very, very, very specific advice

“The secret to my success?” asks the lottery winner, fanning himself with wads of cash. “Just keep buying scratchcards. You can withdraw £200 a day. Put it all on the tickets. That’s how I got where I am today.” The tech billionaire tells you to drop out of secondary school and pour all of your attention into coding. The band selling out Wembley tells you to sack off your A-Levels and get high in your mate’s garage. Elon Musk sagely advises you be born the son of a Canadian model and dietitian and a South African electromechanical engineer, pilot and sailor. You nod and politely make notes.

I hate self-help books so much, especially ones that are centred around attaining wealth and fame. I find it disconcerting when people turn to famous millionaires for advice, since so often these people’s success seems based on a combination of luck and privilege. Like, it might have worked reasonably well for Pete Doherty, but generally turning down an offer to study at Oxford so you can pursue grungy aesthetics and heroin isn’t a wholesome five year plan. Bill Gates might have dropped out of Harvard to make his fortune, but that doesn’t mean you should, too. There’s a huge bias to these success stories in that we only ever hear about the dropouts who made trillions of dollars and founded anti-malaria charities. You only hear about the people who spend their entire wages on lottery tickets if they end up winning the jackpot.

As you know, reader, I am a wildly successful entrepreneur in my own right. I have one and a half articles published in a Prague-based zine, I have my own .com url, and I’m about to launch a line of upcycled tote bags. I have only suffered from crippling depression for two thirds of my adult life. My parents still pay for my therapy and my dentist appointments. I’m pretty much living the dream.

You wanna follow in my footsteps? Follow these universally applicable pieces of advice. If you follow these iron-clad rules to the letter, you could end up like me – a mediocre barista with an unfinished degree.

Fail To Gain A PLace At Oxbridge

Just like Bill Gates before me, I don’t have a degree. The university I don’t have a degree from is the University of Sheffield, a mid-table establishment that doesn’t pour enough funding into modern languages. However, I came rather close to not having a degree from Oxford University, a top-tier establishment that would’ve fulfilled my childhood dream to attend Hogwarts, in aesthetics if not in subject matter.

I interviewed at Oxford at the age of 18, as is traditional. Looking back on my final year at school, I’m not even slightly surprised that The Powers That Be (TPTB) took one look at my general self and politely requested that I get to fuck.

It’s hard to talk about getting rejected from Oxford without sounding bitter, but – reader, I swear – I’m genuinely at peace. If I’d got an offer from Oxford and matriculated there, my life would be immeasurably different. I would have studied Czech and English, rather than my current degree of RussianAndSlavonicStudiesWithCzechAndPolish. I would not have had the pleasure of feuding with a member of the Sheffield faculty, a bitter experience which probably foreshadowed my love of coffee, a uniquely bitter delicacy. If not for the bad feeling between myself and TPTB at Sheffield, I would not have made the ill-thought out decision to take a leave of absence. If not for my leave of absence, I would be a graduate now, applying for e.g. the civil service or marketing positions.

In short, my advice is that you genuinely try to get into a world-class university, fail and go to one with a great Czech syllabus but a terrifying Russian teaching staff, take a year out, and leave the country. This is the only way you can hope to end up like me, mostly unemployed and very unqualified. Hope this helps.

Never Quite Learn To Froth Milk

I can froth milk ish. On a good day, it’s beautiful. Creamy. Micro foam. Everything you could want from a drink. On a bad day, it’s overfrothed, lumpy and fuzzy, with big, big bubbles.

And yet, my failure to do this simple task right may be the secret to my success. After all, as I am sure you’re aware, dear reader, I love my job. I love serving coffee and I love the cafe I do it in. I can’t imagine anywhere with better vibes. I fear that my unabashed opportunism would propel me to a better regarded but less nice job if I were a better barista. Sometimes your limitations are a blessing.

Play With Every Dog

Have you ever heard of ‘networking’? Networking is a fancy way of saying making relationships with people so they feel guilty for not hiring you at their start up. If, like me, you find the idea of talking to humans disgusting, set your sights on our furry friends, the humble dog.

Getting an article published in print is by far my greatest achievement and I am unreservedly proud of it. I wish I could say I got this break in journalism through sheer, rudy talent and honest graft, but it was very much a ‘who you know’ situation. I was chatting to a local at the caf who happened to work for OKO!, strongarmed her into giving me her contact details, and then just happened to send her a message on the very day that their fiction piece fell through.

The reason I was chatting to this lady, though, was not just her magnetic and charismatic personality. If I’m honest, it was mostly because she has the two cutest dogs in the world. Chopper is the size of a small bear and has the most chill personality ever. Biscuit, as her name suggests, is a treat fiend. She sneaks behind the bar to play with me and I give her secret biscuits whilst Chopper and his owner are distracted by carrot cake.

So, yeah, here’s my advice for anyone looking to get their writing published: it’s all about relationships. It’s about who you know. And I happened to know Chopper and Biscuit.


By following this very simple advice, you can be like me! Best of luck, chin up.

Simple joys

I’d been struggling to see the sunshine in life, but for the last few days I’ve felt glorious: positive, full of life, and with a healthy appetite for fun (and, also, for food).

It’s one of the unfortunate truths in life that the principles of mindfulness are much easier to follow when you’re feeling good than they are when you’re down – when you really need them. I’m writing this list of stuff I enjoy, partially because (as you, dear reader, already know) I’m an actual saint, and partially because I think having a public, concrete reminder of them will help me out next time I need an injection of sunshine.

Anyway, here’s some blessed stuff.


Doing your weekly shop

Maybe I just don’t get out enough, but the rush I get from doing my food shop is exhilarating. I love food, I like cooking, and I enjoy fluorescent lights. A trip to my local Albert is a joy and a pleasure.


Noticing creatures

Most commonly, dogs and squirrels. Given the season, most other creatures have hibernated or emigrated, but the other day I did see a hedgehog (the gentleman pictured is for illustrative purposes only) and once, when I was living in Petersburg, I saw a woman holding a ferret. 

Seeing animals brings me great joy. I think because I’m so happy I get to wear clothes and live in a house.


Leaves

Truly, the feathers of trees.

Prague is an exceptionally leafy city, and I think this, along with the beer (of course), contributes to a generally high standard of living.


Treating yourself

This one is tricky because the way I take care of myself is usually based on food and/or spending loads of money. I’m concerned about my waistline and my wallet, so I’m trying to find pleasure in free stuff, like walking the long way home or going to bed a little bit earlier.


Listening to new music

I’m a particular fan of music that people I love have recommended.


Throwing stuff away

No one needs that many clothes!


Car boot sales

Now you’ve got rid of all that shit, you need more shit.


Abandoned buildings


Learning new words

Not just fun foreign words, but also English words, like ossicle or pellicule.


Wearing mismatched clothes

One of my favourite games is, “How many colours can I fit on my body?” and it’s a game I play every damn day.

and, last but not least,

Getting a tattoo

My parents might not love it, but it really does rejuvenate you to get something you love on your skin forever.

Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down

– or –

On a more serious note

246919014_416118

I started this blog about a year ago, largely out of kindness to my loved ones, who’d been the only outlet for my terrible humour for far too long. Inflicting myself on the general public instead, while bad for society as a whole, seemed like the best way to keep my relationships with my friends and family intact.

 

img-20170827-wa0015

Just some of the people liberated from my sense of humour by this blog

 

A lot’s happened since then – I went on my year abroad, spent time in Brno and Petersburg, decided to take a year out from uni, and moved to Prague to find my fortune (update: as yet, unfound).

20180920_154646

Jerry the cat digging my yellow top

Geography aside, it’s been a big year for my personal growth: I got a couple of tattoos, discovered beer and techno music, fell in love a bunch of times, came out as bi, and stopped wearing natural colours.

This year, whilst dramatic and at times frightening, and – especially in the last few months – not without its low moments, has been by far the best of my life. Even the rough moments have been mitigated by more long-lasting wellbeing and contentment than I can remember having.

I’ve never talked about serious stuff on this blog, partially because I wanted to try my hand at being genuinely funny and partially because I know that the readership is largely made up of people who know me personally – and that makes it weird. Lately, though, I’ve been really craving a platform for more well-rounded self-expression – I suppose that’s why I’ve not posted anything for so many months: because I really haven’t been feeling all that funny.

blue moon

I’m trying to keep moving forwards in terms of mental wellbeing, and I feel like this could be a good forum to work through some stuff. In particular, I’m spectacularly bad at remembering techniques to lift my mood, even the ones that’ve helped me before.

The title of this post, and the page where I’m going to post links to mental health/mindfulness blogs, comes from a book by the Korean monk and professor Haemin Sunim.

cover

The book is a compilation of Sunim’s thoughts about modern life and advice he’s given on social media, at mindfulness events, and to his university students.

It’s a lovely book, both because of the written content and the beautiful illustrations that accompany it. One of the things that stuck with me so strongly was the idea that our mindset shapes the way we see the world – that’s why, when you’re feeling rushed, the whole world seems to move and breakneck speed, but when you’re relaxed, everything is much more chill.

There were times in Sixth Form when I did genuinely feel like the world was a grim and unforgiving place. I’m sure that objectively good things must have happened to me then, but all I remember are the bad marks or dirty looks, or the day the canteen ran out of coffee.

It works the other way, too: I particularly remember a couple of times in St Petersburg when I arrived at the stop at the same time as the bus did, or got to the crossing just as the green man appeared, I thought to myself, with a warm feeling, “That’s just how my life is at the moment.” Even though I surely had as many experiences with unlucky timing as I did with perfect timing, I only really noticed when things went perfectly – I guess because everything else was going so well, it was easy to perceive of the world as a pattern designed to make me comfortable.

I’d been introduced to the concept of mindfulness before, by teachers at sixth form and counsellors/therapists, but the concept never seemed particularly powerful to me, and, honestly, I never put a lot of stock in it.

Even that idea which I found so powerful, that one’s mindset dictates the filter through which we perceive everything, would’ve seemed insensitive and reductive to me. What you’re saying, I’d have thought, is that the world seems depressing because I’m depressed.

That’s one of the frustrating things about mindfulness: it’s so simple that when you’re in crisis, it just sounds like platitudes. Once the world starts to brighten a bit, then you can take more active steps that’ll help you out.

pink sun

Maybe that’s why Sunim’s book appeals to me now – because you can’t employ mindfulness techniques when you’re at your worst, but when you’re somewhere a little better, you can be more open to them. Nowadays, even when I’m in a pretty bad place, a combination of medication and perspective helps me recognise that it’s not a permanent state. butterflu

That said, a big reason why I enjoyed this book so much is the way I got it. A couple of weeks ago, I was visited in Prague by a close friend of mine. Oll’s visit was preceded by the roughest time I’ve had for a while – I’d been feeling self-destructive in a way I hadn’t for a while. Oliver and I met in St Petersburg, when we were on our semester abroad there, and after that he’d returned to uni in St Andrews whilst I’d moved to Prague on leave from my university studies.

Knowing I was going through a tricky spell (I’m aware I use a bouquet of euphemisms to refer to depressive periods, but the real words are too scary), Ollie’d brought me, along with his infectious joie de vivre, a gift of five books individually wrapped in yellow paper.

“Unwrap them when you’re feeling good,” he said, “and then you can have them to look forward to.”

He gave me a sixth book, which was unwrapped. This one wasn’t from him, but from a friend of his, Rachel. Although Rachel and I’d never actually met face to face, nor, at that time, even texted each other, I felt like I knew her from what Oll had told me – she featured in a lot of his stories, either as a regular at his coffee shop, another person dancing at the raves he and his friends organised in St Andrews pubs, or, most often, as a good mate to have a pint with.

It turned out the feeling of knowing each other through Oliver was mutual. Rachel had gone to the bookshop with him when he went to buy my gifts, and she’d got me one too. I was honestly shocked by the gesture – even before I’d taken the book out of the bag, I was composing thank you notes and plotting ways to by her a pint.

The book she’d bought was, you guessed it, Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down. (After all that build up, it would’ve been really weird to reveal that she’d got me a Mr. Man).

Still overwhelmed by the generosity of a person who was, technically, a stranger, I opened the book where it had been marked with a sticker:

 

you are neither your feelings

Remember that you are neither your feelings nor the story your mind tells about you to make sense of them. You are the vast silence that knows of their emergence and their disappearance.

Rachel didn’t just get me the book: she marked specific passages she thought I’d find helpful. Honestly, I’m still disbelieving of how kind that is. Like – this girl has never met me, at all.

Despite Sunim’s suggestion to read his book slowly, with many pauses, I ate the whole thing in one night as Oll worked on his philosophy essay. There are parts of it, perhaps because I’m still struggling significantly with my mood, that I simply couldn’t understand; but the whole thing was written in this singular tone of calmness. I felt soothed by Sunim’s tranquil words, and Rachel’s generosity.

I know it’s a book I’m going to revisit multiple times over my life – I’ve already reread it once – and I wanted to share it, and the, frankly, remarkable story of how I got it, with you.

When life disappoints, rest a while.

 

Thoughts from my bean bag chair

Takes a puff on my soap bubble pipe.

In this day and age, the closest me and my friends will get to owning property is buying a domain name.