Headline: Offering bite-sized ways to make significant improvements, this is perfect self-help for creatives, big and small
The last two (plus) years have been challenging for the best of us. Lockdowns, 24/7 global news coverage, crises after crises, current affairs have taken a huge toll on even the most resilient of individuals, let alone the those of us who are prone to succumbing to negative thoughts and letting them play out into the everyday.
Against this backdrop Karen Kinney enters into the ring with her new book Doorways to Transformation, a self-help guide that aims to restore self-belief and confidence to the reader by means of personal mediation. Each chapter opens with an inspirational quote and closes with reflective questions or prompts to encourage the reader to broaden their horizons and apply the learnings on that topic to their unique situation. Of the 37 bite-sized chapters few go by without a nod to a personal experience linked to the topic in hand.
That’s what I like about Kinney, she brings a very real and relatable touch to this book by bringing in her own personal experiences (and challenges) from her relocation from America’s Los Angles to the city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
The digestibility of this book also appealed to me. I’m a busy woman at the best of times and there are days where five minutes to myself can seem an utter luxury. The brief nature of the chapters meant I could pick this up and quickly flick to the relevant section before diving straight back into the hustle and bustle of daily life. Kinney even states in the introduction that there is no order to how the chapters should be digested, that their placement should be seen more as a guideline; music to my ears!
For anyone looking for a mid-morning alterative to coffee, Doorways to Transformation is the perfect pick-me-up. Caffeine, in paper form.
Book review on Katherine Chidiac’s self-help guide for young people, NOW IS NEW: Stop Struggling. Start Living.
Rating: 3 Stars
Headline: Self-help that doesn’t preach: A nifty guide for adolescent audiences seeking an introduction to the genre
NOW IS NEW Stop Struggling. Start Living. is a self-help guide that provides a reset point; asking its intended audience to take the time out to place themselves on pause, reflect on problem areas and gradually move to a place where they can change their attitudes and ultimately overcome them. The book is aimed towards the young person market, an age demographic that can be challenging to tackle.
Chidiac’s publication is filled with metaphors and anecdotes, which is incredibly useful when translating some of the more challenging concepts into easy-to-understand situations and scenarios. It was great to see the author making efforts to remove the stigma of there being a right or wrong way to process emotions, and the addition of simple line drawings help with making the content informal and visual so as to keep it engaging throughout.
The book is easily digestible and as you move through the chapters you feel a sense of progress acclimating in the final chapter “creating our next steps” where the author neatly summarises the content, reminding the reader that the pace of self-improvement is gradual and anything but quick. “The first step is not to become a YouTube star,” Chidiac says, “…[but] opening the app. Then, maybe we could create an account.”
This publication could have been improved in its placement of reflection exercises. Often the reader is recommended to undertake a mini-exercise in the middle of a chapter, such as completing part-started sentences or pausing to reflect or mediate. They are contained in the body of the text, often sandwiched between two analogies and an inspirational quote. There was times I became so engaged with the exercise that afterwards I lost my engagement of the content contained in that section. Reflection exercises would have sat better at the end of each chapter or at a clear break-point.
The book would have benefitted from consumer or editorial feedback on tone of voice. While agreeable on the whole, at points copy dipped into the overly familiar and I wasn’t too convinced by the use of curse words for something aimed at young adults, even if they were concealed by use of asterisks. I would also have liked to have seen a clear statement of this book’s intended readership age range in the introduction.
A nifty book that provides young people with a gentle introduction to self-betterment.
“Picturing Freedom: African Americans & Their Cars, A Photographic History”
Headline: The pictorial history of American civil rights you never knew you needed
I’m not always a fan of photographic books, most often the content seems to take a back seat to a random consortium of imagery, thrown together by the author to fill out pages. They don’t provide the level of substance I look for when I want to fully immerse myself in a period of History. Not this book, however.
Picturing Freedom is a fascinating collection of imagery of African Americans with their motorcars from across the twentieth century. Shedding light on an overlooked element of American culture, Burns highlights the significance of car ownership for what was most often the most impoverished segment of society. It offered freedom from segregation, class and gender structure and from the bindings of Jim Crow laws.
Opening with an introduction, extensive historical context, and several case studies of influential African Americans, the book showcases hundreds, if not thousands, of images from the Burns archive. Moving chronologically from the turn of the 1900s, where expensive cars limited most to posing in studios with set props, through to the roaring twenties, thirties and forties and beyond, the clothes and models may change must the sense of owner pride remains the same.
As I moved through this book I found myself completely transfixed by the characters and the stories I desperately wanted to learn more about. The young solider headed to war, the women with the blunt stare down the lens, elbow proudly rested on the bonnet. These are truly the untold stories of ordinary people during a turbulent period of American civil rights. And yet for the most part, these individuals are nameless, limited to the occasional half-written note on the back of a photo. It leaves the reader guessing, who are these people? What were their thoughts, ambitions and dreams in life? And did they achieve them? Forget people watching, this is photo watching at its very best.
The time and effort Burns has invested into compiling, researching and editing this book is nothing short of admirable. If you’re looking for something to spark a deep and meaningful conversation, or simply a new addition to your coffee table, then look no further.
Five minutes to type-up a quick review of a recent read. This time, I’m reviewing Seltzer’s collection of ten short stories in her anthology, “Ways of Living”.
Five Minute Book Review: “Ways of Living” by Gemma Seltzer
In this collection many of Seltzer’s short stories can be traced back to common, yet very relatable, themes. It feels quite apt that I’m writing this whilst buried deep in oversized lounge wear, cup of tea to my left. Isolation, personal loss, the constant readjustment of itchy face coverings; these aren’t always the most comfortable visualisations, but the ones we can readily embrace.
The anthology is set around working and living in London, drawing a lot on the author’s Jewish heritage and personal research within broad and diverse communities. Light humour peppers the emotional undertone of most stories, such was the case in Parched, with its protagonist who can’t stop crying, or the surreal tale of a woman who takes to believing her deceased mother is still alive and living in her coat (Some Women Carry Silence in their Pockets).
What Would You Have Said?, depicting the fallout of an enforced office policy of “Quiet Wednesdays” (with strong inklings of Blackmirror) and Handover, a tale about a friendship breakup, introduces some interesting topics for broader discussion. For instance why, in an age where people aren’t as geographically fixed as they used to be, doesn’t popular culture mourn the loss of friendships as much as romantic relationships? Maybe it’s a more generational problem as much as anything else.
These short stories were a nice quick-read during busy working days from home. A moment of urban escapism, within four magnolia walls.
Check out this beautiful, hand-made, Japanese silk face covering I just purchased from KatyBeesDesignStudio, on Etsy.
It’s so incredibly comfy to wear and comes fitted with a top metal strip and slot-in space for a removeable air filter, should you wish to have one. Even before I’d had chance to put it on, I felt like an utter princess from the packaging presentation.
As well as the face covering (delivered in a rainbow pager bag), she sent me an air filter in a drawstring bag and some cute trinkets in a little drawstring pouch. You know how I get over little trinket items. It really was the icing on the cake
Katy hasn’t sponsored me to write this post but it’s been a long two years and it’s been a while since I got excited over something as mundane as a face covering. I simply had to rave about it.
Recently got the kitchen done = no oven for two weeks = several takeouts and a trillion microwave meals.
Now, you guys all know how horrific my life choices can be when I set my mind to it? Well this, this shows one of those in action. Behold, me deomonstrating how to prepare one of my signature classics, “East Meets West”.
An absolute culinary pro from start to finish.
Next question, who’s coming over to mine for seconds?
(Ps, if you’re after more kitchen inspiration, here’s the link to my stodge dinner recipe.)
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Can I just start with the most middle-class, Cotswold drama to have occured this year at Christmas. Mumma B, setting her prized oven mits on fire, by accidentally placing them over a Yankee candle.
The best bit? Mumma B’s first reaction to my panic was to assume the vegetables were boiling over. I don’t think it quite trumps the time I dropped the Michael Buble Christmas CD in a tray of turkey fat, but it’s a close second.
Letters, Books, Pigeons: Christmas 2021
I’m going to start as we mean to go on, with this:
You know what? The more times I watch it, the more times I think there is nothing in here the great George Michael and Andrew Ridgley of Wham! would take issue with.
From the soundtrack to the casual bit of inter breed dating, I only hope, and I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart, that George Michael was able to watch this before his death in 2016.
(And if you think any of this is tragic just remember, this wasn’t even the worst thing I came across. Nowhere near.)
I’m Dreaming of a White…Pigeon
When it comes to Christmas, everyone has a different interpretation for what festivities look like. Some people have robins in snow, in Swindon we’ve got pigeons bathing in overflowing waste drains.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
While I’m not one of those who puts up decorations super early, I am a fan of Christmas when it does come along. Anything to get me over the trauma of Halloween.
Genuinely can’t be trusted to watch a 12-rated spook film without freaking out at the slightest jump-scare. Years it took me to get over Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, years.
I put up my tree…
…and proceded to smash up my beloved retro starburst clock, by attempting to hang lights off it. The entire glass dial, smashed into a trillion bitty pieces.
Mazel Tov! (Oh, wait, that’s the wrong religion.)
It’s always nice when Jesus graces you with his presence when you’re out and about shopping, even if his eyeless sockets are a little bit menacing.
We buy all these presents, yet not one of them is for him? So humble.
And I’m not going to lie, arguably the gifting has already peaked this year. That happened recently when my family teamed up to buy me a whole set of matching Next kitchenware.
My goodness, it’s so beautiful.
Huh? Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, presents.
I mean, at the same birthday I also got given this:
Honestly, the embarassment of opening this in front of my family, alongside Next kitchenware. Not just that, reading the blurb out! Trust me, it gets worse. Deary me, my cheeks were not ready for that leavel of red. (Thanks Matt, mission accomplished!)
Now this, this is the sort of tat I can get into.
(But not buy.)
Hang on a second, I’m sure I’ve seen something like this before.
My goodness, talk about nerve!
That was on sale for £2 less in 2019!
It set me up to be in a right unimpressed British emoji-type mood when my younger sister pointed this sign-board out to me.
No, just no.
Ignoring all of the random shop items, this year my best purchase has to be, without a shadow of a doubt, my new fountain pen.
I bought the pen, then proceeded to Google how to make it work.
There’s definetely something ironic in using the internet to lookup the basics of how to use a pen.
One of my favourite things I like to do every year is write Christmas cards. This year, with so many of my colleagues based overseas that meant a bit more spent on stamps but heck, they’re worth it.
I’m still at the stage of life where I don’t have five million of them to write out, and/or pressing life matters that see every night booked up from 1st August, through to 15th January. I can treat myself to the odd night of pure card-writing, jotting out personalised notes to those nearest and dearest. It gives me a kind of buzz.
What can I say? Some people have alcohol, I have cards. We both have wrecked tounges.
Terrible Christmas Films (No, Really)
When I write cards, wrap presents etc, I tend to stick on one of those terribly wonderful Hallmark-type Christmas films on. Predictable and, I used to think, unoffensive. That was, until I saw this clip:
THEY DON’T EVEN EAT THE FOOD!!
What kind of dining-out date is this? Nu-huh, I’m sorry mate, you can stop juggling those oranges, because if I’m not getting a look-in on that Tupperware box, then you ain’t getting this.
(Close friends have also pointed out countless other things that make no sense in this montage, however I’m sticking firm on the lack-of-food being the absolute worst. Three words; girl, gotta, eat.)
On that note… *returns to phone to scroll through her tailored Facebook adverts*
Serves me right for being an insomniac. And, on the topic of sleep, a late night pop to the shops to buy some milk and I spot this:
“…Does it come with a receipt?”
Oh, hey! Almost forgot. It’s December now, so that means my diet is even more whacky than other months* (*let’s be honest, my diet is hardly enviable). Did someone invite me to go around all the coffee shops, drink gingerbread lattes and not eat anything until evening, when I have a three course meal?
(Not that I ever want to have a three course meal, even two courses is an extreme for me, but because it’s December suddenly that’s a thing. Gonna get me a sweet, sweet latte, bigger than my tiny wrist can hold.)
Anyway, yes, yes that’s me. And I will read a book in there and no, you will not have a hope of kicking me out until at least two hours have passed, and not a minute before.
Unrelated note, does anyone else get life this after getting heavily involved with an emotional book?
“Walking through the dark and cold drizzel of town, after a 2+ hour coffee shop reading session. So full of mixed emotions right now, I genuinely don’t know whether to cry or feel inspired. Just me, or does anyone else have to take a lie down when the book feel get this intense?”
Turns out, it’s just me.
“Ink not coming out of fountain pen” is a niche search entry, I’ll give you that. Maybe not quite as popular as Ariana Grande but heck, you’ve gotta keep these traditions alive.
You know what? Stuff it! I’m just gonna book myself on a professionally accredited course to learn about unicorn magic…
…and go watch the Swindon Wildcats play down the local rink.
In fairness, it was such a good game.
Wait, There’s More!
Before you go, remember that video I included at the start of this post? Well, guess what? The creator only went and made an improved version and/or (to be honest I’m not entirely sure which) sequeal a few years later! Yeah, I know!
Better still, the soundtrack features the musical stylings of Cascada, covering Wham!
I’ve just got back from my writing retreat and, newsflash, it was beyond amazing.
I met 22 wonderful human beings (15 other participants + tutors/guest readers + Arvon staff), and there was so much to take in and reflect on, and every night I felt I like I could burst with creativity (which would have been awkward, as I don’t think anyone signed-up to being coated in chunks of Alice…at least not before dessert).
With so many thoughts, feelings and emotions running through my head, it’s hard to put into extacting words what the past week has meant to me. From 1-2-1s with critically acclaimed writers, to long walks, to sitting down at a desk (in front of a gorgeous view) and hitting word to paper, my time spent on an Arvon tutored retreat at The Hurst (deep in the Shropshire Hills) has been an incredible experience.
I’ll get something more substanial down soon but for now know this; I’m a very, very happy Alice!
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