Things that have helped my brain lately

I went AWOL for a bit and that’s because life kind of caught up and dissertation took over.

This month’s been kind of trying for me, mental health-wise. In the past, I’ve suffered from both depression and anxiety and, in its current form, a combination of both. Faced with overwhelming change like a looming cloud threatening to burst overhead, my brain has decided to turn on itself. Right now, it kind of feels like I’m scrabbling at the bottom of a pit, trying to dig my way out. Every morning is now a struggle to motivate myself to get out of bed.

This is not because anything bad has happened to me, necessarily. If anything, I am incredibly lucky to have the life I do. The guilt from this privilege however seems to force me down further into the pit so whilst I acknowledge the supportive people around me and the roof over my head, I also need to allow myself the space to feel what I am feeling. I guess, in a way, it helps to remember that I’m not going through anything that others haven’t gone through before. And it helps to remember that people are complex and deal with things differently, and that just because they seem to be succeeding, this doesn’t mean they haven’t seen the bottom of the pit too.

I am getting better at counselling myself, at knowing when I’m catastrophising or filtering or any of the other terms I learned during my university counselling sessions or my visits to the doctor’s. I am slowly but surely finding what helps my brain to renegotiate with itself, usually around 2 in the afternoon that actually, I am capable, I can work today, I am not an awful human being with no talent and no charisma.

This could be a list of self care tips, if you wanted it to be. Currently I prefer to think of them as my ‘ok, stop, you need to calm the fuck down, now go do this for a bit and then come back’ breaks. Very handy for when you’ve altered your dissertation topic for the fifth time that week. Disclaimer: This is not an all-inclusive list.

1) Yoga With Adriene

Yes, I am starting this list with yoga. IF YOU WANT TO CALL IT SELF-CARE, CALL IT SELF-CARE. Anyway,this saved my life a few days ago, when I had some of the worst PMS I’d ever had and was trying to do work in bed. It didn’t really pan out the way I wanted to, resulting in me berating myself for being lazy, never accomplishing anything. My mood dropped and I managed to notice, immediately knowing I needed some kind of exercise. This was a perfect option: I was moving, stretching, but still comforted (by the sheer amount of pillows used in this routine) and finished feeling clear-headed and in less utter pain. I’ve only done a few of Adriene’s videos but no other fitness videos on YouTube make me as keen to do the next one as her. Aside from maybe:

2) Blogilates

Some days I need yoga, some days I just need to move and dance around. As Cassey says in the video, this is the equivalent of turning up music really loud in your room and dancing like nobody’s watching. It’s fun, gets your blood pumping but doesn’t kill you, and I managed to fit it in between class and a skype call with a friend, making me feel even more productive.

3) Chef’s Table France

If I really can’t be bothered moving, then I need to accept that I won’t be, stop beating myself up for that, and do something else. Taking a break to watch a few episodes of something can risk an accidental marathon but watching documentaries has been an alternative for me at the moment (I’ve already written a “Currently” post about 13th). Watching Chef’s Table is such a good way to feel inspired by people who love what they do enough to put blood, sweat and tears into their craft. Watching the France series has kept my brain working as a way to try and improve my French as well as introduce me to new areas of France I’d never seen before and allow me to return to street corners of my beloved Paris (more posts coming soon). It’s a new perspective on the world, showing me something other than dissertation and job applications – sometimes it’s a grilled carrot that changes everything.

4) Baking/Cooking

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In the likely event that I will be influenced by the cooking happening in Chef’s Table, I take to the kitchen. Although I will turn to tubes of Pringles in my time of need, I try to remember how much better I feel making something. Whether it’s noodles or pasta, at least I’ve made it. I’m no chef – in fact I’m very Amy Santiago when it comes to cooking – but I’m trying. So a few new recipes I’ve been making lately include:

  • Frankie Celenza’s EXCELLENT macaroni cheese recipe which has been my go-to for when I need something carby and quick. (Side note: any of the Frankie’s World series has a profound brain-calming-down effect, I highly recommend the one about pretzels. Speaking of which..)
  • Pretzels. I’m currently in the process of adapting a recipe from the Great British Bake Off book, adding to it and changing times etc. It feels good to be able to know how one ingredient can alter an entire pretzel.
  • Soups. My mum always tries to feed me when she visits and last time she brought down three of the biggest sweet potatoes I have ever seen in my life. I’ve been working my way through them, making a variety of soups and again experimenting with flavours. Sweet Potato, Tomato and Basil or Sweet Potato and Carrot are all staples – can’t go wrong.
  • Ruby Tandoh’s lemon wedges from her book Flavour which I highly recommend and from which I need to cook more. I also love the Banana Tea Loaf and other recipes which have slipped my mind for now. The Harry Styles Dutch Baby is happening soon and I’m excited for it.
  • Maverick Baking’s firecracker sausage rolls. Beaut.

5) And finally, if all else fails, rewatch specific episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine that I’ve seen about twelve times already, if not more. Something about this show never fails to help me in some way, even a little bit, out of the pit.

Series 1, Episode 5 – The Vulture: a personal fave. The whole squad works together against a superior (the eponymous Vulture) who keeps trying to steal their cases, they’re a bit tipsy, they take the bus to the scene of a crime and solve the case. Plenty of Jake and Amy banter, even a scene where she calls him a butthead. Rosa basically comes out as bi whilst also finding said superior attractive in a humorously detached way. Meanwhile Terry, Holt and Gina go to a gun range. What more could you want?

So that’s it! I mean, I could go on for longer but I feel as though that would officially get into ‘ok, stop procrastinating, let’s get back to work mode now’. Hope you enjoyed this insight into my brain right now. I’ll be back soon.

Molly.

Currently: 13th

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(via Netflix)

I say currently, I watched this last week, but it’s obviously still with me now.

13th, directed by Ava DuVernay (of Selma-directing brilliance) is a powerful, intense and emotional documentary that manages to get you angry and move you to action without draining you. The information is presented in simple terms, explained by experts and eyewitnesses whilst the numbers slowly tick by, in blacks, reds and greys, setting the tone for the film: one of complexity and violence. The film is named after the 13th amendment to the US Constitution that declares the end of slavery unless a crime has been committed. This loophole leads to the high, high numbers of incarceration of black people and the perpetuating of a narrative that regards black men as violent and dangerous criminals. Racism is entrenched in the US’s political system and this film makes a clear case for that whilst also avoiding too much hopelessness.

My explanation is nowhere near as well done as DuVernay’s so I recommend you just stop reading and watch it now if you haven’t done so already. And as soon as I finished, I watched the featurette with DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey which only made me appreciate the film even more. At this time in politics, and in particular the precarious relationships between US politics and media and race, this film is a strong statement, quietly presenting facts and statistics and opinions from both sides in an unbiased way. As a white Scottish woman, I cannot understand what it means to be black in the US but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t learn about it.

The film and the featurette with Oprah are both on Netflix so easily accessible! Also you should follow DuVernay, she’s great! I mean, look at her twitter handle, that’s how you know someone’s good.

Molly.

To Paris via Lovecrumbs

In January, I went to Paris. It was my first time abroad (aside from a four hour long day trip to Calais when I was about eleven) and a long-time dream fulfilled. For as long as I knew that France and the Eiffel Tower existed, I’ve wanted to go there. I bought as much of Accessorize’s gimmicky Paris-themed jewellery and stationery as I could with my pocket money and dreamed of walking the streets, talking in French whilst carrying some kind of baguette or pastry.

So suffice to say, when this trip arrived, I was excited. But before we could get to Paris, we had to get to Edinburgh. We arrived on the Monday night, dragging our suitcases in the rain and staying the night at a friend’s flat. The next morning, we got up and found breakfast in this place:

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This place is called Lovecrumbs, a coffee shop in West Port with all the mismatched chairs, fairy lights and wooden tables lifted directly from your techy days in school you could ever want. img_5598

Ours was a short visit and an early one (hence the many empty tables) but it was just what we needed. I had a very pretty latte and some toast and it set me up for my first international flight. Also really enjoyed the bathroom downstairs, which I can’t explain and I don’t have a photo of it, but just go and embrace that everything is so hipster. And I mean that with fondness and a smile as someone who will always choose a good hipster coffee.  img_5601

Also free wifi, always handy. And yes, that is a piano converted into a table. I highly recommend this place; I really hope to go back next time I’m in the capital and try some cakes this time!img_5605

And with that, we took a slightly longer, certainly more cobbly route through Grassmarket and up and over the Royal Mile. No mean feat with suitcases. A quick stop in Caffe Nero to break a ten pound note and we were on the bus on the way to the airport.

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Tune in next week to find out why I had to go through the full body scanner, what it was like getting lost in Montmartre at rush hour trying to find our hostel and stumbling upon the Sacre-Coeur, all in the first day.

Molly.

Jack of some trades

There must be people like me out there, the ones who haven’t found something to which they’re passionately devoted. We have not discovered our true purpose in life, our calling. The theme of our blog, even. Rather, we’re interested in lots of different things across genres and activities and flavours; it’s as though tiny hands are grabbing at each part of us, yelling “devote your time to me! Spend time on me! I’m worth that! You’ll become the greatest (insert activity here) there ever was!”

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I’ve started learning to code. I’ve read and watched classics and contemporary. I’ve listened to so much music. I can draw. I can bake if I choose and I can cook (sort of). I have phases only about the condition of my hair. I’ve forayed into the land of exercise, swimming and running and yoga-ing sporadically. I love learning about the sea and space and nature documentaries pile up on My List on Netflix. Climbing up hills and walking by the beach and visiting cities and travelling fill me with joy but I love being home and a routine keeps me right.I love seeing friends but time alone does me good, and my family and my boyfriend are important parts of my life too. I’m sure many people share these feelings and probably more.

Sometimes it can feel as though there’s too much and yet excluding any of them is a sad prospect. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel a great pressure to choose. To choose my interests, my career, my living situation, my future, all of these things hang in the balance. And although Plath’s fig tree metaphor from The Bell Jar is a bit of a cliche now, there’s a reason for that. I feel like specialising means I will miss out on a lot of other things. Focusing on doing one thing at any time is difficult because those hands reach out again and whisper in your ear in a wheedling voice, “you should be paying attention to me instead. You’re wasting your time. Think of everything else you could be doing with this time.”

(How great is the word wheedling by the way?)


This is fine, I guess, when it’s something like hobbies that I’m not really committed to (shockingly enough). But it often gets in the way of actual university work and with my dissertation looming, and by looming I mean it’s just standing on my head now, jumping up and down yelling “you’re shite!” over and over, I really need to be able to put everything else aside and focus on one thing at a time. Trying to clear your head is tough and requires some self-discipline which, just to clarify, is not the same as beating yourself up. Usually I just have to clear my desk, make a cup of tea, argue internally with that wheedling voice and negotiate a truce, telling it that yes, I could stop reading this text and go make a Caramac cheesecake but then I’d have to go and buy Caramacs and that’s not a very effective use of my time right now, okay?

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. If this blog seems chaotic, disorganised and a bit like Scrubs when JD daydreams and then says something aloud about it and everyone’s confused, that’s pretty much me. Every day. All the time. So it seems appropriate that I’ll just talk about whatever I’m focused on at that point. I think this is the way to combat indecision: don’t decide. Just do stuff and see what happens.

Isn’t that an eloquent note to end on?

Molly.

Currently: The Animators

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker (2016)

I’m enjoying this book a lot. I’m not very far in but the characters are engaging and I’m excited to read more. It’s the first time in a while I’ve read something and identified so strongly with a character or a paragraph without in any way trying to find myself in it. I went into this with no idea what it was about beyond the blurb, two animators form a close bond in college and in life afterwards. I thought, great, that’s a story I haven’t really read much about. The two woman so far are distinct, well-defined characters with nuance. Sharon, who was lost in college and didn’t know what she wanted, feels so real to me.

So far, this paragraph resonated with me: 

And I think a lot of people would feel the same way. Coming to university with vague notions of a career you might like to pursue can be tough when it seems as though you are surrounded by people with concrete plans and dreams they strive to achieve. You’re terrorised by the fear of committing to anything in case you’re not any good at the thing. I’ve never read anything that captures that catch-22 situation so well; reading it felt like the author has lifted it from my brain.

That’s good writing. Just a short post to say, I’m reading this and I like it. You should read it too! (Also this was published in 2016 but I borrowed this from my local library! More on libraries and how great they are soon.)

Molly.

An intro to Tumblr photos and ‘In this picture’

There’s a game I play when I’m stuck with writer’s block, one that I definitely did not invent. I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours of my life, particularly during secondary school, scrolling through Tumblr, endlessly reblogging photos and gifsets and even making my own. During the summer, I gave it up and found that I was a lot happier with a lot more free time but came back last month. I don’t use it anywhere near as much as I used to but I’ve found, as I’m sure other people have before me, that it’s a good source of inspiration.

When you start a new Tumblr, it asks you what your interests are and it seems regardless of what they are, you will inevitably, and against your will, end up following a bunch of hipster blogs. These sites are filled with images of loneliness and love, forlorn teenagers probably near the sea, screencaps of tv shows like Skins taking innocuous quotes out of context and giving the phrase a new poignancy. Eventually, the first time around, I found my way out of this labyrinth of caption-less florals and collarbones, diverting to fandom and its cynicism but now I’ve returned and have begun to appreciate more the stories that can be told from these seemingly voiceless images.

So I took them. I find photos that I feel I could tell a story about and they’re not great, there’s sometimes a lack of plot or no characterisation. I’m heavily influenced by certain writers who I may or may not be writing my dissertation on (hi, Ali Smith, if you’re reading this). But they’re good at getting me to start writing, a bit like primary school writing exercises.

Hell, it’s just a prompt, let’s be honest here. There are competitions like this, 50 words to make a story out of a picture of a bunch of hot air balloons in the sky. Ah, well. This is working for me so far. This is the first one I did. Feel free to leave a comment or give feedback!

Baghdad, Iraq 2003 (though I reblogged it without a caption and wrote this without knowing the location).

‘In this picture’

Your hand reaches up to the sky, two fingers raised in a sign of peace towards those birds that aren’t doves. They cawed in their scattered throng, rising and diving towards the river, following the scent of some poor dead thing. It was theirs now, left to be picked at by beaks until it was nothing more than a skeleton. The sky is pink behind us as though tinged with blood, the buildings lining the riverbanks into the distance.

In this picture, we are standing on a bridge and you make a peace sign and raise it into the air to whom? The birds? The people in the buildings? Somebody on land, somewhere, might have seen you, might be questioning you too, wondering why this person is gesturing so wildly and why the person with them, why I am laughing and staring at you. They could be wondering who we are to each other, why we came to be on this bridge next to these seagulls under a rose-coloured sky.

Or maybe not. Maybe there is no one watching, no one to whom you are imploring with your gesture. Maybe it’s just the two of us, standing on the bridge. You throw up your hands in a peace sign, an empty gesture, an attempt to feel something. To feel some control in a world that’s vast and produces such glorious skies as this one.

Or maybe it’s not peace you are signalling for. Maybe your other fingers will rise, hand open, palms spread, ready to clutch and grab at the sky. You will grab a hold of a wing and hoist yourself on to the back of a seagull, now an eagle, and you’ll fly away, away from me.

I realised then how much I don’t want this to be the case.

The image moves. You unfreeze, your hand curls back, you turn away from the skyline and back towards me, standing on the pavement, feet firmly on the man-made ground. The hand is now in mine and we’re walking away from the seagulls. We walk away from the sky.

This is a blog

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I’m not usually comfortable with writing on a public platform. Not that I haven’t tried blogging before, because the internet is littered with my abandoned blogs and traces of Tumblrs deleted in a snap decision. I’ve also written a couple of articles for various places (but never committed to those for fear of people regularly giving me feedback) and of course, essays are written to be read. But I very rarely share most of my writing with people around me or actively promote what I write.

And it feels odd to be saying “my writing”, even, because that makes it into a real thing I’m doing, that I’m putting out there, rather than something I can keep fairly quiet. Granted, when someone asks me what I want to do after university (… don’t ask), I tend to reply with ‘oh, you know, I’d like to get into publishing. Teaching maybe? Or travelling? Oh, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer but you know, teaching most likely.’

If I’ve always wanted to be a writer, why do I automatically turn away from it? Why is it often the last career path I tell people about when asked? Drum roll please… I know some of you have guessed it already! That’s right, gang, it stems from a lack of confidence! So many school reports came back with ‘she’s a joy to have in the class (humble brag) but she needs to have more confidence in her abilities’. And I know that’s a problem so here I am, confronting the issue and trying not to be nervous about sharing any of these posts on Facebook.

And the thing is, I genuinely do have an interest in teaching, and in travelling and politics and video editing and photography and films and TV shows. At the moment, I’m feeling under pressure to pick just one and pursue it as ‘my career’ but I honestly… don’t know. For context, I’m 21, I’m going to graduate in a few months with an English and Film degree and I really just don’t know what I’m doing next. In a way I’d like to do everything I can for as long as I can but while I’m trying to keep juggling every option I have right now, things start to slip away. Deadlines for applications pass and I’m still kind of just sitting here.

Anyway, I don’t know what this is going to be. Honestly, someone encouraged me to do this like Jess encouraged Rory to write her book in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, and yes, I needed to include the whole title. I’m probably going to post whatever I feel like posting whether that be fiction, prose, poems, photos or articles about how the Gilmore Girls revival screwed up (because I think we all know there really aren’t enough of those on the internet).

So I guess we’ll see if this becomes yet another abandoned url or if it becomes something else. If anything, I’ll have another place to yell into when I need it.

Alright.

Bye.

No, you hang up first.