From the inside looking out you can never see how it looks from the outside looking in

This time last week I was deep in the intellectual buffet that is the Hay (formerly known as Literary) Festival in Wales. Spanning just over a week its a proper smorgasbord of talks from incredibly talented authors, with a smattering of politicians, scientists, musicians and other entertainers mixed in for good measure. As a proper book addict who is dangerously close to filling her eighth bookshelf – with no immediately obvious space for a ninth – it was literally my heaven.

Whilst Margaret Atwood discussing her Handmaid’s Tale had to take top spot, I would be hard pressed to choose a clear second between the other events I attended, because they were. Just. All. So. Good. My reading wish list for at least the next couple of months is completely full up.

That said, there were two authors whose stories especially struck me, each discussing something seemingly quite different yet with a common shared vein.

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GALs and Visonaries*

As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve just finished reading Mary Beard’s ‘Women and Power: A Manifesto’ (which has now been book-napped by my mother, and I will be taking back for a second read very soon!) It really took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting to have such light sharply shone on things about the relationship between women and power, or how women in power are treated, that I’ve either never noticed or had never thought about the implications of.

On Friday I wrote about how powerful women through history were often made more ‘masculine’, or effectively had their femininity removed, in order to make them more acceptable, just like the ancient Greek goddess Anthea. I mentioned there was one other thing that had struck me reading the book.

That was the discussion about women speaking about women’s issues. And how Mary brings into question whether this is done just because women want to, or because this is the ‘safe’ space we are allowed to comfortably occupy, front and centre, in the public sphere. She looks back – obviously – to the ancient Greeks and the Romans and the few examples of women who were allowed to “publicly defend their own sectional interests, but not speak for men or the community as a whole” and even then only in “extreme examples”. She also points to a few more modern-day examples where the public speeches made by women which we hold up and laud are often women speaking about ‘women’s issues’. The implication being that the well known speeches made by men in contrast are much more diverse.

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Only those who forgive can be free

I’ve been thinking a little – not a lot actually, happily less than I feared – about how you move on from love when it ends. A few of my close friends are coming out of tough breakups and so its been a topic of long conversation.

One such friend was talking to me last night about that moment when you move from loving someone, when the clouds begin to part, the dopamine they stimulated begins to drop, and you start to see some of the wood for the trees. Of course, depending on the nature of the relationship and the break-up, and your personality, this can be the start of the shift towards hatred. When with some distance you can see the things that in the moment you either didn’t see or chose to ignore. My friend said that she’s been learning not to let the hatred win, that resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. She said when she feels like she is being dragged back in she remembers the quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel:

The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference

After all, to love or hate someone is still intensely emotional.

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Fall in love with a girl

When you commit to blogging every day for 100 days, it’s pretty bloody obvious when you fail! One thing I learnt this week is that even with the best of intentions, sometimes life gets in the way. This week was a multi-day away trip for work, with long days, friendly colleagues and lots and lots of sunshine (finally, just yay). I kept up a bunch of commitments but some things like blogging I’m afraid fell away. Now back at home, I have to say I missed it and some other elements of my usual daily routine. Without realising we can become little creatures of habit.

That said, a friend said to me tonight that as long as the important things stay true, there is no need to beat ourselves up about the ‘should’. After all we can’t change the past, but actions in the present matter. And in this case, words are action enough.

This week I did manage to devour Mary Beard’s latest book ‘Women and Power: A Manifesto. And I mean devour, on one not so long train ride. I actually had the happy fortune to meet Mary recently, unexpectedly at Houghton Hall in Norfolk visiting the Damien Hirst exhibition which she was filming for her new series of BBC’s Front Row Late. Just great. As is the book.

I have and always will classify myself as a feminist. My mother – who I affectionately christened my ‘trophy mother’ – was a staunch feminist who campaigned vigorously for equal rights, and very deliberately actually equal rights, including better paternity rights. I keep meaning to get myself a matching ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ top.

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Sleep I’ll keep but sugar it’s time to split

Today is Day 10 of the 100 Day Project and into my inbox just popped a little check-in from the team, noting that this is the point when often people feel like they’ve run out of steam, but reminding us that this is part of the process and we just need to keep showing up.

At the end of the working week, I am feeling very literally out of steam. It’s been just over five weeks since I decided to stop drinking alcohol and whilst I absolutely, 100 percent stand by and actually increasingly enjoy this decision, there have been two big resultant, well, results that I wasn’t expecting.

Like everyone who picks up women’s magazines, men’s magazines, or even a weekend supplement, I have read countless articles on the miracle benefits of cutting out alcohol. After the initial few-day slump, it seems like all the writers suddenly start jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, rested and revived, and the weight then starts just sliding off as a new found enthusiasm for exercise simultaneously kicks in, and the countless empty calories are out.

Whilst I have had compliments on my glowing skin (!), five weeks in I am still surprised by two things.

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Finding your cow

Last night I hopped along the Hammersmith and City line to Housman’s Bookshop in King’s Cross to hear author and journalist Johann Hari talk about his latest book ‘Lost Connections‘. In it he explores a slightly different – and I would say complementary, although not all reviewers have agreed – explanation as to why depression has been increasing and mental health declining, focused on the changed way in which we live today, where we have ‘lost connections’ with things that matter to our well-being, as opposed to it all simply being isolated to causes in the brain.

I touched on one of these nine causes Hari describes, a lack of connection with others, in a blog last week on self-care. Personally, I found it one of the most profound and thought-provoking of my recent reads and I would recommend it as a must-read for anyone with an interest in this area. To say that we are facing real problems as individuals, communities and society because of some mis-match between the way we live, versus what we really need, is an understatement. And whilst there are some signs that we are awakening to this – from the recent rise of mindfulness to the even more recent appointment of a Minister for Loneliness – there’s a still a huge amount Hari writes about which either remains unsaid, or at least poorly understood, including by those who are suffering themselves.

Last night Hari re-counted a number of studies or stories from his book, but there was one which I’d forgotten since reading that really struck a chord. It’s about a South African psychiatrist Dr Derek Summerfield, the Cambodian countryside and a cow.

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Sweat the small stuff: the little things can count

Today was the first day since starting the 100 Day Project that I’ve a) felt a bit un-inspired about what to write and b) like perhaps skipping a night of writing.

However the latest issue of Women’s Health landed this eve with a section dedicated to self-care. It reminded me of the blog I wanted to, well, blog yesterday about connections, so never one to skip a sign, here goes.

Self-care is everywhere. It’s something I have always believed I was very good at practicing. I cook for myself, I ‘treat’ myself, I occasionally – well more than occasionally – splurge.

Recently though I’ve begun to redefine my definition of self-care in two, for me, really important ways.

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In defence of Night Owls

Sleep has been on my mind recently for a variety of reasons, but my spontaneous reference to being a night owl in Thursday’s blog reminded me of something in Matthew Walker’s brilliant book ‘Why We Sleep’ which I dug it out today for a quick re-read.

If anything throughout my life I’ve veered towards excessive sleep. In fact I am the proud owner of a ‘World’s Best Sleeper’ trophy, gifted to me by an ex and dear friend.

But with a love for sleeping for me comes a frequent struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I adore and enjoy fresh coffee but I’m also absolutely one of those people who needs a hit in the morning to face the day. I get the mid afternoon / end of day slump but come 8 or 9 I’m wide awake again.

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Another Day in Death / Closer to Humanity

This isn’t the blog I was intending to write today but yesterday’s shooting at YouTube’s HQ, and the just hours earlier murders of two teenagers in London, have been weighing in my mind for much of the day.

I won’t begin to kid or claim to have any new profound views on what must change or deeper insight into what’s driving acts of devastation and atrocity like these, nor any authority on the matters. These are simply my unordered and unorganised thoughts and feelings from today.

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