life in your thirties

instagram vs reality

A page from my journal.

A page from my journal.

I like to give off the impression that I’m pretty together. That I’ve got my shit worked out or at least I have enough self-awareness to know what I need to work on. That I behave consciously. That I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t, and do my best to have as much as possible of the former in my life and the bare-arsed minimum of the latter.

And yet. And yet. I still care way too much about what things look like rather than what they feel like. I still care way too much about what people think. I still feel the sting of rejection and being misunderstood to my marrow. I still try far too hard to control other people’s impressions and experience of me. Ever since I arrived home, so many Phils have been competing to take the steering wheel off the only one I trust with this vehicle - wise, street-smart, calm Phil. All these other Phils I thought were satisfied now, their insecurities and baggage dealt with long ago. But no. No.

These past couple of years, my ego has been dying a slow, painful death. As it has lay dying, it has tried to show me, over and over again, that some (well, maybe around 90 per cent) of the things that I think matter really, really don’t. And that attempting to be part of the in crowd is a complete and utter waste of my time because I don’t belong there and I never have.

This afternoon, case in point. I had just made myself a mug of chai. I was still wearing my rather cool Kemi Telford skirt and cosy Witchery sweater from this morning’s client meeting. I thought I’d take a break from my work and enjoy a cup of tea. But then I thought “you’ve got such a nice outfit on, and this is such a pretty mug, and the light is nice, why don’t you take one of those ‘hands round the mug from above’ shots for Instagram?”

As I manipulated myself into place, I swear I could laughter from somewhere.

I read somewhere that the way all the influencers take these shots is by holding the phone in their mouths.

So there I was, outside, freezing, barefoot, with a blistering hot mug in my hands (turns out the handle is there for a reason!) and a phone in my mouth.

I could barely hold the mug, and I ended up with some kind of sore on my mouth, trying to keep the phone steady so I wouldn’t drop it and have it shatter on the concrete. The only photos I succeeded in taking were of inside my own mouth.

The phrase WTF? seemed designed for that very moment.

But all of a sudden, I saw myself.

And all I knew was I didn’t want to be this person.

And now, writing this, I feel released from something.

Every time I get drawn back into that world, of followers and likes and making everything look like a magazine and having an editorial calendar for your own bloody life, I will remember this moment.

There is so much I want to do with my life and none of it, none, involves burning my hands and hurting my mouth for a picture that won’t even legally belong to me any more once I upload it to that devilish platform.

But I also know I can’t be the only person out there who, on a day when they’re feeling a bit left out or vulnerable, sees everyone else’s shiny grids and perfectly-taken photos and feels a bit wistful….and then really, really lonely, like the uncool kid at school (which I was, so it’s a familiar feeling to me) looking at a world which, for some reason, you just aren’t part of. And every time you try to be a part of it, you end up falling flat on your face.

If you feel like that too, hi! I see you. Isn’t it hard pretending not to care when actually, deep down, you do care, even if it’s just a little bit? Isn’t it hard feeling the pull to fit in, because it’s so damn seductive?

But as Brene Brown has said, fitting in is not the same as belonging.

And I don’t want to fit in. Not really.

I try my best to be a bright, shiny, only-showing-my-good-side to the world woman, but actually….I’m pretty messy. Inside and out. My hair never behaves. My nails always break. My lipstick always ends up on my teeth. Whenever I wear white, I spill something on it. Every. Damn. Time. First world problems keep me awake at night. Some days I feel like everything is coming together and feel aligned with my purpose and calling, and other days I feel like I’ve accidentally burned all the bridges I’m trying to build.

I think being back home has reminded me of the pain of all those dark, lost years of my early adulthood, where I pretended that everything was fine and I had it all together but nothing could have been further from the truth. And sometimes I fall back into that trap. It’s hard to be real and honest and vulnerable when you’ve been hurt, both online and off. It’s hard to be yourself around people who don’t always appreciate or acknowledge how much you’ve changed, and therefore don’t always respond in the way you need or hope. But that’s another part of this revelation - I can only be me. I can only control my own actions. I can only be true to myself. I can be brave and put myself out there and know that I don’t need other people to behave or react in a certain way for me to feel safe or understood or seen or whatever. It’s hard, but it’s so freeing. The armour of perfection is too heavy.

So, no more phones in the mouth. It’s not for me. Only one-handed mug shots on my Instagram feed from now on. If at all. No more filters. Imperfection all the way. I’m going to do my best not to be afraid to show it.

PS: It took me sleeping on it to get the courage to hit publish on this post - but if life has taught me one lesson repeatedly, it’s the posts I’m most afraid to hit publish on that are probably the ones that need to be released. So here you are. Thank you for reading and listening to me :)

what if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

violet-bakery-brownie

What if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

I like to keep busy. I’m not great at sitting still. Given a choice I’d rather be doing something than nothing. Give me a week off and I’ll fill it with day trips and walks and visits to pubs and galleries. And I love it. I love stimulation. But that’s not always what you need, is it? 

An unexpected flare up of an old wound saw me track down my old osteopath at her new digs at Kuu London for an hour of muscle manipulation and massage yesterday. I cried on the table, and it was much needed. Maybe keeping busy had distracted me. Maybe it has always distracted me.

And while I keep myself occupied and always find things to do...I’m not always very kind to myself. I tell myself I don’t need a massage, or quiet time. I meditate every morning...and it’s only recently I’ve stopped doing the guided ones and started sitting there in silence with only my breath for company. It’s uncomfortable. Lying there, having sore parts prodded and touched, was uncomfortable. No wonder I cried. I’ve forgotten how to do uncomfortable. 

Shoulder loosened and no longer in pain, I took my time going home. It was a sunny day and east London is full of beauty, characters and things to see. I found a new journal at Erbert (and got great tips on how to unclog my old fountain pen! Cheers Paul!) and treated myself to a brownie and iced tea at the Violet bakery.

I picked a table by the kitchen window so I could breathe in the heavenly smell of baking. I had nowhere else to be and for a change I felt calm, unhurried, unpressured. As a result, I lingered.

I took an obligatory photo or two then put the phone away. I wrote. I savoured every sweet, nutty, salty bite of my halva tahini brownie. I looked around. There were more dogs than cars in this quiet street, trotting alongside their owners. It was sunny, and with the warm cake-infused air I might have almost believed it was still summer.

As I ate the last crumb of brownie and walked to the train, I felt lighter. Battery not quite full, but recharged nonetheless. 

We so often wait for a wake up call before we’ll prioritise looking after ourselves, before we listen to our aching bodies and souls. Saturday was a good reminder to me to not put off self care until the pain is unbearable. But also, I don’t have to be in pain to be worthy of kindness and small treats. Those are the things that make life sweeter.

So this week, I’m going to try and treat myself more like my phone - and hopefully get my battery sufficiently recharged.

weekenders on our own

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It's such fun
- Lou Reed

Sometimes the best days are the unplanned ones. 

shoreditch-street-art-a-nahu

We expected rain, being stuck indoors, winter still blowing its frosty breath over the city. Instead, it was pleasantly overcast when we met our friends at Old Street tube and took the scenic route, through the streets of Shoreditch which are like galleries with vast, colourful murals everywhere you look, to a cafe for the best vegan burger in London:

essential-vegan-burger
cassava-chips
street-art-broadway

 

Then we walked around Columbia Road, past Hackney City Farm where we saw baby goats frolicking in the grass, and then up to Broadway Market where we stood elbow to elbow with East London's hipster population jostling for vintage clothes, killer brownies, raw milk, giant cheese toasties, coffee and sourdough bread. I came for Frida.

Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

 

Then we walked back to Haggerston along the canal. The sun came out and we unpeeled ourselves from our coats with glee. We made a brief stop at Proud East for probably the best Virgin Mary I've ever had:

virgin-mary
phil-and-lisa
phil-and-tom

Refreshed, we walked further along Regent's Canal up to Islington. The air was cold but the sun was out, and I could smell the sweet perfume of violets on the banks, wood-fired stoves in the canal boats, and coffee from the riverside cafes. We saw a group of friends drifting along the river in a floating hot tub. I took note of the company for future reference!

We wandered through Camden Passage, as the stallholders began to wrap their unsold wares in newspaper and box them up, and there was still a queue at the Breakfast Club. We stopped for a pint in the Camden Head (our new favourite place in this part of town).

tom-camden-head

When a day turns out to be unexpectedly fun, in the gentle company of true friends with whom you can just be yourself, with delicious food, refreshing beverages, the weather surprisingly fine and the promise of spring hovering on the horizon.....these are the days that I live for. 

reclaiming loud

The opening pages - the altar, if you will - of my current journal, where my ritual is to make a collage before I start writing in its pages. I don't think it was an accident that those words somehow found each other. 

The opening pages - the altar, if you will - of my current journal, where my ritual is to make a collage before I start writing in its pages. I don't think it was an accident that those words somehow found each other. 

It’s not a woman’s job to get smaller and smaller and take up less and less space until she disappears so the world can be more comfortable.
— Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior

Sas Petherick wrote recently about reclaiming the word 'bossy' for herself - a word that had negative connotations for her since childhood,  which subsequently affected how she saw herself and how she interacted with the world from a place of fear rather than worthiness. How she went through life doing everything she could to avoid being called 'bossy' because it made her feel so small.

Sas says:

Usually, there is a word.
Some phrase or sentence that when uttered, has the power to leave us feeling small and powerless. Diminished. Childlike.
I wonder what is it for you?

I’ve been trying to reclaim the word loud.

When I was younger, being called ‘loud’ - too loud, more often than not - left me feeling diminished and cut down. It felt like a rejection of my most essential self - an excitable, enthusiastic, outgoing little girl who was the first to put her hand up in class if she knew the answer; who loved to talk to people, tell stories and share things with others; who loved making up games, performing and making people laugh; who was fascinated by the world and the people in it. 

When people told me I was 'loud', that sent me the message that I needed to shut up. That I was too much. That what I had to say wasn't important, no one was interested. That making too much noise - taking up too much space - was not a good thing and I would be more acceptable, and more likeable, if I were quieter. Funnily enough, I don't recall the boys I knew being told they were too loud (but that's another story).

As I wasn't one of the 'pretty' or 'popular' girls either, the label of 'loud' made me even more self-conscious of my failings and flaws. As I became a teenager I found myself retreating inwards - I was only loud with people I felt I could be myself around (mostly my three sisters). Yet I still loved performing and acting, often winning the lead roles in school plays, so 'withdrawn' was probably not a word people would have used to describe me! And I noticed that people tended to like me more, or didn't mind how 'loud' I was, when I was entertaining them.

But what people didn’t realise - and nor did I, until I went to therapy as an adult - was that acting was a place of safety for me. All that gregariousness, enthusiasm and fun that I felt I couldn't express as myself went into playing parts, pretending to be someone else, instead. This eventually seeped through to the rest of my life and as a result, I no longer knew who I really was. 

About 12 years ago, in my mid-twenties, I tried to reclaim that word 'loud'. I became that confident young girl again - who liked who she was and let the world know it. Who put her hand up. Who enjoyed sharing her stories and experiences with people, and sharing in theirs too.  Who was vivacious, full of energy and, for the first time in her life, dropped her people-pleasing tendencies and put her own needs first. She was also a bit broken, and very naive, but was determined to rediscover her true self and purpose, and proud of how far she'd come in the process.

But then came the familiar cries of ‘too loud’ and it all unravelled. 

What hurts the most when I think about that time is not that I was betrayed and torn down by people I thought were friends, because they were insecure, unhappy people and what they did wasn't about me at all (sidenote: when people bully you, it's never about you). What hurts the most is that I betrayed myself, my true self. I didn't fight back or confront them about how much they had hurt me. I didn't use the voice I thought I had found to stand up to them.

Instead, I just did what I thought I had to do, and what I had always done, when I showed people the real me and they didn't like it - I pressed the mute button and shut down. And when you are complicit in your own betrayal, that is a wound that takes years, perhaps a lifetime, to recover from.

It took me ten years (and writing a book!) to really understand what that time was about, what the lessons were. The confidence I'd worked so hard for had slipped away so easily, which made me realise I still had work to do.  It has taken until now to feel brave enough to try being that excited, enthusiastic, loud person again.  

But this time, I feel less afraid of the smackdown, because it's probably about time I accepted that I will always be too much for some people. Choosing to live my life with the volume dial turned right up will likely trigger someone else's insecurities at some point, but I'm finally in a place where I know that isn't my problem. 

Because now I get to choose what 'loud' means.

Loud doesn’t mean annoying or full of yourself. It is not code for 'shut up, go away, no one is interested'. Loud is not a demand for attention. 

Loud is just a desire to be heard, and to be seen, for who I really am. 

Loud means using my voice, however I want to use it. I owe that not only to myself, but to the women who came before me and didn’t have a voice. And to all the women in the world who still don’t have one. 

Loud means being brave enough to speak the truth in my heart, trusting that it is safe for me to do that, and not waiting to be invited on to the stage. 

Loud means standing up for myself, and for others. 

Loud means knowing what is important to say and then saying it, backing myself all the way. Thinking before I speak, of course, but breaking out of this pattern I've been in for the last few years where I overthink everything so much that I lose my nerve, the moment passes and I end up saying nothing. 

Loud, ironically, means listening to that small voice inside me that just wants to be free. That just wants to show up in the world without fear, without agenda, just with love and the desire to be useful and joyful.

Loud is a strength, not a flaw.

Loud is bubbly, bright, alive and grateful.

Loud is me.

Maybe loud is you too.

It’s OK to be loud.

35 things to do before I turn 36

Goodness, come May I am well and truly in my MID THIRTIES.

When the hell did that happen?

In my head, I'm still that 26 year old who left Australia with a backpack strapped on and so much hope and excitement in her heart.

So much has happened in those ten years. So much that I had to write a book about it

When I first arrived in London, this bustling hive of a city where even going to shops and taking the tube to work was a giddy adventure for a while, I had so much I wanted to do I didn't really know where to start, so I just dove in head first. I loved living like that.

But as the years have passed and my life here has undoubtedly become more domestic and started to grow roots (not that that's a bad thing), it's been very easy for things to pass me by and to put things off until later when I might have more time, money or energy. I feel like a madwoman sometimes, mentally possessed by ideas and projects and things I desperately want to do and get off the ground, and physically surrounded by detritus of my mental chaos, books, letters, receipts, plans, everywhere.

I want to get a handle on things. I want to recapture some of the free-spirited fun of my twenties, but start feeling organised and like I have a plan, as would befit a woman in her mid-thirties. Gulp! 

No matter what age I have been, I hasten to add, I have yearned to be organised, socially useful, present and making the most of things. So with that in mind, I've come up with a few (well, 35) things to do in the next five weeks that will contribute greatly to that feeling! 

So, here we go. 

  1. Declutter my phone - back up, organise and delete photos; back-up poems written in notes, etc
  2. Run 10k (either on my own or with my running group)
  3. Write more letters
  4. Make a wedding album (finally!) 
  5. Read an Edith Wharton novel (I know, terrible!)
  6. Plant my cavolo nero, courgette, radish, french beans, kohlrabi and tomato seeds
  7. Keep blogging
  8. Keep meditating
  9. Become a member of Kew Gardens
  10. Declutter my study and reorganise my bookshelves
  11. Get another parkrun PB
  12. Buy some smart and comfortable work shoes that I can wear in spring, summer and autumn (I'm covered with winter shoes!)
  13. Treat myself to another oracle deck
  14. Get a haircut/colour
  15. Pitch that *top secret thing* to *you know who*
  16. Get my favourite (broken!) statement necklace fixed/restrung
  17. Get a trolley to keep my makeup in
  18. Get a pedicure (well overdue!)
  19. Learn how to make a potato fondant
  20. Clean out my tea cupboard (and treat myself to some new ones!)
  21. Subscribe to the London Review of Books
  22. Organise my vintage photo collection
  23. Find another yoga class (and start going regularly)
  24. Book our anniversary holiday
  25. Call the ATO (boring but necessary)
  26. Buy a new teapot
  27. Go out for dumplings 
  28. See a live comedy show
  29. Redecorate and declutter bedroom
  30. Go to the National Portrait Gallery
  31. Go to Maltby Street markets
  32. Take a hiphop or Beyonce style dance class
  33. Finish my current journal and start a new one
  34. Buy a new jacket in a bright colour
  35. Try a new restaurant 

If I manage to do all of them, it's going to be a fun and productive month!