These are the words that I have chosen to define my twenties. Not because I spent them naked. Or because the decade was defined by how I look, but because I seemed to do alright when really I was over the top incredible.
That said, the phrase has been expressed more than once (if with variations in vocabulary) and other girls boyfriends have nodded sagely, their eyes glazing over with brief remembrance, before coming to their senses. They’ve never actually had the sense to date me for more than a couple of months, but that had nothing to do with me. Probably. Hopefully.
Anyway, there’s more to life than love, and there’s been plenty to love. Three careers in, I started a company in a foreign country with no money and while it’s mostly felt like a Prometheus and the rock sort of experience looking back I’ve done quite a lot that I’m really rather proud of. Happy clients, rent paid, and a few astonishingly supportive friends. My threshold for thriving possibly needs to be reassessed.
While still secretly baffled at what winning at life would actually look like, I’ve decided to give the woman I’ve been a break for not exceeding every expectation on the grounds of having chased every dream, and more than a few whims. Not to say that they were all met with rampant success, but, especially in that case, I did it anyway and I can forgive myself a host of other mistakes on that alone.
I’ve tokened myself the queen of trying, and the failure analytics are irrelevant when there is some success to focus on and an almost entirely empty slate of regrets.
As with every new year, I will look to take the good into the next decade with me, and leave the mistakes behind. My clothes will have to do their best to keep up.
Yes, of course, happiness, like beauty, is all about the eye of the beholder and perception is objective, and blah blah blah. Tailor your expectations accordingly and the world is your oyster, or possibly some other less slimy delicacy.
Not going to be blowing the lid off of that one today. Instead we are going to take a minute to discuss the happiness of your relatives. More importantly, how fickle and unimportant it is. Maybe don’t read this aloud at Thanksgiving.
Some of us have always been the type to try and make everyone around them happy. Some of us have been the type to make themselves happy and wait for everyone else to fall in line. With any luck both of these people grow up to realize that the people around you matter and should be treated with consideration, but no more or less than yourself. And now humanity is universally self-actualized. Or not.
Assuming a slim majority of us claw our way somewhere into the median spectrum, our work is not yet done. Even when we’ve determined how things should go the people closest to us always seem to present an exception. They aren’t ‘just anyone’. They deserve more time. Or you deserve more of theirs. Or they will forgive you because they have to. (This is not universally bad, and when your mother asks you for help, you do it.) When this throws the happiness scale out of balance its a problem, and its no way to treat people you care about.
Despite how tempting it can be to indulge our desires to control the feelings of loved ones we cannot take responsibility of anyone else’s happiness. That’s their job. We can try not to hurt them. We can empathize when someone else does. But sacrificing your own for theirs is only for married people. And sometimes your children (though their teachers would appreciate it if you told them no sometimes, just for the fun of it).
The pleasant shiny person you’re going to be when your happiness matters as much as everyone else’s will make them happier anyway. Maybe not right away. They’ll have got used to you being their emotional on call chef. But eventually, if they care about you too and see you truly happy, they will be happy too. And then you can skip and frolic and stuff.
I’ve developed something of a lip product addiction, which does not on the surface seem to have much to do with cardigans. But it does. I think about which lip gloss to put in my handbag more than what shirt to wear (an unheard of anomaly) and lust after the clicky packaging on Chanel lipsticks with, admittedly, too much enthusiasm. It’s a bit extreme, a little shallow, and not like me. Or, it wasn’t like me.
The version of me with the laser focused lip preoccupation wears more make-up all the time. She wears dresses and tights more than jeans and jumpers. And only uses tote bags to carry her groceries back from Waitrose. One year ago me had a lot of cardigans. A cardigan for every day of the week, and then some. This had everything to do with being a high school teacher, because adding a cardigan to skinny jeans and metallic flats was my conception of a cute, professional, yet still recognizably feminine, and not completely irrelevant person.
When teaching started to become that thing that will be my job for a while, instead of that thing that I’m doing in between cool and creative writing jobs, a slow creeping terror began to set in. It was subtle and kind of had a poltergeist demon whisper thing going on.
“…this over air-conditioned classroom is the only place you will experience human interaction and it will be with children with the intellectual capacity of grapefruits….”
“…your only creative activity until you retire in 40 years will be to slightly differentiate the same curriculum year after year…and no one will care…”
And other funny things, like
“…you might die here. Wearing a cardigan…”
Hahaha. Not hysterical at all, really. Honestly, eating toddler ravioli cups for lunch was also getting to me. But it was the closet full of cardigans, shoving my over-indulgent dress collection into the dark dusty recesses that most clearly signified the need for change.
Fast forward a year, and I live in the greatest city in the world with amazing friends, hobbies (!), and an unscheduled freedom that gives me time and space to be spontaneous, adventurous, and wear all my dresses. With full awareness that this is a temporary state of being, I’m soaking it up for all it’s worth. Part of me knows that the cardigans are waiting in the aforementioned recesses. And their day may come given the student loan statement I’m currently ignoring. But that day is not today. And there is also a glimmer of hope that another sartorial future awaits. Fingers crossed for lots of hats.
Not out of the toilet, in the toilet. Or the room where the toilet was. Except there are still a couple toilets in there. But there is also a bar. And a piano. All makes sense now, right? No? Well then you are clearly not cool enough to grasp the trendy awesome that is the oh so cleverly titled new dive (haha, that’s funny because it’s underground) Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town, London. The good news is that I am hardly cool enough to leave Zone 1 at all and they still let me in and gave me booze. They waited for me to ask for directions, or an actual bathroom, when I first walked in (blonde ponytails being something of a rarity in this part of town) but let me sit down at my upright piano of a table all the same.
Even though I knew exactly where I was going I still managed to walk right by it. There were a few minutes of exploration of North London at night that we can get into another time. This is very easy to do because it does in fact appear to be a loo- with cement stairs leading to an industrial metal door. Luckily, contrary to all appearances, things did not evolve in a Saw 7 direction, and instead went to a more hipster speak easy place. When you, literally, come through the curtain the bar is small, but not cramped, cosy and charming- not least because of the jolly beardy bartenders. The Ladies’ Old Fashioned is in no way an anti-feminist statement (which you would know just by the generous alcohol content, if you try it) but a complement to the name of the establishment. Their very tasty and most Instagrammable cocktail is the Rhubarb and Custard. I hate gin, and it has gin, but you can not taste the gin, only sweet dessert-y goodness served in a custard powder tin.
If you are anything like me, your first thought is how many times can one reuse a custard tin as a drinking receptacle before it disintegrates through washing and use? Approximately ten times. Or possibly that never occurred to you and you don’t care. Or, now you are wondering what happens to all the custard powder…
The music is not so loud that you can’t catch up with friends without screaming, and not so quiet that you can hear everyone else’s friends (and they can hear you forgetting the chorus to the oldies cover that just came on). All in all it made for an excellent mid-week night out that I intend to repeat.
In this case I am not referring to dreams when you are asleep dreams (though obviously those can also be nightmares; like the one I had yesterday where all the hardware disappeared from my handbag and my laptop crumbled in my hands…*shudder*) Anyway. I’m talking about the other kind of dream. The “Dream big!” kind. The “Dream come true!” kind. The kind that has the thing(s) you really, really want in this slice of existence.
Depending on personal philosophy, parenting, mental imbalances, and available cash we all have different perceptions of how possible acquiring or fulfilling our dreams will be, and deciding what our dreams are. Sometimes our dreams choose us, but either way people and circumstances are going to get in your way and every challenge presents the possibility of giving up on the dream, or getting past what’s in your way and getting a little bit closer. This part we’re all familiar with.
But what about when you find out you are finally going to meet your dream and you’re plagued with a month-long panic attack that you are going to completely fuck it up in some way? No one talks about that part. That’s where the wands come in during Disney movies. And upbeat music montages are edited in during all other movies. No one shares the step between trying your hardest and singing on the mountain top, where you hyperventilate, and eat chocolate with every breath, and you develop a twitch trying to suppress crazy eyes every time someone asks if “you’re excited??” (It is also possible I have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, but lets ignore that for the time being).
To be clear, I am not saying “be careful what you wish for” because I do not believe that dreaming is the time to be careful. I believe the opposite in fact. Dream as if there are no consequences whatsoever. But this phase, the post-struggle-pre-having stage is the time for care and planning and details. Evidently it is also the time for alcohol. Or whatever form of relaxation and heart rate reduction you prefer. Because the reality of something that has only ever manifested in your imagination is overwhelming and feeling all the feels associated with its fruition is part of the experience. I wouldn’t give up these moments of helpless emotional and physical gasping (even if I will self medicate them) because it just goes to show how monumentously great it is to wrap your hands around the object of your obsession/affection/heart’s desire.
If it isn’t an overwhelmingly great thing to have, is it worth wanting in the first place? I’m calling it a win. I’m also calling my mother. If you haven’t let anything get between you and what you want, don’t let fear be the thing that does.
While it’s surprising to everyone else when I go to intimate rock concerts by myself I couldn’t be more fine with it. I might go so far as to say it’s actually my thing. I haven’t been to a concert with another person since Jingle Ball 2004 with my dad (Jennifer Love Hewitt and Mariah Carey killed it). The truth is I do a whole lot of things on my own and tend to enjoy them more when I do.
I generally make friends with the bouncers and have a nice, cute and vulnerable vibe that has, more than once, resulted in a personal visit from band members (“Why yes, I’m fine, just don’t want to get caught up in the crowd” blink, blink “Yes I would like to hear your unreleased song in the green room”) Things didn’t go quite that swimmingly this evening, because of very silly responsible concerns like getting home safely, but I was compensated with a spontaneous Christmas jazz performance on the Northern Line. See previous post for further eruptions of Christmas spirit of this sort in London.
Unlike every other concert I’ve been to in my life this one was eighty percent grown men singing along like tweens to Taylor Swift which lended a unique and cool dynamic. And every one was extremely polite. No pushing, no yelling (except that which was encouraged by the band) and not one drink spilled by an unruly passerby. Oh, British people.
Everything about the concert was improved by the headliners, The Xcerts, being Scottish. They were also super engaged and grateful and happy to be there, which makes such a big difference. Taking the intimate show vibe one step further, the lead singer switched to an acoustic guitar and sang along with the audience with no mic. The adults shushed each other and we all had a little campfire moment.
Mirrored pillars in the venue lent some sexy mystery as you could covertly watch large beardy men singing along and bopping. Decently priced beer rounded things out nicely, but the highlight of the show was when, realizing everyone knew the words, the band said, “You sing, and I’ll be Tom Petty.” And we did.
Needless to say, I will be going to more concerts while I continue to live in a city. Maybe I’ll even let someone come with me.
Much like all other things in life, the English are much better at Christmas than Americans. Probably due in large part to the fact that there is very little public religious association, and a significant emphasis on spirit and festivity. Never has it been so apparent which country the Pilgrims ran from, and which one they ran to.
There are certain areas in particular where this celebratory excellence really shines.
Christmas Jumpers: While Americans thought they were super cool for throwing Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and making fun of over decorated kindergarten teachers from coast to coast, the British have made festive jumpers clever and adorable and mandatory. They go along with the almost daily Christmas parties throughout the month of December (and sometimes November) and the only thing more embarrassing than a hideous one is not wearing one at all. Wooly jumpers are, and always have been a British wardrobe staple, but as soon as reindeer, penguins, and fair isle snowmen jump on you’ve got yourself a cultural must-have. And I must have one. Or two.
Greetings: There is absolutely zero sensitivity about how you choose to spread holiday cheer. Yes, England has its own brand of Protestantism, but London is a cosmopolitan city and honestly no one cares what you do in your own time, so we all acknowledge that decorations and warm spiced wine and chocolate are wonderful. End of.
Advent Calendars: They do have their roots in very Christian tradition, but most people in England probably don’t know that. They’re simply a reason to start opening tiny presents as soon as December begins. There are many chocolate ones, but these days you can get them with Legos, and candles, and makeup, and nuts. Really anything you want to wake up to. Why has America not been doing this?
Twinkle Lights: Fairy lights, Christmas lights, whatever you want to call them, they are flipping everywhere. Every major street in London has light up snowflakes and trees and baubles on the street lights. But the department stores completely take the cake. With the mutual goal of covering every square inch of their five-story city blocks in twinkles they all compete to do it the best (except for Peter Jones, which sticks with the classic stripes) to astonishing effect. And not one bulb is ever out.
No Pesky Thanksgiving: Forget hearing everyone complain about how early the holiday songs are on the radio and having to start shopping the Christmas sales when you’ve barely got the cobwebs down from Halloween. All of that is not only acceptable, but encouraged, in England because there is no silly day of eating (celebrating said Pilgrims’ inability to farm) to get in the way. Though I did have a silly day of eating with a large bunch of British people, who were confused but hungry, and it was fun trying to explain casseroles, sweet potatoes with marshmallow, and pumpkin pie (“Yes, I’m sure that the marshmallows are a side and the pie is the dessert; I mean the pudding”)
I suppose it’s just one more thing to add to the list of reasons why London is the best city in the world and I need to find a way to never leave. As if I needed more.
Now that I am in the very throes of Autumn in London people have started to ask me if I’m homesick at all, if I miss where I came from. My first instinct, of course, is to look at them as if they have suddenly grown another head because we are standing in London when they ask me this. What is there to miss when you’re in the greatest city in the world?
But anytime you do something different and new there are always going to be things about what was old and the same that you do think might be nice to have from time to time. When I actually stopped to think about these things, for me, it really amounts to stuff. I miss the crap that wouldn’t fit in the suitcase. Not enough to fly home and get it. Or to even try to find a reasonable facsimile here, just enough for an “Aw, shucks” moment.
I’m in wild, passionate love with London and have no desire to be anywhere else, but these are the little things I kind of wish were here with me:
1. Mac and Cheese.
2. Driving. Not that I want to drive or park a car here, but the efficiency of tube, bus and feet will never be as much fun as driving.
3. In-N-Out burger and other food that is both delicious and genuinely cheap (damn you currency conversion)
4. Mexican food. Made by Mexican people.
5. My jewelry box, and its contents, but mostly the box.
6. Having a living room. With a TV.
7. My mommy (only sometimes) Umm, I mean, the beach, yeah, the beach is cool.
8. That one dress that I didn’t think I would need but would be totally perfect for this thing and is now uselessly sitting in a box 8,000 miles away.
9. Cake. And pie. And cookies. Brits think they know how to make these, but they are wrong.
10. Target. And really just the concept of going to one store to get all of your essentials. But, exercise is good, too, I hear.
Of course there are things that would make life just a bit more perfect, but that would be true no matter where I am. Also, I may or may not have chosen a few boxes of Mac and Cheese instead of that dress when it came to packing my suitcase, and that’s a decision I may or may not have to live with. And I can bake my own cookies and steal cars if I need to.
While I have clearly been nothing but super involved and fascinating since I touched down on British soil I do occasionally just sit in my comfy bed and kill time on the internet. Because I am a human. But somehow even my downtime found a way to keep life interesting. After a carelessly written, but fortuitous tweet I won a contest for a lovely handbag and tickets to the Best of Britannia expo! So off I went to Farringdon where the Farmiloe Factory Building had been transformed, with market lights, an inflatable awning, and a gin food truck into a multi story pop up department store.
Here British brands and their British goods propped up colorful and charming stands with everything from printed cushions, furniture and motorcycles, to the satisfyingly traditional wool wares, brogues, and fascinators. And then there are some of the only high heels manufactured entirely in the UK, by Yull, which happen to be completely adorable- I’m a little obsessed.
The links are to some of my favorite brands and products that I ran into at the expo, but there are so many more fantastic ones- I didn’t even tell you about all the sock companies! You can browse the comprehensive list by clicking here. If I could only manage to get invited to a hundred more weddings and races then I would basically be best friends with Jess Collett and sleep in her hats.
The day out was made even better by the interruption of a cold and delicious locally brewed beer and the yummiest pulled pork sandwich I’ve had this side of the Atlantic from the very cheeky food truck, Pulled. The beautiful handbag, from Ally Capellino, that started it all, is not in my hands quite yet, but I very eagerly anticipate it. I may or may not have been very cross with an evangelist who came to my door when they were not the mailman with my bag.
Of course I can’t forget all the fun I had with Roohani from Scarlett of Soho, which is essentially London’s answer to Warby Parker. You get to take home and test out four different frames for five days, mail them back and order the ones you like best, with your prescription of course, at a very reasonable price. I liked these so much I almost walked away with them on my face, but they stopped me. And they have sunglasses, too! (I’m trying to find the picture I took – will update this post when I do.)
Special thanks also must go to Uber London, without whose tweet and support of Best of Britannia this whole amazing day never would have happened. Also they are great and pick you up from clubs in Shoreditch when you realize how old you are.
This year’s expo is over, but they do plan to start having them more frequently, and you can shop all the British brands all year round.
*This post is not sponsored by anyone. All my favorites are genuine.
It’s time for all the girls to admit that same of your shoes are not for walking. Maybe guys too? I have no idea. I can’t get a guy to talk about shoes with me. I have gotten some strange looks from my mother, and other people, when I show them some of my favorite pairs of shoes and tell them that they are for sitting. Possibly standing. But not walking. My six inch red leather pumps are gorgeous and sexy and glorious and are intended to get me from house to car, car to venue, where I will then recline fetchingly with my legs crossed to show my super hot shoes off to best advantage.
That said, I now live in a city where walking is my main form of transportation. The red pumps are stashed away because it would have been too heartbreaking to watch them pout on a shelf while I reach for more practical options. Luckily there are some very cute shoes you can actually walk in these days, without someone asking if you’re working out later.
One of my very favorites is the classic flat riding boot.
You can wear them with jeans or skirts and dresses, just add tights. Or, if you are chronically clumsy, and also cold, like me you can also hide a pair of fuzzy knee high socks and ankle braces under there. And squishy insoles. On top of the tights. I’m full of secrets.
Next up, ballet flats!
Not only are they adorable and universally flattering, but they fit in your purse! And no laces or zippers. Drunk girl’s best friend. They are equally cute when you’re sober, so that’s nice, too. And again- toss a pair of foamy insoles in there and there is absolutely no need to suffer for beauty when strolling the outdoor market spanning the never ending street. Perfect back ups to have with you when you think wearing heels all day is just an instance of mind over matter, before finding out its more like fire blisters over toes.
Which brings us to the sandal.
When a flip flop just doesn’t cut it because you need for people to think that you actually wear shoes. But you actually want to show off that you took the time to paint your toes and sit still for longer than you thought was humanly possible. Also a great option for when you do get a blister and it’s literally impossible to wear anything else, but you’re afraid enough of stepping on broken glass and making it worse that you will strap something on.
But sometimes a girl needs a couple inches, so wedges!
In the interest of full disclosure you’re probably not going to get the same distance out of these as something flat, more so if you are me and any incline combined with weak ankles is likely to result in a falling over episode at some point. But a nice wedge is both totally formal acceptable and can make it over a few cobblestones with limited mishaps. If you’re really worried about them not being the same as a nice high heel just make sure you are always facing people and they will feel like royalty as you back out of their presence. (Walking backward may increase your chances of falling over though.)
And for when you have fallen over in the wedges, but are still commited to tallness and think you can hide your ankle brace somehow- shoe boots.
Remember that for these to qualify as walking shoes you do not want supermodels- not too tall and not too thin. Otherwise you might as well just go for the heels. Unless your cold, then high heeled shoe boots could be your thing. But not for walking. No more than 2 1/2 inches on a nice chunky heel, throw those trusty insoles in and you’re practically comfortable.
I tend to stick to a fairly neutral palette for matching purposes. All of these are that little bit easier to walk in when they’re broken in and it’s barely worth it to break in the purple ones. But it is nice to have at least one pair of statement shoes to go with a basic outfit, so leopard flats or any of these with buckles or sparkle embellishments are worth keeping on hand.
Or fuck it and call Uber. Wear whatever shoes you want.