Something for a rainy day

Sophie Caldecott

Phantom limbs

a moment of calm, window, avoiding stress, the culture of busyness, health and well being

One time I sat in on a friend’s psychology lecture when I was visiting her at university and I learnt about phantom limbs, the syndrome that sometimes occurs when someone has lost a limb but still feels as if they have it. The lecturer talked about how this can be a big problem in situations where the person in question feels like their phantom limb is tensed and the muscles are clenched, causing them very real pain. They have to be gently led through the process of relaxing the non-existent limb before they can begin the process of teaching their body that the limb in fact is not there at all.

Recently, I keep thinking about this syndrome in relation to the importance of self-care. I’ve realised that I’m experiencing life a bit like someone who has a phantom limb at the moment. I have a mental ‘to-do’ list that feels like a tightly clenched fist at all times. I believe that I have to somehow manage to be the baby’s primary carer at all times, as well as earn a living, write things that I am proud of, take care of the housework, be a kind and generous friend, write letters to loved ones, be well-read, interesting, and up-to-date with current affairs, start writing my novel, found a website (you get the picture)… all without ever asking for help. Needless to say, it’s impossible to live up to these self-imposed standards.

I think it’s partly to do with working motherhood and needing to learn to balance things in this particularly intense time of life, but I also think that it’s an experience that is common to most of our generation in our adult lives. Why do we do it to ourselves? Why can’t we relax properly, even when we actually do have a rare moment to spare? Why do set ourselves impossibly high standards? It seems to me that we are all walking around with phantom limbs, carrying a lot of unnecessary weight.

a moment of calm, window, avoiding stress, the culture of busyness, health and well being, Paris, balcony, look after yourself quote

I’ve written before about how, as a culture, we need to slow down. But what does that look like on a personal level?

First of all, we have to get rid of the idea that looking after ourselves is somehow self-indulgent. I loved reading Robin Long’s piece about how guilt gets in the way of healthy living for Darling magazine recently. To be able to live to our fullest potential, after all, we need to be strong, happy, and healthy ourselves. To be able to give others our best, we need to treat ourselves well, too… and not feel guilty for it. (Repeat after me: ‘Feeding myself is just as important as feeding the baby!’)

I find making ‘to-do’ lists helpful when I’m busy and tired and constantly living in fear that I’ll forget something important. But we need to know when to stop with the ‘to-do’ lists, too, however helpful they can be. I absolutely love this article about the ‘to-don’t’ list, and am making an effort to see my ‘to-do’ list in the right way; I need to use it to jot down the essentials that I really mustn’t forget, being really honest with myself and keeping those to a bare minimum, have a separate section for a few more aspirational notes, and then forget the rest for now. This may even mean making my own ‘to-don’t’ list (I love Stephanie May’s version), to consciously think about which things are hanging over me semi-permanently that I need to mentally put to one side.

This leads me to the value of living with intention. I came across the lovely ‘Autumn on Purpose‘ project by Laken of Peach & Humble recently; the idea is to slow down in this new season and live with a renewed sense of calm and purpose, enjoying the present and seeking out the little things of beauty scattered through our lives every day. In the first of her weekly emails through the series, Laken encouraged us to make our own intentions. These are different from goals in as much as they are more general priority areas (or, as Laken puts it, ‘feelings and desires centered in the present moment’), not tasks that we need to complete. Thinking about what my overall life intentions are in this season helped me to clarify when I need to say no to something, or ask for help in a particular area of my life. My intentions are:

  • To be nourished in body, mind, and soul.
  • To be present with my family and not let this time slip me by unappreciated.
  • To acknowledge the joy that being creative gives me, and to purposefully make time for work.

I’ve started trying to drink warm lemon water first thing in the morning, and to make myself a bowl of hearty porridge. I try to get up early enough to give myself at least 10 minutes of quiet, peaceful, sit-down-and-relax breakfast time every other morning. I’m trying to bear in mind these tips for safeguarding your future health from Verily, as well as incorporate more of these joyfully easy every-day antioxidant ingredients into my life. I’ve asked for this beautiful magic carpet pilates mat for my birthday so that I have a motivation to tune in to Robin Long‘s wonderful (and free!) videos while the baby plays around me every day (everyone has a different form of motivation that works for them; mine happens to be pretty things and food!).

I’m trying to teach myself to be better at asking for help with the baby, to schedule my days better and plan ahead so that I have time to work during the day and can better enjoy the times when I’m not working and be more present with my loved ones as a result. I’m trying to switch off my laptop and phone whenever I can an hour or so before I go to bed, so that I can start to unwind properly before trying to sleep. I want to learn to follow Erin Loechner’s wonderful example of ‘slow blogging‘.

These things are all baby steps, and I am so far from having it figured out that it’s almost laughable. But I have one solid intention that I am going to try and hang on to: there are many things that I want to achieve, many things I want to get better at, and many ways I want to become a better person, but I don’t have to do it all at once. It’s okay to seek the order that I crave when I feel surrounded by chaos. And, most importantly of all, self-care is not an optional extra.

Have you ever had a wake-up call about how important self-care is? How have you learnt to handle stress and chaos in healthy ways?

Let’s make the world a better place

A Better Place, Stratford Caldecott, prostate cancer, CapForStrat, ethical lifestyle website, ethical shopping guide, ethical consumerism, Crowdfunder

I’ve been talking about a website that I want to create and dedicate to dad for some time now, and now that the Crowdfunder is finally live you can take a look at our plans and help us to make it a reality. Every little helps, and even if you can’t pledge yourself, sharing the link with anyone you think might be interested is so helpful, and very much appreciated! Here’s our campaign video so you can get a quick idea of what we’re all about, but there’s a lot more information on the Crowdfunder project page, here. We also have various beautiful rewards organised to thank people who make pledges, created by the talented illustrator Frances Ives, who will also be involved helping us to design the website and make it truly a thing of beauty when we reach our target.

A Better Place – Crowdfunder from A Better Place on Vimeo.

A Better Place will be a free resource for anyone and everyone to use, a cross between a online lifestyle magazine and a listings and product reviewing website. Our team is based in the UK and the USA, so we will do our best to cover services and products based globally, wherever possible suggesting similar products that are closer to home for people on both sides of the Atlantic.

Several websites and blogs already exist in this field, but nothing that we’ve come across so far covers all areas of life as comprehensively as we would like to, with in-depth articles and discussions of issues as well as extensive product listings and recommendations organised in a logical and aesthically-pleasing manner. The website will be quality-led; what I mean by that is that we will only feature products and services that we think can stand on their own merits as well-designed, useful, and desirable, and that also have a positive impact as a matter of course. We believe that this is the only way that ethical consumerism will ever become truly mainstream. If it’s all ‘fair trade-y’ funny smelling big jumpers and bobble hats, and ‘tribal’ jewellery, it will just remain an elaborate way of donating to charity. I guess you could say that we’re trying to take ‘trade not aid’ to the next level, searching out all the best innovative and positive impact brands and organisations around for you.

we are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden, Joni Mitchell Woodstock lyrics, inspirational quotes, A Better Place, ethical lifestyle

A Better Place will be a website where you can go to inspire a positive lifestyle, whatever your budget. Whatever you need, we will try and present you with attractive ethical versions that compete with the best on the market, so that spending your money well becomes a real pleasure, not a chore.

An English professor of mine once said that sometimes a phrase or an idea strikes you particularly hard and sticks with you for years, niggling away at you. He said that it is like the grit that gets into an oyster, eventually resulting in a pearl. It is an irritant that pushes you to think about a topic particularly deeply, research it, and eventually do something about it. As my oldest friends will tell you, this idea is something that I’ve been a bit obsessed with for over a decade since I was at school and I wrote to Ali Hewson (Bono’s wife and founder of the ethical fashion label, Edun) asking if I could do work experience with her. (She sent me back a very sweet and gracious letter saying that she thought I was a bit young, but thanking me for my interest and encouraging me to stay passionate about ethical trade.)

The name, ‘A Better Place’, was inspired by a conversation with my dad that I had when I was younger; we were on holiday and he was picking up pieces of litter from the sand as we walked along the beach, and I asked him why he was picking up things that he hadn’t dropped. He answered that we had to try and leave the world a better place than we found it. A simple lesson, perhaps, but one that had a big impact on me. The blackberries in the logo were his favourite fruit, and my sisters and I have many happy memories of foraging for the berries together every year. He used to get so gleeful and boyish whenever he saw them, and suddenly dart off into the bushes with a sparkle in his eye, returning with juicy handfuls of the berries.

rose, A Better Place mission statement, Crowdfunder, ethical lifestyle, Stratford Caldecott, environmentally aware, ethical consumerism, green living, fair trade, ethical shopping guide, ethical consumer, ethical products, ethical lifestyle magazine

I’d love to know what you think, and to answer any questions that you have about our project. If you are an ethical brand yourself, bear in mind that some of the rewards we’re offering for pledges involve various different advertising packages, so do check them out and get in touch at sophie@abetterplacejournal.com if you’d like to discuss these any further.

Thank you so much for your kind support and interest!

Shaking it off (and dropping the pompoms) with Taylor Swift

 

Yes, I had a brief moment of doubt when I heard Taylor Swift’s new song, ‘Shake It Off’. ‘Where’s the banjo gone?!’, I panicked. But then I gave it another listen, and she won me over like she always does.

It’s the Taylor we know and love, doing her thing bigger and better than ever before. Saying she can’t branch out from country music is like saying a writer can only write poetry and never try writing a play, or that a painter can only paint in watercolours and not try their hand at oils. In the video for the song, she is simultaneously celebrating the awesome skills of all kinds of different dance genres, while laughing at her own inability to keep up with their cool moves.

‘Selling millions of records doesn’t make me feel cool’, Taylor says in this outtakes video. This song is such an incandescently joyful celebration of ‘dancing to the beat of your own drum’. I love the bit at the end of the video where she dances like a goon with her fans. As Sarah Ditum wrote recently, it makes me hopeful for the future of humanity.

I wrote about how I fell in love with Taylor Swift early last year on my old blog, and I think now is a good moment to share that again. Here’s to dropping the pompoms!

*   *   *

I remember the moment that I first heard a Taylor Swift song. It was the summer of 2009; I was getting ready for a party with some friends when suddenly ‘Love Story’ came on and they were singing along at the top of their voices. I winced and said something along the lines of ‘You can’t seriously like this?!’

I remember the moment that I first started liking Taylor, too. It was the autumn of 2009 and I was in a friend’s room at college. We were in a silly mood and ‘You Belong With Me’ came on and we just started dancing like no one was watching. From that moment on, listening to Taylor made me feel happy – all I had to do was to forget about what it was cool or not cool to be into, and just let myself enjoy it. ‘Love Story’ remained one of my least favourite songs (the whole point of Romeo and Juliet is that their families hate each other and it’s a tragedy – hardly a love story I’d like to emulate), but, as I quickly discovered, this girl can really write a tune. And you know what, if you’re not taking it all too seriously, you start to see the skill in her lyric writing, too. I love the line in ‘Fearless’ that goes ‘[You] run your hands through your hair/Absent-mindedly making me want you’. For all her clichéd moments of kissing in the rain and seeing fireworks when she makes eye contact with a hottie across a crowded room, she has a very real talent for rendering emotional moments very clearly, and for throwing in unexpectedly fresh lines that give a depth to what, at first glance, looks pretty shallow.

I tried to keep my Taylor loving in a special guilty pleasures box for a while, along with Michael Bublé (he has a voice like melted chocolate!) and B*witched (their album was the first album my older sister ever owned on tape, and who doesn’t love doing a little Irish jig to that bridge in C’est La Vie?!). But recently, she’s been escaping from that box more and more, and the more I see and hear of her, the more I admire her and am not ashamed to admit it.

I love the way she doesn’t try to act cool and cover up her wide eyed enthusiasm about things, her borderline crazy keen crushes, and her snappy way with words. Her lyrics aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but they give you the comfortable sense that you’ve found a friend who understands you, and assigns value to your emotional experiences. Occasionally, you recognise with a pleasant shock something you’ve experienced over and over again parcelled up into a neat little one liner: ‘[You're] So casually cruel in the name of being honest.’ As the New York Times writes, ‘Ms. Swift has excelled at capturing the fresh sting, as if arriving at a feeling for the first time.’

Taylor has a talent for writing catchy tunes and lyrics that have more substance and humour to them than your average young pop star. She’s playful, intense, giddy, overdramatic, a hopeless romantic who can poke fun at herself with lines like: ‘You would hide away and find your peace of mind/with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine’. People make fun of her for being so surprised and excited when she wins awards, and I love her response: ‘It’s just hard when you get excited about stuff. It’s like, if you win an award, isn’t that crazy? … How do you sit there and be like “Oh, another Grammy. I guess I’m gonna get that now”?’

Oh, Taylor! I really get that. I get being so excited about a new friend that you develop a kind of friend crush and act a little too keen. How many times in life does our fear of how we’ll come across to others prevent us from saying something nice to someone, or doing something nice for them? Half the time we don’t make the effort to reach out for fear of looking ‘uncool’ or weirdly intense. What is ‘cool’, anyway, and why does it matter? My favourite people in the world are genuinely so interested in others, having so much fun, that they don’t seem to waste any thought or energy worrying about whether or not other people think they’re ‘cool’.

I have this theory that there are two types of people in the world, the wavers and the nodders. The nodders don’t want to make themselves vulnerable to rejection, so they opt for a non-committal nod when they see someone they know in the street, whereas the wavers throw caution to the wind and flap their arms around happily (rather awkward if someone ignores you and you end up having to pretend you were fighting with a pigeon or something). Taylor is a waver through and through, and I love that she is inspiring other people to be a little more open-hearted and starry-eyed, too. She is the physical embodiment of the fearlessness I wrote about in my blog post ‘Our secret weapon, or Making lemonade’.

Taylor’s goofy, fearless, anti-cool is special because it’s so rare in the world of pop; it invites people to be kind to themselves and to others in a way that goes so far beyond Lady Gaga’s acceptance of misfits (I would feel far too uncool to hang out with Lady Gaga, but I get the impression you could have just as much unselfconscious fun with Taylor dressed up for the Grammys as you would do in your PJs at a girls’ night in). Whatever she’s singing about, Taylor always makes you feel like she’s on your side, or that you’re in on a joke together. She’s not competing with you; she’s your biggest cheerleader.

In a culture inundated with pop stars like the Pussy Cat Dolls gyrating to the lyrics ‘Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?’, Taylor stands out as an unexpected slap-in-the-face type of reminder that we women really are in this empowerment business together, and ‘sexy’ is way overrated. Stars who can’t seem to stop pouting long enough to show any personality bother me, not because they’re pretty or sexy, but because their public lives seem to be about striking one long attractive pose, perpetuating the idea that women in their ideal form are empty vessels for male sexual fantasy. It’s the same issue that I wrote about in relation to what makes a woman funny – she has to be able to stop thinking about whether or not she’s coming across as sexually desirable. Kate Winslet and Tina Fey are just two examples of gorgeous, funny, clever, and personality filled women who show up the idea that some women are just too gorgeous to play a diverse range of characters or to make themselves look foolish as the fallacy that it is.

Taylor’s song (a bonus track on the Target exclusive edition of her latest album, Red) ‘Girl At Home‘ is such a refreshing break from the rest of popular culture. In this song, Taylor stands up to the false idea that desire is something that should dictate how we behave, without any thought to how our actions might impact someone else. ‘I just want to make sure you understand perfectly you’re the kind of man who makes me sad’, she says to the sleaze bag who tries to make a move on her despite having ‘a girl at home’. ‘I don’t even know her, but I feel a responsibility to do what’s upstanding and right, it’s kind of like a code, yeah?’ Oh, Taylor, I love you.

Then there’s her relentless energy, hard work, optimism, and ambition; it’s astonishing and inspiring that she has been writing her own songs and pushing for musical success from such an early age. As Jess Holland points out, ‘Let’s not forget that she started writing songs at 12 and got signed at 14. When Bob Dylan was the age she is now – 22 – he’d only just switched from covers and Woody Guthrie impressions to his own stuff. Just saying.’

And even if all of this is worthless to you, one thing you can take away from it is that Taylor Swift is the ultimate weapon against hipsters and music snobs. Seriously. Flick your hair and giggle like her and they’ll stiffen uncomfortably. Sing a line from one of her songs and they’ll start twitching. Play her music at top volume, and they’ll run a mile. It’s a fun game – trust me, I used to be that hipster, until Taylor stole my heart.

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