Stream On Vol. 17

Welcome to volume seventeen of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites. Yes, I know it has been intermittent recently – but normal service shall resume! As it’s my birthday on Wednesday 25th, I thought I’d make this a themed one. Here’s my five favourite films of all time and where to watch them.

Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes – volumes 1234567891011121314 , 15 and 16.

The Princess Bride (1987 – 98 mins)

I could sit here and tell you, yet again, why I love this movie so much. But, if you know me and/or this film, you know all that stuff already. So, if you’re one of the few who knows neither of this, give this piece I wrote for Den Of Geek a try.

Available on: Amazon Prime (with Starz add-on), £3.49 to rent or £4.99 to buy on SKYGO.

Casablanca (1942 – 102 mins)

Some movies just have the perfect script, packed full of endlessly quotable lines that are effortlessly delivered by an extraordinary cast. A phenomenal movie, that everyone needs to have seen.

Available on: Amazon Prime and SKYGO, to rent for £3.49 or buy for £7.99

A Matter Of Life and Death (1946 – 104 mins)

During my second year of studying Film Studies at university, I found myself falling out of love with cinema – exhausted by having to analyse and break films down. Seeing this, for the first time and on the big screen, brought it all back to me and then some. One of the most beautiful and poignant films in existence. The kind of film that makes you believe in love and that it’s all worth it.

Available on: Britbox, or to buy on Amazon Prime for £6.99

High Fidelity (2000 – 113 mins)

Based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel of the same time, just transplanted from London to Chicago, we follow 30-something record store owner Rob (John Cusack) as he goes through a break-up that he thinks doesn’t even enter his top 5 worst break-ups of all time – as he lists in great detail. Until he starts to realise that maybe he’s got it all wrong. Also featuring Jack Black in his breakthrough role, as the most annoying employee in existence. Few films capture the healing power of music or the harsh reality of love & break-ups. After watching, give the 2020 gender-flipped tv series a try.

Available on: Disney+, or on Amazon Prime to rent for £2.49 or buy for £8.99.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975 – 100 mins)

Astounding, yet never fleeting, as the film approaches it’s 50th anniversary it remains as beloved as ever. I first watched it in my early teens, just on a whim – I then watched it every single day for the rest of that month. It really is the greatest cult film of all time.

Available on: Amazon Prime and SKYGO, to rent for £3.49 or buy for £9.99


On The Bench

An emotional hangover set in the weekend after last week’s speed dating (click here if you need to catch up). Unsure as to why, I tried to unpick it all. Although the 14 dates hadn’t been brilliant, they hadn’t been awful – trust me, I know an awful date or two or five.

In many ways, it had been a rather helpful experience. My first dating experience in a few months, it was a relatively low stakes opportunity to get back into the swing of things. And I’d done a good job, way better than I’d feared. The nerves had evaporated instantly – I was witty, charming, flirty. We’re talking the A-Game being served here guys, that felt good – like shaking the dust of, working those muscles again and feeling the buzz. Unfortunately, that A-Game felt sort of wasted, as there hadn’t really been anyone it felt worth using it on. I’d spent energy, little energy I could or can really afford to spend on company that I’d never see again. I’d invested in something I’d see no returns on. It, and I, all felt a bit empty and hollow on response.

Days on, and after some incredibly helpful and insightful conversations with some loved ones, I think I may have found out the cause. My mindset needs reshaping and I need to change my approach to dating and all things matter of the heart. Because I think that right now, I’m causing myself more harm than good. Pushing myself through motions I’m not in the right head or heart space for. Desperately chasing and grasping, out of force rather than choice. Trying to fix something that is near enough, totally out of my control.

As an eternal singleton, the fundamental thing that causes myself the most upset is feeling like I’m getting it all wrong. That I should be in a relationship. That I have failed on all levels. That I’m nowhere in life. My achievements are not valid because that zone of my life is empty. I am yet to make a move on the Game of Life. Everyone else is progressing around me, making these huge life choices whilst I’m left feeling like I’m no-one or nothing. And, fuck me, it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.

Because, you know what? I actually love my life. I have amazing family, a rolodex of fabulous friends and an incredible inner circle I consider as both. Both my jobs – teacher by day, film critic by night – full and excite me in so many different ways, regularly providing me with experiences I could never have dreamed off. And yet that voice in my head tries to cut that joy off at the root with one venom-ladden sentence, ‘Doesn’t really matter does it? You’ve still failed at the thing that counts.’

So many personal victories have lost potency in the face of taking on that voice, losing to it’s nastiness and bile. And the worst thing is, this year, it’s been getting louder. As my peers taper off into home buying, marriage and children – I feel like I’m stuck in stasis, increasingly alone and adrift in this failure zone. I know that’s not right. I definitely know it’s not okay.

Our society is geared towards us being coupled up. There’s the tax benefits, being able to get on the property market, food shopping – just to name a few that I can currently think of as I frantically stomp out this stream of consciousness. We seem to place a higher focus and stronger emphasis on these kind of successes. And thus, we make those who are unable or unwanting to settle down feel inept and inadequate outliers.

I know a relationship is not the centre of one’s personal universe. Life is a solar system made up of tens of different planets that work together to make life full. But instead, right now, whilst my relationship planet has no signs of life and seemingly no power to charm, it’s acting like a black hole – pulling everything out of alignment and distracting me from all that is good. A diversion from my enjoying my life for all the good that is within it.

If that’s the kind of energy I’m channelling right now, I can only imagine how it feels to be around it. There’s nothing desirable – either platonically or romantically – about this degree of intensity. This is a vicious circle that needs to be broken. What I need to do is turn the blinkers off, open my eyes instead of narrowing them with singular focus, and stop cutting myself off from so many opportunities for joy. And I think putting myself on the bench is the only way to do it.

It’s gotten to the point where I have to force myself to go on the apps, endless trailing through – yet another talking stage feeling like it’s splintering off any emotional resilience I have left. The prospect of dates feel as appealing as going into battle, afraid that I’m waiting mine and their time and energy on something that is hopeless. Frightened that one wrong comment or rejection could send me spiralling into the pit of despair. In a world where first meeting in person feels impossible, going digital feels like the last (only?) weapon left in the armourery – but it’s taking too much from me each time I go to use it.

So, once again, dating apps and I are going on a break. And, cliche as it may sound, I’m going to focus on myself for a while. On what makes me happy and be who I want to be, instead of trying to make myself appealing and who people want me to be. There’s guarding your heart, and there’s what I’m doing right now. My heart is protected by impenetrable buttresses (hehehe), a moat and a field of thorns a la Sleeping Beauty.

If I want to find and accept both self-love and self-peace, let alone any from external influences, the current self-defence protocol is going to have to be updated. Right now I think the only way to do that is by having a reset, turning it all off-and-on-again. These past few months I’ve been throwing everything at the wall, trying to get something – anything – to stick. But I can’t if I don’t feel like I deserve it, view it as the centre of everything yet protect myself from it so greatly. So, for now, I’m going to try and feast on my life instead. I want to find a way that I can validate myself, instead of trying to find validation and solace in others.

Right now, I’m a walking self-fufilling prophecy – but I’m finally going to take ownership of it and rewrite what comes next.

Charlotte Sometimes… Goes speed dating

‘It wasn’t awful…’

That’s the text I sent my friends as I left the bar this evening. I’d just been at a speed dating event, which I’d been incredibly nervous about beforehand – so the immediate feeling upon leaving had come from the bar being very low. On the floor. Impossible to limbo under and barely requiring even a hop over. After trying to sleep the past hour, I realised I needed to talk through the night to find a kind of peace with my ‘wasn’t awful’ evening as, if it ‘wasn’t awful’ what was it? And why do I feel sadness tinging at the edges?

I’d booked the event at the start of July during an infrequent crossover of ‘God, I hate the apps’ and ‘Well, why not?!?’ It was due to happen a couple of days later, which was the key here – as an overthinker of Olympic status, I didn’t need any longer to think over it all or strategise for all that could go wrong. Then the football happened and the event got postponed. I couldn’t make the following week due to work commitments, and an increasing tough blend of end-of-school-year fatigue meets Long Covid. That’s how it ended up happening literally a month later than planned.

Going on my own had felt the best choice – there’d be no where for me to hide (I’m surprisingly good at this for someone so tall and hard to miss…) and no need to worry about who liked who/any overlaps in possible matches. And yet, at 5am on Thursday when I woke up straight into an anxiety attack – well, that’s when it all started to feel like a bad idea. I could go into detail about what kind of thoughts that nasty voice in my brain was churning out, but I think doing so will amplify them and give them more volume. I think they’d also make you feel sorry for me, which is not the intent here at all. Suffice to say, they were not nice thoughts about myself and placed huge doubt in what I was thinking in even going to such an event – who did I think I was putting myself forward? Who’d even like me?

Big twist time, I did end up going! I popped those nasty thoughts in a box, pushed them to one side, had some Dutch courage and braved it. But, as you’ve probably guessed – it’s being ‘not awful’ isn’t the most glowing endorsement is it?

Arriving at the bar, I couldn’t get over the noise. Were bars always this loud in the before times? Did we always have to endure such loud music that required much shouting to even attempt a conversation? Have dj’s always thought mixing Ed Sheeran and Beyonce, before segueing into an awful remix of Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ was a good idea?

A few people had already arrived in the upstairs section, where the event was happening. There wasn’t much vibe, just us awkward folk awkward-ing. Clearly the past 18 months had had an impact on our socialising skills, if there really had been any to start with… The website for this evening had promised 15-20 dates on one page. On another 20-25. I asked the organiser what the numbers were looking for tonight. He replied ’14 blokes and 11 girls.’ I nodded, barely close to the promised numbers – but not ‘awful’. I genuinely didn’t expect him to follow up with ‘Well, I say that – two of the girls did arrive, clocked the blokes coming up here and are refusing to come up as they’ve said they don’t like the look of the quality of the men. But I mean, come on! You’re here now, why wouldn’t you come up??! They’re young I guess, you get it though right?’ I nodded sagely in agreement, as if to shake silent the red alarm whirling in my head but also to cover up for really not knowing what to say. Looking around the room, they may have had a point…

This is not to make a judgement on looks, appearance or height. It was more about the feel, and the feel wasn’t good. In all honesty, it felt really thirsty. And there was a growing discontentment from the blokes about the ratio and odds being far from in their favour.

My first ‘date’ happened before the event even officially started. Having sat down to get my bearings, I was alone for less than a minute before a bloke sat in the chair opposite. He hadn’t asked (a lack of questions being asked would turn out to be a recurring theme of the evening…) and started his attempt at a charm offensive. He was insistent on taking my IG details and checking I added him there & then. In a rather cyclical move, he returned at the end of the night to insist I go on a drink with him – refusing to take no for an answer. Soon after, as I left, I took so much pleasure for using the ‘block’ button.

The rest of the – fourteen in total – dates varied from ‘fine’ to ‘not good’ to ‘oh Lord, have mercy’ – which I guess is how you get to ‘wasn’t awful’. One guy ignored the Covid guidelines and decided to sit next to me instead of opposite – not asking for permission and trying to take the mick out of me as I subconsciously crossed my arms as a barrier. Another guy explained to me how men and women are different, ‘not to offend you, but men are less patient and wanting – we’re just really eager for you girls!’. I met a rapper-poet-events-boxing organiser. Several accountants/financiers/bankers, most of whom told me how lucky I was to be in a job as ‘rewarding’ or ‘noble’ as teaching. A man questioned me for referring to these in passing as ‘dates’ as I was putting too much pressure on them. I got called ‘quirky’ for wearing a headband. A couple of the dates were nice enough, good practice for the future but clearly nothing there for either party.

The fact all this happened whilst a line of four men stood at the back overseeing all the dates whilst they waited for their own, that definitely didn’t help matters. Or the fact the woman sat next to me walked out three dates in, leaving an empty seat next to me – so every time my date finished I’d have to explain the empty seat (the organiser didn’t) and proceed with my next date, in the knowledge the last date was probably listening in.

We didn’t get the promised interval, instead we ‘pushed on through’ as the organiser put it. Which would have been a chance for a second drink or a chance to leave. I took the later option, I probably would have done anyway – but my decision was cemented by overhearing the last of the queue boys discussing how tall I was when I stood up.

It felt like it was over, and it really was now.

I already feel a bit better for typing it out. There’s a catharsis to be found in writing, and with no-one to talk through it with right now – I’m putting it up here. However, I still feel today lingering on me. Aside from a throat that is sore from all the yell-talking over the questionable playlist, I feel a bit of a sinking stomach too. What’s next?

The apps no longer seem to work, endless swipping for minimal matches and next-to-no conversations. My social life is expanding again as the world ‘reopens’ – but no single men have crossed into the horizon.

I didn’t go into tonight hoping to meet the love of my life (although I would have been open to the prospect..!) But, whilst I rediscovered my ability to hold my own in a conversation and make people laugh – I didn’t get to experience that spark to night. That hint of possibility and potential, of intrigue and interest – of wanting to know more about someone. Words can’t express how much I miss that feeling, and the worst bit is that those 5am gremlins are making me doubt and disbelieve it will actually happen again.

Smashing the Rose-tinted Glasses and Levelling Up

There’s one film scene I think about a lot, more than any other. It’s a scene in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, towards the end where Michael Cera‘s Scott has some self-realisations about his life, how he views and treats those around him; as a result he levels up video-game style. Here’s the clip if want to watch it. I think about this scene so often as it brilliantly as it’s such a fantastic metaphor for life, those moments where you finally process or accept something and can feel that self-growth. That you’re becoming the person you’re meant to be, that you’ve learnt something about yourself and/or others and will be made all the better for it.

Usually I have these epiphanies in the shower or when I wake up around 3am, my brain having sifted through all the information within and finally struck gold. The level-up I had this week was actually the result of a conversation. Here’s the condensed version of that chat that ended up being deceptively cataclysmic.

Me: It just really annoys me you know, how they keep treating me this way and I how I keep on letting them.

Them: Are you sure though?

Me: Am I sure that I’m upset..?!?

Them: No, are you sure they are doing this intentionally? Are you sure they’re able to read these cues in the same way? Are you sure they’re processing this exactly the same way you are? That they may not understand the extent of their behaviour, or even know how to act in this situation? Haven’t you noticed they’re a bit – not the best word – but weird when it comes to interacting with people? That maybe you’ve each got different copies of the script?

Suffice to say, I hadn’t noticed this about the person in question. At all. Instantly, at great speed, my mind whizzed through all the interactions I’d had with this person. The interactions that filled me with quiet rage, seething at what I perceived to be slights and gutted by what I’d viewed as unjust injustices. I suddenly understood the person who had made me feel all these ways because I’d finally dared to take them off the pedestal and accept they were human. Not only that they were as fallible as the rest of us, that maybe they weren’t nearly as comfortable with the world as I’d always believed.

This doesn’t take the person in question off the hook. Not at all. There’s definitely many ways they could have done things better, there’s certainly a degree of intent in some of the behaviours and interactions. But as a result of this conversation I could finally see that I had been using my own impossible standards for myself against those around me, particularly those I care about.

I seem to have an extreme defence mechanism when it comes to processing the world around me. I can be the most open person in the world, ever-ready to offer help and support – usually by doing things. Acts of service are my way of showing love & admiration, and it’s the best way for me to understand that others feel the same – I can’t handle compliments at all, but if you help me with a task or do something for me without me asking or thinking about it – well, I’m putty in your hands. If you surprise me with a bar of my favourite chocolate (White chocolate, Cadbury’s Buttons or Whispa) on my desk, or offer to help me with a task I’ve been struggling with or worrying over, then you better clear you calendar as I’m yours forever.

However, when I’m spurned or hurt – that openness seems to vanish in an instance. And often irretrievably. I feel myself become cold to the point of hostility, weary and untrusting. This can be unsurprising and totally justified response in many instances, but not if you’re operating with someone who doesn’t know the rulebook or even know the rulebook is in play. Even more so, what if the other person has a totally different operating system and subsequent rulebook?

I’ve written before here about how I’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about the attentions of mediocre men who really don’t deserve me or my eternal devotion. But a lot of that time has been worrying because I’ve put in place these landmines to protect myself, these self-imposed regulations of navigating the battlefield of love. A self-published handbook I’ve not given the other person, an instruction guide filled with my responses to certain behaviours – most of which entail ‘cut them off’.

With this particular person in question, I cannot resent their behaviour. I cannot resent that they do not feel any of the affection or admiration I feel for them, be that even in the form of friendship – let alone anything more. I cannot continue to try and filled sated by Love Kernels. I cannot use crumbs to make a feast. I can’t keep drinking the swamp water as I’m thirsty.

As Carrie Fisher said Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I can’t resent this person, or whoever arrives next when this godforsaken crush is finally exorcised from my body, for their behaviour or their inability (unintentional or otherwise) to understand the extent of their behaviour. That’s a serious waste of time and energy. Not only that, I actually feel pretty stupid spending so much time thinking about a person who – and I have very little doubt about his – doesn’t think of me in any way, shape or form at all.

That was the level-up moment, when I viewed the person and the situation in a more objective and understanding light. If he wanted to, he would. And hopefully there’s someone out there who does want to. I just don’t know it or him yet.

Stream On Vol. 14

Hope you’re having a fab week and enjoying the beautiful weather! Welcome to volume fourteen of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites. Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes – volumes 1234567891011, 12 and 13.

Frances Ha (2012 – Film4 – 86 mins)

I revisited this film a few months back, for an article for the English Media Centre’s MediaMagazine and I can say with some certainty I love it even more as a result. Very, very few films examine platonic relationships with the intensity and potency as they do romantic relationships – this is one of them. Speaking from personal experience, friendship break-ups can in some ways feel even more cataclysmic than relationship breakups – and this film agrees. We follow Frances (Greta Gerwig) as her soulmate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) drifts away from her. Bittersweet and beautiful, with an iconic David Bowie needle drop of this banger. Oh, and this guy pops up called Adam Driver pops up in it. Whatever happened to that guy?

The Intern (2015 – Sky/Now – 121 mins)

The cinematic equivalent of a comfy chair, blanket and a mug of hot chocolate (obviously with whipped cream and marshmallows – I’m not a heathen). Seventy-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Just lovely stuff.

A Single Man (2009 – Amazon Prime – 99 mins)

Based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood (a fascinating writer, his semi-autobiographical novel inspired the musical Cabaret). An English professor (Colin Firth), one year after the sudden death of his boyfriend, is unable to cope with his typical days in 1960s Los Angeles. Firth is extraordinary, with an incredible supporting cast in the form of Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Goode. The fact this was the debut of writer-director Tom Ford (yes, the designer) continues to boogle the mind.

Atypical (2017-2021 – Netflix – 38 x 30 mins)

Having had the joyous discovery this week that this is coming back for season 4 on July 7th, I had to give this one the plug it deserves. Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, decides it’s time to find a girlfriend, a journey that sets Sam’s mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on her own life-changing path as her son seeks more independence. Brigette Lundy-Paine plays Sam’s sibling so wonderfully, Michael Rapaport just heart-breaking as their dad. Gorgeous, funny and heartfelt.

Kinky Boots (2005 – BBC iPlayer – 107 mins)

In the near-future, if there was a way to download our brains into some software to find the filmic dna that makes us who we are – this one would undoubtedly feature on my list. A drag queen (Chiwetel Ejiofor) comes to the rescue of a man (Joel Edgerton) who, after inheriting his father’s shoe factory, needs to diversify his product if he wants to keep the business afloat. There’s so many reasons as to why it would feature, but the biggest one would have to be it’s opening sequence – the transcendently rapturous joy captured to my favourite song of all time. Yes, it’s by David Bowie – how’d you know?

Fatigued and Adrift in Different Sized Lifeboats

If my life were a film or book (as I still so desperately wish…) the follow-up blog post to Strong Girl Summer would be an empowering and anthemic read, a rousing review of how inspired and changed I’ve become. Written as I sit at my desk, like Carrie in Sex and The City – pulling faces to myself as I gather my profound reflections from having lived life to it’s fullest. Charlotte 8.0 (or whatever number I’m on at this point) would have arrived and would be here to stay. Sadly, but not embarrassingly as I write with no shame here, it’s not going to be.

I’ll be honest folks, it’s all been a bit shit lately. Nothing particularly bad has happened, but nothing particularly good or great has happened either. I feel flat. Totally deflated and bitterly tired. All the time. I genuinely feel like I’m surviving on a day-to-day basis, existing and doing what I can to get by. It feels as if I’m wasting my life, stuck in a purgatory of sort-of my own making whilst waiting for life to begin.

I’ve a strong suspicion that I’m not the only one feeling this way. In fact, it’s what inspired the title for this blog post. Since last year, mostly March for my UK readers – earlier for any international visitors – we have all experienced a global trauma. We have all experienced something that had previously only existed in textbooks and works of fiction. It’s one of the only things in our lifetime that 99.9% of the world’s population will have endured in some capacity. But that capacity and that extent differs so so greatly. Not a single person in the world, not even in the same household, will have had the same experience over the past year and months. The country in which we reside, the county in which we reside, where our families live, the size of our families, our race, our class, our gender, our age – every single one of these factors will have played a part in our experience and our comprehension of what exactly we have endured.

If Covid was the Titanic, we’ve all ended up in different sized lifeboats. The very existence of those lifeboats, the weariness of our spirits are as we drift within them, those are things we share. But the size of that lifeboat, and our capacity for how much more we can take, that’s the big difference. The thing that can divide us and make it all feel so brutally overwhelming. The thing that makes us feel like our lifeboat isn’t floating well enough, isn’t stable enough.

The thing that makes it feel like our lifeboat is sinking.

I’ve been consuming as many think pieces and reflections on the past year as I can find. It’s not just a fascination from a sociological standpoint (although people really are bloody weird, brilliant and absolutely fascinating) but a desperate search for answers. A pointless grasp at understanding something that really can’t be understood. A yearning to know that I am doing okay. That it is all going to be okay.

I wish I could give you that, an assurance that it’s all going to get better soon. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could tell you and myself that. But what I can do is say that I’m not okay, and it’s okay if you’re not feeling okay either.

Yesterday, during my daily debrief with my housemate, she made a point I’ve thought about near constantly since. When I vented, yet again, over not feeling together or whole and in fact really bloody lost – when everyone looked sorted, certain and found – she pointed out I’d made that conclusion from social media and personal accounts. I’m holding myself to account of a standard that doesn’t exist, a curated editions of people’s lives that will often scarily touch beyond the surface of what is actually going on or how they feel.

Whether my social media, or how I present myself in person actually reveal it, here’s what’s going on under the surface. My body constantly aches from Long Covid. By 4pm each day my brain is clouded by brain fog and my thoughts become harder to gather. I’m struggling to sleep and the sleep I do get barely makes a dent to my tiredness levels. I’m terrified that it might take the 2 year recovery time the Post-Covid clinic anticipates. I feel lonely all the time, craving intimacy to an extent I fear can be seen and felt from miles away. I feel unwanted, undeserving of affection and attention. I don’t feel good enough for my job and ground down by how I wish I was better at it. I feel jealous all the time of other writers and of opportunities that feel so out of my reach. I feel broken, held together by increasingly unsticky Sellotape that could fall apart any minute. I fear I’m wasting my life and on the wrong path, not making the right choices. I just don’t feel enough.

But hopefully, by admitting all of that, by acknowledging those terrors and unadmittables in the depths of these psychological icebergs – maybe then I’m starting to make steps to ensure my lifeboat keeps on floating. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance it’s helped yours a little bit too.

*Being a bit earnest here, but please do get in touch if you liked what you read here. Not only does it let me know that someone is actually reading this (which will never not be just the most amazing thing ever) but also it’s incredible to hear these thoughts resonate. I’ve had a bunch of messages in recent weeks with feedback and I can’t tell you how much they mean.

Strong Girl Summer

Back at the start of May, a close friend and I were laughing about all the talk over ‘Hot Girl Summer’. We concluded that, at best, we’d manage a ‘Lukewarm and Overtired Girl Summer’. Then the rest of May hit. Anecdotally, I know I’m not alone in saying May was a *lot*. In some way or another, I think we all went through it last month. I know that’s also been the case for most months since March 2020, and yet last month somehow felt so much worse. I think it’s down to the fact that we’ve all required being handled with care, to be treated gently and with kindness – yet we’re all so exhausted we’ve not got the emotional capacity for it – trapped in a vicious cycle where we’ve never needed each other’s support more yet never been as unable to provide it.

Those who know me know I put myself through the ringer last month, going on a break with dating apps as they were having a huge toll on my wellbeing (which you can read about here). You might also know that I’ve had Long Covid for 8 months (I wrote a reflection at the 100 day mark here). You possibly even know about my Post-Covid Clinic hospital appointment last week that confirmed I’ve developed asthma, am looking at two year recovery time frame from LC and have been referred to for Talking Therapy as I’m not coping well with things.

Perhaps the appointment was the last straw, or things had been brewing for a while, but I had a nasty all-encompassing cold hit immediately after and had a brutal 48 hours. Off work and alone with my thoughts, physically broken and mentally not that much better, I went to some places. Dark, nasty, lonely and cruel places. If asked to rank them, I’d say with some certainty that those two days make the list of Top Ten Days I’ve Felt The Worst.

Whether it’s the sun of this week, having had most of a half term to recuperate, the hope of a new month – or a combination of all three – I’ve emerged determined. Determined to feel better and happier. Striving to live and not just exist. I’m not going to be trying for Hot Girl Summer (though very flattered if you think otherwise [insert winky face and hair fluff here…] ) Instead I’m trying for Strong Girl Summer. My Long Covid Rehab sessions are allowing me to feel stronger on the outside. Brief aside for self-celebration here – back in April, for my interview for the programme, I managed 11 sit-to-stands in a miniute. Last Tuesday, at that appointment we shall never discuss again – 20. 20. TWENTY! Almost double the amount when I started! Now, I want to work on the inner stuff. I need to. And so, I’ve come up with these six mantras for Strong Girl Summer. They will hopefully be my guide to being braver, more powerful and stronger than yesterday. Let me know your thoughts on them and if you end up giving them a try!

  1. Thou shall pursue the path of self-kindness.

One of my biggest problems is holding myself up to impossible standards that I cannot meet, then berating myself for having not met them. Thus kickstarting a wonderful self-fulfilling, vicious cycle, inevitable prophecy of feeling undeniably shit. For double effectiveness, I may also chuck in a side order of comparison to ensure I feel like I’m failing at life. No more! As one of my favourite people told me during a much-needed pep talk recently, comparison is the thief of joy, my journey is just that – mine. There’s no such thing as a wrong choice or decision, whatever path I’m on and whatever diversions I take are the right ones. I will be working towards being more understanding of what is achievable, and most importantly what is in my control. And quieting the voice in my head that tries to undermine it all – if I wouldn’t say it to a friend, or even an enemy, how dare I say it to myself?!?

2. Thou shall be thine own cheerleader.

Which leads nicely onto this one, no more waiting around for other people to acknowledge us or our achievements. Own them and celebrate them, loudly and proudly for all to hear. If you do a cool thing let the world know, if you want. If you don’t, at the very least celebrate yourself and whatever brilliant thing has happened for yourself. Whilst it’s great you may have family and friends who will cheer you on, it’s not their job to. Turn the mic off for the nasty critical voice and dial the volume up to 11 for the encouraging and supportive one. Maybe even give them some jazzy pom-poms.

3. Thou shall be bold and no longer practice the ‘art’ of subtlety.

And when you’re doing this celebrating, don’t be afraid to do it boldly. Think of how much time and energy we waste wondering what other people think of us and how we need to play it cool. I vow to abandon any hopes of cool and enigma, if I like a thing you’re going to know it. And if I love it, then wow… it’s going to be wild. Good service in a restaurant? Make sure you let the bosses know. Liked a film, book, tv show or song? Tweet the creator, shout about it to all your friends. Liked this incredible blog post? Let the dazzling wit of a writer know (you total gem you!) Life is short and can be over in an instant, why be vanilla and neutral when you can dazzle. Brighten someone’s day by letting them know just how much they mean to you. I refuse to live a life of neutrality and sitting on the fence, when there’s so much joy to be had and shared.

4. Thou shall not chase those who do not wish to be chased.

This one applies to both friendships and relationships – although for me it’s definitely more of the latter. The amount of time I have wasted overanalysing messages, or lack therefore of, of men who genuinely gave zero shits about me – it’s genuinely nauseating (in the past and, in one instance the present too). I’ve constantly had thoughts about how I could adapt myself so they want me – be that physically or personality wise (If only I was thinner, shorter, quieter/louder, smarter, less nerdy…) Making sure I was available to reply to messages or to be there for them, because maybe then they’d finally see me. Scrutinising the replies when they *eventually* replied, bereft if no reply ever came, planning on how to get them to talk with me, how I could show I was good enough for them and their attention. NO MORE! I am exhausted from giving time, love and energy to those who I do not matter to at all. It someone loves or cares about me, none of those things matter – there will be no need to prove myself or my worth to them. They will want me for me.

5. Thou shall embrace the present.

My superpower (aside from fiercely strong facial muscles, as my combination of Bells Palsy and having my jaw broken 8 years ago inadvertently revealed) is my ability to assess in 60 seconds an infinite amount of ways things can go wrong. Useful at times, particularly with the teaching, not so much for living a happy and healthy life. Upon reflection, I think it’s rare for me to be in a moment – instead I’m preparing and doing all I can to anticipate the next one. Which leads to the question, what is the point? Why arrange exciting adventures with fabulous friends, when I’m already worrying about what time tube I’ll get home, if I’ve got food in and even rehearsing how and when we’ll say goodbye. This one will be tricky, but I’m going to try and slow my brain down. Not so much my internal clock and dazzling efficiency. More staying within my body, my mind and the moment. Centring myself and appreciating the moment I find myself in, not shutting myself off by disassociating and missing out.

6. Thou shall show openness to all that awaits.

I often find myself thinking about the episode of How I Met Your Mother where Ted wishes he was older, that he could skip all the process and be done – settled and desperately happy with the love of his life. I cannot begin to imagine how many times I’ve had the same thought as I scrolled through awful bios, awkward talking stages and navigating the dating graveyard littered with ghosts of situationships past. All of the previous mantras add up to this one, trusting the process and having faith that it will all be alright. And if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end. Maybe I’ll never met anyone, that happens for some people. Maybe I’ll never know romantic love. But, if that’s the case it’ll be that case for a reason. It won’t mean my life is lacking in purposefulness. I will not be failure when I have so so so much joy in so many other aspects of my life. There’s a reason I’m on the path I’m on, be that living out a great plan or a bunch of side quests. There’s no rush for whatever comes next, as there’s really only one inevitable destination for us all. Live in the moment, embrace the good and learn from the bad. No-one knows what will happen from one-minute to the next. As the great David Bowie said, I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

Good luck with your Strong Girl Summer. Let me know how you get on with yours, I’ll certainty keep you updated on mine…

A Love Letter to… Cinema Curtains

Back in January, when cinemas were closed and we had no idea if/when they’d reopen, as part of a project I was working on, I was asked to write a love letter to an aspect of cinema. I instantly knew exactly what I wanted to write about, Cinema Curtains! My next thought was ‘Why on Earth?!? What are you thinking?’ Once I got writing though, it really became clear.

There are few inanimate objects that can cause a hush to descend upon a crowd. One of the few exceptions are the curtains in a cinema screen, those undervalued and underappreciated and underseen beauties that command a presence most of us could only dream of having.

Of the many, many, many things I’ve missed these past ten months – my more-than-once-a-week cinema visits are towards the top. But, within that, the aspect I’ve most missed are those bloomin’ cinema curtains. The curtains at BFI, at Picturehouse Central, Regents Street and Prince Charles Cinemas – as mad as it sounds, I miss you all as much as I miss some of my friends. That’s because I miss what you bring us. Your opening, often accompanied in this blissful choreography with the lights switching  off, brings a stillness I’ve craved. A stillness I don’t think I’ve ever fully appreciated until now, and certainly one I need back again.

There’s a degree of liberation to be found when those curtains open, the lights turn off and the screen ratio adjusts. It’s a release of breath, a calmness takes over as we’re about to begin a pause from reality and an escape into another world. No matter how similar or dissimilar that world on the screen is going to be from our own, the very act of it being unveiled by those curtains makes us safe in the knowledge that the show can begin. For those 90+ minutes we shall find a freedom in fiction or a respite in reality. 

And, no matter how hard you try, it’s an experience near impossible to replicate at home. Since March 2020, we’ve spent our days plugged into screens of varying sizes, but rarely the one that reaches the heights we love. The big and beautiful screen hidden behind those curtains that connote intrigue, mystery and a journey about to begin. A journey most of us cannot wait to recommence once more.