The drain of perfectionism

Are you a perfectionist? Do you tweak things relentlessly, never feeling satisfied, taking ages to get the simplest thing done because it’s got to be exactly right, and it makes you anxious if it’s not? Because you’re scared of getting it wrong? Of exhibiting any form of flaw? Of truly showing yourself at your most chaotic and rambly and unformulated?

I am a perfectionist and it has done me no favours whatsoever. All the images-1perfectionist force within me has done has held me back from life. Because I’ve wanted to automatically be good at something, I haven’t endured the vulnerability and pain of being bad. Because I’ve wanted everyone to like me, I haven’t shown who I truly am. It’s stopped me from trying new things, of saying how I really feel, of truly connecting, of getting on with work, of embarking on new creative projects, of doing what I’d really love to do if I wasn’t afraid of exhibiting my true self in all its ‘wrongness’.

Perfectionism is such a heightened need to be proper and to do things properly that you will never match up to your expectations. You will waste away the person that you are because you are always seeking some phantom ideal. And the reason behind all that? You’re scared to be yourself. You’re scared to get it wrong. The emotion is just fear, plain and simple. That’s it. You can think up as many layered fancy thoughts as you like but beneath it all is jittery, primal, rabbit-in-the-headlights fear. And that’s the force that you’re letting dictate your life?

No human has the answers. Every human has flaws. Every human has complex emotions and peaks and troughs in their faculties. You are not a robot and you are not going to be functioning exceptionally all the time. You can only do your best in a given moment, and striving after perfectionism is going to demotivate you because it’s impossible; it’s a brutal self-hating fiction. Agonising over how you present yourself and how you interact with the world is going to make you unhappy, because it’s making you into something that’s subhuman and putting a massive weight on yourself. You’re not honouring your soul when you’re a perfectionist; you’re thinking ‘I can’t say that – what will this person think?’, ‘I can’t write that – it sounds wrong?’. It’s messing with the person you’re meant to be through an endless torrent of criticism and judgment. That’s bad. Who wants that inUnknown their head? It stops you from doing anything worthwhile.

You’ve just got to get out there and start dancing messily, flamboyantly, throwing yourself around and perhaps unintentionally offending some people in the process and definitely getting it wrong, and being vulnerable and ridiculous and surprising yourself. Because you can’t live in a shell. You can’t keep your lips sealed forever. You’ve got to start existing. And existing isn’t the same thing as perfectionism. Perfectionism is putting off existence because it’s too messy, and you can’t bear to make a mistake, and expose your vulnerability. But by doing that, you’re putting off life… Because life is full of mistakes! I mean, think of all the random chaos in nature that has settled into beautiful patterns… and I think breakfast cereal was originally a mistake too, and we all know how great that is, right?

Right now, I didn’t edit this. And that’s a big thing for me because I always edit and feel that I can’t express myself properly until I edit. So this is rawness, this is anti-perfectionism. Where there is no perfectionism, there is true freedom, true unashamed ability to create from yourself and your unique power, becuse you’re not scrutinising so painfully about getting it right.

So yes, I call all of you to do what you love and not care so much. Just do it! And embrace the messiness, because that is the only way to truly grow. Take this analogy: if you’re growing a plant, you’re not constantly going to be cutting it every time it sprouts something new, because that new thing might be the vital, beautiful thing that’s going to turn into a fruit or a flower. So let yourself bloom, and get rid of the set model you have of what blooming should look like – because who knows, really. It’s up to you to find out 🙂

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Divine simplicity

Have you ever heard people commiserate over how complicated life is nowadays, or felt a wish to go back to your childhood when everything was so much simpler? Of course, there’s a reason why this period was simpler and more carefree: mainly, the lack of responsibility. But I think deeper than this is that the mindset of childhood is a simple one. And us adults (myself being on the brink) could learn a thing or two from the younger members of our species.

To adult is to complicate

It’s true, when you’re grown-up you have a lot of things to take care of: work, bills, food, relationships, a never-ending stream of miscellaneous errands… It’s no plain-sailing picnic in the park (a deliberate muddling of expressions on my part here). But it’s possible to fall into the trap of over-complicating our responsibilities. For example, you might get consumed by all Cco77VDWEAEms48the nagging things you’ve got
to get done so you stop paying attention to what you’re currently doing. Or you think too much about your relationship and where it’s going so you cease to enjoy the simple, immediate presence of your special person. The fault here isn’t in the adult situation; it’s in your intensely cerebral adult brain that insists it must control and complicate.

When I was a child, I didn’t think that much. I just did things. And when I got bored or tired, I did something else. There’s a Zen quote I like:

“When hungry, eat your food; when tired, close your eyes. The fool may laugh at you, but the wise man will understand.”

We muddy matters so much by overthinking and losing sight of the immediate moment. We bury our inner, most basic desires under mountains of analytical, anxious thought. Thinking has become so ingrained and compulsive that it’s difficult to stop. But if we tap into our inner child, and focus on simplifying life down rather than building it up in our minds, we can be more at peace, even with all of the increased responsibilities.

The ‘shoulds’ of adulthood

Another pitfall of adulthood that children aren’t yet aware of is the definitions our society instils in us on what it means to be a successful adult. What hallmarks you have to check off. How you should behave in your everyday life. How to measure and judge yourself and the world around you to be socially accepted and considered ‘doing well’. Children have no former experience to condition them, so their eyes are fresh and their minds are open. They are forever asking why. And I think we should ask ourselves the same question. Always question your beliefs, and your environment, especially when it seems to be sucking you dry. Children are known to be fresh, playful, curious, innocent creatures… and sometimes this is exactly the mindset necessary to open up new discoveries, and to stop us from feeling so weighed down by the world and our socially-conditioned insecurity.

A lack of embarrassment

So I did a module last semester on Freud, and he believed that the child (or rather baby) has an insanely huge ego. The world revolves around them. They are so powerful they cannot even die. Of course, this is irrational. But at the same time, is it so irrational to be utterly content with yourself? After all, animals don’t seem to have self-esteem issues. There’s a quote that goes something like: ‘man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.’ When you’re a child, you love yourself so much that you don’t even need to think about loving yourself. Surely this mindset is natural, to feel comfortable being the thing that you are? You learn to judge and objectify yourself and make yourself small and fragile – that’s the part that isn’t so natural. I think it would do many of us good to get back to this mindset where we don’t have a relationship with ourselves; we simply are ourselves, and in a position to get lost in the world because our ego doesn’t get in the way.

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Slowing down in the city

Slow Down

I often feel as though there’s a scatter-brained, anxious pull that tugs my flesh and thoughts this way and that. It rarely settles; it’s like, a pulse of impatience that beats underneath my daily life. I know I’m not the only one who suffers from this anxious undercurrent. In a busy city like London, there’s so much stimulation all the time – from the glaring billboards, the rushing commuters, the whooshing traffic, not to mention the constant stream of information that gets fed through personal and public technology. Some people get a buzz from this whirlwind of stimulation that is the modern city, and at times, I am one of these people. But I often find that my brain is too jittered up from all this stimulation and the general pressure to be constantly on the go that it won’t focus when I need it to. It’s become so used to instant information and sensual overload that it no longer wants to grapple deeply with a text/problem, and use itself for the muscle that it is. Instead, it’s after a quick-fix. And then another one. And underneath these quick-fixes is an anxious awareness of all the other tasks that need to get done.

But why would one want to slow down? Don’t you achieve more if you’re always rushing through tasks, social events, appointments, leaving so many marks of achievement in the dust clouds behind you? I would beg to differ. I find that I can never fully get things done when I am impatiently viewing tasks as a means to an end. The reason for this? When my brain is geared up to focus on the next task, I find it impossible to focus on what’s actually going on in front of me. For example, reading for my course requires immersion in the text, which is fiendishly difficult to do when your mind is flitting off to thoughts about doing the laundry or meeting up with your friend later…

It’s not easy, slowing down. You’d think it would be as surely it’s just a question of exerting less effort, doing less? But doing less is hard when you’re addicted to constant movement, both mental and physical. Changing the mode that you think and live in requires sustained, ‘slow’ effort, to be content to actually, well, just exist in the moment that you’re in. In trying to slow down more, I’ve noticed all sorts of good-stuff:

  1. You notice more things. Because there’s more space in your brain to let stuff in as you’re not thinking about other stuff.
  2. Your focus is improved. Again, you can actually concentrate because you’re not living in a warped, fast-forwarded version of reality.
  3. Your willpower is improved. Because you haven’t drained it all on thinking thinking/moving moving.
  4. You have more patience with others. Because you see them as a fellow brethren to listen and connect with, rather than a fleeting encounter in a hurried world.
  5. You actually get to live your life. Because you’re not rushing all the time. Life’s already short enough, you know!

It’s hard to make slowing down a habit, but it’s something I endeavour to do, and hope I may have inspired you to do the same. Remember: you’re a human being, not a human doing. And there is a reason why the tortoise fable is still very much in our culture. The tortoise advocates the slow and steady approach – in this city of hares, we should take note!

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A confidence boost

So confidence is something I struggle with a lot, and consequently end up thinking about a lot. I know it’s something that affects a lot of people and can be a real dampener on how much enjoyment you get out of life. So I thought I’d share some advice on what’s bolstered me up when I’m feeling a bit fragile and unwelcome in my skin.

First, let it be known that confidence isn’t something you can get from a book, or by reading an article. It’s something that must come from lived experience. I think confidence is something that many of us could do with a little topping up of, but I don’t want to waste time unravelling ‘confidence’ into a big, complicated issue which could easily be done. I believe: thinking too much about confidence and how to attain it completely mucks the process up, for the word confidence means ‘with faith’. ‘Faith’ isn’t something you want to intensely analyse, or that can easily be pinned down. Rather, it’s something of an ineffable mood, a feeling of capability rather than an actual knowledge of capability (which is why you can be a prize-winning theoretical physicist and still feel like a frightened squirrel at heart).

I know I’ve said it here (and it’s been said many times before) that the only way to achieve confidence is through life, by doing the thing you fear. Like a frightened child getting chucked into water to learn how to swim. And yes, that process will eventually work, if you have the stamina and strength to keep on chucking yourself into the water until it doesn’t feel so scary. But I don’t see why attaining confidence has to be an aggressive, forceful battle against yourself. If you treat your fragile human substance with love, patience, and work with (not against) yourself, the process will be so much easier. So: yes, chuck yourself in the water, but with a loving attitude. 🙂

Remember: the essence of confidence is a deep-rooted appreciation of your value as a person. You can learn this from the outside in (‘I overcame my fear of public speaking. I am therefore more valuable.’), but you already are intrinsically valuable from just being you. And if you understand this, then doing the scary things need not be so scary… Because although you’re acting against your fears, you’re still supporting yourself.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve entered the rambling terrain so on with my tips!

Tip 1: Treat yourself with utter self-acceptance

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Self-criticism is doing you no favours in developing confidence. I was thinking the other day that it’s kind of illogical to not think you’re great because at the end of the day, you’re in yourself and having to navigate the world through the self you’re in, so it’s not helpful to anyone (most of all yourself) to constantly be criticising the faculties you have. Like… if you downloaded an amazingly high-tech app that was useful in so many gazillion ways, but you kept on whacking it and not really using it properly, then it’s such a waste. So why would you treat yourself like that? Your brain is way more powerful than this fictitious app. I think it’s much more logical to think you are utterly exceptional beyond logic, because even if you’re way off, then at least you’re happy being the thing that you are. Besides, you can achieve so much from sheer, blind faith, regardless of actual ability.

So, I know it’s hard to be kind to yourself, but please, try to be on your side. A loving attitude to others stems from having a loving attitude to yourself. And everyone is flawed, so accept your human self in all its messy contradictions.

Tip 2: Take baby steps

In the past, I’ve overwhelmed myself by making grand plans on all the steps I’m going to take to be more confident and socially competent and happy with myself and bla bla… But this makes all your lofty aspirations even loftier. Because you’re ‘putting the cart in front of the horse’ as the saying goes, setting an impractically high standard that will put you off before you’ve even really started. Furthermore, all these ideas are just images in your head and not rooted in reality. In plainer terms: you’re getting ahead of yourself. You’ve got to make your plans loose, and then adapt from real-life experience. The path is in sand rather than in stone, so to speak. I would advise taking one step at a time on your path to confidence. And start as small as possible. Because then you get a chain reaction of good feelings going when you achieve a little step and will be more likely to progress, as opposed to getting sad about how much further you have yet to go. Assess where your confidence level is every day. Maybe today, you’re scared to make eye contact with the shop assistant, so maybe that’s all you do. Maybe tomorrow you contribute in class or a meeting. Always do whatever little thing scares you each day. It’s not necessarily a linear path because your confidence levels go up and down. But just do whatever you fear in the present moment in order to grow. But remember: take it as slow as slow and be gentle with yourself! The way you would teach a baby to walk…

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Tip 3: Act ‘as if’

This is a great one because it’s so simple. People are going to take you the way you present yourself. No one besides you knows of the crazy rambling streams of rubbish that go on in your head unless you decide to share them or act like a person that thinks crazy rambling streams of rubbish. People don’t see your inside, only what’s outside so… you can present yourself as anyone! Really, don’t wait: just act like the person you want to be (whoever that may be – maybe you don’t even know but that’s fine because you can try acting like different people to experiment!). If you act as if you have deep faith in your movements and thoughts and abilities, then eventually you’ll start to actually have them. Really. Confidence is a magic, elusive quality anyway so it makes sense that it can be acquired by this magical method.

Tip 4: Don’t care so much

I often get scared about what other people think of me. Whether they’re judging me, modifying my behaviour to suit them, trying to mind-read but… at the end of the day, their opinion of you is utterly irrelevant. Your opinion of yourself is the only one that matters because it’s the only one that’s going to hold any weight with your worldview/how you interact with the world/your happiness level. Your own judgment is the only one you have to fear. And guess who has control over your own judgment? Yes: it’s you.

“Stop judging yourself and the world will stop judging you.” (by… oh, well I can’t remember who said this and can’t seem to find it online so it will just have to hang here in an authorless state)

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I love the above quote because it shows that by not judging yourself so much, you’ll stop projecting your own insecurities onto other people and think that they’re perceiving you in a certain way that maybe they’re not even. The key to stop judging yourself? You’ve got to not care so much. To start laughing at yourself. Ironically, the way to do this is to not value yourself so much, so that you throw yourself around and start to engage with life. After all, you’re not some precious ancient vase that must be kept locked in the cellar of a museum. You are a breathing, thinking chunk of flesh that can definitely take a few (if not many) tumbles. To build confidence, you can’t nitpick at a tiny little thing you said one time that came out slightly wrong. You’ve got to blurt out stuff and realise that the world is still in tact and your self-esteem won’t wilt unless you actively participate in making it wilt. So, yeah, don’t worry about denting your ego, for it gets stronger with each dent. Furthermore, getting out there and engaging with the world means you think less of your ego – because it’s healthy and strong, so not something you need to think about. Now, you’re just using it as the tool that it is to engage with life and bigger, more exciting things beyond the self.

That’s it for now folks. I hope you found some of that was helpful and not too rambly! I’m going to end with one of my favourite quotes below. Please remember: everyone has something to offer the world, so don’t stifle your soul and your contribution to the world by thinking that you don’t.

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Letting go

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Recently, my thought patterns have been a bit skewered and unhealthy. It’s always the same sort of thing that I return to when I feel low: mainly, self-issues, issues about expression and confidence, and just feeling squirmingly insecure and feeble and worrying that I don’t have the capacity or inner strength to face life. So this sort of self-doubting spiral is my can of shit. I know it’s irrational, and pointless, and at odds with reality, but it’s what rears its ugly head when I’m feeling low. It can be sparked off by a small event, but because it’s gained so much power through all the focus I’ve given to it in the past, it’s pretty easily activated. It’s a bad, habitual strain of thought. I want to crush it. But crushing it never works. It only gains more power through all the negative mental energy that gets created in this inner fight to suppress your emotions. What does work, however, is to passively let go. But don’t be deceived because as easy as this may sound, it is actually exceedingly difficult.

Everyone has their own issues, their own negative thought pattern all loaded up in the brain and ready to launch at a negative probe. It’s complicated, and layered, and you and others have fed it through various means so it’s got its own character. It’s a familiar store of past pain. You entertain it and let it overwhelm you and control you out of habit. It snowballs up to become a mode of thought, so you stop thinking as you, but weave your identity into your can of shit and start thinking as that. It’s like getting taken over by pain, pain merged with thoughts: a dangerous combination because they both bleed into each other and further complicate everything so you stop seeing clearly. Furthermore, it’s addictive. It has an energy that demands more food, more of its own, to grow further. For your own peace of mind and so you can continue to sparkle and tred lightly, it’s got to be stopped, and here’s what works for me when I’m in this loop.

I accept that the can of shit has come again in the most welcome manner. It is not some supernatural, sinister devil, but just an unhappy jumble of thoughts that I’ve met and grappled with before. This time, there is no grappling. It is just there; it is what it is. The moment you stop struggling, stop paying attention to your torrent of insecurities/other issues is the moment its power gets reduced. You’re greater than your pain, so why should you have to shrink to the size of it? You can acknowledge it’s there without making an identity out of it.

Letting go requires strength – a passive, gentle strength, but strength all the same. The strength to overcome battling and realise that sometimes the best approach is not to resist, but to let go, to get out of the fight. To not stoop yourself down to the level of your your menacing mind. For these thoughts that you give such power to are mere flighty, substanceless wisps, as loose as puffs of cloud on the sky. Letting go means you can get out of your past pain cycle, and focus on what you actually are now. Like a snake, in order to evolve, we must continually shed our skin (our past pain), because otherwise it will build up and stop you from moving. Once you’ve let go and stepped out of the claustrophobia of your own head, you realise just how much energy you were wasting in the struggle. You feel lighter, and more powerful. And you’re not dripping with sweat from the struggle; all you’ve done is open your hand, and let the pain drift off and away.

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Why I love yoga

cropped-yogaOver the last year or so, I’ve got very much into yoga. I first took a class because I thought it would be a good way of getting trimmed and toned and healthy – little did I know how much deeper the benefits of yoga run than just this surface level vanity. I know it sounds cheesy to say, but yoga has really benefited me in all three human dimensions of mind, body, and soul. Here’s how:

Mind

I’m sure that fellow bloggers can relate when I tell you that I have a very flighty, fast-paced mind. The description of ‘monkey mind’ is very fitting, as my mind is constantly swinging from one branch to another with worry and overthinking. It drives me bananas and really drains my energy, not to mention reduces my ability to concentrate and think clearly. And the effect of all this mental jabbering? Nothing. It’s a pointless, anxious cascade of thoughts leading nowhere and taking me out of where I actually am so that life flies past metumblr_odo3dm1zdk1rnsok6o1_1280. I once heard a good analogy to describe the human mind. Imagine a cup of tea. If it is shaking, the surface of the tea is rippled and unclear. However, when the cup is still, the water comes to rest and you can see your own reflection on the tea’s surface. Constant, compulsive thinking distorts your mind, and you must settle the raging currents at work in your head in order to gain a clear, calm, illuminating perspective. Of course, this is easier said than done. But yoga is a great way to bring some clarity and space to your head. Let me put it this way: you can’t do yoga if you’re thinking about other things. Yoga requires concentration, as you are moving your body in new, often difficult ways. As you focus on your breath and body, the rambling ego-centred whirlpool of negativity and to-do lists and regrets and anxieties gets hushed. It is a detox for the brain as well as for the body. And we could all do with more inner calm, especially these days.

Body 

I tend to get lost in my thoughts, a lot. Zoning out is probably the main thing I do. Sometimes I am living so much upstairs in my head that I forget about my environment and my physical body and I don’t even know it. Yoga is a great way of putting you back in touch with your body, and connecting your body with your mind so you just feel more wholesome and together as a person. There is a quote that goes something like: ‘there is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy’, and I so agree. We are living in this marvellous, weird, life-giving, complicated, deeply intuitive and clever cavity and we don’t fully know it or appreciate it because we don’t stop and feel how it feels to be a body. Yoga is great at taking me out of myself and putting me back in myself, so to speak. You slow down and get in touch with your physical self, which is so important as it’s really at the root of life. Not to mention feeling elegant and light and fluid in your body (which is great for posture/tackling clumsiness!)

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Soul 

Yoga is not an exclusive, competitive sport (I think there is actually competitive yoga but the ethos of yoga is very anti-competitiveness). Yoga is about relaxing, and beingtumblr_o0kg3oivt91qg4xgso1_540 gentle with yourself, and finding what feels right for you and going as slowly as you need to to really feel out each posture without worrying about how others do it. It’s all about self-love, and feeling good in your unique body and brain and not trying to be something you’re not. You just accept and respect how your body moves, how your human form works. And I find it deeply relaxing and nourishing. For once, you don’t shift yourself about to meet deadlines and appointments and life goals that the media feeds to us and what not. You’re just happy being you. I always feel so chilled and content after a yoga session. I think because I’ve developed a more loving, respectful attitude to myself which of course is going to extend to my fellow humans. Of course, yoga has lots of spiritual connotations as well about getting in touch with your soul/third eye/chakras etc, but if that’s not your sort of thing, then you can just benefit from the self-accepting attitude yoga cultivates.

So there we have it. I hope you enjoyed reading. I would be interested to hear what your experiences of yoga are :). Namaste.

Tackling the cold

If you weren’t already aware by the generally drab mood and cold temperature, it’s January. The time of year where it’s just cold with no Christmas to look forward to. Today, I plodded the streets of London in a grump against the cold as it stung my nose and cheeks. In an attempt to counteract this sour attitude, I thought I’d write a post about how to cheer up when your fingers are frozen and summer seems like a distant dream…

Tip #1: Bundle up

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Apparently hikers and outdoorsy folk say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I think us city folk could take a leaf from their book. If you’re bundled up in suitable layers and warming clothes, you will feel so much happier and cosier outside than if you’re in a flimsy bomber jacket. So layer up! Also, a lot of heat loss comes from the head and neck and hands so be sure to bring along a hat, scarf and gloves when you’re out and about. It will benefit both your mood and ward off illness. And why not embrace this time of year to feel cosy and wrapped up and generally as snug as a bug in a rug?

 

Tip #2: Warm drinks 

There is such comfort to be found in a hot drink, especially at this time of year. I can understand why tea drinking ceremonies are a thing, because sipping tea feels so purifying and medicinal and soul-warming to me! And coffee and hot chocolate are so tasty and comforting. So, instead of glugging down your [insert hot beverage of choice] mindlessly, really let the warming flavour caress your tongue and feel it warm you up from the inside out. It’s such a simple thing, but filling your day with hot drinks and relishing them is a great remedy against the outside chill!

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Tip #3: Be a bit warmer socially speaking

Labelling a person ‘cold’ means they’re somewhat distant, and harsh, and unapproachable. ‘Warm’ on the other hand suggests someon30a8dd4e00000578-0-image-a-3_1453994469179e who is friendly and open. Both the label we attach to the person and the weather comes from how they/it makes us feel. So if you can’t physically feel the warmth, then get a bit of social warmth going! Kindle the fire in your heart towards your fellow humans. The cold tends to make me withdraw/get a bit grumpy, but I think communal activities are
a great means to counteract this. Don’t burrow into yourself, but remember your fellow cold-suffering mortals and club together in friendliness like penguins do. In other words, avoid being isolated to feel more insulated ;).

So there you go! I hope some help :). I just want to add that winter has its own sort of beauty that can easily get overlooked as your senses protest, but there is definitely a cosy, gentle, pristine glow at this time of year that will reveal itself to you if you open yourself to it. Another positive about January is that it is a time of hope as the days get longer and the temperature begins to creep up… So make the most of it while it’s here. If you sufficiently immerse yourself in it instead of wishing it away, it will be over before you know it. And you never know, you might find yourself missing this cold yet cosy time of year.

(By the way, just wanted to add that the authoritative ‘you’ voice was me addressing myself as much as anyone else because I was the one in a right grump today!)

Welcome, one and all

So I’m entering the world of blogs. Not going to lie, it’s a little overwhelming. The sheer range of subjects to focus on, to communicate about… I’m not sure how to dilute it down and get a clear focus. But I think that’s because I’m not quite in the world yet. If blogging is a swimming pool, then I am poised on the edge, seeing the graceful swimmers and feeling apprehensive about taking the plunge. But once I’m in and have adjusted to the new temperature/medium, I’ll hopefully start to learn what sort of stroke suits me.

I think this is going to be a somewhat whimsical blog, because my interests are quite broad, and I don’t want to cut stuff off by giving it a certain fixed topic, when I might feel like writing about something else.

I’m a student, living in London, and lover of all things cultural/artistic. I also love food and cooking, and exercising. So perhaps these interests will work their way into this blog! Anyway, I’ll keep you posted :).