On Fear, and (Lessons From) Dimmu Borgir

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Everyone is scared of something. Clowns, spiders, penguins….it takes all kinds, as they say. I have to confess that I am not particularly fond of moths, with their propensity for flying at my face at full speed, and their general creepy demeanour. But the thing that really, truly scares me is mediocrity. The idea that I will spend my life never getting to experience anything beyond mundane, everyday average-ness terrifies the absolute hell out of me.

I know you have all heard this story before. Twenty something working in a boring job just to pay the bills, seemingly the only single person in a world filled with couples, struggling to save for nice things whilst elsewhere, people are buying houses and travelling the world and living their best lives. They’ve literally made movies about my exact predicament, and mostly those movies are shit. Though, in the Hollywood way, most of the protagonists in those stories have some kind of life changing experience and they all live happily ever after, blah blah blah.

Look, it’s entirely possible that I’m being a little dramatic, and largely unrealistic. Am I, perhaps, putting too much faith in the idea that I am ‘on the right path’? Am I overlooking the fact that life itself is messy and unpredictable? Am I spending too much time simply wondering when my life is going to start, instead of realising that it already has, and that I am entirely responsible for my own happiness? The answers to all of these questions is a resounding yes. See, I have this infallible tendency to overthink, and then overreach, whilst simultaneously doubting myself. The result has never been anything less than a spectacular failure, which in turn leads to a rut that I find harder to climb out of each time.

There are so many things that I want to do, to see, to learn. My brain is like a sponge, wanting to soak up as much as I possibly can. I want to curate a life of experiences so that when I die, I can say that the time I had was well spent. Is it morbid to be thinking about my death at the ripe old age of 26? Probably. The thing is, I often find it hard to remember that there is plenty of time and opportunity ahead of me. I need to stop beating myself up about the fact that I am here, when I want to be over there. More importantly, I have to learn to be kinder to myself, which is not an easy thing when the only pet you’ve ever had is the proverbial black dog.

The thing that scares me above all else, is the notion of existing without actually living. It is a kind of underlying, insidious fear that permeates every little aspect of my life. But, in the same way I overcame my fear of spiders a few years ago, I know I can overcome this too. I just need to take things one day at a time, go slowly, and remember what Dimmu Borgir taught me;

“The keys are in your hands. Realise you are your own sole creator of your own master plan.”

God Help the Girl (2014)

Netflix scored another win the other night. Scrolling through aimlessly, as I do, and in the independent films section I found God Help the Girl. It is a British musical drama written and directed by none other than Stuart Murdoch, the man behind indie band, Belle and Sebastian. Starring the ever lovely Emily Browning, Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander, and Hannah Murray (Skins and Game of Thrones), it is a sweet film, both lighthearted and serious, and full of the chill indie tunes one can expect from Murdoch.

Emily Browning plays Eve, a young woman struggling with an eating disorder, who dreams of being a musician. Whilst in hospital, she starts writing music as a way to help her deal with her emotional and mental problems, eventually finishing a tape which she sends into a radio station. Following a breakout from the hospital one night to go see a band, she meets James (Alexander); a lifeguard and musician. The two develop a friendship and, along with James’ guitar student, Cassie (Murray), they start a band.

There is nothing particularly complex about the plot; just three young adults bonding over music and the simple thrills of being young. It’s about friendship, and ambition, and the role music plays in people’s lives. The cast is small, but the music itself acts almost like another character; nudging the plot forward and conveying everything Murdoch wants to say, in verse. Which makes sense, given what he does for a living!

It was well acted, each of the characters lovable in their own way, and each with their own set of problems they have to deal with. The movie made me long for the ability to play one (or all) of my various instruments. Vaguely reminiscent of films like Song One, Begin Again, and Rudderless (three music based films you need to go out and watch right now), it was just a nice, simple film with a great soundtrack. Plus, if you’re into that kind of thing (which I am) the costumes are to die for. If you like Belle and Sebastian, and bands of that ilk, – or even if you just like quirky independent films – I recommend giving God Help the Girl a look.

A Soundtrack for This Ragey Morning

There is a song on my iPod called A Soundtrack For This Rainy Morning. It is by The Ataris, one of those bands that made its way onto my iPod without any idea from me where or who it came from. I didn’t listen to it this morning. Instead, my playlist this rainy morning was filled with as much rage, and angry energy as I started the day with. The anger makes an almost pleasant change from the numbness, if it weren’t for, y’know, the hand shaking, teeth gritting rage part.

I haven’t been feeling myself at all lately, so last night I decided to actually feel myself, and rubbed one out to ease myself into sleep. Despite a powerful orgasm and an almost instant pass out, I woke up super early, after some unpleasant and fragmented dreams, because of the wretched possum. I ache all over – from the last couple of days of work, not the masturbation – and so once I was awake, I couldn’t get comfortable again. By the time I finally arose from bed to get ready for work, I was already on my way to a foul mood.

After catching every red light from my house to the slip road, I nearly got sideswiped by a dumb, ignorant jerk who apparently doesn’t know the rules when it comes to merging traffic. The free lane beside him stayed free, as I pulled some Fast and Furious shit to avoid both him, and the car ahead of me that was also trying to merge into the same lane. Jerk Driver just kept on driving, in the far left lane, ignorant to the fact that he could have caused an accident. I flipped him off, and skipped the He Is We song that came on as I was merging. What came next was Cataclysm Children, by Dimmu Borgir, and I turned it up. Loud. Dimmu is one of those bands that I really like, but I don’t listen to all the time, because their music suits a certain kind of…mood. This morning, I was in exactly the right mood. Sometimes, you just need a good, heavy dose of Symphonic Black Metal (best friend confirmed) to start your day.

Reveal the infantile wound and regain strength
Free your spirit from those who lead in praise
Recollect the anger and the hate
For not shall your morals dissolve in pity 

As I continued down the highway, I was in the far right lane. Which is a lane universally acknowledged as the fast lane. I found myself stuck behind a driver who wanted to sit ten kms below the speed limit of 100. I was stuck behind him for a solid ten minutes, as other cars actually doing the speed limit whizzed past me. I skipped past AFI, Something For Kate, and Hot Water Music. None of them felt right. I stopped skipping when my iPod played Sampo, by Amorphis, a band which falls under the category of Folk Metal (best friend knowledge strikes again), and happens to be a personal favourite of mine. There’s something about their songs that just…gets me, and I cannot get over how much I dig Tomi’s vocals.

From roaring flames the shapes emerge
Come forth they do with vile charms
Their poisoned core hides in beauty
But I see and perceive their deceit, I see

Now by this point you can imagine just how angry I had become. Everything seemed to be conspiring to make me so, and I was in no mood to deny the universe its want. Just when I thought people couldn’t get any more stupid, I encountered Ignorant Diver #3. Yet another oblivious jerk who tried to merge into my lane, with no room, no indicator, and nowhere for me to go to avoid his car as it got closer to mine, way too quickly. I gave him a sharp blast of my horn and only then did he seem to actually notice that he was attempting to merge straight into my car. I drove forward as he continued in his lane. Then a minute or so later, he tried to turn right from a non turning lane, once again nearly hitting my car and me, in the actual turning lane, trying to turn into a side street. This time it wasn’t sufficient to just give him my horn. I sent both windows down, let the rain into my car, turned my volume down for long enough to shout “PAY SOME FUCKING ATTENTION!” and then turned it back up, the powerful stereo in my little car blasting Australian alternative rock legends, Karnivool, right out my open windows and into the gloomy morning. The song was Lifelike.

Say it’s alright
When I’m coming down
Not again it’s so lifelike
Come make it alright
When I’m coming down
Not again I’m fragile

I got to work. I have been working in another shop for the last four days, and when I came back to this shop, I have discovered that essential tools have been misplaced/stolen. Nothing is in order. Customers are assholes. But at least I have 3275 songs to play to make me feel better and suit my mood. I’ve been furious for most of the day today, but music is there. Music is good that way; it just gets me.

Alexisonfire 2017

I’m a bit late on this, but Tuesday before last, I kicked off this year of music with post-hardcore legends – and one of my favourite bands – Alexisonfire. I was first introduced to Alexisonfire by a friend of mine, who had previously given me music from Dallas Green’s side project, City and Colour. It was one of the first tastes of music I got that was a little heavier, and I fell instantly in love. You could say Alexis was the gateway band to heavier music that I developed a taste for afterwards.

The last time I got to see Alexisonfire was in 2012, for their farewell tour. I was new to the gig scene then, having never really gone to many gigs before, and none on my own. So I asked around, and out of sheer desperation ended up going with a guy who I was kind of friends with at the time. To be honest, he was a right wanker, and I only ended up getting to see Alexis perform two songs before I had to catch the train home. It was a disappointment for me, and I thought I would never get another opportunity to see them perform live.

So you can imagine my excitement when they announced a comeback tour mid last year. I bought my tickets straight away, thrilled by the prospect of getting to see them. After months of waiting, the night finally arrived. I got myself a little lost on the way to Festival Hall and ended up missing the supports, which I wasn’t overly fussed about really. I had previously seen The Getaway Plan, and I didn’t know who the others were. So when I arrived, Alexis were already playing. I could hear the crowd chanting We Are The Sound as I walked around the building, and when I walked in the song was in full swing. The atmosphere had me instantly smiling, and as soon as I made my way into the energetic crowd, I could feel my pulse quicken with excitement.

I managed to secure myself a spot on the floor, just to the right of the stage and just outside the masses of moshing people right at the stage front. I got a clear view of the stage and the band, and I didn’t have anyone tall stand in front of me for almost the whole show. It was glorious. They played some of my favourites, including Rough Hands, Dog’s Blood and Crisis, and then The Northern for their encore (along with a couple of others). I was hoping I’d get to hear Emerald Street – which has been my phone ringtone for about five years – or Midnight Regulations, which are my personal favourites from any of their albums. But despite not getting to hear either, the show was so fucking good that I can’t even complain. It was legitimately one of the best shows I’ve ever attended. Hearing George Pettit’s unclean vocals live properly for the first time is something I’ll never forget. And the crowd really helped make the gig for me, shouting out the lyrics in time with George and Dallas, and enjoying the show without being jerks, which is uncommon at live gigs, I often find.

Honestly, I am so glad I finally got the opportunity to see them properly. And if any of you are fans of post-hardcore bands that describe their music as “the sound of two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight”, then do yourself a favour and check them out. I have provided this helpful video below, for your viewing pleasure. You’re welcome.

Learning Guitar Via Rocksmith (Pt I)

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So, you know how I’m always talking about wanting to learn an instrument, but never actually doing it? Well, my most recent instrumental acquisition is a beautiful electric guitar I purchased brand new for $130 off ebay last week. Now, that might sound like a foolish thing to do when I have three other string instruments that I still can’t play (violin, acoustic guitar and ukulele, for the record), but there was method to my madness, I assure you.

I’m not gonna lie, I squeaked a little with excitement when this beauty arrived.

See, I like to learn things on my own. I’ve never taken music lessons, and in any case, I don’t have the time for them these days anyway. But the problem with teaching myself how to play an instrument is that, in addition to having no time, I am far too easily frustrated. It annoys me that I don’t know how to do everything straight away, and so I usually give up in some kind of “I suck at everything” rage, and don’t touch my instruments for the next month. I’ve tried from time to time, fiddling about with the strings and playing the same two chords I manage to remember over and over. Suffice to say, it’s not the quickest or the easiest way to learn.

Now, about the electric guitar. A couple of years ago, my best friend told me about this game for PS3 called Rocksmith, which is supposedly the ‘fastest way to learn guitar”. Ever since he first told me about it, the idea was in the back of my head to buy it. It’s a video game, so in the same way you develop a muscle memory when you play traditional games, you do so with Rocksmith. Only instead of using a console controller, you use your guitar. So earlier this year, I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Rocksmith. My excitement at having purchased the game quickly turned to dismay when I realised that my acoustic wasn’t compatible with the game. It was too quiet, and the game couldn’t pick up the notes I was playing even though to get past the calibration stage. Alas, the game was put away. Until this week.

Ever since coming to the realisation that I couldn’t play the game with my acoustic, I have had the notion to purchase an electric guitar. So last week, on a whim, I decided to have a look on ebay and…well, you know how the rest of the story goes. I started playing Rocksmith a couple of days ago, and already I feel like I’ve learned more in the last two days than I have in the last two years of owning a guitar and trying to teach myself. And I haven’t even started the proper game yet! I’ve been making my way through the lessons, so I now know how to play three chords (which is a big step up from the two I’ve been playing for years), as well as a couple of other guitar techniques I never even knew the names of.

I will give a proper review of the game once I’ve played it a bit more and have managed to develop some music talent as a result, but in the meantime, I can say that now I am one step closer to my goal of being a singer who can actually play an instrument. So if my writing career doesn’t take off, maybe you’ll find me rocking out in some world famous band or something.

Karnivool, 2016

If there is one irrefutable fact about Karnivool, it’s that they always put on one hell of a good show. The Australian rock band took to the stage at Melbourne’s Croxton Bandroom last night, playing to a packed house.

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My friend send me a message Wednesday night. She had two spare tickets to see the show, and needed to get rid of them. My live gigs lined up for this year are pretty limited, and I always enjoy getting to rock out to Karnivool, so I decided to go. I wasn’t disappointed.

The main act was preceded by Fait, an instrumental four piece band led by Elise Higgins. I had never heard of them before, but listening to them play, I’m glad I got to experience it. Without vocals to take the main focus, it was easy to fully immerse myself in the music. It’s the kind of music you can have playing in the background, and as my friend put it last night ‘I want this to be the soundtrack to my life’. In between their incredible set and the equally mind blowing main act, I was pleased to discover that whoever was in control of the intermission tunes was a fan of Cog. I, along with an energetic crowd, rocked out happily until the light went down and the headliners took the stage.

As ever, Karnivool was ace. Last night was the third (or fourth?) time I’ve seen them, and they strayed a little away from the Themata based set I’ve seen them play before. They played some new songs, and some classic favourites that really got the crowd jumping. My friend and I were reasonably close to the stage, and seeing Ian Kenny live is always an experience to remember. There is no way, watching him perform, that you could doubt his love of music, or of playing to a crowd. As I’ve come to expect of Karnivool fans, during Roquefort and Themata, the crowd became hugely energetic and went from casually rocking out to flooding the front floor and jumping about so enthusiastically I’m surprised no one got hurt. They played New Day for their encore and I don’t think there was a single person not singing.

I always forget how much I love the band until I see them live. And I can honestly say that Karnivool shows are up there with the best gigs I’ve seen. If you get a chance, go see them live. It’s an awesome experience.

City and Colour, 2016

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Last night I kicked off my year of live music, and I went to see City and Colour. I cannot even begin to describe to you what a phenomenal experience it was. After a long, stressful week, I rushed home after work yesterday, had to forgo a shower due to time constraints, packed hurriedly for my impending trip to Sydney for work (more about that another time) and drove with my mum into the city.

We arrived in time to miss the line-up at the gates and see six or so songs from the support act. The tickets were seated, and I booked them months ago, so we were six rows from the stage, in prime viewing position. The main act was pre-empted by a performance from an Australian band called Little May with whom I was solidly impressed – so much so that I later purchased their album at the merch stand. They had a fantastic sound that was the perfect accompaniment to City and Colour’s smooth tunes.

When City and Colour came on to play, the atmosphere just changed. Of course when the stage darkened, the crowd started their excited cheers and clapping, but the minute Dallas Green started playing the opening chords of Woman (from the most recent album, If I Should Go Before You), a hush kind of settled over the venue. To say that the first song set the stage (so to speak) for a mind blowing performance would be an understatement.

The thing I’ve always loved about City and Colour is the way the song lyrics resonate with me. And hearing Dallas sing them live was such a moving experience. When he sang ‘I’ve always been dark with light somewhere in the distance’ (a favourite lyric from one of my favourite songs) he could have been singing it just to me. And the lyric, ‘I sought after, after reasons to stay, I was lost’ struck a chord with me last night because it sums up a lot of what is going on in my life right now. To sit there and hear all my favourite songs played live was mind blowing, and gave a new meaning to a lot of them. Music is just different live, and not just for the obvious reasons. You can’t beat the atmosphere and the buzz that comes from seeing one of your favourite artists/bands perform live, and singing along with them.

I honestly cannot urge you enough to go and see them if you ever get the chance. Dallas Green is such a charismatic performer, it’s difficult to keep your eyes from him. And his band played effortlessly, seamlessly, awesomely. 10/10, absolutely amazing.

Greatest Hits of 2015

It’s nearing the end of the year. This can either be a good thing, or a bad thing depending on how your year has been. For me, well…that’s another blog. In the meantime though, it’s time for the greatest hits of 2015!

MUSIC
It was a pretty decent year in music for me. I saw a whole list of bands, including Foo Fighters, Rise Against, Fleetwood Mac and, of course, Anathema. My best friend introduced me to a few new bands (Acid Bath, Moonspell and A Forest of Stars, to name a few) I discovered a few myself, and there were some new tunes from some old favourites, most notably the albums from Circa Survive (Violent Waves), Dead Letter Circus (Aethesis) and City and Colour (If I Should Go Before You). But for me, my favourite album of the year was someone I’d never heard of before. It is Hozier’s self titled album that I find myself returning to again and again. I impulse bought the album after I heard the song Someone New on a music channel on television, and haven’t regretting it for a minute. There’s something about his lyrics that just resonated with me, and he has a voice that I find ceaselessly listenable. Plus, Irish. That will almost always win you points.

BOOKS
I’ve kept a record of every book I’ve read since 2011 and this was by far the worst year I have had since I started. I put it down to a couple of things. First of all, I’ve been busy. I know that sounds like a cop out, but I work during the week, sew on the weekends, and life just has a habit of getting in the way. And I’ll be honest, of the 21 books I’ve read, I actually hated most of them. I loved Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, and All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven really struck a chord with me. If I Stay makes the list as well, and despite not particularly liking the characters all that much, The Girl on the Train was intriguing and entertaining. But everything else I read was either really bad or not that worthy of note. So hopefully, next year the books will pick up their game. I have a few lined up to be read (like…thirty), so I’m expecting good things from the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, Emma Donoghue and Ben Aaronovich. Hopefully they won’t let me down.

FILM
I watched a lot of films this year, but I’ll narrow it down to the ones that were actually released in 2015, or we’ll be here forever. One on the major stand outs for me was Chappie. Neill Blomkamp once again brought his imagination and genius to the party and effortlessly blew most out of the water. The title character was a curious mix of lovable, formidable and childlike. And in what can only be called a solid supporting performance, Hugh Jackman proved that it actually is possible to hate him. (I mean his character by the way; he was thoroughly loathsome). Dark Places get a mention in this list too, because anything Gillian Flynn related will always get a mention in any list of my favourite things. Charlize Theron played her role to perfection, and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend giving it a look. The comic book nerd in me loved Avengers: Age of Ultron because well…who doesn’t love a bit of action adventure comic adaptations? And for Mae Whitman alone, and her monster voice in the film I’ll round out this list with The Duff. There are no horror films in there, and the last one is certainly not my usual taste but you gotta have a bit of diversity!

So there it is. Off the top of my head at least, these are my top picks for entertainment for the year. I’d love to hear your favourites!

Impulse and Strings

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Do you ever just do something completely on impulse, without giving it any forethought or adding in any logic? Of course you do, you’re human (one presumes), and unless you’re incredibly unadventurous or, like, exceedingly prudent, there is a chance you’ve done something completely spur of the moment at least once in your life. Yesterday, I did one of those impulsive things. I bought a violin.

Now, if you read my blog regularly, you will know that I own a guitar and still only know how to play two chords. I have had my guitar for almost twelve months now, and most of the time it sits against the wall and stares at me forlornly, longing for me to play with it. Only when I’m not insanely busy doing other things, and have the motivation to practice, do I pick it up and try to play. And then there’s the ukulele (yet another impulse purchase, actually). I bought it a few months back because a) it was cheap, b) it was red and c) I figured that with only four strings, it would be easier to learn and play. And then that, like the guitar, sat against the wall, where it remains to this day doing nothing except be really vividly red.

Evidently, when it comes to impulsively purchasing string instruments, I have approximately no control. And so the instrument family keeps growing, and so does my guilt at neglecting them. It’s probably a good thing that I never have any intention of having children. Now, logic states that I should learn to play one of the instruments that I already own before I try and learn a new one. But alas, as with my penchant for buying more books instead of reading the stack on my shelf, I similarly suffer from an inability to say no to buying things that I might onedayeventuallymaybeifI’mnotbusy get around to. The thing is, I have all these grand notions of never working in retail again, and living off a career of making things and creating stuff, and writing, and playing in a fabulously wonderful band. But my problem is that the Elegant Fox is still early days, and my writing is a somewhat stunted process and, whilst I am not a terribly bad singer, I am actually not instrumentally talented in the least.

So, to be honest, a new violin is a not entirely clever use of money I could probably be spending on other more important, less impulsive things. Like buying a new car for instance. But they’re such pretty instruments, and you don’t understand, I need it. Plus, in my defence, a close friend of mine does actually teach the violin and has promised to take me on as a student. So, if I actually have someone to help me in the early stages, there is a higher likelihood that I’ll actually put in the effort to learn. That’s how it works, right?

In any case, it should get delivered next week, so we’ll know soon enough how this newest venture into musical creativity will fare!

House Made Introductions

A person’s house tells a lot about them. You can always tell the people who tidy for company from the people who don’t. You can usually tell if someone supports a particular sporting team, or if a girl spends ten minutes or three hours in the bathroom. It’s the little things we don’t really notice that tell people the most about us. I can be completely summed up to a stranger by five things in my house. Which is to say, someone I don’t know could walk into my house today and leave after ten minutes with a fairly good notion about the kind of person I am.

Firstly, when you walk into my house, is the typewriters. They’re right at the front door, sitting atop some bookshelves that house a rather significant collection of books. This is the first thing people see. You can deduce one of two things from these cute little vintage pieces. I am either a) a pompous hipster with a penchant for buying vintage items to make myself seem cool or b) I am a writer (and aspiring author) with a deep and profound love of the written word, and a genuine interest in writing implements from history. It’s the latter, by the way.

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Secondly, as you make your way through my house – and by that I mean taking about a step and a half into my lounge room – you will see the large collection of books stacked slightly precariously atop a small but varied DVD collection. Now, in addition to the bookshelves when you first walked in, these thirty odd books will tell you that I am a voracious reader, with a tendency to buy books in bulk and happily make my way through them at my own leisure. That stack has been, at varying levels, a part of my living arrangement for the last six years. At least.

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Before you move onward, to the right is my bedroom. There, on my side table is my iPod, plugged into the dock and playing music (Amorphis at the time I took that photo). My iPod is perpetually playing. There are very few things I do, without the accompaniment of various styles and genres of music. Everything from Metal (the likes of Dimmu Borgir, Opeth and Dark Tranquillity to name a few) to instrumental pieces, progressive rock to folk and blues. I have what one might consider an eclectic taste in music, and I can’t go through my days without some musical motivation.

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Take a couple more steps and you will find yourself in my kitchen. To the right is my sewing room, where you will find a dressmakers mannequin wearing an almost finished gown of my own design, just awaiting the final touches to complete. Now, this is pretty obvious. Mannequin, almost completed project, fabric everywhere, sewing machine on the table; I sew, guys. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

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You don’t even need to take any more steps here, because on the wall outside the sewing room door, hanging in my kitchen is a canvas print that reads ‘Keep Calm and Put the Kettle On’. This could be admittedly taken a couple of ways. Perhaps I enjoy entertaining? Nope. Maybe I am a coffee drinker? Nuh uh. I drink copious amounts of tea. Can’t live without it, I am truly a writer cliche. I have about thirty different kinds of tea in a cupboard specifically designated for it. So I suppose, perhaps the fifth item should be my tea cupboard, but the canvas is more obvious and frankly, if a stranger were to go through my cupboards, I would find that unforgivably rude.

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And that’s about it. Oh, of course there are other things, if one cared to pay attention. The collection of Pop Vinyl figures that indicate a love of pop culture and geekery, the empty fridge that tells you I am a lazy cook, the prints on the walls that let you know I am a collector of cool art. My house is very Amy. There is no way you would walk in and mistake me for a footy loving jock, or a smoker or a painter or a cat lover. We make our space our own and sooner or later, that space will inevitably tell others who we are. So what does your house say about you?