The Street Where I Live

British by birth, New Yorker by nature.

Thought Pharmacy

Thought Pharmacy- I'm an Overgrammer

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king1 Comment

Dear Thought Pharmacy,

I have a confession to make- I'm an overgrammer.  We all have things we tell ourselves we won't do, or will at least attempt to do less of (like breaking the habit of getting a croissant EVERY morning with coffee or trying to drink less during the week etc) but lately I've been finding that the vice that's hardest for me to control is my need to post and share, DAILY on Instagram. 

Maybe a daily post (or two or three) wouldn't be such a big deal, but the real problem is that, more and more, my moods are altered by the reception to the images I'm posting. The right number of hits, my day is made.  Too low of a reaction, I feel like a failure.  I'm in a creative field and most of what I'm sharing are images of my work,  so there's an added vulnerability. 

I love posting. I love communicating in a language of visuals, I love the invitation for flattery, and I love the opportunities that sharing my images sometimes brings.  But how do I know when I'm overdoing it? And is it really a true barometer of whether or not what I'm doing is any good? There seems to be a lot of danger in trusting the crowds vote over my own, and I'm feeling too driven for validation of images that are smaller than the size of my hand.

Please Help (and Like)

Overgrammer

Dear Overgrammer,

Like the last Thought Pharmacy patient, I know your problem will resonate with so many. We're all trying to figure this stuff out, aren't we? In the weird and fabulous and endlessly connected and instantaneous like-athon that is our world (Facebook's recent announcement that they're going to roll out a 'dislike' button is surely only going to add to our collective malaise of Instagram-xiety). Like you, I'm so often struck by the double edged sword that is social media and smart phones. I like to tell my husband sometimes that I think our future children, driving purposefully through the sky in their carbon free space cars, will regard our culture of oversharing in the same way that we look back at outdoor toilets and legal spousal battery- as outdated and disgusting and dangerous. But increasingly I think that's just a fantasy and I'm probably wrong (remind me of this when I watch my first grandchild being born via Periscope). As it stands, we're negotiating these magically connected times and figuring out a code of ethics and propriety and engagement that can feel like the new norm. Will future generations regard internet trolls like we do highway men? Viners as Hitchcocks and Tarantinos? The mind boggles. Anyway, as you so rightly point out, we are increasingly trapped in these toxic relationships with our phones where we become, in turn, as addicted as we are stressed out, desperate to turn off but also duty bound by the very modern (and actually not ok) expectation of instant contact, and the very tangible and intoxicating ability that is communicating en masse. That sense of "did i miss something?" not allowing us to do the conscious uncoupling that we, in our actually rather quiet hearts, want and need. I know Gwynny was talking about Chris Martin but I feel about my phone like I do about Coldplay- I don't understand why they are such a big deal but they just are. I digress.

There is, of course, the option to simply chuck your phone off the Brooklyn Bridge. Perhaps we could organize a mass unloading of Iphones, a veritable Boston Tea Party of slowly sinking electronics that not even that guy in Chinatown could resurrect. We can all get house phones again and rely on serendipity to get us dates and chant "DEATH TO SIRI" and always get lost on the way home because we're no longer a blue dot traversing the grid but simply hapless human beings in a world that sells no maps. Only time will tell. In the meantime though darling, all joking aside, we gotta figure this one out. And I need to pretend I never read 1984 or anything by Margaret Atwood.

The good news is, I think we got this. I'm sending you much love. Your prescription is below.

YOUR SONG: Picture In A Frame by Tom Waits

This was the first thing I thought of when I got your letter, and though Monsieur Waits (ever brilliant and dark) is talking about Ye Olde Instagrame of the past times here, i.e, putting a photo in a picture frame, I feel like this song should be both a comfort and wake up call to you. Tom's your soul-brother here, Overgrammer- an artist, feeling the weight, as your bright heart does, of placing in an image on display for all to see. He thinks it's as important and vital as you- "I love you baby and I always will/Ever since I put your picture in a frame". Like you, he feels the change, profoundly, from personal to public. The crucial difference though, is that the framing, the publicizing of the picture, is, for him a solo and defiant act of love. It's not for anyone else. It's for him. I want you to start seeing your Instagrams that way, Overgrammer. Feel the subtle change that is you, looking at your work and going "gosh I love this, it's wonderful, it means something, and yes, for commercial reasons in part, but also because I'm a little rapturous about this, I'm going to push it out to the world with love and confidence, because I can". Enjoy that your work, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, can currently hit the eyeballs of thousands of people within a hot millisecond. Use it. Enjoy it. But sharing it, seemingly counter intuitively, should be an act of open self love (raunchy) not a coy unveiling. And certainly not a shuffle onto the stage to a questioning crowd. It's the difference between Diana Ross walking out to Madison Square Garden versus a Roman slave wench standing naked in the forum. I know which one you are. 

Velasquez-The-Rokeby-Venus-1648.jpg

YOUR ARTWORK: The Rokeby Venus, by Diego Velazguez

Five points regarding this exquisite work, that I love so much I slept with a poster of it above my bed for years.

1) This is the first time in the history of art that Venus was painted as a brunette (holler)

2) When it was first painted, everybody hated it. It was considered vulgar and shocking during Velazguez's days and, later, once it had finally been given the eminent wall it deserved, at The National Gallery in London, it was almost irrevocably destroyed by an angry suffragette with a hammer. 

3) Though it initially looks and seems as if Venus is looking admiringly at a reflection of herself, it's impossible that she's doing so because we can see her eyes in the mirror: she's actually looking at the artist, who can then truly said to be the ultimate subject of the painting, the invisible spectre on which her gaze rests. This has spawned a pyschologly of perception that was termed "The Venus Effect". 

4)  The "Venus Effect" is something you can learn from, my love. You can be like Velazguez and his Venus. You are the artist of your work, but like him, you should also see yourself as your primary audience. Your best critic. Your best judge. Though work can be beheld by others, never forget that at the end of the day the fruit of your creativity, whatever that might be, is always, ultimately, looking directly, rather lovingly, certainly inquiringly at you. 

5) Side note. Other marvellous things that reference the Rokeby Venus? This beautiful film written by Hanif Kureishi. This episode of Desert Island Discs where composer Harry Rabinowitz says his life was altered when The Rokeby Venus SPOKE to him (ahem). Whatever, I can believe it. If your prescription came with an unlimited budget I'd pack you off to London myself, right this instant.

YOUR READING/INSTAGRAM POST: How Actors Cope With A Critical Mauling, as told to Laura Barnett

There's no doubt, and this is something that you recognize in your letter, that the most dangerous element of your relationship with Instagram is that you are straight up interpreting the number of likes and comments that you get as a barometer of how good your work is. Wake up call babe- right now, several notable nerds worldwide are being paid far too much money to analyse just what it is that makes the perfect social media post, and should we ask them to dinner (nahhh) they would tell you that it's less the content, and more a combination of timing, luck, data, weather, broadband connection, complicated search engine optimization thingamijigs etc. So theres's that. Sometimes when certain posts perform better than others, it's not because one is less good than the other. In short, it's not you, it's them.

Also, darling, though over time you've convinced yourself that analyzing your likes and attention is a helpful tool for you to figure out what's good for you creatively, I think you and I both know that's bull shit. Being a creative person, whether you're a writer or a painter or a potter is so much a naked slamming of original thought and/or emotion onto object. There's so much ego there. And that's why it's so easy to sucuumb to flattery and praise and to seek it out when your daily schedule involves and indeed depends on such a huge emotional release as work. If you must behave badly, strive to be too bold rather than too servile, less Narcissus, more Icarus. It's warmer for the latter.

Anyway, I loved this article for you because it talks all about the myriad ways that brilliant actors cope with bad reviews. What particularly struck me was this quote by actress Una Stubbs.

"It's better not to read reviews, even when they're good. They may mention how you say a particular line, and then the next time you come to that part, you'll think: "Ooh, this is the bit they like." It makes you think about it too much."

You'd think in an article like this actors would talk about how negative reviews had upset them rather than the other way round, huh? Flattery is truly a false idol. Such a lesson here.

YOUR PHOTO/ARTWORK DEPENDING ON YOUR STANCE: Kim K's bottom

kim kardashian's lovely bottom

Though you note, rightly, that Instagram definitely does work really well for a creative person who perhaps thinks more visually than others, and I know that you can and will harness this fantastic tool to best effect, here is a fundamental fact that I want you to store as your clarion call in the face of overgramming anxiety. It goes like this- even if you posted a photo of an absolute masterpiece it would not get as many likes than if you had posted a photo of your naked bottom. HA! I'm stressing this absurd example because I want you to see how ridiculous it is, in the most base way possible, to in any way regard the insta-mob as your target audience. I want you to remind yourself of this fundamental fact when you feel yourself getting anxious. The bottom metaphor also works beautifully here, because, and this is a fact, two of the world's most followed people on Instagram (exhibit A and B) became famous because of their bottoms (George Orwell, are you there? Dude, even you couldn't even make this up). FYI I think both bottoms are lovely and I very much like them. I just doubt they'll be in The Whitney anytime soon.

The Shipping Forecast, The Street Where I Live

YOUR ACTIVITY: Listen To The Shipping Forecast

If everything I've written above addressed the symptoms of your problem, this is the antidote. Maybe you already know what the shipping forecast is, all Brits do, but just in case, here's some background. Twice a day, every day, on FM Radio, the Met Office broadcasts a weather report for those at sea. It is almost completely unintelligible, a strange mix of unrelated words (Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey) intermixed with familiar talk of snow, storms and gales. I still don't know what this mystical language means in practical terms, nor do I care to find out, because though to those salty sailors it's life saving in its information, to me it is life-affirming in its mystery. At the end of the midnight edition, usually read by a bell-clear voice issuing a soft "Goodnight", they play the national anthem. Very British this, a culture not used to displays of patriotism and a population far too cynical for too-outward notions of national pride, but there's God Save The Queen anyway, on the daily, tucked away into a little corner of night, solely for sea captains veering from storms in impossibly large and uncaring oceans. For dark trawlers drawing thick maritime-straight lines across midnight foam. For fishing boats filled with the victims of dime-shiny shoals, charting their course back to familiar harbours. I guess I find TSF so romantic because it's this intensely universal yet personal form of communication. When I feel I've lost my oars in life, I often turn it on, only to find myself (usually) lulled to gentle sleep and (mostly) comforted back on course. If Instagram is chatter, this is a lullaby. I hope that its equal measures of impossible charm and utter simplicity can help to carry you through when you simply need to turn of your phone and commune with something vast and important and uncritical. I know, with absolute faith and certainty, that though the waters can get choppy out there, you have the tools to steer your psyche safely home. Others will follow (and like).

Would you like a prescription from the Thought Pharmacy? Simply email your problem to thoughtpharmacy@gmail.com

 


Thought Pharmacy: I Send Drunk Texts

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king3 Comments

Dear Thought Pharmacy,

I have a confession: I send drunk texts. 

The combination of me really liking someone, alcohol and my phone seems to trigger real anxiety and highlights how insecure I am. I think this might be due to my previous dating experiences and the fact that I'm 24 years old and I have been single for most of it. It's a vicious cycle and I feel very self destructive when it happens. I wake up full of shame and it doesn't matter if I say sorry, it's too late because I've already been classed as a crazy desperate single woman by this stage. The texts are never that bad nor do I send multiple texts but they're embarrassing. 

Recently I haven't sent any messages but then I met a guy who I briefly dated and genuinely liked however I ruined it. Had it not been for the fact that I had drunk text him three nights in a row (yes, really), I think we would still be dating. This is the second time I have ruined things in such a fashion with a guy I genuinely liked. 

I act as if I'm okay about what has recently happened but I am still full of shame. A friend recently commented that I'm emotionless and I make it hard for guys to read me which made me feel worse. I know it's too late to rectify the situation with the guy I recently dated but how can I stop doing this again? Why do I seem to feel so insecure about myself and relationships when I've had a drink? Is it highlighting the fact that deep down I genuinely think that I will never meet someone who wants to be with me? On the outside I'm a confident and outgoing person but on the inside I'm full of shame and a genuine fear that I will remain single forever. 

Please help.

Drunk texter, London

Dear Drunk Texter,

I don't think there's a single reader who will not identify with your problem. We've all been there. Senses kicked into action by the horror of "OH GAWD WHAT DID I DO" stinging through the hung-over gloam.

But let's get real. You hit the nail on the head towards the end of your letter when you said " deep down I genuinely think that I will never meet someone who wants to be with me". This is what is triggering this. I don't think this is really about the drunk texting. I think you're just absolutely fatigued by being single and absolutely bored by the men you're meeting. And sweet girl, that's an agony so many can identify with. Bright souls like you don't belong in the fripperies of courtship that now come as standard in the Tinder-standard landscape that is dating in 2015. Can I tell you a hard truth my darling? You are 24 tiny years old. Do not give me this "I'm still single I am destined to be a lonely spinster" act. You're not Anne bloody Hathaway (the first one) or a sister wife (thank god). The hard truth of the matter is that there's an atrocious lack of men out there. Atrociously unprepared for the kind of woman you are (ESPECIALLY in your age bracket- side note, please only go out with men who are 30 plus at this point). You gotta kiss so many frogs, kiddo. So many. Kiss them all, with wild abandon, with abject boredom, with unashamed lack of interest but hot and heavy desire. Throw yourself in to that motley pond, lips at the ready. Carry lip balm.

I want so much for you to stop feeling the heavy curtain that is shame. You're not a "crazy desperate single woman" for sending drunk texts, which, by your own admission, 'are not that bad'. Good grief, the whole world is, if that's the case. Don't torture yourself so much, because, here's the thing, the gloriously simple truth is that if you really properly like someone, and they really properly like you, it doesn't matter how many drunk or sober texts you send, you still like them. And they still like you! By no means do a few merlot-infused messages mean that somehow you have busted a potential romance, via a fistful of emojis, right there and then, poof, whizz, wallop. At best, I think the objects of your desire will be intensely flattered and probably amused. At worst, if they like you and are worthy of you, they might think you like a drink a little too much and be a bit unsure as to where to go next from there, communication wise. And do you know what the solution is then? If you really really like someone? You take control, and you send this: "Hi. It does not take a genius to work out that I had one too many last night, and you were the lucky recipient. Prosecco makes me amorous. I am duly a bit mortified, but I'm hoping I can make it up to you via the wonder that is steak and bearnaise sauce. My place, Wednesday, 8pm. " The best outcome then is for him to turn up at your house, prosecco in hand (because that's a helpful hint any fool could read) at which point you dazzle him with your cooking skills, general sweetness, and then either send him off or in to the night with a true sense of who you are. The worst he can say is no. At which point you know what's up and you move on. And you don't take it personally.It's still kindof a wonder to me that we all walk around talking about the pay gap and how much we think Miley is actually a feminist and Kim K definitely isn't and seriously screw Donald Trump and his henchmen in the patriarchy but yet when we fuck up a bit with men we still act all coy and expect to be scooped up and for things to be made better for us or retreat into a pit of self loathing. You're not a silly little girl, you're a grown ass lady. Don't play by those stupid and outdated rules. That means that when you like someone, you have to tell them. You understand this innately, via your drunk texts, but you're so freaked out and scared and bored and disillusioned by it all in the cold light of day that you can't say it unless you're wasted. Then you feel filled with self hate and sadness once the fog of sobriety sets in. Stop this cycle. Forgive and treasure your romantic and soulful nature, a great gift that men absolutely love, and that the ultimate one-true-love-man-for-you will fall utterly hard for. As soon as you feel actually comfortable with a guy, you and I both know that the drunk texts will stop. Take some responsibility for getting yourself to that comfortable place, bb. You can do it!

Of course, on a practical note,  I wish I could tell you to simply leave your phone at home when you go out, but I know London well enough to understand that being phone-less isn't really possible when you're trying to locate your friends in the club via a dropped pin or readying your 999 emergency call five minutes into the Sodom and Gomorrah that is the night bus. Having said that, I would urge you, if it's just an easy dinner with your mates or whatever, to absolutely leave it safely tucked away in your bed (I encourage leaving your phone, pocket tyrant that it is, at home as much as possible anyway-nothing sadder than blowing out your birthday candles to an audience of 20 glowing screens). Here's also a hard and fast practical piece of advice if you're planning a big night out. Write down your amor's number on a piece of paper. Give it to your best friend. Delete the number from your phone. Go out. Ask her for the number again when you're sober. Then, at the end of your night, dodgy pizza slice in hand, with your bloodstream pumping vodka and your liver crying out for mercy, message the hell out of your friends and family instead, because I'm telling you, they will absolutely lap up the drunk text. I know this from personal experience. My little brother, a giant lacrosse-playing lad not prone to sober outbursts of emotion, is a fantastic drunk texter, and honestly waking up to his beer-soaked messages brings me maximum joy- "I LOV YOU KINGY" "YOU ARE MY FAVRITEE SISTER" (I am his only sister) and so forth. Love it. Bloody love it. 

Above all, Drunk Texter, a reminder that in two or five or ten years time, when you're all coupled up with some hotty who is obsessed with your romantic and brooding nature and you've decided on the names of your future babies and are attending ten weddings per summer, you'll actually kindof miss this time. You'll feel a pang of nostalgia for the walk of shame you did along High Holborn with rips in your tights and no knickers on and excellent bed head. The anxiety of "he did three kisses in his message last time but now only one, oh my god what does this MEAN," will feel like a sweet sweet angst and I know you'll laugh like mad about it during long and luxurious and super old-school phone conversations with your girlfriends. You'll also feel profoundly grateful for meeting the one you love. That's when, I hope, in a still moment, you'll get out your paper and your pen, and you'll write him a letter, a proper one. One as slow and sweet as molasses.  All those texts, are just micro versions of that, I think, little love letters, snapping at our phones, pulling us together and apart. Which leads me neatly to your prescription.

YOUR SONG: Love Letters by Julie London

Here's the thing, Drunk Texter. I want you to forgive the wonderful romantic creature that is you. You're so tough on yourself in your letter, seeing your texting as something to be deeply ashamed of, the source of your perceived lack of success in relationships. I don't see it that way at all. I think you're a hopeless romantic who's completely and utterly disillusioned by dating in London and the feeling that you're never going to meet anyone that's right for you. You join a cast of literally millions in that sentiment. Though when you send your intoxi-texts you can come across as a saucy little sex pot, it's all just a glimpse of the fact that inside you're as soft and lovely and mercurial as  a wondering cloud formation. Your 'friend' (inverted commas, placed for emphasis) who described you as 'emotionless' has got you all wrong, only seeing the surface waters of who you are, not the wild tides beneath. I'd really like you to reframe your idea of these "drunk texts" and instead see them as proper love letters, in their own right. I think if you had been born in the 19th century you'd have been a great love letter writer, Drunk Texter, a whizz with a feathered quill and a melty candle, the Fanny Brawne to a million Keats-a-likes. Tragically, you were born in the wrong era, where most people hardly bother with a postcard and a phone call means that something is desperately wrong (though your beloved is unlikely to die of tuberculosis, so every cloud, etc). You opt to send text message postcards from your heart after one vodka too many because you're frustrated as all hell. It's totally understandable, totally forgivable and (YES!) totally sweet. What I'm trying to say, dearest DT, is that you're cute as all hell with your drunk texts, and I'm rather in love with you myself. Stop with the angst. It's totally okay. 

YOUR ACTIVITY: Go on a date with you and your boy, London

Forgive me for speaking the blinding bloody obvious here, darling, but don't you think you might need some days and nights in for a while? Just so you can rest and figure this one out. I'm not saying enforce a full and drastic year-long or life-long sobriety, but when you're in your early 20s like you are, and probably drinking pretty much every weekend, it's just a good idea now and again. There's also, in your letter, just the smallest, teeniest whiff of you drowning your sorrows in booze a little, and I do not like that one bit. It's meant to be fun, not a band aid, and the minute it changes to the latter you need to reassess why you're doing it and take stock of that a little (only you can know where you are there). Either way, I'm prescribing you a totally sober weekend, where you wake up at 8am blissfully awake and ready to go, feeling free and alive, with no one to text and nothing to do but fall head over heels for the beautiful and brutal and breathtaking ancient wonder that is the city of London. Sip coffee at your local greasy spoon with the old ladies up at that hour. Feel the wind on your face as you pound familiar pavement. Buy yourself a bunch of flowers (there comes a point in a girl's life when she has to buy her own- start as you mean to go on). Stockpile stamps while the post office is empty. Take a bus to Soho and walk through Liberty stroking expensive and beautiful things. Splurge a fiver on some fancy soap that makes you smell like an aged Italian Contessa. Walk over Tower Bridge, wink at those sexy Brazilian dudes doing capoeira and and throw a coin into the water for luck. Feel dwarfed by the Cy Twomblys at the Tate Modern. Walk the long way home and think of all the girls like you who, in turn, corseted and mini skirted and spiky-haired, have wandered and wondered on that same bridge through the decades, thinking those same thoughts of who they'll meet and when they'll feel at home in themselves. Go home. Scrub yourself shiny in the bath with your new soap. Stick your blooms in a jam jar. Drink some top-notch tea. Order in. Listen to music. Read an engrossing book. Watch classic movies. In short. LOVE ON YOURSELF. You deserve it and your city deserves the cute flaneuse that is you for the day.

YOUR MOVIE: An American In Paris

Speaking of falling in love with cities, behold, the most romantic film ever made. What better antidote for you when those nights out feel like nothing but a colossal waste of good make up, and you need pulling back swiftly into the romantic world that you belong in. I mean, lines like this:

"What gets me is, I don't know anything about her. We manage to be together for a few moments and then off she goes. Sometimes we have a wonderful time together and other times it's no fun at all. But I got to be with her."

And This song! And this one!

Need I say more. Turn off the phone. Sit on the sofa. Save your pennies and get drunk offa Gene Kelly's perfect turn out instead. 

YOUR BOOK: The Wrong Knickers, Bryony Gordon

Dearest girl, if ever there was a book for you at this moment in your life, it is this one, which I happened to be fortuitously reading (super late, as it took me forever to get a copy in America) when you sent me your letter. Bryony, who is just a stunningly good and honest and hilarious writer, truly tells it like it is. I underlined the following passage, which I have dutifully typed out here, for you.

"I know women who stick to the rules and tell blokes they are busy so they seem more alluring, when in actual fact they are staying in to watch Made In Chelsea. But I am not one of them. It seems so phoney, so archaic. The Rules seem unjust and unfair, and abiding by them strikes me as a betrayal of the sisterhood. 'I'm not going to play games', I tell my mother, because I am a woman with my own mind and any man who goes off me because I have texted twice in an hour can go fuck himself."

Can I get a hell yeah? And where is Bryony now? Career thriving, married to a great man, cute baby in tow. It just works out.

YOUR POEM: Bloody Men, Wendy Cope

To make you laugh. And make you sigh. And know that you're not alone.

Wendy nails it, here, doesn't she? The minutes, the hours, the days. I remember it. Being in your 20s can feel so incredibly long and uncertain, especially when it comes to the more romantically inclined. As women we're still given, in various ways, our whole lives, the narrative that someday our prince will come, if only we play hard to get, or text a certain amount of times or play things a certain way or go to a certain type of place. All of these are variations of the same theme, Drunk Texter. That's the girl, shut in the castle, waiting far too long for some dimwit in chain mail to rescue her. You don't need to be rescued because you can do this your way. To thine own self be true. Get the hell out of the turret and strike out on your own. Trust your instincts. Forgive yourself heartily and know that you have so much love to give. Proclaim it out loud, sober as the day you were born or as drunk as Keith Richards was by the end of 1975. It doesn't matter. Have faith. Marvel, when, one apparently normal day, you fall head over heels crazy in love and your entire world changes in both a wonderful and terrifying and still not easy but ultimately what you needed way. Send me a note five years from now. It can be a drunk text, but, and this is an absolute condition, only if induced via very good champagne. I know it will say, "YOU WERE RIGHT! xoxoxoxox".

Would you like a prescription from the Thought Pharmacy? Simply email your problem to thoughtpharmacy@gmail.com

 






Thought Pharmacy- How Can I Feel Less Limited?

Thought PharmacyAlexandra kingComment

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.

Limited

Dear Limited, 

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

St Winifrede's Well, 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.

Would you like a prescription from the Thought Pharmacy? Simply email your problem to thoughtpharmacy@gmail.com



Thought Pharmacy- I Hate My Face

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king2 Comments

Dear Thought Pharmacy, 

I'm a 21 year old student at a Uni in London. I struggle to go out because of my face. I'm ugly and people are disgusted by my face. After any social interaction I sift through my memories and attribute any negative comments or behaviour as being due to my ugliness. I avoid eye contact because I hate seeing my ugliness reflected in other people's behaviour towards me. I also avoid it because I hate seeing that they're seeing me, if that makes sense. I take hours getting ready, 1 hour to put on make-up, the rest is spent lolling around coming to terms with the fact that people are about to see my hideous face. 

People tell me that I am not ugly but let's be honest, those are just social niceties.When a laughably handsome guy from class was interested in me, I was so angry and sad and embarrassed. He was obviously taking the piss out of the ugly girl. I have been getting CBT therapy for my 'body dysmorphic' symptoms for a few months now but it's a slow process and it can't work miracles. I feel like nothing anyone can ever say will make me feel better. My mum has even taken to asking cashiers at the till in Sainsbury's if they think I'm pretty in an attempt to 'prove' that I'm not ugly. 

I really feel like this is holding me back from doing things I want to do. Things like volunteering and doing intern-ships and having guitar lessons and starting a society at uni. A friend, well actually more of a good acquaintance, said something that really hit me. He said 'You're the least shallow person I know because you like people for who they are and what they do, not what they look like.' I'm just struggling to understand why I can't extend that to myself.

I would really really appreciate your help, please. I don't want to be like this.

Ugly Girl. 

Hello there, you poor thing. I've thought long and hard about you since I got your message last week. I spent the weekend driving up mountains in Vermont and wondering if you were doing ok, and I hope maybe at some point during your days you've felt my energy whisking its way across the salty sea.  Of course I thought long and hard about your prescription, but what I was mainly worried about in making sure I wrote you a reply worthy of your bravery in sharing your story in the first place was avoiding cliche ( hackneyed platitudes like "it's what matters on the inside that counts" and others like it) which is why it's contrary of me to start with a big old cliche myself, but start with it I must- beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As I behold you, friend, I see nothing ugly at all. Though you have signed off as so, I cannot bear to address you as "Ugly" so I'm changing your name to one that actually befits you.

Dear Beautiful,

I can tell that you're very clever. The way that you use inverted commas- 'body dysmorphic', 'prove' shows you have that thirty-thousand feet ability, the gift of being able to fly very far above your physical body and observe yourself wryly from afar. While your heart is without doubt weighted down to utter exhaustion with self hatred and confusion, It's almost as if you're simultaneously observing yourself. This is a very rare gift, and one, once you've put it to proper use, that is going to help you no end.

 Clever girls often have an awful talent for self hatred, of course, it comes with the territory. And as you half-know, at worst it makes you desperately sad inside, at best it makes you rather fascinating at times to others. It sounds like you're working both sides of the coin. You're probably driving that guy at Uni (who by the way has a big crush on you based solely on first sight of that beautiful face, because that's how boys work) utterly wild with what he undoubtedly interprets as your lack of interest and general aloofness (though you know it as paralysing self loathing). You described him as "laughably handsome" which made me smile. You're so cynical and funny. I bet he loves that as well. But you're not seeing that of course. The great news is that once you do, that kind of interest from a guy like him could lead to an intense and raw and beautiful and physical relationship (read: someone to snuggle with, a person to leave the crappy party with, regular body-healing hot-as-hell sex, but this will come later, we have to fix you first).

You're half-right when you say that nothing anyone can say will make you feel better. Right now, nope, nothing can. You're too blocked. You're walking with your eyes to the ground so you don't see the furtive glances. A bit like last week's Thought Pharmacy patient, you're so so so tired, Beautiful. You need TLC. A weekend of garden sunbathing, cups of tea, slices of cake, a dirty Martini sipped extra slow with a loving girlfriend, whatever your poison (those are just a few of mine to get you started).  I'm really glad you're doing therapy, and I implore you to try and work at it earnestly and chastise your cynical nature when at times you feel uncomfortable about asking for help. I know enough about CBT to imagine that your therapist has already identified that you're concentrating and projecting externally on your 'ugly face' because of an experience or behaviour pattern in your past. We all have things like this, stitches we have to unpick and wounds we have to lick clean, and It takes hard work and dedication (we Brits tend to scoff a little at the idea of things like CBT as being work as opposed to some sort of namby-pamby alternative therapy- don't fall victim to that. It's bollocks). I also want you to subscribe a little to the (NEW AGE ALERT) Buddhist mantra- What you think you become/What you feel you attract/What you imagine you create. In your letter you used the word 'ugly' seven times. You called yourself 'hideous' and 'disgusting'. Darling girl, these words are knives to you. Your energy is ferocious-just think about what that power, that strength could do if you changed those words around.

All this stuff about it being somehow just "social niceties" whenever anyone says anything complimentary to you is total shit, Beautiful, and in your heart of hearts, I truly believe that you know that. You're just so tired that you can't really deal with attention from anyone right now, and so you make excuses for why people must like you or show you interest. You're stuck in that cycle of feeding your fear. In a strange way, I think that loathing the way your face looks has become an identifier to you, and though you desperately don't want to live in this way, and I believe you when you say that, I think you're also clinging to it a little bit. So often our negative thoughts or behaviours become strangely safe places for us, because we forget who we are without them holding us back. A world alone, without our demon, can suddenly seem almost as scary as the one with it. But you've got to get out and volunteer, do your internships, set up your society, play your guitar like the fierce Joplin-esque spirit that you are. Tell the demon to fuck off. 

 I found the whole of your letter, the yelp of pain that it was, incredibly moving, but no part touched me more than the description of your exasperated mum imploring Sainsburys cashiers to tell you how beautiful you are. Though I see how, for you, this story is symbolic of the degree to which your negative thinking and body dysmorphia has reached, I have to tell you that a reader, and as your Thought Pharmacist, I loved this story. Because you're right, your mother does think, without rhyme, reason, hope or agenda that you are beautiful, and no, it wouldn't matter if you had a face as nondescript and perfunctory as a thumb or one eye higher than the other or ears as mangled as an England prop forward (you don't mention what it is that specifically bothers you about your face-I guess you feel its just everything). When your mother, who carried you close for nine long months, and felt you wiggle and hiccup and swim around inside her body, was handed you- baby Beautiful, wrinkled and furious and red as a raspberry, she took one look at your perfect face and decided you were the most heavenly and gorgeous thing she'd ever seen. That's what beauty is, Beautiful. It's as simple and natural and mysterious and primal as that. The physical features of anyone's face are just a vehicle for expressing their universal beauty, and reflecting another's love. Your mother gifted you that lesson, and that knowledge, and clearly still gifts it to you everyday. But you've closed yourself off. The shades are down. You have the power to open the ties that bind you, and you must, because the world needs your beautiful, perfect, lovely, soulful and cynical face. All the things you are. All the things you will become. Your prescription is below.

YOUR SONG: I'll Be Your Mirror by Nico

In your letter you described being handed a wonderful compliment- someone described you as "the least shallow person I know". Wowzas, you authentic and soulful creature, you, what a nice thing for someone to say! What made me smile and feel a little sad though was that you first described him as a 'friend', then backtracked to saying he was 'more like a good acquaintance'. Let me tell you, Beautiful, someone who compliments you as he did is your friend. He's being your mirror. Let that person in- he's being Nico in that moment- "Put down your hands, because I see you." You put down your hands for me, Beautiful, someone you have never met outside this big digital space. You can do it for others, and you will. Let them reflect your beauty back at you. This journey you're on means you're going to need all the help you can get from your (many) admirers and friends. Let them help you. Reach out to them, and tell them your story as you did for me.

YOUR READING: WHY DO YOUNG CHILDREN CLOSE THEIR EYES? SELV VISIBILITY AND THE DEVELOPING CONCEPT OF SELF

Here's an odd but wonderful piece of reading for you, and a reminder that there is poetry and big human truths along with dull quantitive data to be found in hard scientific study (now we know why we as a society have somehow managed to fetishise the lab coat). You can read about the experiment in full by clicking the link above, but it essentially goes like this. Remember how when you were very little, and you played hide and seek, you would cover your eyes, because it made you feel invisible? This study set out to try and understand why children do that. What they found was what Nico already knew- that unless a child is being looked at by another, is conscious that someone is seeing them by their eyes locking, they earnestly think that cannot be seen. In short-if their faces are hidden, they believe themselves to be completely invisible. How heartbreaking and wonderful is that? That's what you've been doing, Beautiful. You've covered your face and in turn made yourself invisible. The child in you (and at 21, you are still pretty little) wants to be found. To do that, you have to be seen first. Put on your make up (nothing wrong with a super fun getting ready session and a great lipstick) and pull your sweet face to the sky.

YOUR TALISMAN: "POWER TO OVERCOME" NECKLACE BY PYRRHA

power to overcome talisman necklace

I think you need something to wear that will remind you daily of the battle you are conquering, so I did a little research on trying to find a nice piece of jewellery for you. I settled on this pretty necklace, from ace Canadian company Phyrra (they ship internationally, I checked). It shows a wolf with a rose in its mouth which "signifies one who has the perseverance to overcome obstacles and find joy".I thought that sounded right up your alley, Beautiful. I'm rather partial to the bronze, but it also comes in silver, and I think the design is lovely. I know it's a little bit of a splurge cost-wise, but I think it will be worth it. You can hold on to the cool metal when you're feeling nervous, and be reminded of its message when you catch a glance of it reflected back in the bus windows.

YOUR EXCURSION: GAZ'S ROCKIN BLUES. ADD GIRLFRIENDS AND TEQUILA.

gaz's rockin blues

 I'm going to go out on a limb here, Beautiful, and suggest that you might also be suffering from "Student in London" syndrome, a condition with which I am well acquainted. I went to UCL for undergrad, a place I felt so excited about, only to find I struggled painfully in my first year of Uni. I thought I was going to be Marianne Faithfull, but instead I was just an over-anxious fish out of water wearing dodgy gap year jewellery, a faded TopShop trench coat and with my Mick Jagger nowhere to be found. I struggled massively with student culture in London, a place that felt vast and cool while at the same time being solely sold 'student nights' which I tried desperately to like but never could. I  didn't want to do a "three legged pub crawl" with some still-pubescent slobbering weirdo desperate to go to fourth base. The idea of a jelly shot made my eyes roll to the heavens and my stomach lurch. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to find Mick Jagger at an event with a bouncy castle (the "vomitorium" as a dear friend of mine, at least four flaming sambucas in, so eloquently put it) or with special appearances by the cast of Made in Chelsea. It's kindof weird how British University events geared towards students embarking on hard academic study almost make a conscious decision to further infantilise the incoming cohort, however, like ham and pineapple pizza and people that like cruises, I accept there are certain things I will never understand. But the point I'm trying to make is that I found Uni in London at times unbearably lonely, and in my entire first term, while my pals at regional campuses joyfully notched up their bedposts, I was kissed precisely once, by a boy in a band whose girlfriend was out of town (I only learned this when she answered the door when I knocked on it the next day. FYI he's now an accountant.) Beautiful, I really and truly lost confidence during that term. I felt I was ugly and that no guys thought I was attractive. I hated my face too. All the booze I'd dutifully downed at the dreaded student nights while watching the rugby team smear each other in glitter paint (epically non-hilarious) made me feel swollen and chubby. I had stopped stretching and running and being as active as I like to be. I felt truly crappy and I cried a lot. But then I discovered Gaz's and though I continued to struggle and recover from that time, I felt like I'd found my place at last.

Gaz's Rockin Blues holds court every Thursday night from 9pm at the St Moritz Club on Wardour Street in Soho. It's dark, underground, has been going for years and literally anything goes, clothes wise. Though not in a "I'm just wearing my sweatpants to the bar" way. In a "I just bought this weird cut out dress from Oxfam and paired it with my Grandma's vintage Westwood" way. It's full of hot boys from Camden and there's always a band. The music (blues, ska, vintage girl groups, the night was founded by Gaz Mayall, the founder of Trojan Records) is literally and figuratively off the charts. It's an amazing place to find friends and lovers, but it's also an amazing place to hold fort on the dance floor and do a heart-swelling solo boogie to Desmond Dekker. It just brings that out of you. That's why you need to go.  And look, if you go and you don't like it and you feel awful and you just want to leave and watch Strictly Come Dancing with your cat that's FINE too. But I need you to have at least one drink, Beautiful. Just one. I highly recommend tequila (blanco, with ice) which for me at least has the three fold medicinal benefit of making me want to dance, flirt with strangers and being a nice clean hangover. It's also kindof a sexy drink to order and sip as you survey the crowd. Add your best girlfriends. Look around. Lock eyes.

In short, it's the kind of true old London place that instantly makes a regular of you. And as time goes by, and you intermittently prop up the bar through the years in the way I have over the last decade (I still go on my trips home) and you find a safe space to relax and meet people and dance and be free, many people will find cause to tell you about your beautiful face. It might be a friend or a relative or a paralytically drunk hotty who's holding his pint like he would your heart (soft, strong, aloft). And one day, instead of batting away that compliment like Djocovic, you'll actually feel a little swell of happiness and satisfaction, a little heart jump. You'll take that compliment. You'll hold it close. Then you'll know you're there and you've come out the other side. The next day you will wake up, look at that lovely face in the mirror and feel lighter somehow. I hope and I know that sooner rather than later, you'll be feeling as light as air, Beautiful. See you at Gaz's. I'll teach you how to two step.


Would you like a prescription from the Thought Pharmacy? Simply email your problem to thoughtpharmacy@gmail.com

 



Thought Pharmacy- Hell is your 20s

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king4 Comments

Dear Thought Pharmacy,


I'm having an existential crisis of sorts. With my 27th birthday quickly approaching its dawned on me that I'm not satisfied with where I am at all. 


Right now I'm bar tending. I have a few fantasies about what I want to be though- 1: being a fashion stylists for movies because I would get to travel and meet a bunch of new interesting people all the time, and the whole idea of immersing myself into a different world to create a statement for each film is extremely appealing to me. 2: Doing stand up or writing comedy...I dunno. 3: creating and owning my own business. But what business?

I don't even know where I want to be, which in turn causes anxiety/fear/anger in my everyday life. I fear I won't make something out of myself using my special talents (whatever those may be). I fear my longest standing relationship will be with my cat. Why can't I just be happy with my current situation and be proud of where I am instead of being my own worst enemy? Won't that put better energy out in the world which in turn would give me better results? I recently came out of a big relationship too, so I think that losing that big love in my life  has helped influence these thoughts. Sometimes in this city city I feel like I'm drowning. 

 I've been having panic attacks that are crippling- I've become lethargic and not excited about the day or upcoming parties/outings/etc. It's all too much and I can't think straight. I can't stop thinking about my career dissatisfaction, relationship longings, fear of unhappiness later in life/ not fufilling certain "goals."
I feel like I let others take advantage of my spirit. The smallest things hurt me so much. For instance, a bitchy look from a co worker or a rude stranger on the streets of New York. 
The world seems like an impossible place. What will I be? What do I want to be? What do I want to do/be remembered for? How will I get there? Will everything really be OK? Why am I so scared? 

Being in your 20s sucks. Please help.


Scared 20-something


Dear Scared 20-something,


Remember that show, Gladiators? Where a team of steroid-pumped athletes would battle slightly-more-muscled-than-average people in physical challenges on live TV? Remember that climactic bit, towards the end of each show, when some poor bugger who was simply a fairly buff plumber by day would have to run the "gauntlet", a padded corridor flanked by behemoth body building champions, wearing only a flimsy leotard and bicycle helmet and being pelted with pugel sticks wielded by psychopathic former mercenaries with names like "Wolf" and "Hunter"? That is your 20s, my love, that is your 20s.


Dearest Scared, you've gone through so so much, and right now, what can I say other than you simply need some good old fashioned bed rest. You say that you feel that you're being your own worst enemy and I concur- you're stuck in that cycle of reflection-blame-reflection. You feel awful, wonder why you feel so awful, blame yourself for not being able to stop feeling awful, and there you are, right back at the start again. Go gently, Scared. Of course you're confused. Birthdays always make us reflective, often not very helpfully so. You're working brutally long and physically demanding hours as a bar tender and you're doing this under the seemingly opaque and endless curtain that is pure and simple old fashioned heartbreak. You need an immense dose of tender loving care, and in many ways the most crucial lesson one must learn in one's 20s is how to give that to one's self.

Firstly, stop thinking about what you might be 'remembered' for or what you want to 'be' or how impossible it all seems.  It's the malaise of the Millennial, and especially the New York City dweller, that there must be a solution or answer to every situation and that notoriety is something to be swiftly acquired rather than slowly and subtly and virtually imperceptibly earned. When you can have a dress dry cleaned in an hour, customise your morning latte to such an extent that the coffee shop names it after you and cheerfully order a slice of cheesecake to be delivered to your door at 4 in the morning it can really really feel that way, I know. But it's all an illusion, because all life really is is survival, and you, my belle, are knackered. You need to rest. Stretch. Breathe. Laugh. Think about our cave lady ancestors. This is how their day went: wake up as light hits cave, snack on wooly mammoth, allow self to be mounted by hirsute cave male, sweep cave, marvel dumbly at those sparkly orbs in the sky, feel a bit cold and wonder idly if there might be a solution for that, get a bit sleepy with all that thought, have a little nap. Repeat. Were they worried about being "happy" or how they would be "remembered"? No. They focused on surviving. They learned the skill of observation. They also had a great capacity for the quality that separates us god-forsaken homosapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom-a thing called wonder. You need to rediscover a little of that simplicity, and you will. But first you have to rest.


Do not lose your sense of indignation at other people's rudeness- the mean colleagues or inconsiderate subway riders on any given day. In fact, wear your upset with great and righteous pride, for as long as uncouth strangers are a shock to you it means that your gentle spirit is in tact and you remain a graceful and authentic soul. I really feel you here, I also HATE it when people are rude to me for no reason, it always upsets me terribly and takes me a long time to shake it off, even as I've learned to flip the finger and shout back. But brandish your sensitive heart and commitment to manners with great indignation and tremendous pride, my darling, because it is far more blessing that curse. Remember that in 99 per cent of cases when anyone aged 0-100 is mean, aggressive or unreasonable it is usually down to one or a combination of three simple things- they are tired, scared, or need a snack. Sometimes all three. Assess them accordingly. Don't take anything personally. Carry nuts. 


Above all, despite the undoubted anguish, remember that In ten years time all the statistics point to the fact that you'll have met or married or shacked up with someone you love or care for deeply, perhaps pushed a creature or two or three the weight of a good-sized sea bass out of your lady parts and in between leaky boobs and repeats of Dora the Explorer and the demands of a career and a thousand pounds of laundry you'll be reminiscing about the time you propped up the bar at Cafe Gitane, pretending to read Jean Paul Sartre while figuring out how to slip that hotty of a bar back your number via your citron presse. Yes, you'll actually feel nostalgic for the moments when you walked the streets of this amazing city, wondering who the hell you were and who the hell you might be. Because that's how all the best stories start.


I don't need to know exactly what's next to know already that your story's an absolute winner, Scared.  You have so much self awareness and sensitivity, and though the fact that you feel so much means life can be utterly miserable, and it is for you now, you poor thing, with that gigantic heart and expanse of thought and ambition of yours, you're a winner. By gosh will those qualities ever serve you well and guarantee you abundant joy so soon from now. The only thing you need to work on in the meantime is resting, mending your heart and quietening your mind. Work as mindfully and with as much focus on this as you have been doing on your worrying and you'll be good as new again, so soon. And the amazing thing? One day, once you've healed, you'll wake up and find that you suddenly know what you want. But you need to be well enough and calm enough to be spot the signs. Until then, my darling, know that my hands are concertina stacked upon your shoulder, willing you on. Happy birthday. Your prescription is below.


YOUR BOOK: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell


You need a tough fucker of a girl heroine to be inspired by and hence I point you right in the direction of Winter's Bone, by sublime writer Daniel Woodrell, who is to the Ozarks what Dickens was to the East End (drawn to darkness, likes an underdog). The writing is sublime, and the protagonist, Ree Dolly (“Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellowed dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again.” That's how we FIRST meet her in the book) a fierce yet sensitive warrior, as all girls are born to be. Ree might me my favourite literary heroine of the last decade. Winters Bone is also a neat little 200 pager and therefore easily savoured in a day. It's such a tough, lyrical little beauty of a book, and I think it's just what you need.


YOUR SONG: The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright


Let me tell you a story, Scared. About three years ago, a visa mix up meant I had to swiftly leave New York for my home country of England. When I say swiftly, I mean a lawyer called me and told me to get on the next plane home in case I got deported and then banned from entering the USA for ten years and no it did not matter that my entire home was here and no I could not pick up my furniture and no America did not care about my cat or the fact that I had just met a man who I had fallen hard in love with at first sight. I had to go home and wait for my visa. No, they didn't know how long it would take. No, they couldn't ensure it would even be granted at all. Waiting for that visa, with no money and zero hope in between volcanic rows with my mother in the middle of nowhere countryside during England's wettest summer in recorded history was not my idea of fun, oh no no no. I cried an awful lot. I may have made occasional use of a friend's Xanax prescription and consumed far too much whisky. I may have run up a 600 pound (POUND) international phone bill, which was mainly acquired by me imploring my (saintly) neighbours to hold the receiver to my recalcitrant cat's head so that I could speak to him "in case he forgot the sound of my voice"  I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that it was the worst summer of my life, I thought I had lost everything and I went bat shit fucking mental. And towards the end of that summer, when, 5 weeks in, the visa was issued and the return ticket was booked and it had turned out, as my darling girl tribe had prophesied from the start, that everything had actually turned out just fine, I somehow discovered this song. It made me cry with relief and recognition. It still does, actually.


" Last summer I went swimming, last summer I might have drowned, but I held my head and i kicked my feet and I moved my arms around". 


What he's saying, sweet one, I second. You've got to just keep going. You said in your letter that you felt like you were drowning. But you're not. It's as simple as swimming. It doesn't need to be artful, it doesn't need to have an end in sight. Keep going. There's also a great and joyful instrumental section towards the end where you can have a little dance. That's an order, not a suggestion.

YOUR WORDS: Noel Gallagher's Desert Island Discs


I've talked on TSWIL before about Desert Island Discs being the cure for all of life's ills and I stand by that statement. When I saw Noel was the latest castaway I did a little woop normally reserved solely for when my husband texts to say he's got the ingredients for breakfast tacos. Naturally, Gallagher didn't disappoint, instantly making it into my top five (despite choosing a U2 song, something I could never normally forgive). But it's the way he talks about love, Scared, that I want you to pay attention to, while you deal with the aftermath of your breakup. Because it turns out that this rough old Northerner, famous for chucking TVs out of expensive hotel rooms and doing enough ecstasy to fell an African Elephant is a complete and utter romantic. I'm not going to quote the whole thing here because I want you to listen to it, but when asked his philosophy on love, he said simply that his wife of 15 years, Sara, is his favourite person to have a boozy lunch or go out clubbing with. That simple. That sweet.  He also talks about how his life essentially began after his 20s. In many ways I think you're going to be a lot like Noel at his age-a still cynical but romantic old soul who's lived an utterly fantastic life.

YOUR ACTIVITY: 30 Minute Restorative Yoga and Mediation, Yoga with Candace. 

Those panic attacks are no good at all, Scared. I want them to end. I want to share this restorative yoga and meditation session with you, because I find it works a treat on days where things are just overwhelming me. This is an easy 30 minute stretch and breathing session, and I do it whenever I'm feeling particularly strung out (read:often). It's not in any way physically taxing and the stretches will feel heavenly on that bar tender body. I want you to do it first thing in the morning for a week, and then as often as you'd like afterwards.

YOUR EXCURSION: The Ganesh Temple, Flushing, Queens.

ganesh temple TSWIL


 It's clear that you desperately need some peaceful time away from the city, and in an ideal world I'd instruct you to dash  straight to some lovely rambling old inn upstate with a terrific black-bottomed swimming pool and a well-stacked bar, like you were one of those women that Conde Nast Traveler apparently thinks is a real person, but this is New York, and we don't have that money. Instead I'm sending you to one of the most magical places I've ever been to and which costs the price of a subway ride, the Ganesh Temple in Queens. Imagine, for a second. Incense. Flowers. Cool stone floors. Hindu priests from India, wearing bright orange robes and smiling beatifically by garlanded shrines. It has to be seen to be believed and see it you must. It will remind you of the immense wonder that I talked about us harried citizens forgetting, that intrinsic belief that the world, or something in it, is much bigger and more profound than us. To the disbelieving denizen of New York City, I suppose that's called "perspective". To the smiling sages of the Ganesh Temple, it's called "God". It's a beautiful, humbling, remarkable place. Take your pilgrim soul there and prepare to be amazed.

 

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