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Candice Brathwaite and Nikesh Shukla at Henley Literature Festival 2021

Candice and Nikesh were interviewed by Leah Boleto who did an excellent job at connecting and differentiating the authors as they shared their unique and yet related journeys.

The audience got to hear from the authors on what is important to them and the inspiration behind their books. Candice‘s book is called ‘Sista Sister, notes on things I’ve learned the hard way, so you don’t have to’. Nikesh’s book is called ‘Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home.

Candice wanted to write a book that would have been welcomed by her younger self. She speaks of Sista Sister as a coming-of-age book that centres identity and personal development. Looking back at some of the episodes recounted in the book she is still shocked at what we can put ourselves through to attain some arbitrary concept of beauty. Now at 33, with age and hindsight, she is confident in who she is. She remembers too that before Black Lives Matter (BLM) her book was rejected several times but now people are interested in stories centring a variety of women. Her main aim is for someone like the younger her to see “my life now and know that they can have such a life and that they are deserving.”

Nikesh had followed two comedy books with The Good Immigrant. It came out in 2016 and was very successful. He shares that he hadn’t realised what it would be like to tour the country and some of the world talking about race in a post- Brexit post-Trump world. “It messed with my head,” he says.  He then became a parent and wrote an article trying to explore his daughter’s response to her dolls; she ignored the white one but continuously hid the brown one. In exploring that he stumbled upon the question that is at the centre of his book –

“How do we raise our kids to be joyful in a world that feels bleak that I feel so angry about?”

Both books touch on parenthood as the parent and as the child. Having moved out of London Candice is aware of the different ways this might affect her daughter. When her preschool child experienced racism from another child she began to look for solutions and this led her to paying for public school. Whilst that was the best option for her child, she was now working through her sense of privilege that she can afford to do that, whilst many others did not have that option.

Nikesh started writing the book as a parent but as he looked forward to raising his daughter, he kept remembering his mother. She passed away when his first novel came out, so he kept busy and avoided dealing with it. With the birth of his first child the memories of his mother brought his grief to the fore. He wanted to connect to his mother’s wisdom but in reconnecting to all of that he would have to say goodbye to her again. He wanted to capture her on the page. The writing took him to a dark place but there was a sense of lightness once the book was done. Now 10 years after his mum’s death he is reimagining a life without her.

For Candice there was grief too.  Her father died whilst she lived in Italy some years ago. Despite being an only child, she was not given the opportunity to clear out her father’s house and does not know where his ashes are. She admits to feeling orphaned and accept that she may never get closure.  She has a vivid memory of seeing him in the funeral parlour and how awful they made him look. In random moments she thinks she’ll set up a funeral parlour herself so no one else will be left with such an unsettling image of their loved one.

After he moved to Bristol, Nikesh spent some time commuting to London and staying in his childhood bedroom. He was able to clear out his mother’s stuff. In clearing out the family home he came across one of his mother’s Tupperware dishes in the freezer. As he heated up the meal it smelt like her kitchen and her food. Turning on the radio to her favourite station made it ‘a magical thing.’.  It also made it clear to him that he needed to start cooking this food that he grew up on.

He is now building a life in Bristol, getting to know the community and engaging with important conversations. More recently in talking about the Colston statue his kids found out about the Bristol bus boycott. They wanted him to explain what racism was and he went from trying to explain it to them, to just seeing the world through their eyes.

Candice shared the negativity she can receive from being the first to do many things. She admits to being delusional but explains that is the only way she could aim and believe in the possibility of the life she has now. She felt she needed that extra belief and manifestation was that for her.

Both authors spoke to the challenge to create in the modern age and the distraction of social media. They suggest that it is not possible to do their best work if they are tied up in conversations online.  Some advice for us creatives is to give the brain space and take time to sit with complicated feelings. Candice quoted a friend’s mother “silence can never be misquoted.” Nikesh quoted Michaela Coel who said that it’s okay to disappear for a while and see what comes in the silence. He has been taking walks and seeing what comes. As Candice reiterated, it is about living in alignment with ourselves and knowing “I am deserving of a good life.”

Shirley Anstis

Author of Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 22 Stories of Passion, Achievement and Success

A Life Well Lived

April 18, 2021

I’ve been thinking about writing something on death for some time now. Our shared global pandemic has made us all confront our own mortality and deal with the loss of people we know and people we don’t know. 

HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty The Queen

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, has given us an opportunity to reflect on what a full life in the public glare could look like.  I guess it is about bringing to life those things that matter to us, regardless of public opinion. In his case it was about looking after the natural world and conservation, becoming one of the founding members of the World Wildlife fund (now WWF) in 1961. Through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, he will continue to transform the lives of young people from all backgrounds across the world. What might it be for you and me?

Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in Blackbird

I’ve recently watched two moving films which also centred a life well lived. In the first, Blackbird, Susan Sarandon plays a mother dying from a terminal illness. As death comes closer, she gathers her husband, best friend, children, their partners and her grandchildren together for a final weekend.  It makes me wonder who in my life I would want to be with me if I knew it was my final weekend of life. I choose to leave that hanging, knowing that if that did happen, I would intuitively know what to do. What’s interesting in the film is that all the projections, assumptions and unfinished arguments gets addressed. It’s like there is no place to run to. We’re so good at putting off arguments or sidestepping issues but what if there is no next time for those conversations?  

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall in The Judge

The other film is The Judge with Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Here we have a father and son who both love the law and are great at it. The father chooses public service as a judge and the son chooses to become rich by defending wealthy criminals. When the matriarch in the family dies the son returns home for her funeral.  In some ways the father and son are strangers to each other, having not seen each other for more than a decade. In other ways the matriarch was the glue that passed information about one to the other  so that they knew of each other’s lives.  

The whole process of trying to grieve, reconnecting to who they were when they last saw each other, and finding who they are now, is very awkward and uncomfortable. Everyone in the film has experienced hurt and disappointment, as only family can do. Gradually the son realises that his father is terminally ill, and this may be affecting his judgement and memory. Can this proud father allow the prodigal son to look out for and look after him? Does this angry son care enough to put his big city career on hold and be there for his weakened father? We watch them tousle with each other emotionally before reconnecting to their bond.  Eventually, just before he dies, the father says how proud he is of his son. 

I’m not sure what to take from any of these stories. Perhaps it is about being true to ourselves and what matters to us.  It is also about having those difficult conversations before time runs out. My parents have both passed away. As a counsellor I knew the importance of trying to have those meaningful conversations with parents. I tried to have those conversations with both of them and was probably more successful with my mum.  My dad was experiencing some memory loss near the end of his life so looking back was confusing for him. 

We don’t know what the future holds and how much time we have left. Just thinking of that is difficult but yet it makes me so grateful for life and health. It’s such a gift and a blessing. How can I show up in my life and in my relationships? It’s something we all need to engage with. Let me know if any of this resonates with you. Stay well. 

One Year On

March 23, 2021

Reflections on a year in lockdown

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This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘choose to challenge’ and as I sit here thinking of this there are so many challenges that come to mind. Women everywhere have had to challenge systems and expectations in order to live their lives. 

I’m thinking of:

  • Malala Yousafzai who challenged the traditional view of girls’ education in Pakistan. 
  • Brene Brown who is prepared to have those difficult conversations around shame and race.
  • Baroness Doreen Lawrence who fought for justice after the murder of her son Stephen – challenging the persistence of institutional racism. 
  • US Vice President Kamala Harris for daringly running for President. 
  • The Duchess of Sussex, Megan Markle, who in trying to stay sane and make a positive difference, is seen as challenging the Monarchy. 
  • Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Beyonce Knowles, Naomi Campbell and Charlene White for forging their own path.
  • The many sisters, daughters, wives and mothers facing daily challenges.
Photo by Ibadah Mimpi via Pexels and Canva

Choosing to challenge is not an easy decision, there is often a cost. I know for myself and from my work as a counsellor that the pain of not challenging needs to be almost unbearable, so that challenging is seen as the best option. Few people challenge without cause. More often people adjust to suffering until they become unwell.

In my book, Black Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 22 Stories of Passion Achievement and Success, you will encounter a group of women who are comfortable challenging systems and providing alternative perspectives. That is the nature of politics. They are motivated by their beliefs, values and political persuasion. 

One way to challenge a system or role is to be the first woman to do that thing.  You will read that Diane Abbott MP was the first Black woman to become a Member of Parliament. Helen Grant MP is the first mixed (Black and White) female Conservative MP. Chi Onwurah is Newcastle’s first Black and mixed Member of Parliament. Kim Johnson is the first Black MP in Liverpool. Claudia Webbe is the first female MP for Leicester East. Kim and Claudia became MPs in 2019 so this is not ancient history.  There are many places in industry, law, medicine, arts and education that can be challenged by brave women wanting more. 

Photo by Shirley Anstis. Taken at nearby sculpture park

In our everyday lives this could be standing up for a colleague or challenging inappropriate speech and behaviour in a loved one. It all requires courage. In surviving this pandemic many of us have had to dig deep and be more courageous than we’ve been before. We’ve been stronger and braver than we expected. We’ve also felt more vulnerable, and it takes courage to acknowledge that. Even introverts like myself have missed some social gatherings. We found out that we are imperfect and human! 

When you look ahead to 2021 is there anything you need to challenge in yourself or your environment? I think many more of us now have an appreciation for the simple life.  My challenge continues to be ‘less doing and more being’. Oh, and exposing my soul through my writing.

My book An A-Z for your life, discovering and revealing who you are today is a good place to start. Over to you.

This post is written to acknowledge the role of women in the world in honour of International Women’s Day 2021. The theme is  #choosetochallenge.  Co-ordinated by Attract Readers, https://www.attractreaders.com

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2021
Happy Valentine's day
Happy Valentine’s Day

We are living in a time that is adding pressure to so many relationships. Friendships and relationships are private affairs witnessed by others. Some of us have had more time to reach out to the people we care about and others have had less time. We all give and desire a different level of support to those in our personal lives.

Valentine’s Day is whatever you want it to be. It can be a day to remember those you have loved who are no longer here. You may also remember those you loved, who brought something wonderful into your life for a time. You may think of the ones you love now, a love that has endured through challenges. Perhaps you’ve found a new love in this difficult time.

As well as giving to others we also need to remember to look after ourselves. Loving ourselves with all our flaws may be the most challenging love of all.

There are 5 love languages and this helps us to know how we show love to those in our lives and how we let others know what we experience as an act of love. The idea is that we have a primary or preferred way of giving and receiving love. Once we know this the key is to communicate that to those we love.

The 5 love languages are:

Words of Affirmation

Quality time

Acts of Service

Physical Touch

Gifts

Consider which is your primary love language and how that shows up in your life. We’ve had to make many adjustments over the past 12 months. If holidays and hugs were your main ways of showing love then you’ll be particularly challenged by all the lockdowns. Perhaps you’ve had more quality time and now value this a bit more. Or maybe like me you’ve been using online shopping for those little gifts to keep you going.

Please comment below and share how lockdown has impacted how you give and receive love.

Journal 2021

December 30, 2020

I’ve added my love of photography to my work in ‘writing as therapy’ and created a journal for 2021. You’re welcome to try it too. It has a writing prompt, space for what you’re thankful for, how you plan to look after yourself and any goals you have for 50 weeks of the year.

2021 journal
Back and Front cover of A4 journal with 50 writing prompts and 100 pages

You can be as focused or as vague as you like , just the weekly reflection should be useful. It’s my first journal so I’m excited to try it and to hear how you find it on Lulu here. Start the year with intentionality and positivity.

https://www.lulu.com/en/gb/shop/shirley-anstis/journal-2021/paperback/product-ykkzdp.html?page=1&pageSize=4

New book!

December 30, 2020

Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons

22 mini biographies of serving Black MP’s, including well-known names and many groundbreakers. Be inspired by their dedication and achievement, succeeding against the odds. They are all different and represent the Conservative and Labour parties. Some have been around for many years and others only entered parliament in 2019.

Black British Members of Parliament
Black Members of Parliament in the House of Commons

Meet your representatives and read what they are trying to do with the opportunities they now have. You will be inspired by some and may be annoyed by others. Find out more by ordering your copy today https://amzn.to/37YVSLt

words for wellbeing
connecting words to our memories – more info and booking here

As we are in the year 2020, I am reminded of the concept that 20/20 represents perfect vision. I feel that this is a time to connect to our inner knowing. 

A time for appreciating and making use of our insight rather than waiting to have hindsight. 

I come across so many women who know that if they continue as they are burnout lies ahead, yet it is difficult to change path. 

We are often such good listeners and take everyone’s opinions into account whilst our own voice remains silent. 

When it comes to what is best for us our emotions, thoughts and ideas are most important.

Many of us have been raised to value our thinking over any other aspects of ourselves so we tend to underestimate the messages we get from our emotions and physical sensations.

Photo credit Shirley Anstis

Pause for a moment and consider how well you know the other parts of yourself.

What does tired feel like to you?

Who or what depletes you?

Who or what nourishes you?

Is there a place that feeds your soul?

If you can answer questions like these then I’m guessing that you know yourself well. If you don’t know where to begin with these questions, then today is a good day to start your reflections.

Sometimes we’re scared to look at alternatives to the status quo. Or we feel more comfortable with the challenges we have than the new ones we might encounter if we made changes. 

Whatever the case it’s good to recognise what we are choosing and feel empowered in this.

One of the ways we can explore our inner world is through writing; jotting down thoughts, feelings, memories, hopes and fears. This is writing from our conscious and unconscious. It could be shared in a small group with others on the same journey. 

I often write like this and find it helps me to figure out my feelings about things, offers me a record of how things change and gives me space to explore possible choices. 

Therapeutic writing, as it is known, can be even more expansive and include objects, images, poems, lyrics and other stories. As I continue to learn more and facilitate sessions, I find it a very powerful and fun way to connect to and listen to our internal world. 

You can start with journaling and see how that feels to you. I will be running one session per month from April and you can book a session here to try this out for yourself. There’s nothing like experiencing something to know if it might work for you. 

Do get in touch if you’d like me to design workshops for a particular group. It can apply to many settings and life challenges. 

Here’s hoping your 2020 year is filled with more insight than hindsight. 

How do these ideas resonate with you? 

Shirley Anstis is a counsellor, author and former magazine editor. She uses counselling, therapeutic writing and mindfulness to support others to work through their past, connect to their present and step into their future. Outside of this her interests include parenting, photography, nature walks, diversity, food and films.

Book for my next session here.

Shirley Anstis, 

A beautifully unique image

I’m surprised by the women (and men) I speak to who often see themselves as half empty and lacking something. They compare themselves to what they view as perfect lives online and decide that they are not good enough.

The problem is our peer group has greatly evolved over the last decade or so. 

In the past, our peer group were people like us who lived in our communities or geographical area. They would have similar lifestyles to us.

But we now compare ourselves in a global space, with great disparities in wealth and power, to people who have vastly different lifestyles to us. They are the tiny percent who are wealthy, beautiful and celebrated. We damage our self-esteem if we constantly compare ourselves to these people and find ourselves lacking. They can help to motivate us in small ways, but our aim cannot be to become them. There is only one of you and one of me, with our very own strengths and weaknesses. Human beings are imperfect.

We do well to acknowledge all that we have learnt and experienced in our very unique life. Awareness of who we are helps us to make the best decisions. Denial of who we are encourages us to make bad decisions. 

With so many examples of success in the world it can seem that it comes easily to some. I know from my training, my work and myself that we all have struggles, although these may not be visible or made public. (On the plus side, we get to see so many different ways of living a successful life and can step towards one that resonates with us). 

Talk to the people in your life and ask them how they’re doing. You may find many are struggling with something. 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 8 young people will have a mental health problem. 

As we acknowledge #Timetotalk let’s reconnect to people in our circle, speak our truth, listen to theirs, and be non-judgemental. 

There’s a lot to be said for simple appreciation and encouragement. As we give so we receive. Everyone benefits from a kinder world. Judge less, listen more. Let me know what you think by commenting below. Thank You.

Shirley Anstis