There are currently ten books on my bedside table. It’s a pile made up of historical fiction and stories written centuries ago, literary classics and contemporary YA, a novel in translation and a self-help book aimed at millennial working women (the kind that sits on the Waterstones counter next to the pocket-sized Orwell essays and cartoon collections tailor-made for the downstairs loo). These books are different sizes, different weights, different genres; and yet they have something specific in common: I am yet to finish a single one of them.
My behaviour with this micro-library has formed a pattern: I buy or borrow a new book and eagerly read a few chapters, before running out of steam and placing it bedside my bed in the hope that, one day, I will rediscover my powers of concentration. It’s a gesture that’s become familiar, a habit that’s inadvertently turned my bedside table into a shrine to my own inadequacy. I’ve lost a treasured bookmark to page 53 of ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, feeling that removing it would be tantamount to admitting my failure as a reader. It is both depressing and perversely optimistic. It is the last thing I glimpse at night before I switch off the light.
This morning, as most mornings, I was pulled from the depths of sleep by the relentlessly chipper jingle coming from my bedside table. Face pressed into the pillow, my hand reached out, blindly groping for the source of the noise. I gripped my phone, rolled over and swiped, peeling my eyes open to type in the passcode. Unthinkingly, instinctively, I tapped into Instagram and began to scroll.
It’s a problem, I know.
Before I’ve sat up, or even wiped the sleep from my eyes, I’m inviting the world into my bedroom, bombarding my brain with an endless gallery of other people’s lives through a hazy Amaro filter.
What do you think of when I say ‘old age’?
A doddering figure with a stick, papery thin skin falling in folds, a frail voice speaking words of old-school bigotry and pro-Brexit rhetoric?
Would you recognise yourself in that description?
Along with a group of writers participating in the DMA’s Future Writers Labs, I have launched the #NewAge Campaign, a movement to change the conversation around growing older and rebrand old age as something desirable, useful and valuable.
In January of this year I wrote a blog post laying out my intentions for the year. Or, more accurately, my intention, singular: to start looking outward.
One of the small steps to which I committed (in writing) was to volunteer at TEDxEastEnd. Well, dear readers, I’m here to tell you that I kept my word. I rocked up at Hackney Empire at 9am on 25th February and threw myself headfirst into the chaos. And it was fabulous.
There’s a particular prestige that accompanies the TED brand. In the build up to the event, whenever I mentioned my volunteering plans, the mere mention of ‘TEDx’ was followed by widening eyes, a respectful nod and, more often than not, an awed ‘Oh wow!’. To those who are less familiar with the hundreds of viral fifteen minute talks that bounce around social media, TED is a non-profit organisation committed to ‘ideas worth spreading’. While TEDx sits under the TED umbrella, TEDx events are organised entirely by independently from the main TED organisation. The idea is to create local events, with local speakers, run by local volunteers.
This post comes a little late, I know.
I’ve missed the annual flood of New Year think pieces and listicles, bashed out somewhere between the 1st and the 4th by put-upon junior writers and lifestyle editors nursing a week-long Bailey’s hangover, waxing lyrical about the relative merits and demerits of deciding to change our entire personalities each January, stuffed with dodgy statistics on the likelihood of sticking by our good intentions or – inevitably – failing once again to live up to our own impossibly high standards. Like much of the 9-5 crowd, I get through the first, painful day back at work by devouring these articles while mainlining coffee, allowing myself to be uplifted by the women’s magazines telling me I can change my life with a NutriBullet, and chuckling gamely along with a satirical takedown of Dry January in the Guardian.
New Year sceptics look away now: I enjoy making resolutions. There’s something about Romjul (the period between Christmas and New Year) that compels me to sit down with a new notebook and pen to scribble my impressions of the previous year and record my hopes and dreams for the coming months. I rarely resolve on a single task – to go to the gym (right), eat more greens (fine), drink less (HA). Instead, I prefer to choose a theme for the year, an overarching goal that guides my smaller, everyday decisions.
This November, I did something a little crazy.
After a few years of placating my gently stirring curiosity with soothing murmurs of ‘that sounds interesting but I’ll try it when I have something to write about’ and ‘I’m so busy – I’ll do it when I have time to commit properly’, I buckled to internal pressure and signed myself up to NaNoWriMo.
What’s that, I hear you ask? NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. On 1st November every year, thousands of people put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) with the goal of writing 50,000 words of an original novel by 11.59pm on 30th November. That breaks down to 1667 words per day, every day for a month.
Is it a slightly bonkers endeavour? Yes. Clearly.
Was it worth it? Yes. Unequivocally.
Do you subscribe to Lenny Letter? If not, you should. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s weekly newsletter compiles personal essays, interviews, illustrations and creative writing, and covers topics including politics, health, friendship and sex – usually with a feminist angle. It’s always engaging, informative and surprising.
Recently, Nicole Richie (yes, that Nicole Richie) contributed a piece about the impact of fame on her personal identity.
From Nicole Richie’s essay in Lenny Letter
Her words sparked a memory. A few years ago, I had a conversation with an athletic friend about a recent injury he’d sustained that left his future sporting career in doubt. “The problem is”, he told me, “I’ve always thought of myself as the ‘sporty guy’. Now that’s been taken away, I don’t know what my story is any more.” His phrasing stuck with me. As a writer and consummate dreamer, I’m constantly telling stories – about myself, my loved ones, the characters in my head. My mantra is the classic Nora Ephron-ism: ‘Everything is copy”. But recently I’ve started to wonder if the stories we tell about ourselves sometimes do more harm than good.
I took a look at changing depictions of the female form for Londnr Magazine, from Botticelli to Kim Kardashian.
Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time alone.
If that sounds bleak, it isn’t. At least, not for me. Most of the time, I like being alone.
There’s something inherently taboo about enjoying your own company. The carpe diem attitude championed by the self-help industry implies that choosing to be alone is somehow a cop-out, that in order to be making the most of our lives we need to be stuffing every second with brunches and first dates and weekends away and big nights out.
The truth is I get the same satisfaction from the prospect of a weekend without plans as I do from a brand new notebook and a collection of freshly-sharpened pencils. Both contain the delicious sense of possibility.
I trawled through my painful adolescent memories for Marie Claire’s #BREAKFREE from fear campaign…