We’re all walking paradoxes

Despite trying to categorise ourselves into many clear-cut boxes, quite often we’re full of paradoxical traits. It’s one of the things that makes getting to know other humans more, let alone yourself – so interesting. Many that know us well will learn and understand this, but for those that don’t it can often be a source of confusion, frustration or even resentment.

I see conflicting traits in myself quite often. For some example:

– I’m pretty hard working and proactive in my view; I love to plan, do research and make things happen. However, I can also be incredibly lazy at times, meaning things may slowly sink to the bottom of my to-do list that I mentally pledged to complete two weeks before.

– I also tend to be quite a realist; I don’t tend to tire of being a reminder about the potential ways an event can unfold or what history tells us about certain beliefs or ideas. Simultaneously, I can also be fairly fantastical; a trait that every now and then causes me to mould idealistic versions of people that widely differ from who they really are.

– Lastly, I love people; getting to share their struggles and joy; receive encouragement from their words when it seems I have none left to motivate myself with. However, I can also be quite antisocial and quiet, a trait that does sometimes make social situations hard to navigate and enjoy.

I doubt I’m alone – I think we all have these conflicting traits in us; some go under the radar of our consciousness and others we are fully aware of. Perhaps you love fiercely but can also be very spiteful if someone gets on your wrong side. Or maybe at times you can be shamelessly selfish whilst there are many moment you find yourself in where you’re moved with compassion for others. We tend to just paint a picture of consistency because that’s what makes sense to the world most in certain situations. For example, if I’m working on branding myself for a business I own, people want to know I’m dependable, a good leader and one that’s confident. They don’t want to know that I have moments of doubt and periods of low-confidence that make leading people hard. It may be very real, and very true but being upfront about it won’t necessarily get me clientele.

Yet, it feels quite important when we can to be honest about these conflicts within us; otherwise we perhaps fall into the habit of creating a version of ourselves for others that isn’t entirely truthful.

This is why having close people who you can expose all sides too without judgement is beneficial. Being able to freely be you and let your guard down around people -or even just one close person – is an incredible source of peace. Mentally, it’s like how a person might feel when they get finally home after a long day, loosen their tie, or remove their bra and just flop onto the sofa. Rest and ultimate comfort at last. I was reminded of this when reading the tweet above, since I think it articulates my thought very well – you don’t feel the need to censor yourself or put on a forced façade when you’re around the right people. You can be yourself in all your flawed, paradoxical glory- and that’s the way it should be.

Home: there’s no place like it

“They say home is where your heart is set in stone

It’s where you go when you’re alone

It’s where you go to rest your bones

It’s not just where you lay your head, it’s not just where you make your bed…”

Home by Gabrielle Aplin

Don’t you love travelling? Particularly as many of us have spent much of the last 18 months cooped indoors, the travelling bug has been gnawing away at us as people have just patiently waited for the moment they could jump on a train or plane again. I love the sense of discovery, especially when you go somewhere new. The overwhelming of the senses – smelling and tasting unfamiliar/new foods, witnessing the indescribable beauty of nature or city architecture, watching as residents come and go; it’s really fun.

However, I do always get to a point where that willingness to explore and absorb new things is threatening to expire. For me, at that point I long to be at home – somewhere familiar and snuggly where I can properly rest and eventually slide back into my normal routine. I understand this might be a rare feeling – I see on social media and speak to people all the time who have travelled for months upon months, or even years and never gotten tired of exploration. I even talked with a friend casually after church about having this feeling and she gave me an incredulous look. At the time I thought okay maybe I am weird, but perhaps this feeling is a good thing; it does have some benefits. When travelling back from an amazing holiday it makes the transition from rest -> back to business as usual a lot easier. Of course, it doesn’t mean the grass won’t always be greener; when I’m back home, making my way through my week, I will, every now and then, definitely wish I was back in country x and y, still on holiday and getting more sun and sleep. But 80% of the time I’m happy and grateful that my journey has come full circle and that I’m back and settled.

Home Sweet Home

The Gabrielle Aplin song quoted at the start of this post is one of my faves – it highlights that there is more to the concept of home then we think. The comfort that we associate with home can typically transcends a building or the four walls of one room. Home can be an escape but is also you’re an anchor. For some reason that feeling never properly dawns on me until I’m thrust into a new environment and blindly trying to find my way around – an experience that can be both simultaneously fun but frustrating. A funny example that comes to mind was when I was trying to reunite with my friends whilst in the States, in Manhattan (New York) and instead got completely lost. The reality check of not being in the UK, where I call home and where navigation personally comes a lot easier for starters, was never stronger than in that moment.

I can’t really explain it but often when you travel to a new place there is a lot of energy that has to be spent to gain a feeling of comfort, mainly because everything around you is unfamiliar. Whether voluntarily or by force, you’ve been uprooted from all you know and have to adapt so you can navigate yourself around confidently (even if level of confidence is fairly limited.) After a period of time its therefore nice to be able to just rest and return to somewhere familiar where things are easy, flow naturally for you are and known well.

Being rooted

I think being cooped up in my house this last year or so, as frustrating as it has sometimes been has also helped me become more grateful for having a place of stability in such a time of upheaval and unpredictability. It’s definitely a privilege to have somewhere – or even someone you can label as ‘home’. For those that are still on the journey to finding a home- in whatever form that may be – I pray God provides it for you soon so you can finally feel settled and at peace.

Book Review: Memory of Love

Grove Atlantic
Cover image from Grove Atlantic

I haven’t written a book review in a while! But, to be fair, as an admittedly slow reader that is to be expected. For the last few months I have mainly been making my way through this book which – I’m pleased to now say – is (very nearly) complete! Yay!

I discovered the novel Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (2010) very randomly through the ebook library site I use. The blurb pulled me in strongly before the book did and I read it and thought ‘woah, that’s going on my reading list!’ Then the time felt right to start the book and the rest is history.

I’ve put the blurb I read online below so you can marvel at its beauty yourself:

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1969. On a hot January evening that he will remember for decades, Elias Cole first catches sight of Saffia Kamara, the wife of a charismatic colleague. He is transfixed. Thirty years later, lying in the capital’s hospital, he recalls the desire that drove him to acts of betrayal he has tried to justify ever since.

Elsewhere in the hospital, Kai, a gifted young surgeon, is desperately trying to forget the pain of a lost love that torments him as much as the mental scars he still bears from the civil war that has left an entire people with terrible secrets to keep. It falls to a British psychologist, Adrian Lockheart, to help the two survivors, but when he too falls in love, past and present collide with devastating consequences. The Memory of Love is a heartbreaking story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Overview

Without repeating the blurb too much, this book straddles the storylines of free different men – Elias Cole, Kai and Adrian Lockheart. It also alternates between the past and present – with much of Elias’ storyline being told from the past perspective – when he is a young man navigating the pre-civil war era in the country. In contrast, the civil war has past in Kai and Adrian’s era, with nothing left but the devastating ruin it has caused; ‘fixing’ this is something that is central to both Kai and Adrian’s jobs as doctors.

However, interweaved within the stories of these three characters are also love stories – from love that never was to love that was but was barren, and love that blossomed but was brief. These play a central part to the development of each narrator and the trajectory of their lives

My thoughts

Aminatta undoubtedly does a great job of painting a country holding great beauty but also dealing with the deep scars of war. Mentally, people are suffering but yet life forces them to go on to ensure survival. Two stories that particularly stood out to me are of patients Adrian treats during his time at a mental health clinic in Sierra Leone. First is Adecali – a young man who formerly was a child soldier and due to horrors witnessed has a strong aversion to the smell of burning meat. There is also another female patient who repeatedly visits the clinic and is treated by Adrian; Agnes – a mother who mysteriously tends to disappear from home and be found days later in a destination with no recollection of her journey. She becomes a fascination for Adrian who tries to get to the root of her behaviour throughout the book – when her backstory is revealed it is honestly so heartbreaking.

Interestingly, despite being set in a predominately Black country Aminatta decides to have predominately white characters as protagonists of this novel; both Adrian and Elias are white English men who reside in the country within different vocations. Elias, is a lecturer on a university campus, whilst Adrian Lockhart – living many years later – is a psychiatrist. This set up inevitably creates the dynamic of Black stories being told through a white lens. However, this is not something you read the book and are completely oblivious too. Constantly throughout the novel, Adrian (and to some extent Elias) is reminded that as a white man and foreign national he is ultimately outsider. He will never fully understand the culture, let alone the post-war mental scars within the patients he treats as someone who swooped in after the war and never experienced its horrors himself.

In a similar vein, although there are many women within the book who are pivotal to the storylines of the narrators – Mamakay, Saffia, Agnes, Illeana – because all the narrators are male, they’re forced to the sidelines, which didn’t seem very satisfactory to me. Don’t get me wrong, we do indeed get to learn about them in detail, but it’s always through the lens of the male gaze so we don’t necessarily get to chance to gain a fully intimate connection with them.

My main qualm with this novel, is its length. The ebook itself, which I read, was nearly 1,000 pages I believe – waaay too long for my liking 😥. I’m more of a fan of a shorter books (ideally 500 pages maximum.) Succinct storytelling is celebrated because it is a difficult skill to master but its really not a strong point in this book and I do wonder if the long length was necessary.

Final verdict

I would recommend this book – the story is beautifully written and unfolds in such an interesting way. It’s also always refreshing to have a book with a non-Western backdrop. However, due to its length be prepared to invest more time than usual in this book and it characters.

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Want to have a read for yourself? The book can be purchased (physical or ebook) format here.

You can also find out what others what thought here on GoodReads.

My new current read: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Gift giving: the nice, the bad and the stress

There’s something incredibly satisfying about giving gifts to people. The brainstorming of the perfect gift which makes you really reflect on the person as an individual, the fine print of their personality. The hunting down of the gift. The presentation of the gift and the look of genuine joy, surprise (or both) once it finally goes from your hands to theirs. Priceless. It’s a language within itself. For me, when I give someone a gift, I want them to know – you are special or I appreciate your role in my life and all you do for me.

Memory Lane

I remember when I was younger, I would take Christmas and birthday gifts really seriously. Each Christmas myself and my friend – both very young teens at the time – would stroll to a nearby Claire’s Accessories and buy little trinkets or random accessories for friends of ours in need of a gift that year. Hours could literally pass when buying gifts – immersed in the bright colours and lights of the store – I would be deep in thought wondering what item would be an ideal fit for each friend. Almost as if the appreciation I felt within hinged on the gift; which it really didn’t, of course.

I would get pocket money from my mum for the trip and make sure to buy surprise gifts for each family member – this has ranged from home made Christmas cards to perfume from the £1 shop. However, I did quickly get to a point where I had the realisation that there wasn’t really any point of using my parents’ hard-earned money to just go and then buy them random gifts. From then on, I long looked forward to the day where I could treat my parents to gifts, with no worries about where the cash has been coming from.

VIPs only!

Over the years the people I buy gifts for have dramatically decreased in size. This is on the account of many factors including the fact I’m on a budget (otherwise all the world would probably get a gift lol) and that I’m quite selective with the title of ‘friend’.

Don’t get me wrong, I find gift giving rewarding and yet, there can be a political element to gift giving that can, to some extent be a bit draining if you bog yourself down in it too much. I’ll give an example.

Person A gets their friend a gift. This gift is both unexpected and quite lavish. The friend is flattered and very grateful. But simultaneously this friend, as the overthinker they are, feels a bit guilty – they definitely need to up their game and buy Person A a gift when the next opportunity comes. When they get home that day the friend googles the gift’s value to ensure they get a gift of similar measure when that time comes. Goodness, is that the price?? That’s definitely out of their budget. They must make sure they send a top-up thank you text to display their gratitude, after all that was an expensive gift .

Sound familiar? I think if anything it’s because we’ve all been there at some point but there is perhaps something to be said about the thought counting. We hear it all the time, ‘it’s the thought that counts’ but when it comes to gift giving there is no joy to be had in it if we lose sight of the ‘thought’ – the energy and careful consideration that goes into each gift given to us (or given by us!) Don’t get too bogged down in the material aspect since most of the time it’s just a symbolic gesture. For me personally – limiting who I give gifts to helps; they tend to mainly go to those I know well and I only have to give them a few times a year which means my approach can be more deliberate and tailored to the individual. Plus, it means I can afford to splurge on myself when my birthday comes; after all, we must gift ourselves from time to time too! 😉

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What do you think? Do you have a certain approach or a strong preference when it comes to gift giving?

*Featured photo by Ekaterina Shevchenko on Unsplash

‘The Customer is King’ and other lies we’re told.

I am a stickler for good customer service. I’m not ashamed to admit it, and neither should you.

However, as you go through life you realise good customer service is often in rare supply, many a business promises it but only a few actually deliver it. Unfortunately, most of us find this out the hard way; when we’re face to face with a rude waiter at dinner or listening to music as we’re placed on hold in the midst of a battle with customer services of some online retailer. I for example, was in a battle with a courier company late last year who had a package of mine that they decided to deliver to a random address I did not even put on the payment form at checkout. However, because of the pandemic I really had no one to complain to because this courier company thought it would be great idea to close down their call centres throughout most of last year – a business decision which makes no logic sense to me but I digress. Sigh.

Fighting for your rights

Me when I’m put on hold by customer services (again)

As much as it sucks to accept, that age old marketing phrase ‘The Customer is King’ doesn’t always seem to translate in the reality of how many businesses operate nowadays. If you, as the customer do not push for what you want (in a reasonable manner, of course) you will often not get the results you want to see. Whether it’s having your burnt food replaced with a new dish, or getting a refund for a holiday cancelled by an airline (as many flocked to do during the start of the pandemic.) It may require lots of angry emails to customer service, visits to store and even letters and phone calls but hopefully it will be worth it when you’re tucking into your newly made dish or rolling around in refund flight money.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to know our rights as consumers – there’s many podcasts and online resources out there which can help with this. Many in the UK, for example, will be familiar with TV and consumer finance expert, Martin Lewis who offers a lot of advice on customer rights on his site MoneySavingExpert.

Of course, I hope you’ll never get to the point where you need legal ammunition but it’s always worth having in your arsenal if a company gets lazy and won’t budge regarding your query.

The right formula

From the retail side of things, I can understand that good customer service can be tricky, you’ll often get a variety of customers you have to serve and not everyone will be pleased with the type of service you offer – even if you think it’s great and quite extensive. Some may like the chat bots you offer on your site for example, whilst others – like me – may find them extremely annoying and ineffective – just get me a human to talk to, please!

Yet, customer service at its core is quite simple. People want transparency, quality products and when being dealt with, want it to be done with respect and honesty. Although how those components look on a pie chart may have changed percentage-wise, those demands themselves have not. Additionally, as people within the age of social media, users of brands are being more vocal than ever before about their experience with brands and what they want. In other words, what customers want is not exactly a mystery – businesses just need to make sure they’re doing leg work and keeping their ear close the ground to figure out what we want and then actually make steps to make it happen.

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What do you think? Let’s talk! Do you have any good or bad customer service stories to share and what do you value most from customer service?

If you liked this you may enjoy my previous article on our toxic relationships with brands.

War of the Streets

We live in a city where dwellers roam the intersection of boy and man

Carrying blades close to skin

And the weight of a masculinity seeped in poison

Ego eats the mind, reincarnating itself as blood on the streets

Darkness which eclipses the heart

Dagger is protection

Person is foe

Two truths can exist

But in the end only one life can live

How did it get to this?

Why Google shouldn’t always be the answer

There is no doubt that the internet has changed the way we learn things – online courses, Youtube tutorials, how-to blogs, even e-books – the list is endless when it comes to the rich resources at our disposal.  Whenever we’re stuck on something, for example for me – it may be some weird glitch on Excel; I’ll have a browse on Google and suddenly find myself scrolling through a random IT advice forum thread looking for an answer. And let’s not lie – Google is pretty good at its job and will (eventually), four times out of five, usually provide a helpful answer to your query.

Cheers, mate: My polite response when someone gives me the ground breaking advice of ‘just google it’.

However, before the vortex that is the internet, humans were our first port of call for learning things. Apprentices in jobs that require the mastery of the hands – would closely shadow a professional in that field, carefully watching them at work, taking notes and eventually imitating. Similarly, before the numerous recipe blogs and Youtube vlogs out there – recipes were passed down orally or learnt through the close observation of family members preparing a certain dish.

Humans have and always will be valuable to the learning process – and this doesn’t stop in the face of the internet. It’s why I get slightly annoyed when someone asks a simple question and others patronisingly say ‘Why don’t you Google it?!’. Yes, they could definitely do that – and perhaps they will or plan as a second step; but is it so wrong that their first port of call was to actually ask you, a fellow human for your opinion? I don’t think so.

Of course, don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some instances where this attitude is justified. For example, when it comes to educating ourselves on the struggles of marginalised communities, referring to digital resources can often be a more thoughtful approach. This is simply because when asking questions to members of these communities, many people ‘on the outside’ often do so with a sense of entitlement – they don’t owe you or have a duty to educate you. There is often also an emotional labour that comes with explaining the struggles you go through as a marginalised person that can often threaten your peace or happiness, especially if you have to do it repeatedly. For example, many black individuals have to repeatedly explain why non-black people should not use the n-word; explanations that often go on deaf ears and knowledge that you probably have just gotten from Google without involving a poor soul who is probably tired of having this conversation.

This aside though, and overall – I think we need to be find a way to tip the balance and bring humans back into the learning process once more. And by that I mean, asking a question to someone as your first port of call. At the moment, it feels like the balance is skewed and the internet always takes priority – people will trudge through several pages and PDFs for answers, if it doesn’t mean apparently inconveniencing another soul. (To be honest I can’t say I’m 100% innocent on that front!) Yet, the danger is even when it comes to matters dealing with life or death, people will apply this mentality – they, for example, don’t want to bother doctors or they want a quick fix answer (which has a high chance of being incorrect depending on the source), they’ll therefore go to Dr Google and hope for the best.

As a world bombarded by tech, how do we go about changing something so ingrained into our behaviour and normalise…well, just asking people? God knows.

All I’ll say is next time someone asks you something – accept that yes, it could be googled but they’ve asked you and probably for a reason. Don’t chide them and sneeringly say (or type), ‘you should just google it’ – give them some credit. If you don’t know – just apologise, admit you don’t have an answer (or point them to another person or resource) and move on. It’s not that hard, it’s nice and it’s free.

If we’re not careful ‘the grass is always greener’,

Is a mentality that can dictate our lives

Like an angry colonel, deafening and persistent

It turns split second smiles to plastic

It eats away at our happiness as we stand in the midst of it

A relentless fire that starts to burn the ground of your security

Perhaps, the grass is only greener because you’re scorching the ground

of the life-giving grass you already stand on.