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All By Myself (and my brain is loving it)

A comrade of mine recently said she hates being on her own. She’ll phone someone, go out of her way to meet up or speak to people online she ever finds herself alone. ‘It’s a default now,’ she said. If that’s what she wants, or needs, then that’s her choice, I thought. But I hope she didn’t see my face. Because it was grimacing.

Being alone is underrated.  I reckon Al Green was only so tired of it because he was focusing on the fact he’d been dumped, not the fact he had brilliant freedom. When I searched for photos to accompany this post, all that came up were arty shots of teens, gazing at the floor. It made me wanna tell them, you guys, you don’t even know how awesome being alone can be! And also, sepia doesn’t automatically make everything look sad! So I chose this cat having a dope time, instead.

The joy in being alone comes from the fact you can do what you like without people or things bothering you. You may even come to delight in completing compulsory functions, such as thinking and breathing. They can be mad fun. I live with my boyfriend and two cats (all three of whom I enjoy very much), but I couldn’t do that if I didn’t spend time away from them.

Only, it’s not just feline distractors and my boyfriend’s occasional lady-hair-cut I have to escape now. It’s the burgeoning intensity of modern-life suffocation, too. The new notifications, tube space invaders, frequently changed talking points that you feel like you have to keep up withWe are being asphyxiated by life stuff. What a way to go.

Yes, you can turn your phone off, not go online, avoid public transport. But there will still be the colleague who speaks to you about work when you’ve got your headphones in, eating lunch. There will still be the invention of apps such as Cuddlr (a thing). We are constantly being swarmed  by something or someone.

But it needs to stop, yo. For the development of our brains if nothing else. Recent studies show that when we’re alone (genuinely alone. Not on Facebook Messenger. Yes, I see you there in the sidebar), we develop memories more effectively and don’t waste the time thinking about what anyone else is thinking. Ironically, spending time alone makes us feel less closed off from others, and helps us become better at socialising.

My friend still hates being alone. She’d rather be bombarded with messages, updates, conversations, than not. Even on holibobs. Each to their own. Although for me, ‘own’ is the operative word. As in, on my own. Leave me there. Thanks.

 

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Friendship babble

Before the end of 2014, I had a chat with my friends G and AB about friendships. After a pretty confusing year (realising who was genuinely in my life, and who was just ghostin’) I wanted clarity for the upcoming year. And world peace. But clarity is easier. In the spirit of my recent mindfulness quest, I hoped to embark upon the new year not stressing out over menial things and doing only what I wanted to do (within reason. Punching the whole tube carriage isn’t very nice, and is also really hard).

I don’t know if others share this view (I’ve told been I’m a ‘black-and-white’ person) but in my mind, you shouldn’t have to make excuses for anything. Like, if you don’t want to go all the way to Camden to meet a friend, then say so. Don’t pretend you’re ill or the tubes are down (so silly, peeps). If you’ve been invited to a big dinner party but have been out every day that week and don’t feel like socialising then say you don’t fancy it. Lies are bad (as showcased here), and also stupid. With such limited free time, why spend it doing things you don’t want to do (again, within reason), or with people you don’t want to do it with?

Perhaps that’s too brash but surely it causes much less stress to both parties in the long run? Plus, you don’t want to use up your ‘sick pass’ when you’re not actually sick. Boy who cried wolf got done bad, yo.

In all friendships there are certain unspoken rules. Be supportive, don’t bail at the very last minute, make an effort (especially if you haven’t seen each other in a while), be proactive, tell someone if you can’t go to something rather than waiting for them to double check (horrendous). Honesty is usually the best policy (hair looks weird/cheese has gone off), and when it comes to not doing something or going somewhere, it’s rarely ever personal. Unless they’ve told you it is. Like outright said, ‘this is personal. And I hate you’. That kind of thing.

I can now count my closest friends on one hand and none of them hate me. So, I think, friendship this year is going pretty good.

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Mindfulness, that’s some good shit

Last year’s buzzwords reeked mostly of middle-class health. Kale, Voga, meditation. Everyone started to care about their wellbeing, inside and out. And I’ll admit, at one point I was the worst of them. I bought the extortionately priced coconut water, attempted and failed at making quinoa burgers, spent £90 a month I didn’t have on my ‘drishti’ (and the special opportunity to get covered in other people’s sweat. So special). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not poo-pooing that way of life, I’d love to be a green juice and yogi kind of gal but in reality, what’s recommended for our health these days is hard to maintain and more importantly, afford.

Except mindfulness, my friend said in November. She’d had a tough year and realised she needed to sort her shit out. So, knowing that the tools for mindfulness were in her brain and the library, and thus FREE, she did some research. It wasn’t easy to adopt as part of a daily routine, and it took her a month to see the benefits, but she said it had brought about some sweet relief.

Listening to her, I wanted a piece of the action. I’d once been given a little mindfulness book at work. It was brilliant at fulfilling its duty of ‘make desk look interior chic’. But it turned out, it was even more brilliant as an actual book. There were quotes that made sense! Exercises that real people could do in real time at real places (and no mention of forcing your legs to cross in that awkward opposite way or gazing into the distance)! It seemed there wasn’t a strict science to mindfulness – it just involved knowing and enjoying what you were doing at the time.

Soon, I was thoroughly enjoying spending five minutes a day focusing on breathing. Seriously! Just inhaling and exhaling! And loving it! Then, I started to find other things that helped me relax like stretching and slathering my body in oil. They were things that I enjoyed focusing on (because focusing on scooping my cat’s shit doesn’t give me any benefits, no matter how desperately I want to be a dedicated practiser).

In honesty, mindfulness has infiltrated my brain, made me ‘hippy-dippy’ and given me some home truths. Like, if I don’t get to do things I want to do, that doesn’t mean I won’t be happy (told you, hippy dippy). And (here’s more) we have millions of choices, and it’s more rewarding to make the most of them than to pretend they don’t exist just so we can moan about them not existing.

Course, both mind and body need to be looked after, but I feel much healthier practising mindfulness than I ever did trying on get on board with kale (it’s no spinach after all).

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Victoria’s Secret Show makes me feel good

A parade of toned models showcasing sparkly $2m undies and fluffy wings to a live Swifty soundtrack. It can only be the annual Victoria’s Secret Show! But with the brand’s recent controversy, our low body confidence  and feminism currently navigating a very tricky path, it’s likely that many will deem this year’s show  a very unhelpful occurence.

They might be right. But in truth, watching the show makes me feel good about myself.

Lemme explain. Yes, the models are slim and toned and by media standards, beautiful. They have bodies that people who don’t use theirs for a living will never have. But rather than make me feel sad, or encourage me to kickstart a fruitless fitness campaign that’ll be over within a week, watching them laugh and strut and smile on the runway inspires me to be awesome. I know. That’s the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard, too. But they revel in the cheese, they love it long time. And during that show, so do I. To me, the show feels positive and empowering, not degrading or upsetting.

Of course, it’s about the underwear and how it looks on their bodies. There are so many attitudes under the body image umbrella that we need to change. But the show is also about being confident and ultimately, women having a good time together. In interviews, many of the models cite the show as the most brilliant thing they get to do all year, mostly because they’re reunited with one another.

As soon as the show airs, it’s inevitable that vitriolic reviews will pop up everywhere, targeting the model’s bodies in skinny-shame ways, because they’re frustrated with society and the media and branding. This is a given. But, me? When it’s on, I’ll be jamming to TS and Ed Sheeran in my PJs (tickets are like £10k), feeling  ‘femspired’ and awesome. Cheese a-plenty.

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Long live the television!

Television has had a lot of moments. Like back in 1926 when it came to fruition (probably it’s biggest moment, really). And then when colour got in on the action. There have probably been a few others since then. And now, television is having another moment. Or rather, what’s on television is having a moment, thanks to our new thirst for telly series’.

While it’s brilliant that TV actors are reaching movie-star fame, no longer disregarded because of their lack of film credentials, and the two worlds are intermingling sans shame (see: True Detective), the television itself is slipping away. And this is not so brilliant. Proof of our television crisis comes in this, a piece about TVs fading in popularity, and a US millenial being genuinely weirded out by seeing a television in a fellow student’s college dorm. As if they’ve never seen one before. Confused, as if someone left a racoon on their desk.

In a way, we have our beloved series’ to blame. If they didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be such a huge appetite for Netflix or Hulu (even iPlayer and catch up), and thus there wouldn’t be a culture of watching things on your laptop rather than on an actual television. We can get everything our TV has to offer, on our laptops, whether that’s through Netflix, downloads, streaming, etc. I, myself, have watched New Girl episodes on my laptop. True story.

But for me, the social element of watching television is unbeatable. When I was little, every Saturday after tea (yes, tea – even in the South West), we’d gather in front of the telly to watch Stars In Their Eyes or Blind Date. It was part of our family life. I can’t imagine, one day in the probably-not-so-distant future, watching the World Cup on a laptop. Or walking into my mum’s living room and not seeing a television (not because hers is noteworthy but because it’s what we’ve always known). How will uncreative folk arrange their furniture?

Luckily, a lot of TV providers have a Netflix option now, so you can watch it through the TV like a normal human being circa ten years ago. Of course, there’s so much more to this debate (the underwhelming non-revolution of 3D televisions, the rise of ‘binge-watching’ etc), but at the end of the day, televisions are not like other gadgets. They are in it for the long haul (please?)

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Feminism thoughts (CC. Amy)

For a while, I struggled to sum up how I felt about the recent spate of non-feminist accusations in the celeb world. Course I’m a feminist. I believe in complete equal rights, and everyone being nice and fair to each other (sounds so simple, doesn’t it?). Most people feel the same way. But the word itself is now often used as a weapon, battering those who say they’re not sure or that they’re not feminists. Which, baffling as their answer is, doesn’t seem like a very feminist thing to do. Surely?

I didn’t know how to articulate how I felt until I read Amy Poehler’s interview in Stylist. My thoughts echo hers exactly (only she said it brilliantly):

‘I think the media has gotten really into who likes to say that they’re a feminist so now the story has become who doesn’t say that they are one. It’s just another example of society pitting women against each other and asking them to compete rather than to collaborate. So, to young women who like to say they aren’t feminists, I wish that they understood what feminism really meant and stood for, but at the end of the day the story about who is and who isn’t feminist has now become very anti-feminist to me.’

Amen.

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What’s going down, Chinatown?

I have a confession to make. Until August this year, I had never been to Chinatown in New York (despite having been to the city itself on four different occasions). I’ve submitted this as a guilty admission because a) I claim to be an avid NY lover and b) I’m half Chinese (sorry, dad). But in August, when I got there – and I did get there – I realised that I didn’t really know much about either Chinatown. And that’s no good.
 
I’ve been to London’s Chinatown countless times. The supermarkets, the restaurants, the bakeries; I waz ‘ere. It supposedly throws the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations in the world – easy to believe when you’re an ant in a slow moving colony on Gerrard Street, avoiding the mysterious firecrackers kids are throwing at the floor and wondering which dim sum restaurant has the smallest queue (answer: none). London also has the oldest Chinatown in a Western city, established in the 1700s in the East End. Sailors and traders from the East India Company rocked up at Limehouse, and a few years on, were cooking up delicious cuisine for Chinese seamen. Throw in a war, and a job drought for non-British seamen, and they were soon in trouble. But in the 50s, British soldiers returned from East Asia with an appreciation for Chinese food. Restauranters set up shop on Gerrard St, workers from the British territory of Hong Kong arrived, and the rest is history.
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New York’s Chinatown had a bumpier ride. It came to be in the 1840s on the LES. London might have the oldest, but New York has the largest Chinese population in the West. In a similar vein, Chinese traders went to the US, and once gold mines declined, they took up textile and cigar-rolling jobs. White locals felt threatened by the Chinese ‘taking’ their jobs at a cheaper rate, which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act – a federal law which forbid wives and children of Chinese labourers to move to the US. But the hard times encouraged the Chinese to stick together, and by the time the law was lifted the Chinese community had built Chinatown into a buzzing area.
 
So what’s the difference between the two? And which one’s better?
 
Food wise, it’s a no-brainer. I really expected dim sum in The Big Apple to be the same as in the UK and Hong Kong, but not so. Instead of getting three char siu bao (buns filled with roast pork), as standard, you get just one massive one, and inside, the texture’s different. It didn’t taste like a home from home. But New York’s Chinatown felt like home. Exploring the area filled my heart to burst. It felt authentic (before you reach the flags leading to Little Italy, course). Unlike London’s one main street, there were a few streets, all linked together, and packed. It was a world away from our breezy pedestrian street, laden with tourists posing by that big red arch.
So, my advice? Hit up London to get your fill, and New York for the feel. Because it’s that easy to go between the two…
 
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Gender/gift guide probz

Christmas gift guides are everywhere. A happy little supplement seems to fall out of every magazine I buy. It’s brilliant. But the other day, I came across a gift that made my blood boil.

On the men’s pages, along with leather wallets, braces and such, was a guitar.

This infuriated me for two reasons:

1. Since when do only men play musical instruments? It would be equally absurd if they’d put a piano on the womens pages. Which they didn’t. Because THAT WOULD BE ABSURD. I’m sure that if someone did the research, they’d find that more men than women do play the guitar. But that doesn’t mean it’s a brilliant gift just for a man. Or in fact, for anyone, which leads me to my next point…

2. Since when do you casually buy a guitar for someone? It is not like a candle or a travel wallet. It’s not like every man will enjoy it or find a use for it, as per the other items on the page. They need to actually play the guitar. And if they do, the chances are, they don’t want a brand and model that they haven’t asked for. They’ll know the style, body, model they like or want. It’s not like, ‘I know he plays the guitar, so he will like this guitar.’ And, if they don’t play the guitar but have asked for one, it’s unlikely they will have said ‘just get any.’ So many illogical shortcomings behind such a bizarre gift guide inclusion.

Happy shopping!

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Book Worm: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel.P

These days, it’s not uncommon for a book to fall victim to its own success. You know, it becomes known as more style than substance, hype over quality. So when Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel.P garnered huge praise and attention, I was hesitant. But when is The New Yorker wrong? Never.

The first draw for me was that the book was written by a female, about a male, but reading it, you wouldn’t know the wordsmith wasn’t a guy. The story is about successful writer, Nate, who’s making his way in NY, plagued by women troubles, the odds bouts of career anxiety and something of a love/hate relationship with himself. Basically, a modern man. Nate and his friends, and girlfriends, are all Ivy League alumni, the intellectual eyes and ears of a generation. While the novel covers all ground, from living in Brooklyn to his rising career, the real focus is on his relationships with other women (which, in turn, say a lot about his relationship with himself, his friends and his family). Throughout the book Nate finds himself in limbo, one minute so above superficial, soulless society, and the next, judging women on the smallest of details.

A brilliant, insightful book with moments we can all relate to, and some that seem to be dominant in just the male psyche (and so make for compelling reading). You rarely get a first-person novel about a male that’s just as self-indulgent as the majority of 21st century books aimed at females. It truly feels like the only modern book I’ve ever read, tackling age-old topics (dating, city life), but from a new, relevant angle. There’s a short prequel to the book now, written through the eyes of Nate’s friend Aurit. An excellent read if you’re struggling to leave Nate’s life!

Sarah Kwong, Journalist