On being grateful

Over the last week, my often-mentioned, very talented friend Mike Medaglia announced his next book in the wonderfully successful One Year Wiser series. The simply and aptly named One Year Wiser: A Gratitude Journal does what it says on the tin. It is a journal that allows you space to write one years’ worth of things you are grateful for alongside quotes and other fun things.

And that’s what poetry is. A human attempt to comprehend and share personal experiences of the things that exist just beyond our perception and comprehension.
Mike Medaglia on Poetry and Wonder from The Mindful Life Illustrated

This announcement, along with Mike’s Mindful Life Illustrated Elephant Journal posts on all things mindfulness, gratitude and generally living well, spiritually and mentally, has made me think of all of the things I am thankful for. Well, actually, the thing that triggered my thinking was a beautiful sunset on the way home from work but then I was reminded of Mike, then I matched that with a video I watched last night by Carrie Hope Fletcher and then that spiralled into everything else and so we ended up here. You and me, on this blog.

If you’ve read Mike’s writing, you know that it has the power to make you think about things, really think about things (and if you haven’t, you should). And so, thinking about things, I am. So, without further ado and pomp, I present to you:

A little ramble of things I am thankful for

How to survive a funeral

If you look, see a
box. Cry
for the melting snow.
For the flowers,
miscarriages of colour
returned to the earth like bulbs.

Bethan Ford-Williams

I am grateful for poetry, and the ability to write it, and the fact that I spent three years around people who were excellent at it and who loved it as much as I did and in some cases more. I am grateful for spending three years writing and reading and knowing that doing that was okay, maybe a bit self-indulgent at times (maybe a lot of the time) but that it was something worth doing.

I am thankful for the opportunities that those three years afforded me, and that I took a chance, when I was seventeen, and looked into university without ever really intending to go.

mum and dad

I feel so grateful to have the parents that I do, who are unfailingly supportive (even if my Dad tells me I drive incorrectly). I am thankful that they are the incredibly weird people they are because otherwise I would not be the incredibly weird person I am. (And that would be a shame for everyone involved.)

Even when they have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, or doing, or think I am being dramatic (I probably am), they support me, share in my laughter and laugh at me when the situation calls for it.

Selfies with the parentsI do not thank my parents enough for the relationship we have; the way we have never really had a fight; the way they take selfies with me even though it’s often ridiculous and very much in public; the way they let me dig at them for saying words that aren’t actually real words.

The cinema trips and drives with Dad, the shopping days and lazing around on the sofa with mum (and the dog). I am so lucky to have my parents, and I don’t tell them enough or talk about my feelings to them very often but I like to think I show them.

I am thankful for sunsets and clouds and stars and the sea. I am thankful for tiny, fluffy animals and animated gifs. I am thankful for chocolate (so thankful for chocolate). I am thankful for cobbled streets and houses with beams, but I am also thankful for towering buildings with walls made out of nothing but windows.

I am thankful for books and vanilla chai tea. I am thankful for friends and movies and ice cream.

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I am thankful for my best friend, who I wax lyrically about on a semi-regular basis, I am thankful that I have someone in my life who understands me as she does and who lets me sit in the corner, doing my own thing and is content just to be in the same room. I am thankful that she walked up to me as I was stood on the steps of our college. I am thankful she didn’t run away when I continued the conversation I was having with myself in my head, with her out loud without providing any semblance of context. I am glad she just rolled with it.

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“My sister is gonna make a mint, everyone can see her potential is f***ing phenomenal.”

Overheard from
the garden in 2011

I am thankful for my brother. He is one of the most irritating human beings on Earth but he is also my brother. I am grateful for the nice things he says about me when he thinks I can’t hear him and that he likes to throw wrapping paper at my head at Christmas, so much so that it is now tradition. And I am also grateful for hilariously out of tune sing-a-longs. I am grateful that I have a brother.

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I am thankful for grandparents. Grandparents are precious, and if you have any still with you, pick up the phone and give them a call or go round and give them a hug. I am so lucky to have had my grandparents right up until my twenties, and I am so lucky to have had not two but three sets of them! (Long story short: we adopted some close family friends who lived in the house at the bottom of our garden, and they, too, adopted us.) I am lucky enough to still have my Nanna (on my mum’s side) and my adoptive grandad still with me. I am thankful for their existence, and their stories, and the stories I can take forward and tell my one-day children and grandchildren.

I am thankful for stories, and photography. I am thankful for mist and hills and beaches. I am thankful for the way that light shines through leaves. I am thankful for those of you still reading this ramble.

he and i

I am thankful for my other half, at whose desk I am sitting while finishing this post. I am thankful for his patience when I am stressed and his support when I am feeling needy. I am thankful for his willingness to stay in with me on a Saturday while we look after my Nanna and watch nothing but old musicals and every single Lassie film that exists.

I am grateful that he took the time to respond to my message on okcupid, and that we found a time to meet and both dived in head first. I am slightly jealous of how smitten my dog is with him (it’s not fair) and how my laptop seems to really want to please him and only turns on when he is around (it’s really not fair). I am thankful for taking chances.

I am thankful that we share so many obsessions and yet still find things to each have of our own. I feel grateful that he has an incredibly lovely family, and that my own family accept and approve of him whole-heartedly. I am thankful for the sheer amount of ridiculous selfies he has let me force him into.

I am grateful that I have my own little corner of the internet to write my thoughts and review my books and fill with whatever floats my considerably eclectic dinghy. I am thankful for the people who read it. What are you thankful for?

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Pondering in an Empty Office

Hello The Internet. How are you? I disappeared again. Sorry about that. I should rename this website, call it something like The Official Apologies of Elou Carroll RE: Her Absence from Blogging. But I won’t.

Really though, I meant to do some blogging last week but I was so thrilled to have time off work to do absolutely nothing that I did just that. Absolutely nothing. Aside from my draw-everyday-of-2016 project which is still going strong, though I may not have mentioned it here before now.

It was refreshing, doing nothing. My absence from my blog has most notably been caused by late nights at work, which are self-inflicted but necessary. It is from one of those late nights that I am making my return. I’m about to leave, really I am, but once I get home I will not be using a computer. There is my dilemma. There it has been for the last month or two. So tonight, as I am here and as I am done for the night, I decided to write a little post before I leave. It is one of the better impulsive things I have done while alone in the office after staying late most evenings (the most impulsive yet: cutting my hair – not the most traditional use of the office bathroom but it felt necessary).

Actually, ignore those brackets. I am going to talk about that bit. Non-bracketed. I cut my hair at half past seven one evening, in the ground floor bathroom of my office. I’ve cut my hair before, the act of cutting it is not that unusual, but my choice of make-shift salon was quite unexpected.

Picture this: March 23rd, the Wednesday before the Easter bank holiday, an Elou, alone in an office with a desk stacked high with books and papers (my desk is potentially the most cluttered of the whole company, I’m a creative, what can I say?). The constant thrum of electricity which is almost inaudible when the whole company is around but emerges from its hiding spots in the evening when everyone leaves, an InDesign document which refuses to cooperate and a small mound of print orders which need doing and typesetting which needs sending out before the aforementioned Elou leaves the office the next day, not to return for just over a week. The InDesign document has a life of its own and doesn’t want to be fixed. In its own mind it’s not broken in the first place (and it’s not, not really, it’s just acting a little strange but at half seven in the evening, a little strange often translates as broken). Biblio (“a fully integrated best of breed publishing system accessible online from any PC and Mac connected to the Internet”) is eking out print order PDFs as slowly as it possibly can, while time seems to have sped up to at least double its normal pace. The afore-aforementioned Elou notices the straggly ends of her hair, which has not been cut since … June? She needs to fix something, nothing appears to be going right and she needs to. To grasp a teeny, tiny pixel of control. So she does.

She sees the scissors on her desk, not quite sharp enough for what she needs to do but she knows there are hair cutting scissors at home to tidy everything up, and she hops, skips and jumps into the bathroom (no, really).

Cutting off four inches of her hair is liberating. It’s messy but she can fix that later. It feels a little bit like freedom. And suddenly, the other things don’t seem too much like problems anymore, nothing that can’t be dealt with the next day (which were dealt with the next day).

Writing about myself in the third person is also quite liberating. I realise now, when I’ve had a week and a bit to sit and think about it, that this might have been a little bout of madness. But sometimes madness is necessary. Sometimes, all you need is to chop off four inches of hair and the world will look a little better.

hair

Taken from Snapchat, to Instagram, with silly selfie expressions which I am not even a little bit ashamed of. My hair was long before. So, so long.

(And so will your hair, so much so that your boss will mention it the next day, to be met with a colleague asking-but-not-really-asking-because-they-already-know-the-answer Where did you get it done, Emma? and your shifty response of here, and when asked to elaborate right here, in the bathroom. A pause, which is met with awkward shifting on your part, but is finished with amusement from your boss who has just about gotten used to the odd things that happen around you on a near-daily basis after working with you for two and a half years. Phew.)

 

Pondering on trains #2

Today, by the time I get home (including tube journeys and train delays due to electrical failures which meant at least one carriage of an overcrowded train was plummeted into complete darkness and subsequently led to us being stuck behind a slow train) I will have spent fifteen minutes in a car, twenty seven minutes walking, forty-six minutes on a bus and a whopping four hours and eight minutes on trains, with eight hours at work sandwiched in between. I will have spent £10 more than usual to get an open return which lets me get on a train at the time I would normally be waking up and I will definitely not understand why I was required to spend that extra £10 to get on a train at ten past six on a Monday morning. Nothing particularly special happens on trains at ten past six on a Monday morning, there is no magical on-board vanilla chai tea service or super comfy seats, nor are there warmer carriages or super speedy travel times, nor a small jaunt into Narnia. In fact, I am pretty sure it is a much more enjoyable experience catching a train at any time other than ten past six on a Monday morning.

That said, for most of that train journey I had ‘assumed the position’ (an act I save for the most dire of sleep-needing circumstances – normally in winter when I have had a bout of sleeplessness – which involves a lot of slouching, and as much snoozing as is possible on a bumpy train ride, all in the safety of the abnormally and wonderfully large fluffy hood on my coat) so it is possible I could have missed whatever magical happening I was paying £10 extra for. Either way, I am not sure that extra £10 is worth it.

(As I type, on my way home at around 6PM, a man with a beer has opened the train toilet door on an unsuspecting business man who clearly wasn’t aware of the lock button, though, now said beer-holding man has entered the aforementioned train toilet upon the business man’s exit and the lock symbol has not lit up so perhaps it’s just not working – regardless, that was not what I wanted to see on a sleep-deprived Monday evening and further firms the fact that train fare is bafflingly high considering the never-improving state of the service. We have already touched on how much I despise train toilets, be that in a very small way, combine that with drunk people and it is very much not a good time.)

I get incredibly stressed before I travel, to the point that my incredibly patient other half has to answer the same few questions about a million times, the answers to which do nothing to ease the stress but I still need to know the answers every time I ask for them (“when do we need to get up?”, “when do we need to leave?”, “how long will it take?”, “will I definitely get there on time?”, “will it definitely turn up?”, repeat ad infinitum), as well as dealing with irritability and the potential for less-than-a-minute bursts of uncalled for stress crying, the latter, thankfully, not happening very often. (You know he’s a keeper when he not only gets up with you at 4AM when he doesn’t really have to but also offers to make you pancakes before you leave, walks you down to your bus stop and deals with all of your pointless questions, stress and grumpiness when he should still be sleeping – thank you, you are super human.)

If I am travelling just after I have to get up, I will inevitably not be able to sleep; so determined will my body be to not miss my train/bus/taxi (delete as applicable) that I will be completely awake for most of the night with fleeting pink elephant dreams in between (today’s being a result of the back-to-back Attack on Titan watching I partook in on Saturday, and, naturally, not at all relaxing – it’s good, you should watch it). Naturally, my decision to travel a greater distance this morning in the same amount of time it would have taken to catch the various rail replacements home yesterday made me question my life choices, as well as whether today was, indeed, the same Monday I thought it was, but it also made me feel oddly triumphant.

But that was not the point of this pondering. I’m not entirely sure what the point was but it has led me to question why they’re spending so much time on a snazzy new line when that snazzy new line is leading to over-crowding on the pre-existing line and traffic problems in my home town. Sigh. That is, potentially, a rant for another entry.

Pondering on trains

I am currently (at the time of writing, though, probably not at the time of posting) on a train, and, as is customary with my train journeys, I am using this time to Think-About-Things. Nothing too drastic or life altering, just little things like ‘I haven’t written properly in rather a long time, I should fix that,’ and the impossibility of phone cameras catching the incredible beauty of a fleeting sunset between two train seats, so fleeting that it only lasted all of about two minutes. I saw the glow on the wall (do trains have walls?), spun round to try to photograph it but all my camera picked up was a yellow mass, and the train jostled about so much that it would never have focused anyway.

Other thoughts include: ‘I really am uncomfortable in this outfit, I wish I had found that t-shirt,’ ‘I need to lose twenty-eight pounds, at least,’ ‘I am hungry,’ and those are then swallowed up by improbable ones about futuristic trains which don’t wobble, and contain toilets (I am sat opposite a train toilet) that don’t have that awful train toilet smell. Trains where Quiet Zones have some kind of force field in their doors which automatically mutes any electronic devices and tells your brain to use your inside voice, your quietest there-is-a-baby-asleep-in-the-next-room-and-if-it-wakes-up-its-parents-might-actually-eat-me voice. Then it digests a bit and turns into a moral dilemma – is a super high tech train which is able to alter the volume of the voices of those inside it, utilising the brain of those people, ethical? Probably not.

On that note, my train is pulling into my station (or was, at 6:30pm, when this was being written) – time to go.

A Chance Meeting and a Ladybird Exhibition

One of the things that I love about Oxford is its book culture. It is so full of people who love books, be they OICPS Publishing students Trainee Professionals, Publishing and Research Professionals, tourists, C.S. Lewis enthusiasts, Tolkien enthusiasts, Lewis Carroll enthusiasts (guilty as charged!), students, teachers… the list is endless. 

Today, I met a lovely middle-aged couple at the bus stop and after answering their questions about bus times and ticket prices, we got onto the subject of my Masters and subsequently books. They told me that they had visited a Ladybird Art Exhibition in Grantham, which runs until the end of October and I now rather want to go to. It displays original artworks from 1960s and 1970s Ladybird science titles.

The husband, whose name I stupidly forgot to ask, remarked about the colours, the brightness and the lack of subtle shades in their design. He had a theory that their choice in colour, at the time of their creation (all of them were hand painted), was heavily influenced by possibly ongoing post-war shortages. While I am unsure if this is correct, it makes me want to find out. His enthusiasm for the exhibition and its quality was enough to get me at least a little bit excited about it.

Now, science isn’t my usual area of interest – I am ever the Children’s and Young Adult fiction enthusiast – but there was one title I found while researching which has me intrigued:

The Ladybird Book of The Night SkyThe Ladybird Book of The Night Sky.

While there are more sophisticated books about the constellations, which make use of the ever-improving astrological technology of our age, the Ladybird title has its own sort of charm. As all* of the images are painted by hand, there is little assurance of its accuracy. Rather than being the be all and end all of children’s astronomy books, it becomes astronomy through the eyes of the painter(s) and that concept is very tempting. Having sourced some second-hand copies, my finger is hovering over the ‘buy’ button and it is taking a lot of control** not to click.

Its age is part of its charm, with vintage being ‘in’ it’s not difficult to find myself leaning towards it (though I have always been interested in antiques, my book choices tend to be much older).

Claudine King-Dabbs writes of the book:

It demystifies the same sky observed by Isaac Newton – and seeks to explain the mechanisms and movements of the planets and stars – to unravel and explain the mysteries of our solar system, again, like Newton.

The link to her article on the conception of the exhibition can be found at the end of this post.

The night sky has always been something that fascinates me (I own a rabbit named Orion as testimony for my love of the stars, and rabbits; despite Orion treading on/hunting Lepus, the rabbit constellation, which is something I didn’t think about when giving him the name… but I digress), so it is unsurprising that it is this book which had pulled me in. Science for people who do not go out of their way to learn about the subject.

Without this chance meeting, I would never have known about the exhibition or even the above book; the people here have such enthusiasm about the printed (and now digital) word and love to share it if the conversation wanders down that path. It’s lovely to experience.

When the bus arrived, we parted ways and I spent the whole journey home thinking about Grantham, a place I have never visited, and the books on display there.

The Exhibition takes place at The Grantham Museum from 10am until 4pm and is free, so I highly recommend a visit. More details about the event can be found here.

For those interested in the event’s conception, the article can be read here.

While we are on the subject of events, my Resources page will list relevant museums and such with permanent book-related exhibitions (temporary exhibitions might also be listed depending on the amount of time I have free to take care of the upkeep of such a list).

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*from what I can gather, having never seen inside the book I can only assume that all of the images are painted.

**The control is necessary, I already spent an alarming amount of money on books for my degree today. Adding another onto that total is not in my best interests, nor would it make my bank account very happy.