Dear Thought Pharmacy,
The sanskrit translation of my full name is 'limitless'. As a girl, I desperately wanted a name with a prettier meaning like princess or flower, but now in my thirties, I can see its beauty, and even power. Although, sadly, I have always felt limited - by my family, my body, the society I live in, the city and country I call home, by jobs, by relationships.
But over the last few years I've been able to recognise the only thing holding me back is me. I am - like all of us - limitless.
So what I would like is some inspiration to free me of inhibition at those critical moments, whether it's jumping into a creative project, entering new relationships or dancing sober on a empty dancefloor. I guess I'm looking for help in feeling free and open, when all I want to do is hide in what feels safe.
How wonderful to have such a bright and brilliant talisman of a name. The translation of mine, 'Alexandra', is the disappointing "defender of men" which is precisely not thrilling, given that that my kung fu skills are perfunctory at best and I'd prefer to be the fierce guardian of more needy creatures (kittens, babies, Lindsay Lohan) . Nonetheless, I sympathise. When I was little and growing up with a rotating cast of girlishly christened Sarahs, Charlottes and Lauras, I too longed for a different, 'prettier' name. My own sounded jagged on the palate and distinctly not cute to my primary school ears. I also hated that when people first heard "Alex" they almost always assumed I was a boy (they still do). Once, due to the nativity play being organised by a different teacher, I ended up being accidentally cast as a Wise Man, fuming silently with a tea towel plonked on my head as my more conventionally named girl team gambolled about as angels and stars in lashings of tulle and glittery eye shadow. Despite my parent's protestations that my role was an important one, and that it was a major victory for feminism to have more than one woman present at the birth of Jesus, I was unconvinced. I digress.
I'm not too worried about you, Limited. You're extremely smart, and like your lovely name, you possess a clear beauty and power of spirit. I love the way that you've connected your identity to your name, and chosen to place yourself so directly as the heroine of your own narrative- how wonderfully Woolf-ian of you. It seems like you're already in the gate, so to speak, having bucked off the jockey and identified the course. You're more than ready to run fine and sturdy furlongs into your future. You just need a little help hearing the gun go off.
I will say though, that though you feel as if you are excellent at hiding, I disagree. I think, from the way that you describe, it's more that you spy secretly on life than hide from it. You're too much of a curious and lion-hearted sort to be a hider. Instead, I think you're peeking through the crack in the door and wondering where to start. You see it all and feel it all, and that's wonderful but overwhelming. The key to identifying and pursuing and enjoying the marvellous life that you're making for yourself, and the hugeness of what that could be, is to approach everything, bit by bit. There's a wonderful American writer named Ann Lamott who wrote a lovely book on writing called Bird by Bird, the title inspired by this story from her childhood:
"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"
Take it bird by bird, Limited. Don't be weighed down by the giant-ness that is the goal of feeling limitless, just do it. Just go small and slow. Carpe diem the fuck out of each day, whether that's finding the perfect cappuccino or asking your boss for a raise or simply running despite the rain. Begin traipsing towards familiar horizons. Then just don't stop.
Your prescription is below.
YOUR SONG: Travel Light, by Diane Cluck and Jeffrey Lewis
Oh man I adore this song. What's not to love about the gorgeous pairing of Diane Cluck and Jeffrey Lewis, letting their freak flags fly (for heaven's sake, there's even a WHISTLING section). The words of this song are so right for you, Limited, because to be truly limitless you can't be weighed down-by societal expectations, by material stuff. Though on initial examination, the idea of a limitless life may seem like the ability to acquire or achieve whatever one wants, I'd argue feeling truly limitless is more about letting go of things, concepts, ideas, as well as any long-held but disastrous notions that you should be a certain type of person or have a certain type of career or a particular style of home. Like the song says, in all of its sweet and funny examples, when you travel light, amazing things happen. I love the lyrics too because they are so terribly romantic and therefore speak to your desire to enter into new relationships. There's so much beauty in the progressive journey this song takes away from the personal pronoun, into the sweet declaration of unity and true love at the end.
"Fur's and silver chairs and shiny things are just a fuss
We'll eat all the peanuts that we steal from the circus
We'll count all the stars and go to sleep under the bus
We'll travel light and that's the life for us"
Travel light, Limited. You belong in Diane and Jeffrey's chosen tribe.
YOUR ART WORK: Self Portrait Suspended, by Sam Taylor-Johnson
When I got your letter this was the first thing I thought I should prescribe to you. How I love these Self Portrait: Suspended photographs and the genius that is Sam Taylor-Johnson (then Sam Taylor-Wood) who made them after years of battling colon and breast cancer. When the work first came out in 2008 I went to see the show in London, and I found myself standing next to a ballet dancer. I overheard her saying that she identified with the photos. I asked her why. "Because the goal for a ballerina is to look and feel weightless" she replied. That's when I realised what the artist was doing, by playing with gravity, where in one work it looks like she's levitating and another like she's falling. It's a meditation on the ultimate weightlessness that is death, something she stared in the face, narrowly cheated and triumphed over. In a 2008 interview with the Evening Standard, ST-W said this.
"I made them shortly after I was no longer referring to myself as an ill person," she said. "There is a definite sense of physical freedom from the constraints of illness. My biggest fears aren't with my work. My biggest fears are walking through hospital doors. Once you can face that, being fearless about your work is easy."
This work is so beautifully limitless in it's scope, Limited. I thought it would be inspiring to you.
YOUR ACTIVITY: Declutter your home
I have few skills, Limited, but one that I'm most proud of is that I am superb, I mean absolutely SUPERB at going to Ikea (you weren't expecting that sexy little revelation now, were you?). Do you know why I'm so good at it? Because I am rigorously anti-stuff. As others load up those huge scrunchy bags with coat hangers and tea lights and cushions and extra stocks of those bloody mini pencils because "at some point I might need them" (WHY? To use if your hands shrink?) I am ruthlessly scanning each object for usefulness and getting only the barest basics of what I need. I am a fanatical advocate of living as minimal a life as possible, unhindered by the weight that is stuff and containing only what you think is truly lovely, mainly because I recognise that my aesthetic leanings and sentimental nature could lead to an utter clutter bomb of an environment were I to leave it unchecked. I'm prescribing you a huge clutter clean up, Limited, because even if you're as fanatical as I am about this stuff (hey friend!) you'll know that a once monthly in addition to a giant annual throw out session is the key to a calm and happy life. I want you to go through your wardrobe and give away anything you haven't worn in a year. Digitise all important papers (I use Turboscan) and store them on a memory stick with a backup on a cloud drive. Clean out your drawers, throw away anything that doesn't fit, has a hole or 'needs to be fixed'. Clean out your bathroom cabinet, dispensing of dusty sample sachets, that perfume your mum bought you that you actually don't like, the extra hair drier that you don't need. Clean out your fridge, throw out last year's paperbacks. Feel the weight of all the stuff leave your environment and set you free, because you can't be Limitless when you're surrounded by unloved objects, Do this all to a pumping soundtrack. I favour this. And this. Which leads me neatly to...
YOUR MOVIE SCENE: Super Freak dance, Little Miss Sunshine
Dancing without inhibition? I think this clip is all the inspo you need, Limited. FYI I would like you to learn this entire routine and bring it out in the club. Especially the ass slapping move, which I have already incorporated into my personal repertoire. You know that dreadful quote that's one of those vom-inducing greetings cards/fridge magnet stalwarts that talks about dancing like no one's watching? I have never ever understood this. I make a point of dancing like EVERYONE'S watching. Otherwise it's like the branch snapping in the woods. If no one heard it, did it snap? I'm going down a rabbit hole here. Just dance, ok? With abandon.
YOUR EXCURSION: A pilgrimage to St Winifrede's Well, Holywell, North Wales
Having just instructed you to slap your bottom in public, it may seem a little strange to now order you to embark on a Mediaeval religious pilgrimage, but this is my Pharmacy and I will jolly well do what I like (sorry I think "Super Freak" made me a bit feisty). Anyway, after all the soul searching you've been doing, I thought you needed a good dose of what rad philosopher Rudolf Otto coined the "numinous" which he defined broadly as a sense of the holy, of divinity and benevolence and otherness that dwarfs human concerns. So, as you live in London, I'm sending you on a day trip to a place called St Winifrede's Well, in Wales, named after badass St Winifrede, who, according to legend, was subject to an attempted rape by a man named Caradog. When Winifrede would not submit, he cut off her head with a sword. But so fierce was old Winny, that she PRAYED HER HEAD BACK ON AGAIN. That's some David Blaine shit right there. Upon the spot where this supposedly happened is a breathtakingly lovely stone shrine and a freshwater well that pilgrims have been bathing in for one thousand years! Yes, Limited, slip yourself into this pretty pool, and know that you are floating in the same spot as Richard the Lionheart, who paid a visit in 1189 and Queen Victoria, who swam there in 1828. I looked at the travel situation, and it's an easy 2.5 hour train ride from Euston. You can even stay over if you like, in this wild hostel that's run by the nuns! Please note, I am a committed atheist and am not preaching to you in any way here. This is technically a Catholic pilgrimage, but regardless of religion or beliefs, visitors are encouraged to bathe and take in the surroundings. I love the idea of you, Limited, taking a most unconventional solo day trip to Wales and jumping in, feet first. Please go, won't you? And as you swim, skin wrinkled with holy water, all the ghosts of pilgrims past holding you good and afloat, know that you are as limitless as your name. And have a good old laugh about how simply wonderful that is.
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