Why your tattoo demonstrates a beautiful faith in others

Although I got my first tattoo two weeks before the US election results, it’s only recently dawned on me how important it is to have faith at a time when it would be much easier to withdraw from the unknown. When I read the news at the moment, all I want to do is withdraw from civilisation and live on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest. When what I should be doing, what all of us should be doing, is standing up and shouting about what we believe in louder than ever. For this reason, my tattoo (and yours) means more to me than I fully anticipated; it demonstrates complete and utter trust in a perfect stranger to create a part of you, a hidden message to the world, which is kind of a big deal when you think about it.

The very notion of having faith in others might seem like a fragile thing after the catastrophes of 2016. Many of us have hoped and prayed for an outcome that the unexpected majority passionately prevented. It’s a strange thing, to feel like democracy has screwed you over. To be reminded, cruelly, how very little control you have. To feel like a minority, to fill negative space, when you were so convinced all of humanity should surely be on your side.

Does a majority vote make it the right decision? Of course not. But is there proof that you were right either? God no. Because the truth is, nobody on this earth knows the direction we should be heading to reach the best-possible outcome. After all, rock bottom can only mean a upwards climb ahead. Brexit and Trump. It’s impossible to digest, but digest we must.

It kind of helps to look at it this way: they weren’t  votes for evil (although the racist, sexist, fascist, homophobic undertones are hard to ignore, I know). Most of the votes were cries for help. For change. The outcome might seem horrifying now, but it could be the catalyst that people like you and I need to actually start paying attention. Have you invested a greater interest in politics, the economy, and the future of the world since these shocking revelations began to unfold? ME TOO. That must be a positive thing, right?

It’s amazing how far you can push yourself to cooperate with the world when you have to. Look at the brave souls who lived through WW1 or WW2, or, amazingly enough, through both. We feel hard done by now, but in all honestly, most of us have no idea how it feels to be well and truly fucked over by the system and dictated by the elite. Trump might look worryingly like the next Hitler, but we have to believe he isn’t. We have to have faith in the order of things. We have to let this shit unfurl before we come to grand conclusions. Because if I’ve learned anything over the last year or so, it’s that worrying about the future doesn’t solve a thing.

I’m writing this post because I want to talk about putting faith in a stranger on a personal level, and how it might just help us to maintain the crucial level of trust we need to be able to hold humanity close. Little gestures have big consequences, maybe we’ll understand that now more than ever. So rather than fearing the stranger that may or may not be on your side, remember there is more that binds us than our political standpoint. I will never understand why someone voted for Brexit or Trump, but I sympathise with a nation that truly believed that was their best option. I’m devastated at the sheer amount of hate that fuelled these campaigns, but I flat out refuse to be the hater. I will never add to that.

So erm, what’s the tattoo got to do with it?

I always dreamed of having a tattoo, but I never actually thought I’d get one. Which is a sad kind of dilemma when you think about it. Wanting something so much but not actually having the balls to make it happen. I let the fear of regret get in the way. This frame of mind is pretty much the opposite of how I decided to live my life last year when I headed off around the world in a determined flurry of free-spiritedness. It wasn’t supposed to be a temporary thing, to worry less. To make stuff happen and feel alive. So on 22nd October 2016, I got my first tattoo.

It symbolises even more than the painting in my Grandparents house it was based on. It demonstrates a shift in my frame of mind. A symbol of change, freedom and identity. Something I can hold close forever in an ever-changing world. Sometimes we need to be bold and take risks to feel alive. That’s just human nature. But ultimately, we crave the familiar. Your tattoo probably represents both.

Aside from my tattoo reminding me why people often go to extremes to gain a sense of control, it also serves as a beautiful declaration of putting my body (and the way it will look for the rest of my life) in the trust of a complete and utter stranger.

Well,  Martha Smith isn’t exactly a stranger any more. I couldn’t recommend this talented lady enough. She perfectly captured the inspiration I sent her, and now I have the first and only thing I know will be mine forever. The permanency of tattoos once scared me much in the same way that change did. What if something goes wrong that I can’t go back and fix? Having finally learned how to worry less, it kind of struck me that there’s so much comfort to be found in both the tie of forever and the opportunity change presents, if only your interpretation will allow for it.

So I guess this post is an attempt at comfort, and a plea to keep the faith in the little things you do if the bigger picture is too hard to take right now. Give up your seat on the train, smile at passers by, and hey, maybe even trust someone enough to get that tattoo you keep thinking about. Because the more intimately we all interact, the closer we’ll come to understanding how a nation can become so divided. We’re all in this together, after all.

You can find Martha Smith at Xotica in North Finchley, London.

Here’s a little look at some of her wonderful work: http://marthaellensmith.tumblr.com/

 

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Why you should still be proud to be British

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I managed to refrain from writing a post about my decision to #voteremain in the EU referendum. In all honesty, no matter how many articles I read, or how much I believed it was the right way forward, I never felt properly equipped or qualified to offer advice to others.

I became deeply concerned about mass xenophobia, Nazi-influenced propaganda, isolationist reasoning and the racist undertones of ‘make Britain great again’, but the arguments surrounding economic security went round and round in circles, and I am no economist. How is anyone supposed to fight against the history of racial and social prejudice without facts they truly believe and understand?

I know immigration and the threat of terrorism weren’t the only influences. There were (and still are) plenty of reasonable arguments for leaving the EU, but, unfortunately, the leave campaign knew they wouldn’t have to highlight these in the same way to successfully scare recruit enough people. Fear is incredibly powerful.

I also didn’t want to provoke a debate on a blog that serves to unite people.

Either way, as a divided nation we were facing an obvious stride into the unknown. There was no possible way of guaranteeing a positive outcome either way. I believed in my vote, but I never believed much of the ‘evidence’. I voted remain on principle, not practicality. After all, it’s our morals that give warmth and depth to flat, cold facts.

As a compassionate, hopeful, forward-thinking 26-year-old who voted in London and works in creative circles, I woke up to devastating news on Friday 24th June. As a life-advice blogger, I’m always looking for ways to offer doses of written comfort.

I wanted to write a post that would ease the pain so many of us have shared on social media, because when anything goes wrong for anyone, as it always has and always will, it’s essential to focus on the good things. It might not currently feel like it, but we are still incredibly lucky to be British in 2016.

Here’s why.

We were actually allowed to vote

It’s tempting to wish David Cameron never agreed to a referendum, and for many people the outcome was completely unexpected, but it is far, far better to live in a country that involves its inhabitants shaping its destiny. It should never be down to a small group of socially distanced leaders. Democracy has its flaws, but the alternative is much worse.

We have access to world-class education

Many, many people do not. More than 20 countries still prevent girls from getting the same education as boys. According to www.gov.uk, ‘31 million girls of primary school age around the world have never been to school.’

We have London

Which is, without a doubt, the best city in the world.

We have a healing sense of humour

In years to come, future generations will be laughing about the referendum and all the grizzly consequences, going to fancy dress parties as Boris and Nigel.  Actually, this is probably already happening.

We have same sex marriage

And a thriving LGBT community that helps set an example and inspire other communities around the world.

We have great style

And so many amazing brands to chose from. The British High Street is a wonderful blessing, and our liberal, inspiring, much-copied dress sense is something to be proud of.

We have constant access to clean, running water

Just, for a second, imagine a life where you do not. Water Aid says that 1/3 of the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation, and ‘650 million people live without safe running water’.

We have a brilliant music scene

And there is nothing like a British music festival. Give me mud, live music and hundreds of happy Brits and that’s enough to lift the spirits.

We have pubs

Otherwise known as cosy, inviting, microcosmic societies everyone is welcome to join. Nowhere else on the planet has quite nailed the fine art of our favourite drinking establishment and the way it appeals to all walks of life. When I was travelling, I mostly missed going to the pub.

 We are gloriously and irrevocably multicultural

And our national dish is Chicken Tikka Masala. My best friends are British. They are also Mauritian, Turkish-Cypriot, Indian, Irish, Jewish, and Iranian. Leaving the EU might instil racist thoughts in a narrow-minded minority, but the rest of us will unite in our love of Britain’s inspiring, well-established multiculturalism, appreciating and upholding it’s importance more now than ever.

Hold onto the fact that it was not a vast majority that wanted out, and it is not a vast majority of leave voters that are an embarrassment to humanity. Most had valid, positive, game-changing reasons for leaving (I urge you to come forward with words of comfort). It was just a few miserable leavers (that the media has decided to focus on) that have showcased racial prejudice, and who are hopefully, slowly coming to terms with just how brainwashed they’ve been.

 

 

A lesson on Christmas traditions

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Picture me aged 3. I’m making a snowman from cotton wool and toilet roll. I proudly present snowman to Mum and Dad when I get home from playgroup, and then again the following Christmas when he emerges from a dusty box of decorations. And just like that, a tradition is born. Snowman is a running family joke every Christmas, with his green fez and droopy eyes. Every year, he reminds us how much we’ve grown, what’s changed and what will never change. He represents the purest kind of innocence and he is protected and preserved the way we wish we could preserve time. He is a fond memory, and yet he is still there for us to touch, display and laugh at every year.

Well, he was there. This year, 23 years later, something quite terrible happened. This year, my dog ATE SNOWMAN. And I cried. And so did my mum. My mum and I cried over a small pile of cotton wool and toilet roll.

Admittedly, a part of me felt like Christmas would never be the same again. That silly tradition of unveiling snowman every year was gone. Which is ridiculous because the sentiment lives on regardless – I’d still have the memory without the physical reminder. Perhaps what we’re really afraid of is forgetting the small things; the forgettable things that are actually quite lovely to keep safe. After all, the moment an object jogs a memory (that might otherwise have been lost forever) is far too wonderful not to protect.

But still, why the hell do we want Christmas to be the same every single year? What is our relentless obsession with reliving the past?

After a couple of hours grieving over poor old snowman, I started to think about the impact personal traditions can have on our ability to cope with change and embrace the unknown. The truth is, there have been some big changes in my life this year, and seeing snowman in little pieces was like a visual reminder that my life, like most people’s, is subject to uncontrollable change and unplanned disruption. Shit happens, basically.

My mum and I were faced with two choices: a) to feel extremely sorry for ourselves, or b) make a bigger, better snowman, rebuilding him and adding to the story he represents. Our story. Which is of course guided by the way we respond to the unplanned. Sometimes all we can do is laugh and carry on.

We become so dependant on our traditions for things to feel ‘right’ that we often forget the bigger picture or fear life without them. Wrongly or rightly, we assign a great deal of profound emotion to the most useless physical objects or rituals. Cut yourself loose and you’ll be surprised how well you cope on the other side.

Christmas also has a tendency to make us EVEN MORE dependant on material things. We feel like we’re being sentimental, when in reality most of the sentiment is just another dose of consumerism in disguise. I mean, what is the point in crackers? Sure it’s ‘tradition’ but isn’t it also a royal waist of money? I love Christmas as much as the next person, but it does a bloody good job of distorting our perception of things. We run the risk of doing the same things over and over and over again, without pausing to stop and think about why. Christmas is a prime example of our susceptibility  to finding security in nostalgia  which is no way to live in the long term.

The lesson? Take Christmas and all your traditions with the biggest pinch of salt you can afford, take the pressure off yourself and remember what’s important. Shared traditions are a big part of celebrating a certain culture, but having the ability to break free from them when necessary is essential for culture (and your own sanity), too.

Lesson 30: quitting your job to travel the world

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Being Joe’s birthday, 13th October was already on my list of important dates. As it happens, 13th October 2015 also turned out to be the day I quit my job to travel the world. I didn’t exactly shout ‘I QUIT!’ and storm out the office (as much as I’ve fantasised about doing precisely this). I have an 8 week notice period, which makes it slightly less dramatic. But still, I made the decision to pack up my lovely life in London and say a big fat YES to the slightly more terrifying option instead. I decided I would pursue my dreams after all. And best of all? The love of my life is in the exact same frame of mind as me, so we’re off around the world together.

As you can probably guess, I’m going to document the whole experience. I want to write about travelling from the point of view of someone who, in reality, isn’t particularly carefree. Someone who struggles with change, who feels anxious without a plan and who wears a full face of makeup every day. Someone who over-thinks everything, is a massive perfectionist, and often likes to be alone. Someone who recently went through a phase of feeling constantly scared and worried about quite literally everything.

Not your typical criteria for a free-spirit backpacker, and not at all how I come across to other people (I hope). These are all things that I generally keep to myself, but have started to confront in various ways. Being open about these incredibly common challenges over the last few months has taught me one major thing: you can change the way you think. What better opportunity to push yourself to the limit than to expose yourself to completely different beliefs, attitudes, cultures, histories, societies, weather… And what better opportunity for a writer?

I often feel like the reason I’ve become preoccupied with what’s going on inside my head is because I’ve forgotten how to utilize my time. Doing the same old job and having the same routine every day can leave big gaps in your mental capacity, gaps I seem to have filled with worrying about unimportant things, like how many Instagram followers I have, or what colour shellac I want next. In a nutshell, I want to care less about superficial rubbish, and much, much more about what’s important. These ‘important’ things, I hope and pray, will materialise somewhere along the way. And if go away to realise that I just want my old life back, that’s totally fine too.

Aside from doing a stereotypical bit of soul searching, I also hate how ignorant I am of how other people live. The only times I’ve travelled outside of Europe I’ve stayed in super-luxurious resorts, which I find quite embarrassing. I want to be able to read the news and associate and empathise more deeply with what’s going on. Another huge factor is that I’m wary of how incredibly dependent I’ve become on material things. Living out of a single bag for 6 months ought to teach me a thing or two about what I actually need in life. I’m already 99% it won’t be the Smashbox primer I wouldn’t dream of foregoing right now. It costs £25. I wonder what £25 will buy me in Cambodia.

Aside from all of this, I just want to have fun. Like, constant fun. With my boyfriend. For 6 months. Who the hell wouldn’t? And then when I get home, I promise to put the whole experience to good use. That’s fair, right? I know how privileged I am to be able to up and leave my life for a bit. I’ve worked hard and saved to be able to do this, so I’m determined to make it count in a way that I probably wouldn’t have a few years ago. Plus, I still want to be a writer, and I’ll be doing much more of that in my own time, instead writing about the same boring crap at work every day. Right now, I would rather write about Japanese culture for free than get paid to write about dressing gowns. And I can say that because a) I’m still young and stupid enough not to care and b) I have zero responsibilities.

I will always have an uncontrollable urge to write and tell stories, and I think travel goes hand in hand with that. That doesn’t mean I’m not completely TERRIFIED. If you have ANY tips, suggestions or words of advice for a first-time traveller, please, please, please comment below because I’d love to hear them.

But for now… WOOHOOOO!

 

Lesson 28: hoarding the past

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If, like me, you’re a hoarder, you’ll understand the excruciating pain I was in when I had to throw away loads of stuff because of the damp in our stupid flat. Amongst the wreckage: Zara heels I’d worn once, trusty worn-out Kurt Geiger sandals and a pair of Jones Bootmaker brogues I wore everyday at uni and not once since. I have moved house four times since I graduated four years ago, and I’ve  taken these old brogues with me every time. The Zara heels I quickly got over, the Kurt Geigers I mourned and thought about constantly for a couple of days, but the brogues I never wore… I actually found throwing these away really hard. I felt sad and guilty, like I was letting go of some tiny piece of a past life. I’m not sure I’m particularly materialistic, just ridiculously sentimental.

It fascinates me how much we assimilate meaning from objects that have no purpose. They were just sitting there, collecting dust (and mould, apparently), and somehow they posed as an unlikely comfort, a reminder of the everyday stuff that often becomes lost. I seem to attach this sort of meaning to pretty much everything. It extends beyond the whole ‘I might need it one day’ philosophy. Half the stuff I keep I know I will never need. So why do I do it?

Fear. It’s as simple as that. Fear of forgetting the past, of forgetting a crucial part of the journey, of forgetting a piece of my history, or of someone else’s. All the time I’m hoarding things, I’m subconsciously living in fear.

Perhaps this is why I often dream that my house is on fire and I have to choose what to save, or why I have an irrational fear of being burgled, or why I take a photograph at every opportunity. The truth is, when you have too many belongings, or put too much pressure on yourself to capture and retain every moment, you lose sight of what is really significant to you. Your physical space is crowded and mixed up, and your brain does exactly the same. Tidy room, tidy mind. It’s so true. Your space eventually becomes too full for anything new, and you end up sacrificing your future trying to save your past.

Although it was horrible throwing my beloved brogues away, it was also quite liberating to have faced my fear. When we’re forced to live without something, or do things a little differently, we often end up wondering what we were so afraid of. Change is necessary for moving forward. Everything has to keep moving, whether we like it or not, so better to embrace it than attempt to dwell in the past via mouldy old shoes.

In the ever-evolving consumer culture we live in, it’s ALWAYS necessary to question how much shit we actually need. One of the easiest ways to stop accumulating too much stuff is (believe it or not) to stop buying so much stuff in the first place. Like any addiction, constantly buying things only leaves you wanting more. It’s a cruel trick. A hunger that’s never satisfied. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the happiness we think we get from material things is incredibly short-lived. We are too fickle for our own good. It stems from a constant stream of consciousness that tells us to focus on the things we don’t have, ignoring the things we’ve already got. Similarly, my fear of losing my possessions depends on the idea of absence. Forever focusing on the absence of material things, aligning our happiness with their presence, is simply not healthy or practical. And the truth of the matter is, while you probably don’t need another pair of shoes, someone out there really, really does. Someone out there, lots of people in fact, don’t own any shoes. So what makes you think you need another pair? Or that you can’t live without one of your 30?

Yesterday, I visited my nan, who’s preparing to move out of her three-bedroom house and into a little flat. She wanted my sister and I to ‘choose some things to keep’, and together we went through a big pile of potential ‘things’ my nan was happy to part with. Glassware, tea sets, ornaments, cutlery, pottery, jewellery, ash trays, photo frames. Everything had a story, and yet she was willing to let them go, if not to us then to charity. She made the brave decision to sacrifice a few pieces from the past to make some space for the future, moving forward and embracing a huge change. I will forever take my inspiration from that. The useless brogues (among other things) I threw away left more than enough space for a few things from my nan I will forever, rightfully hold close.

 

Lesson 16: taking back control

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Three years ago today, my caring, funny, inspirational Granddad passed away. Despite being diagnosed with Leukaemia and given 2 years to live, he stayed with us for 8. He simply refused to go. He didn’t want to miss out. However much pain he was in, whatever it took, he wasn’t ready to leave the party. Bi-weekly blood transfusions were the norm and yet I never saw him without a smile on his face. So grateful to be with his family, my Granddad loved life and was the absolute life and soul, right until his very last day.

One of the reasons I’m writing this is because recently, I haven’t been enjoying life the way I used to, and I know I’m not alone. As we get older, life seems to get more and more complicated. It’s hard to always see past the stresses of work and the endless bills, let alone the things that seem completely beyond our control. But are they? Are the negative things we face completely uncontrollable? Because if my brave granddad can outright refuse to die, I have means to believe we are often more powerful than we know.

For anyone struggling a bit at the moment, take a step back from your life and isolate all the things you are unhappy with. Split them into two categories and write them down; things you can change and things you can’t. Take the ‘can’t change’ category and think about each and every thing very carefully, then simply rip it up. If you honestly feel like there is nothing you can do then maybe it’s time to cast these things from your mind entirely. Letting them go will give you more energy to focus on the things you can change. Next, take your ‘can change’ list and write a positive, realistic goal next to each thing. Whether you want to travel the world, lose weight, beat depression, get the job of your dreams or find the love or your life, these things are all within your grasp if you want them badly enough. The very best things in life come from hard work and dedication – that is what makes them so great.

Some of you will know that I often have very vivid, messed-up dreams, both when I’m awake and asleep. Apparently, these ‘intrusive thoughts’ have developed as a result of an anxiety disorder. For me, this often feels like something I have absolutely zero control over. Unimaginable things come into my head when I’m walking down the street, catching the tube or lying in bed at night. They stay with me for days. They provoke panic attacks. I don’t know where they come from, but I’ve been assured that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will teach me how to control them.

In the last week or so, I’ve dreamed of my Granddad three times. The dreams were calm, he was smiling and I woke up feeling safe. Always remember that you are the author of your own life. Take control and never forget how lucky you are to have a voice. Whatever you think you become, it’s as simple as that.

 

Lesson 4: coping with change

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I hate change. Always have, always will. I am also very easily bored, which makes me a walking contradiction of the worst kind. I always picture how things are supposed to go in my head, whether it’s a night out, a holiday, a relationship, or meeting someone for the first time. When things don’t go to plan, and are completely different to how I imagined they would be, I find it very unnerving. So you can imagine how I would feel if something constant in my life was turned completely upside down, changing beyond the point of recognition.

In parallel to this, I am always desperate to try new things, to improve, to expand my horizons, to challenge my brain and test my capacity to learn. You’d think I would get used to things not going to plan, but, in all honesty, I don’t. It comes from being a perfectionist. Is there anything wrong with wanting things to be as they should be, all the time? No, there’s nothing wrong with feeling like that, but there would be something wrong with the world if we actually lived perfect lives. Here’s why…

Simply, if nothing ever went wrong, we would live in a state of indifference. There would be no anticipation, no excitement, no sense of unknowing. Imagine we all had complete control of our lives. We wouldn’t be living at all. There would be no adrenaline, no butterflies, no surprises, no second chances, no need to try at all. Our lives would be lived for us. We would never learn, never grow, never feel the need to understand. Things change because we have to change. If we didn’t change, we’d have the same outlook on life we had at 14. And I’m pretty bloody glad I don’t think like my 14-year-old self. Teenagers are (in general) self-centred, hyper-emotional narcissists who can’t absorb much of the world because their heads are too fucked. It doesn’t last, but imagine if it did. If we didn’t change and grow because life forced us to, we’d all be thinking that the world owed us. It doesn’t.

Without change, we wouldn’t be able to sympathise with other people’s situations. If I lived one type of life, all my life, I would never fully be able to understand what other people go through. I’m glad I know how it feels to be poor, to grieve, to feel insecure, because without those feelings, I would never ever be able to fully appreciate wealth, love and inner peace. Change teaches us about ourselves. And do you know what, if something horrendous happens to you, and you want to be ok, you will be. The only problem comes when you don’t want to grow as a person, or rise above the uncontrollable things that have happened to you. Bad things happen to pretty much everyone. And if they don’t, then these are the only people on Earth who will never fully appreciate the good things. If you feel like you can’t cope with the changes in your life, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’ve learnt, what’s next and how your experience can benefit other people in some way. We are all stronger than we think, but only change will show you just how strong you are. Who knows whether change is good or bad? Time, and time only.

Joe told me about this parable a few years ago, and it’s a great way to put your mind back on the right track when you’ve suffered a bit of a blow in life:

“A poor farmer in ancient China works on a small plot of land with his teenage son. At this time, horses were considered a sign of wealth; the richest person in the province owned no more than a few of them. One day, a wild horse jumped the poor farmer’s fence and began grazing on his land. According to local law, this meant that the horse now rightfully belonged to him and his family. The son could hardly contain his joy, but the father put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The next day the horse made its escape back to the mountains and the boy was heartbroken. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” his father said again.  On the third day, the horse returned with a dozen wild horses following.  “We’re rich!” the son cried, to which the father again replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” On the fourth day, the boy climbed on one of the wild horses and was thrown off, breaking his leg. His father ran to get the doctor; soon both of them were attending to the boy, who was upset and in a great deal of pain. The old farmer looked deeply into his son’s eyes, and said, “My son, who knows what’s good or bad?” And on the fifth day the province went to war.  Army recruiters came through the town and took all the eligible young men to fight in the war – all except for the young man with the broken leg.”

Just remember, a hurdle is only as big or small as the person who faces it sees it. Be open to change and what it teaches you; and you can overcome anything.