9 Reasons to see Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

On the penultimate day of my most recent trip to Amsterdam, my friend Lauren — a minimalist herself (the minimalism tag on her secondary Tumblr is a wonderful place) — took me and our friend Tom to indie theatre Kriterion to see Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.

Before the screening, I’d done one or two minimalist things, like donating loads of my clothes and possessions to the charity store. Nothing too serious. I just figured minimalism was a bit of a cult fad. Big misconception.

Once the documentary had finished and the Q&A session with Dutch minimalism bloggers began, I knew the minimalist lifestyle was something I wanted to pursue, and now I’m working to minimise everything around me. It feels great!

The minimalist lifestyle could help so many people live happier lives, and Minimalism is a brilliantly succinct starting point. Here are nine reasons to go see it:

1) It’s not just about minimalism.

Sure, the main focus of the documentary is minimalism, explaining the concept and exploring what it means to adopt the lifestyle. But the narrative also cuts away to take a meaningful, scrutinizing look at the global culture — or, dare I say, crisis — of consumerism, the waste it produces, and the adverse effects it has on us as humans. Like all good documentaries, Minimalism looks at the bigger picture.

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Review: Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

The whole world seems to be talking about mental health problems. Half the world seems to be fighting them. Only a fraction of the world seems to have an accurate, current, firm understanding of them. That’s why I don’t just give five stars to Matt Haig’s perfectly concise Reasons To Stay Alive — I deem it recommended reading for everyone, be they sufferers or friends of sufferers.

Reasons To Stay Alive isn’t groundbreaking for what it says about battles with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues — it doesn’t miraculously answer questions psychologists have struggled with for decades, nor does it need to. What’s needed is a raft to help the rest of us stay afloat while neuroscientists fight the good fight of cracking our mind’s code. Reasons To Stay Alive can be that raft, or at least one of its beams.

Haig breaks each dim star of depression’s burning constellation into digestible chapters of varying structure, all rooted in a refreshingly brave, honest, and straightforward telling of his own war with mental health. One minute you’re engrossed in the most intense panic-stricken walk to the corner shop you’ll ever read, and the next you’re filled with relatable glee by a list of things Haig seeks solace in during his darkest of troughs and brightest of peaks.

To me, Reasons To Stay Alive is as undepressing as a book about depression can get. Tread lightly if you feel reading about the reality of being trapped inside your mind may trigger something adverse, of course. For me, though, Haig’s simple factual writing filled me with hope. And you know what? It’s bloody funny too.

I’m happy to say that my darkest days are behind me, and I feel freer each hour, despite the occasional flare-up every few weeks. June just gone was a bit of a trial, but otherwise, I’m doing fine. I’ve even become known as the token optimist in many of my friend circles. I’ve been compared to Chris Traeger from Parks & Rec:

But no matter how happy you are, or how sad you are, there are always questions. Why do I want to die? My mind feels heavy — is it actually growing with the weight of all these thoughts hurricaning around up there? Am I the only one who feels like this? Why do people throw ‘depression’ around as a generalised adjective for feeling a bit down? Why does nobody seem to care about my anxiety? Where did all my friends go? Why have I ended up all alone with nobody to turn to? How do I explain to people that though I seem endlessly happy, I still sit awake at 2:00am wanting to end it? And, of course: “I don’t understand depression — how do I help my depressed friend?” Haig offers answers and dispels misconceptions in a succinct way that’s accessible, and even enjoyable, for all.

5 Star

Lines I Loved:

The fact that this book exists is proof that depression lies. Depression makes you think things that are wrong.

Medication is an incredibly attractive concept. It underlines the idea we have hammered into us by the hundred-thousand TV ads we have seen that everything can be fixed by consuming things. It fosters a just-shut-up-and-take-the-pill approach, and creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide, where everyone can relax and feel safely neutered in a society which demands we be normal even as it drives us insane.

The price for being intelligent enough to be the first species to be fully aware of the cosmos might just be a capacity to feel a whole universe’s worth of darkness.

Act like a man, I told myself. Though I had never really been good at that.

There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.

One cliché about bookish people is that they are lonely, but for me books were my way out of being lonely. If you are the type of person who thinks too much about stuff then there is nothing lonelier in the world than being surrounded by a load of people on a different wavelength.

While we know it can happen to anyone, we can never be told too many times that it can actually happen to anyone.

And my absolute favourite excerpt from Reasons To Stay Alive:

The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy.

Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

“A cannonball would do less damage to my marriage than those cursed miniatures.”

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I picked up The Miniaturist simply because it’s set in Amsterdam, my favourite city, and Burton did a splendid job of capturing the beauty of the city (“The canal path is empty, the ice a ribbon of white silk between the Herengracht houses”) and the corruption in its 17th century society (“This is Amsterdam, where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder.”)

The story is very readable and well-written, and you feel Burton has done her history homework — 1600s Amsterdam seems considered and researched, from its religion and politics to its social cues and most of its characters. There’s even a neat little section at the back of the book, after the story ends, detailing 17th century Dutch salaries, the cost of living, and phrases (‘herenbrood’, anyone?).

Don’t expect to smile much — The Miniaturist is tragic, with little light relief (except for the amazing insults, see below). Criss-crossing chemistry and eroding emotions are described with gloomy vividness (“She swallows, knowing a sob is there, worrying that to cry might be an invasion of his grief.”)

Sadly, Burton’s almost poetic language doesn’t save some of the characters and relationships from being unbelievable. Reminders that Nella is 18 years old are harsh given how mature, resilient, and stable she remains even in the most trialling of situations, and the lengths she goes to to help Johannes in the latter half of the book don’t have firm footing, given how little their romance is explored.

The second big ‘nope’ of The Miniaturist for me is the disappointing titular character, who is a, if not the, main source of mystery and intrigue throughout the book. There’s no climax for the character. All of the exciting secrecy shrouding the character and the central plot prop they create fizzles out and is explained away dismissively.

If you like historic tragedies which slowly unravel tangled webs of love, deceit, corruption, and heartbreak without being too wordy, and don’t mind a couple of characters being a touch archetypal or a handful of twists feeling a tad predictable or familiar, give The Miniaturist a go. Look elsewhere if you, like me, lust for stories which leave lasting impressions.

3 Star

Oh, and as for those amazing insults:

“A spray of red pimples covers the second man’s forehead. He’s little more than a boy. God has been malicious with his paintbrush.”

“You are a stone thrown upon a lake. But the ripples you create will never make you still.”

“Those with no horizons want to pull yours down. They have nothing, only bricks and beams, not one jot of God’s great joy. I pity them truly. They will never hold the republic in the glory I have seen.”

And if you’re feeling self-deprecating, one of the standout lines of the book:

“I’m a giant loaf.”

Other lines I loved:

The sea is something the land can never be. No patch stays the same.

The rest of Amsterdam seems to want to move forward, building ever upwards despite the boggy land that might well sink them all.

She is so still that Nella believes she could be one of the stained-glass saints, fallen from the church’s pane.

She tidies her napkin into a perfect white square, a loose tile on the black expanse of her lap.

Netherlands in November Part 3: A Tale of 100 Benches

On the fourth day of my stay in the Netherlands in November 2015, Lauren and I explore the independent shops of Haarlemmerstraat, take hundreds of photos of me on benches, and make our big-screen debut thanks to the green screen at the EYE Film Institute.

Netherlands in November Part 2: Dog Bites and Sexy Pizza

On the second and third days of my November 2015 trip to the Netherlands, I met Nikki for the first time, Lauren got bitten by a dog, there was sexy pizza, the wind was really strong, and we visited the Humans of Amsterdam exhibition at the Bibliotheek Amsterdam!