I wrote this while living in that flat where I had to drag my bike up and down two flights of stairs every day, meaning it would have been 2011. It’s a love letter to London, most of all East London, where I lived for seven years: Spitalfields, Shoreditch, Mile End, Limehouse, Stoke Newington. Maybe someday again x
"For a certain kind of highly disciplined, possibly Swedish person, the day comes naturally segmented into task-length periods of productivity the way citrus fruit comes segmented into slices: waking, making breakfast, eating, working, exercising, making lunch, eating, working, reading, making dinner, eating, sleeping, all of these activities taking place at their assigned times, for their allotted increments. I decided to become this kind of person. I would rise at eight, eat, work for two hours, practice yoga, eat lunch, check email or work for another hour (okay, check email), go outside, eat dinner, go to bed."
This is from Emily Gould’s essay in Medium, which I loved for many reasons. I’ll just comment on this bit though, as I’m doing this rigid scheduling experiment too. I wake up at 8am, then sit in a daze as the caffeine chases the fog out of my head, before I force myself to get dressed at the two-hours-awake mark. Which is probably ridiculously lax, but whatever; I was born a Night Owl and this is a Morning Lark world is sticking pins in my doll. So I get dressed and spend the next 1-2 hours on admin, emails, short edits. Then lunch starts at noon, which is early but I like to get it out of the way for the afternoon. Because afterwards I can get into it and just work, for hours and hours. But only if nothing interferes: if I take a break for more than a few minutes it’s all over.
This is what happens on a good day, when I finish before 7pm and get to have an evening. Then my alarm rings - I’m trying this at the moment because it never occurs to me to go to bed before 1-2am. So every night just before midnight it comes as a surprise, that chirping alarm: “What? Ah right, bed.” I fear my nature will assert itself, any day now. Or maybe one day it will be easy? Maybe it’s possible to reboot your rhythm into something that works with you, not against you. Or at least into something that lets you get a full day’s work in, and also go out in the evening? That’s the carrot. I’m not sure what will happen, but in the meantime I follow the clock. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that it may save me from my worst instincts.
Reading List, Little Winter edition
It’s cold now, but not for long. Like Captain Kirk says at the end of ‘Wrath of Khan’: “I feel young.”
[Image: Color Block by Kaitlin Rebesco]
"But the pain of a tattoo is something to which you have to surrender because once you’ve started, you cannot really go back. I enjoy the implacability of that circumstance. You have to allow yourself this pain, you have chosen this suffering, and at the end of it, your body will be different. Maybe your body will feel more like yours." Roxane Gay is brilliant.
"My mom used to be very critical of me when I was a child for how much I needed something to look forward to. She’d say, “Sometimes there’s just nothing to look forward to and you just have to live.” Now I see that I’ve designed my life so that there’s always something to look forward to." Ann Friedman talks to Miranda July.
"I avoid books that seem to conservatively follow stale formulas. I don’t read for plot, a story “about” this or that. There must be some kind of philosophical depth rendered into the language, something happening." Rachel Kushner on reading, in the New York Times, via @dailydoseofjess
On clever kids and procrastination, by Megan McArdle in The Atlantic.
On changing dreams. Emma Chapman.
"Writers are doing other things to make a living all of the time. And yet few of them admit this; and it’s maybe understandable, it maybe does make one seem a little less dedicated to one’s art if you admit how many hours you’re putting in to graft at other things to keep a roof over your head." Jean Hannah Edelstein on how to be a writer (while also paying rent).
Related: Ruth Curry on publishing.
A brief history of having hair extensions in Los Angeles. Julieanne Smolinski in xoJane.
The six stages of receiving gifts (for non-gift people).
Against likeability. Emily Keeler, in Hazlitt.
"Like many thrilling things women do - fucking or hitchhiking, being demoniacally ambitious or telling an asshole to stick a chainsaw in his eye - society tells us that growing up leads to ruin. Yes, you get older, but you can also grow tougher, kinder, braver. You can claw out the life you wanted. But as you age, the world will tell you you’re less worthy, even if you know that’s a lie. If there’s one thing society won’t stand for, it’s for a woman to be content."Molly Crabapple!
"A life of nothing comes from not wanting to be any of the things that you naturally are." Heather Havrilesky
"The actual world is a kind of tedious plane where [the body] dwells, and goes to school, the boring body which houses the eyes to read the books and houses the heart the books enflame. The very boring body seems to require an inordinately big, very boring world to keep it up, a world where you have to spend far too much time, have to do time like a prisoner, always looking for a chance to slip away, to escape back home to books, or escape back home to any concentration - fanciful, mental, or physical- where you can lose your self at last.” Annie Dillard
I felt like this a lot as a kid. The world, or at least the world that surrounded me, was boring, uneventful, slow. Nothing happened, so I spent my time reading, diving into worlds where things happened all the time. Of course, in retrospect I realise it was my own fault for refusing to get involved, to do the teenage things or to fully engage with the people around me. But again, I lived in the middle of nowhere so choices were limited, especially if you had a my cravings for a life that’s simply not possible unless you live in a city. I could hardly wait to be a grown up, so I could leave the woods and mountains and go find myself a great big dirty city. In the meantime I kept my head down, went to school (the ticket to university), and read about the world as a place where wonderful things happened. For a long time I feared the things I read about were exaggerations, that the real could never be as thrilling as the imaginary. But of course, the truth is just the opposite.
Where’d you go, Bernadette? / Maria Semple, 2012.
"Bernadette Fox is notorious" is the tagline on the back - hard to resist, that. And this book delivers on this big promise, as Maria Semple has written a fascinating character. ’Where’d you go, Bernadette?’ is a hoot: funny and rich, and cleverly constructed of letters written by the different characters. The narrating point of view is from a teenager, something I usually don’t like but as her teachers would say, Bee (short for Balakrishna, bless) is a delight. I’m left wanting to know more about Bernadette, the ranty menace, half tempted to google her and see the photos of her creations. Because they sound excellent, and Bernadette feels so real.
I’m back in Qatar, eight hours back in time. This is my third visit to Doha, possibly my last, and I have to admit the place has grown on me a little. Imran and I are in a West Bay hotel again, which I wrote about for This Recording. That story is only a small slice of what it’s like here, I should add, and my jetlag has since dissipated so I’m feeling better about it. These days I’ve mostly been working and cooking, courtesy of the very handy kitchenette. It’s not very interesting, and we are happy. We went for a walk on the Corniche as the sun was setting, turning the sky pink and the water turquoise. We went to the Arab Museum of Modern Art, which has a collection equally as impressive as the Museum of Islamic Art but located in the middle of nowhere. This city is frustrating without a car. We saw the Mona Hatoum show, Turbulence, which is extensive and oddly unsettling. The title-piece is the best one: thousands of marbles placed on the floor, restrained into a square by string, constantly on the edge of chaos. It’s a political statement.
I’m going back to London tonight. The forecast promises buckets of cold rain back in the UK, but I’ve missed out on all those storms as well as the Tube strike so this is a win. And the smug, smug truth is that I’m at the point now where I’ve had so much sun over the past two months that the remaining month of winter will just be a novelty. The other day I emailed Tara something about being sunburned again, and she basically responded with an eyeroll. It didn’t even occur to me that talking about sun problems would be a tad frustrating for a Londoner in the dead of winter. I asked this question at the beginning of this trip and it seems the verdict is in: living in a sunny country makes you a different person. Paradise Syndrome. While Tara and other Londoners have been battling the wind turning their umbrellas inside out, my main weather problem has been the greasiness of the sunscreen I have to put on top of my head to avoid a burn where my hair parts.
Having said that, I’m pretty damn excited about going back to London. The world is great, but London is greater. I’ve been gone 57 days, which is a record since I moved there 10+ years ago. It’s been good to go away though: my head is cleared of winter fog, and I’m properly excited about work again for the first time in over a year. I’m also increasingly serious about starting a creative writing project, something I’ve staunchly avoided for a decade as I didn’t feel ready. Now I think that maybe I am. I anticipate fear and loathing of course, but I need something, a grail quest. This is the most terrifying thing I can think of.
So it seems I have started reading books again. Who’d have thought it! I am very excited. I am chronicling books read in this new spree under the tag Books. The equally succinctly named Reading List series with links from the web will continue (since August 2011!), possibly slightly less frequently. Because books are great!
I’m saying this with some irony, as this is not a new discovery for me but a complete circle. At least I hope it is. I’m a previous major consumer of books who’s returned to an abandoned love; I was the girl who spent half her breaks in primary school ignoring the other children so she could finish her book. The Little House on the Prairie series was a favourite, as well as various Astrid Lindgren, and the Aurora series by Anne-Cath Vestly - she really should be as famous as Scandie peer Lindgren. If Pippi Longstocking is a feminist manifesto, then so is Aurora: a seven-book series starting in 1966 where mum goes to work and dad stays at home! So refreshing. But I digress.
I tried reading so-called teen books as a teenager, but I hated them as they were full of things I couldn’t relate to. I mean, the thought of kissing any of those goofy boys at school? Ridiculous. Instead I hit the Magical Realism, which enabled dreams of kissing men instead - once I’d grown up of course. I was a very sensible kid. I just looked around the village and thought: There’s nothing for me here. I just read Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, and a major John Irving phase of course. They are all wonderful, amazing storytellers, with incredible powers of transportation.
But then … I guess I stopped wanting to feel swept away by books, and wanted them to reflect my experience instead. I read Tales of the City at 20, and after that I couldn’t read anything else for over a year. Not because I could relate to life in the swinging 70s, but because those books have this undertone of seeking. I wanted … stuff. I didn’t know what that was, but I wanted the books I read to hint at it. What followed was a sparse reading decade, where sometimes I’d happen upon something great and read it in a single sitting, but mostly I read nothing. Now, ten years later, I have started to realise that what I like is literary fiction with a wacky, rebellious undertone - mostly contemporary books written by women, basically. And all of a sudden there seems to be a LOT of this around, and I’m thrilled. I’m not sure how much of this trend is new in general or just to me, as I think a large part of it is about awareness. Turns out, kooky books by women don’t generally make bestseller lists, so you have to go digging. OR, you can keep a carefully curated lists of Twitter feeds and blogs, and wait for the internet to deliver to you the things you’re looking for.
Reading List, Solar Flare edition
Hello February! Currently: in Qatar, jetlagged again. Coffee, books, Imran, pale sun and violet sky.
"Maybe my dreams of plenty are a failure of imagination, settling for the felted comforts of comfort, when what I need is a reason, as in a raison. What I want isn’t actually the toothsome beauty and decadence we crave, but instead some act of becoming to give me purpose, meaning. What I need is a bloody grail quest, a Bond villain to best.” Your selfie-realisation, by Chris Wallace in The Awl.
The empathy exams, by Leslie Jamison in The Believer.
The emergency of your life - What they don’t teach you in writing school. Hanif Kureishi in the Daily Telegraph.
Bim Adewunmi: On desire, expressed. #Bims10Things #ladyboner [Related: This photo of James Deen. And that one of Lake Bell, whose film “In a World” blew my mind on the flight from Melbourne.]
A new Eva Wiseman classic, on fainting. In The Guardian.
Great journalism by Hadley Freeman in this interview with Thora Birch.
Natasha Vargas Cooper in Bookforum, on why making teens read literary canon is wrong: they don’t have the experience to understand the often subtle emotional references, so it convinces them reading is boring.
Coincidentally Kate Carraway, Kate Stull and Phoebe Maltz Bovy all wrote about buying and not buying clothes.
Another story about shampoo-free living (Lauren O’Neal in The Hairpin) and I continue to be intrigued. The initial part seems grim but oh the time savings down the line!
There are a lot of right things to choose, says Kate Fridkis’s mother.
Snow days with Hattie Watson.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs Nin