interesting Jonathan Franzen interview on the Paris Review website -
"...Not everything in the world needs to be laughed angrily at, you realize. There turn out to be more emotions available to a working writer than I might have guessed earlier on. And one of them might be love—love and gratitude."
"...I like attention, I do! But it’s counterbalanced by a need and craving to be alone most of the time. This is one reason I’ve found being a writer a very suitable profession. You have the possibility of great bursts of satisfying attention, and then you’re left alone."
On Dylan Thomas' 100th birthday, a beautiful poem...
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb Golden in the heydays of his eyes, And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves Trail with daisies and barley Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home, In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be Golden in the mercy of his means, And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold, And the sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air And playing, lovely and watery And fire green as grass. And nightly under the simple stars As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away, All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars Flying with the ricks, and the horses Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all Shining, it was Adam and maiden, The sky gathered again And the sun grew round that very day. So it must have been after the birth of the simple light In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm Out of the whinnying green stable On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long, In the sun born over and over, I ran my heedless ways, My wishes raced through the house high hay And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs Before the children green and golden Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand, In the moon that is always rising, Nor that riding to sleep I should hear him fly with the high fields And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land. Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
“How I long for a little ordinary human enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm - that's all. I want to hear a warm, thrilling voice cry out hallelujah! Hallelujah! I'm alive! I've an idea. Why don't we have a little game? Let's pretend that we're human beings, and that we're actually alive. Just for a while. What do you say? Let's pretend we're human.”
“It’s no good trying to fool yourself about love. You can’t fall into it like a soft job, without dirtying your hands. It takes muscle and guts. And if you can’t bear the thought of messing up your nice, clean soul, you’d better give up the whole idea of life and become a saint because you’ll never make it as a human being. It’s either this world or the next.”
"There isn't going to be any turning point. ... There isn't going to be any next-month-it'll-be-better, next fucking year, next fucking life. You don't have any time to wait for. You just got to look around you and say, "So this is it. This is really all there is to it. This little thing." Everybody needing such little things and they can't get them. Everybody needing just a little confidence from somebody else and they can't get it. Everybody, everybody fighting to protect their little feelings. Everybody, you know, like reaching out tentatively but drawing back. It's so shallow and seems so ... fucking ... it seems like such a shame. It's so close to being like really right and good and open and amorphous and giving and everything. But it's not. And it ain't gonna be."
'I’ll never forget hearing about the arrival of Prince George: I was cycling toward Hyde Park, a few streets from the hospital. Temperatures had been in the mid-80s for days. At the traffic lights a taxi driver stuck his head out of the window and shouted, “It’s a boy!” Buses, vans, and cars sounded their horns, gun salutes rang out, the bells of Westminster Abbey pealed, and everyone cheered. It was a rare moment of collective London joy...'
While the U.S. went out in a blaze of World Cup glory, England’s pampered players slouched home in disgrace—and don’t even get us started on Wimbledon. Here in England we’ve long scoffed at American notions of soccer, the fact that you (allegedly) don’t understand injury time and the off-side rule— but their battle against Belgium proved that finally, proper football has come to America. Your team may have been beaten, but at least you fought until the final second. And you know what? We admire you. The flair, spirit and technical brilliance we’ve seen from the U.S. and other nations in the past few weeks only compounds the humiliation of our English ‘football’ team. I use the term ‘football’ loosely here...
With new US proposals to regulate the physical intimacy between adults, are we in danger of legislating all the joy out of sex?
A bill making its way through the California Assembly is attempting to address the problem of rape on college campuses by mandating “affirmative consent”—a verbal or written yes—before engaging in sexual activity.
"Back in Paris at Roland Garros for the French Open tennis tournament. Too soon it’s our final morning: We leave our hotel at dawn and walk along the Left Bank in sparkling sunshine to the Eiffel Tower. No matter how many touristy images, keyrings and cheesy postcards you may have seen, the reality of the Tour Eiffel is breath-taking..
Before we catch our train back to London, there’s one last place to visit. On the Pont des Arts we buy a padlock engraved with our initials, T and E. A few feet away from us, a newly married couple are smiling for photographs; nearby, two men kiss in the early-morning sunshine. (Interestingly, a campaign was last year launched by two American women living in Paris, to ban the spread of the padlocking craze.) Like many thousands of couples before us we attach our ‘love lock’ to the bridge, and throw the key in the Seine…"
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
...how do we learn to love our bodies for what they do, rather than how they look? How can we value ourselves more, not less, as we age? I don’t have the answer (but I’m pretty sure it’s not cosmetic surgery). We need to challenge the external messages and the internal voice which tells us we’re ugly, old or fat. In the words of Naomi Wolf: “She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her.”
This week's column for The Daily Beast! Psychologists View Both Divorce and Marriage as Major Life Stresses At the top of psychology’s gold standard scale of stressful life events: falling in love…and falling out.
What have been the most traumatic events of your life—and how do you cope?
Ahead of the US publication of The Ministry of Thin we just received this beautiful review from the prestigious Booklist/American Library Association...
The Ministry of Thin: How the Pursuit of Perfection Got Out of Control. Woolf, Emma (Author) Jun 2014. 304 p. Soft Skull, paperback, $15.95
Woolf (An Apple a Day: A Memoir of Love and Recovery from Anorexia, 2013), a British newspaper columnist and the great-niece of Virginia Woolf, continues her chronicle of anorexia, moving from the personal to the societal. Her chapter headings here include “The Ministry of Fashion and Beauty” (“fabric hangs well on frames which are straight up-and-down”), “The Ministry of Detox” (“surely irrigation is for fields, not human beings!”), “The Ministry of Sex” (one survey found that 51-percent of women would give up sex for a year if it meant they could be skinny), and “The Ministry of Surgery” (worldwide, more than 17-million cosmetic surgery procedures take place every year). Much of the information she shares is disheartening. One study reported that one in six women would choose to be blind rather than obese. Yet Woolf uses her distinctively conversational voice and nimble sense of humor to keep her arresting insights into our obsession with thinness as well as modern-day feminism and fertility from getting too downbeat. Candid, revealing, and invaluable.
A thorough analysis of our weight-obsessed culture.
“Disliking one’s body and wanting to be thinner is the new normal,” writes British newspaper columnist and BBC TV presenter Woolf (An Apple A Day: A Memoir of Love and Recovery from Anorexia, 2013) in her colloquial scrutiny of contemporary society’s fixation on weight, appearance and the desire for outward perfection. She knows this slippery terrain well: Her bracing memoir chronicling a decadelong physical and psychological preoccupation with food is well-referenced here in chapters tackling the many facets of mild to major body dysmorphia.
As her great niece, the author quotes Virginia Woolf casually throughout well-researched sections (“ministries”) exploring the social connotations and demonizations of food, tedious diets (“the triumph of hope over experience”), fitness, sex and the concept of aging gracefully without the trendiest plastic surgeries. Along the way, she shares her personal indulgences (baked beans and frozen yogurt) and a marked disenchantment with increasing societal (and media) pressures placed on women to look, act, eat and feel a way that is often at odds with their goal of happiness and healthfulness. Less appealing are mildly catty approaches to celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Kate Middleton, Liz Hurley and others; Woolf’s angle may prove nettlesome to readers eager for less judgment and more confidence boosting.
Of particular interest is the author’s presentation of a ground-breaking 1940s food deprivation study, the findings of which offered dramatic insights as to how starvation alters the body and the mind simultaneously. Vividly rendered and creatively explored, Woolf’s text encourages nonconformity and individuality on many fronts, even as her burning query remains, “if being thin is the answer, what’s the question?”
Relevant, engrossing and sure to help liberate those in the throes of a weight battle or lifestyle crisis.
Latest column for the Daily Beast Emma Woolf On Losing Her 'Girls' Virginity
What happens when a British writer finally gives into the hype and watches her very first episode of Lena Dunham’s hipster extravaganza? An experience about as uncomfortable and unforgettable as Adam and Hannah’s Season 1 sex scene.
They say good news travels fast. Perhaps this explains why it’s taken me two years to get around to watching Girls. I’d never seen a single episode of the hit HBO series until last week. And frankly, I’m still recovering...
As someone who cycles around 50 miles a week, I thought Psycle would be easy. How wrong I was. You’re in constant movement: cycling standing up, bodies angled forward, then leaning right over, Tour de France style, then seated while using hand weights, then executing multiple push-ups on the handlebars, clapping, stretching, always pedalling in time to the beat. Try cycling standing up, without allowing your upper body to bounce up and down: this is what it means to ‘engage your core’.
With the lights low and the music high, and everyone cycling in unison, white shoes flashing in disco light, there’s an incredible group energy (and I’m really not into group exercise).It induces a kind of physical and mental euphoria I haven’t experienced since my clubbing days after all-nighters on the dance-floor. We vary the bike’s resistance constantly—turning it way up high to Michael Jackson’s Beat It, for example, while simultaneously punching the air. Psycle works your upper body too, with even the men working those ballet arms.
Halfway through the class there’s a single musical track to give you time ‘to do your own thing’. You can cycle fast or slow, as long as you keep time to the beat. I find it a beautiful, meditative few minutes in the darkness, a spiritual sanctuary which really clears my head...
"But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”
Straight-A Anorexics: Are Britain’s Private Schools Breeding Grounds For Anorexia?A new report claims that the perfectionistic, highly competitive environment of the UK’s top academies are making students prone to teen eating disorders...
This wasn’t news to me. From the ages of 11-18, I attended London’s top private girls’ school, along with both my sisters. Although I didn’t develop anorexia until the year after I left, I’m conscious that I conform to the anorexic stereotype: perfectionist, insecure, driven. The latest media reports outline precisely those same characteristics: academic and highly competitive. Individuals develop eating disorders for a range of complex reasons, of course—but of the hundreds of woman and men I have met with anorexia, every one conforms to this profile.
Why should the compulsion to excel—which propels these privileged students to Oxford. Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, among other top universities—also make them acutely vulnerable to eating disorders? To me it makes perfect, dangerous sense that intelligent, driven girls are prone to anorexia. They excel not just at English and Math, Drama and Science and Music, but also at exercise and weight-loss. They strive to be beautiful, popular, self-disciplined, and yes, thin.
She lay for a considerable time looking blankly at the wall opposite, her hands clasped above her heart, and her light burning by her side. All articulate thought had long ago deserted her; her heart seemed to have grown to the size of a sun, and to illuminate her entire body, shedding like the sun a steady tide of warmth.
"I'm happy, I'm happy, I'm happy," she repeated. "I love every one. I'm happy." The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf
We learn how to dice an onion into perfect, tiny cubes (the secret is not to remove the root when you peel the skin). We learn how to de-vein prawns; how to blend ginger, lime, garlic, turmeric, Tamarind, cumin and cardamom for an awesome marinade; how to deseed a fiery-hot chili; how to make perfectly fluffy Jasmine rice; how to handle a blow-torch… these are indeed life skills. At the end of the course, we sit down at a beautifully laid table, along with plenty of wine, to sample the fruits of our labours. The lemongrass and ginger crème brulee is divine...
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you every where like a shadow or a friend.
In my new book I’m writing a chapter on body language: how we feel and talk about our bodies. Here’s my question: What is your favourite body part? If you don’t have a single part – what do you love most about your body? You may
remember the Top Sante piece I mentioned recently - it can be hard, to find something to celebrate and admire in our own bodies!
I don't really approve of dividing our bodies into 'parts' - we should focus on the whole, and not fixate on flaws... but in the end, I chose my
legs: ‘Not because they’re long or in any way perfect, but because they
allow me to run and cycle and have adventures. My legs are strong, they look
good in jeans, and they carry me to the people I love.’
happy to include first name and age, that’s great - or choose a pseudonym. It’s anonymous because I won’t use any surnames obviously. Please keep
it short! And email to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Virginia Woolf's earliest childhood memory, falling asleep in St Ives, listening to the waves...
"...If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills - then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind. It is of hearing the blind draw its little acorn across the floor as the wind blew the blind out. It is of lying and hearing this splash and seeing this light, and feeling, it is almost impossible that I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive."
Having a Mary Chapin Carpenter moment while working on my new book...
If you don't know The Essential album, it's fantastic. I love 'Shut Up and Kiss Me'.
And this truly beautiful song...
Late For Your Life
You've been saying for the longest time that the time has come You've been talking like you're of a mind to get some changing done Maybe move out of the city, find some quiet little town Where you can sit out on your back porch step And watch the sun go down No one knows where they belong The search just goes on and on and on For every choice that ends up wrong Another one's right A change of scene would sure be great The thought is nice to contemplate But the question begs why would you wait And be late for your life
Now you might never find that perfect town But the sun still sets on a rooftop where the city Sounds like a Gershwin clarinet And you might still be searching every face for one you can't forget Love is out there in a stranger's clothes You just haven't met him yet No one knows where they belong The search just goes on and on and on For every day that ends up wrong Another one's right Call it chance or call it fate Either one is cause to celebrate Still the question begs why would you wait And be late for your life
Call it chance baby, call it fate Either one is cause to celebrate And the question now is why would you wait Don't be late for your life
I know this sounds harsh, and I’ll be slammed for saying it. But from my own experience, it’s empowering to take responsibility for one’s own health. I genuinely don’t believe in bullying, blaming or ‘fat-shaming’ anyone. I know the misery that disordered eating can cause. Many people are overweight, and happy, and healthy—and that’s absolutely fine. However, extremes of weight are dangerous at both ends of the spectrum. Under-eating or over-eating is hellish: food can become a source of guilt and shame, eating in public can become a terrible experience.
Like drugs, like smoking, it is our responsibility what we put into our bodies. Our food choices have consequences.
Awareness campaigns, government initiatives, levying fat taxes, blaming commercials, or the food industry, or ‘obesogenic environments’. Why all this nonsense? It’s really not that complicated. Calories in versus calories out. Walk to work. Stop snacking on biscuits. Cancel your online delivery and go grocery shopping. Quit sugary soft drinks and alcohol, or at least have a month off. Run around the block. Lay off the lattes. Get off the bus, get on your bike (regular cyclists have average fitness levels of someone 10 years younger). Don’t pretend it’s your ‘slow metabolism’ or your ‘big bones’.
After a While
After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't always mean security.
And you begin to learn
That kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child
And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow's ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid-flight
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers
And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every goodbye you learn.
Very excited about the new series of Supersize vs Superskinny which starts this evening at 8pm on Channel 4.
Interviewed some fascinating people over the past few months, ranging from MPs campaigning to ban pro-anorexia websites, to those fighting eating disorders with the added challenge of physical disability.
I also filmed with the world's thinnest woman (I kid you not) and a family who tragically lost their daughter to anorexia only a few months ago. On a happier note, I met an Olympic-medal winning triathlete, and the Strictly Wheelchair Dancing superstars.
Had so much filming with the dream team, and can't wait to see what Dr Christian has been up, and to hear what you think of Series 7.
A. My legs. Not because they're long or in any way perfect (they're not!) but because they allow me to run, cycle, and have adventures. My legs are strong, they look good in jeans, and they carry me to the people I love.
Read more on this, and my article on the new, true confidence in latest issue of Top Sante magazine
...genuine confidence isn’t about
being ‘perfect’. It grows from self-knowledge and self-belief, and an ability
to cope with life’s ups and downs. We can’t control what happens - things go
wrong for all of us at times - but confident women have the resilience to keep
going. Confidence gives us a backbone, but flexibility: like a tree in the wind,
it’s far stronger to be flexible and bend, than to be rigid and snap.
Most of all, the new confidence is about authenticity. There
is something liberating about not hiding: what could be more successful than
being who you really are?