I believe a lot in the little things--the little things people say or the little things they do; a few hours that you can catch every sensation of during a really, really good day; the feeling of inspiration or of awe just as it dawns (and I truly, truly love that feeling).
I also believe a lot in little, personal accomplishments. Things you are glad, or relieved or truly contented at doing. Because I believe these things - the things that sometimes matter to no-one else but you - are so often the things which change your attitude or alter your mindset. They are the things, the tools, to really filter and sift our pessimism. (And I am guilty of pessimism, and the fear it breeds, all too often).
As this year comes to a close, I thought I'd share twenty things, twenty things which matter to me (and probably nobody else) that I am happy to have achieved this year.
(And because I am twenty - soon to be twenty-one -I also call this list: 20 Things You Have Done Whilst You Are Twenty).
1. Seen Regina Spektor live.
2. Visited Cambridge.
3. Learned to bake (and vowed, always, to keep on learning).
My sister refers to these days teasingly* as 'crimbo limbo'. They are days when everyone positions themselves in celebration, yet waits for their end. The long, languid evenings are savoured, yet their end awaited with expectancy. With their passing, a better, brighter and more beautiful start can appear.
I am included in every aspect of this. I am enjoying the rest and the physical, mental and dietary laziness** these days allow. And yet everyday I find myself storing activities in my brain - hopes, wishes, goals - I want to start in the next few weeks; the activities I want to start 2011 with, as I mean to go on.
But really, I could do all of these things now. I could exercise my brain and my body in the ways I intend; I could begin visiting the places I want to see or learning and using words I feel I have lost. I do not need the first of a new month. The date is not something I need to strive towards--it is, instead, motivation.
There is a difference, though, between realisation and actualisation. The distinction, with its differences enclosed, has never felt so prominent.
*It is a running joke in my family to pronounce my favourite words incorrectly or play on linguistical pet-peeves. Thus, 'Christmas' is shortened to "crimbo", 'specific' to "pacific" etc. I am a little bit of a nerd, you know.
Yesterday my (all-above-the-age-of-twenty) family and I spent the day in our pyjamas. We gave, we received, we relaxed. Then we giggled at a tipsy game of Balderdash and curled into bed.
I was unable to spend it, in physicality, with my love, but knowing that I am spending this, a third Christmas, with him is wonderful enough. (Having said that, I will always, always look forward to the day when we spend it together, becoming the tying ribbon between two families.)
My family and I have never had a Boxing Day tradition, so today I will spend it tidying the bedroom I have lately neglected. I have new Penguin postcards I want to stick on my wall and books I need to arrange; I have a doll's house I need to place by the wall (thank-you, my love, for the part of a girl's childhood I never received) and clothes, un-ironed, I need to put away. They don't feel like the most festive of tasks, but today, I really couldn't be happier doing them.
These few days are made up of contentment and happiness--and yet there is a swirl of emotion (of reflection, nostalgia and of not taking things for granted) that is dancing, delicately, upon the surface.
(Christmas could not be Christmas without cake. Home-made, iced by hand).
I sure hope you have had a wonderful Christmas wherever you are and throughout whatever pursuits are filling your days.
I have pretty much finished all my Christmas shopping.
I just have writing, painting and wrapping to do. Oh, and baking (quite a lot of baking). I wish I had had more time and made more effort to give home-made gifts...
This year I feel like I have been a little slack on presents, but I keep reminding myself that everyone will have something under the tree. Perhaps it is because I have restricted myself to useful presents or split the cost between others that a sense of decadence has been lost. I would rather this, though - I would rather the presents I give will last long into the year.*
This week was the first time I ever truly tried automatic writing.
And I wasn't supposed to be.
When asked to write like Gertrude Stein - with attention not to semantics, but to sound - it was the only method I could find.
And because it was automatic, I am a little less shy about sharing.
A box is made of the things inside it. No future, only past, pass, passed between times. It is the cave stocked full of prized possessions, memories too endangered to fall, fall, fall out of mind.
Nature melted and solidified, shaped and sculptured. It is all taste from one palette and texture from the sun. The comforted dilation of one nostril, a swimming tongue, a tightened tooth. Metallic sounds of a baking tray; tickled heat; diluted. There is expansion and a rise; a swell over a paper casing.
Social interaction is bottled, bunged. A staining of colour undertaken in a darkened room. Why can we not see its immortalisation? Precision reduced to a square frame captured by a sound that clicks and flashes. The senses are blurred, lines crossed, lanes swerved. We do not know what it will see or where we will be when we see it. It is guestimation, a random act of natural kindness.
A blue vein, a black bladder. Possibility poised against a paper ledger.
Jerk its movements. Repeat, repeat, repeat into the peat of a wall.
It is teak.
Or pine? You don’t know, can’t know, can’t count the rings of the trunk buried in the earth. The earth of our God, your God, my God. The earth of the earth that we both walk upon. Bare feet, two feet, six feet under.
It is brown marbled softly across a skeleton stern with your lazy effort. A posture perfected over years of doing the same thing once, twice, three times. All it sees is different carpet, tile, floor. Its legs break, never under weight, but of age. A snap and a break, splintered like the twig of the branch it birthed from.
I probably won't be posting tomorrow simply because I have two essays to write and edit in three days. (And two seminars, under-prepared for).
I promised that I wouldn't allow myself to feel festive until after my assignments are finished.
And yet, with the household Christmas tree up, a Christmas dinner and dance and the annual charity Santa visiting our neighbourhood already over, I have only written two paragraphs of one (of three) essays.
And then, as a sort of last-ditch attempt to motivate myself to cross the literary bridge to the festive season, I watched this.
I will watch it again next week, when all is handed in and work on my Christmas crafts can begin.
Today I was over-sensitive, under-prepared, naive.
I hadn't yet experienced writing criticism quite so threateningly; I hadn't heard my sentences aloud, in someone else's voice; I hadn't seen the impression that my words gave, the one of cliché and prediction and of not quite making it. And for the few minutes that followed the wrath of critical words and disappointed expression, I didn't know how to react - I didn't know what I was expected to say (do you defend or agree, contest or concede?) or where I was supposed to look.
There was a falter and a deliberation.
Because it wasn't about conceit or arrogance or even pretension. It wasn't about being awarded a higher grade or a worthier compliment, it was simply a case of understanding. Without it, no artist, no academic, no real worker can ever improve.*
So maybe in reading out my sentences, the ones which did not quite flow in a tone of voice which was not quite real, a lesson was forced. Because as much as it stung, scratching at the surface of a pedestalled dream, it showed me just how high and how sought after that very pedestal is.
When I was little my step-father gave me his typewriter as a birthday present.* Yet a few years later, when my family made the advancement into the technological world, the typewriter got lost, redundant in the face of a computer that sprinted ahead in its processes. Even if its aesthetics - grey, plastic, blocky - are not, now, the ones I admire in such a machine, I so wish that I had kept it.
A couple of days ago I found this typewriter on Etsy. If its (though appropriate) postage was not so high, I would consider it as a future purchase. It is one of the most beautiful things I have seen.
*I used to, even then, write stories. And menus for my pretend-restaurant.
Lately I cannot shake the feeling of deja-vu. I am repeating tasks over and over again that I have already achieved on an unconscious level; I am walking or writing or dancing in scenarios I have already seen. And each time, I am looking for meaning, trying to decipher the reason this is here; the reason I am feeling this way again. Because sometimes it is nice; it is a comfort; it is a breath of warmth on an ordinarily cold day. But other times, times like today, I find myself hoping that it won't happen like this again.
I am so far behind on work right now it is not even funny.
And yet I have had a lovely weekend, spending it with: my love, Harry Potter*, a carousel, a wonderful dinner, like-minded friends, boardgames, afternoon tea, cheesy movies, family, a beautiful lady. Sometimes, just sometimes, it is nice to let the work slip and slide away**.
This week it doesn't feel like my body loves me. I ache in too many places and too few things have been achieved. Yet what has felt like a sombre mood throughout seems to be brightening; feeling, but not blocking out. Essays are becoming an expectation again and the books are getting longer, thicker, more dense. I have photographs I am patiently waiting to scan in (of the summer, of the autumn, of more Diana excursions) and cakes I am expectantly waiting to bake. And something spectacular has started to happen. Somewhere, beneath all the worry and the stress and five-hundred-and-one-things that need doing, I have found myself writing again. So maybe, just maybe, what I think of as non-productive and of as procrastination is being usurped by a more personal victory.
How has your week been?
Because it's Friday and I like to share on Fridays, I highly, highly recommend giving this your attention for the six or so minutes that it runs.
"One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection."
Chuck Palahniuk, 'Fight Club'*
Maybe little more needs to be said than this - except, perhaps, how true it is.
I have been thinking a lot about perfection lately and about the individual ideals we are always striving for. Striving is good; it is healthy. But sometimes I think we all beat ourselves up a little bit if things don't quite make it. And maybe I see this most in relationships and in the little wobbles they encounter.
The other day I read another quote about perfection and about how it is actually the act of looking past the imperfection. The idea stuck with me; made my vortex of appreciation widen a little. I don't know what perfection means - and it doesn't seem like anyone does - but I think this is a good way of looking at it. Because maybe if we notice the imperfections diminish, we have reached it. But maybe this can only be achieved by embracing them in the first place, by nourishing them. Because then we won't find them imperfect; we'll simply find them worth loving.
*Fight Club is amazing. And apparently the book is as good as the film.
Today is a day of a little insecurity; a little doubt that pushes against a skull, distorted by the flurry that follows. And sometimes it takes a while to shift these sorts of days. Especially, like today, when no root exists; no spurt or growth of a germinating seed; no obvious or debilitating crack in a pavement. And I could go on and on and tease out similes - but even these feel too self-conscious today.
So maybe I haven't done enough work this weekend or started on the hand-made Christmas presents I said I would and maybe I haven't exercised, properly, in a long, long time.*
But do you know what? Today I stole an hour to sit down with my step-dad and it felt like the best thing in the world. We talked about the war (himself a child of it, a survivor of The Blitz) and about the practical jokes he played on his staff at the bank. It made me happy, as well as sad, at the realisation that whilst I see him every day and help him in the tiniest of ways, I do not speak to him enough; I do not show him the love he deserves or mimic the kindness he offers.
I have many people to thank in the world and he, along with my mother, and with my love, deserves the greatest of it.
*This I cannot excuse. And maybe I say it too often, but this week I will.
This weekend I will be spending time with my love and eventually getting caught up on some reading. This week my attention is angled towards Woolf's "To The Lighthouse". I know I ask this a lot, but have any of you read it? I am finding it beautiful but nervously so; a statement probably fuelled by my anxiety over an impending presentation...
For Christmas this year, I am planning to make my second family a Christmas cake (sponge instead of fruit but similarly festive) but someone suggested that I add to this and make a sort of hamper out of it - basically bake 'til my heart is content.*
If you were receiving a family hamper (parents and adult children), what would you like to see inside?
*And with hopefully fewer catastrophes than the Hallow'een Extravaganza I tried a few weeks ago. I sometimes forget that not everyone has the stomach for the cake-to-icing ratio that I favour. I sure love baking, though!
Usually Facebook is the place for a kind of (not all that important, but important to you) social back-biting. But today things have escalated and it has become the place for political tension.
Yesterday a student protest* ended in a riot (and perhaps I use the term 'riot' loosely) which ended in a perpetuation of the student stereotype. It wasn't big, it wasn't clever and, most of all, it has not helped our cause. But Facebook has become the place for people to vent their anger; to allege themselves to the cause or to detach themselves completely, either in apathy, in dejected disbelief or in understanding of the government. No longer are we placing in view our social standings - our lists of friends, our photographic memories, our marital statuses - but now we are also shouting to the world our political viewpoint. And as to this, I am in two minds. I am all for debate and a polite battling of opinions, but I am not sure Facebook, often rowdy, is the facility for this.
*In England the subject of university tuition fees is always, always hit with contention. In our last General Election, the Liberal Democrat candidate (now half the coalition government) signed and promised a pledge to 'cap' tuition fees. This gave students and prospective students hope which, because of increasingly large applicant numbers and an impending deficit, has been dashed. Perhaps students wouldn't be quite so angry if they thought they got their money's worth of academic contact at the price of university now. Yesterday's demo - or 'demolition' as the Student Union dubbed it - was a fairly peaceful protest until a few ruined it in a rowdy handling of Government property.
I am an English Literature undergrad incapable of writing a good essay. I cannot connect my points in the clever, coherent way I dreamed of. I cannot propose interesting and engaging points without faltering a little, without taking my reader on a wildgoose chase.
Sometimes, quite often actually, I do not feel like I deserve my university place. Give it to someone else, I want to say. Someone who does not procrastinate, who cites as she writes and gets excited by whatever text she is handling.*
Sometimes my writing feels a little sloppy, a little uneducated, a little like a child's in an academic world.
And do you know what sucks? Grades count from now on. They do.
*Sometimes I get excited. Quite often, in fact. Then I execute it poorly and do not do it justice. Sometimes I am a little offender to the literary world.
Twenty or so minutes ago, I finished watching a documentary on The Gulf of Mexico oil spill and realised that the phrase "lost in thought" has never had such poignancy. Because I am just that; I am thoughtful, now, but I am lost inside those very thoughts. The complexities of the issue are astounding; the hypocrisy, the sorrow, the expectancy, the rueful hope. Throughout it, I found myself empathising and agreeing with the delicately oppositional points of both presenters: the one who frustratedly named BP the greatest villains and the other who reasoned that they are actually doing their best. Yet it is the crab fisherman who said BP weren't to blame that first stole my heart. Because he is right. I am to blame, you are to blame, him and her and him and her and her and him are all to blame. Because everyday we use that oil in some shape or form. We did not set fire to the rig or forcibly spread the oil across the ocean, but we facilitate it. Our very demand is what caused it and our very demand is what caused the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill to still be felt today. And yet we are so far stuck in a rut of using oil (or coal, or gas for that matter) that we do not yet know the way out or the way to change. It is no exaggeration to say that our lives are, at the moment, dependant upon it. And yet we can very legitimately sit and criticise BP for their dealings with it; we can say that they shouldn't drill where they don't have the measures to protect against its failings, and we can say that they shouldn't be the capitalist predators that they are. But until we change it, until we are strong enough to recognise and alter our behaviour and fund our future in another way, we are just as much to blame as they are, albeit in a slightly different way.
Our planet is beautiful and often, very often, I do not believe we deserve everything it has given us.
Right now I fail at the essays I have to write and the books I have to read. I fail at relaxing, taking my time and enjoying the rush. I fail at drawing, at crafting, at writing. I fail at buying enough vintage and at the same time, saving enough money. I fail at waking up early enough or saying no to an afternoon nap. I fail at planning ahead and keeping cool. I fail at returning library books on time and not bending the spines. I fail at swimming, at running, at working out. I fail at being the perfect daughter, sister, girlfriend, student. I fail at giving enough back and enough away. I fail at combing my hair and colour co-ordinating.
I also fail at sticking to a healthy eating plan because now, right now, all I really want is one of these.
During the past few weeks, I feel I have learned a lot.
I have learned that as much as I think I work hard, there is always another inch to give. I have learned how to develop photos in the dark-room and simply how to let things go. I have learned that I can cope on my own but that I am much healthier, much happier, much more content with my love in my life. I have learned how to enjoy reading poetry aloud and how to get caught up in its rhythm.* I have learned how to make my own fondant, and that whilst it isn't that hard to do, it does not have the edge that the pre-packaged world gives birth to. I have learned how making conversation improves train-journeys and that a little politeness and a little thought cracks the toughest cookie. I have learned that standing up straight hurts, but that there is fun to be had from a successful spin-turn. I have learned that I lean, intrigued, towards feminist literature and that modernism (of the literary kind) is the perfect combination of the baffling and the inspiring.**
But I guess what I really have been learning is that life is just a path of little victories, built up and shaped over time.
What have you been learning lately?
*I think reading aloud is the only way to find Alexander Pope bearable.
**At least, these are my literary views today. Expect change tomorrow. I do.
I have recently started to fill a baby Moleskine with the things I see that make me smile. Some days the melancholic veins in my body pump most of the blood; I don't see the good things or the cute things or the world's greatest virtues. And it's funny because as much as I talk of opening my eyes more, I am still guilty of not doing it enough.
So maybe I'll start recounting them more.
And I'll start with how the other day, as I walked home, I saw a businessman, stiff in his suit, deliberately alter his path to step in a pile of leaves. And how that was the sign of autumn.*
*Or is it winter now? I can never tell where the seasons differentiate. It still feels like autumn.
This was the week I discovered the beauty of the library.
Don't get me wrong, I have always used it, but I have rarely found solace in it. This week I did. Every day after class I have gone there to crane over desks with a sort of studious enthusiasm. I have admired its silence in a way I never could before; where it used to impose, it soothes. And the funny, stupid, ridiculous thing is that after all that work I still am no closer to completing my deadlines. My mind feels claustrophobic with too many quotations that are not my own, merely embellishments to much wider ideas. I feel jealous of those that have spoken first.
But today was Friday, so things felt relaxed a little. I learned how to use a dark room and develop photographs; I bought a vintage dress from a campus stall; I jumped and sauntered through autumn leaves discarded to the ground by their maternal veins...
...and I resolved that I will write that essay tomorrow.
On Sunday I crawled into a sleeping bag, on a friend's floor, at 6am. I still feel like I am catching up on lost sleep. It is as prevalent as I feel the continual pull of catching up on slowly progressed work.
But this is another week and new things are to be done (and new obsessions are to claw at my attention).
Perhaps the pain in my stomach is self-inflicted and not in the anxious way I thought it was. Perhaps it just hurts from too much holding in; too much time trying to perfect the perfect posture; the svelte one, the tall one, the tiny-cinched-in-waist-and-not-rotund-one. Perhaps I am guilty of this.
I am a sucker for teacups, saucers, and anything remotely related to the idea of tea parties. (I frankly wish I had the time for more of my own). So, naturally, I am a sucker for these beautiful necklaces I came across on Etsy.
I get sick a lot. I get migraines and stomach-aches and easily pick up colds. And this week I am not feeling very well (it is the middle one).
Predictably, I now feel out of any social or academic loops. My motivation seems tainted, now, as if in providing a little less than perfect attendance, I am working a lot less hard. And yet I feel like I am doing the same amount of work. I feel a bit of a bad friend and a bit of a rubbish student and a bit like all the inspiring things I am feeling and thinking about are not being used in the right way; they are not being practised in the right domain. I should be stronger. I should be as strong as the thousands of other people who, unwell, get up and go about their lives in a very ordinary way. And yet it feels like a brick (the one that would allow me to do that) is missing.
I know that in a few days I will be back on track and I will be writing essays and I will be finishing books. And yet now, right now, my axis feels a little bit tilted.
Today, I am the meaning of feeling sorry for yourself.