TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- THE HOUSE OF IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTIES!!!

Helloooo!!!!!

It has been a hot minute since I last blessed the internet with my unwarranted literary insights and opinions, BUT NO WORRIES I AM STILL HERE TO BLABBER INTO THE ETHER!!!! The book today is a slightly chunkier tome which may be why it took me a tad longer to organise my thoughts but I am so glad to have ploughed through, which ended up happening with ever increasing speed- such irresistible words. It has beauty and tenderness at its core, swirling in a universe of New York streets, glittering fineries and many, many cigarettes. The House of Impossible Beauties, by Joseph Cassara is not a book that will leave you quickly.

Paradoxically, it was actually by watching TV that I found out about Impossible Beauties. For anyone whose eyes haven’t yet been graced by the drama unfolding in the TV show POSE (The Category is: FIERCENESS!), then get on it!!!!! Pose (and Cassara’s novel) is inspired by ballroom culture curated by lgbtq+ people of colour from mainly Black and Hispanic descent- in particular and especially transgender women and drag queens- during the 1970s/80s onwards in New York. Mostly rejected by their original ‘nuclear’ families, young gender non-conforming people would come to the city homeless, and (hopefully) become members of their own self-made communities; putting on Balls, runway dance battle extravaganzas to celebrate (and read to filth) each other’s’ existence, dressing as whoever they wanted to be, away from the cruel white supremacist, heterosexual mainstream.

Impossible Beauties is inspired by the lives of Angie Xtravaganza and Venus Xtravaganza- of the Xtravaganza House- two transgender women who should be celebrated for their undeniable contribution to queer culture, but also towards fashion and club history. One criticism I have read, is that Cassara based his novel on real history without doing the necessary research. I believe he couldn’t conduct any face to face interviews with people who had been influential in the scene, and many dates in the novel are not in synch with details surrounding how the AIDS epidemic impacted lgbtq+ life. I will say there seems to be a lot of empty gaps in the novel, often serious events in the characters’ lives are omitted, and regarding scene setting- there is only one ball actually detailed in the entire book! I think omitting the personal scenes is one way to emphasise already devastating loss further, letting emptiness breathe for itself. A lot more effort has gone into imagining quotidian detail in fleshing out past backstories and how characters relate with each other, which I do still adore. It just would have made a lot more sense to set a greater portion of the book at the actual balls, considering that is what it’s based off!

Having said that, what the book lacks in historical clarity is made up for with emotional detail: this book will make you smile, it will make you weep. The way the characters are followed as they grow up into themselves, only to be misunderstood or devalued somehow, and the damage that leaves, is a searing study on the humanity of outsider-ness. All of them- Angel, Dorian, Venus, Hector, Juanito and Daniel- are fun-loving souls entangled in the needless brutality of a world that doesn’t want them to be fabulous. The love they have for each other is immense, but this love comes with an unspeakable baggage of trauma, trauma they must navigate around each other. But humans are humans, mistakes are made, and devastating hurt ensues. I did not think a book could be so brimming with laughter and dancing and sequins, yet simultaneously so deeply rooted in pain, violence and goodbyes.

Historically it may not be 100%, but Cassara certainly does not wash over lgbtq+ history with rose tinted glasses to make everything one big piss up of amnesia. Without giving too much away, one of the most heart wrenching parts for me was how the AIDS epidemic at the time is portrayed: too, too many people dying with no explanation why; people losing their lovers without being able to say it as such, grieving alone. (Never forget) Impossible Beauties is a testimony to the absolute zenith of glamour and feisty togetherness that Ballrooms gave, and a eulogy to everybody who lost all that they had in the name of living for love, real love.

May we always continue to delight in the beauty and glamour that femme queens have been serving for themselves, with a sincere and sober commitment to fight for and defend the political rights that enable such brilliance. If The House of Impossible Beauties has anything to teach us, it’s that beauty wears a brave face. Beauty always survives.

“It is about love, but a different kind. A kind that you can only find and not substitute for. And I think it’s hard for them to realise. So they go out to the balls for all the wrong reasons. Not all of them, but most of them. They go out seeking an audience of adoring fans who aren’t gonna hurl shade. And they go out looking for their Adam or their Eve, their other half, the other pea in the pod, or whatever you want to imagine it as.

I just want to shake all those darlings. Love is great, it is. But it’s also so brief. Didn’t these kids ever learn that even in the Garden of Eden, someone betrayed the other?”

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXXOXOXXOXOXOX

PS: If you are interested in learning more about transgender history and the origins of much of lgbtq+ culture now (*ahem RUPAUL*), I also highly recommend watching the documentary Paris is Burning!!!

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- FRANKISSSTEIN!!!

Hello everyone! I chose today’s book as it definitely fits in with the Pride Month focus of exploring/championing views that challenge our heteronormative cis-gendered capitalist white supremacist patriarchy (phew that’s a lot of words to just mean BULLYBOY BULLSHIT). This book is vanguard in its scope, both experimental in it use of time in narrative and the technological horizons it purports for our shared future. At turns movingly reflective, laugh out loud funny, and just plain fucking weird (Fancy some disembodied limbs having a lark about? LOVES IT!), I shall take no further ado in introducing FRANKISSTEIN: A Love Story, by one of my fave authors, the indomitable Jeanette Winterson.

The book is a retelling of Frankenstein’s monster, grappling with the implications of creating independent life in the context of 21st Century robots and AI. Blending Mary Shelley’s life from eloping with Percy to her time writing in the Alps (not in that chronological order), with modern day Brexit Britain and the sci-fi exploits of a transgender doctor named Ry. It isn’t ever made explicit, but the characters are not ‘singular’ in this novel; each separate voice and its emotions bleed into how another narrates their own movement in a certain blob of time. Ry and Mary share similar sentiments in their different threads, and Winterson has created a comedic gem in her rendering of Lord Byron into a modern day Welsh sex-bot manufacturer, Ron Lord. Turning Byron’s hyper-masculinity and sexual promiscuity into a caricature of modern fuckboi pathetic-ness and surprising vulnerability.

Sometimes this layering and fracturing of different stories into one ‘thread’ leaves you feeling a bit wanting, as there are gaps of detail which, me being the pesky Virgo that I am, would love to go into the nitty gritty of more. But overall, I think the overlapping and collapsing of different realities to create a transgressive take on the repercussions of Frankenstein’s monster on the world is uber clever. Huge jumps in time and consciousnesses inevitably need empty space to move. To give all this jibber jabber I am spouting cohesion I will briefly outline the plot: Ry, a transgender medical doctor, finds themselves enthralled by the passionate yet dangerous affections of a world famous AI scientist, Victor Stein. Victor Stein is all about furthering human intelligence beyond the material limitations of the body, mainly how bodies naturally decay and take the brain with them, and how bodies impinge upon our freedom, encasing us in identities we may/may not fully align with on the inside. It emerges that Stein’s interest in Ry is not merely (or even mainly?) based in romance, but an intellectual desire that goes beyond what Ry could ever imagine.

Sometimes the way Stein reflects on Ry being transgender and the scientific implications of that did make me feel a bit uncomfortable, as at the end of the day all identities are not scientific theses but just fucking breathing beings, whose personhoods do not need to be so intricately theorized. But, no progress comes without knowledge and the way Stein conjectures about transgenderism may sometimes be alarmingly OTT, but is ultimately rooted in admiration not fear. Granted, that admiration thrives in a distance of not actually understanding what Ry lives through (Ron constantly mis-genders them as one example of a daily micro-aggression, but Ry always bites back with a wit that is very satisfying) but that is why their relationship is so deliciously precarious. The loneliness of love.

Transgenderism is entwined with transhumanism in Victor’s mind and the awesome potential of choosing your own destiny- biological or technological existence- a parallel beyond what Ry really envisions for their self. Ry doesn’t want to be warped into machines or protected by a metal shell, they just want love returned. And Winterson is a writer who profoundly and deftly deals with the big L word. In Frankissstein, computer algorithms and mathematical systems are the language in which love expresses itself for Victor. For Ry, the grandness of Victor’s vision for humanity escaping the tyranny of flesh becomes more pernicious and authoritarian as the plot unfolds, and the battle no longer is just one of social ethics and practical technological advancements. How can we feel love without our bodies? Is it fair to teach a robot always to give, but never feel love in the same way for themselves? And if we really can return to each other in another life, will we be wearing angel wings or tin cases? Is it possible to fall in love without faces?

Frankissstein can sometimes be rather meta in how deep Winterson gets into discussing technology, but this seriousness is offset with a tender romanticism and undeniable humour- there’s a bit where Ron and a Christian fundamentalist called Claire end up hitting it off which really did make my head spin in giggling. I recommend Frankissstein if you are prepared for your mind to be blown with scientific prophecies, for an adventure of bodies exploring internal landscapes of love in a technological future already unfolding. THANK YOU JEANETTE FOR ANOTHER BANGER!!!!! XOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOXOXOXOXOX

“Victor shrugged. There is a view that love, because it begins so spontaneously, is also simple. Yet if love engages our whole being and affects our whole world, how can it be simple? The days of simple are done- if they ever existed. Love is not a pristine planet before contaminants and pollutants, before the arrival of Man. Love is a disturbance among the disturbed.”

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- FRESHWATER!!!

Todays’ book has me utterly besotted. It is one of the best – in my humble opinion- that I have read recently, way up there with Audre and Patti. I first found out about it because it is one of the longlisted books for the 2019 ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’, but, more interestingly to me, it is the first book in the prize’s 27 year run to be written by a non-binary transgender author. By glorious coincidence, just as I finished this oracle of a book the months had changed to welcome in the beginning of PRIDE season- so what better way to usher in a month of acknowledging and understanding all things and people non-heteronormative or cis-gendered than by celebrating a book sincerely invested in expanding that conversation even more? Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi is stunning, wild and daring in its pursuit of defining freedom in identity: who really are we, and to whom do we belong, if not ourselves?

I didn’t realise it until mid-way through after reading some interviews, but Freshwater is actually a fictionalised representation of ‘real’ autobiographical experiences. I had been reading, stunned and touched that somehow, some stranger had put into words feelings I had never known myself how to articulate. To then learn that this story wasn’t pure imagination spoken through an art form, but grounded in and woven through actual breath and body was serious magic. This blurring of fiction and non-fiction is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to Emezi’s dismantling of oppressive reason and the destruction of organizing meta-narratives rooted in binaries. Freshwater vibrates with a low humming queerness and punk, strung through a modern indigenous ‘fairy tale’ of Nigerian spirits from another realm.

We follow Ada from birth throughout *her* becoming, however this isn’t a story of growing up- it isn’t wholly her speaking. It is the tale of the spirits trapped inside her- who both are and are not her, who want to live so badly, just not here– and what they make her do in the pursuit of their own freedom. The Obanje spirits are at once mischievous, malicious and innocent- not good or bad, childlike yet wise beyond years with their inherent knowings. They rail against the torture of individualized embodiment, the concomitant fears and consequences that come with realizing you are one and singular… to then throw away their rules. The sprits know they aren’t alone in Ada, she is of them.

In my feeble reckonings, I think the integral mission of Freshwater is to make known the alienating, terrifying, yet utterly freeing and beautiful realisations that come through the collapsing of the binary and fusion of supposed opposites. Deviation flows in abundance through Freshwater, a transgression of established borders, the edges we put up to organize ourselves which only leave us lonely: Blurring happy/sad, god/mortal, insanity/sanity, life/ death, the individual/ the crowd, male / female, black / white, animality / humanity, emotion /empirical fact… INTERCONNECTEDNESS IS A SECRET NO MORE!!! Awareness of self and the construction of destiny is rendered back to primal impressions, where knowledge is powerful because it cannot be appropriated for gain or purpose; it simply is what it is, and that’s who you are- for one moment.

I will stop fangirling now, but for anyone interested in concepts of multitudes and hybridity, I cannot recommend this book enough. Akwaeke Emezi has created a world of sprightliness and depth; intoxicating in its imaginings of private mental space, made vivid through the scaffolds of reality structured around raw flux at its centre. Freshwater was also a breath of fresh air for me, and I can’t wait for what else Akwaeke Emezi has in store!!!!!!

“…This is all, ultimately, a litany of madness- the colours of it, the sounds it makes in heavy nights, the chirping of it across the shoulder of the morning. Think of brief insanities that are in you, not just the ones that blossomed as you grew into taller, more sinful versions of yourself, but the ones you were born with, tucked behind your liver. Take us, for instance…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- INNUA ELLAMS!!!!

Hello!!!! Today’s post is going to be a little bit different from how I usually write, because there is actually a bit of a real life story behind how I discovered this author! EXCITING!!!! I went to a poetry workshop last week in York and to a poetry Slam- Say Owt– afterwards (with my doting lover, I know they would not want to be left out of this post aha). I wish I could go into detail about all the marvellous Slammers I witnessed- bright, quick-witted poets showcasing the intelligence of the mighty North. But to be frank, I was giddy on rum and reefer and my time there wasn’t solely for intellectual probings, but to have a good lark. I know the winner of the Slam was Dami Okhiria, a medical student training to be a doctor at Cardiff uni. Her first poem used humour to talk about the seriousness of domestic violence, and had everyone laughing then holding back tears- it was FIRE, and I hope she manages to get more of her work out into the world in the future!!!!!!! But I am not going to write about her work, but about Innua Ellams. He taught our workshop before the slam, all based around personal story-telling and how to interrogate objects into speaking narratives for you. I got his book, which he read at the slam: Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars. Hence, this blog post.

I got goosebumps reading Candy Coated Unicorns, loving the balance of humour with sentimentality, solids with light, and of plot, storytelling with abstract poetic imagery. The way some of the poems slotted themselves into a wider chain of imaginative events reminded me of how many of my own poems start out: the bones of a moment, a snippet of story that I can mould into other meanings- creating fiction from a private timeline of ‘fact’.

Ellams is a Nigerian author who has lived in the UK for much of his life, and one renowned aspect of his work is celebrating and exploring race in an anti-colonialist agenda (he has also had plays performed at Edinburgh fringe) and whilst that isn’t the main focus of Unicorns, it is clear how resistance to authoritarian powers always informs his poetry, the need to create meaning and beauty: a refusal to contain your mind in one lonely world is in itself a rebellious way to think, the first step of manifesting hope.

The stories told in these poems are a treasure trove of detail and sound: each blends surreal, busy magic with a curiosity for expanding upon what we see as material into a bridge towards more iridescent states of being. I want to finish this blog post with a section of Corinne Bailey Rae. I interpret it as a scene captured of life, of the speaker listening to Corinne in their room and watching the small world around unfurl fresh textures of colour as music tumbles out of a speaker somewhere. The specific moment described that I love is just sunlight hitting a glass- every day spellbinding in the air. This poem reminded me of the importance of respecting the tiniest of motes in the shortest of moments, because you never know when poetry will come to whisk it up into heaven. I will definitely keep an eye out for more of Ellams’ poetry and that like it, and please do let me know if you do it! 🙂  xoxoxoxxoxxoxxox

….

“The beam hits a tumbled glass and scatters,
the glass plays prism, a rainbow pallet splatters
and colours come into their own, red rides an apple,
bleeds into a burning candle’s orange glow, wax
drips onto a copy of Othello, the yellow’d paper
greens where blue ink stains, fades to a dusty
indigo, rests on a violet folder.

This harmonious violent, accidental rainbow
hits a mirror and smatters across the room, sends
a thousand things twinkling in the summer gloom.
A confined borealis blinks, sinks into the swirl
and soft madness of a still warm duvet: the ghost
of sleep rises to meet the ghost of music, entwines
in the sparse sparkle. Worn footpaths in the carpet
look like crop circles, and a natural mystic fills the air.

…….

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- LINTON KWESI JOHNSON!!!!

Hello everyone! Today’s blog post is all about the Jamaican-British, Reggae-poet genius of the one and only LINTON KWESI JOHNSON, dub and rhyme master of the verse!!!!! 

Before reading his poetry, I knew Johnson was the only living poet to have the honour of their work being published by Penguin Classics, normally reserved for deceased writers of greatness only. So he is a pretty big fucking deal to be a LITERAL living classic. To give a brief summary of him before I talk more about his poetry: Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Jamaica, but moved to Tulse Hill to join his mother again in 1963. He was involved in the British Black Panthers during the the 70s and 80s, and now has poetry accolades and awards coming out of his ears! His engagement with combining music and poetry has led to the creation of an almost spoken-word reggae poetics on music albums, and is majorly interesting! If you don’t like reading poetry, just listen to his songs instead!

His poetry deals with the visceral ups and downs of life for Caribbean immigrants in London, the potentials for joy and violence in the instability of transitioning from one life to another in a hostile country. They celebrate brotherhood and youth culture, exploring the city and new language forming from the mixing of Creole and patois with standard English. A big fuck you to colonial logic, separatism and binaries, and the hierarchies of language alongside race. The poems spit in the face of authority: Johnson writes of police brutality with a fast paced anger, and whilst his poetry does not expand on imagery or soft lyricism, the guttural iterations of his reggae rhythms pack all the descriptive punch you need to grasp the systemic violence he sees. Sadly, its not just the police who instigate strife: Johnson also writes of the violence amongst immigrants at that time fighting with each other. It isn’t hard to work out how Johnson’s themes- immigration, law and order, racism, community and class- make his poetry timeless even today. What with Brexit, Windrush, the refugee crisis and general global disdain for immigrants and travellers of all kinds- Johnson’s poetry brings forth a marginalised displacement I am certain many still live through now, and that everybody must respect and pay witness to.   

For better or for worse- depending on your preferred style- the only way to truly appreciate the sonic mastery and rhythmic precision of these poems is to read them aloud. I know! It does seem silly to read aloud sometimes, and especially if- like myself- you are a somewhat nerdy white girl who really has no idea how to pronounce some of the words and have no intention of being a culture vulture/ putting on a blaccent. BUT I STILL INSIST! Much of the language is more phonetic anyways, so even if you cant understand what a word is on the page odds are as soon as you say it aloud the meaning will reveal itself. And once you grasp the pattern of a verse, and feel the pauses in your breath- the reggae powers do the rest. I can attest from first hand experience, as me and my lover read some of these poems together aloud, and even though we did have a bit of a laugh at each other, hearing the words spoken really is captivating. We also decided the poetry was best enjoyed the most authentic way- with a fat zoot…

These are poems not to be dithered about, and so I will stop waffling here. These poems are for crowds- to read in the park, the pub or political rally- to hear rhythm and feel emotional truths, not silently in loneliness piking metaphor apart. They are bodacious in character and precious in history, with a distinct vernacular and vocabulary that still manages to talk to us in this moment, about problems which should have been solved a long time ago… I shall leave you with an extract from a poem both Elvis and I loved: INGLAN IS A BITCH. And it truly is. England is a fucking bitch, we have to do better. XOXOXOXOXO


Inglan Is A Bitch


well mi dhu day wok an mi dhu nite work
mi dhu clean wok an mi dhu dutty wok
dem seh dat black man is very lazy
but if yu si how mi wok yu woodah seh mi crazy

Inglan is a bitch
dere’s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
yu bettah face up to it

WORLD POETRY DAY!!!!!!

Hello everyone, AND HAPPY WORLD POETRY DAY!!!!!!! MAY WE ALL BASK IN THE BOUNTIFUL LUMINESCENCE OF THIS GLORIOUS ART FORM!!!!!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

I think it is self-evident by now that I really believe in the power of poetry to heal, inspire and give souls a home in the vibrating thorax of life’s cosmic mystery. Poetry can do anything! It can take you to Mars, or to ancient Greece. It can make you want to weep for beauty and love and to hold onto each pore and detail of life until you sprout wings. It can make you laugh, give you chills or knock you out for six. Poetry has had a role for centuries in helping couples express their joy at weddings, and consoled the ineffable devastation of lost life at funerals. Whether you’re a fascist scumbag or a freedom fighter, you will use poetry to define your goals, to explain your mission for better or worse. Poetry is too often confined to the frivolous, or to the dark back alleys of academia for allegedly being too difficult to be classed as entertaining… SICKENING LIES!!!! Poetry can be as deep or as silly as you will it, and one of the joys of my life is scouring the internet, and any book shelves that I see for obscure poets from across the world; people dead or alive, who I may meet or never. I may be able to identify with them, but more likely than not we are aliens to each other. And it is a miracle on earth when a stranger can say with clarity what you have had within you all along. Poetry connects us to the universe, and helps us create more of it for ourselves and others to share.

I know I am gushing, but poetry is a force worth gushing over. Poetry can define our lives like songs or smells can, evoking emotions again from a time you thought you could never return to. Poetry smashes the clock. I remember being tucked up in bed, my soft smelling wet hair tangled upon the pillow as the rest of me from the stomach downwards dipped slightly lower- my father’s body sitting on the side of the bed, weighting down the mattress with his loveable chub. We adored A.A Milne’s poetry, and his favourite was King John’s Christmas– an epic tale of a man’s redemption back into the world of community after corrupting forces of authority almost smother his soul:

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out…

After King John, I remember The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. The lyricism and pace of the poem thrilled my little ears, imagining a lone silhouetted rider and dark hooves pounding on a moon drenched road, breaking out red sparks against the din of night. Our teacher, Miss Armstrong, let us listen to a folk song version of the poem, and I still remember the sweat of my palms gripped tight around a pencil, writing as fast as I could, trailing each line and break of the song to scrawl down the words so I wouldn’t forget. Miss Armstrong thought I wasn’t listening and told me off, but I am proud of the little geek I have always been. The Highwayman enthralled and enamoured me with its drama and gothic flare- the beginning of a lifelong dedication to bringing motion to a moment- capturing speed, pulse and the story that beats.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   
And the highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

I am acutely aware that considering I pride myself on trying to keep this a feminist friendly blog I haven’t even mentioned one female poet who kicks ass yet! So, for brevity’s sake I will fast forward to now and pick one of the bright stars shining out of the current milleu of poets I love to read. The latest poet who made me literally sob, her words are so sincere and powerful is the British- Nigerian poet, Therese Lola. Lola’s first collection is a grappling with faith in the face of her grandfather developing Alzheimer’s. She talks of the impact of the gradual loss of his memory upon her family, how this affects how they are able to love each other and God. But, the first poem to really give me tingles was not about her family or faith- it explores depression and the pressure of ‘beauty’ upon women, particularly black women.

I will include it here, as a new poem to make you think this World Poetry Day! I hope you give yourself time to at least read a haiku, or maybe try writing a little sonnet or sestina of your own! Poetry is truly for the people, and I hope we can all continue to keep it blossoming as a force for growth and intelligent emotion! POETRY IS POWER NEVER FORGET GOD MADE THE WORLD WITH WORDS, YOU TOO ARE A POWERFUL CREATOR! XOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXOOXO

Black Marilyn

Today I woke up surprised I was still alive,
last thing I remember was my body swinging
from a ceiling of inadequacies.
In my head I have died in so many ways
I must be a god the way I keep resurrecting
into prettier caskets.

In Lagos, a photograph of Marilyn Monroe watches me
in my hotel room as I scrub my body
like it’s a house preparing for an estate agent’s visit.
I think Marilyn wants to say something to me,
the way her mouth is always open
like a cheating husband’s zipper.

My mind carries more weapons
than all war-torn countries combined.
Every day I survive is worth a medal or two.
I celebrate by buying more clothes than I can afford.
I must be rich, my void is always building
a bigger room to accommodate new things.

Marilyn’s photographer, Lawrence Schiller, said
Marilyn was afraid that she was nothing
more than her beauty.
You can call me arrogant, call me black Marilyn,
come celebrate with me,
I am so beautiful death can’t take its eyes off me.

-Therese Lola

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- ‘Happier’ by Tal Ben-Shahar

Hello beautiful people!!!! Today’s book was actually an unexpected read for me, as I found it festering amongst neglected leaves of newspaper piling up around the computer at home. At first I was sceptical of how good it could be considering it was just a freebie. But would you give it credence, it did actually turn out to be rather useful and interesting… it is Tal Ben-Shahar’s ‘Happier: Can you learn to be happy?

Happier is all about that: if and how we can learn to be happier people. It emerges pretty quickly in this self-help guide that happiness definitely isn’t a fixed inheritance or finite chemical resource that ebbs effortlessly from seemingly god-blessed beings of perfection, distant icons of inspiration who never worry or struggle to feel beauty or joy. Happiness is an innate prescient energy within us all, but like any muscle or lesson it has to become a consciously chosen habit to make a lasting difference to how you live your life. Ben-Shahar strongly advocates that everybody has a capacity for building up happiness, but that it isn’t as simple as just accomplishing your goals or doing what you’re told and expecting to be rewarded forever after with bliss. Nope, not at all. Happiness cannot be made into an object; is not money, the ‘perfect body’, or thousands of admirers- whatever ‘thing’ you believe would make you content. Those objects are symbols of status and safety in our capitalist world, but in themselves alone are meaningless without a jolly soul to enjoy, appreciate and give them value. Happiness, in this book, must be a sustained and cultivated perspective- of seeing and being- for it to be of any sincere use.

Happiness is defined by Ben-Shahar as synthesis and balance: harmonising present pleasure with long term self-concordant goals of personal significance. At the beginning, he diagnoses three types of people with different methods for survival, and he refers back to these archetypes throughout.

There’s the rat-racer: somebody who works hard for success with little time to enjoy themselves, and whose happiness is only ever ephemeral. Rat-racers mistake the relief they feel when a goal is reached for happiness, but because relief implicitly means there was discomfort before, happiness only ever comes after suffering. This yo-yo between constantly working like a frenzied bitch and then gasping for air evidently is not a nice way to live BUT THANKS CAPITALISM!!!

Next there’s the hedonist: somebody who has given up on the delayed pleasure and incessant slogging of the rat-racer, and instead chooses to only focus on present pleasure with no thought for the future, or what is really meaningful to strive for. They want to relax, but because they have nothing to temper the hours, eventually what once brought pleasure is just a bore. Ennui and despondency sink in, having nothing to make the pleasure meaningful, and so the hedonist becomes the final archetype. The nihilist: Somebody who has given up on finding meaningful work, and given up on the idea that pleasure brings happiness. The nihilist believes life has no purpose or pleasure and there’s nothing to do about it (can relate)…

BUT THAT’S WHERE TAL BEN-SHAHAR STEPS IN! In Happier, there’s different sections for different aspects of life- your work/career, love life, family and aspirations- where Ben-Shahar explains what could currently be wrong with the way we have become accustomed to think, and gives exercises to help us see ourselves better so we know what to do differently. He uses footnotes and real psychology research, so this is bona fide advice for any of the haters out there. And ultimately I think the lesson that the book showed me is perspective, and what you choose to prioritize in your life.

Like, you can’t always control what happens to you or how people you love (or not) treat you, but you can choose how to respond and conduct yourself. You can choose not to let it be a reflection of your worth, and not to let it grind you down or make you behave nasty. I think it is a call to a more authentic dialogue with the self, to really listen and be tough with yourself about whether the current things you think are important, or which get you down, really are important or deserve to have that power of emotions over you. If you listen to what you, ONLY YOU- not what TV or teachers or magazines or priests or singers or celebrities or friends or doctors or enemies or lovers have told you- then there can be no doubt as to what will really make you happy.

It made me think a lot about the commodification of emotion too, the sense that our western culture operates on the idea that obtaining certain things (wealth, beauty, popularity) imbues you with a corresponding emotion. IT IS ALL LIES, because if we are always changing and each one of us different, how can we possibly all need the same objects/goals to be happy?! The book is a reality check: None of us have been explicitly given a list of things that we have to do before we die. The sadness sets in when we feel we’ve lost power over this opportunity of freedom to make our own definitions, and choices of what happiness is and looks like to us. Do not let other people decide your life for you. To me, the good life is a zoot with my friends, a cup of tea and a book, writing poems and thinking of ideas about literature and society and THE UNIVERSE. To my brother it is art, star wars and frankfurters. To my dogs it is good smelling mud, a warm fire, cuddles and chews. We are all so wonderful and none of us live long enough, so don’t let other people think or decide things about you for you, it can never bring happiness, just more of the same: more people all aiming for a small plinth of fabricated grandiose, money and celebrity, and all climbing over and crushing each other to get there.

One of my favourite ideas that Ben-Shahar puts forward is that of the spreading of happiness being like a revolution, BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LIVE FOR REVOLTUION AM I RIGHT LADIES?!? It can’t fail like other revolutions, where people have been forced externally to submit to new habits, because happiness cannot be forced or indoctrinated. It can only come from depths of yourself, and if it really is happiness and not pride or ego, shouldn’t ever bring others down. To Ben-Shahar happiness isn’t a competition, but infinity- you never want the feeling to end, you want a party to make the whole world dance! Helping yourself makes you more able of helping others, and looking at the state of the world right now, we definitely need to be helping and looking out for each other more.

To finish (sorry for this long cheesy post, the book has a lot to say and I have no qualms with being cheesy) I will include a quote as per usual. The book really isn’t long, and is accessible in its language and exercises so I really would recommend it to everybody! Whether you are in serious need of some guidance through murky waters, or just want to strengthen an already jolly soul- Happier might be able to help!!!! XOXOXOXOX

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. It is when we liberate ourselves from our fear of happiness that we can help others… ”