What would Maya Angelou do? Her best quotes

The great, late Maya Angelou was pretty damn perceptive (understatement). I quoted her in this piece about personal heartbreak, but there are a lot of incredible phrases from her floating about in light of her death at the end of May, and I wanted to honour them, too.

I’ve been reading her I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and although it’s a bloody shame that she had to die before I really discovered her wisdom, I guess it’s better late than never.

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite, most meaningful quotes from her, taken from this piece on the Guardian.

  • You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
  • It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.
  • I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.
  • We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
  • Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
  • I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights (I think this is true, but I also include “missed flights/trains” into the lost luggage bit, and “tangled headphones” into the last one).

And the last, most galvanising of all:

  • Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.

 

“Less bullshit, more awesome”: In homage to A Life Less Bullshit

A Life Less Bullshit. The dream...

A Life Less Bullshit. The dream…

Just a quick homage to the inspirational powerhouse that is Nicole Antoinette, over at the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin blog A Life Less Bullshit. One of my all-time favourite blogs ever (thanks to one of my other all-time favourites, Superlatively Rude, who told me about it), it basically provides you with periodic pep-talks about going out, getting off your butt, and putting the work in (however small or weak or rubbish you think the first step) to get what you want for your own life.

Its writer, Nicole Antoinette, doesn’t do things half-arsed. Not only has she become a runner from scratch – when once, by her own admission, she much preferred sitting on the sofa eating cookies – but she is planning to RUN ACROSS AMERICA. Seriously. It’s like, what the ACTUAL hell? If she can do that then I can probably manage a jog around the park, or whatever else I want to do.

Yeah, sometimes it feels easier said than done, but generally, her message is – just get out there and do it, and you’ll feel a whole lot better than if you sat there just thinking of excuses why you can’t do it.

As that other inspirational wonder, Jillian Michaels, says in the endless fitness DVDs I do of hers: JUST SHOW UP. Get out there with your trainers on, put on that sports bra, sit down at your writing desk – wherever you need to go – and just show up.

Looking through some of Life Less Bullshit’s tweets, I saw that she had had a canvas bag made with the motto “less bullshit, more awesome”. Well, I WANT ONE. Not sure how to get one (cheeky tweet about it, perhaps!) but wow. And also because you can never have enough canvas bags. RIGHT? Right :)

Want…

A letter to heartbreak – Maya Angelou, the light and the dark

maya-angelou

I miss all my boyfriends. You’re not supposed to say that. But it’s true.

Despite all my best efforts to have as few as possible, I’ve had three serious ones in my life – ones who I could have seen myself marrying, if the time had been right.

For someone with such a terrible memory, I remember quite a bloody lot about all of them – almost as much as the one from seven years ago as the one from this year. And I miss a lot, too.

How warm I felt when driving around that one’s uncle’s New Zealand dairy farm, and the soaring elation of standing on top of one of the huge hills, with a view in all directions. How the other one’s neck smelled when you leaned in to kiss it. The bone-crushing panic of realising you weren’t going to see that one again for six months (New Zealand again). The overwhelming joy when that one told you they loved you, too.

How his just-opened eyes collected with sleep after a long, warm night next to you. How the skin on his knuckles felt when you brushed your thumb across them, or how that one used to like to hold hands with one little finger tucked inside your palm.

How you admired their ambition, how their hips looked when they walked, how the texture of his cardigan felt on your back, how the weave of that one’s jumper lay across his chest just so.

The weird phrases they used to say, the slang they used that no-one else did. The way he moved his hand when trying to make a point; the incredible, moving-mountains-type smile he used to crack at you when you made a joke.

The nicknames they gave you, the way they encouraged you in your plans, the way they used to breathe, how they used to listen. The things they liked you to do when no-one else was there, the slightly embarrassed look they gave you when you touched their face in public.

The feel of their hips against yours when they gave you a hug; the shy look they gave you as you walked down the train platform to meet them, the way they could really get into a debate without getting angry. The passion you shared for that song; the pain you felt for them when they were tired, or frustrated, or sad. How they took their coffee, the amazing things they could cook with eggs.

The ridiculous beauty of their stupid guitar playing, and the way their hair felt in your hand, and fell over their face. The way they drove the car, their reliability in texting you back, how they humoured your indecision over what to order in restaurants, how their eyes used to roll when you faffed around getting ready.

How full of hope and joy and yes, sometimes fear (because you knew it could all end without warning), you felt when looking at them. How lucky you felt.

The poisonous, metallic feeling at the bottom of your chest when you realise they’re gone and not coming back. Different every time. Startlingly familiar nonetheless.

And while the pain lessens, it never goes away. You never quite forget. The injuries simply multiply, softly, and without warning. Even telling yourself not to get too attached doesn’t quite work. They seep into your psyche like water into cracks in the road.

It’s like that incredible Maya Angelou phrase: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Even if I’ve forgotten more than I realise – the feelings, I will never forget.

You’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to move on each time; nuke the memories of the last one with excitement from the next. You’re supposed to get stronger – although why getting your heart smashed in over and over would make you stronger, I’m not entirely sure.

And yet. You can’t just carry on getting hurt over and over. You can’t just keep on letting the injuries of years past build and build until there are only holes where the fabric of your heart used to be.

Instead, it might help to try and collect the tatters and the patches, seeing them with compassion, for what they are, what they represent. All those different people. Those experiences. That love, that trust, that hope. The silence – literal and not ‒ after they leave.

The key is to not become cynical, and close your heart to everything, forever and ever. (I might do that temporarily, though. This isn’t a sodding self-harm manual.)

Because, well, I hate cynics. They suck the joy out of what is already difficult enough. The temptation is to be cynical. But the truly strong thing is to carry on sitting, walking, standing up, breathing, moving, laughing – and the hardest thing, trusting ‒ when all you want to do is give up; end it all.

The hardest thing about heartbreak or grief isn’t to get up after it just happened. It’s to keep on getting up, the day after that, and the week after that, and the month after that. And the bloody year.

A wise friend of mine recently said, heartache and grief feel like you’re carrying a heavy jar where your chest used to be. That jar was full of all the things you loved about that person (those people?) – but heartache makes it empty. No matter what you do, where you are, who you see, that jar feels empty. A hidden vessel, just beneath your ribs.

But slowly, surely, the jar starts to be refilled. I like to think of it like sand – coloured, beautiful, light-reflecting sand. With time, patience, compassion, and maybe a bit more time, random experiences tip a little more bright, silky sand into that previously-empty space.

Before you realise it, the jar isn’t quite so empty, and the sand and shells and glitter that used to make you you, start to come back. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway.

And I know for sure that you need light to make things shine.

Yes, the memories of past boyfriends are always there, dark shadows threatening to cloud your worst days and most difficult moments. Without warning, a memory will come back, threatening to cut off your breathing, a thousand times a day. On terrible days, the thoughts will cycle, over and over. But you keep breathing. You have to.

Because maybe, if the heart is a sheet slowly ripped through with holes, it makes sense to remember that without the holes, no light gets in.

I, magazine geek: Why I love magazines, Psychologies, and the “changing of the month” in WHSmith

The kind of thing you get on Google if you type in “print is dead”. SIGH.

Everyone says print is dead. I, for one, seem to bear out that theory, spending nearly all my waking hours online, connected.

Like a lot of my peers, I consume media online, 99% of it for free (The Times subscription excepted), and I get mildly peeved when magazines have rubbish websites or news agencies expect me to get my credit card out just to read a piddly 200 words of copy.

Yes, I am part of the “print is dying” problem. And, as a journalist, surely I should know better. After all, I want to be paid for my work (and I consider myself fairly lucky in this day and age that generally, I am paid for it. FINALLY).

But I also want media to be easy to consume, to be Google-able, share-able, bookmark-able. Not only so that I can procrastinate by reading it when I probably shouldn’t, but also so that I can keep better track of the best articles when I want to. Online often means free. Online means easy-to-use and find, with access from various platforms (laptop, phone, tablet).

That’s the theory, anyway.

So why is my life still punctuated by the thrill of seeing new magazines on the newsstand? Why do I still care about layout, sub-editing, and the feel of paper?

WHSmith – my spiritual newsagent home

As a little kid living in France, I used to get excited when I saw the package my grandmother used to send from England ‒ the Beano for my brother, Mizz magazine or Bliss for me.

That thick, paper package heralded the moving forward of the months, a new selection of pages to rifle, a new book of brightly-coloured missives from a community of girls who were, against all probability, like me.

I still feel that way now, even though new technology means that I would never have to wait for such content ever again. Technically, it’s all at my fingertips. So why do I still care so passionately about the first few days of the month – when all the magazines change?

I wanted to work in magazines from a pretty young age, when I realised that I was quite good at spelling and writing, and when I realised that writing for magazines means that in theory, you get to talk to loads of interesting people about their interesting lives (hopefully making up, I thought, for the fact that I never knew what I personally wanted to focus on). It all started with those new magazines, posted through our door every month.

Psychologies_jennifer lawrenceNow, after dalliances with Glamour, Marie Claire, the now-defunct Easy Living and a few affairs with Red, my favourite magazine is Psychologies.

Largely aimed at older women than me, it is nevertheless bang up my street, focusing on mental health, ways to happiness, how to manage depression and anxiety, and how to “let go” of what diminishes and reduces your life. It isn’t obsessed with celebrities, fashion, “aspirational” materialist bullshit, unhealthy diets, and other things that really get my goat about modern women’s magazines.

I am lucky enough to have met the editor, and know a couple of people who write for it. I am always humbled by its content and find it to be that “real magazine thing” – something with which you want to sit down, with a biscuit and a coffee, and get stuck into.

There are no open-mouthed, dead-eyed, under-nourished models in ridiculous outfits here. The relatively-small beauty section focuses on how to maintain your skin/hair/nails health rather than fashion, and the only column on clothes generally talks about the psychological links between dressing and your personality.

It does have celebrity interviews but asks them about their thoughts and feelings, rather than the sensationalist elements of their love life, or how great their cleavage looks in a dress. Features are about the benefits of getting a dog (I recently met the amazing woman who wrote that piece – more on that another day), how to feel happy, the benefits of therapy, how to let go, how to feel calm, how to be confident, how not to hold a grudge.

Its adverts are about health supplements, wellbeing holidays, useful beauty products and slow-food breaks.

For the past five years or so, my ultimate dream has been to launch a magazine just like it, but for women my age. (Despite the fact that by the time I theoretically get to that point, I’ll probably be the right age for the current offering anyway. Such is life.)

Of course, Psychologies has a website, which has recently been relaunched, but it’s not at all like reading the magazine. Good or bad, it still operates on a fairly traditional set-up, in that the website is just an addition to the mag, rather than the main platform, and the magazine the slowly-dying counterpart. I for one, hope that never happens.

Because, despite my online addiction, I love buying the physical magazine. That “change over” time in the shops is still magical for me.

Right now, it’s near the beginning of the month, and I know that one lunchtime soon, I’ll wander through the crowds of the station near my work to the newsagent’s, and spend a happy half an hour poring over all the new issues – considering the thinking behind that cover star, wondering what they’ve got inside this month, sneakily reading the best pieces in the magazines I probably won’t buy (BAD JOURNALIST).

I’ll consider a new purchase, if one particularly catches my eye – such as this month’s Red, or the latest interview in Glamour, which is still a bit of a nostalgic, guilty pleasure. I’ll marvel at the Women’s Fitness issue, or the Yoga World import from the US, and consider the merits of Vogue and wonder why people love it so much.

I’ll look at the newer titles, and hope that they survive, and mentally applaud the people brave enough to launch new paper magazines in this day and age. I’ll rejoice at new ones, and lament the holes that I still see despite their being long gone – the recently-closed Zest (which I used to buy), and the now-online-only Easy Living. I’ll have a triumphant peek at the magazine I work for, have a quick leaf through our main competitor, and still feel a little bit surreal about the fact that these days, I write for, and know people who write for, titles that sit on these very shelves.

I’ll look at the foreign titles in the languages I speak – French and Spanish and smattering of Italian – and wonder if I should buy them to improve my skills. I’ll feel simultaneously happy at the massive selection, and overwhelmed by the choice, and the number of titles I could potentially write for if I was a better, more persistent, more creative, better-at-pitching journalist, with 48 hours in the day.

But I always keep Psychologies until last, appreciating its use of cover stars who aren’t half-naked or dressed in some Dolce & Gabbana contraption, and wondering at its near-perfect ability to align its headlines and focus to what’s going on in my own life. If the best magazines know their readers the best, then Psychologies is up there with the greats.

My love for the magazine has become a bit of a running joke among my friends, who tease me about its supposedly-“boring” focus, it’s middle-aged-woman audience and its earnestness.

I laugh with them because I can totally see what they mean – it’s not as glamorous as the magazines peppered with A-listers and glossy handbags. But when all is said and done, it’s in that magazine that I find my people. My motivation. My feeling that I’m not alone.

It’s that magazine that spurs me on to believe that magazines are not dead. That print still has purpose.

Despite being addicted to the Internet, I still don’t subscribe to Psychologies – despite buying every single copy for the past 4 or 5 years – because I still savour that feeling of going into the newsagents, seeing it on the shelf, and buying a physical copy of it.

It is quite literally an extension of that package my grandma used to send, except now I have my own freedom and money to go out and buy it myself. That means a lot.

Somehow, downloading it on to my phone or tablet, or even getting it through the door, just isn’t the same. That lunchtime trip to WHSmith is like a little escape to my own world, where, despite still being surrounded by people, I remember why I loved magazines in the first place, and how there are people out there, writing, speaking, organising events, on things that I love and that matter to me.

It’s a strange thing that in today’s hyper-connected, “free” world, I still feel the need to pay nearly £4 per month for a collection of dead tree leaves. But there it is.

Print might be dying in many areas and forms, but as long as people like me still relish that physical, expensive copy of their favourite magazine, I harbour a small hope that they will continue to survive.

Not least for the security of my own job – which is, as a trade magazine, still largely focused on the print side of things despite the constantly-updated website and digital issue ‒ but also for my own entertainment and love of intelligent, consumer magazine communities like Psychologies.

Yes, magazines are expensive, take up loads of space, aren’t email-able, and are non-interactive. But they are still small packages of sense – missives of solid, tangible conversations.

And although I can’t bookmark their pages or save them to Instapaper (a site that allows you to “pin” online pages to look at later), every now and again, I find a quiet afternoon to go through my old copies (which are invariably taking up too much space in my bedroom) and clip out my favourite pieces, and stick them in a scrapbook.

It’s a nostalgic, old-fashioned process, reminiscent of school fun with Pritt Stick, and entirely non-computer based. It’s like being a kid again – like those Grandma-sent packages.

Good magazines are like tangible anchors in a frenetic, drifting, ever-more digital world.

I’m not a technophobe: I love the Internet for its many advantages and its ability to open doors to worlds and people you would otherwise never see or meet.

But, against all odds, I also love the “changing of the month” in WHSmith.

Long may it exist.

What would Dolly Parton do? The best 5 quotes inspired by Glastonbury 2014

DOLLYFabulously-positive, unashamedly “larger than life” and glorious singer Dolly Parton just performed to a packed-out Pyramid Stage at this year’s Glastonbury. Watching her on stage (on iPlayer, I wasn’t actually there), not giving a crap about what anyone might have to say about her, she just reminded me of how much I love country music (yep, I’m just that cool) and how positive and inspirational I find Parton’s whole attitude, not least her music. Yes, really!

Just for starters, beyond being ridiculously catchy, her song “9-5″ is an anthem for everyone everywhere who has wondered whether sitting in an office all day might perhaps NOT be the pinnacle of personal happiness. Her “Better Get to Living” song came out when I was doing some exams at uni, and I played it to stay positive and motivated. “Jolene” is a heartfelt warning from anyone who’s ever felt remotely diminished by the supposed threat of a more beautiful, apparently “better” woman.

Also, Dolly gives seriously good quote. And we all know I love a good one. So, I did a quick Google and decided that these five were the best. Enjoy :)

[Image credits: "You'll never do..." ; "My weaknesses" ; "Figure out who..." ; "If you want a rainbow..." ; "We cannot direct..." ]

Welcome to the inspirational bullshit club!

This week, the relatively-new young women’s website The Debrief published an article called “The Facebook Statuses That Are Giving You Emotional Contagion – Hit Unfollow Now”, by Stevie Martin (@5tevieM).

It struck a chord. Because I am the sixth status they highlighted. I am the “mate who posts OTT inspirational bullshit”. Yes.

And even though they (very nicely) put this bit under the “People you should never unfollow” section, I still sensed a hint of irritation (the words “OTT” and “bullshit” were a dead giveaway). Allow me to explain.

TheDebrief-bullshitLess than two months ago, my boyfriend broke up with me (that’s not it, bear with me).

Even writing that seems foolhardy; like some fatal admission of weakness. Surely, as a young, free, single woman I shouldn’t even acknowledge it – “he broke up with me”. I should write, “We broke up”, or “It just ran its course”, or “Meh, whatever, more fish in the sea, no biggie”.

Sometimes it feels like when your relationship breaks down, you’re expected to cry for a bit and then just go, “Too bad, his loss, move on”. I should be channelling Beyoncé, says the received feminist wisdom, thinking that if some guy I believed in and loved proves himself not to be worth my belief or love, then what else is there to do but pack up and move the fuck on? “Next”, as more than one of my friends has said, not unreasonably.

And yes, to some extent, that is how it feels, and there is a world of truth in it. Some days, I’m like, “Erm, [ex-boyfriend’s name] who?”

But actually, some days it’s more difficult. Because when all is said and done, the split was one-sided. So there we go.

Even after the initial shock of that person no longer being there (and worse, actively choosing to no longer be there), there’s still a lot of pieces to pick up, thoughts to banish or nurture, memories to temporarily block out, parts of your personality to box up that are no longer as needed or as relevant when you’re single, such as being more patient and understanding, or less selfish, or really good at that thing you did in bed (What? It’s true).

And sometimes, motivational slogans are the ONLY thing that gets me through. Same for song lyrics, or snippets of books. They’re the only thing running through my head reminding me to GET SOME PERSPECTIVE, or cheer the fuck up, or remember that life is good and love is out there and that I’m not alone.

And if that’s not your bag, then fine. If you have other ways to cheer yourself up, or prefer to chug through life in a miasma of cynicism and practicality because that’s what works for you, then go ahead. Honestly, I admire it. But it doesn’t work for me.

Despite my belief in rationality, calmness, lack of drama, realism, honesty and completely straight-talking (to the point where I’ve got into trouble) I ultimately can’t deal with too much reality in my own head. And I am not the type to escape into drugs or alcohol to get away from it (beyond a couple of G&Ts and Dairy Milks, anyway).

When you’re single after having not been, the reality is always there, knocking.

Reminding you of your shortcomings and things that aren’t going so right, that you could always sort of mask when you were with someone else, or that were compensated for because you had someone else to focus on.

Sometimes it’s as simple as wishing you could talk to them about whatever just happened, but you can’t. Sometimes it’s that profound feeling of loneliness that hits you, cold in the chest, for no real reason as soon as you step into a hot, packed train. Sometimes it’s the once-joyful memories that used to be shared, that pop uninvited into your head, and are now just evidence of the different paths you were travelling on all along, or that creeping feeling that you’re going to be alone for ever.

Or that raging anger at the fact that some people seemingly find a partner without too much hassle, while the rest of us keep getting our hearts smashed, as if we ACTUALLY LIKE being dysfunctional and heart-broken. You know, for giggles.

I can’t cope with all that shit alone (or other on-going crap, such as my parents’ not-always-great health, the state of my bank account, what the economy might do to my job prospects, whether I’ll ever afford my own place, or hell, even my middle-class guilt at caring about all that).

It makes me feel desperate, panicked and sad. I need my slogans, if you want to call them that. I need my collective wisdom in pithy, memorable sentences to remind me that others have felt similarly and survived (without going to bed for a month). I need the knowledge of crowds and the kind words of strangers.

I was all over this kind of inspirational shit when I started exercising. And I’m all over some other sorts right now.

And sometimes, I see things that are so helpful, and that feel so relevant to life in general, that I post them on Facebook and *gasp* SOMETIMES, on Twitter.

The bad ones are awful, and I hope I have the serenity to never post one.

The good ones help give me hope and power and thirst for life. And for that, I am grateful. And if I post one that pisses you off, then I’m sorry.

So yes, I am that “OTT inspirational bullshit” person. For anyone who hates this, you can just hide my posts or unfollow me. For anyone whose day might be just momentarily improved, once, or a few times after, then great.

Anyway, The Debrief said that you should never unfollow people like me, because, I quote: “it’ll be 4am, you’ll have had your heart broken and be scrolling through your newsfeed desperately trying to avoid clicking on your ex’s profile when suddenly you’ll see ‘8 reasons you should let go and move on’ as shared by your mate who posts OTT inspirational bullshit. And it won’t feel like bullshit.”

They finish: “Nobody ever got hurt by a little uplifting bullshit, OK?”

AMEN TO THAT, OK? Welcome to the inspirational bullshit club. :)

Adventures in “adulthood”: The joy of toast

Mmmmm...

Mmmmm…

I write about food and restaurants pretty much all day. Through my (often admittedly pretty jammy) job, I sometimes get to eat some of the best restaurant cuisine in the UK, from the hands of some of the best and most-lauded chefs.

I watch TV programmes about cooking and restaurants until I can predict what the judges are going to say before they say it. I have strong opinions on the recent, lacklustre series of The Taste, and have cooking books and recipes lining my shelves and bedroom floor.

And yet. When I come home – late of an evening, damp, tired, with nothing planned for dinner and no-one to answer to – there is little better in the world than some hot, buttered toast. There are, however, pitfalls even here. ESPECIALLY when you’re using the last of the loaf. BE WARNED, twenty-somethings with nothing in the fridge. BE WARNED.

Through extensive yet not-strictly-scientific testing I have come to the following conclusions:

TOASTER-SETTINGs