“Have a productive weekend” I called to my friends, age fifteen, as I turned the corner to my house on the way home from school. Now, nine years later, the word “productive” sends a shiver of panic through my body. Those “inspiring” productivity quotes are not for me.
Instead of making new year resolutions, I decided to put my list making urges to a different (less pressure inducing) purpose. Here are 18 things I’ve learnt in 2018.
Many of these are writing, reading and poetry related but there’s also a fair few cancer related ones. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
- Audiobooks are amazing. I’ve become such an audiobook enthusiast this year. Audiobooks mean you can read on public transport even if passengers are noisy, you can read while walking (which I find so relaxing) and you can also fall asleep to stories.
- Slow fashion is a journey. To be honest, this year I’ve not been amazing at avoiding fast fashion. Months spent feeling ill and unhappy made me turn to online shopping. But instead of beating myself up about this, I’m moving on and have Depop ready for my next purchases.
- Sometimes you have to tell people what you need from them. When things are going wrong in my life, I sometimes forget to reach out to my support network. Having cancer is lonely but not telling people what you need from them makes it even lonelier.
- I should wear sun cream in April. I think this is the month when the sun usually catches me out because it’s still a bit cold. Not anymore! I see you, sun.
- What it means to be in pain. This sounds super dark/dramatic but I’m currently writing a novel and being able to articulate pain more vividly, more complexly is useful. Research would do the same job to be fair so it’s a very slim silver lining.
- Poetry is amazing. Like many people, I was put off poetry by school. Studying a poetry module for my MA and discovering all of the amazing modern poetry out there has been one of the most exciting parts of 2018 for me. If you want to get into poetry, I’d recommend reading a *modern poetry anthology.
- I can write poetry. For ages, I just assumed I’d be no good at poetry. Once I actually gave it a good shot earlier this year I realised I’m actually alright. I’ve got a long way to go but just being able to enjoy writing poetry is a brilliant outlet.
- Modern society’s messing with our mental health. I feel like I’m always going on about *Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig but it’s been so helpful to me this year. I think I’m already due a re-read.
- Cancer isn’t a death sentence. Of course, I already knew logically that cancer wasn’t a death sentence. But now I actually have facts, figures and personal experience to back it up. Read more about this here.
- We need to cut down on single-use plastic. This year more than ever I’ve heard horrifying examples of how plastic is damaging our planet. We all need to take action.
- What doesn’t kill you makes you
strongermore anxious. Look, it would be great if the badass “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” motto was true. But it’s not. If something crappy happens to you, you will probably feel anxious, scared, sad and vulnerable for a while. This is totally normal.
- Losing your hair is complicated. For me, it was simultaneously not a big deal and a big deal. It definitely affected my confidence, particularly out in public.
- Ed Sheeran is so good live. I was lucky enough to see Ed Sheeran live in Cardiff back in May. Of course, I knew it would be good but my expectations were exceeded.
- It’s okay to take time out for yourself. The realisation that I needed to take a big break from my Masters this year was hard to swallow and at first, I didn’t let myself relax and recover. Thankfully, with the help of a psychologist, I’ve started letting myself slow down.
- Jellyfish evaporate in the sun. They’re 98% water!
- Mindfulness requires patience. One of the best things that I’ve started doing this year is practising mindfulness. Practice is the key word here.
- Brighton is brilliant. The Lanes, the pebbly beach and the charmingly tacky pier made Brighton an ideal weekend getaway in November. I will definitely be going back.
- Life is so precious. When your future is uncertain, it’s so difficult to live in the moment and not get consumed by anxiety. But, with a lot of practice and patience, it is possible to appreciate every day. I had grand plans for 2018, which didn’t work out. But I’m finishing 2018 feeling grateful to still be here, recovering and on a journey towards mindfulness and putting less pressure on myself.
I hope you enjoyed this slightly eclectic blog post. Before I go, I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who has read my blog, left thoughtful comments and shared my blog posts this year. I really appreciate it.
Happy New Year!
*affiliate links. If you chose to use one of my affiliate links to buy a book from Book Depository, I’ll get a small cut of the profit.
When I was first diagnosed with blood cancer earlier this year, I struggled to make sense of what was happening. My mind jumped to the few stories I’d read about cancer. The problem is I hadn’t been exposed to a wide narrative.
The narratives of The Fault In Our Stars by John Green and Before I Die by Jenny Downham kept playing over and over in my head. And to top it all off I couldn’t get the lyrics to ‘Cancer’ by My Chemical Romance out of my head*. These stories all end the same tragic way and it terrified me.
I was relieved to find, after speaking to fellow patients going through treatment (as well as their family members), that I was not alone in this initial reaction to my diagnosis. Her Sister’s Keeper (the film) came up in conversation a couple of times, as well as documentaries and TV programs. Everyone’s go-to example of cancer was a story of terminal illness. Stories shape us. Even if we know logically that cancer isn’t a death sentence, it is difficult to break that association.
A Guardian article describes cancer books thus: ‘A sense of hopelessness tends to emanate from books on illness, with a grim finish line that the reader knows is coming.’ Now, I don’t necessarily agree that all these books are ‘hopeless’ but I do worry that they function primarily to give those untouched by cancer a cathartic cry, before they go away feeling ‘inspired’ and happy they don’t have cancer.
This is perhaps a cynical view and maybe some cancer books that portray the realities of terminal illness are helpful for those with a terminal diagnosis. To be clear, the books and films mentioned are not necessarily bad representations of cancer. For example, The Fault In Our Stars* explores the loneliness of cancer and Before I Die* refuses to glamorise death. These books aren’t bad. It would just be nice if there was more choice on offer.
Because, whilst it’s important that YA and adult fiction alike explore death, there are a disproportionate amount of high profile stories about young people dying of (usually) blood cancer (e.g. The Fault In Our Stars, Before I Die/Now Is Good, Never Eighteen, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Ways To Live Forever, My Sister’s Keeper film adaptation).
This could skew our perception of actual survival rates. The truth is a majority of children, teenagers and young adults survive their cancer and we need some stories about them.
More than 8 in 10 (82-85%) young people diagnosed with cancer in the UK survive their disease for five years or more (2001-05). Cancer Research UK
Thankfully, social media is changing the narrative around cancer. The podcast You, Me And The Big C which talks candidly about cancer is a brilliant example of this, as well as the hundreds of people sharing their realities of cancer on Instagram and Twitter. Deborah James’ book F*** You Cancer also looks promising.
Hopefully, literature, film and TV will follow in the footsteps of these examples. Seeing people living with and beyond cancer is so helpful, not only because it provides hope for those going through treatment, but also because it shows you what life after cancer can look like. It would be amazing to see more diverse cancer stories and more cancer survivors in literature, TV and film, because we exist. There’s loads of us.
Let me know what you think of cancer books. Do you have any recommendations? Or, if you’d rather focus on something more lighthearted and less cancer-y this festive season, check out my previous blog post on Books To Soothe Your Soul.
*as well as ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire, weirdly.
I’ve taken a long blogging hiatus because of illness, which I will go into in another blog post. For now, I’ll take you through some books that have really soothed me this past year and have made the perfect books to read before bed.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
After loving the Netflix film adaptation I decided to listen to this YA romance on audio-book.
The story follows Lara Jean, who never tells anyone how she feels until her secret love letters somehow get sent out to her crushes. At times I found the plot a little rambling and cliche but on the whole, this was a sweet and endearing story.
Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman
There is nothing more relaxing than revisiting a book from your childhood.
Northern Lights is the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Set in a parallel world where all humans have an animal-shaped daemon, the story follows Lyra and her daemon on a quest to the North to discover the meaning of Dust.
It’s no secret that Northern Lights has been very influential to me. It is both cosy and exhilarating, familiar and fascinating and just perfectly paced with imaginative characters. Plus the settings are so immersive and beautiful. It’s just the perfect escape.
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
You might not think nonfiction would be soothing but this book definitely is.
Notes on a Nervous Planet explores in depth the link between modern life and rising incidences of stress and anxiety. Drawing on his own experiences as well as studies and anecdotes, Matt Haig encourages us to put down our phones, free ourselves from consumerism and focus on our wellbeing.
This book made so much sense to me and upon finishing it I felt empowered to reduce my anxiety levels.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This book is about a lonely woman who insists she is completely fine. She struggles with social interaction and exists on a tight schedule, punctuated by phone calls with her frightening mother. Her life changes when she meets IT guy, Raymond, who helps her heal from her past and realise life can be more than just fine.
It’s a heartbreaking novel but also a heart-mending one that celebrates genuine human connection through beautifully observed moments of intimacy. I cried multiple times but was left feeling touched, uplifted and hopeful. Definitely one for your TBR.
Hopefully, these recommendations have not only provided you with some calming books to read before bed, but also reminded you to take some quality time for yourself to escape from the stresses of the world. Happy reading!
I know I’m not alone in finding it difficult to let go. Whether it’s letting go of the past, a person or a place a lot of these feelings can manifest in our possessions, making it hard to let go of physical items.
I kept a holey, shrunken dress for years Continue reading “When to let go: using possessions to create character.”
As I’ve not been updating this blog lately, I have lots of books (and thoughts) I’m dying to share. For now, here’s a quick overview of my current reads. I have three good books on the go right now, so let’s dive in…
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
This one had been on my radar (and unofficial TBR) for a while. The gorgeous cover kept catching my eye in Waterstones. And the more I heard about the southern Spain setting and the character dynamic between the mysteriously sickly mother and her lost, disillusioned daughter, the keener I was to pick it up.
I’m halfway through at the moment and so far it’s a really interesting read. I love how generously detailed Deborah Levy’s writing is. I feel like I’m learning little tidbits constantly. As I anticipated, it is a slow paced novel but the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere and complicated characters are keeping me engaged.
Feral by Janet McAdams
I am sooo close to finishing this poetry collection – I think I’ve just got one poem left.
I’ve been dipping into a few collections that take inspiration from fairy tales for a university assignment, but Feral has been my favourite so far. This collection is varied, multi-layered and has led me to do some googling to learn about the cultural and historical references I was less familiar with.
As well as the recurring theme of wilderness, this collection explores polar expeditions, feral children from history and the boundary between human civilisation and nature. I would very much recommend this book to anyone interested in these themes.
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman
I can’t believe I’m still reading this one, oops. It’s been so nice to read fantasy again but this top bedtime read has taken a backseat due to university reading. In keeping with the His Dark Materials trilogy, this book is immersive, rich, brilliantly paced and packed with compelling characters.
I’m about a third of the way in so it’s a little too soon to collect all my thoughts on it. But I can already tell it’s going to lead to a His Dark Materials re-read.
If you would like to share, I’d love to know what you’re reading at the moment! I’m always looking for new recommendations…
I see a lot of book blogs and YouTube videos about TBR (To Be Read) lists. And, whilst I enjoy reading and watching them, I don’t tend to make TBRs myself. Continue reading “Why my TBR is chill”