Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down

– or –

On a more serious note

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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.

 

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Merchant of Rexona

It may shock you to hear it, but even our nation’s greatest literary figure, William Shakespeare, was not above a handsome payout. Shakespeare reportedly received sums of well over £10 (over £4billion in today’s money) to slip pieces of advertising into his plays. It was only when the Product Replacement Bill came into force in 1868 that the editions we are familiar with today were created.

Read here the original text of The Merchant of Rexona, now called The Merchant of Venice.

 


 

BERTOLI

Well, Swan Soap, shall we be beholding to you?

SWAN SOAP

Signior Bertoli, many a time and oft
In the Rinso you have rated me
About my moneys and my great quality homecare products:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For great quality for less is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me clean freak, scrub-a-dub dog,
And spit upon my Swedish Glace non-dairy ice cream,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
‘Swan Soap, we would have products:’ you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my Rama margarine
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: great quality products is your suit
What should I say to you? Should I not say
‘Hath a dog a wide range of deodorant? is it possible
A cur can sell three thousand kinds of mayonnaise?’ Or
Shall I bend low and in a Country Crock’s key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
‘Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn’d me such a day; another time
You call’d me dog; and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter?

Pepsi and Prejudice

A hundred and fifty years ago this very day, the House of Commons passed a law that would forever change the nature of British literature. I’m talking, of course, about the 1868 Law of Impartiality in Media, also known as the Product Replacement Bill.

As every British schoolchild from Abington-on-Thames to Ynysddu knows, the Product Replacement Bill was a controversial and hotly debated project, which aimed to remove all traces of product placement from major works of British literature.

The proposal was initially drafted as a reaction to the frankly absurd influence multi-national corporations wielded. Said Conservative MP for Buteshire, Charles Dalyrmple, “It is our responsibility as lawmakers to protect our countrymen from the vile and insidious tentacles of advertising. Also, only landowning men should vote.

Controversially, once passed, the law required that previously published works be revised to conform to the new standards, and the original versions, full of name dropping, were submitted to a sealed archive, never to be read again.

Until now. In the dead of night, and not without a great deal of personal risk, I have liberated some of these first editions, and will be gradually leaking them to the public. Strap in.

 


 

You know her as the lady from the tenner, but Jane Austen is actually also a renowned writer.

Did you know, however, that she was also on the Pepsico payroll? Here, for the first time in a century and a half, are two unabridged extracts from her most famous novel, originally titled Pepsi and Prejudice.

 


 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a fizzy drink.

However little known the feelings or thirst of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their vending machines.

“My dear Mr. Lipton,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that StarbucksDoubleShot Park is let at last?”

Mr. Lipton replied that he had not.

“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Manzanita Sol has just been here, and she told me all about it as we partook in an Ocean Spray cranberry juice.”

Mr. Lipton made no answer. He sipped his Gatorade.

“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.

You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”

This was invitation enough.

“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Manzanita Sol says that StarbucksDoubleShot is taken by a young man of large fortune from north of Quaker Farm; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his fairly paid employees are to be in the house by the end of next week.”

 

 


 

“You judge very properly,” said Mr. Lipton, “and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of serving SoBe Life Water with Doritos. May I ask whether these pleasing snacks proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous enjoyment?”

“They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time. From what I fancy, in other words.”

Mr. Lipton’s expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, chomping on his Lay’s Kettle Cooked potato chips, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.

By Pepsi-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Lipton was glad to take a break from his SoBe Life Water to sample the entire soda line, even the positively exotic Jazz Diet Pepsi.