How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

It feels almost wrong to critique anyone’s memoir because it feels as if you’re saying, “your life wasn’t interesting enough; your life hasn’t entertained me” which not only feels a little crass but in instances such as Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, is also far from true.

Unlike most memoirs, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is a collection of essays, many of which had been previously published. The beauty of an essay collection is that, on its own, an essay has to do a lot of work to impress itself on its reader; but putting a series of essays together demonstrates the way that life stories coalesce to make something beautiful. A collection like this shows how a series of seemingly insignificant moments are always more than what we originally believe them to be—we just need to take the time to think about it. In choosing to format his memoir in this way, Chee gives the reader the opportunity to find the threads that connect, to piece his life together—an exercise that he has also recently done.

Yet at times, the natural beauty of Chee’s chosen format feels undermined by what feels like the forced lessons that the reader is meant to get out of the essays. Chee loves a great metaphor, and throughout How to Write an Autobiographical Novel he uses many of them to get his point across. Sometimes this works beautifully—a exploration of Chee’s relationship to money that’s really about loss and familial relationships (“Inheritance”); a tale about starting a rose garden that’s a lesson in fierce resilience (“The Rosary”). But at times, these fall flat and stop the reader from having much faith in the lesson they’re supposed to learn.

Because of this, there were times when I found myself feeling disengaged and early on, I was ready to give up and move on. However, I continued and I’m grateful that I did. I found that the latter half of the collection was more engaging and essays like “The Autobiography of My Novel” and “Becoming an American Writer” were both touching and connective. Earlier essays such as “After Peter” and “The Writing Life” were also favourites because they felt genuine to the Alexander Chee that was revealed in the later essays.

Overall, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel feels like required reading for young writers, as both a reality check and a comfort. Nobody said being a writer was easy but Chee’s memoir shows that it can be worth it.

I would have been torn to shreds

In the year of 2019, our society is obsessed with the concept of fame more than ever. And as more and more people get famous from transforming themselves into businesses, fame as a concept is sticky and constantly changing. One thing that isn’t changing is our confusion over fame—who gets it, who keeps it, and what damage does it do, both to the famous and those who follow their every move? It’s the latter question that Brady Corbet’s latest film, Vox Lux concerns itself with. Starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law, the film tells the story of Celeste, a young girl from Staten Island who suffers a spinal injury due to a school shooting, writes a song about it, and becomes instantly famous. The film is divided into four parts, with the first half following Celeste as a quiet but confident teen, who quickly falls in love with the adventure that is fame. The second half follows Celeste, now 31 years old, still confident but increasingly anxious and prone to explosive behaviour. As much as its concerned with the pitfalls of fame, it is more concerned with the ways in which we escape our pain—individually and collectively—and the ways in which pasting glitter over gaping wounds is both healing and damaging.

The film attempts to say this in various ways but in doing so, fails to fully realize any one message. Moments are often spat at out at the audience—sometimes in blurred and sped-up time lapses—and the narration, done by Willem Dafoe, is used to fill in the gaps the audience isn’t given time to fill. Personally, I would have been happier if they’d skipped the narration and sustained some of the most crucial moments. Yet, the film’s quick-paced energy perfectly reflected the anxious energy of Portman’s Celeste, and caused the viewer to feel that same anxiety. It was an anxiety that was all too common in 2018, the kind that came with news of one terrible thing after another.

Despite my qualms, I can’t deny that I enjoyed Vox Lux immensely. It was a puzzle that had to be figured out, and Natalie Portman’s performance was absolutely fantastic. I do wish that some of the amazing soundtrack they created could have gotten more play, but not every movie is A Star is Born. And I’m completely okay with that.

A Twitch upon the Thread

The most appealing factor about Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited was that there was a film version starring Matthew Goode. For me, that’s as good a reason as any to pick up a hefty-ish tome about England in the interwar period.

I didn’t know what to expect of the novel—I knew it was a classic, and I knew that there was an important male relationship between the central protagonist and narrator, Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, a seductive yet elusive character. The novel is told from the perspective of Charles, who at the time of writing is serving in the British Army during World War II. On one morning, he and his troop arrive at Brideshead, the former home of the Flyte family; a site that holds many memories. The story moves through Charles’ life, from his years at Oxford and meeting Sebastian, to leaving England for Paris and becoming an artist. Throughout, the narrative pulls back to present-day Charles as he attempts to arrange and understand the events that led him to the current moment. Because of the retrospectiveness of the narration, memory plays an important role in the novel. At the beginning of Book Three, titled “A Twitch upon the Thread” Charles says of the stories he’s told and will tell: “These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing certainly except the past—were always with me”. In some ways, keeping these memories alive is a consuming task, yet to let go of them is to erase a large part of his life. In holding on to them, the past—and its dreams—never have to fade away.

The desire to hold onto the past is one that Ryder shares with interwar England at large. In the novel’s foreword, Waugh expresses his unhappiness with the novel and the language and speech of its characters. But he also sees it as extremely demonstrative of the types of attitudes that existed in England and therefore necessary in understanding the resistance of the older class. And while Waugh is critical of these attitudes—English traditionalism and its resistance to anything new—there is a certain sense of adoration for that period and those people that lived, hopelessly and happily, in it. The tension of being critical of something and loving it at the same time extends into the world of the novel as well. While the Flytes are devoted Catholics in various degrees, Charles often expresses his distaste for Catholicism, even getting into drawn out disagreements over the ridiculousness of it. And yet, throughout the novel he cannot help but be intrigued by the devotion of the Flytes. More poignantly, in one of the final moments of the novel, Charles finds himself giving over to the power of the religion, begging it to give him reason to believe. It’s a moment that is both surprising and beautiful.

Brideshead Revisited is not an easy novel to dive into. In fact, it took me 250 pages and 2 weeks to get interested and even longer to connect with the characters. However, it’s the complexities, the constant tension and the surprisingly revealing and delicate moments that make the slow burn worth it.

call me by my real name

I listened to Wet’s music for the first time about two years ago. At the time, I easily connected to it, despite my lack of experience in romantic relationships. Because of that I couldn’t understand or describe what resonated with me so much. All I knew was that there was something that had me coming back day after day. Although their first album Don’t You, was super melancholic, it never made me feel sad. Instead I was comforted by the vulnerability, and listening to tracks like “Island” and “Small and Silver” felt like moments of catharsis.  Although I had yet to have a great romantic adventure, the joy and pain that was involved in one was real to me. In an old interview, Kelly Zutaru, the band’s frontwoman described their music as being like underwater, a full immersion. It’s the moment when you’re fully underwater and everything goes silent and all the chaos becomes muffled. It’s less like drowning and more like a moment of clarity.

The band’s latest album, There’s A Reason,  is quite different from their first. Although the subject matter still deals with heartbreak and loss, the sound is less melancholic and, in many moments Zutaru’s voice is bold and demanding. Favourites on the album include “Softens” and “11 Hours”. “Softens” was first released as a single and despite its beauty, it took me some time to fall in love with it. The issue was that I was listening to it on speakers, asking it to fill the space. But it’s the type of song that requires intimacy, whether that’s lying in your bed in pajamas with your phone pressed up to your ear or taking a long walk with your headphones in. Either way, the song’s brilliance can’t be lost in such intimate spaces. Zutaru’s soft voice cradles lyrics like “You don't know your place/The sun hits the table/At a beautiful angle”—lyrics that make me want to lie on the kitchen floor and weep. In “11 Hours” Zutaru’s voice is bolder. She sings about being powerless to one that she loves. She recognizes that the love she had hurt her more than it helped her. While the relationship may have made her powerless, in the song she demands her former partner to take responsibility: she no longer wishes to feel well because of them. With each drawn out “you”, she reclaims the power she once had.

Although Wet’s music lies within a certain realm of indie-pop, it’s the duality found in There’s A Reason—both lyrically and musically—that makes them stand out. It’s what keeps me listening time and time again, no matter the experiences (or lack thereof) I have in my own life.

 

2018: A YEAR

The joy of discovering my personal brand

The joy of discovering my personal brand

In 2018 I:

I learnt:

  • the power of the podcast (and Oprah)

  • why I had so much academic anxiety

  • how to be ok with sitting still

  • how to disconnect

  • Toronto transit system

  • that faltering does not mean quitting

  • that growth isn’t something that stops and begins—it’s always happening

I listened to:

  • lots of Travis Scott and Ariana Grande

  • lots of podcasts including Girlboss Radio and Thirst Aid Kit

  • The songs on this playlist (and this one)

I watched (and loved):

  • Widows

  • Roma

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (I’ve now seen it 8 times)

  • Frances Ha (rewatched because it will forever be a favourite)

  • Lady Bird

  • Bob’s Burgers (again and again)

  • Big Mouth

  • That’s Chic YouTube videos

** my complete 2018 watched list

I read (and loved):

** complete 2018 read list

What I’m looking forward to in 2019:

  • reading more books

  • Greta Gerwig’s Little Women

  • making more friends

  • growing more confident in my abilities

  • trying new things

  • finding balance in all things

  • more movies

Why I’ve Watched TATBILB 4 Times

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There are a select list of movies that I have, and will, watch more than twice. Most of these movies I’ve fallen in love with at first watch, and watch them when I’m in need of comfort. Very rarely do I watch these movies back to back. So why have I watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before four times since it was released? 

When I first saw the trailer for Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before I could barely contain my excitement. I'm a sucker for a good YA rom-com and it was made even better by it being the first YA rom-com with an Asian protagonist. As soon as it was released I was gunning to watch it, and so last Saturday night I stayed up way too late to have my first watch. Then I watched it every day after that. And somehow, it got better with every viewing. 

If you haven’t seen it (why???), TATBILB is about Lara Jean Covey, a 16 year old Korean-American girl who is in love with love. She obsessively reads “bodice-ripper” romance novels and writes love letters to her most intense of crushes. When these letters find their way to their recipients, Lara Jean must leave her fantasy world of love and dating, and face the very real and difficult world of love and dating head on.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] 

Lara Jean is pretty much a typical YA protagonist. She's not super popular, she's shy and her style is "quirky". But she is also has a bold and bright personality that exists outside of her love story. At one point in the film, when she's having a feel-good moment with her dad he mentions that she's always been open and fun with her family, making it clear that it's not her finding love that makes her who she is; instead the romantic love in her life allows her to open up and show more people her wonderful and hilarious personality.

Furthermore, Lara Jean has a clear understanding of what she wants and, if she's feeling bold enough, has the words to articulate it. Though she’s new to the dating scene, she has a clear understanding of her own boundaries and is open about it. When she muses about why she writes love letters she doesn't send, she mentions how it helps her understand her feelings and deal with the intensity of them. It feels really new and groundbreaking to have a young female character who doesn't invalidate the intensity of her own feelings, instead embraces them.

The complex and multi-faceted Lara Jean is played  by Lana Condor who was amazing in the role. I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever seen such an expressive face! One of the hard parts of transforming novels into films is that without the assistance of lengthy narration, we often miss out on a lot of the protagonist’s inner dialogue. While this film had its fair share of narration, there was so much story in Lara Jean's face alone. In one scene, she's concerned that she might have pushed Peter (love interest extraordinaire) away, you see her go through a whole set of emotions before sending him a silly text to test the waters. The slight shoulder shrugs, judgey pursing of the lips, eye twitches are all part of Lara Jean's personality and ways for her to express herself when she isn't feeling bold enough to say things out loud. Lana Condor's ability to add that extra dimension to a character is just insane. 

And then there's the love story! One of the first things I thought about was that Peter Kavinsky is the healthy rom-com crush we’ve needed for so long. Peter isn’t perfect, but he is kind, he is courageous and most of all, he genuinely cares for Lara Jean from the beginning, even when he's trying to reject her love letter. In most love stories like theirs, it takes a long time before our male romantic lead stops acting like an asshole and loves the female romantic lead for who she is. From the very beginning Peter never sees Lara Jean as not being worthy of their (fake) relationship because she’s not as popular as he is. In fact he’s the one who sees dating her as a benefit, and never once acts as if he is ashamed of her. It shouldn't be a big deal to have this kind of male romantic lead, but in a world where we still think detached and uncaring guys could love, it's almost revolutionary. 

I obviously have quite a lot of feelings about this movie but I'm running late and honestly, just watch it for yourself. Even if you don't feel as passionately about it as I do, it will make you feel super good. 

 

Is It A Video?

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A large part of why certain films are my favourite and I’ve watched them again and again is due to their soundtrack. For me, a film soundtrack isn’t just a perfect compliment to aesthetically stunning scenes; it’s also a way of making the narrative more tangible. I love soundtracks that utilize headphones and radios to further embed the audience into the story; it's as if you're sharing the moment with the characters. Like that world is yours also. Soundtracks allow me to continue living in the fictional world even after the credits are rolled and my tongue has started to itch from the saltiness of movie theatre popcorn. How can I ever listen to “Mystery of Love” and not think of Elio and Oliver running around the Italian countryside? Or associate the rush of Bowie’s “Modern Love” with the abruptness of falling? Below I share my three favourite film soundtracks. 

Call Me By Your Name

I don't think there's anyone who watched CMBYN and didn't fall in love with the soundtrack. It's filled with a perfect mix of tunes that work for every mood. From Sufjan's Stevens heart wrenching ballads "Visions of Gideon" and "Mystery of Love" to the Psychedelic Fur's hit "Love My Way", I relive every beautiful moment every time I hear any of the songs. The film's musical director also utilizes the songs super well, whether filtered from the car radio to further pull the audience in or softly playing as the credits roll and the audience is struck by the expressive artistry that is Timothée Chalamet's face. 

Favourite track: J'adore Venise//Loredana Bertè

Frances Ha

I spent the summer of 2015 waking up at four in the morning, catching the all night bus to go work at Starbucks until my legs went numb. Each morning, I experienced the sort of nighttime magic that every song, poem and film filtered photographs talk about—feeling like you’re the only person alive in the whole entire world, bonding with the people who seem to crawl along the edges of the crush--and the Frances Ha soundtrack played a large role in amplifying that feeling. This soundtrack makes “Everyone’s a Winner” by Hot Chocolate the most romantic song in the world, perfect for tripping along empty streets and peering into store windows as if they were lost memories. In someways the Frances Ha soundtrack acts like a map, a way to connect the different points of discovery in Frances journey, physical and otherwise.

Favourite Track: Modern Love//David Bowie

Submarine

The only solo Alex Turner album I've ever going to need, Submarine's soundtrack is only five songs which are perfectly used throughout the film. Submarine itself is a magnificent film that doesn't try to hard to be profound or quirky--it just is. And it's soundtrack perfectly aligns with that. It's the perfect thing for floating paper boats in deep rain puddles and watching fireworks on cool summer nights. 

Favourite track: Hiding Tonight

Honorable mentions: An Education, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Collected), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Hokey Cokey with the Opposite Sex

THE VIDEO FOR “FOUR OUT OF FIVE”

Like any Arctic Monkeys fan, the announcement of the band’s latest and freshest album couldn’t have come soon enough. It’s been five years since AM, the album that made them so popular that you couldn’t visit an Aritizia without hearing a song from it, and I was jonesing for something new. I didn't know what to expect--I knew I wanted something different from AM, which felt a little too much like pop--but I was so pleasantly amused by the title, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino that as soon as it popped up on my Spotify on the day of its release, I listened to it, despite the fact that I had been just about to go to sleep.

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino has been both a surprise and a comfort. Upon first listen, I didn’t feel the same excitement that I’ve felt for other long-awaited music releases, (like Lorde’s Melodrama) but I didn’t completely dismiss it either. And although I couldn’t say that I loved it just yet, I found myself constantly putting it on, curious to discover all the creases and pockets of it all. It wasn’t until I listened to it with headphones, actually listened to it, not just played it in the background, that I began to connect with it. I think what had kept me curious was that, especially lyrically, the music felt like a throwback to their early music. I feel like Alex Turner's penchant for slightly kooky yet smart lyrics that could easily fit into a short story collection was a major part of why I ever fell in love with the band in the first place. A bit of that kookiness was lost with AM, made a brief appearance on The Last Shadow Puppet's most recent album (I still love the lyric: "It's love like a tongue in the nostril"), and has exploded on Tranquility Base. I can’t help but think about the poignancy of lyrics like “I launch my fragrance called “Integrity”/I sell the fact that I can’t be bought” (Batphone) and “The leader of the free world/Reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks” (Golden Trunks), or one of my favourites: "Love came in a bottle with a twist-off cap" (Star Treatment).

There's been a lot of chat about how much this album, more than any others, has a really strong narrative. Alex Turner told Zane Lowe that he sees it to be like a collection of short stories. And the world that's built throughout the record is very clear and defined, that I feel like I'm a part of it. But apart from it's narrative brilliance, this album also feels like a very poignant commentary on the state of our world today. While not overtly political, it's hard to miss the concern about the way the world has changed, and the way it continues to change. The futuristic theme of the album feels like a sort of warning--we can look to the future all we want but it doesn't really change anything that's going on right now. Listening to the songs on tis album, I can't help but think about consumerism and gentrification, what it means to sell-out, and what the future of our world actually looks like. It makes me think about what it would mean to throw away our smartphones, and if any of us actually want to do it or if it feels good and smart to say it. Just like it used to feel good and smart to say that we would never be sell-outs.

Tranquility Base is the kind of album that you can't help but think about all the time, the kind of album that you're constantly making discoveries about. It makes a mark, one that can’t be easily washed off. It this amazing combination of art and storytelling and social commentary. It's the perfect "comeback album", and despite my initial reservations, I can confidently say: I love it. 

Glossy Posse

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My love for magazines came from my older sister. When we were younger, we shared a room and so I was obsessed with flipping through the stacks and stacks of fashion magazines that she would get, even when I wasn't interested in fashion yet. As time went on, and I fell in love with fashion, I started to love magazines for myself. From the New Yorker to Teen Vogue they soon became something more than collage materials. These days, my sister and I share a pretty large collection of magazines, but I have a small collection that I've purchased for myself that I'll take with me when we no longer live together. Magazines have always been a source of inspiration for me, whether it's a really great piece about a little white dress and Italy in the 80s or a visually stimulating spread. 

The Gentlewoman

The Gentlewoman

So It Goes

So It Goes

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I've been pretty unimpressed with a lot of my favourites so I've been turning to older issues as well as exploring new titles. So It Goes has by far been my favourite, but I've read some men's magazines that I've been quite impressed with. I definitely was really inspired by Timothée Chalamet's cover story for V-Man--all aspects, from the visual to the interviews, were amazingly done and captured that unnameable something that's so special about him.

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It feels weird to have so much love and faith in magazines as more and more magazines fold and start to focus on digital. And I completely get that there is more money in digital because it's the future and that's what people are into but I also think that creating digital content has made a lot of big name magazines lazy; editorials and essays are uninspiring and are focused more on influencer clout instead of producing great content. I think that's why I love independent mags right now--they're doing their own thing and being true to their voice, even if that voice is constantly changing or has different tones. 

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The Days of Abandonment

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I'm not sure when I decided that I had to read an Elena Ferrante novel. I had been clued into the hype for a long time--EVERYBODY recommended her My Brilliant Friend series, but I didn't find myself falling for the hype. It was just another thing people loved to talk about just to talk about, like avocado toast or Snapchat filters. But then, Gabby Noone,nail polish influencer and my idol, mentioned that she had just finished the first book in the MBF series and all of a sudden I was like, all over that shit. I decided to read a book outside of the series, just incase I didn't love it and then I wouldn't feel obligated to finish the series. I grabbed Days of Abandonment when I went to the Strand (!!) which gives it an extra element of specialness.

The book took me longer to finish than expected; it's barely 200 pages but is so intense, the emotion so tangible that I had to take a break from it for a few days. The book is about a woman named Olga, whose husband one day declares that he's leaving her and is gone so quickly, I could barely close my mouth from the shock. The abandonment completely overtakes Olga and she is submerged in a haze of feelings she can't comprehend. She becomes disconnected from her body, her life, her children. and as she seeks to understand her husband's choices and her future without him, she falls deeper and deeper into abandonment. 

One of the most difficult parts of reading the book was that Olga's feelings were so intense, so raw, that the more she descended into abandonment, the more I felt as if I was losing grip with myself. There were moments when I want to grab Olga and shake her and scream at her; I felt like doing the same to myself. Ferrante writes as if she is laying everything bare and it's rare to experience such emotion in words. When I read the last page of Days of Abandonment I felt exhausted--like I'd been caught in some rapids and barely made it. That's how books should make you feel, isn't it?

I Just Wanna Make Money and Do Dope Shit

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March didn't get off to a great start. The underwater feeling I had felt through most of February still lingered in the first weeks of March. Paired with New York withdrawal symptoms and getting sick, I spent a lot of march feeling worthless and gross. And then school. It's so boring to complain about how shit school can be AND YET! I'm just trying to stay positive but sometimes I find it hard to fight the part of me that just wants to watch Fargo all the time and take 101 baths. However, the past couple of weeks have been a lot better. I'm working to let some things go, vent when I want to (even if it seems petty), and just gripping onto every moment of joy. The other day, I spent the morning listening to the Hairspray soundtrack and dancing my little ass off. I felt amazing pretty much all day. I'm seeing friends and accepting that sometimes I need people to re-energize. That's ok. I'm excited about it. It means I get to go see Ladybird and then obsess about it with other people in real time. 

Reading

I found myself reading a lot more this month--apart from taking a break from Instagram, I knew that reading for fun had been so beneficial for my mental health in the past couple of months, so I made a conscious effort to do it. That meant sacrificing readings I had to do for class (sorry Ann Radcliffe) but I read some amazing things. My two favourite books I read this month were The Mothers by Brit Bennett and Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine. Out of all four and a half books I read, they're the two that I was immediately captured by and they're the ones that I devoured the fastest. Both authors have their own unique way of capturing humanity--it's intimacies, its let downs, its mistakes, its richness. 

Because home isn’t really an actual place, but an idea about that place, and how that idea animates you. Even that white house I’m eulogizing doesn’t exist, except as mythology.
— Mitchell Kuga

I'm always concerned with the difficulty of defining home, especially when the only place I've lived long enough to call home is the last place that I feel 100% at home. So I loved Mitchell Kuga's brilliant piece for Shondaland called "Coming Home", in which he talks about the way we perceive home and the myths we create about it.While Kuga ended up finding home in NYC, this piece reminded me that home doesn't have to be a physical location; it can be a state-of-mind. 

Ashley C. Ford has managed to touch a special place in my heart and so everytime I read something she wrote, whether it be a tweet or something longer, I'm deeply moved. She recently wrote a piece for Cup of Joabout maintaining your relationship with your parents when your live your life in a way that's drastically different from theirs. My favourite part is this reassuring text she sent to her friend who was worrying that she wasn't properly preparing her son for the life ahead of him: "You don’t have to be the best middle-class mother to your middle-class children. You only have to be their truest home. Maybe they’ll experience the world much differently than you did, but they will always know where home is.”

I Think About This A Lot: Mark Cuban Saying 'Right' on Shark Tank. There's a girl in my political science class who ends so many of her sentences in "right" I can't help but twitch every time she says it. And although I've never seen Shark Tank there was something very satisfying about this piece from The Cut.

Watching

On My Block (Netflix)
In a move that was detrimental to both my school work and my plan to read more often, I started watching On My Block and maybe finished the whole series in 24 hours (I definitely did). The show is so funny and the characters are all lovable, even the one called Spooky. Clear your schedule for this one--you won't want to stop watching.

Listening

Black Girl in Om
I listen to podcasts based on mood, which means I'm always on the lookout for something new that will match my ever changing mood. I started listening to BGIO at the recommendation of my sister, after having one too many crises about work and THE FUTURE. Start with their most recent interview with Yaminah Mayo and then head to Season One to experience the full magic.

I'm not sure why I fell in love with this song but there were days I listened to it about three times and never got sick of it, so obviously it's the bop that we all need.

What were you loving this month? Is there anything you detested?

Read more monthly favourites here

 

It's Not That Deep

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I think of all my monthly playlists, this one's playlist has been the one that has truly captured how I felt throughout the month. It's actually hard to listen to the songs that I added at the start of the month because I feel so different now. I went from feeling moody as fuck, listening to Frank Ocean and the Shangri-Las all the time and feeling weary about life to listening to "New Slaves" several times a day and just being like FUCK YOU AND YOUR HAMPTON HOUSE. I never really have a grand motive for making monthly playlists, but this month I realized how well they come to capture my mood every month. They've accidentally become as much of an outlet as my journal is. Every playlist I've made feels like a reminder of who I used to be, how I've grown and who I'll always be. 

Love is a 1000 Piece Puzzle

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I've never been in (romantic) love before but like any optimistic heroine in a Katherine Heigl-style romantic comedy, I am lovesick. I am intrigued by love--it's complexities, it's vulnerabilities, it's enigmatic nature. No matter what I learn about love, I still don't have it figured out. But after reading Rookie on Love, the newest book to come out of the RookieMag universe, I felt more excited about love than I had in a long time. What the book does particularly well is immediately establish that there is no one story about love. While that seems fairly obvious, it can be hard to believe when every movie about love (even the "indie" ones) follows the same formula and pattern, and rarely captures the nuance of the emotion. The writers in Rookie on Love are a diverse group of people with different experiences of love so the lessons that come out of their experience are varied. Because of this, I felt like I was being guided by 20+ older siblings all armed with a beautiful and relevant lesson to teach me. This is the magic of the book: it is both a guide and companion--it made me feel understood and cared for in a moment when I felt like pain was just pain, and life was hopeless. Essays like Danielle Henderson's "You First" reminded me of the importance of saying yes to myself (and my future and my happiness) as an act of self-love. In Gabourey Sidibe’s insightful and hilarious essay “Karma”, she writes about making mistakes in love and finding love that you deserve. The book is not about figuring out a definitive statement about love--it's about saying "I'm figuring it out" and being ok with that.

February Faves

February was a sort of difficult for me--I felt really untethered and lost, and desperately wanted to drop everything in my life and lay in a bed made of pizza. In an effort to break through the fog, I focused on evaluating what I wanted and how I was going to get it. I had to reevaluate all the things I’ve come to accept as unchangeable. In addition to the conversations I had with myself, I also had a few conversations with people I trusted to be straight with me and who understood what I was going through. 

Here are some of the things that got me thinking this month, that intrigued me, and made me feel that I'm capable of creating my life.

Watch

Mary in Lonely Swim by Greta van der Star (ANYONEGIRL)

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise/Maya Angelou (Netflix)
It doesn't need to be said: Maya Angelou was a phenomenal force of nature. She's always been an inspiration to me, as a writer and as a black woman but there was so much about her I didn't know! This documentary shows how much she loved and was loved, her commitment to activisim and her bravery and resilience. I've been recommending it to everybody. 

Browse

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I'm always looking for book recommendations (even when I still have lots to finish) and Girls at the Library not only provides a cornucopia of book recs but they're also paired with great interviews with amazing women who discuss the importance of books in their lives.

Read

“Let me teach you what the world thinks about us, and let me teach you what we’ve seen the world do to girls who look like us. And let me teach you why they’re wrong.” 
There’s a lot of conversation surrounding #MeToo and from the think pieces to the opinion essays to the open letters, it can get overwhelming. This Guardian profile on Tarana Burke, the founder of Me Too, was one of the best things I’ve consumed on the topic. Burke gets back to the foundation of the movement, what she started it for and what she thinks is the benefit of it. She also recognizes the sensationalization of the movement and how that can divert from the purpose and importance of the movement.

Image by Louisiana Mei Gelpi for Man Repeller

Image by Louisiana Mei Gelpi for Man Repeller

"Sexual violence may not be eliminated by a more nuanced and open conversation around consent, power and pleasure, but that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t critically important". 
The Conversation I Wish We’d Had After Aziz Ansari

 

Listen

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the New Yorker Festival

Oprah's Super Soul Conversations. This has easily become one of my favourite podcasts, not only for the openness of the guests but for their certainty and their optimism. The interviews with Paulo Coelho, Gretchen Rubin, and Maya Angelou are my favourites.  

My February playlist! I usually make a monthly playlist and listen to it (almost) every day. February was particularly moody with lots of Angel Olsen, Lana del Rey and a track from Mitski.

What I was reading, watching and listening to in January

 

My Skincare Ritual

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When I think about the word ritual, I think of magic. Of manifesting a desire, of making space in my life for a myriad of possibilities. So when it comes to my skincare routine, I'm less concerned about how well the products are doing and more concerned with how using them makes me feel. Am I satisfied? Do I feel like I could be a glowing beast worthy of Kira Kira? My current skincare routine is making me feel so confident that the only makeup I've been wearing lately is a flick of liquid liner, some mascara and seven seconds worth of Boy Brow. Here's the lineup...

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Cleanser. I'm not married to any cleanser--all I need is a deep clean and moisture. My current favourites are Drunk Elephant's Peekee Bar and Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleanser

Toner/Essence. I love the Mamonde Rose Water Toner and Missha's First Treatment Essence. They both leave my skin feeling moisturized and prepped for the rest of my routine. Both are Korean brands, so they're a little harder to get but they're completely worth it.

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Serum(s). I'm really bad at taking my daily vitamins and it never seems to make a difference, but with serums, it's a whole different ball game. I've tried a bunch in the past, but I found the game changer last September when I started using Drunk Elephant's C-Firma Daily Serum. It's the second Vitamin C serum I've tried and it's worked amazingly. I actually see a difference in my skin when I use it and when I don't. I use Sunday Riley's U.F.O. Clarifying Oil at night, and it's amazing for fresh breakouts. 

Glossier Groupie

Glossier Groupie

Moisturizer. If there's anything in my routine I'm really picky about, it's moisturizer. I once had a bad reaction to a Nivea face cream and since then I've been super careful about my moisturizer, avoiding thick creams. However, I have recently fallen in love with Glossier's Priming Moisturizer Rich, which gives me tonnes of moisture without making me face feel like it's being smothered. Honorable mentions go to Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream and Laneige Water Bank Moisture Cream.

Eye Cream. I have a love/hate relationship with eye cream. On one hand, the dark bags under my eyes say I desperately need them but on the other hand, my experience with them hasn't been exactly revolutionary. So far, most of the eye creams that I've found to be somewhat successful are mostly good for hydration and not much else. None have reduced the darkness or depth of my under-eye bags, so I don't feel the need to invest that much into it. The best one for hydration is Kiehl's Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado

Sunscreen. I honestly hate sunscreen, especially on my face, but the EltaMD UV Daily is the best one I've tried and I don't want to try any others, because I know it works.  

What products do you use? Do you think investing in skincare is a total sham? Or are you slowly working your way through Creme de La Mer? Let me know!

January Favourites

READING

Naomi Shimada is one of the most inspiring people I follow on Instagram and I was even more inspired after reading  this feature on Refinery29 UK , where she talks about her favourite books and her relationship with learning 

Naomi Shimada is one of the most inspiring people I follow on Instagram and I was even more inspired after reading this feature on Refinery29 UK, where she talks about her favourite books and her relationship with learning 

Each time I pull my turtleneck’s tight tube of fabric over my head, I’m reminded of its essential appeal: its ability to protect, both metaphorically and materially.
— Kelsey Mckinney

Kelsey Mckinney wrote about the history of turtlenecks, their association with power and creativity, and their comfort as security

Durga Chew Bose wrote beautifully and elegantly about Call Me By Your Name and I read the whole thing with a stupid grin on my face

I've always been a big fan of Nora Ephron, but after watching Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally for the first time this holiday season, my adoration grew. Her interview in 2012 with Believer just proves why her influence is everlasting. 

RookieMag's Editor's Letter: Utopia. IF YOU READ ANYTHING THIS WEEK, THIS MONTH, THIS YEAR, LET IT BE THIS. 

WATCHING

Mindhunter on Netflix. I'm not really a big fan of murder crime mystery kind of things, but I watched this (relatively) new show in about a week. It provides an intriguing look into how the FBI came to understand serial killers as we know them now, and profiles a few (dare I say) iconic serial killers of our time. Jonathan Groff is amazing in it and I can't wait for the second season.

grown-ish. I never did watch black-ish but I love Yara Shahidi and her Instagram always gives me a laugh, so I thought I would check grown-ish out. I love it. I anticipate every episode, which is the perfect blend of hilarious and relatable. Also there are SO MANY attractive men. Like so many. 

LISTENING

The New Yorker Radio Hour: “Deportation in America”. It's disappointing that immigrants constantly have to prove that they are worthy of living in the countries they immigrate to. Unfortunately that's the world we live in. This episode of TNYRH was a really powerful listen and demonstrates the resilience, the bravery and the power of the people that are often dehumanized. 

This is: Angel Olsen. I definitely associate Angel Olsen with being creative and so I've been playing her a lot, especially when I'm writing in my journal in the mornings.

WEARING: Le Labo’s Vanille 44

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I got this as a birthday gift when I was in Paris and I've worn it everyday since. The smell is the perfect blend of sweet vanilla and crushed black pepper, and it always reminds me of Paris. 

Songs to Dance To

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Since watching Call Me By Your Name, every time I think about the scene where Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) dances his heart out, it always brings a smile to my face. That moment is so poignant because there's something to be said for dancing with such freedom, with little care if you look good or sexy, because you feel good and sexy. I've been having a few of my own carefree solo dance parties recently and it's been amazing. Here are the songs that have been accompanying my flailing.

My Favourite Podcasts

Whenever I'm in need of comfort, I turn to a podcast. Whether I'm feeling panicky, exhausted or am just in need of some inspiration, my podcast app gets a pretty good workout. Even better, they're quite informative and therefore are the best party trick known to mankind. I couldn't tell you the number of conversations I've had that started with "I was listening to a podcast that was saying..." 

I feel like it was only a few years ago that podcasts were still a rarity. Even when Serial first came out and it seemed like everyone was listening to it, there weren't podcast networks and people didn’t bond over their favourite podcasts. But with the magic of the Internet and many desperately seeking fresh content, podcasts blew up in a major way. Now it's like everyone has them, from YouTube stars to big name fashion mags. With so many options, it's easy to get overwhelmed. It took me a while to accept the fact that I wasn't going to listen to every podcast someone deemed "interesting" or that had one good episode. Over time, I've really honed it down to a select few that I particularly enjoying listening to and that I get excited to download new episodes for. Here are a few that I enjoy. 

Thirst Aid Kit (Buzzfeed)

Source:  Thirst Aid Kit

Hosted by: Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins
The pod I listen to when I need a good laugh. Hosts Bim and Nichole discuss lust, pop culture and the intersection between the two. From Zaddies to Basic Baes, there's a lust type for everyone. I've actually fallen in lust with various celebrities, including Keanu Reeves, just from listening to Bim and Nichole talk about them. My favourite segment of the show is when they share fanfic drabbles they've written because they're always wild, sexy, and hilarious. 

Girlboss Radio
Hosted by: Sophia Amoruso
On Girlboss Radio, Nasty Gal and Girlboss Media founder Sophia Amoruso talks to women from across many professional fields--sports, music, health--about how they got into their current careers, what they've learnt and what they're still learning. It's really inspiring to hear about these women's various paths and realize that there is no one formulation for success. 

The High Low

Source:  Pandora Sykes

Hosted by: Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton
Inspired by former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown's term "high-low journalism", this podcast covers a range of topics from the latest viral short story to corporate egg-freezing in Australia. Dolly and Pandora are always insightful and listening to the podcast challenges me to think deeply about the news I'm consuming, even if it is just about the latest antics of a KarJenner. 

Shonda Rhime's on Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations (OWN)

Hosted by: Oprah
This is the only episode of SuperSoul Conversations that I've listened to but it was amazing, so I have to share. The things that Shonda Rhimes has achieved and her ability to create characters that we can't help but fall in love with, is so inspiring. Combined with Oprah's naturally motivational spirit, this episode is truly food for the soul. 

Fresh Air (NPR)
Hosted by: Terry Gross
Listening to Fresh Air is a bit nostalgic for me because growing up my dad refused to change the car radio from NPR. While it could be super annoying (I just wanted to listen to Top 40 goddamit!), I eventually came to fall in love with it and hearing Terry Gross' soothing voice will always remind me of driving in my dad's old car. Terry's interview style is inimitable and her excitement about every topic she's discussing gets me excited as well.