a little list
WHEN IN DOUBT:
- dress up
- play music
An essay about my New Year’s intention to Enjoy Reading — how I finished fewer books, but enjoyed myself more than ever.
Reading has been part of my identity for as long as I can remember.
For most of my life, I’ve tried to live up to the title by quantifying goals. Each year I remoulded them: 52 books turned into 50 books – whoa. 50 books turned into 25 books every six months, with the aim to divide the pressure between June and December.
I was determined to land on a measurable goal that made me happy. Over the years, I dropped reading lists, quit book clubs, closed my Goodreads account. In 2019, I relinquished control. No more goals and resolutions. Instead, I set an intention around reading: to enjoy it.
I secretly hoped that this would result in reading more books than ever.
The grand total? 24. 24 books in an entire year – way fewer than any year since tracking. Perhaps way fewer than ever. But I realised a funny thing: I can finally say that I enjoyed myself.
Magazine articles that weren’t part of ‘a book’.
Essays from collections I didn’t read cover to cover.
Passages from cookbooks.
Long blog posts.
Just a few pages from several of my favourites.
I discovered my luxury, my one form of rebellion against my structured self: reading that doesn’t count.
I remember one night I joined in for ‘reading sprints’ with the Harry Potter Alliance. We met online, set a timer for focused reading, then reported back on our progress. In 20 minutes, I completed all of two pages — and it was delicious. After all, there is no joy in dashing through Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf is not meant to be rushed.
As an undergraduate at Oxford, I was expected to read deeply and widely. Racing through my reading lists, I dreamed of one day revisiting these texts at a leisurely pace. Now is that time.
(By the way I didn’t reread all of Mrs Dalloway. So that didn’t count either).
Sure, I ‘always had a book in my hand’, but I wasn’t nearly as well-read as people thought. I read slowly, and reread my favourites, often. I felt so guilty for the praise. If only they knew the truth!
In third grade, my language arts teacher selected extra books for a few of us who were ‘such readers’. Just for fun. I returned mine the following week, unfinished. ‘I didn’t like it,’ I said, ‘So I didn’t finish it’. ‘I’m disappointed,’ she actually said. I remember feeling confused; even at this age I was confident in my decision to put books down. Still, I wonder if this interaction prompted years of internal pressure around reading goals. I don’t have to finish every book, I reasoned, but I do need to make up the lost time by completing a different one.
Today I know that there are no qualifications. Being a good reader is a choice, that I can attach to my identity, and so can you. Among my friends are all kinds of good readers – great readers.
Some love nothing more than to read a novel in one sitting. Others would rather spend a morning on a single page, and an afternoon processing it. Some always carry books in their bags, some never do. We are all great.
I keep a collection of books on my shelf that pair well with my writing routine: mainly essays, poetry, and non-fiction. Some I’ve read many times, others are new. I give myself the choice each morning: which of these anthologies will I bring to work with me today?
My balance of reading with writing checks out with my astrological chart. Juli, my astrologer – who is also a great reader – taught me that I’m heavy earth, so I shouldn’t read too much.
‘Write as much as you read,’ she suggested. I felt relieved of my lifelong burden, of feeling behind on pages. I began to articulate my best way of reading.
I listen to my intuition as I choose. Do I want to challenge myself with something different, or delve into the familiar? It’s part of the practice, trying on books like trying on outfits, putting them down after a page if it’s not the right fit – for now.
I love to talk about reading. I get recommendations from my great reader friends, not just for titles, but for the moods that go with them. I don’t need a summary – I trust their judgement. Instead I ask, ‘when would be a good time to read it?’. Time of year, time of day, state of mind.
I read to get through my day, to live in my life. I enjoy reading by creating space for it, inserting it into my daily routine.
As for you, Reader, if you do set reading goals, I doubt that my essays count towards your grand total. So an especial thanks to you, for reading – in rebellion – with me.
honey lemon ginger
honey lemon ginger
honey lemon ginger
All day long
honey lemon ginger
honey lemon ginger
honey lemon ginger
P.S. Full disclosure: In this photo I do not have a cold, and I am drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte.
P.P.S. Thank you to my patrons and members of Everyday Wonderland, who make Heroine Training possible. I’ll be sending out a Secret Story later this week for $1+ patrons with insights on being sick (and, if you have questions or requests for my secret stories, let me know!).
An essay about makeup as an artist’s ritual, my hesitations with femininity, and a minimalist’s desire to learn to use the tools she owns.
Like most things in my studious life, my interest in makeup began with a class.
I love to learn, especially in an organised fashion! A couple of Decembers ago, Ellen and I booked into a holiday eyeshadow class at Jenners. I was clueless about makeup, but so curious. I showed up eager to make the most of it. I think I even brought a notebook.
Makeup artists wielded their palettes and brushes with dreamy, effortless expertise. I asked loads of questions, but the instructors didn’t really have answers. ‘Honestly you just sort of play with it,’ they said.
Ellen and I promised each other to put our gleaming new purchases to good use. In the ultimate Ravenclaw/Gryffindor collaboration, we gathered our glitter palettes and a Google Doc, to design 12 Days of Eyeshadow: a compilation of 12 tutorials to try.
It seems that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who know EVERYTHING about makeup, and those who know NOTHING about makeup. I was firmly in the latter category. But never fear. In 12 days, I would self-educate, and overcome that first hurdle of basic understanding.
Years ago I’d untangled fashion from anti-femininity, but I dared not touch makeup.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint why. It may have been that growing up, most of the commentary I heard about makeup was critical. Women and girls were scoffed at for wearing ‘Too Much’ of it, as if that’s up to anyone other than the makeup wearer herself.
Something about makeup drew a line for me, the line between me and ‘That Sort of Girl’. Who she was, I couldn’t tell you. Not studious.
At university, I didn’t get why my peers invested time and money into makeup. Weren’t they busy? I was still grasping the concept that everyone has a different version of fun. It never occurred to me that makeup could be joyous, empowering. I thought it was about hiding.
I remember watching that Gossip Girl episode where Jenny is sick, her face is free of its usual dark eyeshadow. She looks like a different person. This was frightening to me, as someone so attached to my own identity. I didn’t want to stray so far from myself that I’d have to ‘put on my face’ to recognise who I am.
I was wary of marketing, telling me that I needed more products, more tools. From the outside, I could see the slippery slope: once you’re in, you’re in, and you’ll have to keep buying more. For EVER.
I insist on keeping my beauty cupboard minimalist. I buy less, and use what I have in a million ways. Or to start, 12. I see purchasing a palette for what it is: an artist’s tool.
12 Days of Eyeshadow is a creative challenge, and a studious one: how far can I go with just a few colours? How can I find a style that feels like me? What skills do I need, to bring my vision to life? I started to break through my old beliefs. Makeup isn’t about covering up. It’s an art, a discipline, and a form of play.
Surprised by how makeup helps me dress for the occasion, something I love to do! With different swipes of one eyeliner and one eyeshadow palette, I can transport myself to my decade of choice — even one from a long time ago in a Galaxy far far away. (The past few Decembers have meant Star Wars, so I’ve developed a signature look I call Kylo Xan.)
With makeup I can dress up without accumulating random accessories. Makeup, it turns out, makes good company with minimalism: it’s an ephemeral art project, wiped away at the end of the day. A ritual for being present as well as being presentable.
We swap products and tips, gifting each other our unwanted samples, because everyone’s skin is different, and we are all here to help each other out. An unofficial global girl’s club.
Year three of 12 Days of Eyeshadow has just begun. But I don’t feel like looking up tutorials. And there’s a reason. I don’t need them. Honestly? This year, I can just sort of play around with it.
I write down my goals and habits every day
writing them is patience,
tells my brain to make them stay
tells my wishes: come my way.
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