What Yoga is Teaching Me About Me

So, I’ve been taking a yoga class.

*pauses for gales of laughter to subside*

I know, I know, me and exercise haven’t always been the most natural of bedfellows. I was once pulled in front of the class and used as a bad example in PE. I walk the 5k Race for Life every year. My idea of a hearty workout normally involves walking to the fridge to get another piece of cake.

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I signed up sort of on a whim. My dad had wired me some pocket money and I wanted to spend it trying something new, something that I’d never normally spend it on. I’d read a post by one of my favourite bloggers not too long before about how she had discovered yoga and had fallen in love with it. So I googled “Dalston Yoga” and booked myself a block of six beginners classes at the first school that popped up. I am beyond, beyond thrilled that by sheer chance, I picked one of the best exercise classes I’ve ever been to. Dalston Yoga classes take place in a tiny loft studio, sunlight streaming through an open skylight, the air warm and spiced with soft incense. A black and white cat pads around the space, curiously observing. The teacher, Paulene, guides classes gently in a thick, soothing Aussie accent (this is probably where I find out that it’s not an Aussie accent and get in trouble), liberally peppered with swearwords.

I first walked through her door about six months ago and I honestly don’t know how I lived without it. It’s become a hard, occasionally weird, but always brilliant part of my life. It’s constantly teaching me things about myself, and I don’t just mean that in the typical “yoga has brought me to a moment of clarity and reflection” (although there are shades of that sometimes). It’s teaching me things about myself in the same way that trying anything that you’re not immediately good at does. Here’s a few of the things I’ve learned:

It’s a damn good thing that I’m smart.

I’ve always been a rather appalling goody two shoes. A teacher’s pet. A kiss ass of the highest order. So imagine my surprise on learning that when I’m not immediately good at something, I have an almost irrepressible instinct to play class clown. As soon as I start to struggle, when my legs start to shake or I can’t bend as far as I want to, I feel compelled to comically fall over or make a smart comment about my lack of fitness. Because at least then, people would be laughing with me, right? There it is, one of my biggest insecurities and defense mechanisms, laid utterly naked by nothing more and nothing less than a forward bend. There is nothing scarier than trying really hard and still not being very good. It has taken real strength to battle past that. To accept that actually, nobody is going to laugh at my poses quite simply because no one is looking at me. Which brings us neatly into surprise number two…

“Poses” is a grossly misleading word.

When I hear the word “yoga”, the image that comes to mind is pretty specific and also, as it turns out, utter bollocks. I imagine a thin, white, pretty woman pretzelled up on a sandy beach. The sun is probably rising. She’s probably drinking from a coconut. She has great hair. Her name is probably Tiffany. Regardless, her poses are just that: still, serene, beautiful. When I go to yoga, I am anything but. This took a long while for me to come to terms with. I had a very definite idea of what I should look like when I was doing yoga and for the first couple of classes, I verged on upset, face flushing bright red as my legs juddered and twitched beneath me, or my wrist cracked, or my breath became ragged. Then, as I got out of my own damn head for a second – helped infinitely by the incredible teacher, Paulene – I realised that yoga isn’t supposed to be pretty. It’s a process of discovery and discovery is almost never neat or Instagrammable.

Now, I set my mat up at the front of every single class. I have never ever done that in an exercise class before. My yoga isn’t any prettier but I don’t care, because I’m discovering my body, piece by tiny piece. Sometimes, it does super weird things. When they get tired, my limbs start to shudder. My movements aren’t smooth and practised. A lot of the time, I jerk stiffly from one position to the next. Sometimes, for no reason at all, one of my muscles will decide that it’s going no further and cling on for dear life. I grunt and groan and sweat my way through the classes. And it feels incredible.

It’s not about that.

We all tend to think of ourselves as big heads on sticks. Our mind does all of the living for us and our body runs after, trying to keep up. As somebody who has devastatingly physical symptoms whenever my mind gets out of balance, I can definitely attest to that. More than being about getting bendy or skinny or even fit, for me, yoga is about actually taking some time to hang out in my body. As touched on in point one, I’m a bit of an Overachiever. It has been really, really difficult for me not to get caught up going “Well, by this time next month, I want to be able to bend this far, or hold this pose for this long”. That works for some people but is really destructive and distracting for me. I spent my first couple of classes physically pulling myself into uncomfortable stretches and poses before being utterly called out on it by Paulene.

Once I got past that, it became less about nailing each pose and more about going Oh, so that’s how my body moves in that direction.
So that’s how far I can go this way.
That’s what it feels like when I twist like that.

Your body has no moral value. There is no right or wrong way to have a body (despite what some people adamantly insist). The class isn’t a place for me to criticise or improve my body. It’s a place for me to observe. Because how are you supposed to love something that you don’t even know? So I watch my body. I learn what it can do. I learn Oh, that feels good.
That feels weird.
That’s interesting.
I think I can go further.
My body is great.
I am great.

Just like she knew when my mind was pushing me too hard, Paulene knows when my mind is blocking me. She knows when it’s my mind saying no, when my body could actually go a little further. Bit by bit, I’m building up. I’m starting to notice which poses make me feel happy, which poses make me feel strong, which poses make me feel grounded. Because I started at the ugly, ungainly beginning.

Once, talking about another yoga class she had attended, Paulene snorted, “They’ve got all these poor people trying to stand on their heads and they haven’t even learned to stand on their f*cking feet”.

That’s what yoga is about for me. It’s not about the money shot, the headstand, the scorpion pose, the perfect, beachy Pinterest pin. It’s about spending time with me. It’s about not pretending to love my body when actually, I’m just ignoring it. It’s about being present. It’s about learning to stand on my f*cking feet.

Schmoozing and Boozing: #IRLPanel

My favourite thing about the internet is having the ability to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.

My Twitter timeline is constantly full of amazing, inspiring women; women with stories to tell and brilliant, brave voices to tell them in. Women who are grabbing life with two hands and making it work for them. Women who have overcome unbelievable, devastating things. Women who really, really give a shit.

I’ve written before about Laura Jane Williams, one of the best and most beautiful writers I’ve encountered. I’ve followed her blog for a while now and had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a Debrief event a couple of months ago. So when she and fellow fabulous person Emma Gannon decided to throw a real life get together for these great Twitter women, I basically fell over myself in my hurry to get a ticket.

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Fittingly, the theme of the evening was friendship, so I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants and decided to go along on my ownsome and make as many friends as I could. I had chatted with a lot of the folks who were going on Twitter, but I suffer from that eternal writers’ conviction that I am infinitely funnier and more charming on the page than I could ever hope to be in person, so I was pretty nervous.

I headed into the room, made a beeline for the prosecco and spun around to introduce myself to the nearest person before my confidence had the chance to desert me. Reader, the Universe sent me an angel. Halfway through our introductions, I realised I had met the woman I was speaking to before but hadn’t recognised her, due to my vision being impaired upon our first meeting by a knight’s helmet. We were taking part in a non-sexy pants photoshoot. No, really, we actually were:

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Me being unsexy in some pants.

She was the excellent Daisy Buchanan, whose writing you will probably have read if you have picked up literally any newspaper or magazine this year. Spurred on by this realisation, I introduced myself to another bunch of ladies standing nearby and spent the next half hour pouring prosecco for people and enthusing about how great Daisy’s writing is.

The panel of speakers took to the stage and I quickly scurried to an empty seat. I smiled shyly at the girls beside me, only to have one of them ask “Sorry, are you Fiona?”

Turns out that curly red hair and a big Scottish accent are good identifiers. My favourite thing about events like this is that everyone introduces themselves with their Twitter handle.

“Oh hey! Aren’t you @EscapologistGl? I’m @flo_robson!”
“SHUT UP, it’s so nice to meet you!”

The panel was made up of Nadin Hadi, Lucy Sheridan, Jade Coles and Emma and Laura themselves. The five women were strikingly different but equally excellent as they picked their way through the thorny topic of friendship.

Wisdom was doled out in bucketloads:

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
A good friendship is one where you don’t both fall out of love at the same time.
You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited friendship.

But the wisdom was cut through with fast-paced, biting hilarity: Lucy recalling how her husband falls in friend-love at first sight, Nadin outing herself as Helen from Bridesmaids, Laura exclaiming Oh god, I’m Kristen Wiig and I HATE YOU.

I frantically tapped half nonsensical, typo ridden notes into my phone and nodded furiously at every word spoken. The truth is, these women could have been talking about anything in the world and I would have listened. There is something so uniquely wonderful about a group of women who are absolutely owning it. I wanted to stand up and high five everyone in the room when Nadin followed up her Bridesmaids comment by saying “People are intimidated by me and that’s fine. I am intimidating.”

In no time at all, the panel was over and people started to mill around the room. Self-consciousness soothed by prosecco and shared experience, we poured out our stories of love and loss, of friendship breakups, finding your tribe and whether or not you always want to sleep with your friends just a little bit. Scrolling the hashtag on Twitter, I found that a couple of my favourite bloggers were in the room and went around squinting at people’s faces until I found them. Once I met them, I tried to be cool, but ended up snuggling them instead. Such is life.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

There’s always something a bit magical about meeting people you admire and this night was absolutely no exception. If you didn’t get a ticket for this one, make sure you come along to the next. But be warned, I’ll probably snuggle you.

Sister Act: High Five

It’s that time of year again, when a familiar message whispers through the trees, dancing on the air, pulling us in.

Stay very still. Listen carefully. You’ll be able to hear it.

“…ssssserrrr…fffuu…answer…pphhhh…kanser…ffffuuuuuuuck canceeeeeeer”

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That’s right folks, it’s Race for Life season. If you have followed our journey from the start, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs – you probably know the story better than me at this stage.

For those just joining us…welcome to the party.

This is a story all about how
my life got flipped and turned upside down.
So why don’t you take a moment, just sit right there
and I’ll tell you how cancer tried to kill my mum and ruin my life.

*dance break*

When I was sixteen, my mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer. My sister Sophie was twelve. I had never been so afraid in my entire life. I don’t think any of us had. Luckily for all of us, advances funded by Cancer Research in early detection and treatment meant that my mum made a full recovery and celebrated her five years clear a few years ago. She now spends her time drinking cocktails, compulsively booking cruises and throwing dance parties in her kitchen.

My mum is the bravest, strongest person that I know. I talk a lot about her kicking cancer’s ass. But the truth is, cancer doesn’t give a toss how brave or strong you are. Bravery and strength isn’t what saved my mum – although her bravery and strength saved the rest of us a million times over.

Twenty-four years ago, my dad lost a mother who was just as brave and as strong as mine. The leaps forward that Cancer Research have made meant that I didn’t lose mine.

Every year, I think this story will get easier to tell, but it doesn’t. I will never forget that it is because of Cancer Research that my mum was around to do my makeup for my prom, and for my sister’s. She drove us both to University and cheered at my graduation. We got to walk her down the aisle, and maybe someday, she’ll return the favour. I will always and forever be indebted to Cancer Research, to everyone who has donated, to the amazing scientists, nurses and carers who meant that my mum stuck around and stayed the amazing, sparkly, wonderful person that she is.

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So I figured, I’d better work off some of that debt. This will be our FIFTH year of Race for Life, which I think definitely deserves another dance break.

*dance break*

It’s been a crazy, amazing journey, featuring bucketloads of tears, a lot of seriously bad dancing, me in the papers dressed as Hit Girl, support from actual superhero Mark Millar, doughnuts with “fxxk cancer” printed on them and a dog in a t-shirt. We have raised a total of £3700 over the last four years. That’s pretty damn amazing.

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But cancer still isn’t getting the message. It continues to steal away people that we love. There is so much more to be done. And I won’t stop until no mother ever has to sit down her children and tell them that she has cancer.

We’ll be having loads of fun here on the blog over the next month, keeping you updated on fundraising progress, super-strict training regimes and all the ridiculous things that I’ll do to get your money.

Seriously, I’ll do whatever. I’ll write you a poem, I’ll hand illustrate you a postcard, I’ll record a song for you and put it on Youtube, I’ll bake you a cake, I’ll draw you a (dreadful) portrait. Name it. Whatever it takes for you to click that lovely donate button, it’s yours.

Cancer messed with the wrong family. It’s going down.

Support us here! Or, if internet pages ain’t your thang, you can text your donation by texting “SOFI57 £5” to 70070. 

Tiny Acts of Self Care for When You Just Can’t

I write about self care a lot. I started this blog to chart my decision to choose happiness, at a time when I didn’t feel like anything could ever make me feel happy again. I write to remind myself why I made that decision, and how I continue to make that decision. And sometimes I think maybe I’m helping other people to choose it too.

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A lot of people seem to be struggling right now. I think that happens a lot in the springtime. Things start to change and for better or for worse, change always dredges up the dirt that’s lying under the surface. And when you’re struggling, every single step you take feels heavy and impossible and pointless – even the ones that you know might help. How are you supposed to summon the energy to start an inspiration journal when you can’t even face taking a shower or cooking a proper dinner? I’ve been there, and I promise it gets better. But until then, here are a few teeny tiny little acts of self care for when you’re genuinely not up to joining a yoga class, starting a healthy eating plan or taking up knitting.

Put On Some Clean Socks

I’m not even joking, I feel like a new woman when I’m wearing clean socks. If I’ve been travelling or if I’ve had a really rubbish day at work, I come home and put on a pair of clean, comfy cotton socks. Boom. Ready to face the world again. I told you they’d be teeny tiny. But it helps.

Breathe

Go somewhere warm. Lie down on your back with your arms by your sides. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing. Don’t try to alter your breath – you don’t have to be doing deep, mystic, yogic breathing, just let your body do its thing. Cry if you feel like you have to. Let your thoughts come and go and try to be gentle with them. If you feel like you’re working yourself into a frenzy, stop. Being still works for some people, being active works for others.

Make Your Bed

Okay, this can be a hard one, I know. I wrote an entire post shortly after starting this blog about how the hardest thing about feeling like the world is falling apart is dealing with the fact that it actually isn’t. You still need to wash your clothes and pay your bills and do your dishes. Pick just one thing. Decide to go and make your bed right now. Or empty your bins. Or wash your dishes. Let yourself take pride in having done it. Self care isn’t always a bubble bath or a trashy movie. Sometimes, it’s doing the thing that has to be done, even when it makes you hurt. You’ve got this. I promise, you’ve got this.

Cuddle Something

I’m a very tactile person and I sometimes feel like I get an actual high from a good hug. Hey, if people are allowed exercise highs, I’m allowed hug highs. But if you’re not into touchy feely people, it doens’t need to be a person. Cuddle your dog. Dogs are great, and they always know when you’re sad. Wrap your arms around a big pillow, or around your duvet and give it a big squeeze. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

Wash Your Face

This is similar to the clean socks in that it makes me feel like a brand new person. I’ve obviously internalised the idea of a clean, fresh start very literally. Grab a facecloth, run it under a very hot tap and place it over your face. Breathe in that steamy goodness. Enjoy the feeling of something warm and soft on your skin. Now wash your face in gentle little circles. No vicious scrubbing, we’re loving ourselves, remember?

Come take my hand, my darling. It’s okay not to be okay. Recovering from depression or anxiety doesn’t mean that you have to be a gigantic hose of positivity and hope all the time. It’s okay to feel rubbish sometimes. It’s okay to just survive, if that’s all you have the strength to do. Look after yourself, survive, give yourself the chance to fight again tomorrow.

Peeking Under the Trollbridge

TW: misogyny, racism, sexual violence.

Just like last time, it started with a poster and a picture.

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Bones aching after a day at a Stand Up to Racism march, buoyed by the incredible, passionate voices that rung out throughout the day, thoughts very much focused on the vodka and lemonade awaiting me in the pub and my (erroneous) hopes that Scotland might beat Ireland in the rugby, I tweeted a photograph of me holding a Refugees Welcome placard.

My Twitter had been a relentlessly lovely place for a good few months, so I didn’t think much of it when my phone buzzed. And then it buzzed again. And again. And again. Not only were Scotland getting absolutely gubbed in the rugby, my mentions were suddenly gushing with racist, misogynist, violent abuse.

I was told that I was a repulsive person because I haven’t personally invited any refugees to live with me.
I was told that I must want to be raped.
My photograph was retweeted with an invitation for white men to rape and impregnate me, so I could continue the white race.
I was asked to post my address so that men would know where to come when they wanted to rape me.
I was sent photographs of beaten and bloodied women.
I was told that there was blood on my hands because I sleep in a warm bed while others freeze to death.
I was told there was blood on my hands because of the explosions in Brussels.
I was called precious. I was called naive. I was called a hypocrite. I was called a bitch.

The trolls, ladies and gentlemen, had descended.

As somebody who’s pretty vocal on the internet, particularly about the fact that I think women are people and should have rights, I get trolled a lot. Sometimes, for a few hours, I think the trolls have ruined my day. Sometimes, they make me cry. Sometimes, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of the sea, wave after caustic wave of hatred battering over me. Sometimes I feel as though I’m drowning.

Sometimes, I feel like Dorothy, peeking behind the curtain in the Emerald City. I remember that this huge mass of rage and venom isn’t born of some unfathomable, mysterious monster. There is no Wizard. And when I peek under the troll bridge, I find only people.

When I really think about it, I wonder what kind of lives these people must be living, to make them hate like that. I think of the little boys, high on the illicit thrill of saying the forbidden. I think of the young men baffled and frustrated that I would present my face and my body to the world and not invite their comment. I think of how society teaches our young men to express themselves through violence and anger. I think of the poor, terrified, lost boys, who don’t know how else to feel powerful. I think of the girls, so broken and battered by this messed up little world of ours that they step on other women as they reach for the approval of the lost boys. I think of the dinosaurs, the relics, clinging with their fingernails to a world that no longer exists, stubbornly refusing to see that history will not remember them fondly. I think of the panic that lashes out and escalates, rather than admitting it was wrong. It is easier to hate than to understand.

These voices, so huge, so loud online…how small they become in the real world. How small in comparison to wrapping myself in my boyfriends arms at the end of the day. How small in comparison with closing down my laptop in favour of drinking ginger beer in the sunshine or losing myself in a book. How tiny compared with the texts from my sister that say “I’m really proud of you”. How insignificant in the face of my full, beautiful, silly little life.

Their hate might be an ocean, but my love lets me float. And I hope that someday, they find that too.

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The Way That I Love

My love is chaotic. It’s a wild, passionate tangle. That tumbling, swooping delight that fills me to the brim and explodes from my fingertips. It’s both of us talking at once, filling the space between us with excitement and laughter and short, sharp bursts of outrage. It’s the fact that after six years, my heart still thumps when he walks through the door. It’s being dragged on tiny adventures when I’d rather lie in bed and cry. It’s pouting and thrashing and lashing out and having someone gently respond, “I love you”.

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My love is quiet. It’s a hand gently covering mine as I stare distractedly out of the window. The kiss at the base of my neck as the cup is placed by my side. It’s slow dancing in a freezing square, wearing twenty layers of clothing It’s noses bumping together, hands intertwining. It’s the sound of a page being turned. It’s a body pressed against mine under the cold sheets, pale light trickling beneath the blinds. It’s a whispered secret. And fingers in my hair. It’s pancakes. And soda bread. It’s the scent of jasmine. It’s the knowledge that in all my imperfection, I am enough. And that wherever he is, that’s my home. It’s the smile that tugs at the edge of his mouth when we run out things to say. It’s the perfect circle of freckles on his shoulder. And the kisses that fall like rain.

Love is my dad saying to me, “I’m so proud of you”. Love is dancing like my mum. It’s tearing across a beach with my sister on my back. The sound of ice clinking in a glass. It’s eating chips in our car by the seaside, because it’s too cold to do it outside. It’s old home movies. And terrible, terrible jokes. It’s telling my best friend that I love her, and wondering why I didn’t say it sooner. It’s butterscotch Angel Delight. And strawberry daquiris. And white irises. And the hot, bitter smell of gunpowder at New Years.

Love is my sister running across the playground towards me. It’s the corner of the kitchen where my brother and I learned to be friends. It’s Practical Magic. It’s the Emperor’s New Groove. It’s red lipstick. It’s my granny eating cake mix straight from the bowl. It’s ordering two bottles of wine on a school night because you don’t want to stop talking. It’s the exclamation, “I know exactly what you mean”. Love is realising that it’s not too late. That you still have time. That all you have to do is reach out a hand. It’s lying on the ground, staring up at a sky full of stars.

My love is the crinkles in my eyes when I laugh. My love is the way I tuck my hair behind my ear. And the way I can read until I’m drunk on words. And singing in the shower. My love is the way that I cry when I’m happy. My love is insignificant. My love is undignified. My love is beautiful.

And because of my love, my life is good.

Happy Valentines Day.

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It Starts Now

I’m so excited that I arrive half an hour early and have to sit in the lobby of the uber stylish Hoxton Hotel, people watching and becoming increasingly frantic that everyone walking past looks infinitely cooler than I do. The beloved imposter syndrome sets in but has to take a back seat; there’s nothing in this here world that would make me miss one of my favourite writers in conversation with one of my favourite websites, especially when the odds of free cocktails are high.

Photo provided by the lovely folks at Aperol UK.

Photo provided by the lovely folks at Aperol UK.

The event is called It Starts Now, a name that runs up my spine and reminds me of that whispered promise that the New Year brings. It’s run by the Debrief, sponsored by Aperol and plays host to three amazing bloggers who will be telling us exactly how to grab 2016 by the unmentionables.

I’m at the event solo. This is the undeniable downside to having cool friends…they are literally always booked out. I tentatively introduce myself to another girl in the corridor, Hannah, and by the time the doors open, we are already cheerily discussing micropenises. We are ushered into a bar that looks like it leapt directly out of Pinterest: black and white chequered tiles, bright orange everything, squashy armchairs, warm white fairy lights, bottles of stinging orange Aperol scattered artfully around. We’re given a cocktail each and advised to hang onto our glasses for top ups. This is excellent news.

Hannah’s plus one, Sarah, arrives shortly after and turns out to be just as excellent as Hannah. They very nicely let me gatecrash their evening and it is definitely their fault that I don’t have a single non-blurry photo of the night. I’m far too busy giggling and drinking Aperol Spritzes to stand still enough for a photo.

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After a little mingling, we are brought into a tiny cinema room and this is where the fun really starts. Jo from food blog Jo Eats London, Laura from lifestyle blog Superlatively Rude and Zara from beauty blog Mouldy Fruit sit in front of us and reveal the secrets to making 2016 a truly great year. Laura’s blog has been one of my favourites for a very long time. She’s one of the most stunning, truthful writers that I know, and if you haven’t read her blog before, you absolutely should. When I meet her, I instinctively throw myself at her, before panicking a split second too late that she isn’t a hugger. Of course, she is, so when I say goodbye, she gets a proper hug. Jo and Zara are both new discoveries for me but hearing them speak is amazing.

Jo talks about what’s going to be hotting up and what’s going to be cooling off in our kitchens. Cupcakes are over, thank the lord. Give me a slice of proper cake any day. So are spiralisers. Pasta is the way forward, says Jo. I think we’ll get on just fine. Jo is warm and sweet and funny and completely succeeds in making me very hungry. Apparently, in 2016, we need to be eating cauliflower. And doughnuts. And I’ll raise a glass to that any day.

Laura chats about life, love and social media, not necessarily in that order. Chat really is the right word for it. She goes off on tangents and laughs at her own notes when they get pompous – “I regularly prune my social media garden…what does that even mean?”, she chuckles at one point – and has all of us in stitches as she mourns the loss of her slightly uncool imaginary celebrity BFF Khloe Kardashian. Her message is the same one that rings out through her writing: do what feels good. She talks about authenticity and truth and beauty and I feel like standing up and doing a little victory dance every five minutes.

Zara is talking beauty. More specifically, beauty trends that will look just as good on your actual face as they do on Instagram. As she so aptly puts it, we’ve all gotten to the stage where we feel like we should have five Instagram filters on our faces before we even walk out the door. Excessive contouring is swapped for dewy, glowy skin, nude Kylie Jenner lips are replaced with bold cherry lips and swipes of turquoise eyeliner. I’m excited. Like the others, Zara started her blog because she felt like somehow, she had something to say. And she certainly does. I take a full page of notes of beauty products that I want to buy.

Zara, Jo and Laura.

Zara, Jo and Laura.

All three are warm and fun and gorgeous in every sense of the word. I leave the room feeling like 2016 is probably going to be the year that I take over the world. Sarah, Hannah and I head back into the bar where we sit and put the world to rights, drink a few more Aperol spritzes than is really appropriate for a school night and swap social media links and story ideas, before being politely ushered out after everyone else has left. What else are ya gonna do on a Wednesday night, right? Take a deep breath, my darlings. 2016 is here. It’s going to be a big one, if you’ll let it. Relax. Do you. Do what feels good. Introduce yourself loudly. Throw yourself in for the hug. Order another drink. Laugh too much. Get inspired. This is your life. It starts now.

Camille In The Round

As much a storyteller as a singer, Camille O’Sullivan has one those raw, heartrending voices that seems to tear the very fabric of the air, before reaching through and punching you right in the heart. When I lived in Edinburgh, I made a point of seeing her at least once a year when she rocked the Fringe festival, so last year, finding myself stuck in London throughout August, I was pretty gutted. It didn’t even occur to me to check whether she was playing in London and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should always date someone smarter than you. My lovely boy bought me tickets to see her for my Christmas.

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From a tiny Edinburgh festival venue to London’s beautiful Roundhouse, Camille’s set remains familiar. It’s like wandering into the mind of a fairytale character; dresses hang in the air, filled with fairy lights, a rabbit lamp sits on top of a battered leather suitcase, an assortment of hats lies to the side of the stage, a microphone stand drips with chimes, a pair of ruby slippers glitter conspicuously in the dim light. Camille herself is equally surreal. She enters in a sparkling black cape, wrapped in yet more fairy lights, painted red lips the only colour among orchid-pale skin and dark, shining hair. I always have a certain amount of love and respect for beautiful women who could choose to be hot and choose to be weird instead (see also: Kate Bush). Camille lurches and sashays and bunny hops wildly around the stage, miaowing, swearing, drinking wine, before assuming whatever character she’ll be occupying for the duration of the next song. All of which isn’t to suggest that she isn’t sexy as hell. She’s basically the love of my life. She shifts between spurned lovers, spurning lovers, heartbroken daughters, deranged freak-show nightmares, salacious temptresses, often huge caricatures with enough truth in them that every one feels familiar. Changing characters are accompanied by changing costumes, a glittering array of shoes and dresses and hats and face paints and lipsticks. Different voices, different faces, different walks. Her singing veers between soft, whispering crooning, scratching rock and roll belting, rich, deep instrumentals. She has a voice that feels as though it is physically surrounding you, filling you up. I cry three times: once at the lovesick beauty of Declan O’Rourke’s Galileo, once at the raw, scraping power of Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam, once at the ironic, understated loneliness of Fascinating Aida’s Look Mummy, No Hands.

Having seen her at least ten times before, I’ve got a list of firm favourites, songs that give me goosebumps or make my heart start thumping after just a few notes. I couldn’t have written a better set list for this show. Niall laughs at me as I bounce and squeal and grab his hand every time I recognise a new song. The show opens with Gillian Welch and closes with Nick Cave, stopping off at Bob Dylan, Kirsty MacColl, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel and a rollicking tribute to the Starman himself, Mr David Bowie. Camille covers songs that I would ordinarily forbid people to cover and she makes them better. She makes them more beautiful. She makes me understand them in a new way.

Between songs, she chats affectionately to the audience, trips over microphone wires, talks lovingly about the artists she is covering, marvels at how much easier it was to salsa Kirsty MacColl’s In These Shoes when she started ten years ago. Despite all of the glamour, all the theatrical glory of the performance, between songs, you’re made to feel as though you’ve just bumped into her in the pub. She exudes warmth and fondness for her audience, and performs with the air of someone who still, after all this time, feels so privileged to be sharing her favourite music with them.

She’s back in London on the 29th of April. Go see her. Miaow.

Two Years On

It’s that special day again, folks. The Escapologist’s Daughter is two years old today!

*cue marching band, over order flowers and drinks, weep drunkenly about how fast they grow up*

This time last year, I was reflecting on my recovery from a pretty blue period of my life, which had inspired me to start a blog. In its first year, my blog encouraged me to stop being ashamed of who I am and how I’m doing. In its second year, my blog encouraged me to positively shout it from the rooftops.

The second year of my blog saw me ask myself “Well, why the hell not?” over and over again. And if the answer was “Because I’m scared to”, for the most part, I went ahead and did the thing.

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I went viral after accidentally creating the perfect storm of feminist rage and a funny idea. Dealing with going viral made me want to hide under my duvet and never come out or try to do anything ever again. Instead of doing that, with the help of my nearest and dearest, I rallied. I went on breakfast time TV. I organised an event to share the love I was feeling around. I spoke at a feminist conference. I started writing for one of my favourite online magazines. Why the hell not? Why the hell not? Why the hell not?

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As my blog gained a little more traction, I was invited to speak at a couple of blogging events. I felt like the world’s biggest fraud. I felt like they had somehow invited me by accident and when they realised their mistake, I’d be shunned forever by the Grand High Blogging Police. I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants, painted my lisptick extra bright and went for it. People told me I was inspiring. Why. The hell. Not?

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I decided to throw my own blogger event. I had no experience. I had no budget. I had no idea what I was doing. I threw it anyway. It was a tiny little event. It lacked any kind of finesse or elegance. But you know what? It was brilliant. Everyone had a great time. There were sweary doughnuts. People stuck transfer tattoos all over their faces. Everyone drank slightly too much and we raised over £200 for Cancer Research. Why the hell not?

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I wrote a book. Something I’ve always wanted to do. For my entire life, I’ve been hiding behind the excuse “I’m too busy”, when in reality, I was just afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it. How do you face up to the reality that you actually might not be talented enough to achieve a lifelong dream? I didn’t want to. So I just didn’t try. Then, in November, I sat myself down, gave myself a stern talking to and started to write. 28 days later, I had a draft. I’m not saying that you guys should be putting the Man Booker prize on hold just yet. In fact, it might never even see the light of day. But I wrote it, and I am world endingly proud of it. And I was able to do it for one reason: because I got out of my own damn way.

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Of course, I haven’t done this on my own. I’m lucky enough to have the most entirely brilliant boy by my side, who will no doubt be livid that I’ve even mentioned him.

Back yourself, baby, he tells me every day. No fear.

From buying the leather jacket I don’t think I can pull off or dying my hair purple, to putting myself out there and taking the big chances when they come, he’s the world’s greatest cheerleader.

But no amount of cheerleading makes a difference unless you’re willing to actually make the jump and do the thing.

Back yourself, Fiona, I’m learning to tell myself. No fear. Do the damn thing.

For the most part, the scariest thing about all of the things I did this year was the first step. The there’s-no-going-back-now moment. Putting the bikini photo on Twitter. Answering the phone when the BBC called. Stepping onto the stage, in every sense. Everything that followed was terrifying, but I was never more terrified than I had been in those few seconds where I had to decide between following through and backing out. A deep breath, a few seconds of crazy, unthinking courage, that’s all it took. To quote a great philosopher, bravery isn’t about not being scared. It’s about being scared and doing what you have to do anyway.

If you recognised that quote from the Mary Kate and Ashley film, Double Double Toil and Trouble, hit me up. We’ll get on just fine.

This year, I’m going to be brave. I’m going to back myself. And I am going to kick some arse.

A Hot Date With You

During the summer, the boyfriend headed back to Ireland to spend a weekend with his family, leaving me on my ownsome for a few days.

An artist's impression of me on my ownsome.

An artist’s impression of me on my ownsome.

I like to think of myself as kind of a Badass Woman but here’s a secret: when Niall goes anywhere for more than a couple of days, I tend to get a bit pathetic. Not full on sitting by the window in a crinoline, waving my handkerchief, but definitely a bit sad and mopey. This is combined with the novelty of having the flat to myself, having lived with Niall for five solid years. This combination of factors means that when he’s away, I’m generally to be found in my pyjamas, eating slices of cheese, surrounded by dirty plates, watching the worst movie available on Netflix. And that’s an awesome way to spend a day! But after a whole weekend of not seeing the outside world, I tend to feel a bit less awesome. So this time, I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I decided that instead, I would go on some super hot dates…with myself.

I washed my hair and painted my nails and put on my brightest lipstick and wore my fancypants patterned tights. And you know what? I looked hot. I would totally date me. Dressing up for yourself is kind of great.

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The coolest thing about your significant other being away is that you can relish doing things that they totally hate. So, I headed for Leicester Square, marched up to the half price ticket hut and bought myself a ticket to see Wicked that evening. £40 lighter and deliriously excited, I skipped off for what turned into a very boozy lunch in the sunshine with my friend Suzanne. I guess this is technically cheating on my spending-time-with-me plan but hours of girl talk is one of the things that I so deeply miss about sharing a flat with a load of people, so I’m totally counting it. After lunch, I wandered slowly along the Southbank, pausing every five steps or so to gaze at the river and share a romantic moment with myself. It was glorious. I arrived at Wicked, literally bouncing with excitement. At first, it felt pretty weird being by myself and I was sure that everyone was staring and pointing and such, but that evaporated as soon as the lights went down. I bawled and beamed my way through the entire show without once having to worry about whether my date was bored…I knew she was loving every second.

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The next evening, I did something even scarier: I took myself out for pizza, wine and a movie. There’s a little Italian in Stoke Newington called Trattoria Sapori that does pizza, a drink and a movie for £12. Every day, I walk past it and every day, I peer wistfully in the windows. So this day, I decided I’d go. I booked my ticket, confirmed that it was just for one, took my seat, confirmed that it was just for one, confirmed with the couple who came in after me that I wasn’t saving a seat, it was just for one, confirmed with the waiter that I was by myself…turns out that people aren’t used to seeing a gal out on the town by herself. Again, it felt pretty weird to start with but I was starting to quite like my own company. I struck up a conversation with the couple beside me, ate an entire pizza all to myself, didn’t stop to check whether my companion wanted to head home or whether I could order another glass of wine.

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Of course, when my boy came back, I threw my arms around him and didn’t let go again for about three days. But if you’re not used to spending time with yourself, I’d absolutely recommend it. I’m big on being comfortable in your own skin, so it was pretty strange how not comfortable I felt hanging out with myself at first. I’m so used to having other people to bounce off of and chat to that I wasn’t sure me, myself and I would have much to talk about. A lot of the time when we talk about love, we talk about someone else completing us. And that sounds nice in theory but in practice, it’s much nicer to be a whole person and have someone else compliment that. In fact, when you’re a whole person, there’s a whole lot more of you for them to love. I know, I know that’s a little long to fit on an inspirational quote instagram. I’m working on it.