Monthly Archives: November 2011

Pass the passion, please.

We all have something that causes the passion to bubble up within us. Be it writing or photography, health or healing, art or literature, dance or travel, nature or sport, film or fashion, justice or love.

When someone takes that passion and uses it for the higher good, it can be translated into something beautiful. And if it fills just one heart with joy; if it resonates with at least one other human being and makes them feel that they are not alone; if it helps even one person live a better life, then that is a passion worth sharing.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela

If you have something that awakens some little bit of a sparkle within you, don’t be afraid to blow on its embers. Set the world alight with your passion. Not only will you be doing a service to all those who witness what you have to offer, but it will make you feel alive.

Images: http://ellenzee.tumblr.com/post/13470021301http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=182031355225303&set=a.152032604891845.34642.152012388227200&type=1&permPage=1;; http://barfotabarn.blogg.se/

Cult Brainwashing

Last night, I was held captive for almost two hours by Elizabeth Olsen’s arresting portrayal of a young woman who had escaped an abusive cult. Martha Marcy May Marlene is an excellent independent film that centres around a young adult who is confused and paranoid after having spent over a year with a crazy but cunningly convincing cult.

Two things really got to me about this film.

1) How easy it was for these predators to suck in vulnerable youngsters.

The charismatic leaders offered runaways the “unconditional love” and “support” they had been denied throughout their childhood. They then cleverly laced their hippy cocktail of freedom, sharing, nature and love with their sinister views on sex and death.

2) The lead role isn’t played by a stick insect.

We may find the cult’s brainwashing dangerous but what’s just as scary is how we, as a society, have been brainwashed into thinking that skinny is beautiful and that curves must be lost, or at the very least, hidden.

The star of this film is gorgeous but she’s also curvaceous. She’s not overweight but she’s big for an Olsen (Mary-Kate and Ashley are her older sisters). I’m not used to watching movies starring meatier heroines. It got me thinking: If all our leading ladies had bodies like hers, we’d aspire to having more natural, feminine figures.

Don't tell me she's not a stunner!

So, why don’t we stop being so impressionable and cease falling victim to society’s dictates on fashion and desirability? Society is the dark and manipulative cult that’s trying to make you forget what’s important in life and who you really are. Don’t be afraid to walk away. And always remember that you are magnificent just for being you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." Mark Twain

Images: http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/Yuf36xrF9DU/Elizabeth+Olsen+Martha+Marcy+May+Marlene+Photocall/OxqcVRoB1TR/Elizabeth+Olsen; http://favim.com/image/24088/

New Look on Life

Sometimes, the simplest and seemingly insignificant moments can change the way you view things. You’d hardly expect an epiphany to strike as you elbow your way to the cheapest sale item in New Look. But that was exactly where it happened.

I had tried on half the sales rack before leaving the exasperated changing room attendant with a mound of unwanted clothes. Having given up on finding anything that suited me, I wandered upstairs to peruse the shoes when a beautifully coloured dress caught my eye. I approached it tentatively because of the massive Maternity sign hovering above. I stole a glance at the floor staff and puffed my belly out a little. I felt like I shouldn’t be there. And that was when it hit me: I could go wherever the hell I wanted to go. I had been obediently walking within the perimeters of the square labels that society had branded me with, questioning nothing and missing everything. Dramatic stuff for someone who shops in New Look!

I began to realise that these strangers did not know who I was. My life was an unopened storybook. For all they knew, I was a happily married schoolteacher, excited about her upcoming arrival. Or an unemployed singer-songwriter torn between travelling to New York to pursue a dazzling career, and staying in Dublin to raise a child who would never know his father. Or a weird single girl pretending to be pregnant.

Twenty minutes later I strolled out of the store, swinging my bag of purchases: an expectant mother’s dress, a man’s hoodie and a teenager’s T-shirt. This small step opened up a whole new world of permission and possibility. Granted, I had only stuck a little toe outside of my comfort zone but, for someone who has always been excessively honest and terrified to bend, let alone break, the rules, it felt liberating.

Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Butterflies_UFmuseum.jpg; http://browneyedbellejulie.blogspot.com/; http://sussurrosegritos.tumblr.com/page/110

So You Think You Hate Talent

Talent shows can take over and drag on like the chronic fatigue that follows a particularly nasty bout of the flu. Many people (myself included) give out about the hype and the nonsense and Simon Cowell’s ubiquitous smug head… People question the authenticity of the shows, claiming that they’re fixed. Others wonder at the negative impact all this may have on the spellbound competitors. It seems like a type of madness in the midst of all that is going wrong in the world. Will our country default and leave the Euro? Are we being lied to by most everyone who calls themselves an “authority”? Should we fight for what we believe and not take all of this lying down? Who cares? The X Factor competition has gone into deadlock this week. And it’s never happened before this series…

Having said that, what’s so awful about a bit of avoidance therapy? There’s nothing like burying your head in the sand as the economy crashes down on top of you. And what’s so bad about wanting others to succeed in a time of failure? About hearing stories of courage in the face of adversity? About watching a performance that brings tears to your eyes or makes you clap in astonishment?

Here are a few reasons why talent shows are my guilty pleasure…

Okay, so she’s mad as a brush but that’s what made her audition so amazing. In your face, judgemental folk!

This next performance had the entire panel in tears…

Leona Lewis’ version of Summertime is sensationally spine-tingling…

Silhouettes is creative and innovative and especially great if you love a good sob story…

And then there are the likes of this… Talk about car crash television! One could argue that this video represents the craziness of talent shows in general- the bloodthirsty judges, what constitutes “talent” and the extreme lengths the contestants go to to obtain fame and riches…

Feel free to share your favourites…

Featured Image: http://www.graphicshunt.com/wallpapers/images/many_stars-1913.htm

Tracing memories…

A few weeks ago, my aunt gave me her unused copy of Cheryl Richardson’s Turning Inward, a lovely journal of self-discovery. I’m loving this unexpected hand-me-down as it’s forced me to really reflect upon what’s important in my life, what I fear most, and what’s blocking me from unleashing my potential.

Tonight, I turn to page 22, where I’m asked about a favourite memory. I struggle against the memory that immediately pops into my head as it involves an ex, with whom things ended badly. Despite this, I start to write…

"Recalling days of sadness, memories haunt me. Recalling days of happiness, I haunt my memories.' Robert Brault

Last summer, my ex-boyfriend bundled me into his van and brought me to Ballyferriter, a small Irish-speaking town in County Kerry on the west coast of Ireland. This was where I had spent my childhood vacations. I hadn’t been there in 16 years so I was extremely excited to revisit this special place.

This impromptu trip has elbowed its way into my patchwork quilt of favourite memories because it was beautiful in its own right and because it awakened a whole landscape of wonderful older memories…

We peered into the boarded-up caravan where I’d spent summers playing heated games of cards and Scrabble, where I’d listened to the tap-dancing rain when I wasn’t warbling along to Mariah Carey on the Walkman, where my cousins and I had huddled together as we whispered ghost stories and feasted on apple drops and Dip Dabs, where my grandma had taught me how to knit a tea-cosy while my granddad completed the Irish Times’ crossword, where we’d dipped bread soldiers into runny eggs with RTÉ Radio One  playing in the background…

We visited the beach where my family and I had picnicked and ridden waves, built sand castles and squelched across seaweed, savouring the sounds and smells of the ocean. This was where I’d drunk my first can of cider and chatted up boys in my native tongue.

We pitched a tent (which was an experience in itself) and drove into the village. I pictured myself, as a child, walking into town, stopping to pick black currants and suck on fuchsias. I remembered dangling from monkey-bars in the hotel playground as I gazed out at An Fear Marbh

An Fear Marbh (the dead man)

We wandered around the village as I regaled my beau with stories of my brother, cousins and I going to the pub to drink  Coke “in a bottle, with a straw”, playing pool against the locals, then buying lollipops and turnover bread with our winnings of punts and pennies, and investing in my first pair of dangly earrings…

Having showed him all the sights, we munched on fish and chips, washed down with a pint of the black stuff. That night, we cosied up on the beach while the crashing waves serenaded us…

The following morning, we woke ourselves up with an excruciatingly refreshing swim. We warmed up by running the length of the beach, then executing a number of yoga moves while still in our bathing suits (much to the astonishment of the well-wrapped-up passers-by). Afterwards, we used a small camping stove to make the most delicious breakfast I have ever had (no exaggeration) of poached eggs and tea…

Writing about this bittersweet memory has taught me three things:

  1. The most wonderful memories are made up of the simplest scenarios.
  2. Even though life hasn’t turned out the way you expected, what happened before still counts.
  3. Just because someone is no longer in your life, doesn’t mean the memories you shared with them should be tinged with sorrow.

Last summer, I was happy and in love. Last summer, I delighted in spooning and holding hands. Last summer, the man I loved made it possible for me to rediscover some of the best moments of my life and, in the process, gave me a wonderful new memory that will stay with me forever. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Images: http://mydeardiamond.tumblr.com/; http://crunchy-little-human.deviantart.com/art/Childhood-198323794; http://inphotos.org/2006/12/21/an-fear-marbh/; neon-stories.tumblr.com; http://www.bigonbuds.com/category/uncategorized/

Poor-ana

Last night’s premiere of Gráinne Seoige’s Modern Life concentrated on anorexia nervosa, a debilitating and life-threatening illness. The show brought tears to my eyes on a number of occasions. Because I’ve seen and experienced how eating disorders can ruin lives. Because the thought of what it’s doing to innocent young girls kills me.

Size zero is on the lips of every celebrity and fashion guru (about the only thing that passes their lips, I hear you say). In last night’s programme, Gráinne holds up a size zero dress and comments accurately, “This looks like something a child, not a woman, would wear.” She also gives the opinion that models resemble something other than human beings and that they definitely don’t look feminine. She adds, “I would never want to look like them.” And why would you, Ms Seoige? You’re beautiful just as you are. However, if she paid too much attention to internet discussion boards, she could easily feel pressurised to slim down (one clown on Boards.ie suggested that the gorgeous presenter needs to lose a few pounds in order to get work).

Women eye up models’ figures and decide that this is the way they should look too. And why shouldn’t they attempt to be like them? After all, the definition of a model is: “A standard or example for imitation or comparison.”* However, we forget that the reason models are skinny is simply because this body shape best allows designers to showcase their collections. But when models turn into role models and make ridiculous statements such as, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” (not even a thick line of the white stuff, Ms Moss?), our younger generation of impressionable young females is doomed to a lifetime of diets and exercise regimes, and constantly striving for, but never attaining, that elusive “perfect” look.

__________________________________________________

__________________________________________________

It’s virtually impossible to acquire the perfect body image. Even famous folk can’t do it. Despite paying fitness trainers, nutritionists, and personal chefs to make them look good, and even though they have looming red carpet events in clingy designer dresses to motivate them, they still have fat days. And that is why magazine photographs are airbrushed in order to make celebrities  look better (which usually means skinnier). When did it become such a bloody crime to be human?

However dangerous it is to have a teenage girl flick through a glossy magazine, imagine the horrors she can find on the world-wide web? Have you ever heard of a pro-ana website? It’s a site that promotes eating disorders, giving detailed tips on how to beat hunger pangs, purge quietly and hide weight loss from friends and family. It offers support and encouragement to its participants, even motivating them to compete against each other to see who can starve themselves the longest. The images are shocking, upsetting and seriously disturbing. It truly is a scary place. The thought of young girls stumbling across a site like this is terrifying.

“You become so accustomed to that empty feeling in your stomach. You almost start to enjoy it. Because if you know you’re getting very sharp hunger pains and you know how lethargic you’re becoming and you can feel your body kind of deadening under its own weight, you know you’re being successful.” Leanne Waters

But it’s not all about striving for skinniness. One woman in the US, in her quest to achieve a curvier figure, paid a fake doctor to inject her with cement, mineral oil and flat tire sealant. Needless to say, she ended up in hospital, suffering from embarrassment, an empty bank account and a hell of a lot of pain. The grass is always greener on the other size, eh?

I’ll finish off with an amusing anecdote. It’s a perfect example of this constant striving for anything other than what we are. Last week, I was in the changing rooms of a large department store. As I tried on nine dresses (I only bought one, promise!), I overheard a conversation in the next cubicle. A woman was trying on a dress for her Christmas party.

She moaned to the sales assistant, “I’m beat into this dress!”

The shop woman reassured her, “If I had your figure, I’d wear that dress.”

“Well, I have been running five miles a day.”

“Why don’t you wear magic knickers to hold you in? Not that you need it… It’s just that the dress is so clingy,” she quickly added before changing the subject: “Once, a woman had to be cut out of her dress here!”

I snorted. The customer persisted, unperturbed: “Don’t you think this dress flattens my boobs?”

“I don’t know about that… You could buy a pair of padded panties though,” she suggested.

“I don’t need one of them, I have a bum.”

“So do I but it’s in the wrong place,” the sales assistant sighed.

I would have wet my pants but then I would have had to buy the dress (and I didn’t want it because it made my arms look big).

“Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful.” Sophia Loren

*http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/model

Featured Image: http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs71/f/2010/010/5/4/Emo_Magazine_Collage_by_Remea.jpg

Images: http://www.healthkicker.com/730791440/pro-ana-borrows-from-healthy-dieting-practices/; http://francesballard.deviantart.com/art/Anti-pro-ana-186511611; http://amazingdata.com/beauty-or-a-beast/; http://the100.ru/en/actors/sofia-loren.html

Dreaded Drug of Approval

I was out for dinner the other night when I spotted the waitress approaching a family at the next table. She asked one of the children, “Have you made your Santa list yet?” The little girl responded in a giggling baby voice, “I want a supwise.” Her mother patted her on the head approvingly. I had heard the child speak earlier and she hadn’t sounded like that. Already, at such a young age, this girl was changing herself and the way she behaved in order to gain approval.

This simple scenario reminded me of a number of similar moments throughout my life…

At five years of age, talking to the insects in the back garden, then hearing my parents say: “Wow, look at her! She’s so into nature!” I stayed out there for much longer than I wanted to because I was sure my parents would like me more if I did… Pretending to be into a certain genre of music as a teenager just so I’d fit in… Pushing myself in school and college so I could be the perfect student and daughter… Hanging around a guy I liked and hiding parts of myself because I thought it would make me more desirable… Losing weight because that’s how “beautiful” was sold to me… Pretending to know the politician/author/website my co-workers were talking about so they wouldn’t think I was stupid… Feeling I didn’t belong in an expensive boutique because surely the sales assistants would stare at me for not being skinny/fashionable/rich enough… Marrying a Muslim, changing pretty much everything about myself, and still feeling crushed every time he criticised me… Only enjoying the hobbies I was good at because I couldn’t stand being anything less than perfect…

Most of us are unfortunate enough to care about what others think. Add that on top of a cruel addiction to the drug of approval and you’re guaranteed a hellish existence. How many of you have turned vegetarian just because your boyfriend turned up his nose every time you scoffed a burger? Would you be brave enough to leave your iPod playing in shuffle mode when other people are around even though you have a seriously embarrassing secret penchant for The Backstreet Boys? Do you squeeze yourself into skinny jeans because that’s what all your style crushes/college friends are wearing? Do you observe yourself behaving differently around different sets of people? You don’t curse and you use words like “potentially” and “ostentatious” when you’re around Group A. You laugh uproariously at dirty jokes and innuendo (“In YOUR endo!”) when you’re with Group B. You discuss politics and current affairs/spirituality and health/psychology and literature/celebrity gossip and makeup tips with Group C, D, E and F, while sipping on a skinny latte/shot of wheatgrass/large glass of merlot/Flaming Sambuca.

"Lean too much on the approval of people, and it becomes a bed of thorns." Teysi Hsieh

These days, I kind of hope I’m not good at stuff because maintaining perfection is a lot of pressure. It’s exhausting trying to keep up the facade. I just want to do things because they’re fun and I enjoy them. From now on, I’m going to leave excellence to the experts. I’m delighted that I’m not going to live like that any more. It’s a relief to finally let go and just be. Yes, sometimes my reactions are automatic (it’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime) but when I stop and ask myself, Do you really care what they think?, the answer is a resounding NO!

It’s about time you found out who the real you really is. Get to know yourself and discover what it is that you want and like and need. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding process. However, I’ll bet that most people are too afraid to even ask themselves the question Am I being true to myself? because they’re terrified of the answer. Change is scary and a hell of a lot of hard work.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to waste my life pretending to be somebody else, putting myself under constant pressure, striving for perfection, caring what others think, and giving my power away to everybody else. This drug of approval has lost its appeal. Yes, it will try to claw its way back in. And I will be sorely tempted to give in, just to avoid the crippling withdrawal symptoms. But I am determined to finally kick the habit.

Featured Image: http://www.graphicshunt.com/search/6/butterflies.htm

Images: http://www.imageblogs.org/fabulous-child-photography-to-remember-childhood/fabulous-child-photography-to-remember-childhood-9; http://trendland.net/julia-fullerton-batten-photography/#; http://www.flickr.com/photos/19722425@N02/3890967883/; http://novacaine-kills.xanga.com/?uni33319937-direction=n

Single and all loved-up

Being single does not translate as “looking for a partner”. In the words of The Pussycat Dolls (this blog really is high-brow stuff), “I don’t need a man to make me feel good.”

Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I’m available. I want to be sure of myself and my own self-worth before exchanging digits (or body fluids) with some randomer. I want to love and accept myself completely instead of inviting someone else in to do it for me. I’ve got to really know myself and be who I am (and proud of it) before I can meet the right man for me.

If I put myself out there prematurely, I run the risk of getting into the wrong type of relationship. One that will bring me soaring up in the honeymoon stage before crash landing back to reality. Somebody’s bound to get hurt. Been there, done that, bought the self-help book.

We only attract in what we’re projecting out. So, if you’re feeling needy or unattractive or if you’re beating yourself up over anything and everything, you will surely manifest a relationship with someone controlling or critical or angry (or how about all of the above?)

“If you aren’t happy being single, you will never be happy in a relationship. Get your own life and love it first, then share it.” Unknown author

So for now, I’m tentatively entering into a healthy relationship with myself. A romance that’s guaranteed to last a life-time. It’s uncharted territory, folks. But it’s so worthwhile.

So, be grateful for this time you now have to work on yourself and what makes you happy. Giggle with friends over enormous frothy cappuccinos. Take long walks by the coast. Read. Focus on your passion. Start classes in yoga or art or drama. Dance the night away. Go on a skiing or writers’ holiday. Drive somewhere you’ve never been before, with the windows down and your favourite tunes banging. Just because you’re still single doesn’t mean you’re destined to suffer a long, lonely existence with only your cats and knitting needles for company.

Know that you owe it to yourself to experience self-love first.

Featured image: http://www.kriyayoga.com/wallpapers/widescreen_wallpapers/rose/beautiful_roses.html

Images: http://weheartit.com/entry/16568451; http://www.ilovephotoblogs.com/freelance-photographer-salih-guler-ankara-turkey; http://pulpfactor.com/photography/6840/photography-by-luis-beltran/

On the floor

The last time I ventured to the pub was about three months ago with my then boyfriend in the Donegal Gaeltacht, where the most outrageous thing anyone did was speak English. The last time I got drunk was about six months ago with an old college friend, when we had Thai food with our wine and spent the following day blaming the takeaway for the annihilation of our insides (as you do). And I can’t even remember the last time I set foot inside a club. Does watching self-proclaimed guidos fist pump on Jersey Shore count?

And you know how when you haven’t done something in a while, you wonder if you could even remember how to do it? It’s part lack of energy after a recent flu; part rawness after a recent break-up; part fear- I think I’ve put on weight, I don’t have anything nice to wear, I don’t remember how to small-talk; part sense- memories of extreme exhaustion after a 7am finish, a night spent hugging the toilet bowl (it was a night on the tiles all right!), hangovers so bad you rue the day alcohol was discovered. Damn you, rotten fruit! And part downright laziness at the thought of having to choose an outfit, do the hair and makeup, and stand around in heels all night. Effort. I think I’ve developed a mental block.

But after three weekends in a row of calling over to my mam’s for chips and a two-hour sentence of The X Factor, where the most daring thing I did was drink tea after 11pm, I think it’s time I worked on my social life.

I’m told I need to get out there (code for showcase my talents- I have a large chest- in order to date around). But do I really want to find a man in a swirling sea (maybe I shouldn’t have had that last Cuba Libre) of checked shirts and shark-like smiles? It’s dangerous choosing a partner when you’re both sporting beer goggles (Why do they call them beer goggles anyway? Goggles help you see. They should be called beer shades. Because they blot out the light. But I digress. I do that when I try to avoid an issue.)

On the one hand, I’m not bothered with all the pretending that goes on on a night out… fake tan, false eyelashes, concealer… pretending that everything’s funny, pretending that this club doesn’t suck rear end, pretending that you can walk in those heels and that your feet aren’t burning… Plus, I don’t want to get so drunk that I lose the following day (or my mammy’s chips).

On the other hand, I miss dancing to the latest Rihanna number, making an effort with my appearance and being told it’s paid off by a random hottie (even if he is hauled outside by the bouncers three minutes later for being too drunk) and cackling at dirty jokes with a gaggle of mates.

I don’t have to drink too much (famous last words). My eyelashes and tan (or lack thereof- I didn’t have a sun holiday this year, okay?) will be real. And I might wear flats. Who’s with me?

Images: http://myspace-fusion.com/graphics/photography/index.php?page=6; http://willberwillberforce5333.wordpress.com/tag/willber-willberforce/page/159/; http://bahalwan.de/gallery/fashion/MicheleWaldmeyer/

Featured Image: http://2812photography.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/dance-floor/

Things that make me go Aahhhh….

Okay, aside from a little bit of Oooh Aaah Paul McGrath, if you know what I mean (I realise that my foreign readers won’t get the embarrassing rhyming reference to getting jiggy with it), here’s a contented-sigh-inducing list of things that make me go Aahhhh….

That first slug of tea after a long day      The climax of a favourite tune

"Life is too short to drink from an ugly cup." jAne at Tickleberry Farm

The first holiday glimpse of the ocean                   Writing something beautiful

Surrendering my weight into a comfortable bed

         Sliding into a hot bubble bath                 The tightest of bear hugs

Reading the first page of a novel and knowing that this book is going to rock

Taking time out in nature                       The sound of rain beating off a tin roof

*Snow Magic by TORI STEFFEN

WAKING UP TO AN INCREDIBLE SNOW SCENE                         Swimming solo

The sky in all its forms and shades and PaTteRn$

Beauty… from nature to a photograph to a piece of music to a particularly pleasing male form…

Freewheeling after cycling up a steep incline

Sunshine on my skin                                                    Newly changed bedclothes

The scent of yellow furze and freshly cut grass

The blast of hot air as I step off the plane in an exciting foreign location

Lighting a candle just because…

The first gasp of breath after an extraordinary belly laugh

Now, do fill me in on some of the things that make you go Aahhhh

Images: http://everafterxo.blogspot.com/2011/04/127-and-i-picked-her-up-and-away-we-go.html; http://www.top4download.com/beautiful-ocean-sunset-screensaver/screenshot-csthcguk.html; http://www.pixdaus.com/; http://abigaylee.tumblr.com/page/20; http://blog.fly51fly.com/2009/03/08/delicious-photograph-20090308/

Featured Image: http://www.aliciaandnick.com/whitenoise/art.html