This weekend I read a good article about whether it is better to be ordinary or extraordinary, how some people straddle the line between the two, and about the so-called payoffs of being "the same" as those around us.  The article was written by Oliver Burkeman and ran in The Guardian newspaper on 23 May (full article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/may/23/oliver-burkeman-ordinariness). 

I like pondering this topic, so I am posting the bulk of the article below:

We live in less flashy times... But the call to be remarkable, albeit in less preposterous ways, remains loud. Books with titles such as '101 Ways To Stand Out At Work' and 'Pop! Stand Out In Any Crowd' argue that being different is the key to thriving, while seemingly infinite numbers of personal development blogs urge readers to "live a remarkable life". In this sober [time] the point has merit. Being distinctive enhances your market value. And who can't appreciate the psychological benefits of making, and being recognised for, a unique contribution in life, rather than following the herd?

What's odd about our preoccupation with remarkableness, though, is how it coexists with its opposite. Most self-help books that aren't about standing out are about fitting in: making friends, finding a like-minded partner or realising that negative experiences - sadness, worry, stress - are really rather normal. And social psychology is awash with evidence of how far we'll go for the payoff of being the same. (In Solomon Asch's celebrated groupthink experiments, 75% of participants were willing to disbelieve their own eyes when others in the room - actors posing as subjects - insisted that lines of wildly different lengths were actually the same.)

The truth - that we need to stand out and to fit in - has been codified, in recent years, as "optimal distinctiveness theory". We crave the sweet spot between being too exceptional or too normal, and we're constantly adjusting our behaviour. When we feel suffocated by sameness, we'll strive to make our mark, but if we feel too lonely in our differentness, we'll rush to conform.

In other words, it's a balance. And yet our attitudes to specialness and ordinariness are anything but even-handed: we celebrate one and disdain the other. ("The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau famously wrote, and however right he was, it's hard not to detect a trace of a sneer directed at the conformists.) So it's worth asking whether we should always be striving to be remarkable. Might some of us be better advised to get over our issues with being ordinary?

This will, I suspect, be the only time I enlist that notorious misery-guts Philip Larkin in the service of understanding happiness, but his poem Born Yesterday, dedicated to a newborn baby, might serve as a useful corrective:

"May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
Nothing uncustomary
To pull you off your balance...
In fact, may you be dull -
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called."

* I didn't write it, but I definitely understand.


I may not write a blog this weekend, so check out my newest Pic Of The Week instead - it's quite striking, I think...


OK.  I don't mean to sound like a paid ad disguised as a blog, but today while wandering through the massive Westfield London shopping centre I stumbled upon the most perfectly planned retail shop I've seen in a long time:

It's called INGLOT.

I understand Inglot is not brand new, but it's new to me.  It's an import from Australia, and while the one I went to may have been inside Westfield London since late last year, I've never taken notice of it until today.

Inglot is all makeup, all the time, and in every conceivable color.  And it's not a bunch of existing cosmetic brands - it's all Inglot brand - and priced extremely competitively (think £8 for lippy and eye shadow starting around £6), which makes it perfect for gals who want more quality and options than a drugstore, but don't want to fork out £28 for Chanel either.

Inglot isn't huge, but it's STUFFED with variety and color.  I was drawn in by their wall (literally) of nail polishes.  I'd been scanning drugstore shelves for a perfect shade of matte lilac polish when Inglot caught my eye.  There were several large sections of nail polish.  There were the "matte" polishes, the "shimmer" polishes, the "metallic" polishes, the gothic dark polishes, etc. etc.  And each type of polish was organized in rainbow order so it was super easy to find EXACTLY what you wanted.  There were well over 100 colors and no matter what your fancy, it was definitely there. 

To add super-efficiency to pleasure, Inglot has a system where you pick what you like from the display samples, then tell a staffer what number it is (every item is clearly labeled with its own number) and they'll pull the item out of fresh stock and put it at the register counter for you so you don't have to carry it around (or search on shelves for a color that isn't there, or out of place).  This system makes the store look amazing, as there are no empty shelves and only one example of each color, which looks like a miniature rainbow when you step in.

And it's not just the nail polish that rocks.  They had everything from eye makeup (again in every possible category) to face powders to lip colors (again, everything from matte lippy to metallic glosses to long-wearing chunky lip crayons)...

The best thing AFTER the totally amazing level of selection and organization was the fact that the place is literally lined with wall mirrors, and every few feet there were tubs of quality disposable applicators of all types to try stuff on with:  tiny single-use applicators for lippy, tiny shadow sponges for eye makeup, tons of tissues and trash bins and even three types of makeup removers for nail polish, regular makeup and water-proof products.  You can spend hours trying on colors and leave without a single smudge of unfavorable makeup on your hand, face or nails.  Excellent.  And even lovelier: it's hygienic.

Also, in a very subtle, no pressure way, Inglot sells the tiny, cheap items a gal could possibly need along with her purchase, like a nail file or an oversize pencil sharpener to fit the super-fat lip crayons.  And the whole thing is topped-off with NO-pressure salespeople.  They just sort of stand by to help if you ask.  No one tries to sell you add-ons at the register and no one tries to convince you that you need ten different products to look good.  They also run makeup lessons and other services for gals who are into that.

Obviously, at Inglot you don't have to buy a product and take it home and open it and USE it to know if it's going to look bad on you (and then be stuck with it if it sucks) because you can put on everything inside the store.  Before Inglot you had to fork out big cash at the counters of Dior, Chanel, MAC, et al. to get that kind of purchase experience.

The Inglot website says they carry over 200 shades of eye shadows, 200 shades of nail polish and more than 150 shades of lipstick.  What could be easier for the girl who knows exactly what she wants -- AND more helpful to the girl who has to try on twenty different colors before she can pick the one she really likes?

Inglot's my favorite retail spot of the year so far.  We'll see if iI still think so come December...

Again, I have no been paid to write this  ;-)


Today British retail giant Marks & Spencer had a fab recession-era celebration: Penny Bazaar 2009 - which meant that for a few hours they sold a bunch of stuff for one penny.

For those of you who don't live in Great Britain, Marks & Spencer is a mid-range (but not cheap) everything store.  By "everything" I mean groceries, produce, quality clothes and accessories and housewares including everything from down pillows to pepper mills.

Anyway, M&S opened 125 years ago, so they put on this "Penny Bazaar" to celebrate its anniversary.  They first opened as a small goods stall back in 1884 with a sign that said:  'Don't ask the price - it's a penny!'  Kinda like the ol' Dollar Store - or 99 Cent Store - or in this case, the One Cent Store.  Later on M&S got so popular it didn't even need to advertise, they say, and didn't produce their first TV ad until the mid-1990s.  Pretty neat.

Today I went by the M&S located inside the sparkly (and enormous) Westfield White City mall.  They had no less than five security guards at the single entrance, and ropes indicating where to get in line for entry - or "cue" as they say in Britain.  Shoppers were limited to 5 items each, and the penny sale was over by lunch time.

The photo above was taken outside the Westfield store after the sale had begun, so I'm sure the line was actually much longer at opening.  I chose not to cue up and go in, but might check it out tomorrow.  Apparently every penny made is going to local and regional charities. 

Shame that the most each person can contribute is five pennies  ;-)

If you want to shop the sale, it's going on for three days and the range of penny products includes five jewelry sets, scarves, purses, knickers (underwear), commemorative cufflinks, ties, socks, leather passport holders, leather luggage tags, tea towels, mugs, bags of retro sweets, cans of retro drink, beach toys and beach balls.  And no, I didn't get paid to write this blog.


In lieu of a whole blog entry, I've posted a new Pic Of The Week - go check it out  :-)