Friday, 7 April 2017

Life Isn't A Happy Ending

I just finished reading Teen Angst? Naaah... by Ned Vizzini. It was a great book, full of funny stories alongside slightly embarrassing moments remembering just how awkward being a teenager was at times. I was definitely not a popular kid and didn’t come much out of my social shell until I reached sixteen.

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If you haven’t heard of Ned Vizzini, he was a writer of three YA books. My best friend introduced him to me through his novel It’s Kind of A Funny Story which is a fictionalised account of a week he spent in a psychiatric ward after phoning the suicide hotline. The way he wrote the story, I assumed it was actually pretty similar to what happened. At the end of Teen Angst? Naaah... however, he wrote an epilogue detailing his achievements from writing that book (which is a set of chronologically ordered non-fiction short stories about his life during high school years) up until the point he wrote the epilogue several years later.
It turns out that the stress of a two book publishing contract is what sent him to the psychiatric hospital. After his time there, he churned It’s Kind of A Funny Story out record fast, using his new perspective and thought processes to fictionalise the different characters from different walks of life he’d met, and creating a pseudo-self who had different creative passions and different depression triggers. 
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He leaves the later added epilogue of Teen Angst? Naaah... with a lovely sense that he’s got his shit figured out:

‘Do I have days where I wake up and no Muses are there and I don’t even want to deal with my life anymore? Sure. Do I have days where I learn that something–some speaking engagement, some meeting, some project–has been canceled, or I’ve missed some opportunity, and I want to hit myself in the head for being such a dope? Sure. But above and beyond are the days when the words come together and I sit back in my chair and go, “Man, this is fun.” And there are the days where I get an e-mail or a letter from someone who read my writing and liked it and I just slap myself in the head for an entirely different reason, because I’m blessed.’

(that took a lot less time to read than write it out again.)

When I read this, it broke my heart. Ned Vizzini took his life a few years ago. I read this whole book knowing this fact, and I’m sure it added to the weight of emotion I felt in some parts. I can’t help but question now why we feel the need to tell stories in the way we do. Why we have to end everything with a happy tone.

Growing up with a question mark over my life expectancy started to make me view things in chunks of time. Like a beginning, middle and end of a book. When a chapter was finished, I’d move onto the next one, always seeking the next happy ending. I still do this to an extent, but it’s more organisational now than about needing to feel satisfied if my life were to suddenly end in a few months.

The path I’ve taken in recent years has led me to some great storytellers. People who really bring sentences to life, both on page and vocally. I love the art of storytelling, and I’m sure I always will. But it’s times like this I remember that there are endings for a reason, that even the epilogues can’t say what happens after – that maybe the next part ruins the magic of the meaningful ending.

Like right now? I’m going to put my pyjamas on, brush my teeth and go to bed. But that’s not as an exciting ending, is it? And I will have already done a bunch more things by the time I actually publish this.
(Which for the record, I did.)

Monday, 24 October 2016

Letter To My Seventeen Year Old Self

Dear Seventeen-Year-Old Sophie,

I visited Bath Spa’s campus yesterday for the first time in a few years. It’s so beautiful in autumn with the leaves changing and the cows grazing. I know you’ve seen it for the first time recently. How you were stunned and in love with it even in the rain. I want you to hold onto that feeling for as long as possible. I want you to see the beauty in the puddles, the reflection of the sky that they hold. In the winter, I want you to notice the fog sliding through the trees. I want you to smile at your breath misting in the air. I want you to notice the daffodils in the spring, dare to pick one and watch it wither in your room. I want you to walk by the lake as summer starts, forgetting who you are and where you’ve come from because yesterday the water was grey but today it is blue.

You have experienced so many challenges already, but you’ve brushed them all off. You’ve become the person you always dreamed of being, and soon, you’ll realise you could have had even more if you’d tried. More of what you thrived on and less of the wasted nights awake watching people play videos games and drink beer.

But I’m not mad at you. Everyone needs that. Everyone needs to experience the lows to appreciate the highs; and trust me, you’ve got some bigger lows ahead of you. The lows will lead you to days and weeks going by without opening a notepad. Without clicking on a camera, and only half heartedly opening a book. This will not make you a failure. This will make you a fighter for the highs. They will take you soaring across the sea, standing in front of your heroes and sitting aside other ones. They will bump you into new, lifelong friends, and take you travelling across the world. They will ensure you are grasping, always grasping, for the next big dream.

And then you’ll come back. You’ll come back after all of this and see the place you first ran away to. The place where your heart broke for the first time, the place you wrote the first stories, began discovering your voice, and prodding your fingers into memories that are too big to be dealt with alone, but you’ll try to anyway. You’ll see the place that was yours. The first place you were proud to call home, but two years later ran away from hard and fast. You’ll be flooded with memories on every corner. In every nook and cranny, because that town has no hiding spaces.

And it won’t be yours anymore. You’ll look around with strangers eyes, and wonder how it got this way. You’ll wonder if you did enough. If you should have stayed. If you went to the right place. You’ll wonder if you’ll ever stop running, and if so, where you’ll stop to catch your breath.

I wish I could be answering these questions for you, not asking them. But the truth is, I don’t know myself. The journey is rough, and it’s still only just beginning. Please, invest in some good walking shoes.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Photoblog: Amsterdam

Amsterdam was the second stop on our March inter rail journey. It had been fairly near the top of my To Visit list for a while, as it was my flatmate's, so we stayed longer than we did in all the other places. Although it's reputation has given it the image of a party destination to smoke legal weed and sleep with prostitutes, from the moment of arrival it's charm and beauty overrode all of that.

Japanese floating restaurant. 

Cheeky photo in the Van Gogh museum. Most of Europe seemed to charge a lot for entrance to museums and had no photo rules. Bit jarring from the free and camera happy museums of the UK. 

This place did gluten free bagels. It wasn't the best tasting but still pretty impressed.

Photoblog: Paris

On a recent European trip with my flatmate, Paris was our first and last stop. We inter railed the whole trip in order to afford going to more places. We mostly strolled around cities, taking a few photos and going on the odd tour. We packed a lot in, but it wasn't a trip of learning everything possible, just a nice mix of tourism and more stairs/hills than I'd bargained for.

Eiffel Tower detail

Tragically I don't speak French so have no idea what's going on here.

Tried to hang out with Lisa but she was a bit busy.
We laughed at the skull sign but had to remind ourselves of it closer to the time.

Stone's throw from the red light district.

Smiling for the 1920's carousel, not the guy in the middle. 

These last pictures are from the Musée Des Arts Forains, a pre-book, tour only museum of old fairground objects and rides. Although the tour was only provided in French, we got to ride three different carousels (one which was powered by us peddling on bikes!) and had an English written guide to each room. Although a good selection of the audience were tourists, it felt like one of the less known attractions we saw, and was in the charming village of Bercy.
This may be my top recommendation from Paris.