Thoughts on… Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: Big Magic
Originally Published: September 22, 2015
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
ISBN: 9781408866740
Genre: self-help
Type: audiobook from Audible

It is a mystery to me how exactly I came across this book. Contrary to what might be naturally assumed, I have never read Eat, Pray, Love and had no exposure to Elizabeth Gilbert’s body of work prior to downloading the audiobook for Big Magic. I saw it come up on my recommendations on Audible a few times and in the back of my mind something told me I’d seen it before on somebody’s blog or website, maybe it was a reading list or a book review, I don’t know – but I had been aware of it subconsciously for several months without any intention of reading it. It wasn’t until I was getting desperate for an audiobook to get me through my longer office cleaning jobs that I decided to take a punt and buy it, safe in the knowledge I could return it if it didn’t interest me.

Having spent the first few years after leaving college telling myself that unless I was making money from my art, it was a waste of time and money to do it, it’s only been in the last 6 months that I’ve been gingerly trying to reawaken my creativity, gently nursing its wounded ego and trying to learn to just do it because I enjoy it, fighting against those familiar defeatist thoughts. To my delight, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses her views on creativity and her pledge to be a writer all her life because she loved the art, unconditionally, no pressure, and she encourages the same attitude in her book.

I listened to the audiobook twice, back to back. I loved so many of the things I read that I wrote them on a letter to an arty pen-pal of mine. I’ve taken photos of the quotes so I can share them with you lovely readers.


Quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Some reviewers baulk at Gilbert’s assertions that creative careers are not essential to the human race, not like practical jobs such as plumbing, dentistry, banking etc, because they feel it is an affront to their passionate pursuit of a creative career. It is important to recognise that the purpose of the book overall is to encourage everybody to pursue creativity regardless of whether it pays the bills. Gilbert believes that creativity is a fundamental part of every person and can have a place in their life, enriching their experience of living.


Quotes from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert explores some of the roadblocks that a person can put up when it comes to pursuing creativity like fear of failure, budget contraints and perfectionism. She includes quotes and anecdotes alongside her own experiences in her career as a writer and how she came to have the good fortune to quit her day job and do what she loves full-time. Meanwhile, she pragmatically acknowledges that hard work is no guarantee of success when it comes to pursuing a creative career, so it’s important to not measure one’s talent by how much revenue one’s creativity generates.


Quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert


Quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert


Quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book motivated me to start sharing my artwork online, I set up social media for that very purpose which I never would have had the courage to do until I read it. In the past, the fear of criticism (or worse, silence) prevented me from putting my work out there for the world to see, I felt like until my work was “better” it wasn’t ready to be shown to others. Big Magic made me take my art more seriously, encouraging me to invest more time in it, whilst at the same time helping me not take it seriously at all, thereby not putting so much stock in what other people think of it. Gilbert strongly argues that a lack of professional training such as a degree or apprenticeship doesn’t disqualify a person from creating and sharing their creativity, however not being on a formal course is not a legitimate barrier to education.


Quotes from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

In Big Magic, Gilbert shares some of her spiritual beliefs on ideas taking on a life of their own. She suggests that they are like living beings in their own right. I’m open to a bit of object empathy as a silly bit of fun, but I couldn’t tell if Gilbert was being serious or not. At times she insinuates that ideas are living entities looking for a host to inspire, a host who will do their bidding… that seems a little far-fetched to me. Personally, I simply believe there is no such thing as an original idea: we have all been influenced by what we have seen, heard, read… shaped by all our experiences, so as ‘spooky’ as it can feel sometimes when two people have the same thought, in my opinion it’s just one of life’s quirky coincidences.

As a bit of make-believe, Gilbert’s theory that ideas float around waiting to be realised is kind of sweet, but it has lead some reviewers to discredit her whole book. Regardless of whether she really believes in this or not, I didn’t feel like she was trying to make me believe in it, instead I got the impression Gilbert was trying to set the tone for the whole book, she didn’t write a guide on how to launch a creative career, a thesis on creativity or a spiritual guide – Big Magic is a book to entertain you, maybe to inspire you, but first of all it’s a book to start a conversation.


Quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert


Independent women in the 17th Century?


Published in 1615, the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is proving to be a surprising work. I’ve been listening to the audiobook for a couple of weeks now.

I was expecting old-worldly language and sentence structure that would have me ruminating for hours trying to decipher just what the author was trying to say, but it is turning out to be really easy to understand. That being said, I feel I must insert a disclaimer here: I’m reading an English translation so I realise my impression might be different if I were to read it in the original language it was written in (Spanish).

The story is a comical tale of an eccentric gentleman who is looking for adventures under the delusion of being a knight errand. So far, it has been entertaining and charming but also, I think, ahead of its time.

There is a speech in Part 1, chapter 14 made by a young woman which struck me as incredibly forthright, sensible and modern. I’m not a scholar on women’s rights but I do remember learning that women’s suffrage didn’t come on the scene until the late 19th century, so reading how the male author of Don Quixote wrote such a dignified speech for one of the female characters in his book was an encouraging surprise. It provided a little bit of evidence to something I have often suspected, that throughout history there have been thugs and there have been gentlemen, men who respected women and men who mistreated them. No doubt, this would have been true of women’s views of men, except of course society’s bias no doubt made it harder to be a woman than a man.

All that aside, have a read of this extract and let me know what you think:

On the summit of the rock… there appeared the shepherdess Marcela, so beautiful that her beauty exceeded its reputation. Those who had never till then beheld her gazed upon her in wonder and silence, and those who were accustomed to see her were not less amazed than those who had never seen her before.

But the instant Ambrosio saw her he addressed her with manifest indignation, “Art thou come by chance cruel basillisk of these mountains to see if in thy presence blood will flow from the wounds of this retched being thy cruelty has robbed of life? … Tell us quickly for what thou art come, or what it is thou wouldst have, for, as I know the thoughts of Chrysostom never failed to obey thee in life, I will make all these who call themselves his friends obey thee, though he be dead.”

“I come not, Ambrosia for any of the purposes thou hast named,”replied Marcela, “but to defend myself and to prove how unreasonable are all those who blame me for their sorrow and for Chrysostom’s death; and therefore I ask all of you that are here to give me your attention, for will not take much time or many words to bring the truth home to persons of sense.

Heaven has made me, so you say, beautiful, and so much so that in spite of yourselves my beauty leads you to love me; and for the love you show me you say, and even urge, that I am bound to love you. By that natural understanding which God has given me I know that everything beautiful attracts love, but I cannot see how, by reason of being loved, that which is loved for its beauty is bound to love that which loves it; besides, it may happen that the lover of that whichis beautiful may be ugly, and ugliness being detestable, it is very absurd to say, “I love thee because thou art beautiful, thou must love me though I be ugly.”

But supposing the beauty equal on both sides, it does not follow that the inclinations must be therefore alike, for it is not every beauty that excites love, some but pleasing the eye without winning the affection; and if every sort of beauty excited love and won the heart, the will would wander vaguely to and fro unable to make choice of any; for as there is an infinity of beautiful objects there must be an infinity of inclinations, and true love, I have heard it said, is indivisible, and must be voluntary and not compelled. If this be so, as I believe it to be, why do you desire me to bend my will by force, for no other reason but that you say you love me?

Nay—tell me—had Heaven made me ugly, as it has made me beautiful, could I with justice complain of you for not loving me? Moreover, you must remember that the beauty I possess was no choice of mine, for, be it what it may, Heaven of its bounty gave it me without my asking or choosing it; and as the viper, though it kills with it, does not deserve to be blamed for the poison it carries, as it is a gift of nature, neither do I deserve reproach for being beautiful; for beauty in a modest woman is like fire at a distance or a sharp sword; the one does not burn, the other does not cut, those who do not come too near.

Honour and virtue are the ornaments of the mind, without which the body, though it be so, has no right to pass for beautiful; but if modesty is one of the virtues that specially lend a grace and charm to mind and body, why should she who is loved for her beauty part with it to gratify one who for his pleasure alone strives with all his might and energy to rob her of it?

I was born free, and that I might live in freedom I chose the solitude of the fields; in the trees of the mountains I find society, the clear waters of the brooks are my mirrors, and to the trees and waters I make known my thoughts and charms.

I am a fire afar off, a sword laid aside. Those whom I have inspired with love by letting them see me, I have by words undeceived, and if their longings live on hope—and I have given none to Chrysostom or to any other—it cannot justly be said that the death of any is my doing, for it was rather his own obstinacy than my cruelty that killed him; and if it be made a charge against me that his wishes were honourable, and that therefore I was bound to yield to them, I answer that when on this very spot where now his grave is made he declared to me his purity of purpose, I told him that mine was to live in perpetual solitude, and that the earth alone should enjoy the fruits of my retirement and the spoils of my beauty; and if, after this open avowal, he chose to persist against hope and steer against the wind, what wonder is it that he should sink in the depths of his infatuation?

If I had encouraged him, I should be false; if I had gratified him, I should have acted against my own better resolution and purpose. He was persistent in spite of warning, he despaired without being hated.

Bethink you now if it be reasonable that his suffering should be laid to my charge. Let him who has been deceived complain, let him give way to despair whose encouraged hopes have proved vain, let him flatter himself whom I shall entice, let him boast whom I shall receive; but let not him call me cruel or homicide to whom I make no promise, upon whom I practise no deception, whom I neither entice nor receive.

It has not been so far the will of Heaven that I should love by fate, and to expect me to love by choice is idle.

Let this general declaration serve for each of my suitors on his own account, and let it be understood from this time forth that if anyone dies for me it is not of jealousy or misery he dies, for she who loves no one can give no cause for jealousy to any, and candour is not to be confounded with scorn.

Let him who calls me wild beast and basilisk, leave me alone as something noxious and evil; let him who calls me ungrateful, withhold his service; who calls me wayward, seek not my acquaintance; who calls me cruel, pursue me not; for this wild beast, this basilisk, this ungrateful, cruel, wayward being has no kind of desire to seek, serve, know, or follow them.

If Chrysostom’s impatience and violent passion killed him, why should my modest behaviour and circumspection be blamed? If I preserve my purity in the society of the trees, why should he who would have me preserve it among men, seek to rob me of it?

I have, as you know, wealth of my own, and I covet not that of others; my taste is for freedom, and I have no relish for constraint; I neither love nor hate anyone; I do not deceive this one or court that, or trifle with one or play with another.

The modest converse of the shepherd girls of these hamlets and the care of my goats are my recreations; my desires are bounded by these mountains, and if they ever wander hence it is to contemplate the beauty of the heavens, steps by which the soul travels to its primeval abode.”

With these words, and not waiting to hear a reply, she turned and passed into the thickest part of a wood that was hard by, leaving all who were there lost in admiration as much of her good sense as of her beauty.

Thoughts on… becoming a bookworm

Artist, music buff, portuguese, crafty, gypsy, hippie, weird, nice, gap-toothed etc etc…

Of the many boxes I’ve been metaphorically put into during my twenty four years on the planet, bookworm has not been one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked books, I love to visit old libraries and have a romantic attachment to bookcases, occasionally I’ve had phases of getting so immersed in a novel that I’m pretty much dead to the world, but a bookworm? My idea of a bookworm is the same as Merriam-Webster’s:


As much as I liked the idea of being that kind of person, I can’t in all honesty say I ever was.

My big brother is. Well, he is what you might like to call a booksnake, not a real term but if it is ever coined his photo will be pasted next to the definition. He always has at least one book to read on his person, wherever he goes, and he is not shy about taking it out and reading it when he loses interest in what is going on around him. On my wedding day, at the top table, after finishing his food, he sat for a long time reading a comic book. He’s not much of a group events person so to be honest I was just glad he came!

Anyway, I’m not about to become an introvert to the extent of my brother – at least not any time soon – but I have observed that in the last year or so I’ve caught the reading bug like never before. Or perhaps it was there all along, a dormant gene that is overactive in my brother.

The initial symptoms were innocuous. In summer 2015, a good friend lent me The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and I was gripped in the throws of a familiar bout of infatuation with a book – addicted to it and reading it at every opportunity, neglecting the majority of non-essential activities – but, of course, that book was part of a trilogy, so the affair was repeated with Catching Fire and Mockingjay causing my near-reclusive behaviour to be extended over almost a month.

My husband was extremely tolerant, he never complained, but when I guiltily remarked on how antisocially I was behaving he tittered and resumed whatever he was doing – I understood his lack of objection as affirmation that this indeed bothered him a bit but not enough to make an issue over. However, I was enjoying my little world so much that I took this as consent to carry on as I was, until the trilogy ended that is.

Some months passed while I borrowed and read mostly non-fiction self-help books while I worked on overcoming various issues with dieting, comfort eating and self-esteem. Apart from a few travel books the only fun book I tried to read was The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson which I got from the local library in June 2015, I dipped in and out of it, renewing it repeatedly until January 2016 when I gave up and took it back.

To the untrained eye, it would seem that any bookworm potential in me had dried up, but my affair with The Hunger Games was very much alive in my mind, that trilogy introduced me to the dystopia genre which gripped and thrilled my imagination in a way I hadn’t experienced for several years, so I was very much open to another book-love affair – it just had to be with the right one.

I read 1984 by George Orwell which I enjoyed even though it was a little hard going at times but I felt like it initiated me more fully into dystopia. Sadly, though, another dry spell of reading followed. I’d never made a reading list and I wasn’t aware of apps like Goodreads so it was usually a recommendation or pure chance that caused me to stumble upon the next read.

In April 2016 I remembered a conversation I’d had with a good friend who had made it her aim to become acquainted with the classics in literature. This memory along with an inactive social life and a strong inclination to isolate myself prompted me to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I’d loved the TV adaptation I’d watched so it seemed like a good bet that I might like the book. Imagine my delight when I realised it was brilliantly written and not very hard to read! I was grateful to have the eBook version since it allowed me to look up definitions of words instantly, but the plot was so well paced that I didn’t mind having to look up some of the words.

While I was still reading Jane Eyre the reading bug spread and I started to compile a reading list. Suddenly, committing to reading a book without being absolutely sure I’d enjoy it didn’t seem like such a big deal – I just wanted more and more to read. I was beginning to relish in the entire experience of reading, retreating into a world of my imagination, feeding my mind with ideas and thoughts, training myself to stick to a book for several chapters irrespective of how “hooked” I was to begin with.

I thought hard of recommendations I’d received in the past, even ones I’d not been sure of at the time – I was longing for more reading material, finding much more fulfilment in wasting away 3 hours with my nose in a book (or iPad, I borrow a lot of eBooks from my library’s website) than wasting away the same amount of time mindlessly watching a movie or TV show.

Unlike moving pictures, reading thoroughly entertains me. When watching something (unless it is something I really want to see) I find myself in a concurrent state of boredom and amusement – it is easy so I keep doing it but I find myself looking for other things to do at the same time, usually I end up snacking mindlessly. With reading, I’m fully captivated.

Is it just me? Or are other people likewise simultaneously bored and entertained by TV and movies? I don’t mean to say all TV and movies, sometimes I really fancy watching something and then when I watch it I really enjoy it and it gets my full attention, but when I’m just watching something to pass the time, it rarely captures me like reading is able to.

So, friends, I think this is it, if there is a bookworm virus, I’ve caught it. If there is a bookworm gene, mine is active and replicating.

Everything I’ve read since May 2016 to July 2016 (the last 2 to 3 months)

Paperbacks and eBooks

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Maze Runner 
by James Dashner
They Eat Horses Don’t They? by Piu Marie Eatwell (unfinished)
The Death Cure by James Dashner
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Four by Veronica Roth
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Breathe by Sarah Crossan
Resist by Sarah Crossan
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Ryan Stradal (unfinished)
Room by Emma Donoghue
Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hillary
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka


Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
The Year of Living Danishly 
by Helen Russell
Making it Up as I Go Along by Marian Keyes
11.22.63 by Stephen King

Currently reading:
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

Currently listening to:
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Maybe I need to calm down a little bit…

The Psychological Benefits of Writing Regularly

Recently received a link to this great article through Pocket, an app which collects great articles from around the web. As somebody who carries a lot of brain static around with her but often doesn’t use writing as her first response to cope with it, this article gave me plenty of reasons to put pen to paper even without the intention of ever publishing or sharing what I write. Writing doesn’t have to have any greater purpose than clearing brain static, that in itself is a worthy reason to make time to write.

Sunday walks and homemade Wild Blueberry ice-Cream

What a glorious way to spend The Summer’s Day… A proper noun on account of it being a yearly event rather than a season in the UK. I exaggerate of course, but if you have ever lived in England, you’ll know how hit-and-miss our seasons tend to be, making themselves subject to constant derision and scorn. The British do talk about the weather a lot, but the reality is, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the weather, you can literally have the weather of four seasons in just one day.

Anyway, enough complaining, today is gorgeous and I’m going to gush about it. It’s hot, it’s sunny, the wind is very mild, I walked around in my Crocs sandals without a jacket or a scarf and feel like Remi and I have already made the most of the good weather. We drove half an hour out of town to visit a quaint little village with a main street monopolised entirely by independent businesses. Among these was a homemade ice cream shop which boasted flavours such as Morello Cherry, Wild Blueberry, Lemon Cheesecake, Earl Grey and Prunes, and… this one was a shock – Marmite flavour! Can you believe it? As I sit here I realise I ought to have asked to try it, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time. I was torn between Morello Cherry and Wild Blueberry so the shop girl offered to let me taste both! How kind.

We walked in the woods and talked about travelling, maybe moving to live in a beautiful place one day, the paths were framed by trees and huge rhododendron hedges  – it was sweet and romantic. We hope to do more of this sort of adventuring at the weekends, to slow the pace from the relentless demands of life and recharge. And flowers, ah, I forget how much I love flowers sometimes, that is until I stumble across sights like these and find my chest rise as I’m filled with a mixture of excitement and awe – the best things in life truly are free.


My fling with Audible – are we ready to commit?

image_1059978721My first fling with audiobooks was fast, furious and short-lived.

In the grip of my disordered eating behaviours, I was desperate for some guidance and
hoped that a free trial of Audible would grant me access to the intuitive eating bible that is Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that the audiobook was not available for the UK. True, I could have ordered a hard copy but that Adobe Photoshop PDFwould have meant being seen with it, so I settled for Michelle May’s Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat insteadAs it turned out, Dr May was probably better for me than would have been Ms Tribole’s approach, with her list of 10 intuitive eating principles and other mantras that I’d already devoured from her disciples’ blog posts. Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat was a jolly helpful audiobook which I have listened to more than twice, alongside physically reading several self-help books on eating disorders. Fun times. But seriously, despite the touchy topic of the book, I was impressed by the narration and how easy it was to listen to and concentrate on an audiobook.

After a while, I wanted to focus less on my “problem” and get back to more recreational reading/listening material. I listened to One Day by David Nicholls – it was alright, but I like the film adaptation more. My next choice was The Girl on the
by Paula Hawkins, a bestseller at the time which was heavily advertised on Spotify; so after several weeks of interrupted playlists, I was left with a cleverly imprinted bit of marketing in my subconscious. Obediently, I downloaded it. Listening to The Girl on the Train helped motivate me to go out for long walks during that gloomy, English winter, something for I which I am grateful because I was going through a period of extremely low mood, but on account of that gloomy state of mind, I found myself sympathising a little too much with the depressive protagonists… My empathy gave me imaginary, like-minded friends but left me as hopeless as ever.


Unable to find another audiobook that caught my attention, my hopes for a lifetime of adventures were dashed, I cancelled my subscription, and at least from my point of view, it was the end of my relationship with Audible and all other audiobook-kind.

I returned to my local library and strengthened my ties with my membership card, I was introduced to the her website and the world of eBooks that came with it, quite “over” my fling with Audible and pretty sure he was, likewise, done with me. Audible, however, didn’t agree, he thought we were just on a break. I didn’t hear from him for several months, then I was seduced with a deal of 3 months for £1.99 – a sucker for all things reduced and discounted, I simply could not refuse.

Since then, I’ve come across some excellent reads… or listens… what am I supposed to call them? At many of my cleaning jobs, I plug myself into my Windows phone and use the Audible app to transport myself far away from the work, almost forgetting how much I dislike it. Sometimes I have had to return audiobooks because I couldn’t get into them or they swore too much for my tolerance, but Audible understood, he didn’t interrogate me, he just took the audiobook out of my library and refunded me with a credit to spend at my leisure. I abused the freedom a bit, I must admit, and my returns are no longer being accepted, I’m being chastised, and I deserve it. Besides that, I’m really enjoying the experience. The website is easy to browse, my place in the audiobook gets synced between my iPad and my phone, the narration is quality and a “Finished” banner goes across the thumbnail of the book on the app which is highly satisfying.

But is this relationship sustainable? Can it last? Self-employed, working part-time and volunteering part-time, can I really afford to spend an extra £7.99 a month on a new audiobook? Won’t I have months where I’d prefer an ads-free subscription to Spotify? Or some data for my iPad? Or a gorgeous new nail polish? Or a fancy candle? The life I lead is simple, by choice, so I try to choose my luxuries carefully, and as much as Audible has shown me that he does, in fact, thrill and excite me, I just don’t know if I can commit for the long-haul. Let me say it for you, ain’t first world problems a pain in the Prada?

Have you tried audiobooks? What did you think? Also, do you know of anywhere to get reasonably-priced audiobooks? 

“Living Danishly” in my head & other stories

Today has been a reasonable sample of what a really busy day at work is like for me, and as such, I thought it worth describing in some detail along with the storm of emotions it is prone to building inside me.

The backdrop to today is positive. It was a hot day in May, the wind was strong but it was comfortably t-shirt weather still for which I am extremely grateful. Just a week ago, when a friend of mine commented on the positive turn the weather seemed to be taking I incredulously retorted, “Ha – don’t speak too soon”, but happily, I have been proven wrong daily ever since, it turns out that we are having a spell of summer this year.

I started the day with a hearty breakfast, a little too hearty perhaps – my tummy was a little overstretched – whilst digging into another chapter of The Maze Runner. I enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy and, if TMR is as far from the film adaptation as THG is, there’s a high likelihood that I’ll enjoy the books. So far, James Dashner’s plot has whetted my curiosity enough to keep me reading, but I’m not yet gripped by his writing style. Admittedly, I did have to force myself to put it down for fear of making myself late for work this morning, but I don’t look forward to my job in the first place. The majority of my secular work is cleaning, partly domestic and partly commercial so for all intents and purposes I tell people that is what I do for a living when they ask. I had run out of a couple of chemicals so I quickly nipped into Home Bargains at around 9:30 before my first cleaning job. My husband, whom we shall call Remi (after the real name of Hergé, the cartoonist who created Tin Tin, on account of my hubby’s hair being fashioned much like Hergé’s Tin Tin), has come down with a cold so I picked up some supplies for him as well.

My first clean today was at an elderly widow’s house whom I have known since I was about 16 years old. Rose is one of the most positive and upbeat people I know, every time I go to her house I come away feeling better. She insists on paying me to spend an hour once a fortnight vacuum cleaning her bungalow and doing a few other cleaning tasks, but I would gladly do it for free just for the satisfaction of helping her out. She has difficulty walking without a stick, besides other health problems, but she refuses to dwell on her limitations. She always greets me with a kind, broad smile and welcomes me into her home with a hug and a kiss. Recently we have taken to my bringing my iPad and showing her some videos of talks and discourses which I’ve downloaded in advance, she laps up the knowledge with delight and has even built up enough confidence to poke the screen a bit in an effort to navigate it by herself. I left Rose’s feeling warm and relaxed, Maybe today isn’t going to be so bad after all, I thought.

The next client is one I was not looking forward to, however, on account of our difficulty in communicating as well as her idiosyncrasies which drive me up the wall. Asmi is a stay-at-home mum whose kids are at school for most of the day, and to this day I do not know why she needs me to work at her house. I try to put her off, refusing to go on any day other than Mondays which means that sometimes a whole month passes by until she has a free Monday, but she persists in contacting me until I acquiesce.

The way I work best is to be clearly told what is expected of me and in how much time, the client needs to make it clear what is the highest priority and then leave me to get on with it while they go and do something else. Ideally I like to be left in the house by myself, but I don’t mind other people being around, provided that we avoid getting in each other’s way as much as possible. At Asmi’s house, it is rare that any of these preferences are met.

“So, what is there to do today? Toilets and vacuuming as usual?” I asked on entering.

Asmi smiled, “Yes, and keetchen as well. Also mopping.” she added in her broken English.

“Alright. I’ll start in the downstairs toilet.” I announced, she nodded and I got to work. Soon I was finished and, after telling Asmi, I went upstairs to deal with the bathroom and the thick, dry limescale. I may not be the quickest cleaner in the world, and I may not enjoy it, but when I am cleaning I like to do it thoroughly and to the best of my ability within a reasonable amount of time. The upstairs bathroom had been neglected (probably since my last visit) so I reckon it took longer than usual. Once finished, I went back downstairs to pick up the vacuum cleaner. Asmi reappeared.

“I’m just going to vacuum the floor upstairs – ” I started.

“Keetchen pleasse.” Asmi interrupted, pointing to the kitchen.

“Okay. You want me to do the kitchen? Now?” I asked, slightly annoyed at being stopped before completing the previous task.

“Yes.” She said firmly.

“Alright.” I sighed. Putting the vacuum cleaner down, I picked out my equipment for the kitchen. The hob was thick with burned and dried ghee, the sink dull with limescale. Determined to have it all clean, shining, and as close to new-looking as possible, I doused it with bleach and set to work scrubbing, spraying, rinsing and scrubbing some more. Asmi  wandered back and forth moving all the appliances and clutter from the worktops onto the dining table. I disliked the proximity but it wasn’t intolerable, that is, until she was finished and decided to stand a couple of feet away, just watching me.

“Here please.” She said pointing to the windowsill.

“Okay. I will.” I clipped. I hadn’t finished the sink.

“Are you working?” she asked.

I frowned. Was this some sort of sarcastic remark on how long it was taking to sort out her disgrace of a sink? I couldn’t even hide my indignation. I stopped scrubbing and turned to look at her.

“What?” I asked evenly, frowning.

“No, no, I mean. You are doing some different work?” she rephrased, suddenly realising what her previous question sounded like.

“Er, yes, I have cleaning work all day today, until 8pm tonight” I went back to my scrubbing. She wasn’t satisfied.

“But you are doing some new job?” she tried again. I don’t know what prompted this, perhaps the fact I’ve been so elusive lately.

“I have three jobs.” I said, coolly. “Cleaning, interpreting and photography.”

“Ohh!” she remarked, eyebrows raising, she seemed impressed. “So… you do cleaning, maybe 3 days in week?”

“Not necessarily. I’m cleaning all day today, and cleaning is the most regular of the three, but it depends when people want it. Interpreting depends on when people want it and the photography we do is seasonal. With cleaning, I have regular work, people have me every week or every two weeks.” I explained, not stopping my vigorous cleaning. She continued to smile, evidently reassessing me.

Once the sink was sparkling, I started back at one end of the kitchen worktop aiming to work my way around the whole kitchen.

“Okay, upstairs mopping now.” she piped.

“What? Now?” I asked, baffled.

“Yes. I finish this.” she confirmed.

“Right, okay, whatever.” I sighed. She hit a nerve, reminding me of why I had nearly always come away from her house grumbling under my breath.

Obediently, I went back upstairs with the vacuum cleaner, cleaned up and mopped and worked my way down the stairs and into the downstairs rooms until I was at the entrance. Meanwhile, Asmi watched, sometimes crossing her arms, sometimes sitting down on the sofa, whilst I purposely avoided eye contact with her for fear of my gaze petrifying Asmi on the spot.

I finished, she paid me, and I left, vowing that as soon as I can permanently jack some cleaning work in, Asmi will be the first to go.

Domestic and commercial cleaner. There’s a stigma attached to that job description, and the reaction to it is usually a thinly veiled cocktail of disappointment, disregard and a subsequent underestimation of my education and intelligence. The fact that I am self-employed and thereby able to set myself what most would agree is a “very good wage”, that I can pretty much choose my work days and hours, and that I can afford to work less hours than I ever did in any of my previous jobs (this includes working in a mortgage broker’s office and as a sales advisor for an international brand) is besides the point to certain individuals. In fairness, I only spell this out to people who ask me why I don’t do something ‘more’ with my life, like spend it working more hours for less pay for the sake of a more socially respected job title (of course, they don’t word it quite as bluntly as that.)

My third clean was at the home of a new client, Zakia. After several phone conversations and texts I finally caved and agreed to come for a one-off job since she was so “stuck”. A friend of mine whom we shall call Roxanne went to this lady’s house some months ago to clean for her but it didn’t go well. Roxanne had told me a frightening tale of how the woman had shouted at her, followed her around and even banned her from answering her phone; she never went back. This account of events left me with a very bad impression of Zakia and I was put off ever going to her house myself. On the phone, Zakia complained that Roxanne was slow, too young for the work, and her fee was overpriced, even though she charged the same as me. On account of her persistence and my concern that she might dissuade one of my regular clients from continuing to employ my services, I chose to consent to help Zakia clean as a ‘One Night Only’ appearance.

Still stressed from my morning with Asmi, I arrived at Zakia’s house sporting a rather forced grin. Zakia, for her part, made no effort to put me at ease, her demeanour was almost cautious, almost mistrustful. Having nothing to lose, I carried my equipment in, put it on the kitchen floor and without small talk asked, “So, what do you want me to do?” She told me she wanted the oven cleaning and the kitchen seen to. “The oven? Let me look at it. I might need a different product.” She told me she had lots of products that would be suitable, opening a cupboard she pointed out kitchen cleaners by many popular brands. “No.” I said determinedly. “It has to be a proper oven cleaner. I have some at home. I’ll go and get it, otherwise it will take me ages to clean that oven.” She hesitated to agree but I wasn’t taking no for an answer, I reassured her that I didn’t live very far and would be back within 10 minutes, which I was.

I worked ferociously, wanting to get the job done as quickly as possible, hanging on the last straw of my tolerance for domestic cleaning. This impressed Zakia, she saw it as a mark of intense, meticulous work. She began to soften, smiling even, commending my work, leaving me unsupervised in the kitchen while she went to do other jobs around the house, she even offered me a cup of tea which I refused but, as a result, I began to relax and ease up. Before I knew it, she was re-heating a samosa for me, pouring on some homemade dip, and she pulling up a chair for me, I ate with gusto. When I was done, she gave me a few more tasks until I said I simply had to go home because of my next job. She paid me and we parted ways, amicable and, on my part, with a transformed first impression.

On three weekdays, or rather, week-evenings, I have a commercial clean at a farm office in a nearby village. At 17:00-20:00 tonight that’s where I was, listening to the audiobook  A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. In it, she described the equality experienced by the Danes. The way their country is set up discourages class-distinction, she remarked on how daily life is established in such a way that it is commonplace for CEOs to belong to the same clubs as cleaners and supermarket staff; people simplify their lives so they can work less and spend more time with their families; and the Danes rank #1 in numerous polls on happiness. Like any country, it has its down sides, but I couldn’t help but think how cleaning would be more enjoyable in Denmark, and also that Danish clientèle would be less likely to prejudge me or my reasons for being in this line of work. That said, they were described as such tidy, minimalist people that I probably wouldn’t find much work.

Sometimes the condescension gets to me, I start finding it harder to focus on the perks, namely all of the freedoms I get with being self-employed, I get hung up on how I find cleaning boring and repetitive, and I start to make myself hate it. At those times I’m more sensitive to the way people look at me and the way they speak to me, but it only takes voicing this to my husband, my mum, my brother or my in-laws and they soon set me straight, reminding me of how little the opinions of strangers matter. My family love me for who I am, what I can do, and what I do do for others, and at the end of the day, it’s their opinions of me that carry the most weight.

Dieting, Binging and Recovery: Don’t Let It Define Your Life

It was around this time last year that I had my biggest “fall off the bandwagon”. After 4 months of fastidious calorie counting, meticulously researched and documented workouts, progress photos and weekly weigh-ins I had reached my “goal weight”, but was still discontent. I decided that the solution was to shed another 5-10lbs, meaning more restraint, planning and penance, but my body was done with deprivation – the more I tried to cut back, the more I thought about food (particularly banned food), I craved it and obsessed about it.

The following 4 months were a self-destructive plunge into binge-eating, made worse every time I resolved to get back onto the proverbial bandwagon. The weight crept on, slowly at first, then faster, until I was back at my “starting weight”, but with a more messed up relationship with food, crushed self-esteem and the most depressive mindset I have ever been in, I even got the point of going to my GP about how I was feeling – an embarrassing visit in which the mere attempt at asking for professional help had me bawling like a baby in front of a total stranger.

Soon my research into “how to stop cravings” turned into “how to stop binging” which introduced me to the “anti-diet” and “healthy at every size” movements sprinkled across the internet and self-help bookshelves. I started a blog documenting my journey from binge-eater to intuitive eater, from chronic-dieter to anti-dieter, hoping that this would give me the support I needed from people going through a similar journey as well as help others who one day might benefit from a day-to-day, week-to-week account of how I succeeded in overcoming binge-eating and learned to love my body as it is by improving my self-esteem. I saw myself as a future success story, a mindful eating guru in the making, in a matter of months I’d be a mindful eating, Pilates doing, wisdom oozing fashionista. At first, this delusion was super helpful, the support on WordPress was amazing, and on some weeks all that stopped me from starting a new diet was knowing that I was accountable to my followers. Eventually, however, it became increasingly clear that I had traded my weight loss obsession for a intuitive eating obsession so I had to cut myself off from the constant researching on how to stop binging and just get on with living.

The more I focused on my “food problem” the more it came to define me. It became clear that one of the most important parts of overcoming my obsession with food and dieting was to stop thinking about it all day, I had to rediscover myself, my interests and hobbies, heal the girl I started to chip away at when I went on my first diet some 9 years ago and who was subsequently all but totally destroyed in the intense 2015 4-month Last Diet Of My Life. So I turned my back on WordPress, unsubscribed to the blogs on strength training and ED recovery, stopped checking the sites of anti-diet coaches, stopped reading books on binge-eating and started living my life. Ironically, it’s thanks to my blog that I realised I needed to unplug and invest more time in helping others, drawing, painting, listening to music, dancing, reading and restoring my fragmented personality.

Today I am still a work in progress, I probably overeat a few times a month, occasionally I have a week where I never experience true hunger, but the secretive binges and the day-long snack attacks are so rare that I can’t remember the last time I had one. I’m sensitive to the media and to diet-talk, I have to force myself to not compare my body to other women’s, to not judge myself based on my appearance, some months I have to re-listen to audiobooks like Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat because I have been on the brink of starting a new diet and need another reminder of why diets don’t work. I’ve even had to cut back on TV shows which have more footage of super-slim, fit and gorgeous women than I can handle, I’m becoming increasingly familiar with my triggers and limitations and learning to accept and work around them.

On the positive side, I’ve fallen back in love with reading and art, I do both on a weekly if not daily basis. My hubby and I go trail biking a few times a month which we both love, and I’ve found out that I really do enjoy strength training (still working out how to incorporate it into my schedule regularly though). The urge to track, calculate and measure is so reduced that the mere thought of it usually exhausts me. Happily, I no longer define myself as an exerciser or healthy eater, I’m once again an arty, crafty girl with a loving family, a few good friends and, mostly, a positive outlook.

Those are my two cents.