Here are ten quick things I wanted to share with you this week.
1. Clearing out my storeroom. Everything must go!
In the interest of spring cleaning my entire life, I've decided to shut down my online store. That means it is your TIME to grab books, stickers and gifts at bargain prices. Grab 'em before stock runs out. Delivery in South Africa only.
Please help me clear out space! I need more room for cat toys.
2. A cut-up poem for Ukraine
One of the things I like to do when I feel overwhelmed is make cut-up poems, where you cut words and phrases out of a text and re-arrange them until they feel right. William Burroughs popularised this in the 1950s, but it's an invention of the 1920s Dadaists. Other great poets who've played around with cut-ups when they feel blocked are Kathy Acker, David Bowie and Austin Kleon.
The newspaper this week has been a particularly overwhelming place, so I made a poem.
3. Minimalist writing setup
I'm 30,000 words into a new novel (EEEK) and I've been writing in coffee shops and co-working spaces more often. Instead of lugging my whole laptop around, I've been using this more minimal setup when I'm on the go, which all fits inside that cute little handbag. I've got a full-round up about all the gizmos in my work set up here if you want links.
4. Giving up booze for Lent
I'm giving up alcohol for Lent. One of the less-great habits I picked up since the pandemic was pouring a glass of wine to mark the end of the workday (because I was always in my home), which would turn into two or three glasses every evening before bed. Now, that's probably not terrible for you, but I didn't like how I was starting to feel like I needed it. Also, alcohol is kak-expensive in London.
Whenever I'm trying to change a habit, I go back to all the stuff I've learned about behaviour change over the years. A great summary of what we know about how people change their habits is called the transtheroetical model of behaviour change, which suggests specific processes of change, and claims that some are more useful than others depending on where you are in your process. The thing I've been focusing on this week is counter-conditioning: trying to replace my old habit with a new one. Most habits work on a cue, action, reward cycle. It can be hard to remove the cues from your environment (I've removed the alcohol from my house - but I can't not have an end of the workday), so instead, I'm trying to do a different action that gets me a similar reward. My reward for the end-of-day-glass-of-wine was feeling relaxed, and knowing that there was a clear marker between the "sit on your ass and write, you wordmonkey" part of the day and the "goof off time yay" part of the day. So I'm trying to replace the glass of wine with a swim or a run, which gives me endorphins (relaxation) and gets me to change clothes and leave the house (it's the end of the day).
I'm also doing other things, like asking for support (LIKE HERE I AM, TELLING YOU ALL) and planning in rewards. The free app I Am Sober has been helpful: it reminds you every day of the reason you want to stop, tracks how you're feeling, and even shows you how much money you've saved.
Anyway, we're on day three, I've already saved £9, I went swimming yesterday with two of my favourite people in the world, and I'm feeling great. Wish me luck!
If an addictive behaviour is ruining your life, please consider getting in touch with a professional. They won't push you to stop unless you're ready, and they can offer you practical advice that can help, as well as a friendly ear. There are some SA helplines, chatlines and counselling centres at the bottom of this article, and here are some UK resources.
5. Dream Nails
The soundtrack of my life recently has been the official playlist from the brilliant and hilarious series We Are Lady Parts. It's introduced me to my new favourite grrrl punk band, Dream Nails, who describe themselves as "punk witches bringing feminist ragejoy" ❤️.
6. Questions from a highschooler
A young writer, still in highschool (what a champ) reached out to ask me some questions about why I started writing, what my writing schedule looks like, and how old I was when I wrote my first book. I answered these questions here, if you're interested.
7. "We can fight with the mind"
For NO REASON AT ALL, I found myself reading an essay Virginia Woolf wrote in 1940 during the Blitz, called "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid".
The Germans were over this house last night and the night before that. Here they are again. It is a queer experience, lying in the dark and listening to the zoom of a hornet which may at any moment sting you to death. It is a sound that interrupts cool and consecutive thinking about peace. Yet it is a sound—far more than prayers and anthems—that should compel one to think about peace. Unless we can think peace into existence we—not this one body in this one bed but millions of bodies yet to be born—will lie in the same darkness and hear the same death rattle overhead.
She talks about the importance of fighting not only aggressive armies, but the urge to dominate inside all of us; the sneaky belief that glory comes only from domination.
We must help the young Englishmen to root out from themselves the love of medals and decorations. We must create more honorable activities for those who try to conquer in themselves their fighting instinct, their subconscious Hitlerism. We must compensate the man for the loss of his gun.
My dear friend Dale bought me a Virginia Woolf button a few years ago that says "Thinking is Fighting", a quote from that essay. I've been wearing it a lot this week.
8. To Be or Not to Be?
Something lovely for your eyes: Andrew Scott performing that speech from Hamlet. He does it so naturally that he makes some of the most famous words ever written in English feel like they're coming out of his mouth for the first time.
Sidenote: if you're even slightly a theatre dork, please watch all three seasons of the 2003 Canadian show Slings & Arrows. The first season is structured around Hamlet, down to an interfering ghost. It's one of my favourite shows ever made.
9. "There will be moments of revelation"
How great is this description of London from Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography: "London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is infinite... London is so large and so wild that it contains no less than everything."
Ackroyd's book was recommended to me as the definitive beginners guide to understanding the wild, weird history of this place. I've been loving it.
10. The happier and healthier email policy
I really enjoyed my chat with Jen Thorpe on Monday talking about her release of her new book, Adulting 101. We ended up talking a lot about burnout and boundaries. Jen discussed an idea that's had a great impact in her life, an automatic email response that says the following:
Subject: My happier and healthier email policy
This is an automatic email to let you know that I will be limiting the days and times that I check my email. I will be checking emails from Monday to Friday, 9am – 12 noon, South African Standard Time. I also won’t have email on my phone any longer.
If you send an email that comes after those hours, or on the weekend, please expect a delay in my response.
I appreciate your patience in advance.
The rest of my chat with Jen is right here.
What do you think of the new format?
How's this new "10 quick things" format working for you? Would you rather have longer posts, maybe less frequently? I'd love your feedback! (Also, photos of your pets).
Wishing you peace,