Musings

+ What I Wish I Knew at 20

Ten years ago I was a Cardiff university undergraduate student, loving (most) of the experiences that era afforded me. Like other young adults, I was keen to get out of academia and start living life! At the time I didn’t fully grasp the important role that education continues to play in your life after university (even if it comes in non-structured forms), or that the ‘self’ I viewed as concretely me constantly changes and evolves. What would I tell my younger self, if I could? I recently turned thirty, so it’s as good as time as any to reflect on what I wish I knew at 20:

Leaving full-time education is NOT the end of learning

Graduation day is in many ways a symbolic goodbye to a life dominated by structured education. Education beyond academia should be given more weight to university graduates of today —the subjects I spent years studying and sitting exams for have had very little bearing on my adult life. I might not regularly use the knowledge I learned in Geography A-Level, but the ability to structure an opinion and research relevant facts is something I use every day.

And yet, it’s these more process-driven skills that fuel true growth. During a panel discussion at Stanford University (listen to the podcast here), the head of Google X, Astro Teller, told a room of students just that:

“The bad news is that the stuff you’re learning now is going to be fairly irrelevant in ten years. The good news is that the skill of learning things quickly, figuring how to understand first principles and being able to reconstruct your knowledge after you forget 99% of it later, those skills are critical for the rest of your life.”

True education is the attainment of a greater understanding of why the world is as it is, and what it could be. The primary way to attain this understanding is to read, read, read. Even though I smashed my Goodreads challenge of reading thirty books in 2016, it unsettles me that there’s so many novels, theories and scientific research I’ll never get time for.

I used to have an aversion to non-fiction, but some of the most powerful prose I’ve read recently is from the genre; I wholeheartedly recommend Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind or Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity. Our smartphone is now a portal to information ripe for devouring, whether it’s via a language-learning app like Memrise or Maria Popova’s blog Brain Pickings. Popova talks about the constant evolution of the intellectual self in this episode of the Tim Feriss podcast, reflecting on her younger self as a “spiritual embryo” or an “intellectual baby.”

Mine the Trivia of Today

Even if a situation or event seems trivial to you, write about it. It will be endlessly fascinating to your future self! The iOS/Macbook Day One app makes it simpler than ever to sift through years of detritus, and by doing so you’re immortalising snippets of lived experience that would otherwise be long forgotten. I wrote a review of the app a while back, detailing the best ways to use it.

Day one app (mac,iOS) — ideal for capturing snippets of quotes read, memories, dream logs & more!

The Morning Pages technique is also a great way to continually flex your writing muscle, although it’s habit that’s eluded me.

More Later, Less Now

When I was twenty I didn’t think twice about occasionally sleeping with my make-up on or eating junk food, always happy to choose instant gratification over any benefits my future self might appreciate!

Valuing short-term wins more than long-term gains is what’s known as temporal discounting. While it’s immediately gratifying to sink your teeth into a burger rather than a tofu salad, it’s one of the hardest life lessons to take on board that resisting temptation will make things easier on your future self. I’m by no means a saint, but when I’m in my element my evening routine is like a ceremony for that future self:

  • Choose & arrange tomorrow’s outfit
  • Pre-pack gym bag
  • Use electric toothbrush for 2 and a half minutes then floss
  • Minimum of ten minutes removing make-up and slathering on various oils and creams

Say Yes!

No-one ever grew as a person by shying away from new experiences. Take for example a social invitation; nights curled up at home might rejuvenate your soul, but with every year that passes they’ll become more and more the default.

I’ve never regretted getting off the sofa and seeing friends or devoting free time to planning days and little London adventures. I’m grateful that potential evenings of boredom or self-pity were catalysed into memorable nights out (or in) with close friends.

Don’t Lose Your Roots

If I could go back to my twenty-year-old self, I would ask more candid questions to my grandparents. Once they pass away, your key to the past is cruelly lost. Thankfully my granddad wrote up a lot of his life history for my uncle so I have word documents typed up full of details of his life growing up in Birkenhead, as well as one or two asides about his own parents.

That being said, a day after initially drafting this blog post, Nanny Win, my last surviving grandparent died so this point is especially poignant. She would chat about certain times in her life, but I barely know a thing about her several siblings and how they lived their lives. Now, they’re reduced a box on myheritage.com:

My nan’s eight siblings — I only met one as a child, and have little information about the rest

Cherish Your Independence

Once you’re in full time employment it’s hard to quit and perhaps even harder to score a sabbatical — there’s always a path to promotion or potential new role within reach and walking away carries with it sacrifices.

One of my best decisions was blowing my savings (plus overdraft!) on travelling and seeing the world. In fact, my blog has 14 pages of travel posts! It bears repeating — you’ll likely never be as free as you are today. Before you know it, you and your friends will be saving for mortgages, marriages and munchkins so opportunities to connect with them decline.

What lessons have you learnt in the past decade that you would pass onto yourself? I’d also recommend a book entitled What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self, featuring letters that forty-one famous women wrote to their younger selves.


+ Half Marathon Training Tips

Half Marathon Training Tips
I've always enjoyed running and used to love competing at high school, but post-school most of my running has been for the bus! Earlier this year, my friend Mandy encouraged me to sign up to Royal Parks Half Marathon along with her. We had three choices:

- Enter the ballot for free
- Enter the ballot and pay £50 to increase your chances (or get a hoodie as a consolation prize)
- Try and get a charity place

As I paid the fee I managed to secure a place, yay. But my friend didn't :( So training was 100% down to me and the ability to motivate myself... In the months leading up to the day my half marathon training was almost non-existent, but I've learnt a LOT that might actually help other first-time runners:

Months leading up to the race:
- Run regularly, even if you don't have a clear target. Just get used to your body being pushed even if its no more than 25 minutes at weekends.
- Start tracking your runs in an app like Runkeeper or Nike+ Running. Being able to track any incremental improvements is key to staying motivated.
- Unless you run regularly anyway, you'll need other forms of motivation. Mine came in treating myself to new running gear. Check out my picks at the bottom of this post!
-Training is not just about running. In order to maintain the stamina of keeping yourself moving forward into your second hour of running, your body needs strong core muscles. I did this by keeping a (semi) regular session of Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred which involves cardio, stretching and weight training.
- Practise running with some lucozade beforehand as this is usually what you get on race day.

The days before:
- Carb loading! About 5 days prior to the race I was all about the pasta.
- I did a final 5km mid-week before the race which helped me feel more prepared.
- Two days before the race I got hammered as I went to do a PJ Harvey gig. I really regret doing this as I bet I could have shaved off a minute or two if so!

The night before:
- Take it easy
- Try to go to sleep early (for a 5am wake-up, try to be in bed at least 8 hours before at 9pm)
- Go for a carb-heavy meal that you're used to eating. I cooked a mean spaghetti bolognese for an early evening meal.
- Plan your exact outfit (this should be something you've already trained in so you know its comfy)

The morning of the race:
- My race started at 9am so I woke up at 5am to give me enough time to digest my breakfast. The key is to get that meal in early–three to four hours pre-race to be exact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (via Runner's World)

- I also ate a banana about half an hour before the race to help keep me energised through the race.

- bring some sweets with you. I haven't bothered with the gels that the pros favour but might practice with them before my next half marathon in May 2016.

During the race:
- so my plan was to use Runkeeper to keep pace and not over-exert myself but the adrenaline (by-product of nerves and the thrill of overtaking other runners!) got the better of me. I instead just ran as fast as I could comfortably could and only experienced major issues in Jr last 4km when my legs wanted to give up.

Post-race
- Don't make the mistake I did and ignore the foam rolling sessions near the finish line. I wish I'd done that straight after the race rather than several hours later (after a Lebanese meal and a pint!)
- Take it slowly. It is a bloody mission to walk after a race (that's my experience anyway) so make sure your schedule a few days post-race is relatively empty.
- Take a long bath when you get home. I bought some Radox muscle therapy bubble bath but my massage therapist said it doesn't actually help your muscles, its mostly to mimic a relaxing bath with the scent and bubbles.  Instead, get your hands on some epsom bath salts (Magnesium Sulphate).

Run in Style

 


+ If I Won The Lottery...

My boyfriend and I joked a while ago about what we'd do if we won the lottery. When I started to actually think about it, it took me a while for my imagination to run riot!

I've just finished paying off my student loan (yay!) and so will be getting a bit of extra moulah in my bank account and my initial thought was an extra designer bag but I bagged one in Nordstrom San Francisco when I was with some persuasive colleagues :) So, minus the designer bags, here's what I'd want to do if money was so no object:

- Plan my own festival just for friends and friends of friends, booking a varied and eclectic mix of artists like Arctic Monkeys, Björk, Queens of the Stone Age, Beyoncé as well as a few DJs for good measure. This festival would likely be held in the height of summer in an odd location, maybe in a secluded part of Sweden or Norway, where we could watch the northern lights after hours of dancing and pure happiness.

- I'd acquire an extensive portfolio of international properties. Each home would offer unlimited access (within reason) to my friends and family. Potential locations would be:

  •  a loft apartment nestled in Valencia
  • Townhouse in NYC, with a walk-in closet a la Carrie's in the SATC films.
  • Beach house in quite frankly any Caribbean island
  • A posh chalet-style house in the Alps
  • This dream treehouse in Australia

- I know I said no designer handbags, but I'd really want to acquire the entire contents of Rosie Huntington-Whitely's and Miranda Kerr's closets.

- Lifetime supply of crème de la mer. Not because I think it's any more special than a Nivea tub, but it makes me feel super sophisticated and adds a touch of luxury to your daily routine.

-While I live in a beautiful maisonette in North London, I'd consider moving to a three-storey house in Hampstead. The main thing is that it HAS to have won awards for the architecture and come filled with mod-cons while retaining tradition. It would HAVE to have a wine cellar like the picture at the top too!

- Auto-reserved seats in the West End: I would sign up to some kind of service that auto-secures me two tickets for me and my man to watch all the noteworthy shows in the  West End. Fuck it, add Broadway to that too! I am so bad at planning and having the equivalent of a 'royal box' would bloody rock.

- Hostess with the mostest: I would schedule a monthly knees-up at any one of my properties and serve a spread that Martha Stewart would be proud of. Obvs I wouldn't actually prepare any of this myself as I'd have a live-in chef or two. At the do, we'd all gather round either the swimming pool or fireplace depending on the climate and lose ourselves in a good old natter. If we have to stay in, we'd spend it in my cinema room or perhaps playing some board games. Even better, for my girlfriends I'd book beauticians to come over and tend to us while we sip champagne.

- Learn to dive I would spend a month in Ko Tao or Bali to get my PADI course. Once that's complete, I'd cruise the world viewing the most coveted dive spots.

-Become best buddies with Charlotte Tilbury or any other celebrity make-up artist and have them at my side, EVERY DAY. 

There's also this fab Reddit page, If I Won the Lottery which includes posts like 'hot tub under a waterfall', 'secret rooms' and getting someone to wash your hair salon-style every day!


+ 5 Susan Sontag Quotes

It's been a few months since I finished reading As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, a collection of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks from 1964 to 1980. I think I'm getting withdrawal symptoms from her unique perspective on life, and this, combined with the fact that it was her birthday two days ago compelled me to compile some of my favourite quotes of hers!


What I really wanted was every kind of life, and the writer’s life seemed the most inclusive
The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own

 A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world

Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead

Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future

Today has been a bit of a lazy day for me as I'm on a business trip and am holed up in a hotel in a pretty boring area, and so I've spent most of the day browsing blogs, celebrity gossip and watching Netflix.

Just doing the research to pull these quotes together felt good - it is so rare in my downtime that I read content that truly makes me think and reflect... Going forwards I want to spend more time soaking up good ideas, and less time reading hair tutorials and browsing fashion blogger photos via Bloglovin :)


+ 30 Books to Read Before 30

So last month I turned 28. Yep, in the grand scheme of things I'm still a spring chicken, but edging ever closer to the big Three-O has made me more conscious of all the things I could/should try to do in my twenties.

I'll be compiling '30 before 30' posts on various topics as I edge ever close to entering my fourth decade on earth! First up is a list of books to read before 30:

What I Know Now: Letters to my Younger SelfWomen from all walks of life write a letter to their younger selves. Some lovely advice such as the following:

“Notice some of the beauty around you.Partake in joy. And when you get the choice to watch on the sidelines or to dance, get out there and dance" - Lee Ann Womack
Leaves of Grass - Walt WhitmanI've only read Song of Myself so far, but love the following passage:

"My sun has his sun and round him obediently wheels /
He joins with his partners a group of superior circuit /
And greater sets follow, making specks of the greatest inside them."
The Second Sex - Simone de BeauvoirThis is a REALLY dense book and I will be surprised if I finish the first chapter before I hit 30! I know that this is a rite of passage and I'll definitely commit to finishing this one day.
Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace
Currently reading this. I firmly believe this should be on everyone's reading list regardless of age, and if you don't believe me here's some reasons on why we should!
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - Raymond CarverI read this for a module at university, and it affected me more than nearly all the other books during my English Literature course. It's so raw, honest about relationships and for that reason everyone should read this in their twenties
Adulting - Kelly Williams Brown
Not read this yet but I'm a massive fan of Kelly's blog, for posts such as this.
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood's novels are compulsory reading for women (and men), not least because of their tendency to deal with harrowing, thought-provoking subject matters in such a way that anyone can read them.
The Bell Jar - Sylvia PlathFor me, this was a boring but must-read novel. Boring in the sense that the protagonist seemed to have nothing to live for. But again, that's why you should read it. The metaphor in the title, of being suffocated/trapped by depression is haunting and needs to be observed to have a greater understanding of humanity.
As Conscious Is Harnessed to Flesh - Susan SontagI love her free-flowing, personal phrase in this collection of intimate thoughts.
Nights at the Circus - Angela CarterTruly memorable, one-of-a-kind novel. Angela Carter's work is deeply original and I'd also recommend The Passion of New Eve for another wildely insane, memorable read!
The Mark on The Wall & Other Fiction- Virginia Woolf"Still, there’s no harm in putting a full stop to one’s disagreeable thoughts by looking at a mark on the wall.”
Wild - Cheryl StrayedI really enjoyed following Cheryl's fucked-up but cathartic journey into the desert.
Middlemarch - George Eliot“...it is in these acts called trivialities that the seeds of joy are forever wasted until men and women look round with haggard faces at the devastation their own waste has made and say the earth bears no harvest of sweetness—calling their denial knowledge."
Under My Skin - Doris LessingTo Read
Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas HardyI read this when I was a teenager and I still remember it clearly. “Tis because we be on a blighted star, and not a sound one, isn't it Tess?”"
Lady Chatterley’s Lover - DH Lawrence“A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it.” Anything by DH Lawrence is a must-read in my book. I love his ability to describe human emotion with such beautiful prose.
Letters of Note - edited by Shaun UsherMy favourite letters include the NASA scientist writing to the nun, and John Steinback giving advice to his son about love; "And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away."
Freedom - Jonathan Franzen"But nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special.”"
Burial Rites - Hannah KentSemi-historical novel depicting the unjust treatment of a young women in Iceland.
Diving into the Wreck - Adrienne RichAdrienne Rich is a hugely important poet whose poetry and essays raised questions about feminism, sexuality and modern-day life.
Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie“If you don't understand, ask questions. If you're uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It's easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here's to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”
Sons and Lovers - DH Lawrence“Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out, beyond stars and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spiraling round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in a darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted. So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core of nothingness, and yet not nothing.”
The Awakening - Kate ChopinTo Read
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki MurakamiI love this book because it's wholly unlike anything I've ever read. It's on this list for precisely that reason.
Song of Solomon - Toni MorrisonWhether it's Song of Solomon, the Bluest Eye or Beloved, Toni Morrison is essential reading.
Delta of Venus - Anaïs NinTo Read
Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth GilbertStill haven't managed to finish this book, but I think it's a necessary read not least because it deals with the discontentment of a woman who "has it all".
Ghana Must Go - Taiye SelasiAlmost poetic debut novel from Taiye Selasi. Cannot wait to read more from her
Revolutionary Road - Richard YatesA thought-provoking read centring on the mundanity of domesticity. “Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstances might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.”