I’m Tired Of Waking Up To A World On Fire

You know those pictures of cute little raccoons in big fluffy blankets? I feel like that raccoon.

So small, in a world so large.

Only the blanket is on fire and I am in a state of paralyzed distress.

There we go.

I’m finding it hard to write these days. Well, that’s not true, it’s more accurate to say “this year”. I’d been blaming it on personal issues in life, but I no longer think they’re the culprits alone. Yes, work has been hectic, with enough change and uncertainty to make even the most risk-seeking individual take pause. Yes, this means my mental fortitude is shakier than a game of Jenga played by black-out drunks during an earthquake.

But, it definitely doesn’t help that every day I wake up to some new awful thing happening in the world and go to sleep with the same grim outlook.

I’ve been trying to avoid the news, but it feels inescapable. Since the beginning of this year, it looks like we’ve gone from one terrible “once-in-a-lifetime” situation to a few terrible “hmm-maybe-it’ll-actually-be-twice-in-yours” situations. We started off well, with outright war breaking out at only a stone’s throw away. Just when I finally stopped being anxious about that (tuck those thoughts away, lock them up, then swallow the key), and then BAM, hits the news that we’re headed towards the next big recession.

Even if you rarely leave your house, all you have to do is go to the grocery store – previously what I considered a “comfort” activity during Covid lockdowns – to be hit in the face with how bad inflation is. Don’t worry, you will definitely convince yourself this is somehow a you problem, for not budgeting for the inevitable consequences of global instability.

Pair all of that with the difficulties that come with reintegrating into “normality”. Question: was the world always this fast-paced? I don’t want to go places or do things. Beyond the fact that everything’s become exorbitantly expensive, it’s tiring to meet with people and go to the office and do and do and keep on doing. I don’t want to do anymore. Existing is a challenge in its own right, and I was barely succeeding at that.

When I do choose to scroll on my phone aimlessly or engage in any other “mindless” activity to shut off my brain for a little while, I start feeling guilty for not doing. With so many potential problems creeping up on the horizon, it feels selfish to not do anything at all.

But, if I choose to be productive instead, my brain’s firing on all cylinders, with those same problems gnawing at the back of my mind, like a hamster trying to get out of its cage. Plus, am I then not just playing into the late-stage capitalist mindset that I should measure my worth by my productivity? The Catch-22 comes when I start debating with myself that if I don’t work towards making something or working on myself or exploring potential business opportunities, then how will I get through a short-term future of hyperinflation and shortages and and and… Oh, the cognitive dissonance.

Top all of these thoughts off with the knowledge that in the last days, I now know everyone and their goat’s stance on female reproductive rights – and I’m officially exhausted. Always nice to be reminded that a not-insignificant portion of the population doesn’t believe you should have rights over your own body. Plus, now I finally know what Airbnb’s stance is on abortion!

Even LinkedIn’s become an even bigger cesspool of unwanted opinions. A week ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which of my colleagues – past and present – see women as autonomous beings, and which see us as breeding fodder. How things change in a week’s time. Of course, I’m probably expected to keep this information stored deep in my psyche, never to bring it up in person. I wouldn’t want to come across as unprofessional, even though people are choosing to share their dehumanizing views on female reproduction rights on a professional social network.

All this to say that I don’t know how to not be overwhelmed. It’s a lot. It’s a lot that feels like a lot and I need it to be less.

I am but a sad little raccoon, paralyzed under a big, fluffy, burning blanket, trying to find solace in the fact that at least I’ll be warm at night.

Like what you see? I usually post less dystopian blogs where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

The Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour

Looking for English books in Amsterdam? You’ve come to the right place. As someone who loves 1) books, 2) a bargain, and 3) giving unsolicited advice, I’ve combined all three, and put together the Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book tour.

What is this Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour? The Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour (DAEBB, for short) includes a selection of the best English bookstores in Amsterdam. What makes them the best? The places that made this list each offer a different type of book, with a different environment, varying price points, and are all within a short radius of each other in the center – for ease of access. Plus, I’ve highlighted pit stops on the way so that you can keep up your caffeine and sugar levels in between.

What makes this book tour “definitive”? Easy: it’s got everything you’d ever need in a walking book tour:

  • Walkable
  • Picturesque
  • With various price points, putting the most affordable reads first
  • Much-needed pastry breaks

Here is the route to take if you want to get as many English books as possible, accompanied by well-timed snack breaks along the way.

Starting secondhand: The Book Exchange – Used English Books

The Book Exchange – Used English Books, Kloveniersburgwal 58

The Book Exchange – Used English Books is the perfect starting point to your book tour for several reasons:

  1. You can unload your old books, trading them in for cash or store credit. They don’t take in all English books, as it depends on if they think it will sell. But, you can always head to their site, where you can send them a picture of the book spines, where they’ll tell you in advance which ones they’ll take in.
  2. It’s got the largest selection of secondhand English books on the European continent. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a popular title or something more obscure – they’ll have options for both.
  3. Out of all of the stores in this tour, this one is the cheapest. You can satisfy that book-buying urge with little financial guilt, from the get-go.

The space itself is a book-lovers dream, with three floors and a basement filled top-to-bottom with titles of all kinds. You could spend hours rummaging around, enveloped by the smell of well-worn books. As should be a requirement in any good secondhand bookstore, the staff are characters in their own right and know their stuff.

Oh, and if you’re a sci-fi or fantasy buff, head straight to the basement. Their sci-fi and fantasy selection is incredible – from the usual big names to obscure, D-list titles, with amazingly cheesy covers.

Indepent bookstore for activists of all types: Fort van Sjakoo

Fort van Sjakoo, Jodenbreestraat 24

Exiting The Book Exchange, you’ll head straight on to Waterloopplein, where you’ll find the independent bookstore, Fort van Sjakoo.

Here, there’s a different kind of book selection, available mainly in English and Dutch. The titles sold at Fort van Sjakoo are more political and radical than what you’ll find at your average bookstore. Now legitimized, this store has its roots as an unofficial bookstore in a squatted building. You’ll find titles about climate action, anti-racism, communism, anti-fascism, and everything in between.

If you’re trying to steer away from mainstream literature and towards more critical political ideology, it’s worth a visit.

For the ones looking for that diamond in the rough: Oudemanhuispoort

Oudemanhuispoort, Oudemanhuispoort

Leaving Fort van Sjakoo behind, we’re retracing our steps, crossing familiar canals, and going back towards the center, through the Oudemanhuispoort passage.

Cheap, second-hand books have been sold at stalls of Oudemanhuispoort – now owned by the University of Amsterdam – since the 18th century. Van Gogh himself used to frequent these booths, having documented his purchases at the time.

Nowadays, you can find a selection of books in English, Dutch, and occasionally other languages. While less curated and organized than the other options on the list, for those with enough patience, it’s worth perusing the selection available. For those without, you should at least walk through and experience a bit of Amsterdam’s history.

Snack break: De Laatste Kruimel

De Laatste Kruimel, Langebrugsteeg 4

Time for a snack break.

On your way to the next stop, there will be a bakery called De Laatste Kruimel, tempting you with baked goods in the window. Do not resist the temptation and go in.

Doesn’t matter if you’re more into sweet or savory, there’s something for everyone: scones, quiches, cakes, pies, and croissants. Grab whatever it is you’re craving, get a coffee, and get ready to head to the next stop.

Cheap, popular titles: New English Bookstore

New English Bookstore, Kalverstraat 223

The New English Bookstore won’t be the most exciting or unique when it comes to its charm or selection, but it is reliable and well-priced. Consider it the Subway of bookstores – nothing to write home about, but you know what you’re getting each time, and there are way worse options.

This store’s specialty is cheap classics and popular books – think around the 5-11 euro range for your Orwells or Austens. It’s nothing too fancy, but a good place to stock up on the basics before you move on to the next store.

More secondhand books: Boekhandel De Slegte

De Slegte, Vijzelstraat 53

A secondhand bookstore that has good options for the Dutchies, too.

I’d skip their English fiction section. Most of what they have on offer, you’ll find at the other stores on this list. Instead, if you’re interested in a specific genre (i.e. history, business, psychology, etc.), you’ll find some gems in English interspersed among the Dutch titles.

Their art, fashion, and design books are the best of the bunch. If you’re looking for a good deal on the usually prohibitively-priced coffee-table books, you’ll find them here. Personal anecdote time: only last week, I bought a great foundational art book that’s been out of print for years, going for 120+ euros online, for only 30 in-store.

Time for a cheeky cocktail with a view: Blue Amsterdam

Blue Amsterdam, Winkelcentrum Kalverpassage, Singel 457

Your feet might be a bit sore at this point, and your bags are probably heavier than when you started, so it’s time to sit down and enjoy a drink at Blue Amsterdam.

If you walk up the busy Kalverstraaat – the shopping street of Amsterdam – and into the Kalverpassage mall, take the elevator all the way to the top, and you’ll be at Blue. They’ve got an assortment of bites to eat if you’re feeling peckish, and some cocktails too, if you’re feeling cheeky. Most importantly, they’ve got a panoramic view of the city that’s all yours to enjoy.

So sit down, have a drink, and enjoy the view, before moving on to the next one.

Ol’ Faithful: The American Book Center

The American Book Center, Spui 12

At this point, you’d think you’ve seen everything there is to see, but that’s where you’d be wrong. If there’s a bookstore in Amsterdam that has that one trendy book that you haven’t been able to find anywhere, it’ll be at the American Book Center.

The American Book Center (also known as ABC), feels like it has every book, on every topic you’d think of. Music biographies, art, fashion, fiction of all types, graphic novels, business, self-help… everything. They always have a selection of recommended books by the store, including a wall of “what we’re reading” that gives it that personal touch.

The American Book Center was the first English-only bookstore I’d been to in Europe since I moved from the US. It holds a special place in my heart, which is why I recommend it over Waterstones, which is just opposite, closer to the Kalverstraat. You can go there too, but in my totally subjective opinion, ABC has a better selection

Bonus round on Fridays: Book market

Amsterdam Book Market, Spui

If you’re still on the prowl for more, follow this route on Fridays. Every Friday, from 10:00 to 18:00, there’s a book market right in front of American Book Center and Waterstones, on Spui square.

People will be selling new and secondhand books, and even art prints, for those more artistically-inclined. It’s a fun bonus round of buying if you catch it at the right time.

Now hobble on home, and get ready to curl up with your new selection.

Thank you for joining Livelong’s Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour. Please don’t forget to leave us a scathing review on Yelp (we live for the drama) and be sure to pick up a typo-riddled t-shirt written in Comic Sans at the gift shop on your way out!

Oh, and here’s the Google Maps route if you want to give it a go.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

An Honest Tenancy Application To A Potential Landlord

Application letters are nerve-wracking, especially tenancy applications. Writing a half-page introduction that’s meant to persuade a person you’ve never met that you are equal parts capable and likable, is a nightmare to get right.

Because, up until recently, I was in the unfortunate situation of searching for an apartment in Amsterdam, I’ve had to write quite a few tenancy application letters. And because I’m tired of playing the balancing act of being both personable and respectable, I’m writing an honest one that more accurately reflects my thoughts on the subject.

Hi hopefully future landlady/landlord,

It feels weird writing to someone I’ve never met and being expected to introduce myself without knowing anything about you. It feels kind of unfair that you get to know everything about me and I get to know nothing about you. And yet, I’m still expected to give this whole spiel of why I deserve to pay your mortgage for you, only for you to possibly reject me without even an explanation of why you chose someone else over us, beyond their vibes being more of a match. See, if I knew you personally, I could mention the things that you’d like. I like a lot of things and we’re bound to have at least one of them in common so please, it’s only common courtesy that you’d help a girl out with a wishlist of requirements or list of interests or something.

All you need to know, really, is that I always pay my bills on time because I’m too nervous and overly-cautious to ever allow myself a late payment. That anxiety also extends to any paperwork or legalese. I’m correct about things to a fault, because the fear of accidentally doing anything illegal keeps me up at night. Not that there’s any track record that would substantiate this, my brain just likes to keep things exciting by plaguing me with irrational fear sometimes.

You also won’t have to worry about doing your landlord-ly duties unless the house caves in on itself. I hate confrontation, am known for never asking for help, and feel like everything is my fault, so if anything breaks, you can guarantee that I’ll fix it myself. My sense of responsibility brought on by misplaced feelings of excessive guilt and shame will make sure that your apartment is kept in tip-top shape.

Ok, ok, I guess I’ll tell you a little bit about me because that’s what’s required. The living situation, the jobs, the hobbies, all that. Although why it’s encouraged to include the last one is beyond me. You’re not planning on living with us and if I did have any potential un-neighborly hobbies like playing the drums, tapdancing at midnight, or screaming at the top of my lungs every morning due to the state of the world, I definitely wouldn’t share them with you anyways.

Don’t worry, I actually have quite boring hobbies. Growing up, I was the kid with her nose stuck in a book or the one doodling non-stop in class, and nothing’s changed since then. The most trouble you’d have because of me would be if the neighbors have sensitive noses and hate delicious cooking. I’ll probably tell you I love traveling, because it makes me sound more exciting, but really, I love being left alone at home more than anything else.

On to my living situation. I have a fiance, G, and he’d be the one living with me. Our story banks on getting people emotionally invested by saying we used to do long-distance and that he moved here for love, so I really hope you’re not one of those single people that hates hearing about happy couples. G and I are also international – we need to mention this because this letter is in English, not Dutch. While mentioning our sore lack of Dutchness, I can assure you that I am worrying about whether you’re one of those people that think expats and immigrants are taking over the city and that we should go back to our own country. Technically, I have four countries I could go “back” to, including this one, but it’s all a bit too complicated to explain and honestly, makes me sound anything but relatable, so I’ll forego that.

We also have two cats. When talking about my cats, usually I could go on for hours about them. If I knew you liked cats, I’d give you at least two or three paragraphs on them. But, because I’m not sure about your stance on them and I am aware they’re a divisive animal, I will refrain from telling you about my proto-children (yes, I am one of those). Instead, I’ll mention them briefly and joke about them being well-behaved. This last part is the only lie in this letter. My cats are dickheads because all cats are dickheads. That is why we love them.

To round off this introduction, let’s talk about work. Where G or I work is irrelevant to you. We do not have the type of impressive or fancy job that would impress someone’s parents. It is a boring office job with a vague title that sounds professional, but that doesn’t fully make sense to anyone outside of its sector. It is neither impressive in salary nor reputation. I have now learned that the latter also matters because in our last application we lost to a couple who were both doctors, because they were doctors. How were we supposed to beat that? Both of them healthcare workers during a pandemic? We never stood a chance. All you need to know is that I make enough to pay rent and afford the basics (and even some impulsive shopping on top of the basics). Also, I’m planning to stay employed for as long as possible, and it seems like my company has the same idea.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: why I want to live in this particular apartment. Here are the top 5 most compelling reasons I want to live in your apartment:

  1. I like having a home to live in. The idea of living in a home and not being homeless is very appealing to me.
  2. Your apartment is in the city I work and currently live in. I would like to continue working and living here. Also I am lazy and don’t feel like commuting, finding a new job, or making new friends anytime soon. I like the ones I have.
  3. Your apartment falls within my price range. I do not have a lot of money (see: lack of impressive fancy job above) and this city is expensive, so I am looking forward to being able to afford rent and food at the same time.
  4. Your apartment has a layout that feels like it was built with people’s daily needs in mind. It does not feel like it was designed by a chaotic 8-year-old in The Sims.
  5. Your apartment is available before I have to move out of my current apartment. See reason 1, re: avoiding homelessness.

All this to say: please let me live in your apartment. I’ll pay my bills on time, keep the place nice and tidy, and behave, I swear. Plus, the search is exhausting and I’m ready for it to be over.

Thanks!

Update since writing this after countless rejections: WE FOUND A NICE PLACE, Y’ALL!

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Apartment-Hunting in Amsterdam: A Day In The Life Of A Disillusioned Renter

Apartment-hunting in general is a tedious task. But apartment hunting in Amsterdam specifically, sucks.

If you’re looking to rent an apartment in Amsterdam, you’re dealing with sky-high prices, fierce competition, impersonal real estate agents, and inflexible viewing times. Unless you know someone who knows someone who can hook you up or you’re willing to pay an extra month’s rent to hire an agency to help out, you’ll have to get your hands dirty and accept that finding a place to live will become a part-time job.

With the lease to my current apartment expiring too soon for comfort, what started as casually looking for a new apartment to rent has turned into an intense sprint. To give you a taste of what this looks like, here’s some insight into the bleak state of the Amsterdam rental market.

7:00 – You wake up, and start checking your email for updates on new properties. You realize the email updates aren’t including all properties that fit your criteria, so you take out your laptop, proceed to be blinded by it because you never turn down the brightness, and continue looking.

7:15 – Have 24 tabs open with potential new apartments. Go through them looking for a decent place to live.

7:18 – Be confused about the listing that has the shower in the middle of its only bedroom.

7:22 – Be confused about the listing that states two bedrooms, but clearly shows one bedroom, separated by a curtain.

7:25 – Be confused about the listing that looks like it’s in a prison complex.

7:27 – Find the perfect place. Realize it’s only for residents that are 50+. For half a second, think about falsifying documents to age yourself up by 25+ years and learning how to do elderly costume makeup. Move on once you realize that’s too much effort.

7:45 – Out of curiosity, check how the state of the market is in other cities. Realize that in any other city, for the price range you’re going for, you’d get more than a pimped-out shoebox and a space that’s built with modern needs in mind. Remember you hate commuting and all of your friends live in this city and also you don’t know how to drive despite almost being 30, so you rely on public transport for everything. Debate starting your own company to work remotely forever and live in an affordable, well-laid-out home. Realize you’ve gotten sidetracked once again and continue searching in Amsterdam.

07:55 – Apply to the apartments that fit your lofty criteria: minimum one bedroom with a real door separating it from the living room, 50+ m2, under 1,700 euros, some storage space, with a balcony or garden, and pets allowed.

08:00 – Answer any emails from realtors because all the emails go to your email and not your partner’s, G. G has tried applying to apartments but you’ve both realized that coincidentally, your Dutch last name gets triple the responses his English last name does.

08:15 – Get ready for the first viewing of the day. You spend 30 minutes trying to choose an outfit that makes you look reliable but also helps you stand out. You settle on mom jeans and dad sneakers, hoping to invoke the essence of parental reliability.

09:15: You’re at Apartment #1. The realtor is 10 minutes late and you’re somehow viewing the apartment with 2 other couples, despite the real estate agent stating in their email that due to COVID regulations, only one person could come per viewing. Nobody else is wearing masks except for you. The agent does not apologize for his tardiness.

09:16 – You’re in the apartment. While you walk up to the fourth floor, you wonder why the Dutch, despite being the tallest nation in the world, decided to build the smallest, most narrow steps in existence.

09:20 – The realtor recognizes one of the couples. He stares at them and says: “still looking, eh?”, without an ounce of empathy. You have now unlocked a new fear.

12:30 – You’re at Apartment #2. Once again, you’re with another couple. The couple runs in and tells the real estate agent that they’re actually 15 minutes early for their appointment, but that should be fine, right? The real estate agent said it is. It is definitely not fine in your opinion, but nobody asks for your opinion, so you spend the next ten minutes shuffling around the apartment, avoiding getting too close to the other couple.

12:32 – The living room and kitchen look promising. You ask for where the bedroom is and realize what you thought was a roomy closet with a sink is actually considered the bedroom. You ask if there is separate storage since there is no space for a closet. There is not.

14:30 – You finally have some time to check your emails. Out of the 18 you applied to in the last couple days, 5 get back to you. It looks like a good day.

14:31 – The first email sends you to a site where you have to pay to apply for the chance to view the apartment. You do not apply.

14:33 – The second email asks if you can do a viewing tomorrow. You say you have a work meeting that overlaps and ask for any other time. They say it’s their only time slot and that if you can’t come, you’ve lost all chance of seeing it. Oh, and considering the state of the Amsterdam rental market, you should be more flexible. You wonder how they expect you to be able to come to a viewing at a moment’s notice while holding a well-paying enough job that allows you to be eligible for said apartment.

14:35 – You open the next email. It says there’s a viewing option for today at 13:00. You check the time and realize you missed it. You check for when it was sent. The email was sent at 12:43 today.

14:45 – After answering some screening questions, you finally have two viewings planned for the next few days.

15:40 – You’re at Apartment #3. Although it’s almost in another city, you like the apartment. When you ask them about the length of the contract, they remind you that the contract is only for 2 years max. because otherwise, you will have too many rights as a tenant. You shudder, dreading the thought of going through this process again in 2-year’s time.

15:52 – You check your email and see one from one of the agents saying that, unfortunately, even though the listing says nothing about pets and is an actual house with a garden in a quiet neighborhood, no pets are allowed. But, if you’re interested, you can come to the viewing. You email back jokingly, saying the cats are non-negotiable and you wish them luck finding someone. They email back reiterating “NO PETS” (all caps), but you’re still free to change your mind about the viewing. You email them back one last time, reiterating that you will not be putting your cats up for adoption for this house, but thanks for the offer.

16:01 – You receive a call about the apartment you applied to yesterday. You assume good news since they usually email rejections. You get your hopes up. You did not get it. When you ask the real estate agent as to why, they say it was down to the wire, that you’ve been great candidates, and it’s really nothing personal, but that it just came down to the landlord’s personal preference.

16:13 – It’s time for Apartment #4. This one is it. You’re happy you didn’t give up on the apartment that only had blurry pictures of the windows with subpar views. It’s been recently remodeled, the layout makes sense, and the rooms are actual rooms, separated by real walls and doors. On top of that, the real estate agent referred to you by the right name, asked you about your background beyond the tenancy requirements, and tried to crack jokes. For the first time all day, you no longer feel like crying.

17:10 – You run to the last viewing of the day, Apartment #5. You get your numbers mixed up and stand in front of the wrong apartment 6 doors down from the one you should actually be at for 5 minutes, before realizing your mistake.

17:13 – The landlord is at this listing. They see you struggling to open the balcony door for a good 3 minutes, that feels like 3 hours. They stare at you and mention they won’t fix that. They also mention they won’t fix anything else that’s broken or will break. You wonder whether they realize that part of a landlord’s job description is to fix the broken things in the apartment and not only to allow someone the privilege of paying off their mortgage.

17:58 – Get a call from a realtor. One of the apartments you applied to has already been rented out but, for a finder’s fee equivalent to one month’s rent, he found you a similar one – one that’s not even on the market yet! Without asking, he’s sent pictures to your Whatsapp. It’s the apartment you viewed (and rejected) yesterday with another realtor for free. You ask for the price of the rent out of curiosity. It’s 50 euros more expensive than the one initially quoted to you.

18:00 – The day is done. You go through the listings one more time. You start looking at what it would cost to buy a house. You quickly remember that you’ll never be able to save enough for a house because the prices are going up by 20% every year, so each year you’ll fall further behind because you spend all of your money on rent.

18:05 – Pour yourself a glass of wine and begin the application to the one place with potential. You try to write a convincing letter to the landlord, letting them know all about you, your life, and why you deserve to live in their apartment more than the eight other applicants. You attach all the documents needed and feel weird giving all your personal information to somebody you just met today, for less than fifteen minutes.

Oh, and be sure to have it in before 9:00 tomorrow. Because the Dutch love taking their time with everything except matters of real estate.

Positive update since the time of writing: the sprint was all worth it! We found a place! I might have aged seven years in three months’ time but we’ve got it!

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

I Read 100 Books In 2021: Here Were My Top 20

In 2021, I read 100 books. It might have meant spending the two weeks leading up to New Year’s speedreading eight books, but what matters is that in the end, I made it. Of the 100, I’m highlighting 20 of my favorite reads last year, in no particular order.

When taking a quick look at my Goodreads account, it’s become evident there are certain genres I’ve given more love to than others. To keep it simple, I’ve split my top 20 into these categories. Get ready for some recommendations on the following:

  • fiction,
  • autobiographies,
  • graphic novels,
  • essays,
  • feminism,
  • and professional development.

Fiction

Fiction will always have my heart over non-fiction, despite this last year being more focused on the latter for speed reasons. Still, I made sure to add fiction to the reading list whenever possible (aka whenever I wasn’t behind). These were the best of the best.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

I’m a sucker for well-done satire, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle did not disappoint. If you’re looking for a genuinely funny, satirical take on science and religion, look no further.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The story of a young, handsome, yet cruel man who seemingly never ages, but who’s driven mad by a portrait of him that becomes older and uglier with each act of cruelty.

Clever writing paired with great characters and a hint of controversy (at the time) for its homosexual subtext. Oscar Wilde’s wit is famous for a reason.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Before reading this book, I was well-versed in Neil Gaiman and a newbie to Terry Pratchett. I’m now trying to remedy the latter.

A fun read about an angel and a demon who are working together to avoid the apocalypse because they like being on Earth too much. Add in some anti-Christ and witch shenanigans, and you’ve got yourself a fun comfort read.

Out of Bounds by Beverly Naidoo

On the heavier side of things, there’s Out of Bounds by Beverly Naidoo, a book about racism and apartheid in South Africa throughout the decades.

Each chapter details a separate story related to the societal changes caused by increasing (and eventually decreasing) racism during each particular decade. It’s a heartbreaking and sobering reminder of the potential humans have in being inhuman to others, based on something as arbitrary as the color of one’s skin.

Autobiographies

Sometimes the best life advice comes from people sharing their own stories. In 2021, spending most of it cooped up in my home, unable to do much, I leaned into my obsession with hearing about other people’s interesting lives and dove into some top-shelf autobiographies.

My Life in France By Julia Child

Julia Child is a treasure. I picked this up because of the Julie & Julia movie and was not disappointed.

It follows Julia Child’s life after she left the US, detailing her lifelong affair with French cooking (and France itself). Highlights include her loving relationship with Paul, the arduous journey of publishing her first cookbook, and her frank but wonderful tone of voice, that sweeps you into the story of her life with ease.

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane

Some background: my partner, G, and I sometimes read books to each other in the evening. If you’re white, I do not recommend trying to read this out loud, because you’ll be censoring yourself a lot.

Despite this initial hiccup that led to choosing another book to read out loud instead, this book made me majorly respect Gucci Mane. From his roots to his rise to fame, to his battle with addiction, to his arrests, each page had me hooked. His story deserves to be heard, and his redemption is one you’ll be rooting for by the end of the book.

You don’t need to be a rap fan to appreciate this one.

Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem by Dapper Dan

Love it or hate it, logomania has its place in fashion history, and it all started with Dapper Dan.

A hustler turned fashion trendsetter, Dapper Dan was the first to take high fashion brands’ logos and not only make entire clothing items out of them but also make them available to the black community. Going largely unrecognized by these same fashion houses he helped modernize for most of his life, he helped cement the relationship between these fashion houses and some of the greatest black entertainers from the 80s onwards.

If you’re into fashion history that deviates from the traditional European luxury brands, I’d check this out.

Cash by Johnny Cash

Things I recommend: this book. Things I do not recommend: reading this book and then remembering that the music video Hurt exists and re-watching it five times in a row on YouTube, with a glass of white wine, until you’re sobbing all over your keyboard at one in the morning on a workday.

In this autobiography, Johnny Cash looks back at his life, sharing the highs and the lows, from amphetamine addictions to his relationship with June Carter Cash.

Graphic Novels

If you’re still on the fence as to whether graphic novels count as real novels, these next few might finally convince you otherwise. We’re moving past superheroes for this one.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A first-hand account of a young woman living through the Iranian Revolution, and the ramifications of it on her life including her move to Europe.

It’s hard to find a more unique, poignant, and deeply personal story anywhere else. All I can say to not spoil it: just check this one out.

Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea by Guy Deslisle

Guy Delisle is a French-Canadian animator who makes travelogues of his work supervising animation studios in other countries.

In Pyongyang, he offers insight into what life in North Korea is like as a foreigner, without being sensationalistic. His approach makes the strange mundane, giving it a more “slice-of-life” feel than the usual exploitative, sensation-seeking, undercover journalist one that tends to be the angle of most insider stories about life in North Korea.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

I used to read Allie Brosh’s blog, Hyperbole and a Half, religiously in middle school. Whatever she posts hits me right in the funny bone, every time. On top of that, she’s also able to hit an emotional nerve, with her last book having one of the most recognizable depictions of depression I’ve ever come across.

So, when I found out she released Solutions and Other Problems, I bought it and read it within two days. Once again, Allie Brosh hits the perfect balance of funny, bizarre, and heartbreaking that gets me every time.

Essays

This might not be a surprise to those who regularly read my blog, but I love essay compilations – especially funny ones. Here are the highlights of 2021.

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors, and as such, a compilation of his top essays was always going to end up on the best list. Snort-worthy, slightly neurotic, and off-beat – just what you’d expect from one of the funniest authors out there.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman by Nora Ephron

Another compilation of funny essays, this time by Nora Ephron. Although I originally knew her for her writing work on my favorite rom-com, When Harry Met Sally, her essays didn’t disappoint. A fun read covering topics ranging from aging to housing in New York, that’ll make you chuckle.

Feminism

2021 was the year of moving beyond my narrow understanding of the female experience, instead choosing to focus on intersectionality. Here were the best of the bunch.

It’s Not About The Burqa by Mariam Khan

A compilation of essays from different English-Muslim women about what it means to be a Muslim woman, and more specifically, what it means to them to be a Muslim woman in the United Kingdom.

A book interested in giving a voice directly to these women, instead of having a white knight Westerner speaking for them.

Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

Feminism that chooses to leave some women behind to benefit others, isn’t feminism.

In Hood Feminism, Mikki Kendall breaks down exactly where modern-day feminism is lacking in supporting black women (and other women of color) in America today. By stating the facts, she leaves little doubt as to why feminism should focus on intersectionality and encourages magnifying BIPOC women’s voices to help their communities, instead of hogging the microphone and turning to blanket solutions that ultimately silence them, while raising up the few.

Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serrano

A trans woman shares her thoughts on feminism, misogyny, and womanhood, based on her experience being raised male and later living as a woman.

Her point of view on misogyny, female sexuality, and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (also known as TERFs) are eye-opening, to say the least.

War’s Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich

A tough read, but one that’s worth it.

Svetlana Alexievich shares interviews with hundreds of Soviet women who fought in World War II. In it, the pomp and circumstance of war are torn down, and the everyday stories of women on the front lines are pushed forward.

Svetlana Alexievich does a fantastic job of not only highlighting the difference in these women’s experiences compared to the men but also the differences in storytelling between men and women. The little details are what make this one a must-read.

Professional Development

In January of last year, I started off the year at a new company, with a new role. To make sure I made the most of it, I added many books on marketing, communications, and writing to my reading list. These were the ones that stood out.

The Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan

If you’re not in marketing, you can skip this one. But if you’re in marketing, this book is your essential guide to content marketing.

In it, you’ll find actionable advice, real-life examples, and a person-centric approach. The last part, in particular, is what sets it apart from the rest of the marketing drivel.

Lost And Founder: The Mostly Awful, Mostly Awesome Truth About Building A Tech Startup by Rand Fishkin

A book I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. Although I have no interest in being a founder in a start-up, it’d been so heavily recommended, I caved. And I’m happy I did.

It’s clear that Rand Fishkin is an experienced writer. His openness with his failures (and not just successes) and de-romanticization of the start-up sphere make this the first start-up-related book I’ve read that doesn’t come across as an extensive ego-trip.

On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King

I’ve already written about why you should read On Writing by Stephen King if you haven’t already, so I’ll keep it short: great tips about writing from a great writer. The memoir part of this book is phenomenal.

And that’s a wrap! I’m doing 60 instead of 100 this year, so if you have any recommendations based on these, drop them in the comments. I’m always looking to add to my never-ending reading list.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Realistic New Year’s Resolutions I’ll Be Making This Year

Adjusting My Expectations Based On My Overly Optimistic Resolutions in 2021

I love New Year’s resolutions. I love how, as a society, we’ve embraced the concept of reinventing yourself on what is essentially an arbitrary day of the year, allowing for you to be your ideal version of self for exactly one week… until you remember why you didn’t do any of the things you set out to do in the first place.

Before New Year’s, you’ve most likely spent the last weeks enjoying the holidays, eating, drinking, and lounging as much as you like. Because we live in a late-stage-capitalist dystopia where you’re nothing unless you’re productive, you’ve also most likely felt guilty about doing nothing. But no fear, the promise of the new year as a blank slate makes it all acceptable since you no longer have to be that person…as of next year, of course.

Having achieved none of my 2021 resolutions, I’ve decided to take a more realistic approach for 2022. This year, I’ve reworked all my failed resolutions of yore into something more achievable.

Instead of…

…shopping less, I will be buying more storage to neatly fit all the stuff I’ve accumulated in the last year, so that it at least looks like I didn’t buy as much as I did.

Last year, I made the resolution to go on a no-buy for the entire year. After 4 months, I caved after I realized none of my jeans fit me anymore and my options were to either fight with my jeans (and vanity) every morning, or swallow my pride and get a size that fits. I could have only bought the jeans, but once the no-buy was broken, the itch to shop came back worse than ever before.

Now, I am left with too much shit in the house. To combat this, I’ll be focusing on now buying all the storage accoutrements needed to make it look like I didn’t raid a tasteful flea market. This way, I can make my shopping feel useful and hide away the evidence of my failure in one go.

…trying out new healthy recipes, I will be making a Pinterest board of all the recipes I want to cook this year and proceed to forget about it.

They say being well-prepared is the key to success. What they don’t say is that the amount of time spent preparing can be as tiring as the actual doing. There should be a formula that calculates when you’ve gone too far in researching and planning, and are actually wasting time and energy instead of saving it. Proactive, hustling business students of the world, I’m leaving this in your hands.

By making a Pinterest board of all the healthy recipes I want to try this year, I can hide under the illusion of productivity instead of admitting I’m procrastinating. And because that took too much mental effort and I deserve a reward, I’ll just order some pizza instead.

…waking up at 6AM every day, I will be setting my first alarm for 6AM and subsequent alarms at every 10-minute interval until 8:00AM

2022 will be the year I stop snoozing. Instead, I am coming to terms with my inability to get up early in the morning on my own and relying on the power of peer pressure. I’m taking advantage of the fact that I share the bed with my partner and that eventually, I’ll either start getting up in time, or he’ll dump me for putting him through this. There are three ways I foresee this going:

Option A: the guilt of having to put my partner through an endless onslaught of alarms every morning will eat me alive and I will get up on the first alarm.

Option B: the fear that my partner will eventually leave me for someone less annoying in the morning will motivate me to jump out of bed from the get-go.

Option C: I end up single.

…no longer sleeping in on the weekends, I will be online shopping every Friday and Saturday – ordering stuff with next-day delivery only.

I’m taking the hotel wake-up call and bringing it home by unwittingly involving the Dutch postal service in this resolution.

Since we’re the first stop of the day, the delivery man will be my wake-up call between 7 and 8:30AM. Not only does the heart-attack-inducing buzz of the doorbell wake me up better than any alarm, but the sleep-fueled stumble to the front door to croak out a mumbled “I’ll buzz you in, please leave it downstairs” forces me to get out of bed.

Add on to that the panic-dressing to run quickly downstairs to get the package, before any of the neighbors kick it down the hallway, and there’s no way I can sleep in after that.

…no longer using my phone in the evenings, I will be only using my phone to message other people about how I really (but really) should stop using my phone in the evenings.

Misery loves company, and if I lack the self-control to get off my phone in the evenings, then I’m bringing everyone else down with me. There are few bonding experiences that can beat out that of sharing your failures with another human being who is failing at the same thing. And I’ll know they’re failing at the same thing the moment they text back.

In an effort to make sure I follow through with this resolution, I have prepared a list of riveting conversation starters:

  • “Ugh, I really need to stop being on my phone so late. I should be reading or something, lol”.
  • “Do you ever have it where you’re just scrolling through Instagram for hours and are like, what am I even doing on here, your lives aren’t even that interesting? Because that’s me rn”.
  • “Man, I’ve been trying the whole “no phone at night thing”, but am failing SO HARD lmao”.
And if all else fails, I’ve even prepared a relatable, outdated meme for good measure

…exercising more, I will finally give in to the trend of athleisure and start wearing my exercise clothes in public to deceive people into thinking I’ve been working out.

Since I don’t trust working out around other sweaty, possibly contagious human beings anytime soon and most at-home workouts make me paranoid that my downstairs neighbor will get closer to plotting my murder with each lunge jump, I’m giving up on physically exerting myself. In an effort to not let the workout outfits that have been gathering dust underneath my bed go to waste, I’ll be wearing them out in public.

Up until now, athleisure never interested me. Something about it screams “I think I’m better than you because I not only work out, but I’m so active that I make sure my attire shows you that I could sprint off into the sunset at any given moment”. Although I might be projecting, the air of superiority and put-togetherness of regular exercising is the only thing that attracts me to it. So, this year I will only be embracing the clothing while avoiding the hard work.

…learning the guitar, I will be shifting my daydreaming from being scouted, published, and unxpectedly becoming the author of a bestseller, to winning my first Grammy.

Is it just me, or has it felt like manifesting has been everywhere last year? Maybe the combination of the weight of 2020 with the brief moment of light in the middle of 2021 made everyone latch onto a concept that’s all about thinking things into being better. Well, an important step in manifestation is visualizing, and I’m hopping onto the trend by daydreaming visualizing myself being such a talented guitar player that I win a Grammy for my gnarly guitar-playing skills.

This will be disregarding the fact that I’m better at collecting dust on my guitar than picking it up, better at complaining after 10 minutes of practice because my fingers hurt too much, and better at not understanding chords, even if the concept has been explained to me by multiple people on separate occasions.

Nope, I’m ignoring all that and I’m relying on the power of manifestation to magically motivate me to become a God at guitar.

…keeping up with world news , I will be doubling down on my time ignoring as much of the world news as possible, instead focusing exclusively on the happenings of cute animals.

In 2021, we saw a glimmer of hope with the roll-out of the vaccine and the global lifting of COVID restrictions. For a moment, this year did not seem to be turning into the dumpster fire of the last, and all was good. Unfortunately, we’re ending it on full lockdowns in parts of Europe, increased travel restrictions, and a hyper-contagious variant that sounds vaguely like a Transformer (side note: can we start naming variants after Transformers instead of Greek letters? It might make this whole situation at least 21.7% more amusing).

Based on this, I’ve come to the conclusion that hoping has become tiresome and escapism is the way to go. In 2022, it’s all cute animal videos, all the time. Unless your news article involves a pair of unlikely furry friends, I do not want it.

New Year’s Day is the Monday of the year – magnified. You know how every weekend, particularly those filled with laziness and debauchery, you tell yourself that Monday you’ll be better? “I’ll start exercising…Monday”. “I’ll journal every day… from Monday”. “I’m eating healthier… as of Monday”. Monday is a magical place of promise, where you’ll become the best version of yourself. The self-disciplined, well-rounded version of you. Not the hungover you, who just ordered McDonald’s, and will stay up until 3 in the morning watching Emily in Paris.

Even if I never stick to my resolutions, I can’t stop making a new list of goals each new year. Prone to sentimentality, I’ll jump at any chance for a symbolic empty slate and a fresh start.

If you’re also a sucker for new years resolutions, let me know what overly-optimistic, unrealistic goals you’ve set out for yourself this year, and how you plan on reworking them for peak realism.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week (except for the holiday season it seems – usually I’m pretty good with keeping up with it, I swear) where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Why Growing Up In A Small Town Isn’t Boring

Finally Answering the Question “What Did You Even Do For Fun?”

If you’ve ever grown up in a small town where nothing ever happens, you know what it’s like to have to get creative with your free time.

Until the age of 24, I never lived in a big city. My parents, ever the introverted hermits, loved being left alone, far from civilization. There were varying degrees of middle of nowhere. From a lack of paved roads with farmers as neighbors to having a playground to terrorize and a Chinese restaurant that we were pretty sure was a front for some illicit activity because no one we knew ever ate there, but no high schools or supermarkets.

Growing up in small towns in Europe in the early 2000s, meant growing up far away from the trend of helicopter parents who thought that children needed to be kept busy every single moment of the day. The statement “I’m bored” was never met with a suggestion or eagerness to entertain, but instead with a “What do I look like, a clown to you?”. Our Internet connection was as unstable as my slightly psychotic ex-stepfather’s moods and our TV maxed out at 10 channels – all public broadcasting, of course – with only two for children. While some channels provided the option to view the programming in English instead of Spanish or Dutch, this did not extend to cartoons.

My siblings and cousins did our best to fill our free time with creative and chaotic activities that I’ve only realized in retellings during adulthood were maybe a little strange. Here are the highlights.

Find the source of the river

The premise of this game was simple: we live next to a river, therefore we must explore the river. Because neither my brother nor I paid much attention in geography and had little to no understanding of how far away it could be, we were convinced that if we followed the river upstream, we’d eventually find its source.

Every weekend, we’d take our German Shepherd and Boxer mutt with us for protection in case of wild boars – an actual threat to be wary of – and head off to the river bed. If we got hungry, we’d eat the blackberries growing everywhere. If it got too hot, we’d jump fully clothed in the water to cool off. On two occasions we were chased by river snakes, leading to a cacophony of panicked screeches echoing across the valley.

Parts of the riverbed were dry, which made for easy trekking. We’d hop from one patch of dry riverbed to the next, dogs trailing behind us. Bamboo grew on the sides, framing the river, making it even more secluded. The bamboo turned out to be multipurpose: they made great walking sticks and impromptu dueling swords.

Unsurprisingly, we never reached the source of the river, although in our tiny child brains it felt like we were close. This was definitely not the case because in reality, the source was a 23-hour walk and 117 kilometers away.

Dirt track racing (for kids!)

When my little sister and cousin each turned three, they were gifted a motorized plastic car they could physically ride, each. They never got to play with them though, because my older cousins found that it was much more fun to use these cars to propel themselves all the way down a steep dirt road.

Always the worrier, I proceeded with caution. There were enough reasons to be worried. There was only one place to safely stop the car at the end of the road. Thorn-filled blackberry bushes flanked both the sides and the end of the slope. And if you avoided these, you could still drive straight into the river. All this, with your only brakes being your own two feet. Considering this was early summer in Spain, this meant shorts, tank tops, and flip flops so forget about padding.

We’d race each other to the bottom, purely for bragging rights. By the end of the day, our shoes were covered in dirt, tiny thorns sticking out our arms and legs, and half of us were caked in mud, hair dripping. We did not succeed in avoiding any of the obstacles but kept on going at it, again, and again, and again.

Unfortunately for us (and fortunately for the neighbors hearing our shrieks of joy for hours straight), we had to stop once the toy cars got trashed. Once steering wheels began disconnecting during descent and wheels falling off, we accepted it was time to let go.

Corn wars

To this day, nothing has given me as big of an adrenaline rush as that prepubescent scream of “DE BOER!” (“THE FARMER!”) rippling across the cornfields during a heated corn wars battle.

Corn wars combined “capture the flag”, with the potential wrath of a disgruntled Dutch farmer, and the heavy bruising of paintball. Far away enough that the adults couldn’t see what we were doing, but close enough that if we got into serious trouble we could run home, the cornfield was the perfect battleground for our ragtag group of neighborhood kids.

To get into the cornfield, all we had to do was hop over the waterway next to the bike path. Once in, we’d split up into two groups, make a base each by patting down the corn stalks, and stockpile the rest of the corn as projectile weapons. From there, it was divide and conquer – half roaming to capture the other’s base, the other half ready to defend it. In a rudimentary and brutish effort to echolocate where the others were, corn would go flying in the air until you finally hit something. If you followed the “OWWW!”, you’d find your enemy… or your ally, it was hard to tell who was who.

The farmer found out what was happening after the first few editions of the corn war. Understandably, he was not thrilled with us turning his crops into a playground and would chase us out. We’d dart in every which direction, like rats being smoked out of a cellar, trying to catch your breath because you couldn’t stop laughing as you ran. That sort of delirious laugh you get as a kid when you know you’ve done something naughty and are on the verge of getting caught.

Years later, when talking to the adults about the corn wars, they confirmed that the farmer did confront them, trying to convince the adults to punish us. Unluckily for the farmer, the reason they didn’t stop us is that many of them had dealt with the same farmer when younger, during their own corn wars. Apparently, we weren’t the first generation to duke it out by chucking corn at each other.

LEGO creations and invoking the wrath of God

Not all our activities had an element of danger to them. On rainy days you had to find what to do inside, and sometimes you’d already read every book in the house. For times like those, LEGOs were a surefire hit.

My brother and I were always making up characters and stories. Instead of building the LEGO kits as instructed, we made strange dog-inspired characters who went on a myriad of adventures. Of these adventures, I only remember two details:

  1. One of the characters we made had legs that were too tall and skinny, making him too fragile to play with after we built him. Instead of redesigning the character, or inventing any other excuse to keep him in the story, we murdered him in a ski accident instead.
  2. We had so many characters to keep track of at one point (a good 36) that we killed them all in a freak accident. This freak accident was caused by God wiping them out, as well as their entire world.

God was our Deus Ex Machina. A beat-up Husky plushie with scratched-out eyes that we’d stolen from our older sister that doubled as an erase button. Any time we thought that the story was becoming too complicated, instead of paring it down, we’d smash God into every character, effectively murdering them all.

This was around the time we were foraying into becoming Jehova’s Witnesses and our understanding of God was not per se as a benevolent creator. Morality did not play a part as to why this big reset would happen. Rather than taking the lessons learned during the congregation sessions to create a just and fair God, we thought it much more convenient and accurate to have a random and chaotic one, guided more by whims than morals.

Both of us grew up to identify as atheists.

Filmmaking savants

Hollywood’s recommendation to “never work with children or animals, if you can avoid it” doesn’t apply when you’re halfway through the summer holiday, running out of ideas, and are a child yourself.

The summer we became filmmakers was a grey and bleak one, like many Dutch summers. We’d cycled through the usual card and board games, even coming up with new ones, but needed more. As a last-ditch effort, we asked one of our parents if we could borrow their camera and they relented. Over the next weekend, we’d gather the rest of the neighborhood kids to film “Twinky Gets Kidnapped”. In this riveting tale, Twinky, my cousin’s dog, has been kidnapped by an unknown entity and needs to be rescued. Despite what started off as a straightforward plot, we had a vision that descended it into chaos. We had plot twist villains before Disney was pulling plot twist villains, and tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaks.

This was also the first time we tried our hand at video editing, without actually editing the video through a computer. In a now-iconic-amongst-the-family scene, the villain and hero were negotiating how much the ransom would be. We sat each character in a different room and ran back and forth, filming their parts one after the other. No re-takes. We thought we were film geniuses. Only once we played it back, we realized half the dialogue was cut off. Instead of “one million euros”, the new answer to the question “How much do you want for her” was just “-euros”.

By the end of the filming, we all got bored with the script and ended up improvising most of the last scenes, including a sprawling fight scene and a song break. That video still exists somewhere in my aunt’s storage and we talk about it often. Part of me wants to see it, while the other hopes it never sees the light of day.

For years, I hid these stories because I wanted to fit in, to be normal, to have regular childhood experiences – whatever those were supposed to be. Experiences like going to Starbucks with your friends or to the mall to kill time or having sleepovers where you watch scary movies and try to stay up all night. Ignoring the fact that even as an adult I hate scary movies, all-nighters, being too long around fluorescent lighting, and think Starbucks coffee never tastes right.

As an adult, I’m happy I had the hands-off, learn-to-entertain-yourself childhood I did. We weren’t always technological Luddites. We still watched cartoons and played shitty Flash games, but we weren’t pawned off or pushed in front of a screen by the adults. They didn’t plan out every second of our day, to make sure we were kept busy or productive. If we were bored, we were responsible for figuring out what to do ourselves.

That might mean you end up scraped, bruised, running away from river snakes, or questioning God.

That might also mean making great memories, a lesson or two learned, and one-of-a-kind stories to share later on.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Holiday Gift Guides Suck: A Case Study

It’s that time of year again where, if you’re not one of those super-prepared-for-every-occasion people, you’re starting to think about what gifts to give your loved ones for the holidays.

For those of us who are both incapable of making a decision and eager to buy people’s love, holiday gift guides seem like a good idea. For a second, you bless the kind souls who have carefully curated the list of what to buy your father, mother, teenage daughter, boyfriend, wife, colleague, great aunt (twice-removed), or womanizing divorced step-uncle who gets a bit too handsy after a few drinks. You should know these people better than some stranger on the internet, but sometimes you can’t help but draw a blank.

On the internet, all parents are closet alcoholics

It doesn’t take long before you realize that every gift guide follows the same guidelines.

For some reason, every mother loves wine, home goods, toiletries, scarves, tear-inducingly boring hobbies to kill time like quirky puzzles and coloring books, and, most importantly, being your mother. Because nothing says “I care about you as a unique person with interesting hobbies and special interests” to your mom than giving her a gift solely revolving around the concept that she birthed you.

Fathers, on the other hand, get chucked with such interesting gifts as “alcohol”, “spicy food good”, “manly barbecue kit”, “seemingly-practical gadget they will never use”, and “paraphernalia that reminds him that being a dad is hard because men are bumbling idiots and incompetent at domestic things, har-dee-har”.

No matter where you look, every category follows the same gendered rules. Putting in the effort to look for specific gifts that match the interests of the person you’re buying for requires time and effort. That route isn’t compiled into a neat little animated slideshow for your convenience. No, gift guides have to step it up and give us something new, dammit.

A gift guide to inadvertedly antagonize the teenage girl in your life: a case study

Once in a blue moon, you come across a different gift guide. A special gift guide. One could even call it a gift guide of uncommon goods.

In my search for unique gifts for teenage girls, I came across a site that offers one-of-a-kind presents. It was through this gift guide that it dawned on me that there’s good reason most guides play it safe.

Although the specifics of what I liked as a teenager have changed, most of the basics still stand. Most teenagers just want some dope clothes, cool tech, and not to be reminded of the hormonal emotional awkwardness that comes along with being a teen. Somehow, this gift guide has managed to throw everything we knew about teenagers to the wind, conspiring to make you their enemy number one.

Here’s a rundown of the six most inadvertedly offensive gifts.

1. For the teen who never gets invited to anything

JOMO Journal: Embrace the Joy of Missing Out
How to say “I’ve accepted you are a social pariah” without saying “I’ve accepted you are a social pariah”

FOMO, the terrible acronym for the Fear of Missing Out, has been cheekily replaced with JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out, for this gift. The JOMO Journal (ugh) is there for your teen to enjoy the fact that they’re missing out, building the practice of mindfulness. There is no way they won’t see this as a transparent ploy to get them to feel OK with not being invited to things.

From its preview, it features such thrilling prompts as Look out the window and describe what you see and Zone out and do a word search. On the surface, it looks like a journal encouraging your teen to slow down and appreciate being in the moment. In reality, it looks more like a way to trick them into keeping quiet and busy because they don’t have any friends to hang with.

As an ex-tween prone to bouts of canceling plans, staying home to read, and being entirely OK with it, if someone had given me this as a gift, I’d start worrying whether I should be getting out of the house more.

What to get them instead

If you’re going to give them a journal with prompts to keep them busy, go with an oldie-but-goodie: Wreck This Journal.

Wreck This Journal goes beyond letting you get creative, encouraging you to pour coffee on it, break the spine, tear out pages, and all-around make a mess of it. It’s fun, task-driven, and cathartic, without constantly reminding you to feel the moment. Most importantly, it doesn’t perpetuate the paradox of not being able to be in the moment because you’re constantly reminded that you should be in the moment.

2. For the teen that’s “too emotional”

The Box of Emotions
Hey, that’s what they called me in high school!

Ah, emotions. Once puberty hits, along come those wonderful hormones that hit your system like a shock to the heart, including all the complex feelings with it.

It might be because I come from an emotional family that’s not stellar at handling emotions, but if they’d have given me this card deck, I would have been quick to dig out “confused” and “disappointed” from its box. Yes, I still have difficulties differentiating between whether I’m hungry or angry, but it’s not because I don’t understand what those feelings mean, it’s because I live in a world where I refuse to accept they’re different emotions.

I am a firm believer in the idea that at times, you’re not ready to receive information on its own, because you lack the background needed. You need to live the right moments to make it click. You need the right practical experience to put it into context and make good use of that theoretical knowledge. Muddling your way through newfound emotions as a teenager is one of those cases.

You can’t just spring a bunch of cards on them and hope they take it from there.

What to get them instead

If your teenager lacks the self-awareness to understand their emotions to the point you’re bringing didactic materials into the mix, just give them some therapy.

Alternatively (because therapy makes a pretty lousy gift for the holidays, especially if it’s coming from the parents who most likely caused the issues in the first place), find out what their emotional outlet is and get them a present that encourages them to explore that. Be it music, art, physical activity, writing, whatever, invest in what that they like that helps them organically sort out all their emooooootions.

3. For the teen with low self-esteem

I Am Everything Affirmation Card Deck
I am… tired of the discourse around affirmations and manifesting

Teenage girls have it hard. Apart from the already unreasonable expectations society puts on them, social media has added to the mountain of ridiculous standards they are meant to meet. Instagram models and TikTok stars are using every which photo and video filter they can get their hands on (sans disclosure, of course) and getting Botox and filler at 16 (because ageism is this generation’s answer to 2000s toxic diet culture). Check any teen girls’ Instagram page and you’ll see a generation that’s grown up on YouTube beauty videos, finding out what lighting flatters them the most, and knowing their angles.

On top of that, they have to deal with the attention of the worst cohort of humans in existence, regardless of sexuality: the 17-year-old teenage boy.

We want to remind these teens that they are enough. We also want to remind them that their lack of self-esteem hasn’t gone unnoticed. Oh no, in case they were worrying if anyone else noticed how insecure they felt, this deck of cards with affirmations will let them know they did a terrible job at hiding it. There’s no better way to make them feel more unsure about themselves than letting them know that it’s obvious they’re not confident.

What to get them instead

I’m going to eschew the obvious female empowerment literature route, and suggest something that would appeal to more than just the bookworms. Instead, put together a DIY self-care kit so they have something for the days when everything gets a bit much. You’ll need a couple Lush bath bombs, scented candles, and (the cherry on top) a weighted blanket. Keep it a full sensory experience so they can take some time for self-care and block out the world when they need it.

Add a personal note reminding them how amazing and strong they are, and that’ll mean more than any set of pre-packaged affirmations.

4. For the teen who… eats too many… burritos?

Twist & Eat Burrito Holder
No, it does not double as a thermos. I checked. God forbid it be useful

Your teen might not hate you for this gift. They may even appreciate it, depending on how much they love burritos. But every adult in the room will judge you the moment they realize that a) you spent 45 euros on a holder ONLY FOR BURRITOS and b) apparently you’re feeding your teen enough burritos that they appreciate a gift that is a holder built ONLY FOR BURRITOS.

During my teens, pizza was the thing to be obsessed with. Anywhere you looked, pizza was love, pizza was life, pizza was God. This burrito holder has unlocked a memory I thought gone forever: the existence of the portable pizza pouch. I wanted one so bad. I was young and foolish and thought I’d look cool walking around with a slice of pizza dangling at my hip, salami, dough, and cheese at my fingertips. The reality was, I did not eat pizza nearly as much as I thought I did for this to be a reasonable purchase. And I’d just be ridiculed because I’d be walking around, smelling like Eau de Pizza Salami everywhere I went.

These burrito holders are this generation’s portable pizza pouch. Let’s not add more waste to the world by encouraging the youth to use food-specific gadgets.

What to get them instead

Anything that holds more than one type of food or drink. Did you know a lunchbox can carry a burrito AND more? Or that a thermos can carry multiple drinks? Like tea? And coffee? And hot chocolate? Hey, hot chocolate may not be healthy, but so isn’t EATING BURRITOS SO MUCH YOU NEED A 45 EURO HOLDER FOR THEM. Here’s a list of aesthetic lunchboxes for teens. Who cares if lunchboxes aren’t cool anymore in high school? They’re guaranteed cooler than a designated burrito holder.

If your teenage girl does love burritos so much you think that they would appreciate this, first: please stop enabling their habit. Get them this burrito blanket instead so they can become one, instead of eating them.

5. For the teen you want to make hyper-aware of the new changes in her body

Menstrual Cycle Tracking Bracelet
Ah, the perfect gift for when you can’t wait to hear the words “Didn’t you know there’s an app for that?”

Periods should be demystified. Periods are completely natural. Periods should not be stigmatized.

But they do take some getting used to.

And while you and your family may be enlightened when it comes to the ebbs and flow of Aunt Flo, getting a period tracking bracelet for the teenage girl in your life is still kind of weird. You’re putting the onus on a teen to broadcast their cycle with a piece of jewelry, all while she’s still figuring out how she feels about what her body’s doing in the first place.

I track my period because I don’t like to be caught unawares while wearing white or stuck without Ibuprofen in my bag. I don’t feel a special connection to the fact that it happens. It’s not some mystical experience of womanhood. It’s just something my body does every month that’s kind of a hassle, but whatever, we get through it. Up until now, there has been no inclination to glorify the experience by adorning myself with a reminder on my wrist.

Normalize periods by having frank, open discussions about them and not treating them like a gross failure of the human body to be ashamed of. Not by making them out of touch, spiritual, and a symbol of womanhood. When can we move past the mysticism and get to the point I can complain about my cramps at work?

What to get them instead

Any other piece of jewelry that doesn’t openly say “I get my period!”. You can go the trendy route and win some cool points with a custom name necklace. Otherwise, if you still want jewelry with a purpose, spinner rings are great for the anxious teen prone to fidgeting. They’re discrete too.

If you still insist on period paraphernalia (ok, fine, you do you), give them a Diva cup. Practical, sustainable, and you don’t wear it on your wrist. Just give them a heads up so they don’t open it in front of the whole family if they don’t want to. Let them decide how comfortable they want to be with sharing information about their period, on their own terms.

6. For the teen who’s also an unfashionable civil rights activist

Martin Luther King Jr. "I Have a Dream" Scarf
Ideal for cursing your teen with an endless onslaught of “What does your scarf say????”

Younger generations are more involved in activism than ever, and that should be encouraged. But maybe let’s stay away from making it a fashion statement. At least if we’re going to bring it into fashion, make it fashionable.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but infinity scarves have gone the way of galaxy leggings and have been retired as an official “cool girl” item. Nowadays, unless you’re a proponent of Christian Girl Autumn, it’s best to leave the infinity scarf behind.

Not only would you, teenage girl, be gifted with an outdated scarf style, but you’ll also have the entirety of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech emblazoned across it. Because there is no better way to share that you’re interested in activism than by wearing an accessory that spells it out for everyone else. Oh, except the typeface is still too small for anyone to read it unless they’re standing uncomfortably close to you. Hope you don’t have a personal bubble!

What to get instead

You’ve got two options, depending on what your goal is. If you’re buying the gift to start a conversation and educate, opt for anti-racist books for teens instead.

If you want to give a non-book gift, it’s better to buy them something they enjoy from a black-owned business. You can’t go wrong with practicing what you preach and supporting black-owned businesses with your money. If they like it, your teen will be more likely to recommend the same gift to their friends, helping boost the business, and going beyond performative activism.

But then, what do I give?

Let’s be real. There’s a target audience for this faux-inspirational, semi-educational, quasi-spiritual, get-in-touch-with-your-emotions, touchy-feely sort of thing, and that target audience was never me. I hated Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and passed out cold the first time I did yoga (Shavasana with dimmed lights, incense and chakra-healing music swirling around the room, and the encouragement to close my eyes? I never stood a chance). I wasn’t raised in a tote-swinging, granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing household. Even if I was, the problem with these sort of gifts – and that of many gift guides – is that the present is more about the gift-giver than the receiver.

We have to stop buying presents that we like and remember it’s just not about you. That’s what makes a good gift. Take the extra five minutes to jot down what you know about the other person and go from there. Sure, you can give it your own flair, but stick to a 15-85 ratio: 15% your sparkle and shine, 85% their interests.

Oh, and if you’re still stumped and getting a gift for an adult, you can’t go wrong with some good socks.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

How I Beat Impostor Syndrome: Lessons Learned From Running Events Across Europe

Some jobs aren’t there to teach you anything about your career but are there to teach you some hard-earned life lessons instead. My first job out of college was one of them.

I’ll paint it by numbers. I spent close to 3 years running corporate events for a tech company all across Europe, of which 8 months in the year I was away from home. In total, I went to 15 countries, over 40 cities, and had close to 12,000 visitors of all types to the all-glass, clinical mobile exhibition space we just called “the truck”. Lots of different people, lots of different places, and lots of stressed-out assholes with a god complex to deal with.

The tour turned out to be a crash course in how to go from chronically anxious people-pleaser with impostor syndrome to confident professional with relatively healthy boundaries. Here’s what worked for me.

Note: I take no blame if any of these backfire, because these are definitely thinly-veiled roundabout coping mechanisms disguised as advice.

Dress for the job you… nevermind

At the beginning of the tour, my suitcase looked like I’d stolen the wardrobe from a budget-conscious extra in Suits. By the end, it was closer to that of a 90s sitcom mom. Because sometimes, in a stiff corporate environment, not following the dress code will work to your advantage.

I started noticing early on that each and every time, almost without exception, the most important visitors were also either the most eccentrically dressed or the most casual – government officials being the exception to the rule. You could always tell how important someone was considered depending on the size of their posse and the discrepancy between their outfit and everyone else’s. In would walk in some guy in an ironic t-shirt and jeans, orbited by fifteen people in suits, and I’d know immediately that that was the big boss in charge.

As long as what I was wearing was clean, inoffensive, and didn’t show much skin, people still treated me the same, and many times even better than when I was in full business attire. By showing agency with my clothing choices, I was somehow perceived as having more agency in my job, which led to being treated with more respect.

Although there is a line to toe, so if you’re going to try this out, start with some funky pants or fun earrings instead. Don’t go full Helena Bonham Carter in one go.

Fake it ’til people leave you alone

There is a special circle in hell reserved for people who relieve their stress by stressing other people out as much as possible. Because, as is common knowledge, you only do your best work when someone’s breathing down your neck, asking you “Is everything going good? How is everything going? When will everything be ready?” every two minutes.

Turns out, you can sometimes make these people go away by refusing to be stressed by them. Don’t just take your time to do your thing right, but make it clear that you’re sorting it out, and that you’ll have it done when it’s done. It may drive them nuts, but it will save you from getting to the point where you start debating if you should bill them for the therapy sessions you’ll clearly be needing if they keep this behavior up.

If this fails, there is an alternative way to fake it so that people treat you like you have authority. All you need are a pair of good stomping-around shoes and a well-practiced expression of determination, confidence, and thoughtfulness. For the latter, it helps to think about a fake argument in your head, where your efforts are concentrated on totally verbally destroying the other person. Just speak like you know what you’re talking about (even if your statements are pure guesses), walk around with purpose, and keep your brow furrowed.

People will be convinced you’re on your way to solve Very Important People problems with your Very Important Thoughts, steering clear from your path.

Know your audience

Here’s another tip to alleviate the pressure from the stress-inducing micromanagers of the world.

I am of the belief that looking busy is not the same as being busy and that approaching your work with the serenity and mindfulness of a Buddhist monk can make it easier to do your job well. But for some, this concept is difficult to understand. If they don’t see you running around like the whole place is on fire, they’re convinced that either you don’t care enough about your work or that they’re not giving you enough to do. Either way, your value has now been diminished and they will believe you’re overpaid, despite the reason that you’re able to be calm in the first place is that you did your job well and now you don’t have to worry about busywork.

To avoid this ticking away of dollar signs with every second they see you as idle, just exaggerate how busy you are. If something takes you fifteen minutes, tell them it’s at least double. If they’re asking you how your workload is, stress that you’re so so so busy and couldn’t handle another task. And if you need to get something done and want to keep that idle time, get out of their line of sight, get your work done, and enjoy the absence of their incessant nagging.

If you like to avoid headaches, it can be worth putting in the effort to look busy in front of customers who put too much value on it. But, only do this if you know it’s a temporary situation. Do it too often and the bar for ridiculous expectations of busyness will only be set higher. Find the balance and keep them on their toes.

Kindness, people, kindness

It shouldn’t have to be said but, because there are a select few who still need to hear it: be kind and respectful to everyone you meet, no matter who they are. Being nice and polite always pays off – as long as you’re not stupid about it.

Be it a colleague, client, or the person cleaning, being kind pays off. Even if you’re feeling grumpy, tired, hungry, and over-worked, being bitter will only sour everyone around you, worsening your initial mood. Kindness can be a catharsis. Most of the time, reminding yourself that you’re all trying to do your job the best way you can, helps gather that little bit of energy left that it takes to be nice.

Be grateful, too. If you’ve got an issue on-site, the security guard will be able to help you out way more than the CTO of whatever company, so be sure to show some gratitude and sneak an extra freebie their way before it’s time to go.

But, don’t let people abuse your kindness. I employ a two-strike system. The first time someone’s rude I try not to think the worst. But if you’re rude or hostile twice, I don’t care the reason anymore. All you’ll be getting out of me is malicious compliance from here until the sun swallows the Earth whole.

You’ll make your life easier (and much more pleasant) if you put your best foot forward and treat everyone with respect. Just be ruthless the moment someone tries to take advantage of you.

Sometimes not knowing is better

Knowledge is power, but they do say that ignorance is bliss and if I’m being totally honest, power can be intimidating.

I have the nerves of a distressed chihuahua anytime I become aware that the person I’m talking to has the same decision-making power as the ruler of a small country. To solve that, if I can avoid it, I now have the habit of first avoiding asking people their names or what they do. Turns out, asking people questions about themselves, unrelated to their title, is a great way to connect in a meaningful way.

I’ve seen enough employees tripping over their feet trying to get the attention of C-suites and high-level consultants and diplomats and the rest of the who’s-who. But in the end, people are more likely to remember the name of the person they had a heated discussion with about whether or not Golden Retrievers are the Pumpkin Spice Latte of dogs, than the one stumbling over their words just to get 2 seconds of flattery in.

If you’re prone to getting in your head and being nervous around anyone deemed important by the powers that be, start asking people for their names midway through a conversation. That way, you can always give yourself the chance to connect with them as human beings first.

Unless you’re trying to be strategic with your networking, in which case, why are you here? Who told you I was the person to go to for strategic career choices and why do they hate you?

Are these tips helpful for everyone? Definitely not. But they might be for other chronically anxious people-pleasers riddled with impostor syndrome who need to come up with different ways to trick their brains into thinking that they’ve more than got it.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing that helps getting rid of impostor syndrome like realizing that most people don’t actually know what they’re doing either, and that we’re all just winging it anyways.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Why’s Something So Bad It’s Good? Going Beyond Irony

Ever have those niche topics that you’re so passionate about, that whenever you get started on it, you sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist?

For me, it’s my love of everything that’s so bad it’s amazing.

Pepe Silvia | Know Your Meme
Just picture this the entire way through the article

I can’t tell you where this love of terrible yet great things started, all I know is that I love things that are bad. Unintentionally bad. I love the simple, inoffensive, and in terrible (artistic) taste.

Discussions about So Bad, It’s Good – from here onward, referred to as SBIG – are usually only reserved for films, where people like to break down what parts of the movie-watching experience make them so entertaining or give you an in-depth psychological understanding of why people enjoy them.

When I’m talking about SBIG, I’m talking about all areas. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a breakdown of some of my favorite examples:

  • The Room (obviously)
  • Keeping up with the Kardashians – the first seasons
  • The Twilight books
  • 90s/early-2000s Europop/DJ culture
  • Eurovision
  • Corny gift shop souvenir shirts
  • Unintentional spelling and grammatical errors on mass-produced, commercial items
  • Fruity drinks with 3 different types of alcohol and sparklers in them
  • Anything that could double as a “Graphic design is my passion” meme

My love for this particular genre of awfully amazing things is something I spend way too much time thinking (and talking) about. But one thing I always find hard to answer is: but why do you like it?

What makes something “So Bad, It’s Good”?

Before diving into why SBIG works for me, let’s define what makes something SBIG. For it to be SBIG, it has to be:

  • Done in earnest
  • Done with brazen, unearned confidence
  • Technically subpar/in bad taste
  • Unique
  • Memorable

It is also important to note that it should not be self-aware. Once there’s self-awareness, the enjoyment level goes down. If you’ve watched any Sharknado movie, you know exactly what I mean.

One of the best real-life examples that fit the bill is a small Mojito Bar tucked away in a beautiful but hard-to-reach beach in Crete, Greece. This bar, known as [Name removed]’s Best Mojito Bar, has 2.1 stars on Google, with close to 1,000 reviews. The bar’s aesthetic is hippie-inspired and the owner is known for being an unpredictable human who thinks he owns the beach, has 0 people skills, and – according to him – makes the best mojitos “on planet”. Let’s go down the checklist:

  • ✓ Brazen, unearned confidence:
    • Best mojitos “on planet” combined with a 2.1 star rating and many people saying these were the worst mojitos they’ve ever had? Check.
  • ✓ Earnest
    • The level of commitment to being perceived as having the best mojito on island planet and a relaxed atmosphere inspired by the chillest of chill subcultures, when the reality is entirely the opposite? Check.
  • ✓ Technically subpar/bad taste
    • The mojitos were terrible and the service appalling. Apart from the handful of 5 star reviews with people who’d taken selfies with the owner, all others agreed: this place was sometimes best to be avoided altogether. Some even stated it would ruin your entire holiday. Check.
  • ✓ Unique
    • On the menu, you can find a picture of the owner straddling a giant mojito. In space. Just based off that alone, you won’t find this type of establishment anywhere else. Check.
  • ✓ Memorable
    • Mediocrity does not warrant 1.000 reviews. This man left an impression and the Internet knows it. Check.

Now that we know what our baseline for SBIG is, let’s first cover the most common reason why people say they enjoy it: irony.

That hipster irony

My teenage years coincided with the rise of the hipster. Growing up, irony was king, and admitting you actually liked something for what it was, was no longer considered cool. The assumption that came along with expressing love for anything SBIG, was that it was liked ironically.

While icon and dictionary-ignorer Alanis Morissette further perpetuated the myth that irony means a string of inconvenient coincidences, irony is all about something that means or is perceived one way but in reality, is the opposite.

It then makes sense that people would assign the love of things SBIG as subverting expectations. While this seems like the easiest explanation, it becomes a bit more difficult when confronting a simple truth: I don’t like these ironically – I like them wholeheartedly.

I expect them to be great because of the things that should make them terrible, yes. But the enjoyment itself is straightforward. If we’re going for irony-but-not-quite-irony, we’re headed further away from the 2010s hipster, and closer to the 2021 drag queen. It’s camp.

Embrace the camp

The word camp has been making the rounds again in popular lexicon the last years. RuPaul’s Drag Race and the 2019 Met Gala theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion, have helped in bringing the general public closer into this theatrical, over-the-top, ironic aesthetic sensibility.

Susan Sontag has already given the best possible introduction to camp, but I’ll take a stab at it. Camp, while steeped in irony, is not per se the same as irony. It’s an amalgamation of bad taste, aesthetics, and over-exaggeration. It’s non-traditional, artificial, and non-judgemental.

Camp is sincere admiration paired with terrible taste.

In my view, SBIG comes closer to camp than plain snarky irony. I can already imagine that some film bros of the world will disagree with this. Camp is embedded in LGBTQ+ culture, theatre, and fashion (to be exact, in the arts themselves). But when we’re talking about SBIG, theatrics are key in making it enjoyable.

Much of SBIG falls into camp, but not everything camp is SBIG. Here’s a helpful diagram.

The Circle of Joy: why SBIG works

There are many theories floating around as to why SBIG (movies, mainly) can be so entertaining. These usually rely on humor research and deserve their own discussion, but for today, we’re keeping it simple.

The main reason I think SBIG works for some people? Something I call The Circle of Joy.

Here, we have peak good and peak bad, but instead of being in completely opposite directions, the level of enjoyment is almost the same once you reach the Apex of Greatness.

The worst and least enjoyable? What I’m calling the Pit of Mediocrity. If you’re mediocre and forgettable, it’s a waste of time and somehow worse than being bad.

Why do I think there’s this overlap of joy between very good and very bad? Because it’s all based on the element of surprise.

Great things have to meet a certain standard and exceed it. Pushing the envelope helps us see things in a new light, often highlighting something poignant about the human experience. Going beyond the boundary of what’s expected is surprising and is what brings enjoyment and wonder.

For bad things? Really bad things surprise us in the level of bad taste and/or terrible decision-making that lead up to the bad thing being created. For many, there’s an element of schadenfreude in why we enjoy SBIG. We all like to think we have good taste. Bad things are a good reminder that this isn’t always the case. Having the passion and drive to go full throttle towards executing an idea doesn’t always translate into it being good, but boy can it be fun to watch someone else’s trainwreck.

This subversion of expectations can bring about its own pure enjoyment and wonder.

Be it irony, be it camp, be it the element of surprise, it all boils down to subverting expectations. And subverting expectations in the most human, flawed way possible. It’s a touch of schadenfreude, smothered by an appreciation for the strange and wonderful ideas that can only come along with the human condition.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.