24 January, 2016

The one where I talk about being almost 30 (part 1)



I've been conscious of writing cliched posts like this since Lena Dunham compiled a book of essays, under the ironic byline "a young woman tells you what she's 'learned'". When I read that, I became so aware of how much of cliche I can be in my blogging style. I am only one fabulous NYC apartment and a love triangle away from being one of the UK's many, many answers to Carrie Bradshaw. We even have the same hair, Carrie and I. Not that there's anything wrong with being a cliche - I have long since maintained that cliches are cliches for a reason i.e. because they are concepts which are universally and greatly appreciated. 

That said, I don't want this post to be just another list of "30 things I want to achieve before I am 30" because I don't think I can think of that many. My life's ambition pretty much amounts to "live, laugh, love, eat" and that's only four. Sorry, were they a few more cliches?

Instead I want to reflect on the things in my life which so far have been my absolute most favourites - from feelings to food. As I near the big fat 30 milestone, I have been thinking about the stuff I will recall on judgement day, when I am asked what my life was all about (which will definitely happen). I share that list with you heretofore. It includes pizza.

x

"The world is a book, and those who don't travel read only one page."- St Augustine

How lucky we are that we live in a time when it takes just a bit of extra cash and some time off work to jump on a plane and head off to any part of our world we choose. We can dip our toes in so many shores.  We can capture so many cultures, and keep them in a camera. We can spy on the way people live, celebrate, and love across continents. How lucky are we that we can do that. Travel has always been so important to me and has brought me so much. It gives me perspective, it relieves my every day stress, it reminds me how insignificant 'it' all is, it fills me with wonder. For someone undeniably passionate about even the finer details of her life, it does me the world of good to explore our globe and remember there is so much more. In my thrties and beyond, I want to read the world.

Pizza. 

Melted cheese. On bread. With Meat. And if you want it, a moat of more melted cheese in bread. I could eat pizza every single day that I am alive. I never don't want a pizza. Thank you, Italy! Thank you, cheese! Thank you, inventor of dough! Pizza is my one true food love and I will worship it forever. 

Siblings.

We are seekers of familiarity. We travel in packs. We like people who are like ourselves, share our experiences, or validate our own perception of the world, because it combats the natural loneliness that comes with being born into this life of chance. My sisters and I have a connection like no other, because no-one knows my life's experiences like they do.We don't always have to be close to be close. The bond of sharing an entire childhood together, being raised by the same parents, keeping the exact same foot-prints until you are old enough to carve your own path - that is unrivaled. My sisters are and will always be so significant to me - they have shaped me, and I have shaped them, and nothing can take that away.

Love.

For the most part, for most people, I think a lot of what we do is born out of love. Love for a person, love for a past-time, love for yourself, love of money. Not all love is good, but the good love has always been my end goal. I love to love like nothing else, I am over-flowing with love to give, and I am never happier than when I have something to project all that love onto. I never feel more alive than when I am in love, and as I have traveled through my twenties I have learnt more and more what the enormous word "Love" means. It means more with each person I meet, and my understanding of it matures with me. The depth and complexity of love I feel at 29 is incredible, and I hope I one day know what it means to love at 70, 80, 90 - it must be something so enlightened, so real, and so definitive of humanity. I hope my thirties are full of the stuff.

Bed. 

I don't like bed-time and mainly want to always be up, awake and OUT in the world. When I can't sleep I feel like a prisoner, waiting endlessly for morning to come and set me free. But actually, the concept of bed is one I love. We take bed for granted. We assume we'll always be able to return to bed. We treat bed-time as secondary to the pursuits of the day. But on reflection, my bed is my haven, it's my safety net, and where I have spent more time than anywhere. Bed is a big bloody deal. All hail bed.

Self-expression.

I cannot imagine a world where I wasn't free to express myself. Expressing my "self" makes me real. When I talk to my loved ones, I am living. These words I type now bring me to life. When I vocalise my thoughts and feelings, I am giving life my absolute all and projecting myself on to the world. Maybe my challenge is to learn to feel alive without expressing myself, but right now, aged 29, I want to put as much of a stamp onto the world as I can. I want to change the things that seem wrong to me, I want to create, say, do, run. I feel so lucky to live in a time when we are free to not only do all those things, but be inspired by others doing the same. I will never shut-up, I will never stop creating, I will never stop being, doing, and saying, because I am here for a limited time and I want to etch my soul onto the world, on every person I meet, on every place I go.

Tea. 

It's good for you, a cup costs barely anything, it's ready in 2 minutes (5 if done properly!) - it's so simple. Yet it is one of the very few things that I would genuinely struggle to live without. I gave up caffeine for one month at Uni and it was dire. 

Pyjamas.

Comfy clothes are the cat's pyjamas. I'd happily exchange all my jeans, shirts, and skirts for a wardrobe entirely full of themed baggy trousers and holey hoodies. I wear them for as much of my life as possible. When I am getting ready for work, when I get home from work, all weekend, all Christmas, on my birthday, now. I do not see the point of imprisoning yourself in clothes when you can be free and at ease in the comfiest-wear possible. Why a pyjama is traditionally limited to a night-time outing is beyond me. 

Wine.

This stuff is responsible for so many disasters and downfalls. It's ruined a generation of livers and bank accounts. It's filled our fridges and emptied our funds. It's spilled on our sofas and spewed on our pavements. It's destroyed relationships and rugs alike. So how have so many of my fondest memories been born out of this poison? Why then have some of my strongest connections been soldered together by this source? What is it that means something so potentially destructive has built some of my most treasured experiences and life lessons? Alcohol, you are the only devil I love.

The sea.

The sea scares me more than any great mountain or towering sky. We can't survive in water, so the thought we are surrounded by - and have no control over - vast oceans of the stuff is terrifying. The thought that so much lives in the sea, is even more so. But the things that scare me make me feel alive, and when I look out to the sea (or look down at it from the perilous safety of an aeroplane) I am at once overcome with fear and freedom. You can't stand in front of an ocean, look out at the vast, cold, unknown and feel anything other than small and appreciative. Even when my ginger skin is scalding to blisters, playing in the sea is the best therapy for me.

My posse.


"They are the family you get to choose. They are the cherry on your cake, the stars in your sky, your support bra, your walking stick, the cushions in your en suite."

Being silly.

This is my favourite thing to do. More than any of the other past-times I hold so dear. My head and heart are so often filled with anxieties, that any chance to distract myself with silliness is one I relish. Laughing in particular is my best thing to do, because it just lifts the spirits so, so high, and fights dem troubles with vigor. Although the age of 30 might greet me with more responsibility, and more serious overtones than my twenties knew, I still want to be silly as much as I can, because it's fun.

My parents.

Wise, spiritual, thoughtful, reflective, emotional - and between them they taught me to be all these things. They continue to enlighten and counsel me, and I hope as I grow into my thirties I can sometimes do the same for then.












10 January, 2016

What it's been like to live alone, by Hannah, age 29 and a 3/4


For anyone who has lived alone, you will know that is is very very different from living with even just one other person. When I moved into my own place for the first time ever, just under a year ago, it felt in many ways like the absolute dream. There is nothing quite the luxury of waking up on a Saturday morning, making a brew and getting back into bed, without so much as having to grunt at another human being, or wait for them to get out the damn bathroom. The sense of responsibility and independence that comes with it is, however, something I hadn't foreseen.

I have always revelled in my own space. For someone so outwardly sociable, I am something of a loner behind closed doors. I crave time to myself. I seek space to be creative, I benefit from peace and quiet and balance, and I gain strength from building myself up, away from other people. If I can't see my next "me day", I panic. It stresses me out to be around other people all the damn time - I want space to be in my thoughts and to restore balance. As such, I have never been great at living with other people. When outside of the house I am so busy, as soon as I get home I just want to crash. That's when, believe it or not, I don't want to talk. I want to watch Girls by myself, I want to sing Disney songs at the top of my lungs whilst baking up a storm, I want to get on with being me without interruption or distraction.

So this year has been a world of luxuries for me. When people ask me what it's been like living alone, I tell them I FREAKING LOVE IT. Several people have asked me if I get scared or lonely, and I can honestly say I don't. When your life is so full, and you have so many demands on you, it's an actual dreamboat to come home to a haven that you've created and not have to answer to anyone. I don't have time to get lonely, if anything I crave more me-time, not less. It might be different if I didn't have a full-time job, and wasn't naturally surrounded by people - then I imagine I would get lonely, I'd miss talking to people and bouncing off the energy of others, but I spend so much time talking and bouncing day in and day out, that coming home is my opportunity to JUST.STOP. 

Lately though, I have really felt the perils of being a single-person household. For starters, dem bills bills bills have eaten into my bank balance - my outgoings more than doubled in the last year and man I am feeling that sting. And not just because I treat every food shop like a supermarket sweep. But that's just the price you pay when you make the choice to be independent.What I find more challenging, are the day to day practicalities of running a house, with no help.

In a shared house or living with a partner you share chores and responsibilities. It's not always on you to put the bins out, to clean the bathroom, to fix things that are broken. Now, a huge chunk of my time is spent just keeping everything ticking over. I am constantly listing things that need doing, and feeling like ain't nobody got time for dat. Not when I am out of the house 10 hours a day working to pay my own way.

At the moment, it's relentless. I need shelves putting up, my hoover needs fixing, the house is damp (I spend a lot of time scrubbing walls with bleach). Today alone I have been to the basement (a terrifying feat) to sort out a tripped fuse THREE TIMES, I have fixed the oven, I have cleaned the kitchen, changed the bed-sheets and got stuff in for tea that I will cook, and then wash up from. If there is no milk, I get it. If there is a problem, I make calls to sort it. If there is a spider, it's me who hides under her bed covers and wills it to politely leave (sometimes I get scared).

Guys, living alone is awesome but it is hard damn work. You have to remember every. single. bin day. Food for one is bloody expensive. I spend weekends cleaning my bathroom, calling British Gas, doing the food shop. Because there is no-one else to do it, and woman be working all week long. I was by no means spoilt as a kid, and have been helping round the house since I can remember - having a poorly, single mother meant I had to grow up pretty sharp and learn how to fold a good bed-sheet. But despite that practice, I cannot tell you the shock it has been to my system to do all this stuff, and not have a single other person help me - I've started to miss that, and sometimes it wears me down. I take my hat off to anybody who has to do all that with no help AND has little people depending on them. You are heroes.

All this said, I wouldn't have it any other way right now. I am 29, and one day I'll look back on these days with so much affection - these years are building me up, up, up! I would always advise anybody to take the plunge to living alone, if you can afford it. It teaches you independence like nothing else. It gives you the space to reflect, and to make yourself stronger, fitter, smarter. I am learning new things all the time. I am becoming a one woman tool box and a force to be reckoned with. I can bake a cake AND fix the oven I baked it in. I will always crave someone looking after me, like we all do. I will crave coming home to dinner on the table for once, instead of having to traipse home from work with splitting carrier bags before cooking it myself. I will crave someone sharing the housework so that I have more time for me, and I will crave someone rubbing my shoulders at the end of the day when my feet haven't touched the ground. But until that day comes, I am going to revel in my own space, and being my own person, and I am going to get even stronger than I was before.

ROAR!

x


03 January, 2016

What I thought when one of my heroes said confidence relies on success



Confidence is a very big word. Ask someone to define the meaning of confidence and you could hear 1000 different answers. It is, however, a universally and inherently positive term. If someone is “confident”, that’s a good thing. People strive to be so. When we’re feeling confident, that often means we’re feeling good. You come out of an interview or an exam, if you feel confident that means it went well. You get a haircut; you say it’s given you confidence – that means your image of yourself has been improved. We are taught to be confident and to have confidence in ourselves. The positive implications of “confident” are, in my mind, profound.

Confident doesn’t mean loud, chatty, extrovert, sociable or dominant. It means self-assured, and often in being self-assured our other behaviours are “better”. In my experience, self-assured people are less likely to follow the crowd, more likely to truly stand up for what they believe in, and less likely to let the haters bring them down. That’s what bona fide confidence actually means, and why wouldn’t you seek that out?

Confidence is also something that a lot of people struggle with at least at some point in their lives. Which is probably why someone asked Mindy Kaling the question “where do you find your self-confidence?” in an anecdote in her book “Why Not Me?” – which I read recently – and man was I excited for the answer. I appreciate Mindy Kaling. I find her funny, determined, intelligent, not afraid to admit her “weaknesses”. She is (according to her) scatty, she can lack common sense, she embarrasses herself in a normal human way and she is louder than she’d like to be. I relate to these things, which is one brownie point for her, but I also admire the way she just embraces her idiosyncrasies and talks openly about her experiences. So YES I was excited to know what her insight was as to where she seeks and maintains her apparent confidence and self-belief?

And her answer was blasphemously disappointing for me. In short, Kaling writes unapologetically that confidence comes from “hard work” and goes on to claim “I have never, ever met a highly successful and confident person who is not a ‘workaholic’. Confidence is like respect, you have to earn it.”

Oh. No. Where do I even begin to dissect this?

First of all – I don’t associate confidence with being “highly successful”. There Kaling suggests they are one and the same. They are absolutely not. You can be on the dole and still have the swagger of Mick Jagger. For me, confidence is not about how much money you make, how many hours you slave, how many dragons you slay. Yes, slaying dragons and counting up millions contributes to your sense of self-worth and achievement, which in turn can inform your confidence, but it’s crude to take that kind of “confidence” at face value. For me, relying on those external, perilous, changeable things for confidence isn’t actually confidence at all. It’s a mask, it’s arrogance, it’s armour – and what happens when all that comes tumbling down? Does a confident person remain?

For those reasons I say success and confidence are not mutually exclusive traits. It’s about how you see yourself as a person, and not based on what you have but based on who you are. How worthy you feel yourself to be, and how much you care how others see you. Or rather, don’t. And when you do believe in yourself and like yourself, even if you took the longest tumble from the tallest tower, nothing could take that kind of inner confidence away from you.

Second of all – Mindy, have you REALLY never met anyone confident who isn't highly “successful”? REALLY? Well you’re about to. Hi! I am Hannah. I am confident. I am not “highly” successful. Some days I work hard, but I spend more time thinking about the people that I love than about making another dollar. And that’s more than okay with me. I am happy with my values, I am at ease with myself at my core, I make good choices and do the best with myself that I can – physically, mentally, emotionally. I work hard at that. Yeah I care what others think sometimes, like most people. But am I confident? Yes. Right now I am. Because right now, I am more than happy with me. I am more than happy with who I am. I am pleased with my own values, I am pleased with my own attitude, I think I am kind, I think I am a good friend and I think I have turned out to be a decent person, with a decent amount of goodness to bring to the world. I haven’t always been confident and yes I did have to work hard to build it. But I am talking about the kind of hard work that means making your soul stand up every day and fight until it feels fitter, the kind of hard work that involves learning to accept who you are and the hand you have been dealt, and the kind of hard work that means training your mind to think better of yourself, and eventually to value yourself. That kind of hard work is so much more important to me and my confidence than anything to do with success.

So, no, Mindy Kaling, I do not agree that confidence comes from hard work. Yes it comes from working on yourself, your body, your mind, and being the best version of yourself in every way, but it absolutely is not dependent on perceived success. What kind of a world are we living in where confidence rides solely on success? IT’S NOT A THING. Confidence is about being completely at ease with who you are. And that should be achievable whether you are a “workaholic” or haven’t had the chance to work a damn day in your life.

If someone had asked me that question (I mean I can dream that one day I too will have published 3 books and had various U.S. sit-com hits and find myself in front of an audience of teens all aspiring to be LIKE ME) the answer would have been very different. I take confidence from doing things that make me feel good about myself. There isn’t a one size fits all route to confidence. Some people take confidence from exercise, some from spending time with friends, some from going all the way outside their comfort zone and building their character. For me, it’s just about generally fuelling my soul. And that can be anything from how healthy I feel, to how much time I am spending doing things that build me up compared with things that bring me down.

So I will strive to maintain my self-assurance in a world firing confidence-shattering bullets, but I will also continue to uphold the same priorities and values that I always have. Because if I get to the grave having based my sense of self on nothing but a pursuit of shallow, fruitless “success”, I don’t think I’ll have very much confidence at all. I think I’ll just feel like I wasted a life thinking about achievement, when I could have been thinking about the people I love, contributing to the world in other ways and living a life that I can look back on when I am hopefully very old and say “I absolutely squeezed every drop of living out of that, not because I worked my way to the top, but because I experienced all corners of life, I loved, I laughed, I cried, and I felt bloody good about myself along the way.” Like the unicorn, who knows she be fancy.

x