Leaving The Page Blank*

I have developed a bad habit, over the years, of putting things off, or worse, not finishing them. Not necessarily out of laziness, but out of the idea that ‘One Day’ I’ll magically get a brainwave and do what I’ve been meaning to do. Until then I’ll leave the page blank, or leave the ending of the story unfinished.

Let me explain what I mean.

An example: whenever I get a new sketch book, a new note-book, even a new diary, I’ve always left the first page blank. I have this idea that I’ll be randomly struck by inspiration and be able to use that front page to design a beautiful front cover or write a something amazing and funny (because of course you need a spectacular front page. As a kid, most of my diaries said Keep Out So-and-So in bedazzled glitter). So I have in my possession a few sketch books that I use now and then, with the front page blank because I’m waiting for that unspecific, magical point in the future that I’ll be practiced enough in my skills enough to draw something amazing that I’m happy with. So that the first thing people see if they flip through is that page. Most of my diaries in the past (I say past because in the age of laptops and social media, I no longer keep a diary, I think the last time I wrote in one was about 7 or 8 years ago) have had the front cover black so I can stick something pretty there or draw random doodles or even just my name on the front.

I’m also a really fussy artist and writer. I’m not necessarily great what I do, but I revise what I write A LOT, and I often correct drawings because they don’t ‘feel’ right – I’m sure you can guess that I am my own worst critic and I hate everything I create. This has applied to a few other things in my life, and it has taken me time to realise that it is not down to talent, circumstance, or even things like time or taste – but purely down to mentality and approach. So sometimes I have put off things in my life, thinking I can do them later – learn to drive, save money to travel, take that class I wanted to take, invest in that exercise programme.

Which brings me to the whole point of my post – I’ve come to a realisation over the years that there is never a right moment to fill in that blank page. No epiphany moment of ‘ah-ha!’ which inspires me to write a beautiful story or draw an amazing piece of art – for me it will always involve a little patience, hard work and practise, and a positive attitude. I have often put off doing something or not done something at all because I thought I was terrible – hundreds of discarded storylines which I never followed through because they didn’t sound good when I wrote it, artwork I didn’t complete and even mini projects that I stopped mid-way. Partly due to laziness, but a lot of do with the fact that it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not this much of a perfectionist in every aspect of my life – I don’t cook a meal then throw it away if it doesn’t look great (if anything I follow a philosophy which prioritises taste over aesthetics, who cares what a dish looks like as long as it tastes good?). Neither do I fall into a mire of depression because a something didn’t go the way I wanted, or because my planned day out/make-up/role at work didn’t go the way it wanted. I think perhaps because writing and drawing is such a personal thing to me which I don’t share with many people, I tend to get a lot more fussy, a lot more self-conscious and easily put-off.

I’m learning though. I try not to let these things get to me. I have always said to my husband that it’s no use waiting for that magical moment where everything will be okay – next week, next month, next year. It will never happen that way. Change your approach, be positive and your can-do attitude will do wonders. Sometimes it’s sensible to know when to give up and not waste your time, and other times it’s important to persevere and keep at it.

I’ll add a few hashtags to sum this post up, because lets face it, who doesn’t love a good hashtag: #existentialproblems #firstworldproblems #stopbeinglazy

Just a few things I started and then gave up mid-way:

  1. Embroidery
  2. Learning to apply eyeshadow
  3. Writing a ‘How-to’ about Instagram blogging
  4. Planning several tea parties
  5. Restoring some vintage shoes I bought
  6. Jogging in the park (that lasted a week)
  7. Drawing my own adult colouring book
  8. Batman: Arkham Asylum the game (I kept dying, my husband still keeps telling me to finish the game)
  9. A trip to document every underground train station and its art
  10. A mission to try every restaurant in London (back in my skinny days!)

There’s more, but I’m sure you get the gist!

*I even put off this post as well. It actually had a different title and was a little different in content until I re-read and re-wrote :/

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La Belle Sauvage – A Watery Adventure

Philip Pullman’s latest The Book of Dust trilogy come after a long period, 17 years after the original His Dark Materials epic story was released, along with all the  controversies and praise that it brought with it. And it’s not surprising really – there’s layers of complex ideas about theology, science, magic and just great story-telling which makes it so much more than a children’s story. Having said, that, when Pullman announced this latest prequel-slash-sequel trilogy, starting with La Belle Sauvage, I knew I’d have to re-read the first books before I could get started on this one because I wanted to get a sense of context to follow on from.

I’m glad I did re-read it all – there’s a lot of things I had forgotten about (is it just me, or are there just some books out there which are different with every reading? Sign of a good book, I say). There’s also a lot of technological, science-y and theological things which I’m sure went over my head when I read it as a 13-year-old, and which made a lot more sense to me now after reading HDM. It’s fascinating to see how many strands which make up the whole story; the idea of dark matter and Dust, of love, of the concept of dæmons and soul as well as the more biblical side to it all (whether literal or metaphorical) which entwine to stand together behind the vibrant character of Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon.

So one of the first things I would say is if you don’t remember the HDM trilogy, I’d recommend a read – you could read La Belle Sauvage to start off with (as it is a prequel, technically) but things make a lot more sense when reading the His Dark Materials trilogy first. The story of La Belle Sauvage follows a young protagonist a lot like the first trilogy, and set in ‘Lyra’s Oxford’ – plucky young Malcolm and his dæmon Asta, caught up in espionage, secrets and the oppression of the authoritarian Church and its oppressive rules. For the first time, we see the mechanisms behind the events leading to Lyra’s adventures, as well as creating an interesting back story to a few familiar characters.

Malcolm is a young, intelligent, curious boy who helps his parents at their tavern, has adventures on his boats, is friends with the local nuns and scholars. Things begin to change when he hears about the nuns looking after a baby named Lyra Belacqua, and when he sees a strange man drop a message on the ground, only to pick it up and get mixed up with a whirlwind of secrets and shady characters.

I won’t give too much away, but I will say that although the start of the story drags on a little, it is still a good read. I can see that the author didn’t want to make it too similar to Lyra’s adventures in HDM, and that details are need to establish a different story, but it felt a little stale at times . Malcolm and his life at school, working in the tavern with his parents and sailing his little boat seems a little too ‘Boys’ Own’ style at times, and there were a few parts which dragged a little.

Contrastly, just as the first half drags, there is a flood introduced to the story which requires Malcolm and his boat (sounds biblical at all?), the second half is almost chaotic and slightly confusing at times. Malcolm discovers a lot of new, fantastic things and worlds which almost feel hallucinogenic and pretty surreal, with several characters which feel like they came out of fairy tales – but in the context of the larger story, it is a hint at the idea of alternative worlds and the idea of magic.

What makes Pullman’s stories work are that they are cleverly written, and the characters are interesting. There’s no annoying obvious ‘mysteries’ (which we all guess pages before) and there’s enough of the fantasy to keep us gripped to the pages. Reading La Belle Sauvage felt like a nice throwback to my younger years, and it was interesting to be back in Lyra’s Oxford, with new characters and more intrigue. It’s certainly readable for adults, and this start to the new trilogy is certainly noticeably darker and violent, to emphasis how terrifying this world can be. Malcolm is pretty likeable in the story, although I will admit that I am a little worried that Pullman is tempted to re-write a couple of things to make them fit conveniently into HDM. Some characters such as Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter, both strong characters feel a little less charismatic however – however i have heard one argument that this could be because we are seeing them from Malcolm’s perspective.

Despite the slightly messy second half of the story (which was interesting despite it being a little crazy) I am looking forward to the next installment of this trilogy though. I love books which do world-building well, and especially it will be interesting because it seems that Lyra herself will be continuing her adventures as an adult – and it will certainly be interesting to see if she crosses over to our world ever again!

The Grand Details of Leadenhall Market

I recently found myself walking through the beautiful, 14th century Leadenhall Market which is located near Tower Hill. I didn’t realise that the actual market doesn’t run on weekends, so got the chance to see the ornate walls and arches up close and while it was quiet.

There’s something beautiful, yet eerie about walking through these halls – you can see just how much history it carries, and the grandness of it all encapsulates the beauty perfectly. Apparently the Market is situated in the centre of what was Roman London – which just shows that it is so much more than a market or a walkway to it all.

If you’re around the area, I’d recommend a visit through the grand halls of Leadenhall Market so you can explore and feel the weight of the history, and to enjoy the beautiful atmosphere as you walk along.

WALALA X PLAY at Now Gallery, Greenwich

I recently visited a very fun art gallery at Now Gallery in Greenwich, featuring WALALA X PLAY – a mirror maze of colours, stripes, polka dots and angles  created by digital print designer Camille Walala, and involves having to walk around, explore and look at the different patterns and colours. I love interactive art exhibits like this, which means we get to participate in such a simple way, and which everyone can enjoy in their own way.

The exhibit is in an interesting Pop Art 3D style, and encourages visitors to look at light, colours, reflections, shapes and playfulness, and is meant to give us a view of the human self, so that as we engage we come away with an experience which is influenced by the art.

If you’re around the area, I’d recommend a visit – it’s free and nice for a quick half hour of fun. The exhibition is on until 24th of September though, so hurry!

 

Deaf not Stupid

Capt. Braddock: [to Dave, talking slowly] Was there… a wom-an… pres-ent?
Dave: [to Capt. Braddock, talking slowly] Yes. There was… a wom-an… pres-ent.
Capt. Braddock: Why is he talking like that?
Wally: [to Capt. Braddock, talking slowly] Because he’s deaf… not stup-id.

Scene from – See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

I thought really long and hard about this post, and whether I wanted to write about it. It’s something pretty personal and close to my heart, and something I haven’t written about before, partly because I’m a pretty reserved person when it comes to personal things like this, and also partly because I felt that writing about it makes it into something which is a big deal.

Not many people know that I have a severe hearing impairment which has affected me my whole life, to the point that as a child I wore hearing aids, and even now I have to make sure I can see a person’s face to lip-read them, that I keep an eye out for visible signs when I can’t hear alarms, and that sometimes, not often, I have to ask a person twice, three times to repeat themselves before I understand what they’re saying. Oh, and I have the subtitles on EVERYTHING I watch (although to be fair, I think I’d have them even if I wasn’t deaf!)

So what made me write about this now?  I read an article recently written by a deaf woman who talked about getting awareness for her disability, and the fact that when she was younger she didn’t like to bring attention to it, and how it took her a long time not to be embarrassed by it. It was something which resonated with me quite strongly – I’m not exactly embarrassed by my deafness, but for a long time I divorced myself from the idea. I’ve been told by a lot of people (most people, in fact) and I don’t ‘look’ deaf. I don’t talk like I am, it doesn’t seem like I miss anything, and in fact, I look ‘normal’.

When I was younger, I would often see other deaf children in my school who were not able to hide their impairment as well as I could – it would show in their speech, or their mannerisms, and often their discomfort in standing out was as obvious as their impairment when you spoke to them. Sometimes it felt to me that their parents, in their well-meaning ways to protect them, had bubble-wrapped them a little too much and made them overly-sensitive to their condition and made them feel a little helpless, so that their disability really did become an impairment for them in some ways.

I learned from an early age that if you don’t make a fuss about something, neither will other people. Because I didn’t make a big deal about my deafness or draw much attention to it, other people didn’t either, and assumed it wasn’t a big thing, nor did they treat me differently. In hindsight, this had its blessings but also its drawbacks too. It meant that I didn’t feel too much of an outsider or felt too different, but it also meant that I wasn’t always able to talk about my disability with some people when I needed to. In one way, I normalised the issue, but in other ways I blended in a little too much, so people couldn’t see that sometimes I had to try harder, or I would struggle to make up for my deafness.

My attitude now is to approach it with as much straightforwardness as possible, without letting myself undermine myself, as I have done in the past, which has sometimes unintentionally made things harder for me. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but don’t downplay it either, because while it’s not what defines me, it’s still pretty important to me. I’m naturally a pretty sarcastic person anyway, and never miss a chance to make a joke out of something (like the rest of my family!), so have always made fun of my disability to show people it’s not a sensitive issue. It’s not something which has hurt me exactly, but it means there are times when I need to face up to it and take it more seriously. As I get older I feel that I should be more careful about the way I treat my impairment –  I have never felt ‘disabled’ but there are times when I feel that I should be more aware of my health and limitations, especially as it will affect me as I get older.

One of the reasons I wrote this post was because I wanted to articulate how important it is for me – as a woman of colour, as a Muslim woman,  as a deaf woman – that these things do not limit us or stop us from being like everyone else, or doing our best. As a child I was very conscious of my disability because I was surrounded by it – fellow deaf students, support teachers who shadowed me, speech therapists, and even the equipments we had to use to aid our hearings, and it made it harder for me to make friends quickly, nor did I have a lot of confidence. But I will also say that this didn’t stop me in my achievements either – I continuously got the highest grades and awards for my years through most of high school, and left with the highest GCSEs and A Levels in my year because I was determined to not be held back.

I was recently asked to write a short presentation of my time at my secondary school by some old teachers, for parents as well as potential students who were deaf, to tell them about my time as a student and whether I found it difficult. I found myself looking back with fondness – yes there were hard times for me in that I didn’t always fit in (for more reasons than my deafness) and yes I didn’t see it at the time how my future could be – but I have come such a long way since then. I wrote about my job, where I help homeless people find homes and even though it can be thankless, it can also be rewarding. I wrote about being married to a wonderful man who has understood me better than anyone. And I wrote about my dreams which I have never given up on – wanted to write, my love for art and photography, and my forever romance with books.

These days I don’t feel like an outsider or a ‘disabled’ person with my family, husband or work colleagues because it feels easy to show what I can do – and I certainly believe this was sparked by the the years of sensitivity and hard work from my teachers as well as my family, who showed me that I can do anything I want to do, and while that being deaf is important, it isn’t a bad thing.

Shoreditch Honours #Grenfell

‘You heard it in the cries in the air howling for justice.’

I recently saw this beautiful tribute to the Grenfall victims in Shoreditch, London – a  mural which was a collaboration between writer Ben Okri and street artist Ben Eine, taken from the words of Okri’s poem about the Grenfell victims.

I thought this was a beautiful, moving piece, not intended to depress but make us stop, think, drawn in by bright colours and mull over the message. In a city like London where we are surrounded by art everywhere, noise, busy traffic, and overloaded with adverts and random messages – so it’s amazing to see something like this plastered over a huge wall demanding attention. The initial line grabs your attention, and whole poem is written in the corner of the wall to continue the message.

It’ has only been barely a month since the incident, but the Grenfell fire has rippled outwards in ways that we hadn’t imagined. I have read heart-breaking testimonies from the survivors, accounts from volunteers who went to help, and appeals from those with missing friends and families. Amongst it all has been many questions – how can this happen in our city? How can we stop this happening again? Are there still class divides in this city (the block was filled with immigrants, poor residents and the disadvantages)?

There has been a lot of furor in the news about who will be held accountable, whether there should have been more help offered to the survivors, and even whether the country’s leadership has done enough. I think this is something which I have thought about on a more personal level – in a city like London where we take it for granted that we live in safety, we must re-examine our priorities, and the fact that not everyone has the luxuries that we do. The mural is not just an expression of grief and anger, and a demand for justice, it’s also a request for awareness, for equality, and for a warning that this should not happen again.

“You saw it in the tears of those who survived”

Dominique Ansel Bakery – Home of the Novelty Baked Treats

I recently visited the famous Dominique Ansel bakery in London with a friend, which is famous for the Cronut, as well as a lot of other baked delicacies.  We got a little over-excited and ordered a bunch of treats, all of which we had fun tasting – the cookie shot (a cup made of cookie filled with milk), the peanut-butter creamy cake, the Frozen S’more (a marshmallow-ice cream combination), mini Madeleines fresh and hot from the oven and a yummy hot chocolate with a marshmallow flower which opened up from the heat of the drink.

As I’m sure you can imagine, we were stuffed after all of this, and had to walk around the streets to burn it off a little, but it was worth it! If you’re around the area, I’d recommend this place to sit and try (although it can get very busy so there may be some waiting time!), and it’s not super-cheap (although not overly-expensive either) – sometime to try at least once!

Luxurious Glamour at The Wallace Collection

A friend and I recently took a visit to the very beautiful Wallace Collection, which is a museum in the middle of London, in a luxurious town-house, displaying hundreds of French 18th-century painting, furniture and porcelain, as well as armoury and older paintings.

While it might make bring to mind  the slightly more touristy National Portrait Gallery, this Collection is a lot more visually appealing – the rooms are each beautifully displayed with grandeur aplenty, and there’s plenty of things to see.

I loved how all the rooms have their own character, with a separate vivid colour theme for each room so that the furniture, artwork and small trinkets all went together well. Each painting had something to look at, and the beautifully ornate furniture looked amazing – like something from of a historical period-film!

One of the things I also enjoyed was that the museum is relatively quiet – there’s plenty of time to walk around at your own pace, you get to explore the house (although you still can’t touch!), and best of all, you’re allowed to take photos (which a lot of other places don’t allow) – and entry is free too.

At the end of the tour, when you’re done, there’s a charming little restaurant outside to have some tea and relax. I didn’t manage to get a chance to visit the restaurant this time, but I will do the next time I come here to browse (and daydream about being a princess in 17th Century France).

If you’re around central London, I’d recommend a visit, whether it’s just ten minutes or a couple of hours, it’s a visual delight for anyone : )