Once Upon a Time…

…there was a girl who loved books. Honestly, the obsession started when her parents read to her. It was fascinating how those squiggly lines turned into words, and that those words painted pictures inside of her head. Pictures of distant lands and people that seemed so real. The moment she learnt how to read herself, she would go to the library to bring home stacks of books, devouring any tomes she could find.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda was her childhood hero – and later, Hermoine, for obvious reasons.

That little eight-year-old me would definitely high-five me if she saw where we ended up.

This blog sprung into my mind, because my 23rd birthday is coming up, and somehow I felt like I had accomplished nothing during my 22nd life-year. It’s easy to see those goals that you have yet to reach, and difficult to truly appreciate the ones you succeeded in reaching already. Almost imperceptibly, they flow by, not to be seen again unless we consciously look back.

So this is me looking back at a wonderful, difficult, amazing, hard year. It was a year in which I took a plane alone, for the first time. A year in which I met dozens of new people. I made new friends, and sadly, also lost a few. I graduated, then was rejected for multiple PhDs. Got a part time job, lost the part time job. Got accepted into a PhD programme – and started looking for ways to make it happen. I travelled to Oxford as academic visitor, and presented my first academic paper at an international conference. I played games, was bored, hung out with friends, felt alternatively discouraged and hopeful, and finally, I read.

And that little girl who would take home the biggest and longest books she could find would be proud. She would absolutely love it that I’m working on a career that incorporates our two favourite things: learning,* and stories. It’s not an easy path, it’s quite a challenge to be honest. People will look at you weird. They might not understand that you don’t want to become a dentist, lawyer, engineer, or cook. On the other hand there are those who embrace the weirdness and are lovely and supportive. They’re the keepers.

My reading habits have changed over the years. I’ve gone through phases where I exclusively read fantasy, or just non-fiction. Some desolate years of nothing at all. There were children’s books, young-adult books, adult books. Classics and contemporary works. Books in English and Dutch, and sometimes even German. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what sort of books they are. I just know that I am happiest when I read.

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(* You said doing homework was one of your hobbies. That got old very quickly.)

Upcoming: The Picture of Dorian Gray in Quotes and Nudes

In little under a month, this beautiful book baby will be born. It’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in Quotes and Nudes, edited by Isis Sousa, Clare Diston, and yours truly!

This project has been a long time in the making. The book combines our favourite quotes from Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, juxtaposed with gorgeous original artwork by Isis.

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I’ll share more cool tidbits about the book closer to the release date on the 24th of October. Until then, you can find out more about this book on Goodreads and on Tragic Books.

Anxiety, Loneliness, and Life Planning Revisited

I realise I’ve been very quiet the last few months, maybe the last half year. At first, it was because I was not doing well. It was too difficult for me to do anything beyond the necessary, and my online (creative) life was the first thing to go.

Since then I’ve been feeling better. Yay! The overwhelming lethargy has faded, the constant anxiety retreated to the background. Another piece of fantastic news is that I feel less lonely than I did before. I’m reaching out to people consciously, and their responses have been lovely. I am grateful for the awesome bunch of friends that I have, that make everything easier and more fun.

Why the return of my energy and excitement did not spell the return to my blogs and social media is something I have been thinking about. To be honest, I have not been feeling very much motivation to be on Twitter or blog constantly. Digging a little deeper, I think much of my online behaviour stemmed from loneliness. My online presence acted as a substitute for the companionship I was missing in “real” life. Now, I am more content with the social contacts I already have, and I don’t feel the need to search for more in the digital world.

Secondly, there has been another shift in my life. I’ll probably blog some more about this later and/or on Nyx Book Reviews. For years I had a clear idea who I was, who I wanted to be, and how to go about it. I was going to be an author, a writer of speculative fiction. I would graduate from university, and get a part-time job to pay the bills, and write.

I’ve graduated. But I have no inclination to write fiction.

To be very honest with you here, I feel out of touch with fiction books on a whole. I barely read them anymore, and when I do, they tend to leave me cold. This is a subject I would like to discuss in a separate post some day soon, because I find this quite interesting.

At first, that was disconcerting. If I wasn’t going to be an author now, what was I supposed to do with myself? Who would I be, without the SF/fantasy love? Without a book blog, Twitter parties, and readathons? Deciding what I want to do instead has been a journey, and one I still haven’t seen the end of. I’ve been following my interests, and am now pursuing a PhD position in line of my master’s thesis (in case you’re curious, it’s about penny dreadfuls and gender theory). I have always loved to learn, to discover, to think, and academic research ticks all those boxes in the best possible way.

Getting a PhD isn’t a very straightforward process, so I have been sending out emails, inquiring after possibilities, while working on strengthening my academic CV by rewriting my thesis into an article, and sending out paper proposals for conferences. It might take a while until I get a position, and in the meantime I’m tutoring high school kids to pay rent. It’s frustrating that now I know what I want to do, it might still take up to two years until I truly get to do it, but I’m trying not to get discouraged. I’ll get there eventually.

Movie Reviews: Four Weddings & a Funeral + Shame

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Can you believe I never saw this movie? It’s been on television countless times, yet it never interested me enough to actually give it a go. Enter one lazy summer afternoon, et voila: Hugh Grant time!

First of all, though the movie screams nineties, it has aged quite well. There are few references made to contemporary stuff, and lets face it, weddings haven’t really changed that much in the last few decades. Society’s obsession with pairing people off in marriage is still as strong as ever, and the plights of the main characters have not lost their relevance in 2016. The acting in Four Weddings is great, the plot structure a breath of fresh air, and the humour lends itself to a few chuckles. Overall I am still not a fan of romantic comedy, but for what it’s worth, I actually managed to finish this one without rolling my eyes and/or becoming bored.

Shame (2011)

Whatever I say about Shame, I probably won’t do it justice. It’s the sort of movie I don’t feel like I’m qualified for to critique, as I (A) barely watch movies and (B) probably only grasp the merest of surfaces what the director tries to convey. These caveats in place, behold my uneducated opinion.

Brandon suffers from an addiction to sex, which becomes increasingly hard to hide and satisfy as his sister, Sissy, comes to live with him. There were many elements in Shame that reminded me of American Psycho – though the movies are oppositional in tone. American Psycho revels in hyperbole, descending into gore and spiralling out of control. Shame is understated, the tension bubbling away underneath the surface. Yet, the main characters have an obsession in common, which they hide from their co-workers. They are socially isolated, engaging only in superficial contact. Visually, Brandon’s starkly minimalist apartment reminded me of Patrick’s – as did their love for music.

Shame is at its strongest when no one speaks. Luckily, in my opinion, there is very little dialogue. When characters do speak, I found it rather lacking. I can’t discern whether the banality and coarseness of the dialogue was intentional or not. In any case, it is the scenes where the actors speak without words are those which are more striking.

Ultimately, Shame didn’t succeed fully in engaging my sympathy for the main characters, and the emotional punch that the movie builds up to narrowly missed its intended mark.

Have you seen Four Weddings and a Funeral or Shame? What did you think?

If you enjoyed these reviews, check out my Letterboxd profile

Summer Blues

This sounds odd to many people, but summer is my least favourite time of the year. It’s not so much the weather – though I can’t handle heat well – but the boredom that gets me. In summer everything slows down. The academic year is over. Many people take time off to take a much needed break and go on holiday. I like summer for about two weeks, and then I’m ready for life to move on again.

I’m feeling the summer blues particularly now I’ve graduated. There is not much to look forward to for me after September starts. Nothing to prepare for. Except for sending out applications, there is barely anything for me to do. At first I thought this would be the perfect time for me to catch up on reading, but it seems as if I’m too restless still to really go for it.

So I’ve been searching for other occupations, discovering new things to keep me busy with. I’ve started gaming again (Civilization V, yo), picked up gardening (proud plant-mother of 7 here), and am watching more movies. I’ve also started playing more piano again (see the Youtube video below for one of my improvisations).

Summers always seem so quiet to me. Maybe it’s up to me to fill that silence.

On Silence and Stress

It has been over a month since I last blogged on Nyx Book Reviews. It has been over two since I last blogged on Irresponsible Cactus. One day I was here, and the next, I disappeared. Or at least, my digital presence did. I turned silent, and that silence has been pressing on me since.

I love blogging. I love reaching out with my words and my mind and to create a little slice of me that others can read and relate to. I love to entertain you, I love to interact on Twitter and meeting new people and chatting with the familiar ones. Blogging and writing have been a huge part of my life in the last six years and I would not have it any other way.

But the truth is, dear reader, that I can’t at the moment. And that makes me feel like a failure in some ways. Why can’t I just open that browser and put some words down? Even if I can’t do it every week, why not at least a few times a month? Why can’t I answer comments and post tweets, or, what weighs even more on me, answer the letters some lovely bookish friends sent me? I’ve done it before. I’ve done it for years. Why can’t I just do it now?

I can pinpoint some key moments where I started to realize that no, I was not well. I was not dealing with the stress. I was not handling it. I was not fine.

So I culled down on anything that wasn’t completely essential in my life and faced the issues that I had been suppressing, in some cases, for multiple years. Though I’m glad I did it, these last few months have been absolutely terrible. All energy I have goes into setting things right both in my mind and my life, and in trying to keep up with school. Even the smallest tasks beyond that are out of my reach. I’ve had days in which I just sat on the couch for six hours straight, doing nothing and feeling overwhelmed. Hell, I still can’t bring myself to do the dishes, even though it’s so easy and takes so little work but even that small household task feels like it’s too much. Everything takes energy, and I have none left.

On some days I feel better, and on some I slip backwards. I’ve made many changes, and one of the most important ones is that I no longer want to lie and pretend I’m doing just fine, thank you. People can’t help you if you’re not honest. I can’t help myself if I’m not honest.

So I’m here today, dear readers, to break through that silence I’ve maintained here and on my other blog. Though generally because I simply couldn’t write, it was also an embarrassed silence. It was easier to disappear than to give a reason why.

I’m here to tell you today that I’m not fine, and that’s okay.

I’m working on it.

Not Another List of New Year’s Resolutions

A belated Happy New Year from me to you lovely Cactus readers!

A new year means a clean slate. Somehow the transition from one day to the other, from December to January, makes us feel like we can start over. With that often come resolutions, goals to fulfil. Everything we wanted to do last year but didn’t, we promise ourselves will happen this year. Some people write extensive lists on blogs; some just set them in private; some figure out one core word that they want 2016 to be the year of. I see these posts and all of those lovely resolutions, and I find them admirable, but I never feel the need to set any myself.

Not because I don’t think there is anything to improve in my life. There most definitely is, but I don’t like how yearly resolutions work. I don’t like the arbitrariness of coming up with goals in the middle of a holiday period that are so easily forgotten when real life kicks in. I don’t like having to make all resolutions at once – overwhelming much? There is much I’d like to accomplish this year, but writing it all down would make me apprehensive rather than it providing any motivation.

So I won’t. Instead, I will wish all of you a happy and healthy 2016. May all your dreams come true, whether you turned them into resolutions or not.

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