Monday, 30 December 2019

2020 - 20 goals for the first year of the new decade

I met up with a friend just before Christmas. We are both starting new jobs in the new year and have every intention to make 2020 our year. We talked about what we wanted to do and how we wanted to feel this time next year. After that conversation, I was left thinking - how will I make the first year of the new decade a great year for me? It's all good and well having the intention and feeling positive, but what personal goals should I be setting to ensure that I have the best year possible?

This is what I came up with.

20 goals for 2020

1. Read 40 books

It's only natural to begin with my love of books. I am actually set to start a job in publishing in the new year, and my initial interest in the industry all came down to my love of books. And yet I've realised this year that my reading has been completely sporadic. As a result of this, I am setting myself the aim of reading 40 books, with the intention of falling back in love with reading. I have been reading a lot throughout December, so this is already in motion, and I am looking forward to working through my bookshelves in the new year.

2. Visit two new countries

Travel was something I thoroughly enjoyed in 2019. I went to Holland, Italy and Croatia, and hope to explore more of Europe - and perhaps further afield - in 2020. Travel is obviously something that can cost a lot, and equally, I recognise it isn't the best thing for the environment. Therefore I am setting an aim of visiting two countries I have never been to before, instead of being more ambitious with either my funds or air miles. One of those countries will for sure be France - can you believe I've never been?!

3. Enjoy my quiet time

Quiet time has always been important to me. I have definitely become more of a people person in my 20s, meaning I will almost always choose to spend time around people as opposed to on my own. Because of this, I think it's important that when I am having quiet time on my own, I really enjoy it and make the most of it. I'll do this by doing things I enjoy, like reading, walking, going to the gym, reflecting, watching something I really like. As much as I'm sure 2020 will be busy, it's important to me that I make quality time for myself, as much as for everyone else.

4. Learn to cook 10 new things really well

It's definitely time for me to expand my repertoire when it comes to food. Though I make a great pesto pasta, eating it three times a week is becoming a little too repetitive for my liking. I feel like I have some staple meals that I make really well, and this year I would like to add to those. Cooking has never been something I've particularly enjoyed, but it's something we all have to do, so I would like to make more of an effort with it in 2020.

5. Let people go

This is something I started actively doing in 2019. I realised in the summer time that I was making an active effort to keep people in my life who, to be honest, I could do without. So I started letting them go. There are a lot of great people in my life who I can put that time and effort into, and equally, there are new people I'm meeting all the time who deserve it more. It's a difficult thing to do, especially if you've always had someone around, but I think it's important to reevaluate and just think, what do they actually bring to my life? If it's little or nothing, then it's time to let them go.

6. Go to the sea more often

The sea gives me clarity and calmness like nothing else. I don't know what it is about it, but I feel so at peace whenever I'm by the sea. Unfortunately I live in one of the most landlocked areas in the country. Classic. As a result of this, I want to make more time and more of an effort to visit the sea more often. I began doing this more often in 2019 for sure, and I'd like to carry that on into 2020. The sea breeze does wonders for my mind, so I'd like to  experience it more often.

7. Be better with money - save more, spend less

I would like to spend less money, especially when it comes to material things. And I would like to be more conscious of my money and exactly how I am spending it. This means setting saving goals and spending limits. I am happy with spending money when it's necessary or to socialise, but want to specifically work on this by buying less physical 'stuff'. Big plans to make an expenses spreadsheet and track where my money is going, so that I can see what needs to change and what is already working.

8. Browse your wardrobe instead of online clothing stores

Linking up with the last point: stopping the temptation of spending by not looking at websites that will lead to unnecessary purchases. It's way too easy to see something online, order it and then have it at your door the next day. I'm aiming to look to my wardrobe for inspiration and challenge myself to make more different outfits with what I already have. This way I'll be able to be a little bit more creative without it costing a penny.

9. Spending ban - January-July

A major saving plan I have is to put myself on a spending ban from the beginning of January to the beginning of July. This is a pretty big challenge and definitely has certain caveats. It essentially means only spending money when it's completely necessary - e.g. buying deodorant because it has run out. The spending ban is primarily to stop buying material things that I do not need, and to help use up things I already have before considering repurchasing. I will still be allowed to spend money on food, drink and transport, but am going to set a limit on going out to eat and drink, as I know that this is something that I spend a lot on. My hope with this is that I will think of other ways to socialise that cost less. Overall, I think this will have a massive impact on my finances and will make me really think before I spend money on certain things in the future.

10. Cry more even though I hate it (I feel a lot that I don't let out)

I am not a particularly emotional person. In fact I think I can often come across as someone who feels nothing. However, I think I'm just very good at keeping face and deciding which feelings I want to allow others to see from me. I typically cry once or twice a year - in private of course - but this tends to be a long cry, more of a breakdown really, because I let things build up instead of dealing with certain feelings as and when they occur. So this coming year, I want to get better at letting myself cry if I'm sad and going through the motions. Because I do feel sad sometimes and that's okay.

11. Listen to my body - it knows best

There's a lot to be said for listening to your body. Ultimately, it knows what you need more than you give it credit for. If you feel like you want to rest, then rest. If you want to exercise, then exercise. If you want to be alone, then be alone. If you want to be around people, then socialise. Take a night off if your body wants it - cancelling plans is fine, especially if you're only going to seem half there anywhere. If you're unwell, you need to rest. If you're energised, find an outlet for that energy. It's a very simple thing, but so many of us don't.

12. Travel with only people I want to remember having had by my side

As much as I would like to travel this year, I don't want to say yes to an opportunity to travel just because it's there. I think I can sometimes be a little too keen to say yes to something without considering the whole picture. This year I want to only visit places with people I am happy to be spending that time with. Considering the entire experience before saying yes is very important.

13. Be a little less hard on myself

I cannot remember a time when I did not struggle with this. Criticism from other people has never really bothered me - I find it constructive if anything. But I am so critical of myself, and I expect a lot. I've been working on it, but I think I need to go through the thought process a bit slower and take more into consideration when I'm being self-critical. I need to not compare myself to others and understand that if I don't think I'm doing well enough with X then maybe it's because I'm putting too much effort into Y instead. Not sure how far I'll get with this, but it's something I'll be working on.

14. Spend less time on my phone

I feel like this goal will have a big impact towards a lot of other goals. Trying to cut down on screen time is something that a lot of us should aspire to do. It'll make us more in the moment, more efficient, and more engaged with what's actually going on around us. There are far more beneficial things I could be doing with the time I spend scrolling instagram, so here's to a year with significantly less time on my phone.

15. Get up and go - be more of a morning person

I used to be such a morning person, and yet, in the past few years this has completely stopped. I loath early mornings and have forgotten why I ever liked them. Well, in 2020 I'm going to try to remember why. I think it'll have a lot to do with the amount of hours in the day and being awake whilst it's quiet outside. It's going to be quite the challenge through the rest of the winter, but I have high hopes that by sticking with it, I'll be up through all the daylight hours and more in the summer.

16. Do not buy any new books all year

Think it's time I realised I've got a whole bookcase of unread books and should stop buying new ones. I have a massive variety of books to read, so this year I'm challenging myself to read those instead of buying any new ones. There's one exception that I'm prepared to make, which is for the final book in a series I've been reading, which comes out in the summer, but besides that, there'll be no new books on my shelf until 2021 (unless given as a gift (although I'll try to refrain from asking for books)).

17. Have regular clear outs - be more minimal

I've been pretty good and decluttering this year, and it's been really good for me. I've got a little more space and a lot more headspace since becoming slightly more minimal. I intend to carry this on in the new year, having regular clear outs and aiming to become evermore minimal. I definitely value people and experiences far more than physical things, so that's what I'll be focusing a lot more of my energy on.

18. Try not to overthink everything - sometimes it just is what it is

As a notorious over thinker when it comes to the little things, it's about time that I learn to just let them be. The only thing overthinking ever seems to amount to is disheartenment. And that's really not something I need to be creating in my own head. Hopefully by working on this I'll have far more time to focus on all my other goals. Because often, it just is what it is; nothing more to it.

19. Move out (it's time)

It's been a long time coming, but 2020 is the year I finally move out of my parents' house. Aside from uni, I've not lived anywhere but my childhood home, and boy does it feel constricting. I did not grow up in the cheapest area, so I am ever grateful that I've been able to live in the family home for so long, but I'm definitely ready to have some more space to myself, ideally a little closer to the nearest city.

20. Become a better planner

So many of my plans tend to be last minute. And because of this it does sometimes feel like I'm scrambling to fit everything in. This year I would like to be a bit better at planning ahead, but still leaving room for spontaneity (that's where there's the most fun to be had, of course). I asked for a diary for Christmas, and intend to put into into good use, planning at least four things in advance at the beginning of each month, no matter how big of an event that may be. I think this will help ensure I see the people I want to see and do the things I want to do, rather than sitting down at the end of each week and wondering where the days have gone.

Overall, I'd say 2020 is looking to be a good year for personal growth. I am excited to be starting new things, and picking up where I left off with others. 2019 was a year of great incline and massive falls, so I'm hoping that things will at least stay a little more level in the new year. Fingers crossed!

If you have any goals for 2020, I'd love to know!

Until next time.

Friday, 27 September 2019

stuck in a rut

I have been going in and out of several ruts for about 7 months now and I have had enough.

I haven't posted on this blog in a really long time, primarily because of all these ruts to be honest.

I've been busy; I've been bored; I've been run down; I've been stressed out; I've been travelling; I've been having fun; I've been making friends; I've been losing friends; I've been working hard; I've been playing hard; I've been crying; I've been angry; I've been laughing; I've been drinking; I've been dancing; I've been the happiest I've ever been; I've been the saddest I've ever been.

I've been learning about the world and myself.

I think ultimately, I've been confused. Confused about what I want. And this is the rut, the one that just keeps coming back around and probably always will.

I don't know what I want.

In terms of career, location, friendships, breakfast, hair length, fashion, duvet cover, the future.

I don't know what I want.

And it's something that should be exciting not terrifying. If I don't know what I want then there's no doors I need to close off, the options are unlimited. But there are too many options. I have no direction, I only have vague ideas. I don't have a plan or a goal. A lot of the time I feel that I don't serve a purpose. It used to excite me to be bound to nothing and free as a bird to make whatever choices I wish, but now it mystifies me.

I would like a purpose.

But while I'd like a purpose, I also like to live in the moment. I don't like to have plans for more than a few months ahead; I don't want to imagine my life in 5 years; I don't feel the need to think about having a family or a house. Okay, I think about having a dog, but that's it. Okay, two dogs.

Trying to work out what you want from life, while also trying to live in the moment and just exist is not the easiest of tasks. Planning and living are two things that I know co-exist and work perfectly well together, but they are not two things that I can seem to coordinate within my life.

I've been thinking about my life right now and the things and the people that are in it. And I've been having a clear out. Of things and people alike. If it doesn't serve me, bring me joy, or positively challenge me, then I don't want it anymore. If I don't feel good when I wear a skirt, then it's gone. If I don't use all five mugs, then I'll get rid of some. If being around you makes me unhappy, then you can get the hell away from me.

I've been slowly removing items from my house and people from my life. And I already feel a little lighter for it.

I suppose as much as I don't know what I do want, knowing what I don't want is a good starting point. Be rid of the things that you don't want, and perhaps there'll be a smaller maybe pile.

I'm going to start making a list of things I do want, regardless of what it is or how long I want it for, to remind myself that as much as I don't know what I want in the long term, there are lots of tiny things that I want each day, and that all amounts to bigger wants that I don't even realise I have.

This has been a strange ramble and if you've read it all the way through then thank you. I often feel unheard or like no one could possibly feel the same so there's no point in saying anything. But I've been talking and being heard a lot more recently, and there are a lot of people who have been feeling the same way as me.

If you do too, then know that this is all probably very normal. Probably, she says. I highly doubt that in a world with such a ridiculous amount of people there aren't others who feel the same way.

I going to carry on clearing out my wardrobe and work out how to eBay the things that don't serve me anymore. I'm going to listen to music that uplifts me and talk to friends who hear me.

Until next time.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Book review: Winter

For most of the time I was reading Winter it was twenty degrees outside, so that didn't really match up.


I read the first book in Ali Smith's seasonal quartet last autumn (the book is also called Autumn) and absolutely loved it. The way she writes is so easy to read, very colloquial and generally just like someone is telling you the story without trying to make it sound super intellectual or 'fancy'. I don't know why it took me so long to get round to reading the next book, Winter, but nonetheless, it was another great feat by Smith.

The novel is set primarily over the Christmas period of a recent year (I would guess around 2016), and follows the events at a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall. There are four central figures in the novel, Sophia, an ageing businesswoman; Iris, her sister and humanitarian; Arthur, Sophia's son; and Lux, who Arthur is paying to pretend to be his, now ex-girlfriend, Charlotte.

The main bulk of the story is set on Christmas day, with a few segments jumping back in time to past events. Christmas seems very significant in the novel, as it provides a time of togetherness for the family who have spent a large portion of their lives apart. It's equally a time for reflection, as the individuals gaze back on past events, and begin to understand more about one and other.

There is, though subtly done, a big focus on current affairs within this book, but the way Smith presents these to her readers is not particularly bold or argumentative. There is a conversation going on throughout the book about the refugee crisis, brexit, workers' rights, and even the Cold War, which is perhaps the best depicted of all of these. Iris was a major protester throughout the Cold War and believed strongly against nuclear armament. Her sister, Sophia, thinks she is foolish for this, and finds her prioritisation of actual people over the country's readiness to fight back quite absurd.

The dynamic between the two sisters is highly reflective of the leave and remain campaigns for the EU referendum. In fact, the referendum is even sited as a difference between the two, with Iris challenging Sophia claiming to know exactly how she would have voted. There is a distinct 'us vs them' argument throughout, which is where the character of Lux comes in.

Lux is originally from Croatia, though spent a portion of her childhood also living in Canada. Having therefore been born in a country bereft by war, she creates a thought-provoking question regarding both the Syrian refugee crisis and another regarding the future of EU citizens in the UK. Lux works in a warehouse, where she also sleeps, and, despite being highly intelligent, had to drop out of university in the UK because it was too expensive. Her character, though sided clearly with Iris, provides something none of the others can, which is an EU nationality-based insight into living in a place that has become hostile to 'outsiders'. And yet, despite this struggle, she is the kindest, smartest character of all. Her story is very sad, but one that is, unfortunately, highly recognisable right now.

Arthur's main contribution to the novel involves both the online voice: how we portray our lives online. He has a blog, called 'Art in Nature', where he depicts fond, colourful imagery of nature and how it brings beauty and art into our lives. However, as he admits in the novel, basically all of his posts are based on research and his imagination, as opposed to anything he has actually seen, therefore portraying his life as colourful and beautiful when it is really just spent researching what these things would be like, online. It's interesting to consider how many of the things we see or read about online are embellished or entirely untrue. And with social media at the height of its time, this contribution to the novel struck a chord.

It reminded me that most of what I see when I scroll through Instagram is set up and not natural, and actually probably didn't bring the person posting the image the kind of joy, or sense of experience, that it would have done if they'd been thinking about anything besides getting a great picture. It seems that when Arthur turns off his phone - his ex-girlfriend is posting all sorts of madness on his accounts, which she has access to - he finally begins to see, or recognise, beautiful images. When Lux describes a print left by a pressed flower in a Shakespeare book, her description of it blows him away, and he seems to realise that perhaps it would be nicer to really see things, instead of creating an image he thinks that other people want to see.

Overall, I loved this book. Ali Smith is such a delight to read, her style so accessible and readable that I feel able to recommend her to everyone I know. The book deals with so many different themes and topics of interests - and relevant, current issues, that everyone should take more time to consider. I think the characters she has created and the way that they affected one another was truly remarkable. A joy to read.

Until next time.

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Friday, 8 February 2019

Currently Coveting: ASOS S/S

Over recent years, I've definitely moved from being an A/W clothing girl, to a S/S sun worshipper. Never thought I'd say that, but here we are. The cold is not ideal.

Loads of brands are starting to release their S/S collections, and even though there's still some snow on the ground whilst I'm writing this, I'm here for it. I feel like I mention my undying love for spring every year, so this year will be no different. It's the season that takes an age to arrive and then is usually gone in a flash. But it's my favourite time to try new clothing and usually has the nicest colour palette.

Today I'm going to share some of my favourite S/S pieces on ASOS right now, items that I'll definitely start ordering as soon as we get above 10 degrees and spring is truly on its way. I've got quite a few trips planned throughout the spring and summer so I'd love a few new pieces for those. We're mostly looking at short European city breaks with a sunny holiday in June, and I think a lot of these items would serve me well for those trips as well as the everyday UK sun (if we're lucky enough to see it this year).







Until next time.

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Saturday, 2 February 2019

Book review: The Mars Room


I thought this year I would try writing lengthier, more in-depth book reviews, focusing on just one book at a time. As much as I find it's nice to compile a few short musings on a long list of books, the tradition single book review is easier to read through without losing track of which book was about what.

I'm starting with The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018. Though being on a shortlist for a prize isn't necessarily a symbol of an amazing book, I tend to find at least a few books on the list that might not have caught my interest without the publicity (essentially what the Man Booker is there to offer: exposure).

The novel is set in California, primarily between San Fransisco, LA and Stanville, and jumps back and forth through time to reach these destinations. The main time period in which the book unfolds is the 00s, when Romy Hall has been convicted of murder and is sentenced to life in prison, at Stanville. The reader is not clearly informed of Romy's crime until the end of the novel, and even then, the crime is depicted from another person's point of view, not necessarily giving the clearest indication of the actuality of the situation.

Whilst in prison, Romy's mother dies, her mother who was now the guardian of her young son, Jackson. It seems that Jackson is the one person that Romy truly cares about, and the one person who she's desperate to find and check up on but equally knows has a better chance of a life without her. The desperation expressed by Romy at the loss of her son effectively shows the humanity of a woman who is being dehumanised as a prisoner. The way that her need to check on her son spurs on the rest of the plot portrays the agony of a woman who only ever wanted to protect her son, even if it meant murdering someone.

Prior to prison, Romy worked as a striper at The Mars Room, where she met the man who would lead to her prison sentence. Kurt Kennedy became obsessed with her, tracking her down and following her every move outside of work, to the point that she felt the need to abandon San Fransisco and move herself and her son to LA. There's a kind of mental violence going on here, where even though Kennedy hasn't touched Romy outside of The Mars Room, his presence and appearances have caused her great enough concern that she feels she must move away. Despite the expectation, he never threatens her physically throughout the book, but rather simply keeps appearing and watching her, showing the mental damage stalking can cause for a vulnerable woman.

I found the present-time discourse in the prison the most interesting, portraying the dynamic of a women's prison and how people with certain crimes are shunned or attacked. The friendships within Stanville initially seem somewhat performative, as though you work out what people are like and adapt as necessary, but show slightly more depth further on in the novel, with friendships and enemies forming. There is some discussion of how transgender people are positioned in prison and the lack of concern for their welfare based on the grounds of their physical sex. This is an interesting topic to have raised, especially in a novel set during the earlier 00s when these issues weren't so heard of, but seemed underdeveloped, like more needed to be said. The transgender conversation is essentially used as a plot device to contribute to Romy's eventual escape, rather than a focused discussion of this issue itself.

There is a strong sense throughout the book that Romy would not have been in prison if it weren't for the poor legal representation she was offered. There are vague references to class and privilege, more so the lack that lessens Romy's chances, throughout the novel, but there's no majorly focused discussion of this or the poverty she's been living in in the book. It's made apparent that Romy's lawyer basically hands her over to receive whatever sentence she gets without even trying to reduce her prison time. But this is presented more as a fact and not something to really reject and feel outraged by. The lack of sympathy in the tone throughout the novel adds to the unsettling feeling that the character we've been saddled with really has committed an inexcusable crime, but perhaps this is just the voice of a middle classed world who doesn't care about any lower class.

The ending of the book confused me. We finally find out how Romy ended up in jail, but the perspective is off. Did she brutally kill an infatuated man, unprovoked? Or did she murder someone she felt was a truly threatening stalker, to try to protect herself and her son? It's not made particularly clear, but the murder was frantic and yet quick and to the point, almost like it was premeditated. Is this a book about violence against women and, more specifically, the mental fear of violence, or is it about the violence of fearful women? Because in the way the book is left, it feels like it can't really be about both.

Romy briefly escapes from prison at the end of the book, whilst a riot is taking place over the outrage vs acceptance of a transgender women in the prison. Romy escapes and evades capture for some days, before being found. In this time before her capture, it seems she realises the uselessness of what she's trying to do. She's driven by the need to find her son and check up on him, but on her way to trying to get to him, she realises that despite her love, he's better off without her now. Her reason her killing Kurt Kennedy is positioned as protecting her son, but now that she's a murderer she poses as much of a threat to him and his future as Kennedy had.

As much as the book flowed nicely and moved through time effectively and interestingly, ultimately I didn't like it very much. I felt the ideas were underdeveloped and confused amongst each other, making it hard to gain a coherent understanding of anything going on. Perhaps this is an accurate representation of a women's prison and that was Kushner's intention, but overall it just lacked something. There were sad depictions of the reality of inequality in US prisons, but this wasn't made the focus of the novel as much as trying to find out what really went on with Romy and why she committed the murder.

Good intentions and an interesting culmination of ideas, but not put forward in a very effective manner.

Until next time.

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Friday, 18 January 2019

A year of calm

With the new year well upon us, I thought I'd share my plans for a year of all-encompassing calmness.

For me, this is a year where I just want to relax and see where things take me. I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself and fail to celebrate the small victories in life. So this year, I'm operating on a no pressure basis, in aim of achieving a feeling of calm that I've never truly had.

My main focuses for achieving this are my body, my mind, and my desire to travel.

I feel like a large part of the things we go through in life are related to how we treat our bodies. Your body is the thing that makes you a physical entity; it, literally holds you up. And I think it's important to take this into account when considering the way we treat our bodies. In the past I've been unhappy with mine, because of it's size, shape and physical ability (those darned knees). But, since going to the gym regularly for the past year and a half, I've realised just how wonderful and powerful and strong my body is, and how much I have to thank it for. Now, I love my body, irrespective of the size of my thighs or how my arms jiggle a little. None of that matters because I've finally realised that I have a strong, dependable body that's unlikely to give way under pressure or fail to lift a box.

So this year I'm definitely planning on keeping up with my fitness routine, continuing to go to the gym and get stronger, hopefully only making my body feel better. And when my body is feeling good and well, my mind usually follows suit.

As much as I wouldn't class myself as having any serious mental health problems, I do still struggle sometimes, as do we all. As mentioned, I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself to make lots of progress and be busy achieving, and honestly, I've realised how pointless that pressure is. I've decided to just slow down, for the sake of my mind, and to focus on making things easier for myself by just going with the flow. It is absolutely not necessary to constantly be working on big goals and so many different commitments that you can't keep up with them, so this year I'm focusing on winding down a little and making more down time for my brain to feel calmer. Exercise, like with the body, also does wonders for my mind. It's a time where I can focus entirely on what I'm doing, just for me. Going on a walk or going to the gym just puts me in a really calm mindset that completely separates me from anything else going on in my life. I love my national trust walks, exploring nature and putting myself in a different environment. Which moves me on to my final focus for this year.

During my lifetime I've not had the luxury to travel very much. It wasn't something that was ever in the budget for my family, making it even more special for me now. I'm at a point in my life now where I can afford to go on trips, big or small, where I can disappear and explore something completely new and different to what I'm used to. In the past two years I've been lucky enough to go to New York and Barcelona, and those trips definitely got the wanderlust in me fired up. This year I'm planning to bounce around Europe a little, somewhere I've barely explored at all. My friends and I have some long weekend breaks coming up in Spring and a big group holiday in the summer; I can barely wait to get out of the country for a while and experience new places.

So far, so good. I'm feeling pretty calm despite some big things going on, I'm making time for the gym and moving my body, planning travel and taking time out to relax when I need it.

I'm hoping this truly will be a year of calm.

Until next time.

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