Category: Britain

How Living in London Has Taught Me What I Value

“Some men are born to own; can animate all their possessions. Others cannot; Their owning is not graceful; seems to be a compromise of their character; they seem to steal their own dividends.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

A minimalist I am not; I love “stuff.” I enjoy material objects and the process that goes into finding interesting ones, choosing them, and caring for them, but simultaneously and paradoxically also have a weird sort of detachment to stuff. Growing up in a military family meant that every couple of years, we would uproot and move everything we owned into a new home. When this (frequently) involved shifts between countries and even continents, we would often have to downsize our possessions to meet weight limitations. Going through a few rounds of this has meant that I have had plenty of experience in sorting out the things I value from the things that are just nice to have. This is something I have had cause to examine even more in recent years as I’ve tried to publicly dissect my relationship with consumerism and money.

On a fairly recent post, faithful Friend of the Blog Caitlin commented,

“I have always valued creative freedom and financial security over anything I could buy otherwise. Both come at a cost — i.e. NOT buying a lot of stuff and experiences I would very much enjoy because I had to save money and live frugally.”

Her note triggered a realization for me that I have alluded to before but not fully teased out before: most of the things of value that Jeff and I own, things we have spent our money on and would mourn if lost, could reasonable be hustled out the door at very short notice. Or as I put it in a reply,

“Reading your follow up made me consider again how few “big” items Jeff and I own. If we needed to, we could throw almost everything we own of value into suitcases and just GO. The major casualties would be a couple of pieces of furniture which would cause a pang, but we don’t have a whole household that we’d lose in an emergency or disaster. I think our purchasing history reflects the idea that what we really value at this season in our lives is mobility.”

When we moved to London, we did so with two suitcases a piece. While difficult, it was doable. If we ever leave London, I’d hope to take quite a bit more than that with us, but if I needed to flee with only basic luggage, I suspect I could. Mobility. I’m not sure if that reflects an inner, enviable flexibility in the face of possible adversity, or a deeper need to be able to run away from present circumstances if necessary (possibly both?) but whatever it is, I have clearly chosen to build key aspects of our life around it as a concept.

Living in London for over five years has given me many chances to evaluate what else I value in this season.

Being in the thick of things. London is a tough town but I still get a thrill living in a place where so much happens. I enjoy watching the news and knowing some of it is taking place just up the river. I like watching films and TV shows and being able to identify specific familiar locations, sometimes down to the very neighborhood and streets they were shot on. I love living in a region where interesting art is being created and important cultural discussions are being argued. It’s not always comfortable, but it is never boring.

Ease of cultural access. Whether it’s food, entertainment, easy travel to most of Europe, Africa, and the Near East, or just street culture, London is a smorgasbord. Having lived (and not thrived) in monocultures before, I have a hard time envisioning ever living in one again. Multiculture is inherently more complex and difficult to navigate at times, but I find it enriching and rewarding.

Possibility and the ability to change my mind. Whether it’s been in matters of community or career, living in circumstances that have allowed me to pick a new direction is incredibly valuable to me. I have lived in locations and circumstances that were stultifying; while London might stress me out, it has never bored me or restricted my choices. I recognize what a privilege this is and I’m grateful for it every day.

Memories and experiences. Most of the things that would make it into an emergency suitcase are small items with some kind of emotional value: a teddy bear that has been with me literally since the day I was born, my wedding jewelry, my passport.

Reading over this list, I am struck by how much of this feels transient in some way–which is odd because we have no plans to move at any point in the foreseeable future. We have invested a lot to live where we do and are working through the process of making this a permanent home. And yet, whether it’s change or excitement or (again) mobility, what London seems to offer that I value most is options. Living and working here has not always been easy, in fact it’s often been exhausting and bloody difficult, like a choose-your-own-adventure book with very grown up and terrifying stakes.

London has never offered me much safety or assurance, it has never guaranteed me security or stability. But living here has taught me that those are not always my highest priorities. Living here has taught me that disappointment, and even occasional existential despair, is survivable. It’s taught me whose good opinions I truly care about, and whose can go hang. It’s taught me how to esteem my money and my own work. Living here has honed and focused more professional and personal priorities than I can count. It’s taught me a lot about what I truly value and helped to teach me to align my life accordingly, and that is truly priceless.

 

Taking Time

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

I am bad about this to the point of commentary from my colleagues who point out when I have not taken a holiday, especially in periods of high stress and hectic projects and encourage me to book my next holiday. It’s a very strange, but very nice thing to be encouraged by bosses to take time off regularly–it’s antithetical to the American work culture (according to Forbesless than a quarter of Americans take all of their available vacation, and I KNOW I am personally one of them).

Time off is built into British work life and I’ve had the experience of bosses policing my requests–not because I was asking for too much time off, but because they thought I wasn’t asking for enough. It is assumed that regularly scheduled holidays, even a three day weekend every couple of months or so, keeps workers more balanced and productive. I have been amazed to observe how holiday time is respected. On one occasion, early in my British working life, I checked my work phone for emails on a day off, saw that an urgent request had come through and immediately responded. The recipient thanked me and then scolded me for breaking my holiday to provide him with something he himself had stated was important, and forbade me from responding to anything else until I was back in the office. This was astounding and confusing to me!

I’m a big believer in time off. But I’m also a badly inconsistent practitioner.

Over the past year I’ve been working on a contract that’s been deeply interesting and rewarding. The work is challenging, the people are nice, the location is great, and there’s a lot to do (which is something my hyper personality requires). But it’s also been a hectic year with constant surprises and challenges, with a stream of unexpected projects and short deadlines. Because I was running a small team, I genuinely was afraid that if I took time off, I’d be responsible for balls dropping or delays, or…oh I don’t know. I had a vague sense of dread about being out of office that I couldn’t shake.

At a certain level this is fundamentally egotistical. The world spins on without you, and it’s important to be reminded of this fact.

Paradoxically, my feelings were also mixed with a sense of Imposter Syndrome because…the world spins on without you. Because I was managing a big contract and wanted so badly to do a good job, I think a part of me was strangely afraid that people would cope without me in a crisis, and what would that mean? Also, please note, fundamentally egotistical.

Last September Jeff and I spent a week in Greece and it was one of the most relaxing and restorative breaks I’ve ever taken in my life. It may be a silly thing to say about a fairly standard holiday, but it felt like a profound experience at the time. I needed it badly, felt great after I got back, and the sense of refreshment stayed with me a long time. When I was back in London I was emotional balanced, better at my work, and much better equipped to handle the flow of projects. We were in our 30s and this was the first holiday Jeff and I had ever taken that didn’t involve family or friends of some kind. There was no agenda, no purpose to the trip except to press pause on life for a moment and the positive effect of doing so was intense.

And then, like an idiot, I waited nearly a year to take significant time off again. It showed. I was getting anxious and overwhelmed by things that would not have phased me in a more rested state. I had to expend more energy to focus and concentrate than I needed to. My anxiety was ratcheting up.
“I think…I need a holiday,” I mentioned tentatively to a coworker during a coffee break.
“YES, YOU ARE LONG OVERDUE,” was her disconcertingly swift and loud response.

Et voila. I booked two weeks off and we went to Prague for one of them. Ironically Jeff was summoned back to work this week due to some crises but we’re now looking at what mini breaks we can take through the rest of the year to get in the travel that we have been reminded we desperately need and thoroughly enjoy. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the surprisingly great summer weather, wandering through my favorite neighborhoods, and indulging in some vintage scouting. I’ve still be checking my work phone more than I should, but I’ve

There will always be a crisis you don’t expect, there will always be an unanticipated hiccup that your coworkers will need to deal with. They will. And your work will still be waiting for you when you get back. The world spins on, after all.

 

The Duchess of Sussex

Image from the BBC

An absolute stunner of a modern dress by Givenchy with protocol-required sleeves…but collarbones on display?

The Song of Solomon in the reading?

MLK, African American spirituals, and social issues in the sermon?

An unabashedly progressive and somewhat controversial Reverend?

A gospel choir?

A bride walking herself up the aisle and giving herself away?

All of the Commonwealth nations referenced in her veil?

The signature messy updo?

The groom choosing to wear a ring?

THAT cello player?

Feelings on display? Publicly?!

The (utterly elegant, lovely, and show-stealing) MoB wearing dreadlocks and a nosering whilst seated across from the Queen in coordinated colors?

Stand By Me and This Little Light of Mine?

The new Duchess of Sussex could have gone quietly into her new life, gone traditional, acquiesced to the frank ugliness of the tabloids, played it safe, and had a perfectly nice and boring wedding. She didn’t.

Color me too-emotionally-involved, but the whole ceremony felt at once deeply personal and also a signal for the kinds of public figures this couple intends to be. Weddings are typically the “bride’s day,” at least when one is not marrying into a firm, and that’s what this felt like in all the important ways.

She might be marrying into an institution and making concessions to do so, but she is clearly carving out a way to do it on her and her husband’s terms. She respected the tradition she is stepping into it while unabashedly–without being brash but also without shrinking–brought her own tradition, family, heritage, and personality along with her. This woman is a smart cookie.

I STAN.

 

Weekend Links: We Aren’t Even Halfway Through January Edition

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” 
― James Baldwin

Kittens, what a week. This could be written about any week for the past calendar year and a half but once again, it was a doozy and I’m not even going to attempt a recap. Who would have thought we’d get Oprah trending and yet more vulgarities from our vulgarian in chief? As I put the finishing touches on this post I glimpsed something from the Washington Post about an adult film star and Trump hush money? Whatever, I’m not clicking.

God, this man is humiliating. NPR had to send out a briefing memo to its news team today instructing them on the proper usage of the word “shithole” throughout the day. What a world.

MUST READ: If you wanted to avoid our rage, perhaps you shouldn’t have left us with so little to lose.

Many women wore black gowns for the Golden Globes as a statement of solidarity, protest, and attention direction this year. And to anyone who naysays fashion as frivolous, I say it has always been used as social and political statement, especially by women. As Tom and Lorenzo point out, far more articulately than I could, fashion and style choices are some of the most potent weapons some of these women can use in an industry that traffics in their images. I loved that several women also brought activists as guests. More of this in 2018, please.

Oprah Winfrey’s speech knocked it out of the bloody park at the Golden Globe Awards.

WGSN’s trend forecast for beauty this year is nicely optimistic to me.

I am poised and ready for the future discoveries of these documents in someone’s attic or in some abandoned vault. You all know I LIVE for those stories.

For your reading consideration this year.

Bad feminist confession, I adore the film The Women and love but have always questioned the technicolor fashion montage that appears halfway through it. Well, color me educated (see what I did there?).

David Frum cautions that the real threat to our democracy is not in, “…corrosion, not crisis. In a crisis, of course we’ll all be heroes—or so we assure ourselves. But in the muddy complexity of the slow misappropriation of the state for self-interested purposes, occasions for heroism do not present themselves.”

So help me god, 2018, if you take Trebek from us

In Mormon news, the president of the LDS church passed away last week, and this write up from Harvard Divinity School is an excellent explanation as to why his ministry was important to the faith, what happens next in the organization, and what happened during his stewardship of the church.

Truly, which of us couldn’t use some more executive time?

This story on literal muckraking is great.

Senator Feinstein released transcripts of the interview of the man whose research firm was behind the infamous Steele Dossier, it’s a long read but political junkies should read it. Here’s ongoing NPR analysis for the pressed-for-time.

This take on the whole Fire and Fury situation and what the book reveals (he argues, whatever errors or faults in contains) by Ezra Klein of Vox *feels* fundamentally correct to me. It’s also weirdly sad, or it would be were not the stakes so damn high.

Wow, Steve. 2018 came at you fast, huh?

Hey! Some good news about the planet!

I like this list of things to declutter from your life in 2018.

A while back, as the sexual assault conversation was ramping up, a list made headlines. Created by an anonymous founder it was called the “Shitty Media Men” list and documented anonymous woman-to-woman heads up about potential bosses or work situations they might want to avoid. It broke into wider consciousness when it was discovered and shared on reddit. The thinkpieces, attacks, and defenses flowed. This past week on Twitter reports surfaced that the magazine Harper’s intended to publish a piece that revealed or “doxxed” the identity of the original creator. Feminist Twitter flew into a frenzy with writers pulling their pieces from the magazine and calls to protect the identity of this woman since backlashes against women have been so historically vicious and awful (see: Gamergate). But then…the creator of the list unveiled herself instead in The Cut. I have no idea what the backlash is going to be but I choose to read something into this decision and attribute it to the moment where women are collectively deciding that past terror cannot dictate future action.

And finally the president managed yet another revealing statement when he apparently referred to immigrant hopefuls from the global south, and Haiti and African nations in particular, as undesirable candidates for citizenship. I’m of course cleaning up his own language which was news-breakingly vulgar. 

All I can say is that I’m thrilled Mr. Trump cancelled his visit to London, as I was fully intending to protest and now I don’t need to request time off for that. I’m also endlessly bemused at how he lacks even the most basic grasp of history and facts (in this case regarding the plans and timeline of the new US embassy). I didn’t expect much from him, but does no one on his staff brief him on anything? At least one ambassador has resigned and several more have been summoned to their various host governments to explain the inexplicable.

And finally, Roxanne Gay has a word of warning.

London Glossier Pop Up and Power Branding

“Touch your customer, and you’re halfway there.” 
– Estee Lauder

Excuse the dive into marketing, ducklings, but since that’s what I do for my actual job, I couldn’t do a post about this fun summer event without talking about some of the technical aspects of the company behind it.

You’ve heard me mention Glossier a few times around these parts and and probably also stumbled across it out in the real world too. It’s a beauty brand that launched in 2010 and proceeded to casually take the editorial and online beauty world by storm. From their initial launch, they’ve rolled out product after product and are apparently expanding their line to include more “lifestyle” aspects to beauty in the future; their next product is going to be a candle, for example.

Glossier is launching in the UK later this year and I cannot wait to finally (hopefully) be able to have regular access to the items of their line that I genuinely adore. A few weeks ago I actually got to go to a pop up shop event they threw in Marylebone which was an opportunity for UK beauty nerds to meet some of the team, and test products that they may have not been able to try before. For a company that doesn’t even ship to the UK yet, it was amazing to see how many people (my humble self included) showed up just to celebrate the brand, for lack of a better term.

Which is extraordinary when you think about it. There was nothing to buy, we just wanted to say hi to team members that (due to Glossier’s social media presence) it feels like their customers know personally, or enjoy a beautifully curated space.

Because Glossier, excuse my fangirling, is genius at what they do.

 

I mention the brand and the products separately because while inexorably intertwined, they are different things. Where Glossier has set the bar in marketing has been in the solid curation and dissemination of its brand: its visuals, the people it has chosen to make its promoters, and its products all go hand in hand. It’s no mean feat to make something that must at some level be very well and intelligently controlled look and feel effortless.

From a marketing perspective, I routine point to them as one of the most interesting examples of brand and marketing work I’ve seen in years and I honestly would give my right arm to work with them at some point. It’s probably the most out of reach freelance goal a girl could have, but true nonetheless. Entrepreneur even featured founder Emily Weiss recently, with some of the numbers around the brand’s rise to success. They are damn impressive.

 

It doesn’t hurt that most of the products are pretty great and priced so as not to break the bank. I think they’ve had a few missteps, but they seem to be in the spirit of experimentation so I’m often eager to try products even if feel like a bit of a needle scratch. For instance, I’m really keen to try their new Wowder, but I also feel like it’s a bit of a strange choice for a brand who built their look and core product offerings around the “dewy” skin look. However, I expect that they created this powder…because their customers asked for it. So, in the end, probably smart move.

The whole of Glossier brand really is based on this conversational element–between the customers and the business, between individual customers themselves. Which makes sense for a company that grew out of a blog: Into the Gloss. ITG/Glossier routinely crowd sources feedback on what products their customers want them to develop, what elements of those products would be important to them, and how customers would use them. They have one of the best and most thriving comment sections on the internet (delightfully BS and troll free), and a friendly but authoritative editorial voice.

Guests to the pop up went away with a goody bag of full sized products to tide us over until shipping commences later in the year–a nice change from sample size bits and bobs that many brands hand out for promotions. Another smart move, in my opinion. For actual beauty bloggers and editors, there was an event with Weiss herself and the Beauty Director of Glamour UK on another day (the video interview is quite fun, if you’re interested in all things skincare).

This is a brand I’m not just going to continue to buy, but I’m also going to continue to watch. I believe strongly in the power of branding and am fascinated by organizations, creators, and producers who do it well. Glossier is up there.

Weekend Links

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
― Henry James

Hi ducklings! It was the 4th of July for American minions this past week (NPR tweeted out the Declaration of Independence and got some…confused responses), and this weekend in PRIDE in London. We have a houseguest in situ, more coming next week, and Katarina and I are scheming for a visit in August. The sun is blazing, the river is high, and politics were only typically bad this week. Let’s celebrate some summer, shall we?

This profile of one of the One Direction boys (the one you probably don’t remember the name of) is poignant and kind of lovely.

Say it with me: “women’s fiction” is just…fiction.

Great. Just ******* great.

Bitch magazine rounded up a bunch of podcasts you should be listening to. I can personally recommend about half of ’em.

SUPER NOT GREAT, TEAM.

I will be donating to this cause.

Well this was…devastating.

It’s rare that an agony aunt letter affects me, but this is one of those occasions.

#distractinglysexy is trending and it’s great.

Album of the week: Something to Tell You, by Haim 

Weekend Links

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”
― Oscar Wilde

So, we went to Paris for a few days, and didn’t miss any news at all.

Just kidding! Because it’s 2017 and the pace of the spacetime continuum is on warp speed!

The UK had a general election that did not quite go according to the Prime Minister’s plan, and Mr. Comey testified before Congress on the investigations into Russian interference in the US election–sounding for all the world like a victim of sexual assault or pressure from the way the president behaved to the way people are trying to make the subsequent decisions of all involved Mr. Comey’s own fault. It’s been shocking. The US president continued to tweet up a storm (which, let’s be clear, is precisely what kicked off this whole mess with Mr. Comey in the first instance), leading to his own teammates delivering the weakest defense possible to explain away his actions: “He’s just new this this.” No shit, Mr. Speaker. That’s always been the problem, and in no way absolves him of the responsibility of catching the hell up with professional expectations.

At time of writing, the White House has canceled an anticipated state visit to the UK. Trust me, President Trump would go down like a lead balloon at the moment, following his outbursts in response to the London attacks. Current reports are that he doesn’t want to have to deal with prospective protests or negative coverage, the poor dear. Though let’s be clear, the UK government is far from having its ducks in a row at the moment! Nevertheless, it astonishes me how he continues to casually do damage to some of the most enduring relationships in Western democracy, and I continue to be dismayed by the failure of his own (supposedly constitutionally mad) party to check him. The fact that the most likely outcome of the Comey hearing is, at this moment, nothing at all is deeply disheartening.

But a break from that, ducklings! I’m feeling marvelously refreshed after our short holiday–posts coming as soon as I clean the house, do masses of laundry, shop for food, go the gym, try to meditate, and generally try to get our lives back into some semblance of working order. Stand by. Not sure for how long. Meanwhile, I’ve put together a delightful batch of links to make you feel prepped to take on the coming week, regardless of whether or not you are currently stuffed to the brim of delicious French food.

A diverse list of female medieval writers.

I loved–LOVED–the Amazons of Wonder Woman, both the fictional characters and the casting. Different sizes, shapes and colors. Some were teachers, some were fighters, some were senators, some were thin, some were highly muscled, and every last one of them was a badass. Where the hell do I enlist for the Claire Underwood battalion? The outpouring of love and appreciation from other women for this film has been a source of internet joy for me from the get go, but

In tragic nerd news, Adam West passed away. A writer I enjoy pays tribute here.

In heroic and joyous nerd news, the first Black Panther trailer came out!

This generator gave me quite a chuckle. My favorite thus far have been “Islamic Revolutionary Thatcherite” and Post-Colonial Anarcho-Communist.”

Nope.

A fashion designer urges consumer to not buy anything this season. I see the appeal!

 

Album of the week: Ti Amo, by Phoenix