On Kindness

In a world where so many of us feel sad right now, or angry, or helpless, or let down, how can we feel better? How can we move on in a way that doesn't seem disrespectful? How can we be lighthearted again when everything feels so damn serious? How can we change the tune?

I think I have the answer, sort of. It might sound trite, it might sound small when everything feels really big, but the answer is Kindness. Here's the thing- kindness makes the world a better place. It makes you feel good, it makes someone else feel good. It gives us all hope that the world might actually be full of good people and that there's a chance for the human race to come together.

Kindness doesn't cost a lot, but it can lead to a moment of light on a dark day, for a friend, for a stranger, for you. So I've put together a list of 50 little things we could all do that have the potential to change today and reframe tomorrow. 

This blog is full of rants and anger and moaning, but I don't know how much good it is doing anymore for me to pile my own frustration on top of the collective mass of upset. Weight upon weightiness. So here's something different. 

1. Buy someone a balloon. A BALLOON. Maybe one of those big smiley face ones. Full of helium obviously.

2. Do the first tea/ coffee round in work today

3. Take an old friend for a pint

4. Leave a note on a colleague's desk to tell them they are ace

5. Walk a neighbour's dogs for them

6. Call a relative you know you've been meaning to call

7. Text back

8. Like a friend's Instagram photo that doesn't have many likes, and comment on why you like it

9. Get groceries for an elderly relative or neighbour

10. Do the washing up, even if it isn't your turn

11. Make the bed, even if you're running late

12. Make your gf/bf/roomie/dog/cat/mother breakfast

13. Pop in to see your grandparents

14. Buy a couple of lottery scratchers and mail them to people

15. Write some positive, inspirational messages on pieces of paper and tape them to trees, so people will see them when they're strolling around and smile

16. Leave exact change at the laundromat on top of a machine

17. Pay for the person who gets on the bus behind you

18. Email your best friend a hilarious and forgotten picture of you together

19. Email an old friend you've not seen in a while a hilarious and forgotten picture of you together

20. Write a thank you letter and mean it, whether its to a parent, an old teacher, someone you never really thanked enough

21. Pick some flowers and give them to someone you pass by in the street

22. Smile. At everyone. All day. Even on the tube. Even if you look bonkers.

23. Tell a stranger you like their hat/ coat/ shoes/ face

24. Send cat pictures to your friend who loves cat pictures (we all have one)

25. Lay tribute at your local memorial to the victims of Orlando. Sit a minute. 

26. Read an extra couple of pages of their bedtime story

27. Pay for the next person in line's coffee

28. Make dinner tonight, even if you don't like cooking

29. Listen.

30. Send someone a song that reminds you of them, just because

31. Send a birthday message to everyone who Facebook tells you is celebrating their special day today. Mean it.

32. Vacuum.

33. Hold the door open

34. Let that person go ahead of you in line, it doesn't matter

35. Make double lunch today, and share with someone you've not really spoken to

36. Sponsor that person for the charity thing that you keep 'forgetting' to sponsor

37. Put a quid in a jar every time you complain for a week. At the end of that week, give that money to charity.

38. Bake someone a cake

39. Take a football to the park this weekend. Invite anyone who walks by to have a kick about

40. If you're the boss, let your team go early today. It's Friday, go on

41. Smile at the guy who just took your parking spot

42. Volunteer.

43. Hug your dad

44. Donate clothes

45. Go to the gay club with your friend who has just come out and is now more nervous than ever to join the party

46. Stop to give directions

47. Hug your mum

48. Carry someone's luggage/ bike/ pram down the stairs to the tube at rush hour, even if it means missing the train

49. Stop for a chugger. Hear them out. Have a proper conversation

50. Offer to babysit for your new parent friends, let 'em go HAM for a night.

 

 

 

 

 

We Stand Together

I have spent 48 hours wondering whether to write this or not. I try to keep my gayness separate from my professional and public life, not because I'm embarrassed, but because, like most gay people, it is exhausting having to come out over and over again. Not only that, but sometimes I worry that it will immediately lead to judgements made on my work that do not relate. If you don't like my ideas that's fine, if you don't like what I'm saying because it's a gay person saying it: not fine.

Anyway, none of that matters now. Whatever justifications I have made in the past for keeping my role in the queer community as a distinct thing from the rest of my life, they are irrelevant.

The thing is, you don't just figure out you're gay one day and show up in a gay bar that same night, in the same way you figure out you're thirsty one day and show up at the pub. There is such a process to get there. To be on that dancefloor at 2am feeling free and alive and happy in your own skin is a victory, a celebration. To get there you have probably ticked off a fair few of these: you've come out, upset family members, felt friends become distant, had the people closest to you turn their back on you, felt at odds with the expectations of the rest of your gender, wished-at times- that you weren't born feeling the way you feel. For me, having worked in the television industry for some years now, I know that I have lost out on jobs because I don't represent a certain ideal- I don't look the right way- I was even asked once to wear a wig for an audition because I had recently cut my hair really short. (I didn't do it. I still got the job.) It took a hell of a long time for me to be comfortable in this skin, and I'm still working on it.

I moved from London to New York four years ago because whilst I adore my British besties to the ends of the earth, they are straight, and as such our social life is straight. I didn't have a community and felt like I was missing out, and I was right. Gingerly I made my way out into the big gay world of NYC, and that world embraced me with open arms immediately. It was at once a thrill and a relief and the years that followed in that city, though up and down, were so important. They were the most formative two years of my twenties. I learnt to feel truly comfortable in my own skin, to be seen on the scene. My crew was solid as a rock and through them I found a side of myself I hadn't really dared explore. It was and is amazing. That community made me who I am today, and now that I'm back in the UK I miss them terribly, though at least I now have the confidence to find that sense of solidarity again here.

And that sense of solidarity is the thing we should focus on after Orlando. I cried today, not for the first time in the last couple of days, when I saw that the town hall of the small town where I'm from had a huge 'we stand with Orlando' banner up, and beneath it flowers, candles, messages of support. There was a vigil here last night, as there were all over the country and all the world. It is that solidarity that will keep our community strong, allow it to flourish, allow those of us still battling to accept who we are to keep pushing forward, and those of us who have found ourselves here to embrace the spaces we have sacrificed so much to claim as our sanctuary.

We stand together now, and we speak up. Orlando has changed the world forever, but we will do you justice by continuing to celebrate you, and live fearlessly with you in our hearts.

On Our Perception of Time

Last week, I was invited to Central St. Martin's University in London to give a talk about living without time, which is something I had experimented with while making Radio Headspace, in as much as I had spent a week avoiding time cues to see what it felt like. At that point, I was conducting social experiments on what made us happier and healthier- living without time cues, without social media, taking time out from the internet, reengaging with our inner child by remembering what it means to play. 

All of these experiments were investigations into socially accepted and rarely questioned features of modern life, but actually, I have since come to realise, all of them were experiments in our perception of time. Aside from the most obvious-living without time cues- living without social media was an experiment in how we experience a moment and whether the act of memory has now replaced the act of experience. Reengaging with our inner child was primarily an act in reengaging with creativity and imagination- both activities that cannot be rushed, that cannot be achieved by firing off a string of back and forth emails and clocking off at precisely 5pm. Living without the internet was an investigation into renewed focus, into remembering the art of slow conversation with comfortable pauses.

Writing that talk, and revisiting some of what I had been interested in when making Radio Headspace, has led me here: to an important discussion of Time, with a capital T. 

We view time in smaller and smaller increments. Not so long ago, the decade was a novel idea- the concept of framing ten years into a period during which something significant could actually happen. Now, thanks to digitized, globally accurate time, every single minute counts. Once upon a time, a clock wouldn't have been necessary when our predominant concerns were the seasons- when to plant, when to harvest, what was available when and how many hours of daylight we had to get things done- now there are clocks on everything, and the internet means daylight has no relevance here- we are always on, always up, always awake, always there. Minute to minute,second to second.

The huge irony in all of this is that during the industrial revolution, when the notion of the clock and working hours became central to the structure of our days, the entire point was to make our working life more efficient, in order to enjoy our leisure time more fully. Make machines to do the jobs for us so we can relax, take two full days a week plus expansive evenings to be, to exist, to think and ponder and converse and imagine.

Conversely, it set in motion the speeding up of time, our rapid decline toward busyness for busyness' sake, efficiency breeding efficiency breeding efficiency until everything was quicker, automatic, convenient, easy: we could suddenly do potentially thousands of things in one day, instead of spending a few days thinking creatively about one problem, with no interruptions, and no worries that we were 'not busy enough'.

One of the side effects of our new perception of time, of it's speeding up, is our short-term thinking. Start-ups come and go, goals are short term, solutions are required immediately. Looking at problems that don't affect us today, or tomorrow, that might not even affect us in twenty years- say, for example, climate change, or saving for when we're older- our outside of many of our timeframes now. And that is a scary thought. I'm all for enjoying the present moment, obviously, but I'd like to imagine that all of this busyness is at least for the benefit of a better world somewhere down the line, at least for somebody.

I want to reclaim time. I no longer want my time to be decided by a system, by the clock, by the day of the week. I want my time to be mine, not owed, not commoditized, not measured. I want time to be bigger, not smaller. I want seasons, not nanoseconds.

There is that super cheesy quote-that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but the moments that take our breath away. It’s charming, but it’s not accurate. Life is measured by the number of breaths we take, the passing of our being and of our days, and we measure it in smaller and smaller and more and more accurate units, but life is experienced through those moments that take our breath away and they are not quantified by time or measurable with normal frameworks, and if they could only happen within a planned schedule, with a finite and set beginning and end, they’d be less special. So let's choose to have a different relationship with old man Time, to stop filling our days with plans and tasks and deadlines and be less afraid of leisure and freedom, which was what we were working towards in the first place.

 

 

 

 

On living in paradise

Just over a year ago, I moved to Venice Beach, California. One of the most famous beach communities in the world, I couldn't believe my luck when I landed from the extreme winter cold of New York, to the sunny, palm-lined shores of Venice.

I ran along the water almost every day over the summer and fall of last year, constantly thankful to have arrived in paradise. Google this place, and you'll see beautiful sunsets, endless palm trees,  a huge stretch of golden sand reaching out to the crystal clear Pacific. What you won't see, though, is this:

This was Venice Beach yesterday, taken at almost the exact same spot as the picture above it. After days of storms, the true human impact on our beautiful coastline is laid bare for all to see, and it's a complete embarrassment. Bottle caps, straws, plastic toys and cups- just mountains of trash washing into the storm drains and out into the ocean. On so many levels this is an ecological disaster. If we are lucky enough to be able to call parts of the world paradise, to look at them and experience them with awe and wonder, surely we owe it to those places, indeed the planet as a whole, to keep them that way, for the plants and animals that inhabit those spaces to thrive, and not have their environments destroyed by our negligence.

It's difficult to not get a bit preachy and indeed teary-eyed about this, but let's just try a little bit harder, eh? Let's not be the ones to spoil the fun for everybody, let's be the ones who made sure generations to come knew what the word paradise meant, and where to find it.

 

 

On the worst decision I ever made

Three or four months ago, I made the decision to get rid of all my social media accounts. There were several reasons, both personal and professional. I was bored of constantly comparing myself to others, of worrying about how many 'likes' I had got on Instagram or retweets on Twitter. I was sick of questioning my 'brand' because that is a ridiculous thing to do, and I was too busy deep stalking someone I went to primary school with on Facebook to get anything done in life.

At first, it was weird. Without Instagram, Twitter and Facebook on my phone, what on earth to stare at while waiting about three minutes for a friend to arrive for dinner, or as soon as I woke up in the morning? What on earth to do with this beautiful, beautiful picture of a sunset on my phone? How will people know that I saw it?! What if everyone thinks today's sunset was mediocre?

After a few weeks though, I started to really feel the benefits. I had my time back, I had my focus and attention back (mostly), I wasn't as worried about what other people thought or what other people were doing. It was nice to catch up with friends and for them to show me pictures of things and tell me stories, rather than guessing about their lives through curated images.

So of course, just when I was truly comfortable with my decision, feeling great about life, I was told by a friend in the TV industry last night: 'giving up social media was the worst decision you ever made.' The worst decision I ever made! Worse than that time I tried to climb up the side of a castle in Scotland, in the middle of the night, drunk and in flip flops? Worse than the time I ordered those $1 oysters in a really dodgy sports bar in New York? The actual worst decision ever.

Apparently right now I don't have a voice, and to the media world I might as well not exist. Now I trust this friend, and she knows the industry well, so maybe that is indeed the case. If it is though, here's my counter argument: I have always had things to say. Everyone has and everyone always will. I will always be able to find someone to listen. It might be my mum, it might be a room full of people, it might be a TV audience of thousands or a blog audience of about 12. But just because I don't have any social media doesn't mean I don't have anything to say. If that is suddenly the barometer of whether someone has an opinion or not, then that is truly a sad thing. I don't think that's the case though, and I think we sometimes forget that it is our choice, and ours only, how we choose to express ourselves, in what forums and to what audience.

So here I am, talking to you. Share this or don't share it, whatever. Then close your computer, leave your phone at home, go outside, and enjoy the sunset.

 

 

 

On our relationship with stuff

I released this podcast on America’s (and indeed the world's, it now seems) biggest shopping day, Black Friday, so I wanted to use this half hour to examine our relationship with stuff. Why do we want it, how do we relate to it, and do we care about how it’s made?

It seems funny to me that we can go around banging on about how we think climate change is awful, but refuse to acknowledge that our stuff-lust isn't to blame. The alignment of Bleak Friday/ Cyber Monday with the beginnings of COP really brought this to the fore this year.

My guests this week are designer Thomas Thwaites, who has over a million views to date on his TED talk about building a toaster from scratch. We also discuss his forthcoming project, GoatMan, which is as absurd and brilliant as it sounds.

I’ll also be speaking to Professor Agnes Nairn, whose work focuses particularly on the way marketing targets children and young people, and how advertising affects us all.

Everything is Connected

Is it better to be a person with a voice, but nothing to say, or a person with plenty to say, but no voice?

That's what I scrawled semi-legibly in my diary at about 4:00 a.m this morning, as I was lying awake having another actual panic attack over what I could do about the plight of the planet. From the pressures facing the environment, to the problems of intrusive tech and the rise and rise of mindless uberconsumerism (YES I JUST MADE THAT WORD UP YOU'RE WELCOME), there's plenty to lose sleep over, and all of this stuff is connected. All of it. 

We can't talk about the environment without talking about how relentless Western materialism is driving demand for Chinese manufacture and cheap labor through the roof (see Naomi Klein's spectacular This Changes Everything), and we can't talk about materialism without talking about the rise of omnipresent online advertising, and invasive tech that tracks our every move from dawn 'til dusk (I'm looking at you, Foursquare) just to figure out how to sell us more stuff. And we can't talk about consumption of stuff without looking at the demands on natural resources when we're trying to make more and more of the stuff. Which brings us back to the environment. 

In the past year, my own perspective on the world has changed more than I could have ever imagined. The problem now for me is to find a way to talk about the planet, the environment, the way we approach our lives mindfully, morally, and sustainably without those thoughts coming off as preachy or outlandish. It's strange how often I feel like I need to justify or excuse my views on veganism or recycling or materialism, lest I might offend someone or make them feel judged. But I am judging a bit, actually. 

All of this is my way of saying that yes, I've started a blog. Because I have something to say, and a small platform to say it on, so it would be irresponsible for me to sit here in silence. This blog will be about the environment, climate change, overconsumption, the role of advertising, the intrusion of tech into every aspect of our lives, big industry, the state of agriculture, and other things that make me sweat over the future of this planet. It will also be about the wonderful and excellent things people are doing to try and make the future of this world a glorious one. I think we're capable of extraordinary things in the face of extraordinary times. Let's find out.