t lie to you. I cried a lot when I first saw it. Ben Platt’s performance is so visceral, there are tears and snot and spitting and it’s so painful to watch in parts. Rachel Bay Jones and Jennifer Laura Thompson’s performances as the mothers in the play are just genuinely heartbreaking. All of the performances are, really. It hits you, hard, and not just the parents or the kids, but both. That’s what I think is so incredible about Dear Evan Hansen. You can watch it, no matter what age you are, no matter your situation, and find something in it that will resonate with you.
I saw this show back in April and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I listened to the soundtrack constantly for a few weeks when I was really struggling with my mental health and there’s no price to put on the way it helped me. And that’s not an uncommon story. Dear Evan Hansen has brought out such a love in people, such a mass of stories and experiences being shared and talked about. It’s started a dialogue, between parents and their kids, between friends, and in society as a whole. This show says, ‘Hey, look. This shit is important, we can’t ignore it. Let’s talk. You will be found.’ That kind of message shouldn’t be limited because you don’t like the idea of musicals. Give it a go, and I promise, you won’t be disappointed. All we see is sky for forever.
Another link to a piece I wrote for my university magazine on the current generation and our interaction with mindfulness practices. Are millennials and centennials too cynical to benefit from it? Read more here…
Full disclosure. This article is going to go full meta because the reason I’m writing this is because of what this article is about. That will hopefully make more sense as we go on.
I talk a lot about mental health. For the three(-ish) things I write for – this, the Student Minds blog and my university magazine, Impact – two are almost exclusively about mental health and the pieces I write for the other tend to lean that way. Write what you know. I don’t really believe anyone can be a proper expert in brain stuff purely because it is so varied and widespread and unknown and literally so neurologically complex we can’t comprehend it, but I like to think I have a good grip on the way my own brain works. I also love anything to do with cognitive processing so I know small enough amounts about psychology to understand why and how things happen to me. However. True to form, sometimes days happen where I cannot understand for the life of me why I feel the way I do. Today is one of those days and I could feel myself getting nuts. If I can’t analyse it, all is lost.
Not really. That’s way too dramatic for me. More like, all is confusing and thinking about how confusing it is is just gonna make you feel worse. Some days, thinking about thinking just doesn’t do it for me. So here we are. What I’m going to do here is talk about some of the things I do when days lie this happen – days that, for whatever reason, feel out of your reach.
One. Don’t freak out.
This is the biggest one, so I’m going to start with it. If, like me, you are prone to spiral when you can’t get a grip, this step is v i t a l. Things are out of your control sometimes. Deal with it. There’s no concrete way I can tell you to achieve this. It’s more a case of recognition, acknowledgement and acceptance. If your brain wants to be weird today, let it act out. It’s having a tantrum, so you gotta let it tire itself out.
Two. Figure out what is achievable and achieve those.
Even when you’re in the lowest place imaginable, some things are still within your reach. Having a shower, getting a glass of water, reading a chapter of a book, all these things are small, achievable goals you can set. Ticking something off a To-Do list gives you a little kick, enough to make you tick off the next thing and on and on. On days like today, when I purely cannot concentrate and am just feeling a bit blank, I’m lucky enough to maintain a fair amount of brain function. I tried to sit down and read a textbook chapter for my course (a chapter on ‘thought’, ironically) but it just wasn’t happening. I could, however, read a chapter of a novel for my course if I wanted to. Barring that, I’m sure I could find some video essays or reviews on Youtube that would err on the side of productivity. This post feels achievable to me, so I’m writing this instead of reading that chapter. Replacing tasks which are unsuccessful with ones that are is a great way to instill a bit of motivation and confidence.
Three. Take a step back.
There’s probably a reason I’m feeling like this today. I don’t really know what it is, but I’m sure it’s there. Taking a break every once in a while is important so as not to overheat the old brainbox. Making lunch, watching a video, playing a quick song on piano – these are all things I intersperse within my work to make sure I’m not overdoing it. Don’t wanna make whatever is up worse.
Four. Write it down.
Writing things down is notoriously useful when things are a bit fuzzy, and I do highly recommend doing it. As long as you aren’t getting carried away and spending four hours writing about how shit things feel, getting some sparse thoughts down on paper can work to clear your head of those things. Alternatively, channel that weird energy into something more creative and productive: poetry, prose or a blog post, perhaps. I told you it was meta.
Five. Get on and let up.
This is my favourite. Right now, I’m getting on. Doing this, putting my attention into something alternative but still productive. It might not make you feel much better particularly, but I know that I’ll be glad I did this instead of struggling with that chapter for another hour and getting nowhere. The next thing is to let up. Shit happens. Brains throw curveballs. It makes no sense but it happens to the most prepared of us. Usually I would try and meditate and clear my head and find some sort of silence but that won’t work today. So I’m just letting it happen. Trusting that things will go back to normal soon is the most powerful thought sometimes. I’m going to listen to what my body and my brain is telling me to do and follow that. In some roundabout way this might be my brain trying to assert itself – I’ve been pretty in control and on top of things lately. Okay brain, I hear you. I might have a nap.
Well, this worked I think. There’s too many levels now. Was that self-therapy? It’s like a step-by-step example of how my mind works. Is this performance art? Maybe I do need a nap.
I’ve been away a long time. Since my last post, my summer has consisted of living this alternate life in Norfolk where I was working 5 days a week in a little seaside cafe where the rest of the world doesn’t exist. I would get up every day, cycle half an hour in the morning across the countryside, do the days work, cycle home, be fed and then go to bed. Compared to the nonsense of university life, it was so structured, so routine. I got into a rhythm and I felt like I was having this weird flash-forward into what my working future life holds. While I was there, the regularity and separateness of it all felt super stabilising. But as soon as I was on a train out of Norfolk back to Sussex, the doom set in. I was headed back to my real life, where things move forward. My brain, all of a sudden, felt majorly cluttered.
Now, I’m not hugely into lifestyle fads. I liked it when red velvet and salted caramel became a thing, because those things are delicious. Recently with all this Hygge and Lykke and whatever else there is, however, I don’t really know what it’s all about or whether it’s all a load of nonsense. If ‘living danishly’ means you take baths and light candles I kind of think I can manage that by myself. But I’ll try anything once. I picked up two books: The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking and The Life-Changing Magic of TidyingUp by Marie Kondo.
I’ll start with Tidying. This book draws from a Japanese decluttering method called KonMari, devised by the book’s author. Amongst other things, it claims that there is a psychology to clutter and that, by tidying, one can sort through the negative effects of too much stuff. Now, there are some parts of this method which I find a little hard to swallow. I don’t really subscribe to the ‘clutter in specific rooms represents specific mental obstacles’ part. Living the way I do, in a communal student house, all clutter merges into the same kind of mess really. HOWEVER. There is a bunch of stuff that makes an awful lot of sense. Like William Morris said, ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’, KonMari has a similar ideal. A key part of the Japanese method is that you should determine whether items ‘spark joy’, and if they don’t, they go. Brutal, but good. Whilst organising my room in our new house, I have tried to pick up each item and asking myself a combination of those questions. Is this thing useful, or does it give me joy? If the answer to both of those is no, it’s going.
The harder for me is clothing. I am a massive collector of clothes. Probably because I still have no clue what my ideal style is combined with an underlying feeling of ‘if I can’t make this work I have failed’, I have a lot of stuff in my wardrobes and drawers. KonMari says to organise by category, not location, so sorting which clothes I bought to uni took a lot of time. One thing I did find, however, is the difference I felt between decluttering my things as opposed to decluttering my clothes. Something about clothing is inherently intertwined with identity, I think, so getting rid of a few things that don’t fit my style anymore made an immediate difference. I wouldn’t say I have a stronger identity because of it but I definitely feel like it’s a clearer relationship now.
Okay, onto Hygge. I have a problem with Hygge. Unlike KonMari, Hygge isn’t really about method as much as it is about a way of life. Hygge itself actually means ‘acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special’, but has been marketed as something much more purchasable than that. In books such as this one, things like candles and bath items are cited a lot as a way into this feeling of completedness and contentment that Hygge so often promises. Don’t get me wrong, I love candles. I think they’re wonderful. But I don’t think everyone needs candles to feel relaxed, or cosy, or ‘special’. I’d argue most people possess things like bubble bath, or candles, or soft furnishings in order to feel comfortable and to relax when they need to. I get that there is a cultural concentration of it that makes it seem ‘Danish’, but… nah.
With KonMari, there’s a clear source to target progression of clearing your house of clutter clears your mind of it. It’s not a new idea, it is essentially feng shui, but the instructional mode in which it’s delivered makes it clear, accessible and beneficial. With Hygge, I’m not so sure. What it aims to achieve, the calm cosiness that comes with appreciating nice surroundings, is admirable. Desirable. Healthy. But I don’t think there’s any one way of getting there. It’s not a commodity based situation. It’s a psychological one. Between these two books, I’d recommend giving Tidying a go. It has got some wishy-washy parts, but the base of it is very helpful. Hygge, however, just kind of made me angry. I get what it is trying to do, completely, but happiness isn’t something you can sell. And that’s how it feels right now. Saying that, I would love to read a book about the mental benefits of taking stock of your life, of finding appreciation in things, without explicitly referencing the things like they’re what’s going to make you happy.
What do you think about these ‘lifestyle’ books that are popping up recently? Helpful, healthy or unnecessary? Let me know!
Not often do I love something as much as I love the Twitter of one @jonnysun. Not often does a series of words stick with me for long periods of time, let alone inform my decisions and give me hope to the point where I put it above my desk. A few years back, I followed Jomny on Twitter because of this one, beautiful message:
And now, I have that quote, that saying that’s been sat above my desk for two years, in a book. Jomny’s recently released book everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is hands-down my favourite of the year. It is thoughtful and hopeful and gut-wrenching and optimistic. It is sweet and joyous and warm and so, so sad. It’s also a picture book. Before I talk about Jomny Sun as a brand and a concept, I’ll try and sell you on the book as just a book.
everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too follows the story of jomny, a aliebn sent to earbth to learn about humabns. Along the way he meets a tree, a bear, a hedgehog, an egg, a frog and an auteur amongst a whole host of other adorably drawn characters. Thinking they are humabns, jomny tries to learn from them. Their advices and stories are sometimes profound, sometimes ridiculous and a lot of times both. jomny is sad, lonely and lost. His own people think of each other as ‘strictly colleagues’ and think little jomny is weird. The storyline is essentially just jomny coming to terms with himself and his place in the universe via the interactions he has with all of these earbth creatures and a few aliebns too).
The tone of this piece is sad. But that’s important. One of my favourite pages of the book is this:
It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to think about those scary things and those lonely things and those things that make you want to cry and curl up and hide from the world. Those thoughts are going to be there, in everyone, so pretending they aren’t is pointless. In the end, though, jomny finds that being sad doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Quite the contrary, we need the sad things in life. If we didn’t have sadness, we wouldn’t have happiness either (see: the dog).
For someone like me who is prone to dwell and overthink, this book felt like it was reaching into my head and pulling everything out, spilling it onto paper then showing me that it was all okay. Never before in my life have I put a book down feeling more like everything was going to be okay. The conciseness of the text on lots of the pages is reminiscent of their roots on Twitter, 140 characters or less. Because of this, each little sentence reads like poetry. Jomny’s ability to take these sometimes unbearably painful feelings – lostness, loneliness, invisibility – and make them into something beautiful completely astounds me, in all honesty. He doesn’t gloss over them. He doesn’t sugar coat them. He shows them for what they are and how they exist inside our heads and makes them into something worth experiencing. He makes them funny, even. This is vital: if you can laugh at something, doesn’t it seem a lot less scary? Look, all I’m saying is that this book will change your outlook on, well… everything. In an hour or less.
Okay, writing and tone and content aside, I just wanted to talk about the beauty of the thing itself. Completely black and white, the illustrations are simple. Childlike simple in most places with the occasional detailed artistic interlude. It’s on thick paper, with good quality, crisp matte printing. You’ll recognise the style from @jonnysun and it’s just as endearing. The use of a few clean fonts is all this book needs in addition to the illustrations, all carefully chosen to reflect the characters that they represent. It’s gorgeous to hold, to read, to handle. My cover is hardback, which I believe is the only form available currently. I don’t often think getting hardback copies of books is worth it but oh my days it’s worth it for this. Not only does it add a real concreteness to the experience but it makes you relish it in a way I think is really important for what this book is trying to say. You need to give your preconceptions up when you read this and let the words speak for themselves. It’s a treasure.
Now that you’re completely sold on it and are going to go and get it right now, I’ll explain to you why I titled this post the way I did. Jomny, in all his forms, is us. Everyone is a aliebn. Everyone is a humabn. This one little alien cartoon, this one guy with a Twitter account and bad spelling is more relatable than anything BuzzFeed could dream of writing. Within that comes the respect and admiration I have for this book and the author behind it. He is just… a person. Twitter as a platform is used like this all the time, to make otherwise inaccessible people seem accessible. But Jomny is accessible. The story he is telling in everyone’s a aliebn doesn’t seem to exist for any other reason than because it simply is the story. It’s the story. Not for fame, or to make some grand statement, the way this story is told just seems like the sort of conversation you’d have with yourself in your head. I’ve definitely had some of those conversations with myself. But so has Jomny. And so, presumably, have millions of other people who love this stuff like I do. Who feel this stuff and deeply as I do. It’s a triumph in connecting people to each other. When it comes down to it, all this story is is one guy, struggling with life, writing down his thoughts to the point where a coherent story about a little aliebn coming to earbth emerged. It’s kind of novel writing in reverse. I guess that’s poetry, really.
People slam Twitter. I don’t want to point fingers (baby boomers) but the internet get a lot of slack over connecting people at the expense of disconnecting other areas of their lives. But for this, well… I think it’s worth it. Jomny’s tweets, and subsequently this book, have connected people in such a beautiful way. I’ve always had this naïve little thought that lots of the problems we face, as humans, could be solved if we just had a little more empathy. And by God, this book makes you feel that. Whether it’s how it’s written, what it’s saying or how it’s presented, something about what this guy says gets right into your gut, your heart, your head. You get it, instantly. And I think, sometimes, if we could understand each other as intensely as people understand this book, things could really be better. I know for me, certainly, I feel I can be kinder having read this. I feel softer and sharper and smarter and gentler. I feel calm. But most of all, I feel like I can accept the hard stuff. And I feel like the hard stuff won’t make my life any less worth living or any less wonderful. There’s no other way to go, really. I’m sick. But so are you. r u gona take ur shoes off or wat?
everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is out now. Published by Harper Perennial, it is available online and in US stores. Follow Jomny on Twitter at @jonnysun and change ur lyf.