Slipping Back into Normality

And as a result, I’m feeling exhausted. Anyone else?


On Monday, just after 7:30 am, I boarded a train for the first time since March 2020. The chilly air wrapped around my face but gave me some welcome relief from the claggyness of wearing a mask. It was a bit of a surreal moment, but an important one for stepping back into normality — whatever that’s supposed to now mean.

Apart from a brief three-week stint in the run-up to Christmas, Monday was my first day back at work in fourteen months. If you had told me at the beginning of March this was what my life would be like for over a year; I would have laughed. It’s funny how small things — like getting a train — have become so abnormal in the last year. Amidst the excitement of something that seemed so ‘new,’ it was nice to be able to sit on a creaky train and rumble into the town where I work.

Despite customers not fully returning until next week, I found the day to be exhausting, to say the least, but it was nice to see colleagues I haven’t seen for the best part of a year. As I ease my way back into what my life used to be like in March 2020, I want to continue the writing habit I formulated during those empty months. It’s given me a great form of release, creativity and an integral coping mechanism to this uncertain year. It might be harder to fit around work and everything else, but I will try.

I hope this week’s newsletter finds you all well and gradually slotting back into ‘normal’ life. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to go at your own pace. Only do things you are comfortable with.


Article recommendations 

  • For those of us who tend to have an addictive, obsessive personality, it can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns of exercise, eating, and restriction. When I used to run regularly, I would beat myself up every time I hadn’t improved my distance or pace. I’ve since been able to have a better relationship with running (on the rarity that I do go!), and Sophie F. writes about this so well — My Experience with Disordered Eating and a Fitness Obsession.
  • A refreshing and uplifting take on why age is predominately a societal construction. For those of us who fear edging slowly but surely towards our 30s, this is a brilliant read by Dan Cadmus — Why I Don’t Fear Turning 30
  • Sometimes I think even I am too old to want to be a writer/journalist and I should have started years ago (I’m 23 for reference), but I know this is silly, as some people start way later in life. This is an inspiring and uplifting article (Are You Waiting To Be Too Old To Start Writing?) about always being prepared to pursue your dreams, even when you think it’s too late. By Vishnu*s Virtues.
  • Everyone has had a different experience of the pandemic. This group article by all the Backbench editor’s (including me!) really shines a light on this difficult year — The Pandemic: Our Personal Perspectives.

Book recommendations 

Image created by the author using Canva

Merging the Drift, Tom Bray

Although this took me a long time to read, this is no reflection on what I thought of the book. I’m reading everything at a snail pace at the moment because that’s all I can do. Also, I read about 3–4 books at once so it’s bound to take me that bit longer with every read. I thought this was a highly original and uplifting book. It’s an intriguing story with lots of twists and turns that all comes together with a satisfying ending. I may be a little biased, as I interviewed Tom for a feature in A Thousand Lives, but I highly enjoyed his first novel. I will be writing a full review soon.

Stoner, John Williams

It’s been a while since I read this (2016, in fact) but I can remember absolutely loving it. It’s a strange, untypical novel that follows the life of William Stoner, born at the end of the nineteenth century. He studies English literature, becomes a professor and falls in love with a student, which is a million words away from his upbringing in a farming family. As a result, he’s estranged from his parents and lives a life of perpetual loneliness. It’s a novel about circumstance, regret, love and the shortness of life.


What I wrote this week



This hefty chunk of reading material should be enough for one week! In all seriousness, I need to up my reading game. Not because I feel pressured to read loads of books this year (quite the opposite) but just because I miss having that quiet time curled up with a book. I hope you all have a great weekend, Violet x

If you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider giving me a tip at paypal.me/Violet977I don’t feel comfortable charging anyone for this newsletter, but I am a graduate who is just starting and trying to make a living. Whether you can donate 5p or £5, I’d be forever grateful. Thank you.



Progress Isn’t Linear

Feeling the pressure? Don’t — you’re doing great.


In our day to day lives, we can all get bogged down with what we’re not doing rather than what we are. This can give us a false impression of the progress we’ve made and can obscure how far we have come.

The pandemic and the new working from home culture that has evolved from it has disrupted the balance between work and downtime, and for many of us, on furlough or spending more time at home, the pressure to fit something in at every hour of the day can be a lot.

When you’re not doing anything particularly ‘productive’, it can be easy to beat yourself up about it. But I’m here to remind you that progress isn’t linear. If it were, we’d all be where we want to be, instantaneously. Primarily, this is because life is inherently unpredictable. There will be days that are written off for a myriad of reasons, or even years, depending on everyone’s personal situation.

So don’t get down in the dumps if you are not where you want to be yet — and instead — focus on where you are right now and what you have done.

Often, I can get down in the dumps about being behind in my career and the fact I’ve spent nearly every day at home since March 2020. On bad days, I can take to social media and compare myself to people (especially those younger than me) and marvel and their positions. But then I remember how important this abundance of free time has been for me.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, I probably would have launched into some graduate job I wasn’t that keen on, never discovered my love for writing, and my anxiety would have spiralled. Although I may not be where I thought I would be by this age, there are other things I have achieved that I am proud of, especially when I make an effort to reflect on how far I’ve come.

Take my writing as one example. On the left is my total reach from just two months of writing on Medium. On the right, after eight months, is what it looks like today.

Image created by the author using Canva

I’m having a bit of a rough time with my writing now, especially on Medium. But when I look at that side by side, I realise just how much progress I have made. It puts everything into perspective. I can guarantee you’re making progress in whatever you are doing, but perhaps, you don’t realise it yet.


Articles


Books

Image created by the author using Canva

Jo Cox: More in Common, by Brendan Cox (biography)

As local elections are on the horizon here in the UK, I’m reminded of how much was lost when Thomas Mair murdered Jo Cox during the Brexit referendum campaign. Jo’s life and her approach to politics should be a reminder to us all that regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, we do have more in common than what sets us apart.

Politics should be less divisive and binary, and it is a shame in recent years that it has become this way.

‘Jo Cox’s selfless service to others made the world a better place’ — Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States


Articles I wrote this week

  1. What are Local Elections and Why Do They Matter? Backbench UK
  2. Working as a Bookseller Convinced me to Always Prioritize BooksA Thousand Lives
  3. Should Writing be Approached as a Marathon or a Sprint? Writer’s Blokke

As always, I hope this newsletter finds everybody well! Remember, you make a little bit of progress every day, even if you don’t think you are. Until next week! Violet x


This is a weekly newsletter from Violet Recommends. Every week I give you some writing advice, reading recommendations and all my latest articles in one place. Sign up (it’s free!)

Originally published at https://violetdaniels.substack.com.

6 Books that Changed me For the Better

Here’s to the books that taught me more than I could ever learn at school.


How much of what you were taught in school do you remember? I bet it’s very little. Learning how to add up, write sentences, locate countries, and spell is necessary, but just the start of our education. School sets us up for life and future learning, but we shouldn’t stop there. That’s where reading comes in.

I was lucky enough to enjoy school and did well. Alongside this, I was always a prolific reader. I marched through titles that were probably beyond my age range and emotional maturity at the time, but they certainly left their impact. They challenged me and taught me new ways of thinking that weren’t featured in the textbooks I read in the classroom.

School teaches you facts, knowledge and gives you a skillset, but books have the power to change the way you think. When I say these books changed my life, it refers to how much of an impact they had on me and how I came to think about the world as a result.

Many of these books were read in my early teens when I was discovering my views on social and political issues. Since they have been re-read many times over, but that doesn’t stop them from having a significant impact on shaping me as a person.


One Day, David Nicholls

Fiction

At its core, One Day is a romance novel told over the course of a few decades. It begins in July 1988 when Emma and Dexter have just graduated and documents their friendship through letters. Emma is the perfect narrator; she’s funny, thoughtful and pays attention to every detail. Dexter is her opposite, arrogant, thoughtless in some instances, and forgetful.

As Emma struggles to get her teaching career and writing ambitions off the ground, Dexter swans around the world, living the high life. Their lives couldn’t be more different. However, their friendship, and the letters, remain. It’s a typical ‘will they won’t they’ romance story, but told with a poignancy that stole my heart.

How it impacted me

Emma is portrayed as being incredibly bookish, a little dorky, unfashionable and clumsy, but she is so loveable. I saw a lot of myself in her, and it was the first time I connected with a narrator in a novel and realised it was okay to be all of the above. In fact, it was actually quite likeable. It taught me to embrace my bookish nature, and for that, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Without revealing too much of the ending, this book taught me the value of time and how much difference a single day can make during the course of our lives. It hones in on the importance of decisions, their impact and how our lives can be shaped forever.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today; and I’ll always remember it.” — David Nicholls, One Day


1984, George Orwell

Dystopian fiction

In an imagined totalitarian future, Winston Smith is a low ranking member of ‘the Party’, and he demonstrates his frustration with its surveillance and intrusion into normal life. This is a police state, bound by authoritarian rule and a warning for the nations of Europe at the time of writing, who were descending into totalitarianism and fascism in the midst of World War Two.

At its core is Big Brother, who is watching everybody’s move, but also a state that perpetuates a type of truth founded on lies. 1984 has become associated with the modern trope ‘that’s a bit Orwellian’ as political discourse in the West has fed into post-truth and dangerous narratives. But its impact on our social, political and cultural lives is still significant.

How it impacted me

I read this when I was about 14, and I can still remember when I finished the book and spent several moments after thinking about what I had just read and how much it had blown my mind. I distinctly remember focusing on the idea of “two plus two equals five” (2 + 2 = 5),” as I contemplated the idea that everything I had learned at school could be questioned.

From that moment, I started to question everything more and not just accept things. Obviously, facts are facts, but we should always scrutinise opinion and point of view. In short, it changed my mindset and approach to life.


Jo Cox: More in Common, Brendan Cox

Biography

Jo Cox was an MP (Member of Parliament) who campaigned for togetherness, inclusion and fairness in the face of the rather toxic, Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. The news of her murder by Thomas Mair, who held far-right views, shocked the world.

More in Common tells the story of Jo’s life written by her husband, who survives Jo alongside their children. It reveals a woman who was passionate about politics at all costs but tried to add a human element into everything she did. She held ideas for a better world: less division and more coming together, and this book documents the beginning of her political career. Above all, it reminds us of so much that was lost.

How it impacted me

Voting against Brexit was the second legal vote I cast at the age of 18, and it was the period of time in my life where I was becoming politically aware. The news of Jo Cox’s murder shook me to the core, as it did the world. I remember watching the news roll in that day and not quite believing what I was hearing.

After reading this several years later and realising how much politics in this country lost that day when Jo was murdered, it profoundly impacted me. Jo strove for a less divisive society and believed in hearing all sides of the debate, which shaped how I came to approach politics. Reading this inspired me in many ways, and I will always strive to be more like Jo.

“We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.” — Jo Cox, maiden speech in Parliament (2016)


The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Classic fiction

As classics come, this is a pretty popular one across the board. Set during the jazz age in the Roaring Twenties, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby, an outlandishly rich man who is trying to win back the heart of his childhood sweetheart — Daisy Buchanan. Caught between it all is our narrator, Nick Carraway, who moves to Long Island and finds himself as Gatsby’s neighbour, soon frequenting his lavish parties.

It’s a story of love, friendship, excess, wealth, loneliness and revealing all the holes in the promised American Dream.

How it impacted me

I’ve read this more times than I can count. At one point in my life, I would re-read The Great Gatsby every year and marvel at how I would find something new to take note of each time. When I first read it, I was moved by Fitzgerald’s prose, description and symbolism, and it made me realise the possibilities of literature and what words can do.

It’s a work of art, and it made me believe in the power of books to move, inspire and captivate us all. Call me dramatic, but I would never look at any work of literature in the same way again after reading this.


Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Fiction

Emira is a young, black woman accused of kidnapping two-year-old Briar — the white daughter of the person she babysits for. It is clearly a racially charged accusation, filmed by a few onlookers who upload the footage to social media. This opening act sets the theme for the rest of the novel.

Alix Chamberlain — the mother of Briar and Emira’s employer — continuously boasts that she understands racism and is in the know because she has a handful of black friends. However, her privilege and intolerance towards people of colour are revealed as the story progresses.

This is a tale of race and privilege and how they intertwine with gender and social class. Set in modern-day Philadelphia, it shines a light on our present world and the casual forms of racism that infiltrate every level of society.

How it impacted me

As a white person, I can only understand so much in terms of racism because I am privileged enough never to experience it. I can recognise it and call it out, but I am not subjected to the microaggressions that can happen throughout a person of colour’s everyday life.

This book changed the way I viewed racism by exposing just how subtle it can be. It was useful and enlightening for me to witness a black woman’s perspective on the world and realise how not having to be subject to casual racism daily is a massive privilege.


I could include many more books in this list, but for now, these are the most impactful ones I have read so far. They have either shaped my understanding of the world, my political outlook, or how I understand the social and cultural undercurrents of the world. And for all those reasons, I am immensely grateful for coming across them.

Books have power, and there are certain ones we read during the course of a lifetime that stay with us forever. These are some of mine. What are some of yours?


This was initially published in Books Are Our Superpower 19 April, 2021.