Social media is making me ill

It may seem ridiculous to write a blog, a form of social media, about how social media is making me ill, but god. Even a blog feels curiously longform now; a lot of thought had to be put into this, a lot of thought by my standards lately.

So social media is making me ill, because I’m an approval addict.

Well, that’s only part of it because that didn’t happen in a vacuum. I have had diagnosed clinical depression for many years, and I am taking treatment for it. Except I struggle with self hatred very badly. I can’t seem to get it to go away. So I’ve been seeking out the approval of others to try and hide my feelings of despair at what a terrible person I am. Alas, this only works for a while then I need MORE MORE TELL ME MY SHIRT IS NICE TELL ME I’M FUNNY TELL ME MY LIFE CHOICES ARE ACCEPTABLE PLEASE ARGH.

A medium which is addictive precisely because it can provide approval and instant gratification so easily is a really bad place for someone like that. Somewhere where you can ask hundreds of people for their approval at a time is a really bad place for someone like that. Somewhere where you won’t get the approval of all those hundreds of people because that’s just human nature but oh dear god it hurts why don’t they like me… is a really bad place for someone like that.

I spend all my time desperate for people to like me. People who I’ve known for years, people I’ve just met, friends of friends, complete strangers. By like me I don’t even mean be really nice to me, I just mean “don’t hate me”. Because the worst, stupidest part of approval addiction is that you think people’s default reaction to you SHOULD be hate. They SHOULD dislike you, because you’re really kind of awful.

But if other people liked you, maybe you’d be better, right? Maybe if you ran all your life choices past them, you’d never get them wrong. Maybe if you told them your feelings you’d learn whether or not those were wrong too.

Ultimately I live my life trying to work out what will get the most approval from other people. I lay out all my feelings so that, my mind tells me, I can see if other people think they are valid. Regardless of what I might think or what I might want because I couldn’t be disapproved of, I couldn’t.

Fuck this.

I can’t deal with it any more. I am so obsessed with getting approval that people don’t approve of it. That’s the thing that’s pissing people off. I try too hard. I basically say “please like me” and that usually has the opposite effect to the one you’re hoping for.

I’ve always tried to be open and honest about my life when I’m online, because the more people who do, bucking the trend of only presenting the good side of your world, the better. It lets people know that life isn’t, and can’t be perfect. But I still berate myself for not being perfect, making me a hypocrite.

I’m on holiday right now, and I purposely put my phone away a lot. It made it obvious how much better I felt when I wasn’t looking for 140 character chunks of approval.

There are other problems I’ve been having; terrible attention span, tendency to check twitter when I shouldn’t be, not blocking people when I should have, people being horrible about how I look… The main problem remains my inability to be enough without this approval.

I’m staying on Facebook because I need it to find out when I’m doing roller derby stuff, as I recently signed up to be a non-skating official and I really want to make a go of that. I joined a gym recently and I want to keep going there. I would, ideally, love to write again, longform. I’d like to get lost in things the way I used to.

I want to do things without having to think about what everyone else might say about them. With social media I don’t think that’s possible.

I have to let go and be me. I’m not going off the grid – like I say, you’ll be able to get hold of me on Facebook, and I’ll check in on Tumblr, but I probably won’t tell you what I’ve been up to. And I won’t be getting into debates because that’s a world of hurt right there. Plus a bunch of friends have my number and email.

I’ll be around-ish but I’ll be living my life a lot more quietly. And hopefully I’ll learn that my own approval is enough. That I am enough.

Kindness

I’m angry. I’m really quite angry indeed.

Weight loss: it’s an issue guaranteed to annoy just about everyone for twenty different reasons. You have the dieters, the exercisers, the radfat collectives, the people who never give it at thought and don’t want to. You have the shame, the guilt, the pride, the achievement. But mostly you have the shame and the guilt.

What I’m angry at is that shame and guilt because you have to learn that shit somewhere. You weren’t born with it. Someone else gave it to you. Someone else keeps on giving it to you. And the subjects of weight, eating and exercise are swaddled in it and given to everyone every day, and it’s horrible.

Let me make this clear: I have no problem with anyone who loses weight, goes on a diet, takes up exercise. I have taken up exercise. I swim twice a week, cycle when I can’t swim and try to walk two miles a day. But I won’t talk about it to anyone but my fiancé because I am deeply ashamed. If I talk about it but don’t have anything to show for it – basically, if I don’t lose weight – then I’ll feel like a failure. I may not lose weight, because I have polycystic ovarian syndrome and it’s, I cannot emphasise this enough, A COMPLETE FUCKER and hangs on to weight like it’ll whither and die without it. Which it will actually because losing weight is meant to help the symptoms. Basically it doesn’t make it impossible to lose weight but it makes it difficult.

So I might fail. So I don’t talk to people. Because they might judge me. They might think I’m a big fat failure. Because that’s the language weight issues come wrapped in.

Take Slimming World. I do not care if they spell it with a fucking Y, Slimming World are in the business of calling food a sin. The plan may work, but the bad food-good food bullshit is too much. You are allowed so many sins a day. I’ll have to sin to be allowed to eat that. Food is bad! Don’t enjoy it! Assign a moral value to everything, even the healthy food, so you can’t just enjoy it because it tastes nice!

Personally, if I put myself in a situation where I had to eat according to what was and wasn’t a sin, I’d spiral into shame and guilt within a day. Shame and guilt are absolute poison. They will not help me lose weight. And I cannot be alone in that.

What I’d love to see is almost impossible. If someone wants to lose weight for their health, for their self esteem, for their own peace of mind – that’s wonderful. I’m not so evil and twisted as to say “I’m fat so SO SHOULD YOU BE! SUFFER!” (I’m size 20 on bottom and 14-16 on top. UK. So yes, I am fat).

But even those who want to be happy have to enter a world where they’re talked to in a language of good vs bad, of moral values. Food is food, you can’t assign a moral value to it. You hear it all the time: “I have to be good!” “Ooh I want to be naughty.” Or people calling themselves names to try and motivate themselves – to try and shame themselves. Because the shame has been used so many times before, by the diet industry, by advertising, by any publication that ever airbrushed which is most of them.

If Slimming World was called Health World or, even better, Self Care World and got rid of their sin system then – great. I could back that. If Weight Watchers was dedicated to losing your shame, if Lighter Life wasn’t a starvation programme but was about not weighing down your soul with self-hatred… That would be truly wonderful. Because what I want to see is an eradication of this guilt and shame talk and the beginning of talking of it as kindness. Losing weight for health is not a punishment. It’s taking care of your body. If you weigh in weekly but haven’t lost anything, NOT berating yourself for it is a kindness – not a weakness. If you choose healthy food at the expense of something else, it’s not about morals or sinning. It’s about taking care of you, if that is what you wish.

Even if you have a body you don’t like much right now, it’s pretty fucking amazing. It gets you up each day, it lets you experience the world, it lets you drink tea and read amazing words and play with your friends and feel warm and fuzzy from hugs and have screaming orgasms and – look, it lets you do SO MUCH. So if you do decide you want to be healthy, it’s saying thank you to that body. There’s a lot to thank it for even if you don’t look how you want to look right now. There’s often talk of learning to love yourself as a replacement for diet and exercise, but it doesn’t have to be like that. You can want to change your shape – but recognise your body is amazing at the same time.

It’s your body. And you can tell me to fuck off and mind my own business for that very reason, but all this being ashamed and guilty over food and weight will never change if people don’t get angry. And I am angry.

You’re awesome. Please don’t feel bad. There’s so much about you to love.

Suicide Prevention Day

I wrote this over two years ago on a blog that no longer exists. It remains most of what I want to say on the subject and it remains something I want to tell others: that life can get better. It truly can. Not right away, and not without battling. But it can improve.

Be safe, confide in your loved ones, and if you need help right away contact your urgent care practitioner or Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org.

~

Sometimes, you need to write these things, because unflinching honesty is one of the only things that will ever stop the stigma over depression. With that in mind, if you’re reading this, you’re reading the only blog post I’ve ever had to have a serious word with myself about posting.

The first time I went to the doctor with severe depression, I was listing methods of suicide in my head.

The second time I went to the doctor with severe depression, I’d set myself not only a method, but a date and a time.

On 8th January 2009 (a Thursday), at roughly 8.45am, I was going to get up, go to work, leave the station as usual, and walk right into one of the busiest roads in the city into the path of a bus. I chose a Thursday because that would put my funeral on a Saturday and nobody would have to miss any work. Not, at that point, that I thought there’d be a funeral. The event of my death was going to be a blessed relief for everybody.

Most of all it was going to be a blessed relief for me, because waking up every morning and immediately cursing the fact that I didn’t die in the night was really getting tiring. I had nothing left. I had no energy, nothing to look forward to, and nothing to keep me going. As far as I was concerned I was a spent force.

And I was there. Standing there on the edge of the pavement. Just run and do it. I’d been there the night before too, looking longingly at speeding buses. That’s when I told myself I was going to come back the next morning and do it. I’d been building up to it for weeks and told myself I was ready for it, knew there was no way I’d survive those double deckers and no way they’d stop in time. Hell, inner city buses can’t even stop when they’re supposed to, never mind when they’re not.

To this day I have no idea why I turned back. Why my mind went “I need a doctor” instead. I stepped back and I called the doctor. I went to him and told him I was going to kill myself if he didn’t help me. I was placed in the care of a mental health crisis team, and I collapsed for three months.

I really don’t know what stopped me. It wasn’t love for anything, because I was far too fucked up to feel that. That’s the thing about being at that point: your feelings are gone, except for utter despair. People who call it selfish make me incandescent with rage, because a person who is that low, a person who has been messed up to that extent, has no concept of what selfish means. The feeling of wanting the pain to stop and to get away from it overrides everything. It overrides everyone, too, and calling it selfish implies that someone is in a headspace where they are capable of rational thinking. It’s that level of hopelessness: even the most wonderful people in the world are not a good enough exchange for living your life that way.

Or, it overrides almost everything. Why am I even here? I don’t know.

There were days after that, days when I was struggling to get better and making no progress, when I wished I hadn’t gone back. There were days when I just couldn’t move for despair, and because the turmoil in my head made the rest of me actually physically hurt. There were days I just slept.

The doctors talked to me. They changed my medication. I slowly came back to life, but I wasn’t the same. A little slower, a little warier, a little less gregarious. I don’t have the energy I used to. There are good things too: I don’t hate myself the way I used to, and I try to understand why things happen instead of getting stuck in blaming myself. I’ve tried to change the way I think. And I’ve been counselled and counselled until I faced up to the thing that got me to that point in the first place.

Up to this point I’ve muddled through. I’ve felt okay, I’ve come off medication and I’ve learned what I need to do to cope. I’ve worked out that my mental health is my responsibility, that life is just going to be relentlessly shit sometimes, that you take that with the good. But I’ve never thought much about that day and why I didn’t keep walking.

I still don’t know. Those words keep coming up but I don’t know. Then something happened. Something made me see it clearly, and it’s a clusterfuck of a thought pattern something like this: look at what I have and who I have and what I almost lost and I almost gave this all up, these people who truly care about me, these experiences, these feelings, this life and being this person and this, this was almost all snuffed out forever. And I have bawled (that is the only word for it) for everything I almost lost, and with gratitude for what I didn’t. I am overwhelmed by gratitude at the moment.

This life continues. For some reason, this goes on. I’m here and I’m telling the story. That’s the best thing I could ever ask for.

Elflocked

As I’ve said before here, I don’t really do fashion. I wear what’s good for me, and although there are occasional things I get excited about – accessories, mostly – I don’t really keep up with trends.

There are certain things that make me feel really, really good about how I look though. For example Converse trainers; cliche or not, when I’m wearing Chucks I feel like I’m dressed as myself, if that makes sense (or at the very least if I’m wearing hi-tops; I’m usually fussy about them and they MUST be Chucks but I have an Iron Fist pair that jingle while you walk and I love them and see I’m getting excited now).

But recently I discovered Elflocks, made by the lovely Bryony Whistlecraft at Woodland Wild. She makes full-sized dreads in a variety of colours and I very much wanted a set… But my hair is very fine and I didn’t think it would support them. So I was delighted to see that she sold them as mini-clips too, and after buying my first set I adored them so much I decided to complete the set!

So this is basically me showing off my sets and saying that they’re amazing and if you ever want to brighten up your hair without hitting the dye bottle (and I’m far too afraid to in case I never get my natural colour back) then Bryony definitely deserves your custom – the locks are beautifully made.

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It all started with this pair, the purple and pink Faery design. Although I love all the types I think these are my favourites as, well, they’re purple, and I’m all about the faeries. I felt so great and brightened up wearing these that I had to get the rest of the colours!

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Look how gorgeous and bright they are! :D

Next came the blue set, the Mermaid design.

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These are such a bright vibrant blue, with teal mixed in (teal and purple are my favourite colours so again, these were a winner for me). They’re gorgeous and stand out so well against your hair.

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Next up, the Sprite style. You know how they say redheads can’t wear red?

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They’re a bunch of filthy liars. :D

The Sprite style are red, orange and pink, and they are BRIGHT. But that’s their appeal!

The next set is a little more muted but no less gorgeous:

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These are the Dryad style, and as you might have guessed from the colours a Dryad is a tree spirit. For when you’re feeling, well, a little more earthy. :)

And finally, we’re going to be Pixie-led…

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The Pixie style locks look absolutely gorgeous in person. They’re all pastel coloured and it’s a little bit like wearing a rainbow in your hair.

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Elflocks brighten me up, as well as my hair. They let me add a little twist of uniqueness to my look without having to faff about with dye and styling. They make me feel, well, more “me”, more confident and more colourful. I adore them, and I’m so grateful to Bryony for making them!

She also offers other handmade delights on her site so have a nosey around… And maybe pick up some Elflocks for yourself!

On image

If you know me much at all online, you’ll probably have seen I’ve been playing around with my look lately. I tend towards casual clothing, no make up, trainers. Well, that look remains. I don’t like make up much. I prefer casual dressing. But little hints have been creeping in.

For example, lace gloves (or imitation lace at any rate). I always liked them but never had the confidence to wear them. Same with elbow-length arm warmers, striped. Always striped.

I have a tunic/dress type top that is very short that I only recently acquired the confidence to wear with leggings instead of jeans.

Picked up a couple of flowery garland headdresses, and wear them. Not at the same time; I do have limits. Anyway they’re adorable.

Today I have Elflocks in my hair. They’re available on Etsy here and they’re my alternative to dying my hair. That’s one thing I’m not brave enough for. I have the mini-clips version because my hair is fine; if I had a thick mane you can bet your life I’d have the full-size dreads on right now.

Finally, my piece de resistance: I bought a skirt, that turned out to be a petticoat, but which is very much solid enough to wear on its own. So I did. It felt amazing. It feels amazing. It went towards a look I longed to have but, as you’ve guessed by now, just did not have the confidence for.

I wore the lace skirt with Converse. It felt like an outfit tailor made for me. The Elflocks feel just right for me too. Countless little personal style changes lately have felt exactly “me”. In short it’s some sort of really minor finding myself.

Or maybe not so minor. I wouldn’t have considered wearing such things even two years ago. Maybe it’s because I’m thirty now and ironically don’t give a flying fuck about dressing age appropriately anymore (unless I ever find a job with a dress code). I’ll stick to my trainers and my gloves thanks. Maybe it’s because of wonderful support in my life. Although the why isn’t the most important thing. That it’s happening is what matters.

One thing I do feel important, though, is that I stopped reading women’s media. Most of it anyway; in the interests of full disclosure I read Psychologies religiously. That aside though, women’s mags have been dispensed with. It’s too simplistic to credit the transformation on that alone but there’s no doubt that it helped. No doubt it’d be called “stepping off the aspiration treadmill” in wankier terms but that’s exactly what it is. Magazines are made to tell you to want. To consume. To change. To aspire. To never stop any of the above because they won’t sell any copies if women stop wanting. Wanting cute fashion things is hardly a crime (especially given that this post is partly about cute fashion things) but that’s not where the rot is.

The rot is in the homogenous style of the women on their pages. They encourage you to be yourself on one page and to change everything about yourself on the other. Buy this, wear this, eat this, weigh this much, or (and allow me to quote Eddie Izzard here) NO ONE WILL SHAG YOU!

And quite honestly that is the last thing anyone needs. Shopping is fun. Clothes are nice. Nobody is disputing that, but it’s far more fun to find your own, pick for yourself, make your own style. And you don’t get lectured on the size of your arse either.

Which brings us to the next point. I have a fat arse. I say that with no self-deprecation whatsoever: it is fat simply because it’s not skinny. Or medium. It’s fat. Whatever. The problem is this is currently being treated as a radical statement. Being a fat girl dressing in an unconventional way is seen as a radical statement. Being fat and not actively hating yourself for it is seen as a radical statement. Fat is STILL a fucking feminist issue, make no mistake.

Thing is I don’t want my weight to be a statement. I don’t want dressing the way I do to be a statement other than “I love these clothes”. I don’t want dressing in colours, in stuff that attracts attention, to be a fucking statement. I don’t want to be a radical fat woman, I just want to be A WOMAN. That’s it. That’s all.

It bothers and baffles me that we don’t get to do this. I don’t label myself “radical fat” because I don’t believe being over size 12 is radical. I don’t want anyone to see it that way. I understand the need for the label – so many people have been jeered, abused, made to feel worthless because of their size that it’s little fucking wonder they want to reclaim it – but it’s reprehensible that society is at a point where being fat is seen as radical.

Having said that, radical fat is a damn sight better than the self-hate culture around weight. Weight and self-esteem are hopelessly intertwined. I wish I could remember when I first became aware of that but it was a very young age, single figures. It takes an incredibly strong will to override that message when you’re young and if I grew up with it, a child of the 80s, what must school-age kids today be suffering? It’s a terrifying thought.

If only I’d known what happens if you actually accept yourself. Maybe even love who you are a little bit. You don’t think about food all the time. You start seeing through the good/bad bullshit and realising that it’s all just food and it doesn’t have a moral value. In my case I got in touch with what my body wanted after years of telling it I wasn’t listening and it could pine all it liked but it and me were not friends, and I realised that it didn’t actually want or need what I thought it did. And it needed less of it. And my weight is barely any different but my shape, that is different.

And I’m a lot happier. Which is what I really care about. The point is, it’s your body and you can do what you like with it. You can eat what you want, dress how you want. But self-esteem is more important than any of them.

There is no easy way to find such an elusive thing – I thought I was ugly since I became aware of the concept of ugly. It’s taken 25 years to reach this point. To wear what I like, to find my style, to stop calling myself ugly. To look in the mirror and smile. To take full-body pictures. To stop hiding.

I wouldn’t say I love myself. That’s perhaps too far. But I like myself now and that’s been one hell of a journey.

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It’s you under a spell for a change

This morning I woke up and realised she’d been with me for almost ten years, and I’d never once stopped to say thank you. I don’t recall the first time she soothed my woes, or when I discovered that she was a balm for my soul when little else moves me. Quite simply, one day Kristin Hersh wasn’t there, and the next she was.

Who gave me a Kristin Hersh record? This is troublesome, because I’m that irritating person who remembers exactly when I found the things that matter to me, or who gave me them, or how it got started. The first time I ever heard her sing was… nope. The first song, album, what was going on at the time? Nope. Which means she didn’t blow me away. She got under my skin gradually. The slow burn is the hottest.

Do I need to introduce Kristin? She is a singer/songwriter from Rhode Island, she founded Throwing Muses back in the 80s when all the best records were on 4AD (and when record labels still meant something), she’s had a life that could politely described as tumultuous, and to read of it without hearing the music might make you think she sings about the pretty shitty hand she was dealt in her younger days. Then you hear her and, oh, she doesn’t. Admittedly, it can be hard to decode the lyrics – she sings them clear as a bell, it isn’t a matter of deciphering – but she can be wonderfully obtuse. This is part of the attraction.

I’ve struggled over the years to accurately describe the way she sings, too. When it comes to that other former Throwing Muse, and Kristin’s sister, Tanya Donelly, that’s easier. If honey had a voice, it would sing like Tanya Donelly. She is wonderful in every way too, I just haven’t carried her with me the way I’ve carried Kristin. But I can’t describe Kristin’s voice in a way that satisfies me. Is it smoky? Is it raw? Is it fragile? Is it all of them in different songs, or sometimes at different points of the same song? Well yes, it is all of those, but that’s a rather unwieldy soundbite.

The problem I have as a writer is that sometimes something ends up meaning so much to me that my ability to articulate it goes out the window, and so it is with Kristin. Her voice moves me on a level that I don’t have words for. It just does.

I can tell you that at some point during my university years, I started listening to Throwing Muses, and then Kristin’s solo catalogue. Yes, there is a Muses album called University. No, I won’t make a lame connection that doesn’t exist between them, except to say I listened to that album and (somewhere towards the top of my Ten albums, this one) The Real Ramona an awful lot in second year, followed by Hips and Makers and Strange Angels, two solo albums. Life, as it likes to do at the arse-end of one’s teens, fell apart, and I carried on listening. Strange Angels became a break-up album. I left university with a degree but without a job and without half of the family I began it with. I played Sunny Border Blue (another solo album, it remains my favourite) an awful lot.

Am I going to run that well-worn path, that such and such an artist got me through one of the hardest times of my life? Well, not that alone, but Kristin’s voice was a tremendous comfort at that point in my life. I have always felt that – in the nicest possible way – she is so much older than me. She knows pain and she knows loss and she knows life deciding that it doesn’t give one forlorn fuck about your plans actually and you’ll be going THIS way. She is older than me, but she seems ageless, too (although no doubt she would say different. Have you seen her terrifically funny twitter feed? Well you should); she has just always been here. She knows about awfulness. She knows it can be survived.

I still feel the same about her – that even though she has battled for most of her life, and is by her own admission in a much better place now, she knows the weight of the world and the lightness of living. She knows despair and loss and love and joy and hope and despair and it’s all in that voice, in that glorious voice that I can’t capture in words because it has to be heard. Words are so useless, sometimes.

Kristin is good at words too, though. She wrote a book – Rat Girl in the US, Paradoxical Undressing in the UK – based on a year in her teenage life, the year Throwing Muses started to take off, the year she was diagnosed with manic depression (“but it’s not called that any more”) , and the year she discovered she was pregnant. Quite a year. Quite the synopsis for a misery memoir too – only it’s anything but. She writes her worldview with such humour, and with optimism, and it shouldn’t be funny, but it is. It’s compelling, too – she writes of the way her bipolarity means she has to sing, she has to hear this music, to the point she can actually see it; she writes of an uncontained creative force.

It’s a joy to read for someone who adores the music, too, because not only is the book interspersed with lyrics at appropriate points, so we finally get to see their origin, but you also understand why the music is so powerful: it literally couldn’t be held back. It makes the back catalogue make sense. Not totally – it is only a year of her life after all, lots of her work remains enigmatic – but enough to feel rewarding. Having said that, it’s worth reading without hearing the music. I passed a copy on to my other half, who had never heard a note of Kristin’s music (obviously the more time he spends hanging out with me, the more this will change) and yet he loved it, loved its descriptiveness.

Kristin is still very much a recording artist, but she is going about it differently now. She helped found CASHmusic, “a nonprofit organization. Our software will provide a set of open source applications that will provide musicians the ability to communicate, promote and sell products directly to their audience.” On Kristin’s own site, you can stream her latest album, Crooked, and download demos for free. You can also become a Strange Angel – where you pay a subscription in return for exclusive goodies and fund her continuing recording career. She is more or less fully funded by her fans now.

Oddly enough, both my favourite artists have experimented with cutting out record labels entirely. Lloyd Cole, who’s lyrics I half-inched to give this blog its title, funded the recording of his last album with special edition preorders. Anyone who stumped up for the extra shiny version got a bunch of free stuff and demos – whether or not it’s the most successful way of making money is another matter, but trying to be self-sufficient is certainly to be applauded. Plus if you know these records are truly directly funded by your contribution, you genuinely do feel closer to the creative process. Warm fuzzies all round.

She has experimented with other ways of releasing music too. Crooked was released as a book, which featured photography, lyrics and essays on the songs. The music was accessed via download, the code for which was within the book’s pages. It’s a wonderful idea, and, again, makes you feel closer to the music. It’s also available as an iOS app, which is basically the book transferred to your Mac gadget of choice.

So, Kristin is an experimenter, a pioneer, an artist, a musician, a writer, a bloody funny lady, and human. Most of all, she is human. It shows in her work. That work means more to me than I’ve been able to express. One day, I hope I can say thank you.

Life, succinctly

I’m very much in love with instagram right now. I’m not a very good photographer, and it certainly isn’t something I aspire to do properly, but dicking about with my phone and making the pictures look halfway decent? That I can get behind.

This is my favourite picture I’ve taken so far. It’s also very good advice and something I could do with heeding myself right now. The original is here.

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