Calm book and app

  
A friend sent me a Buddy Box as a ‘boost’ after I’d been off sick for a couple of months and the Calm Book came as part of it (£9.99 on Amazon). I don’t have anxiety or depression, but the book wasn’t just designed for people with a mental illness, it was aimed at anyone wanting a pause for calm in their day. It has different categories, like sleep or commuting, and you can pick pages based on what you feel you need, rather than having to work through it in order. It’s also got different elements to it, so sometimes there’s a space to draw, sometimes you write a list, sometimes you just read what’s there. It appealed to me because it wasn’t prescriptive, it didn’t say you had to convert fully to its mantra like some mindfulness apps and books do, and there literally was something to suit every mood. 

  

The book talked about an app, which I downloaded out of curiosity. You get some free components to try, and, depending on what you want from it, you could just stick with the free aspects. The full version has different types of guided meditations lasting usually from 2 minutes- 30 minutes in length, including sessions like positivity, emergency calm, deep sleep and commuting. The thing I like most about the app is the fact that it’s pretty realistic- the emphasis is on getting you to change your response to what happens in the session, not how good you are at meditating. You’re regularly told that if you’re distracted, that’s ok, just try to bring your attention back to your breath. I sometimes hate meditation apps because they feel a bit patronising or they don’t fit what I need, but I’m yet to find a day where I can’t find a session to suit my mood. You can also change the background sounds and start up image. 

  
There are specific guided day meditations where you are taken through techniques in more depth, lasting about 15 minutes each. I’ve done the 7 days of calm, 7 days of sleep and am part way through the 21 days of calm. I find they’re about the right length to get ‘settled’ into the practice and also help stretch my concentration. I find the 10 minute deep sleep one really good for getting to sleep if I’m struggling to drift off. A couple of the sessions give you specific breathing instructions (breathe in, hold and breathe out for different lengths), some encourage a natural pattern and others suggest counting breaths. 

The downside is definitely the price. It costs $39.99 (£29.99) from iTunes for the year or €9.99 for a month if you want more than the trial options. I signed up for a year and have used it every day for 100 days, so I would say it has been value for money and cheaper than attending a class. There have been a couple of additions to the app with updates, which maybe will justify the renewal fee every year, but I can’t be sure yet. I wouldn’t say my life has radically changed for having downloaded it or I’m suddenly more mindful in my every day life, but it’s something that I now do every day as a matter of course and I enjoy doing it. 

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I’m so excited for Season 2 streaming on  April 15th! Kimmy is freed after spending 15 years in a doomsday cult bunker as a ‘mole woman’ and moves to New York to try and get some of her life experiences back and to make the most of her new found freedom. Everything about this show is wacky and out of the ordinary, but it’s hilarious. Don’t watch it if you are easily offended or follow politically correct rules- every character is an exaggerated version of their stereotype. There’s the gay room mate, wealthy socialite employer, bratty teenager, foreign friend who struggles with english, even a senile war veteran. Somehow, despite the over the top portrayal, all of the characters still manage to come across as endearing.

The overall plot line follows Kimmy’s entrance into New York life and her navigation of every day tasks such as finding a job, using a mobile phone and enrolling in school. Her room mate, Titus, ‘helps’ her adjust to society, but she also motivates him in pursuing his dream of being famous. The first season ended in the court case of her cult leader, where Kimmy managed to outwit her own lawyers and the slightly suspect jury in convicting the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. It kind of reminded me of the end of Legally Blonde where both characters’ sheer determination to prove everyone wrong helps them win the case.

It’s as crazy as it sounds but it’s feel good, laugh out loud TV. Kimmy is constantly positive, but not in an annoying way, and she manages to pass on the lessons she’s learnt in the bunker to her employer, landlady and school buddy. The theme tune is also ridiculously catchy!

Gossip Girl

I really wanted to dislike Gossip Girl. I spend a lot of time watching Netflix at the moment, and, having watched most of the ‘recommended for you’ options, a friend suggested watching Gossip Girl. Based in New York’s Upper East Side, Gossip Girl narrates the lives of the wealthy and privileged students attending a private school, Constance, through her blog. No one knows who Gossip Girl is (until the last episode of season 6), but they all follow her reporting and send in tips and try to manipulate the content she posts to suit their own needs.

Everyone seems to hate the blogger, but it’s still important to be mentioned or ‘spotted’ on it, because it means that they’re relevant. It’s quite a cleverly written programme, in that you make assumptions early on as to your feelings towards a character e.g. Chuck as the ‘evil’ villain, but you have to change your perception as the story progresses. As the characters grow into adults, their personality changes and therefore so do your perceptions. Characters I was determined to hate I actually quite liked by the end and vice versa.  In the later seasons, Gossip Girl takes a break and one of the main characters takes over her blog determined to not be as spiteful as the original Gossip Girl and to use it to make things better. But she actually becomes just as manipulative and ends up showing that her wealth might not be everything but her knowledge of others and the way she uses it is really is.

The Gossip Girl blog tends to focus on the ‘It’ girls/boys of Manhattan, but other characters e.g. the Humphreys from Brooklyn and the hired help to Blair, Dorota, feature regularly and help enhance the cliche that money can buy you lots of things, but it can’t buy loyalty, happiness and friendship. There are some touching moments where the upper and working class boundaries don’t exist e.g. the Waldorfs paying for Dorota’s wedding because they consider her to be family. At several points, fortunes are lost and social status drops but the revenge plots keep coming until the balance is restored.

It would have been very easy to focus on the ‘who is Gossip Girl?’ storyline and drag that out for 6 seasons. The question is always there, the blogger is always a constant, but the focus shifts between different characters’ storylines as well and she becomes more of a narrator and voiceover in some episodes. There were a few blink and you miss it moments where either I wasn’t paying attention properly (entirely possible!) and missed the introduction of a character or a key plot line development, but it’s still reasonably easy to follow, and, helpfully, everything is recapped regularly by Gossip Girl’s blog voiceover.

I loved the wit of some characters e.g. Blair, and I would not have thought it possible to  make as many puns based on Chuck’s surname, Bass, as she managed to throughout the show. I particularly liked the symmetry in the way Gossip Girl’s identity was revealed, where the main characters speculated as to who they thought Gossip Girl was, following a similar thought process to what the viewer had experienced throughout.Having visited New York, I loved the New York panoramic long shots during transitions and the characters visited attractions like Central Park and The Empire State Building, making the storyline seem more plausible and real. The soundtrack was a good mix of current, ‘popular’ hits, again referring to the socialite scene and their ‘popularity’ in society versus 1920s music which featured in Blair’s Damsel in Distress dreams/nightmares. Blair’s minions and Dan Humphrey’s written musings provided humour poking fun at some of the traditions and etiquette of the Upper Class.

I put it on as something to watch in the background, but found myself wondering what would happen to the different characters when I was doing things like making dinner- it sucked me in but not with massive cliff hanger moments (although those did exist). It was also really interesting seeing how ‘the other half’ live.