Category Archives: Style

Resonance: Acceptance of Failure overkill?

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“Yes, failure is part of entrepreneurship . . . but we still need to be careful about not just labeling all failures as equally ‘useful,’” he says. “Some are true learning opportunities born of a disciplined innovation and experimentation process; others are the outcomes of very poor decision making.”

-Michael A. Roberto

Rachel Gillett talks about the acceptance of failure, its failure, and the threatening oversaturation and abuse of the concept over at Fast Company.

Diaries Out, part 1

save the dates, blog

As I mentioned in the last post, the boy and I are getting married next year. As we’re all aware, the days of calling up the only venue/stationer/photographer, etc. in the area are long over. Not only do we now have a catalogue the size of the Louvre’s from which to choose, but every third blog offers advice about the planning process. While of course variety and advice is a wonderful thing, it’s very hard not to feel buried under everything. I do think that some blogs are better than others for real, honest-to-God advice, while others are better for inspiration (A practical wedding vs style me pretty). But one piece of advice that is well-given, and resoundingly true, is to determine what is most important to you and where you want the money to go. Different proposed costs from different vendors begin to naturally shift your priorities, but it can be very difficult when you just want everything to look lovely and you don’t know how to sift through the masses to find the best option. We’re very fond of entertaining, which means that every aspect seems important from the invitations to the food to the hotel welcome bags.

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It’s why I was so glad to come across the blog Oh so beautiful paper, and through that blog the shop Antiquaria. Oh so beautiful paper and Antiquaria make DIY seem do-able, rather than a complete disaster waiting to happen. I’m the sort that likes to think I’m crafty until I’m faced with all the papers and the glues and the inks. At which point, I realize that I can’t even draw stick figures well. But so much of the cost of invitations can be offset by DIY elements, particularly doing your own save the dates. We’re only doing save the dates for the English types and wanted a more traditional style than the ones offered on zazzle and other such places. We ordered a customized ‘save the date’ stamp in a calligraphy script, and I went to a paper goods store to purchase some patterned paper, envelopes, and envelope liner templates.

A steady hand with the pencil and scissors is all you really need, I think. Antiquaria also provides letterpress elements that match the various stamp styles, which is very convenient. I was so worried about things looking fantastic that I just forgot to think about my own skills and the most logical options. This feeling in particular is SO inherent to the wedding industry right now; that everything must be custom and special to you and amazing, and there is just so much cost–not even monetary, also time and effort–tied in with planning that it can just drive you mad.

Pigeon

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Of the rooms in our flat, I think I’m most fond of the bathroom. While our flat is lovely, previous paint and wallpaper decision have put a definite design stamp on the kitchen and bedroom that my partner and I have little to no control over. The bathroom, painted white with white subway tiles and white fixtures, had an old purple shower curtain and abstract IKEA art prints. Easy enough to put our own stamp on it.

I very quickly put up an understated, striped shower curtain and changed out the glass and metal set of open shelves for a white particle board cupboard. I later picked up a nice soap dish and some glass jars for cotton balls and q-tips (classy like), a bin and a toilet paper holder. Previously, the toilet paper was placed on the handle of the toilet brush. Not exactly sanitary. But the IKEA art stayed on the walls, taunting us.

I don’t know about other people, but art seems to be the hardest part about putting a new flat together. I have a fair amount of pieces back home in Virginia but every time I think about shipping the art over . . . the mind boggles with shipping companies and costs that make your eyes bug out of your head. So we’ve a Turner print . . . that’s yet to be framed and other prints from our travels and the ever-amazing Etsy, framed in the ubiquitous black IKEA frames.

We finally chose three prints from local south London artist and author of the blog Birds in Hats, Alice Tams. Clean lines with a touch of whimsy is obviously a major trend everywhere right now–it keeps the room pretty timeless, and art can obviously be changed as tastes change. In this instance, the stark black frames suit the birds perfectly and the prints add the final touch to the room. The room is an indication of our shared design sense–what our home might look like once we have a fully blank slate.

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This flat is the first flat that I’ve felt I could treat as my actual home, rather than a temporary space intended for students or ‘young people’. I feel like I can buy nice things after years of holding back out of fear of things being destroyed accidentally. It’s nice to feel like your home has a sense of permanence, even if it will definitely change buildings at some point.

Tinking/Thinking

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It has been forever [FOREVER] since I’ve written anything here. I’ve basically just been working on this little phd of mine. While loads of scholars and phd students use blogs and online writing forums to talk about incredibly productive and thought-provoking concepts related to their topic, that’s not something that makes me entirely comfortable, personally. I’d much rather use this space as a writing exercise and a place to talk about my work in the abstract: the act of researching, what I do outside my work, etc. I am not the first, nor likely the best person to write about this. But it’s what is going to happen.

When I left my part-time job, I made the decision to stop working on my PhD during the weekend. Previously, I felt that I needed to make up research/work time that I lost while in the office. Now, my weekends are so precious and essential to a work-life balance. More often than not, I do end up tweaking some writing, or reading a segment of a book in the never-ending pile of ‘books-I-should-have-read/need-to-read-but-haven’t-yet’. But it’s because I want to work on a little something and the action is free from the stress of worrying about falling behind.

So my weekends are now incredibly lazy – at best, a load of laundry or two happens. We start the day with a delicious breakfast (Saturday is always crepes and coffee – lemon and sugar, please). I’d rather not binge on Netflix and the five MILLION shows that I need to watch, but haven’t. It would be amazing to say that I go for a bracing walk, regardless of the weather, but I’m a massive chicken when it comes to weather. So a walk happens in that perfect Goldilocks-moment when the weather is not too cold, not too hot, and I’m actually interested in taking a walk. Needless to say, a run is NEVER on the agenda. More often than not, I’m curled up on the couch with a mug of tea.

I’ve been an on-and-off again knitter since high school. And when I say that, I mean that I knitted scarves in various simple stitches and a hat that didn’t actually stay on my head. I was the kind of knitter that could proudly wear a scarf I knit but was never actually brave enough to move into something that I might possibly fail at. With a basic single pretty stitch scarf, if two stitches ended up as one stitch it was ultimately not that big of a deal. But anything bigger or more complex than that, accuracy and precision is integral and as someone who identifies as perpetually impatient this did not seem like something for me.

It does, however, seem like something for my sister. She is unfailingly thoughtful in just about every activity she approaches. She is an unfailing perfectionist in just about every activity she approaches. This attitude serves her very well in her profession as both an editor and a writer, and transfers over to her work as a maker very neatly. She very quickly began creating perfect (and I mean perfect) knitted projects in patterns and shapes that I never dreamed of trying. Baby sweaters, cowls, socks, mittens, A GROWN PERSON-SIZED sweater. This naturally inspired me (or, my naturally competitive nature inspired me . . .) to aim higher where my knitting is concerned. In August I started to knit a shawl to wear in the obscenely chilly libraries and archives I frequent (British Library, I’m looking at you). I moved slowly and cautiously. The pattern wasn’t too complicated or more advanced then previous patterns I’d worked with, but it was more. More pattern shifts, more increases, a border – and several stitches I’d never actually worked with. (Are you started to notice a parallel here? I hope so.)

I found knitting to be a GREAT weekend activity. The slow, methodical work kept the front of my mind engaged but allowed the back of my mind (side of my mind?) to be set adrift. I began thinking about my work in a rather non-linear way and my work benefitted from this time where a) I could sit and think without the pressure of SITTING and THINKING and b) I sat down and produced something with a MEASURABLE result. So much of the PhD is piecemeal and scattered until suddenly you have (I’d imagine) a doorstop of work. It’s a real pleasure to be able to see a visual progress.

Then, right around when I went home for Christmas, I realised that I made a mistake in my knitting. The number of stitches no longer added up. Had I been at home, I probably would have just knitted the extra stitch back into the work and dealt with the piece being less than perfect. Luckily, my sister was also at home and convinced me to tink back. Tink, for those not in the knitting know, is knit backwards and it stands for the process of individually knitting back to a mistake. This is juxtaposed by frogging, which is when you remove the needles and rip rows out to go back quickly (rip it, rip it . . . get it?). So, she tinked back most of the stitches for me but, like me, was having difficulty seeing where the problem was. So cut to this afternoon, when I’m staring at my knitting. Not really sure where I was in the pattern and not sure where the solution to the problem was.

I should say now that writing about knitting is very often just a way of writing about another, similarly cerebral, activity.

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So I tinked back and while the number of stitches on my needles was correct, the actual knitting process still wasn’t working. So I considered just dealing with it, but decided to tink back even farther. And the final row that I tinked back was just . . . I described it in an email to my sister as knitting schmutz. It was just lazy, inattentive stitching that fifteen rows later caused major problems. And as I tinked back, I started thinking about how knitting is (surprise, surprise) like research. Inattentive research leads to research schmutz. Thoughts that should be great and lead to amazing ideas, but don’t because I didn’t make myself stretch farther at the time.

It also made me think about processes. It’s easy to forget that things that seem perfect have usually benefitted from at least one long drawn-out ‘tink back’ at some point. Things become thoughtful when you’ve taken the time to look at it over and over again, sussed out all the problems, and fixed them. And yes, this is SO ridiculously obvious. I know. But sometimes you have to start thinking about knitting to end thinking about research/history.

Now the problem is fixed. I still don’t quite know what was wrong. But the important thing is, I can move forward.

So there you go.

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Haven

This spring a dear friend visited from Oxford and we wandered about London a little bit. I’d studiously avoided a particular place . . . I knew it would be hard for me to resist. It calls to me . . . across the internet, in my inbox . . . but at last, in a moment of weakness, I went.

Anthropologie.

I love that store. If I had unlimited funds, my whole flat and wardrobe would be kitted out in things from Anthro. But since the idea of me having unlimited funds is laughable, and then that thrice-bedamned exchange rate just makes it incredibly difficult to even walk inside. And it’s such a lovely store.

This one in particular has a living wall, which I’d never seen before. It’s really lovely and makes the whole store smell incredibly fresh and natural.

I managed to not buy anything this last time and I haven’t been back in months . . . but in September/October, if the budget’s right?  I might go buy a tea towel. Just the tea towel.

As much privacy as a goldfish in a bowl

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m fascinated by the idea of these Royal residences. They are amazing pieces of architecture that showcase the history of England and the monarchy, with stunning exhibits and displays–particularly as London/England gears up for the (now past) Jubilee and Olympic Games. However, it’s important to remember that behind a few bricked up doors is where the royal family actually works and lives. This is particularly true of Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria’s childhood home, also the home of Diana after her divorce from the Prince of Wales as well as the late Princesses Margaret (the source of today’s post title) and Alice. It is now the official London base of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (i.e. Will and Kate) among others and the unofficial residence of Prince Harry.

I’d heard a bit about the new exhibits at Kensington Palace and went to visit them with both my parents and later a friend who came to visit. There have been many parallels drawn between Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria recently–with this Jubilee QEII clocks in at 60 years, which means she only has 3 years and 7 months to go to beat out Queen Victoria as the longest reigning monarch in England and the longest reigning female monarch EVER. Which is pretty cool, you have to admit.

 

There were 3 major exhibits that stick in my memory; one about Victoria’s reign, one about the reign of Queen Mary [of William &, because technically they reigned jointly. The fact that few people remember that she was NOT, in fact, a Queen Consort is probably one of the reasons she looks so dour in all her portraits), and one showcasing some of Diana’s more popular gowns. While perusing some of Victoria’s desk supplies (way to excited) I overheard a docent mention that some people would come in from the park commenting that they saw one of the princes going for a jog. The whole thing strikes me as so surreal, looking out your window with your morning cuppa to see random people on your front lawn! But it’s all part and parcel, I guess.

 

The exhibits were very Tim Burton-esque, with lots of interesting quotes written on the walls, these amazing silhouettes and all sorts of amazing things hanging on the wall. They kept very close to the more recent trend of museums being interactive–they were beautiful just walking through them, but in order to see or hear any information you had to crouch down, peer into windows, and sit in the window seats to hear the whispers of gossiping courtiers.

There is so much to see at the exhibit, and these pictures are merely a miniscule fraction of what they’ve showcased there.

Budget Cuts

The hardest part about being a student (or a person, really) is the absolutely necessary cuts in spending. Curtailing eating out isn’t technically difficult, but it IS difficult to entertain when you live with five other people and your room, while not horribly small, doesn’t have the size or seating of your local pub.

I find, for me, that budgeting difficulty is three-fold. This is primarily because I am a creature of extremes. It’s either hot or cold, right or left. I’m either spending loads or nothing at all. Yesterday I finally bit the bullet and bought a knife and a vegetable peeler. Six months I’ve lived here, with no knife to actually cut food while I cook. I could also seriously use a desk lamp, because I hate overhead lighting and mine is particularly bright and obnoxious. I like the look of this one, from Ikea. But then I sit and think about 17 quid and what else that can buy me . . .half my weekly groceries, two plates of yaki soba at Wagamamas, two albums on iTunes, etc.

So, I have a hard time buying things that I need (I mean, the knife I really needed. That wasn’t a want-need).

Then there are, of course, the things that I WANT. Art for the walls of my room (glaringly white, they are. It’s horrible). A speaker dock to charge my iPhone/iPod while playing music. Bracelets for summer from sonofasailor on etsy (pictured here)

And I’m in love (LOVE) with these loafers from Anthropologie. If I owned them, my feet would feel like Hugh Hefner, all the time. And it would be grand, it really would.

But these are things I WANT, not things I need. And I should re-sole my boots that I got earlier in September (a more practical solution). And they are suede, which isn’t the smartest thing to buy in London. BUT THE LOAFERS!! So naturally I hesitate on that sort of thing (as well I should).

And then there’s that weird “I dunno” category. Of things that you could ARGUE to yourself that you need, but maybe you actually don’t need? I have one pair of skinny jeans. Surely that is not enough, and I need another pair of jeans. But do I REALLY need another pair of jeans? And what sort of jeans should I buy? Topshop for 40 quid? Or spring for Diesel or Levis, which are more expensive but arguably better quality? And spring clothes in general. I mean, I need clothes, right? RIGHT?!

But perhaps what I have is good enough?

And I’ve just signed on for three more years of this. Crikey.