An Oasis in East London

I’ve decided 2015 is the year I embark on my social experiment/project: “Talking to Strangers”. And I shall blog about my little random adventures, for no reason – other than to practice my writing. I’m pretending I’m a character in a book, and people I meet are also characters. I know it sounds weird. I know I’m weird. But I love writing, just for the sake of it, even if it’s not good, clever or entertaining. I’m writing for me. I’m writing for the future me. 

Wednesday 4 March: An Oasis in East London. 
My friend is a musician and invited me to a gig tonight at the Kings Head, she even kindly put me on the guest list. I googled the place “a private members club”. Private members – sounds exclusive. Sounds posh. Somewhere I normally would never get in.
I get to the destination and for a second I was worried I got the wrong place, because it looked like it was shut down, it looked like an abandoned, derelict building, with all the windows and doors boarded up. I looked around nervously, there was no entrance. Then a man with big dreadlocks came out of a door, out of nowhere it seemed. 
Me: “uh, I’m here for a gig” 
The Man With Big Dreadlocks smiled encouragingly, nodded and simply said “Yes”. I felt like maybe he was the Oracle. He pressed a buzzer. And then the door magically opened (okay it didn’t magically open – the doorman/bouncer on the other end opened it). I walked in. 
Hostess behind the counter: “Hello”
Me: “Oh hi, erm my friend is playing in a gig tonight, and I think I’m on the guest list” I gabbed on, without actually giving my own name, until she had to ask me. Ha ha. Oops. 
I was then led through thick black velvet curtains and behind it a room that was breathtaking exquisite. 
Chandeliers, elegant paintings, and a gigantic “stuffed” tiger over the bar. 
Me to the barman: “wow this place is very posh. The decor is so nice. Is that a real tiger? I thought I got the wrong place because the outside is all boarded up and looks shut down” 
Barman smiled knowingly: “yes, that’s the idea. We don’t take in walking customers. It’s members only”. 
All of a sudden I felt privileged being let in. I ordered a virgin mojito, the barman even made a little flower out of mint leaves. Cute. 
I then explored the place, and accidentally walked into the gents toilets, those are funny looking sinks…
There were a lot of stuffed animals dotted about  – I don’t know if they were real or not, but the baboon at the bottom of the stairs gave me a fright.  
I eventually ventured downstairs to where the gig was taking place and the room was enveloped in sparkly blue lights – I  suddenly felt like I was in a dystopian world where only certain people were allowed in this secret club and I just stumbled across it by accident. 

I found an empty seat next to a couple and asked the girl if it was free and she smiled yes. 

I listened to the live music whilst looking around admiring the atmosphere and wondered how rich everyone was. Apparently membership is very very expensive!
I then noticed a “stuffed” monkey, standing on a chair, handcuffed to and holding rifle. I think that was my favourite decor piece. 

After the band finished the set, I turned to the girl… 
Me: “Isn’t this place beautiful? Who are you here to see? 
Finnish girl (later I find out she’s from Finland): “yes, it’s lovely. I met my boyfriend here last year. He organised this gig night”. 
We got to chatting and bonded over our mutual love of horror movies, and exchanged emails and made plans to meet up to watch a scary film one day. Because people who like scary films are very rare and we gotta stick together.


Put down your phone and stop texting: the need to interact in real life as technology increases

Watch this video on why we need real life moments of interaction and communication, and how even when we’re together we are still on our phones and not with the people who are actually there with us in real life.

I’m the first to admit I’m guilty of preferring to send a long text or email instead of waiting to say it in real life. The speaker explains why – it’s our desire to control, edit, and perfect what we want to say, because real life communication is sometimes messy, unpredictable and inarticulate, and sometimes the conversation may not go the way we want it to go – the perfect way we have planned it in our heads, or we might never get the chance to say all the things we want to say.

But nothing beats a moment, an interaction, a conversation in real life, in real time.

How to heal from common heartaches.

Watch this TED talk on emotional first aid:

• why when you’re feeling lonely you’re even more unlikely to reach out – because of fear of rejection

• why when faced with rejection we beat up on our self esteem even more, instead of working to build it up again

• how to fight ruminating and negative thoughts

• why we need to focus on our emotional health as much as our physical health

Why I like copying down other people’s written work

During the time I was writing my PhD thesis, I struggled with writer’s block a lot. I was a member of an online support forum for fellow PhD students, and we shared our angst. One day someone gave me a piece of advice that changed my whole thinking, and inspired me and validated me on the fact that I love to copy down verbatim what other people have written. This person reassured me and said to me,

“Psychologist was arguing that the best way to write first, was to first write loads, and loads of rubbish, be it copied and pasted stuff, or stuff from the top of your head, and then edit it down. Apparently people who write like that are loads more productive than those who plan meticulously and try to write perfectly first time.” (Unknown).

When I come across something that someone has written, and it inspires me, or moves me, or I simply love it, I need to copy it down word for word. I need to assimilate it into my brain, into my being, and the only way I can do it, is if I copy it down. Why do I do it? Maybe I hope that one day it might inspire me to then create my own original piece of writing; it might act like a springboard for inspiration. I once read that there isn’t any such thing as an ‘original thought’, that most things are derived from other things with a slight twist or variation. I also love to share things with other people; I don’t know why. Isn’t it just human nature to want to share things that move us and things that we love?


Finding Neverland

“All great writers begin with a good leather binding and a respectable title.” J.M Barrie

“You’ve come to mean so much to us all that now, it doesn’t matter if it’s true. And even if it isn’t true, even if that can never be…I need to go on pretending…until the end…with you.” Silvia Llewelyn Davies

My two favourite quotes from the film Finding Neverland – one of those rare films that I’ve rated 10 stars on IMDB; a wonderful film that breaks my heart into a million pieces, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. 

The film never fails to inspire me to get out my own leather binding notebook and write. To just write for myself, for my future self. It is only when you write privately that you can write truthfully without filters, without censorship. You feel safe in the knowledge that only your future self will read it, so you write honestly and without hesitation. 

“If you write for yourself, you’ll always have an audience.” -Bruce Springsteen

“We can secure other people’s approval if we do right and try hard; but our own is worth a hundred of it, and no way has been found out of securing that”. – Mark TwainImage

We are our own leading protagonist in our books

I had an epiphany yesterday whilst reading my book (Divergent) on the tube – I realised I live my life as if I’m writing a book in my head about my life (or making a film). And I realised we are all our own leading protagonist characters in our life (in our books).

We’re all writing a first person narrative book in our heads about our lives. We are all leading protagonists – because we see the world through our eyes and we’re unable to see ourselves from the outside, or see it from other people’s perspective. No matter how empathetic we are, we will always colour another person’s perspective through our own self bias.

Our lives are like a fictional storybook: the choices we make, the things we do, the way we think, what we think about, what we say, how we act towards other people, what we like/ love, what we’re passionate about, our likes and dislikes, who we like, who we love, who we hate and dislike, who we admire, who we respect, all add to the plot of our story and determine what type (genre) the book is. And ultimately what type of protagonist (character) we are in our book. The people in our lives are other characters in our books, and sometimes we’re side characters in other people’s books.

No one person’s life (book) is better or more interesting, that’s for the audience (the imaginary audience out there in the ether cosmos) to decide…

I sometimes imagine that there is an audience out there of special unearthly beings reading my book or watching my life as a film and making random commentary on the things I say or do, the choices I make, my life events, my life episodes, my day and sometimes writing a review on those rare wonderful magical days that are like a film in itself. Those creatures watching our lives or reading a chapter of our book think and make mental notes and commentary just how we do when we’re reading a book or watching a film. Is this narcissistic? Perhaps. But aren’t we all? Our own lives are more important than anything else, no matter how altruistic you are, because it is your life, and in order to survive both emotionally, psychological and physically, you have to think of yourself first. It’s not being selfish, it’s being intelligent.

One of the first rules of First Aid we were taught is – as a First Aider, you need to make sure the surrounding is safe – you have to assess the area for danger – before you run into a situation, because if you put yourself in danger, you are no good to them or yourself. “There’s a fine line between bravery and idiocy” (Veronica Roth).

Dale Carnegie wrote, “People are more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems. A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people.”

We are humans. We try to be there for other people, but ultimately we think about our own wants, desires, and wishes, than other people’s, we’re just built that way. Sometimes we do care, but we forget and are preoccupied by things happening in our lives. We get stuck in our own heads. We are humans. Not angels. We are ultimately selfish, but we try. And that’s okay. We’re all a working progress. There is no ‘the end’, that only comes with death. We have to constantly battle our way through life and strive to be better versions of ourselves. And be there for the people in our lives and contribute to society in our own special way. But we’re human and sometimes we will make mistakes, but that just adds to the plot of our story.


Insightful TED video on the power of vulnerability.

I know ya’ll are super busy, and listening to a 20 minute video can seem like too much time, so perhaps consider putting this on in the background – whilst you potter around your room doing other things; or at bedtime, and listen to it whilst you fall asleep (that’s what I did last night); or in the morning whilst you brush your teeth and are getting ready for work. It’s a really insightful talk, and it’s worthwhile.
Here are some points I especially found interesting (copied verbatim from the transcript):

* “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives”.

* “Shame unravels connection. It is the fear of disconnect. ‘Is there something about me that, if other people know it, or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?’ It is universal, we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection”.

* “People who have a sense of worthiness fully embrace vulnerability. They believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. They talk about it being necessary. They talk about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out”.

* “…The way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting”.

* “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

* Why do we struggle with vulnerability? “We numb vulnerability – when we’re waiting for the call. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability”.

* But we cannot “selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning. And then we feel vulnerable, and the dangerous cycle begins again.”

* “One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb…We make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up. That’s it. Just certain. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame.”

* “You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort.”

* “This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee – and that’s really hard…to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”

* “…Believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says “I’m enough.” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”

….(end of transcript notes)……

Phew! I know that was a lot of notes! If you actually read all of that, then I take off my imaginary hat to you and I thank you for taking the time to read it all!

What I took from this researcher’s talk is that perhaps the road to happiness and contentment is to be authentic: to be true to who we really are, and to be open to vulnerability – whatever the consequences may be. To stop wanting to control things, and to stop predicting what will happen, because it’s so exhausting, and your predictions might not even come true – so why do it? But we all do it though.

It may be tempting and easier to turn off our emotions, to numb the pain and the uncomfortable emotions, but like the researcher says, this then turns off the good emotions too, and leaves us feeling numb to everything and wondering what our purpose in life is; we then feel disconnected to the world and struggle to find the meaning of life.

Practicing authenticity, and vulnerability and knowing that we are ‘enough’ – is perhaps the hardest thing to do, but maybe the more we practice it, the easier it becomes. Maybe it’s like a muscle that just needs to be exercised and eventually it becomes easier.

If you’re happy and content with your life, there is no inner desire to bring down other people

People that are happy and content with their lives  do not feel the need to tear down other people’s achievements – but instead give support, encouragement and praise.

I just read a friend’s very intelligent and elegant response to a rather mean-spirited criticism. I admire my friend’s unshaken poise and serenity in his counter arguments. I’m all for the dogma that criticism is needed – how else can we learn and grow. But that’s constructive criticism, not destructive criticism – which tells you more about the inner psychology of the owner of such criticism, rather than the work that’s being criticised. Arthur Schopenhauer said it best, “vulgar people take huge delight in the faults and follies of great men”.

Dale Carnegie wrote about how no one kicks a dead dog and that “unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment. The more important a dog is, the more satisfaction people get in kicking him”.

“So when you are kicked and criticised, remember that it is often done because it gives the kicker a feeling of importance. It often means that you are accomplishing something and are worthy of attention. Many people get a sense of savage satisfaction out of denouncing those who are better educated than they are, or more successful.” (Dale Carnegie)

Eleanor Roosevelt told Dale Carnegie, “the only way we can avoid all criticism is to be like a Dresden-china figure and stay on a shelf. Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticised, anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” (Dale Carnegie).

Dale Carnegie highlights a story of Admiral Peary who “…startled and thrilled the world by reaching the North Pole with dog sleds in 1909 – a goal that brave men for centuries had suffered and starved and died to attain. Peary himself almost died from cold and starvation; and eight of his toes were frozen so hard they had to be cut off. He was so overwhelmed with disasters that he feared he would go insane. His superior naval officers in Washington were burned up because Peary was getting so much publicity and acclaim. So they accused him of collecting money for scientific expeditions and then “lying around and loafing in the Arctic”. And they probably believed it, because it is almost impossible not to believe what you want to believe. Their determination to humiliate and block Peary was so violent that only a direct order from President McKinley enabled Peary to continue his career in the Arctic.” (Dale Carnegie).

So if someone like Admiral Peary who achieved something amazing and praise worthy can still be criticised, perhaps his story can give us comfort the next time we’re attacked by unjust criticism. As long as in your heart you know you did the right thing or you believe in what you did, unjust criticism should be considered and analysed whether it truly has any merit, but not be given permission to belittle what you are trying to achieve.

Above quotes taken from: How to stop worrying and start living, by Dale Carnegie.

The eloquent writing of The Chrysalids

Sometimes a book is written so beautifully and eloquently that I am lost for words to describe how awe inspired I am by the writing. My words sound clumsy and can not do justice to the way I feel when reading the words on the page.

I’ve only read five chapters of The Chrysalids so far and I already love the way the author describes things, it’s delightful to read.

I find myself highlighting* certain sentences to learn from, to steal; it’s not enough for me to just read. I want to study and learn from this author, in the hope that one day I may be able to write like this. John Wyndham was an amazing writer.

I bought a 1958 copy of the book. I love the idea that this book is 55 years old; this copy has been read and held by countless readers before me. I think of the past readers that held and read the same pages as I read them now for the first time.

*nb: I never highlight my fiction books, only my non-fiction books. But something compelled me to do it. I hesitated as I didn’t want to ruin the copy of the book, but at the same time I want to learn from this author and the only way I can learn is by analysing the way he writes.