Honest Year-in-Review

If I look back carefully, this year was actually really good to me. I was strong and I did a lot of things. I got a new lease on my work life. I read heaps of books and rested. I became an International Dark-Sky Delegate at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year had started London’s first dark-sky group. I wrote some great stuff. I reconnected with people, and more deeply connected with others. I got to visit a couple of places in the UK when it was safe. I learned how resilient I am. I learned to cook more things. I healed a relationship with an old lover. I learned to be happy and peaceful in the moment. I developed a gratitude practice to be a constant reminder of the simple things. 2020 was, in fact, a year of deep and positive growth.

But when you’re in the throes of depression, these things are tough to see. They can be impossible to see. I imagine there are people out there who did not experience depression at some point this year, but they must be rare birds indeed. Being fucking knackered, feeling like you can’t muster any strength for a new year, being overwhelmed by a gentle and unwavering sadness, or just plain numb…I don’t know about you, but this is the New Year I am experiencing.

Choosing to remember the me of a different day, she’s still me.

I write here as therapy. It’s purely for myself, and if anyone that reads it and finds something of themselves in it, well that’s a bonus. But this is a space I have created for myself to write whatever the fuck I want to write and not worry about commissioning editors or tone of voice or word count or angles. It’s just me, unfiltered.

When someone talks openly about their feelings of depression, sadness, overwhelm or despair, the first response seems to always be to try to help ‘manage’ them. Make them feel better. Fix it. Even those of us who have experienced profound and sometimes lasting depression can fall into this response when confronted with a loved one who expresses a struggle.

I have thought about this a lot. Partly because I know when I receive a pitied or fixer response to my own openness, how revolting that feels. And partly because when confronted with my closest people expressing their sad-end-of-the-spectrum emotions, my knee-jerk reaction can sometimes be to offer solutions too. It is a real skill learning to hold space for someone else…to witness their pain or their joy without trying to change it or feel sorry for it. I have failed at this many times for those closest to me, despite my best efforts and intentions to be a true space-holder.

Being depressed and sad and angry and feeling broken beyond repair is okay. I’ve learned it’s really rather normal and I daresay even a necessary part of the cycle of life and healing. How can we possibly make a difference if we do not experience the full range of human emotions?

Society would tell you that these emotions are “negative” and need to be fixed. Managed with medication even. Made ‘healthy’ or shut down and put away for an ‘appropriate time’ (aka not in front of others or out in public). Fuck alllllllll of that. All human emotions, from wild joy to cavernous, aching, gut-wrenching sorrow, need and deserve to be seen and felt.

Openly and fearlessly.

If you are worried about being beyond repair, believe me you aren’t. I am not, and I am about the most ravaged person I know. Whatever coping mechanisms you’ve engaged in to keep showing up to life, that’s cool and fine and good. Keep showing up is the point.

Mainly, express the emotions. The MOMENT they arrive if at all possible. Emotions left unfelt will be stored in the body and turn to physical malfunctions. Our bodies offer us all sorts of clues to what we might be experiencing emotionally but not expressing. Sit still for awhile and you will begin to hear those cues. With more intense emotions, we have to find ways to do this safely. Rage and anger most of all need to come out, but in ways that are not causing physical harm to self or others. I like to scream into pillows or sometimes just stand up and shake my whole body like a child having a temper tantrum. I rage cry a LOT. Like a lot, a lot.

If you are managing to celebrate your wins this year, great job, you deserve to. We all deserve a goddamn medal for just getting out of bed in 2020. If you’re celebrating wins today, you’re much stronger than I am.

And if, like me, you are ugly crying in your kitchen to Jonatha Brooke, that’s fine, too. Let ‘er rip.

Better out than in.

small moments

it’s 10am and which day of the week it is i can’t be sure. it might be saturday. it’s definitely still the pandemic.

my typical morning goes like this:

*wake up without an alarm. it could be 5am or 8am, but rarely past 8. my body likes to be up early.

*stand, brush teeth, pull hair back into wild knot unbrushed.

*put the kettle on, cut a bagel in half and toss it in the toaster oven, then make a cup of yorkshire gold. stand in the kitchen and take some deep breaths.

*eat breakfast. sometimes i put on something to watch. lately i like youtube tarot readers. i am infinitely interested in everything esoteric lately.


*take half-finished cup of tea out to my little sliver of my landlord’s back garden, which he’s said i can use. he put some pot plants and a small shed up to box my area in. when the pandemic hit, i asked to borrow one of their patio chairs. it’s my favourite thing.

*read and watch the sun crawl across the grass toward me. the shadow creeps ever backward and the sunlight creeps ever toward my feet, the sun gently scaling the rooftops of southeast london, popping its head up over tottering chimneys and brick walls.

for my morning read, i like to ingest something a little bit philosophical or spiritual. it makes my soul feel nourished. for a couple of weeks, that was falling upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life by richard rohr. once i finished that, i went back to screenplay: the foundations of screenwriting by syd field. yes it happens to be a spiritual book that nourishes my soul. read it, you’ll see why.

during this time i also get distracted and end up watching the gaggle of garden spiders that live in the wooden planks of the terraced part of the garden. they scurry around or sometimes stand near each other waving their pincers and legs around. i’m not sure if this is spider arguing, conversing or getting ready for sex. but then there isn’t that much difference between those three things anyway is there.

*at some point, the sun crests my house and starts to fall on my face. this feels warm. i usually close the book and bask in this for a few minutes.


*at this point, every other day, i shower, towel dry my hair and spend an extra luxurious few minutes slathering lotion all over my shins and calves and toes and heels.

*then, i stand in front of the mirror topless and spread sunscreen all over my face, shoulders, neck and chest. i’ve been wearing almost the same thing every day – a spaghetti tank top – and my desert-girl skin does very well if i use a low SPF sunscreen and let it get a little bit brown each day. my skin really hates the long, dark, wet british winters and seems to even out to a glowing health with just a touch of sunshine on it regularly.

*meditate. i mix my meditations up, often going to the calm app’s daily meditation, or a simple timed meditation there. sometimes i pick an energy clearing meditation from youtube. some days i just sit in the garden and stare at nature as meditation. this is perhaps the most important part of my day, and has been since i started a meditation practice two januarys ago. this is the time of day where i regulate my nervous system. check in with what might be happening in my body, and therefore my emotions, and this is also a time when i often get nuggets of creative inspiration, particularly writing in my head which comes out kind of like channelling from another realm.

*by this stage in the day, it’s past 10 or sometimes past 11. i’ve managed to eek out 2-3 hours of time just by lingering over small moments. usually from here on out i’ll incorporate a mix of editing my aunt’s book, writing or researching for my own writing projects – such as this essay series i’m writing, ‘china as i have known it’ – and reading other books in the sun. sometimes i crack open a can of locally brewed beer from my fridge and really let the sun hit me.


i’m working my way through no less than seven books right now and love the freedom to dip in and out of different stories and ideas throughout the day. these books include:

  • theodora, empress of byzantium, paolo cesaretti
  • flux, stephen baxter
  • our universe, jo dunkley
  • a field guide to getting lost, rebecca solnit
  • homer’s iliad
  • the universe, john gribbin
  • screenplay: the foundations of screenwriting, syd field

*in the evenings, i make a simple meal. i am not a creative or advanced cook, but i can make a few simple and tasty things that i enjoy eating. this is generally accompanied by one or more glasses of red wine and an episode of the x-files, which i am re-watching in its entirety.


*then, i tidy, put the kettle on again, make a cup of herbal tea (or sometimes take another glass of wine) and go outside to sit and look at the stars, or watch the moon rise, or catch the streaming lights of elon musk’s horrendous but eye-candyish new starlink satellites as they pass over the uk like a string of tiny pearls.


as i was sunscreening up this morning, looking at myself in the mirror, i felt that familiar tug of the ego mind chiding me that i should be doing moredoing something. making the most of this time. i call my ego mind “brian”, a misspelling of brain (maybe i’ve mentioned that here before). naming my fragile ego has helped me get a handle on it, and talking to it really keeps my soul in the driver’s seat and my mind relegated to an in-case-of-emergency suggestion. brian never fully shuts up, but through practice i am able to ignore his panicked pleas most of the time.

it’s a voice maybe we are all battling. the need to be productive. in actual fact, i have gotten more writing, more reading and more important soul work done these past two months than i have in years prior. it’s not earning me any money (yet) but i feel purposeful and whole and deeply satisfied and happy. fuck productive, i say.

so, how can we sort our world out in a way that gives equal income for everyone and lets people put the beauty and purpose and usefulness in where they are most passionate?

going forward, i’ll be writing books. and helping to protect the natural night, and offering people a doorway to the universe and stars. i have no interest in a ‘real job’. and i’m not sure how these passions will come together to keep me fed and sheltered. but i am trusting future me and the universe to make it happen.

let me know if you know any literary agents who might resonate with my writing.

I write for free. If you enjoy my writing and have the means, you may toss some coins into my tip jar (via Paypal), or buy me a coffee on Ko-fi.



on margate sands

On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect

la la

To Carthage then I came

there is a victorian pavilion in margate where ts eliot wrote the third section of his most famous poem, ‘the waste land’. it’s the sort of poem that seems to draw people to it, although it is also among the most complex and least understandable poems ever written. i was certainly taken in by it when i first read it during a high school british lit class i won’t say how many decades ago and have been trying to understand it since. i mostly still don’t.

my time in london has got me closer, for much of ‘the waste land’ is about life in london. like me, ts was a yank in london – a fact many seem not to realise about him – and lived long in this city; long enough to have absorbed the futile shuffle of city workers across blustering london bridge every morning and how, somehow, there is still beauty in that.

london also drove ts mad, as it will do any person who lives here long enough. he captures the sort of love-hate that every londoner feels at some point, almost alluringly referring to the city’s ‘violet hour’ just before vitriolic adjectives about ‘the human engine’ and the river thames ‘spewing’ oil and tar and drifting logs. like most londoners, ts loved this city, and yet he sometimes felt it was killing his soul.

margate is a seaside town on the southeast coast of england in kent, which had its heyday during the victorian era just before the turn of the 20th century. queen victoria thought open-air bathing and sea-salty oxygen were good for the health (which…obviously). until rather recently, margate was on a mostly downhill trajectory since that time.

ts went to margate in 1921 to recover from a ‘nervous breakdown’; as far as i can tell, this just means he just went a bit mad for awhile, and haven’t we all. when ts arrived there, it likely would’ve still been busy with cafe-goers, electric trams and swimmers polka-dotting its crescent beach. over the decades, these were replaced by gaming arcades, greggs and wetherspoons.

a friend of mine – a self-described london dilettante and the sort of person who can be relied upon to think up these kinds of odd and wonderful excursions – suggested a day out in margate recently, and we happily obliged, thinking first of the sea air and rumours of a revival of pubs, particularly the ‘micro’ variety, selling good ale and nothing else. yes please.

it wasn’t until i started reading about margate that i discovered the ts connection, in particular, the seaside pavilion where he sat writing ‘the fire sermon’ (drawing on saint augustine at some length) and looking at the sea. i expected to feel something special here, or at least see what ts saw when he penned such mighty and difficult-to-comprehend language.

the sun was dropping to the west and we were almost to running late for our train back to london when we paused at the pavilion, after a day on the ales following a rather random group of morris dancers around margate’s excellent selection of small pubs. the sky was an ethereal grey-blue of the sort where the colour is washed out by a brilliant, dusky almost-evening light. the sea was steely and shimmering, but calm.

inside, the pavilion has a bunch of fold-down, cinema-style seats facing the water, where i imagine ts must’ve sat during his long days recovering and writing. but that day, in one corner, stacks of stained cardboard boxes, used tesco bags, grubby blankets and empty bottles surrounded a small group of homeless people holding cans of cider and looking menacingly at anyone daring near their makeshift residence.

what of that. i am not sure. the pavilion was designated a grade II listed building by english heritage in 2009. because of that it still stands, and it is indeed magnificent with wide views out over the north sea. add a high salt breeze and it seems almost anyone would be penning poetry under its latticed gables. too, it would be easy to compare the state of things there now to ts’s uneasy state of mind as he embarked on writing ‘the waste land’s’ tumultuous part III – downtrodden and eroded by too many days in london (a condition most londoners will still report with semi-regularity today). but even that metaphor seems too forthcoming for such a work as ‘the waste land’.

what i can say is go to margate. drink some ales. if you are unafraid of the cold, have a swim.

look at the sea from ts’s vantage, and you will feel something – possibly inexplicable. i did.

a year of poetry

at the end of last year, i decided to make 2016 my ‘year of poetry’. not quite sure what that meant, really, i just knew i wanted to spend more time reading, thinking about and writing poetry.

i don’t consider myself to be a poet. but i do, and have, written poetry, since i was about 16. a rather wonderful high school english teacher of mine pushed me in that direction. i once presented her with a folder of hand-written verse after a particularly engaging class on 20th century poets during which i found an immediate connection with the swirling sonnets of edna st vincent millay. her handwritten feedback a few days later was obviously trying to encourage my girlish and awkward attempts at writing about things beyond my emotional age. she told me i had a recurring motif. i was hooked.

it took a hiatus for some years. came back when i got my heart broken. i dabbled in songwriting, at which i was never particularly skilled (partially owing to the fact that i didn’t inherit my father’s incredible musical talents). and over the past year, i’ve found myself yearning for more verse in my life.

some goals for the year include completing two poetry MOOCs. one is through the california institute of the arts. it’s a more hands-on writing workshop, and it’s stretching my writing bone, forcing me to write one or two poems per week to prompts and using different devices than i’d normally reach for. the other is a yale literature course on reading and understanding classical and modern poetry.

in april, i’m going to try to write a poem a day to coincide with national poetry month in the us. this will, interestingly, also coincide with a three-week trip to gansu province in western china, so writing should come easily and inspiration will be found on desert bluffs and dune sunsets, i hope.

i’d like to share some poems that i write here, if nothing more than to air them. i cannot promise they will be good. or even finished.

boy and busker on Grafton Street Dublin

on 2012 and things to come

i don’t often get sentimental about new year’s eve. i rarely, if ever, make resolutions. in our house, this night is more about hunkering down, having a nice glass of champagne and going to bed early, resting in the knowledge that tomorrow is just another day.

the louvre, paris, july 2012
the louvre, paris, july 2012

this year, however, things are a little different. yes, we are hunkering down for a homemade dinner and the compulsory glass (or three) of champers and an all-night movie fest.

Sexy Sea Lion - New Zealand
Sexy Sea Lion – New Zealand

but this year, i am in a reflective mood. i have been thinking a lot about the past 12 months and a lot about the 12 months to come. in january, i will be starting a new job with what is perhaps my dream company. the MOTHER SHIP, as it were, and since this change is also marking a new year, it’s easy to reflect on the past and future.

Homage to Ansel Adams - Queenstown, NZ
Homage to Ansel Adams – Queenstown, NZ

2012 was, in many ways, a year of financial health, for me. it was a year in which i transitioned from freelancing to full-time work and it was the first year in too many to count that i’ve actually not had to worry about money.

Shadow of a cat - pub in Reading, England, 2012.
Shadow of a cat – pub in Reading, England, 2012.

with it, though, came a creeping realisation that i was, in some ways, sacrificing my physical health (2011 was my year of kick-ass health) for my financial health. long hours, lack of a proper place to eat lunch (hence eating crap for lunch) and zero exercise have not been good to my body. it was a sacrifice i made very willingly, knowing that 2012 was my year of financial health.

London Eye and the Thames.
London Eye and the Thames.

i want 2013 to be my year of freedom. a year where i can have both financial and physical health. a year where i have the time to do things i love in addition to my work. things like updating this blog (the single post from 2012 can attest to how dry my writing life has been) and writing irishjaunt. a year to regain connections and rediscover my creativity, but this time, without sacrificing financial health.

Snow falling on London - February.
Snow falling on London – February.

2013 is going to be a year of travel. bill and i have already begun planning and dreaming the many city breaks we hope to take, which may or may not include galicia in northern spain, croatia, mexico and boston. we’ll see.

The drawing room at the Wallace Collection.
The drawing room at the Wallace Collection.

also, we are so happy in london, we’re staying. can you believe it? 18 months and counting in the same place. i think that’s a record.

Hasidic Jews - London crap.
Hasidic Jews – London crap.

finally, friends, i will leave you with this photo i snapped on grafton street in dublin over christmas. i want to be as inspired and in awe of the world and life as this little boy.

boy and busker on Grafton Street Dublin

the photos in this post are a selection of my favourites that i snapped in 2012. you can see them all at my flickr photostream.

bread and butter

with the el paso guide done and sent, i thought i would have plenty of time to sit around, watch alias reruns and drink margaritas. turns out, having two guidebooks under your belt means there is no shortage of freelance work available. currently, i’m writing another article for unearthing asia‘s second issue. i’m also penning a series of 3k word city guides for a danish travel agency’s website and i’m handling the blog for uk hotel map. i’m also working on a new study abroad ebook for a client that hired me via elance, which is due at the beginning of may, and i’m trying to keep up with my examiner gig, as well as exploring the worlds of demand studios, seed.com and textbroker and, of course, Continue reading “bread and butter”

the new wave of travel writing: 9 essential skills

travel writing used to be very different. even 10 years ago, it was a travel writer’s job to take people where they couldn’t otherwise go. to describe scene and place. to be flowery and good with adjectives and to write long, exponential pieces about the world the way others didn’t, and perhaps couldn’t, see it. that’s all changed now. i am about 15 years too late in saying “this internet has changed everything”, but it’s especially true of travel writing. and it has changed fast. Continue reading “the new wave of travel writing: 9 essential skills”

it takes a year to make a travel writer

being the guide in shanghai, april 2009

2009 has been a busy year of traveling, traveling and more traveling. some of it was travel for pleasure, other trips were induced more from need to get away. in fact, in many ways, 2009 was a banister year for me.

‘this is china, a guidebook for teachers, backpackers and other lunatics’ was finally released in july, after a long, unfortunately drawn out contract finally came to a painful demise when my publisher, duffie books, went bust. i got my first real foray into the world of travel writing at sites like the circumference, your 24 and unearthing asia.  this time last year, bill and i were surviving a cold, wet irish winter in our tiny basement flat in rathmines. now we are spending our days writing and computing from a cozy albuquerque apartment. i guess it takes a year to make a travel writer. [tweetmeme] Continue reading “it takes a year to make a travel writer”