‘We're all just walking each other home.’
It’s December! To mark the month (and give a nod to this issue’s long read on lists), here are five things we love about it:
1. The sudden appearance of lights, especially white fairy ones, wrapped around lampposts, historical buildings, restaurant beams, and the like.
2. It’s introverts’ time to shine (quietly, at home, on their own)
3. Fresh bread and baked camembert (Violife make a delicious vegan one)
4. Early sunsets practically forcing you into total unapologetic cosiness from 4pm
5. Amplified merriment at every turn — even in England! Between strangers! On public transport!
This will be our last print edition of being. While we are life-long print fans, we can no longer justify using so much paper (even the recycled kind), especially when there are already so many fantastic print publications out there. So, we’ll be publishing the zine solely online from January. We’ve created something shorter and simpler than the last online offering, but with the same heart, careful curation, and intention: to encourage us all to slow down and consume consciously.
We hope you enjoy the start of winter and celebrate in whichever way fills the heart (and belly), and we hope to see you back here in the new year.
Cover image: Italian Gardens, London, being
Cover quote: Ram Dass
G O O D S T U F F
In TV series Searching for Italy, beloved actor (and cookbook author) Stanley Tucci traverses the length and breadth of Italy to learn more about the food and culture of different regions. He meets chefs, farmers, historians, and artists, sometimes with his parents or his wife in tow, and bops around beautiful places. Tucci is the perfect presenter for this adventure, drawing upon his own background as an Italian, his curiosity as a cook, and his general, all-round lovability. There are currently two seasons (the second started this year), available on BBC iPlayer.
Create a yearly yeast
A few years ago, an idea about compiling a communal list of book recommendations from the past year (titled ‘Yearly Yeast’) appeared on the Internet. The concept involves asking everyone in your life (and maybe even strangers) which book they enjoyed most during the past year, collating the titles into a list, and sending it out to your loved ones as reading inspiration for the year ahead.
Make your own
In the spirit of getting crafty, being resourceful, and saving the planet, we’ll be making our Christmas tree decorations this year. Easy-to-assemble, natural decs that can adorn your tree include pinecones, dried orange slices, dried hydrangeas, and recycled paper baubles (if you’re blessed with the artistic gene, there are instructions for some great 3D baubles online). Biodegradable twine is the perfect hanging material and is super easy to find.
N O T E S O N
In the 1500s and 1600s, it was common for authors to include letters in their works of fiction to provide extra insight into characters, a dose of realism, and advancement of the plot. Fiction works with high letter content were known as epistolary novels (epistolary derives from the Greek for ‘letter’). The first recognised epistolary novel was Cárcel de Amor (‘Prison of Love’), published in 1492 by Castilian author Diego de San Pedro. It consists of letters, speeches, and monologues. In English, the first was Aphra Behn’s 1684 work, Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, which is made up entirely of letters. After this, the epistolary novel rose and fell in fashion — it was extremely popular in the 18th century and thus prey to ridicule and parodies; by the start of the 19th century, it had fallen out of favour. It managed to survive, though, and rose again in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Great modern epistolary novels include The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is made up of letters and telegrams to and from a vast array of people across the English channel. Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is written as a letter from a soldier to his illiterate mother. Epistolary novels also include those written in diary entries and e-mails, such as Bridget Jones’ Diary and Boy Meets Girl by Meg Cabot (who also penned epistolary novel series, The Princess Diaries). Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher incorporates a wide variety of media, including e-mails and letters of recommendation, to tell the story of a dysfunctional university department.
Of course, not all epistolary works are fiction; Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road is a book made up of the letters she exchanged with a British bookseller. There’s also a vast array of published letter collections from notable names such as Kurt Vonnegut, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Virginia Woolf.
A L B U M S F O R W H E N E V E R
Nat King Cole Sings. George Shearing Plays.
Nat King Cole and George Shearing
“The Game of Love”
“I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)’”
“Let There Be Love”
Is there a voice quite as special as Nat King Cole’s? We’re not sure there is. The jazz singer has it, that perfect equilibrium between smooth and nuanced, sophisticated and tongue-in-cheek, clean and soulful. For this record, he teamed up with British pianist and jazz icon George Shearing. The duo takes on standards such as “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” and “Fly Me to The Moon” (the latter of which is refreshing with its unexpected intro and somewhat melancholy vibe), as well as funkier tunes like “The Game of Love”, co-written by Santana’s Armando Peranza (who spent 12 years playing with Shearing and plays the congas on this record). The rest of the album is made up of excellent songs from a variety of places and people (musicals, pop charts, film soundtracks). Cole fan favourite “Let There Be Love” also makes it in, too. The 15 tracks encompass slow, string-filled laments and upbeat ditties to bop to. It’s a particularly joyous listen at this time of year when cosiness, evening drinks, and get-togethers are of the utmost priority.
D I V E I N
Different types of list (in a list):
‘My list’ (pertaining to certain celebrities and a waiving of typical monogamous behaviour)
Most of us love to-do lists. Stationery shops are overflowing with pads of paper and notebooks specifically for making to-do lists. Apple Notes has an additional tick-box function. The to-do list existed long before arty paper and built-in apps, though. Leonardo da Vinci was a list man. As it was the Renaissance, he had a finger of a variety of pies, including engineering, geology, and, of course, art. We know he filled notebooks with sketches and diagrams, but he also made to-do lists. Tasks included examining a crossbow and asking an expert for help with a mathematical protractor. Thomas Edison was another known to-do enthusiast. A list he made in the 1888, unearthed much later by writer Maria Popova, was titled ‘Things doing and to be done’, and was long and ambitious, with what we assume are invention ideas: ‘electrical piano’ and ‘deaf apparatus’.
We know that making to-do lists can alleviate anxiety, encourage creativity, and boost our memories. But there’s a difference between ‘need to do’ and ‘feel I’m supposed to do’, the latter conjured partly by our primal, need-to-belong brains and partly by technology (as a whole). In its dedicated upkeep of the busyness epidemic, technology encourages us to believe there are endless, ever-changing things we have to do to be our best selves, simply by suffusing the zeitgeist with ideas that feel more like musts (now I have to buy a Pelaton bike, say hourly affirmations, and contribute to the office social WhatsApp group?). Making these exhaustive, excessive lists filled with tasks that deep down we know we don’t really need or want to do can increase our stress and workload instead of easing it.
Maybe the key lies in prioritising: What do I need to do? How can I help myself? And what is overwhelming me, bringing about feelings of failure and inadequacy, or is perhaps absolutely nothing to do with me and my life? If this doesn’t work, business owner Francis Shenstone has food for thought: ‘Busy people make “to-do” lists when what they need is to reflect and create “stop-doing” lists.’
In her 1979 collection of non-fiction, The White Album, Joan Didion published a packing list. The list, taped to her closet between 1979 and 2014, includes a wide of array of things including 2 skirts, cigarettes, bourbon, and a mohair throw, among others. The list became iconic and is still reprinted online and referenced today. Accompanying the piece is Didion’s own analysis: ‘This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do.’ Didion goes on to point out various items and their uses: ‘Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room.’ But, writes Didion, with her trademark candour and frankness, ‘it should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative.’
Most of us are familiar with the allure of the pros and cons list. We have a conundrum that seems to draw no immediate, organic solution, so we call upon a structured list to organise our thoughts and feelings and find an answer. Sometimes, however, we already know the answer. Us humans often crave reassurance and confirmation from a source outside of ourselves, be it a god, the universe, or indeed a pros and cons list. Of course, we — not some invisible deity — write the list, but in doing so we convince ourselves that once we’ve drawn the line down the centre of the page, we’re totally objective and interested in either outcome. This isn’t to say that pros and cons lists are redundant or ineffective — in making them, we often become stronger in our convictions, stumble across unexplored ideas, and feel reassured in having seen the full picture.
The late writer Nora Ephron published many lists. In I Feel Bad About My Neck, she catalogues “What I Wish I’d Known”, with entries including ‘never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from’, ‘the plane is not going to crash’, and ‘you can order more than one dessert’. Her following essay collection I Remember Nothing also includes two lists, “What I Won’t Miss” (dry skin, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, Fox TV) and “What I Will Miss” (a walk in the park, butter, fireworks).
While most lists live in the future (bucket lists, to-do lists, etc.) or the past (best meals ever eaten, favourite books of all time, etc.), there’s one that exists in the now: the gratitude list. In her research, vulnerability expert Brené Brown found that being grateful has a huge impact on emotional state and wellbeing. She says, ‘Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or described themselves as joyful actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to that practice’.
Here are some things we’re grateful for, right this moment:
A roaring wind outside
You, the readers!
The rolling back of a stiff shoulder after a long period of sitting and typing
Hot water bottles
R E A D S F O R W H E N E V E R
The Short Story of Art — Susie Hodge
If you’d like to learn more about art (or really anything at all, if you’re total novices like us), this guide is the perfect companion. Hodge, an art historian, has divided and catalogued the book by movements (36, in chronological order), works (50), themes, and techniques. Everything is linked and cross-referenced for easy navigation. From Van Gogh to Hirst, Byzantine to Art Nouveau, The Age of Bronze to The Kiss, this accessible, concise guide covers everything the art newbie would want or need to know. Unless you have a super-memory, we’d recommend exploring it in sections as and when — say, magic realism on dark December weeknights, or mosaics during a rainy Saturday best spent indoors — rather than reading it from start to finish.
R O O T S
Like a fair few words in the English vocabulary, boycott is eponymous — the noun/verb is named after Captain Charles C. Boycott. During the Irish Land War of the 1800s, in which the Irish Land League fought for tenant farmer rights, Captain C. (who was a land agent on behalf of an absent landlord in County Mayo) famously feuded with his tenant farmers over lower rents. He eventually evicted those who revolted. He was socially ostracized, and newspapers started using his surname to refer to organised isolation. Eventually, the meaning of boycott evolved into what we understand today: to refuse to deal with (and discourage others from doing so) as a punishment for specific differences. The word spread across the nation and beyond — in Japan, it’s known as boikotto.