At the beginning of February, around the time of the General Election, BBC4 showed the first series of This Life, the 90s drama about co-habiting lawyers. February – a distant time when we regularly left the house to go to work, ate in restaurants and meet friends in the pub – now seems almost as long ago as 1995, when This Life first aired. It’s aged well. The clothes and hairstyles don’t seem particularly ridiculous because the 90s are fashionable again. And it’s still good. The characters and storylines still feel real and dramatic. The first time I watched this show I was about 10 years younger than the characters, I’m now more than 10 years older than them. That’s always the weird thing about fictional characters – how they stay frozen in time while you age beyond them, having experiences that inform how you interpret their actions and attitudes. Some of the attitudes in This Life do feel dated. Attitudes towards women and gay people, particularly. I suppose that’s to be expected; it was 25 years ago. The characters’ attitude towards therapy also really felt odd and old-fashioned to me.
Newsletters, Tiny Letters, SubStacks, whatever you want to call them, I love getting these updates from people’s lives in my inbox. I’ve always loved email. I subscribed to so many mailing lists in the pre-social media days of the internet that email was how I first got to know people online. Email is still the first thing I open when I sit down at my computer.
A good newsletter can feel like a great secret and it feels a little bit odd to be talking about my favourites out in public like this. Maybe it’s because they are sent directly to me and that makes them seem private and personal, or maybe because they remind me of the early days of online journals when every newly discovered site felt like it belonged to me alone. But I like sharing the things I love, and I can console myself with the fact that very few people read this blog, so they will remain mostly secret!
These are five (plus one bonus one) of my favourite free newsletters.
It felt like January would never end but it’s finally drawing to a close and on Friday it will be February. Soon, there will be more light in the sky and green buds appearing everywhere. It’s a new beginning, and there is still time for new year’s resolutions. The resolutions you made in the final days of December might be cracked and broken but you can still make fresh, bright new ones! Resolutions that aren’t about punishing yourself for the excesses of Christmas. Resolutions that don’t involve giving things up.
Here are six resolutions that are designed to add something to your life and make it better. They are all a bit earnest and do-gooder-y but they are definitely better than a juice cleanse.
Based on nothing more than a hunch, I think there’s another recession coming. A hunch, and the fact that stock markets are plummeting, the US is becoming increasingly unstable and if the UK succeed in crashing out of the EU, they are going to take us down with them. At home, the soaring rents and house prices aren’t sustainable – can’t be sustainable – and in the boom and bust cycle which we seem cursed to repeat, that means a recession is on it’s way.
After seeing this terrifying headline early this month, I started thinking about what I could do to prepare for this inevitable recession. I always feel better when I have a plan.
My plan does make some big assumptions. It buys into the narrative that there’s more money sloshing around right now than there was 5-10 years ago. I know this isn’t true for everyone. There are over 10,000 homeless people in Ireland. There are children growing up in hotel rooms. Over 15% of the population is living under the poverty line and the income gap is growing all the time. People are working good jobs and still broke because their salary is being eaten up by rent.
This silly listicle will not be relevant to a lot of people and I’m sorry about that. A better way to prepare for a recession would be for the government to take the Apple tax (and the Google tax, and the Facebook tax) and invest it in social housing and other public services. I can’t make that happen so here are some things to do instead.
1. Get out of debt.
Obvious one first. Pay off your loans, clear your credit card, get out of your overdraft. If you find yourself penniless and out of work, you don’t want to owe the bank anything. You’ll miss repayments and the interest will just keep clocking up. Clearing debt is a very boring use of money but if you are lucky enough to have a bit of extra cash now, invest it in becoming debt-free as soon as possible.
This also means that if you have a future financial emergency, those lines of credit will be available to you and might help you ride out the recession.
Another boring, practical piece of advice – start saving. Preferably with a credit union because it’s easier to borrow from them. Set up a savings account and a weekly (or monthly) direct debit into it. Even if it’s only for a small amount, some savings are better than none and being a regular saver looks good when you go looking for a loan. I also like the credit union because it’s hard to get at the money. There’s no cards or electronic transfers, you have to physically go into the building. That helps my savings grow!
3. Learn to cook
The cheapest way to eat well is to cook for yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy just learn how to make the thing you like. The BBC Good Food website has lots of easy recipes with clear instructions. (Personally I really like this two-step recipe for chicken, sweet potato and coconut curry.) Cooking well isn’t hard but it takes a bit of practice. Better to make your mistakes when you can afford to, so if the meal is completely inedible there’s a pizza in the freezer you can have instead.
Inviting friends over for dinner is also a good way to enhance your social life during a recession when nobody can afford to go out. Finally, as well as being able to feed yourself and others, being able to spend time preparing good grub is a great when you have too much time on your hands, because of unemployment or under-employment.
4. Invest in clothes that last, especially shoes/boots/coats.
If you can afford it, spend money on good quality shoes and coats that will see you through a few winters. This is good advice from a budgetary and environmental point of view but also because you find yourself walking more in a recession and it’s good to have things that keep you warm and dry.
5. Join the library! All those books!
Libraries are great. Not only are they full of books that you can take away for free, they are also warm places you can go and use the internet without spending any money. You’ll also be grateful for their weird collection of DVDs when you have to cancel your Netflix subscription and can’t afford to go to the cinema. You could argue that you don’t need to join a library now, but having lots of members help libraries stay open and (I imagine) help them argue for budget increases, so by joining today you can help make sure they’re still there when you need them. Also did I mention the free books?
6. Vote for anti-capitalists.
I don’t know if the general election is going to happen before or after the recession hits but when it does, you should vote with the recession in mind. We need a government who doesn’t always take the side of the property developers or the landlords or the banks. We need more tenants and less landlords in the Dáil. We need more socialists who will increase investment in public services. We need people who will put an end to the boom and bust cycles.
Leo Varankar described himself as “the CEO of the organisation” on the Late Late Show recently. CEOs tend to be selfish, power-mad psychopaths and we shouldn’t let them be in charge anymore. We need a leader who is less like a CEO and more like a caretaker. Someone who looks after the country and has it’s best interests at heart, someone who identifies where cuts can be made and also where we need to invest. Someone who understands that they don’t own the country, they’re just looking after the place for bit. Please vote for someone like that, when the time comes!
7. Look on the bright side…
…a recession might be the only thing that will bring down our carbon emissions. The last recession really helped with that but they started climbing again as soon as the economy started to recover. Yes, this is clutching at straws and it is a fairly bleak bright side but we were identified as the worst offender in the EU for carbon emission last week, which is another super bleak and depressing headline, so I’ll take any bright side I can find. We need a few more politicians who give a shit about global warming in the next Dáil as well.
Every time I do the lotto I convince myself that I am about to become a millionaire, and then I’m bitterly disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Every time I declare it a total waste of money and swear I’ll never do it again. I don’t play very often but I do like to spend time thinking about what I would if I won. Pretending I’m a millionaire helps me figure out how I feel about my life. It helps me to see what’s not working and what changes I need to make. It’s particularly useful if I’m feeling general a dissatisfaction with life but I can’t put my finger on why.
I discovered this trick nearly ten years ago, after I moved back to Ireland after three years of college in London. I was back about a year, living in a house-share with a couple of other women. It was taking me a while to adjust to living in Dublin and I wasn’t very happy. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the house or the people I was sharing with, I just didn’t feel very at home there. One night, as I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep and idly wondering what I would do if I won the lotto, I imagined being able to afford my own place. I imagined buying a house or a fancy apartment that was all mine. It made me happy. It was such a glowing sort of happiness that I was still thinking about it when I woke up the next day. Then I started wondering if it was something I could actually do.
I started searching on Daft and discovered that I could afford to live by myself, it wasn’t an impossible lotto dream. My budget didn’t allow for anything fancy but the possibility of my very own tiny flat still felt like magic! I was able to live my lotto dream and I loved it! It took my a few months but when I got there I loved my little flat and I loved that it was all mine. My own fridge, my own bathroom, my own pile of dirty dishes stacked up beside the sink. Having something that was mine, something that I made happen, made me see other things I wanted to change about my life. It opened me up to possibility. I became more social. I did more drama workshops. I tried roller derby. I put on a production of The Vagina Monologues in the Sugar Club. I applied for college. Eventually I left my wonderful, cosy, delightful, little flat to move to Galway and do a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies. I still consider this one of the best decisions I ever made because I had such a wonderful time there and learnt so much. When I came back to Dublin I started working in theatre.
I don’t know if any of those things would have happened if I had stayed in the house-share where I felt vaguely dissatisfied but not actively unhappy, and accepted that that was how my life was meant to be. Living by myself meant there wasn’t anyone else to compare myself to, I had to figure out what I wanted my life to look like without the comparison and it allowed me to create a bigger life for myself.
My lotto imaginings were the spark that made me look for a place by myself but I know I was very lucky to be able to make that lotto dream a reality. It was early 2010 and my tiny flat in Drumcondra was €520 a month. The landlord put the rent up by about 100 euro when I moved out in August 2011, and the same flat advertised two years for around €800. The Dublin housing market is bananas. I have not been able to live alone since.
Making my lotto dream happen is not always easy. Earlier this year when I asked myself what would I do if I won the lotto, the answer was that I’d run away to Spain for three months and hang out with a couple of family members who live over there. That was not possible but I could just about afford a long weekend which I booked immediately and in a way, I got what I needed.
Recently my lotto answer was to do some renovation around the house and hire something to sort out my over-grown garden. I think that means I’m pretty satisfied with my life right now, and I don’t really feel compelled to do anything to make that dream a reality.
It’s a bit of a silly exercise and I think that’s why it works so well for me. My brain gets stuck if I try and figure out a five-year plan, but it’s fun to let your imagination run wild and dream up the possible lives I’d choose if money was no object. The answer usually gives me a pretty good indication about what direction I want to take.
The important thing is to think about how a lotto win would change your life; what would you do, not what you would buy. Then the trick is to figure out how to flip that big money dream into something you can do right now. It helps me. I’m curious to know if it works for any one else. Let me know.
If you like this this, you might like some of my other vaugely self-help style posts:
Successful planning and What to do when you’re feeling over-whelmed by the state of the world.
Image from a Buzzfeed article on 21 Perfect German Words We Need in English. Check it out, there are some beauties there.
There are so many things to worry about right now. So many things to care about and feel anxious about and powerless to correct.
For a start, in Ireland the number of people being made homeless is going up every week and the government don’t seem to be doing anything about it. There’s the shamefulness that is Direct Provision where the government is paying companies large amounts of money to keep people seeking refuge in intolerable conditions. Ibrahim Halawa will spending a fourth birthday in jail in Egypt as his trial was postponed for the 16th time and we are still forcing women to travel aboard for a basic medical procedure.
Further afield, there’s the uncertainty of Brexit to worry about as well as the hundreds of unaccompanied children that were recently moved out of the Jungle in Calais and sent who-knows-where. France is still under a state of emergency after two brutal terrorist attacks, refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean, bombs are raining down on civilians in Syria, millions who fled the war there are living in refugee camps and Israel cut off the water-supply to Palestine during Ramadan this year, just the latest in a long series on attacks on the Palestinians.
And that’s all before we start worrying about climate change or what will happen under the Trump presidency.
It’s hard. It’s hard to take it all in, to feel all that fury and sorrow. In the face of so much horror it’s easy to run out of feelings. Even when you feel like you want to help, how do you choose which of the heart-breaking issues to focus on? Sometimes it’s easier to throw up your hands up and do nothing, feel nothing and just try to have a good time because it’s becoming increasingly obviously that the whole world is going to shit. It’s a pretty bleak way of seeing the world and it’s hard to sustain because the horrors keep creeping in.
When the bleakness is threatening to overwhelm me, I take solace from this quote.
“Of course individuals can make a difference, but the fact is that evil has had the whip hand in this world since Cain. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to be good, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves, either. Evil is not going to be vanquished. Our job is to resist it, and to plant the seeds of further resistance so that goodness never entirely vanishes from the universe.”
Chris Cleave, author of The Other Hand/Little Bee.
I like it because it lets me off the hook a little bit. Once I accept that I can’t fix everything, it’s easier to just concentrate on what I can do. I can’t knock evil off it’s perch, but I might be able to balance the scales a bit. It’s helps me feel less useless and more hopeful because it suggests that the little acts of resistance, of goodness, of kindness do make a difference.
Doing something is always better than doing nothing. It chases away the hopeless, useless feeling; at least for a little while. So what can we do? There’s the usual things – donate money, volunteer, get on the streets and protest, write letters to governments at home and aboard. Volunteer.ie have a database of volunteer opportunities. Giving blood is good if you’re short on time and money because it’s costs nothing and you can only do it once every three months.
But if you feel completely overwhelmed and really don’t know where to begin, or feel like you want to do more but don’t know where to start, I suggest getting a few friends together and start a “change the world” group. (Your first order of business may be to give it a better, catchier name.) It can be part support group, part action group. Meet up regularly, talk about the things that are upsetting you about the world and then decide what you’re going to do about it. You also get to hang out with your friends; have coffee and cake, or go for a few drinks. Changing the world has a bang of worthiness off it, like it’s not meant to be enjoyable. It puts people off. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Make sure your group is fun as well. You might decide to organise a big fundraiser, or buddy-up to volunteer together, or everyone might want to do their own thing, but they have the support of the group, and they have to report back so there’s accountability.
This idea comes partly from Malcolm Gladwell’s essay Small Change, about the importance of strong-ties between people involved in social activism, but mostly it’s because I think communities are important. The way we live our lives now makes it difficult to be part of a community so we have to make our own. Real-life social interactions are important, sitting in a room together talking about everything and nothing is good for the soul. But it can be hard to organise time with friends and we end up relying too much on social media instead. Organising a regular meeting means you will see your friends more often. People already do this with book clubs or dining clubs, why not a change the world club? I also believe in collaboration, often the ideas that you come up with in a group are better than the ones you come up with on your own. In a group it’s easier to stay hopeful and not let yourself or others fall into despondency. Hope is important if you want to change the world.
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (More glorious quotes here)
And because I love Charlie Brooker, here he is singing with the Blockheads. This video also lets you feel nostalgic for the things we were fearful of in 2014.
I first became aware of the Edinburgh Fringe about 15 years ago, through a tv show on Channel 4 called “Edinburgh or Bust”. It focused on the comedy festival and followed a number of performers during the led-up to and during their month in Edinburgh. Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt were there with a show called the Arctic Boosh. Simon Munnery was on it. It was the first time I came across Jason Byrne who would later perform regularly at my college during Rag Week and Freshers Week. It made the Fringe look both terrifying and amazing. I wanted to go!
I’ve still never actually been to the festival, either with a show or as a punter but I am still fascinated with the it. I’m not sure I’d cope with the frantic pace, the endless flyering, the huge number of shows to see; not to mention the hills and the Scottish weather.
Bryony Kimmings has some wonderful words of advice for those heading the Edinburgh this August. These include things like do not flyer your own show, don’t see any other shows during the first week and eat your greens! She is in Edinburgh this year with a show about depression called Fake It ’til You Make, which I think sounds great. You can read about the making of it here.
Byrony Kimmings also gave the opening speech for this year’s festival. She talked about what the Festival means to her but also has some great tips for anyone involved in theatre, including advice on making money and making art.
In the Guardian last week, Lyn Gardner talked to artists about the cost of taking a show to the festival and what you gain by doing so. Spoiler – the gain is generally not financial. Despite focusing on the money, it’s a very upbeat article that illustrates why people do it.