Category Archives: Gemma Burgess

On… some things that will make your life better

Oh, man. What a horrible terrible awful week. Is everyone okay? No? Me either. Is the world batshit crazy? Probably.  

Here are a few things to get you through the metaphorical night.

The best banana bread ever. (I don’t use words like ‘best’ and ‘ever’ lightly, so you can trust me on this. I am also not an obedient cook - i.e.  I never do exactly what a recipe tells me, ever. Too boring. So with this one, I throw in chopped apples or blueberries or yoghurt or sour cream or kefir or great big dollops of jam or whatever else floats my boat, and the result is ALWAYS amazing. This banana bread is bulletproof. I also put sea salt and brown turbinado sugar on top before baking because, well, everything tastes better with extra salt and sugar.) 

The best vanilla cake ever. (I’m slightly more obedient with this recipe, but still mess with the number of eggs, or add coconut flakes or almonds meal, for fun.)

Pretty damn good chocolate chip cookies. (See? I didn’t say ‘best’ or ‘ever’ because that would be a lie. But they’re pretty damn good. Actually, cookies and I have a mixed relationship. Sometimes I just think they’re too crunchy and tiring.)

If you’re pregnant, you only need to wear Cos and Topshop Maternity. I love those posh brands but dude, I wouldn’t spend $250 on a freaking t-shirt dress that I’ll wear for a decade, let alone one that I’m only going to wear for nine pathetic months and then HATE the sight of immediately afterwards. (No, I’m not knocked up. This is just something that I often think about. When someone I know gets pregnant I text them ‘Cos! Topshop!’ and they reply ‘oh i’ll just wear my own clothes as long as possible, I don’t think I’ll get very big’ and then I laugh so hard I walk into a wall. Then they text four and a half months later ‘I am HUGE’ and I reply ‘Cos! Topshop! And you’re not huge. You’re just pregnant. But you still deserve to look nice and feel pretty.’)

The only game I ever play on my phone is WordWarp. It is basically Tetris-level technology (millennials, Tetris is the caveman version of the entire Internet), and I only ever bother to get the six-letter word, because I’m writing out ‘tap’ ‘map’ ‘rap’ ‘tarp’ etc is a waste of my valuable time. 

When you have a newborn, get this. It will save your life.

I don’t know this woman, but her advice columns are BRILLIANT. 

If you get really bad stomach pains and/or bloated after eating certain foods but can’t figure out what or why, look into Fodmaps. It’s probably not dairy or wheat that’s bothering you, it’s probably the polyols: watermelon and peaches and onions. Those things are total bastards.  

Watch this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and you will feel better about the world, which is very important this week. And hug someone. Hugging is even more important. 


On… Disco

I have two little boys, aged two and four. They like cars and trucks and airplanes and fire engines and police cars and ambulances and baseball. And manicures and disco.

I know. I know. But they just do. They don’t have any preconceived ideas of gender or whateveryouwannacallitIthoughtwedidnthavelabelsanymore. They just like what they like. Errol’s favorite color is ‘red glitter’. Ned’s favorite color is ‘bloooooo’ but that might only be because it’s the only color he can say. (Both kids were/are late talkers. It’s all grunts and clicks around here for the first few years, like a tiny ginger version of The Gods Must Be Crazy.) And the only music they like is disco. Full on, shake your groove thang, point at the sky DISCO.

Now, Fox and I are ever-lasting fans of all music of the indie-rock persuasion, so this discovery has been tough on us. We used to be able to play the Lumineers basically on repeat and they didn’t really protest, because, you know, they were too tiny and helpless. But for the past year or so, if we played the Lumineers (or Jet or the Kaiser Chiefs or The Cure or Passion Pit or LCD Soundsystem or Mass Gothic or Sleigh Bells or Hozier or Bastille or anything else), they both would put their fingers in their ears and yell “NOooooooooOOO” until we turned it off. For a long time the only – the ONLY – song Errol liked was ‘Everything Is Awesome’ and it would STILL be his favorite song if I hadn’t told him that my iPhone lost it. I could get him to dance to my favorite song, but only by giving him chocolate when he did, in a sort of Pavlovian training effort, but Ned still hated it. So – and THIS is tragic – we just didn’t listen to music until they were in bed.

But then a few weeks ago, during my little Everybody Wants Some binge, I played Bad Girls by Donna Summer. And they LOVED it. Errol sang it to himself all day afterwards, while playing with firetrucks. It was so adorably camp.

So then I played Daddy Cool by Boney M.

Then Macho Man by The Village People.

Then Hot Stuff by Donna Summer.

Then It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls.

Then Angel Eyes by Roxy Music, which might not be strictly disco, but I got away with it.

Then I remembered The Last Days Of Disco, which is a fantastic movie (my friend Caroline will read this and text me ‘that is a TERRIBLE MOVIE what are you TALKING ABOUT PUT DOWN THE CRACK PIPE’, but she is incorrect and I am not even HOLDING my crack pipe), and I played More More More by Andrea True.

And then Love Train by The O’Jays.

And then Oogum Boogum by Brenton Wood.

And everybody was happy.


On… sharing an office

Fox and I share an office in our New York apartment. Literally share it: a small room, adjoining our living room, with two crappy desks from Overstock pushed up against each other, and two big huge flatscreen monitors blocking our views of each other’s faces. In other words, unless one of us is at the gym, we are probably within 15 feet of each other at EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAMN DAY.

This feels completely normal to me now, in the way that having him traveling two or three weeks every month with his last job, and living our entire marriage on WhatsApp, used to feel completely normal. People would make pained faces when I said how much time we spent apart. Especially when I had a tiny baby or two. I could see people thinking: ‘these guys are doomed, and she is NOT going to clean up on Tinder if there are breastmilk stains and babies in her profile pics’. But now, when people hear that we share an office at home and that we have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, they just scream “WHAT THE FUH HOW ARE YOU NOT KILLING HIM?”

So here is the big secret to sharing an office with your spouse:

Ignore each other.

Fox is not a writer. He works in start-up finance. No, I don’t really know what that means. He does a lot of reading and modeling (not that kind of modeling, the demand for 38-year-old red-headed Irishmen isn’t what it should be) and calls. I, obviously, AM a writer, so I just sit there and tap away furiously for hours, and frown and swear and get up and make tea and then taptaptaptaptap furiously some more. Sometimes I stare into space for a long time. Sometimes I stand up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore, this is a fucking RIDICULOUS story and I hate it’ and I go half-assedly Kon Mari my wardrobe or put on red lipstick or eat some chocolate standing up in the kitchen. Sometimes I go play with the boys if their laughter/screaming penetrates my writing trance, but they’re out most of the time. Mostly, I just sit there and sweat and fume and tap, and Fox sits there and thinks and calls and taps, and sometimes goes to the gym, or goes for a walk to think his way through a work issue, and we ignore each other.

The other question people always have is: don’t the boys drive us nuts? And well, not really. Other people’s children would, obviously – in London we lived on Colville Terrace and our bedroom, where I wrote, overlooked a school playground, and I hated each and every one of those screaming little bastards. But when it’s YOUR kids, it’s different. It’s harder for Fox, who is accustomed to the serene space of a finance office, but as I’ve probably said before in my adorably repetitious way, I used to work in advertising agencies and those places are fucking zoos. Good training for working from home with very small children. And of course, we have an amazing and wonderful and lovely nanny, who makes it possible. Ned plays, and eats, and naps, and plays, and then they pick up Errol from preschool at 3pm, and then they all go to the playground for a little while. And I normally stop working around 4pm or 430pm or so, and bake a cake with them or do a puzzle or play Lego or firetrucks or whatever. A couple of times a week I take Neddles for to the playground alone, or take Errol for after-school cake or a manicure (fact: four-year-old boys love glittery nail polish only slightly less than they love airplanes and Paw Patrol), just because it’s nice to have solo hang time with them. Then it’s dinner time and bath time and story time and bedtime for the boys. Then the day is over and we collapse in a heap, exhausted.

And there’s the rub.

Because at this point in the day, you have to NOT ignore each other. You have to talk, ackshuary liderellah talk, not just put on The Night Manager or Silicon Valley or Veep or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Younger or Amy Schumer or any of the other shows you both love. Talk about your day, and what happened with your work (which the other person genuinely isn’t aware of even though it happened just inches from his or her damn face). Talk about stuff in the news and what’s happening with our extended family and our friends and that article he read and that idea I had and that thing I’m worried about and you know, stuff. Conversation.

I find adult conversation ASTONISHINGLY hard after a day of making shit up in my head.

Not just hard. Impossible. It’s like there’s a wild, hilarious party in a room in my brain, and I just want to go back to that room rather than exist in the real world. You’re right: it’s probably not healthy.

Kid conversation is different. I’ll talk to Errol about volcanos and space and puppies (he is obsessed with them all) or play hide and seek with Ned, or make papier mache bowls or do watercolor painting with both of them, no problem. That’s easy, because it’s almost meditative. (Sometimes I cheat, and part of my brain is still thinking about a story while we’re drawing quietly, and then I have to grab the Crayola marker and write an idea out on the paper before I forget it.) The moment they’re in bed, I just want to go back to that party room in my brain and let my imagination do its thing.

But I can’t. I have to close the door to that room, remind myself that I can write tomorrow, turn my brain outward to face the real world and actually talk to my real husband. As soon as I do, I’m glad I did, because he’s hilarious and interesting, and reader, that’s why I married him.

In summation: if you’re sharing an office with your spouse: ignore them. And then don’t ignore them. Repeat.


On… nightmares

Well, of COURSE I love this, like most people I love anything that tells me I am more creative than your average bear. But also, it’s just a relief. Ever since I was about 21, I’ve had night terrors. Which means that about three nights a week, I wake up screaming.


Sometimes I point at things in the corner or on the light, sometimes I get up and walk around the room, sometimes I open curtains, take pictures off walls, grab the duvet and pull it off the bed while yelling at something to go away. I know. I am crazypants. Yah, sharing a bed with me must be annoying as fuck. Fox says he can mostly calm me down before it gets to getting-out-of-bed levels. In the olden days, when I had roommates, I just had to white-knuckle it alone, while I woke up, with a sore throat from screaming, on the stairs or the floor outside my room. One time I screamed so much that I woke up my roommate on the floor above and she assumed I was being murdered so she HID. FOR REAL. (Thanks dude.)

And nope, nothing really bad has ever happened to me. I was never kidnapped or raped or exposed to undue amounts of Billy Ray Cyrus music. We have loosely tracked it to my blood sugar levels – if I eat something like yoghurt or almonds before I go to bed, I’m less likely to go full banshee. It doesn’t happen, at all, when I’m preggers. But aside from that, it just happens.

I’m always kind of embarrassed about my night terrors, because people think it’s so weird. Or they assume that I must dread going to sleep (nope, love it) or that I wake up in the morning with memories of being petrified (not really, if it’s bad enough that I wake in the middle of the night I have a residual feeling of fear, but otherwise I wake up my usual annoyingly happy self).

But now I can say that my night terrors are just part of being a writer. Yeah. Suck it.

Two other things in this article really connected with me: one, having a dreamlike quality to waking thoughts. On any given day, even when I’m not actually sitting at my laptop, a substantial percentage of my brain is daydreaming my way through a story. It makes me vague and a little deaf (my best friend from college called me Vagueness), and I have to make a large effort to be present and aware of my surroundings. Children have really helped me with this, as you can’t really daydream when there’s a fighting chance you’ll be cleaning up spilled cereal in two minutes if you do. And two, the heightened sensitivity to all emotional experience. I am the kind of person who gets so upset by news about death, or pain, especially to children, that it feels physically painful to read the newspapers. (I live in a hearts-and-flowers world where the New York Times only has the Arts section, the Metropolitan section, and the Style section.) Tell me your sad personal news, and I’ll cry with you. If I think about certain lines from songs or movies, or a documentary my friend Kristen made about the sexual abuse of deaf children by priests, the first story in In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders (which is a comic short story, I am just a FREAK) or certain details I know and wish I didn’t about what the Nazis did, I’ll feel so overwhelmed that for a minute or two, it’s like I’m drowning in sadness, and I have to cry a bit just to let the feelings out. It’s SO PATHETIC. I always thought that everyone felt like me and I was just a weakling. The kind of wimpy dick who let shit affect her so much, it was almost pretentious. But no! I am not pretentious (at least, not in this way). It appears this is just part of being me, like not remembering numbers longer than two digits, always dancing like it’s 1983, and being able to tie a cherry stalk in a knot in my mouth with my tongue. (Yah totally sexy, right? No, because I look like the old lady who swallowed a fly while I do it.)

Anyway, enough about ME. Read the article from NYMag below (I could post to the original story on New Scientist but who has the time):

People Who Have More Nightmares Might Also Be More Creative

Nightmare is kind of a weird word, etymologically speaking. The night part is obvious enough, but mare has more of an unexpected history: In old English, it was the word for demons who were thought to possess people as they slept. The compound word, nightmare, was originally a term for the spirits themselves, only later coming to refer to the dreams they caused.

The term has stuck, but nowadays, psychologists have a few other ideas about what causes nightmares. Writing in New Scientist earlier this week, psychology PhD candidate Michelle Carr, who studies dreams at the University of Montreal’s Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, explained the two dominant theories: One is that they’re a reaction to negative experiences that happen during waking hours. The other is “threat simulation theory,” or the idea that we evolved to have nightmares as a sort of rehearsal for adversity, so that when the real thing rolls around we’re better equipped to handle it.

Whether or not they function as a training ground for real-life situations, though, nightmares do have some real benefits for the people who thrash and sweat their way through them, as Carr noted. One 2013 study, for example, found that frequent nightmare sufferers rated themselves as more empathetic. They also displayed more of a tendency to unconsciously mirror other people through things like contagious yawning, a phenomenon that’s been studied as an indicator of empathy.

Carr, meanwhile, has found that people who have constant nightmares also tend to think further outside the box on word-association tasks. Other research, she explained, has found support for the idea that nightmares might be linked to creativity:

Sleep researcher Ernest Hartmann, while a psychiatrist at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston in the 1980s, found that people seeking therapy for nightmares were not necessarily more fearful or anxious, but rather had a general sensitivity to all emotional experience. He concluded that sensitivity is the driving force behind intense dreams. Heightened sensitivity to threats or fear during the day results in bad dreams and nightmares, whereas heightened passion or excitement may result in more intense positive dreams. And both these forms of dreams may feed back into waking life, perhaps increasing distress after nightmares, or promoting social bonds and empathy after positive dreams.

The effects go further still. Hartmann realised that this sensitivity spills over into perceptions and thoughts: people who have a lot of nightmares experience a dreamlike quality to their waking thoughts. And this kind of thinking seems to give them a creative edge. For instance, studies show that such people tend to have greater creative aptitude and artistic expression. Jess and Chris [two of Carr’s research subjects] scored highly on a test to measure this, called the boundary thinness scale, and both are artists: Jess is a painter and photographer, Chris a musician.

And, in a satisfyingly tidy stroke of cosmic balance, Carr’s research has found that people who often have nightmares also tend to have more positive dreams than the average person.

“The evidence points towards the idea that, rather than interfering with normal activity, people who are unfortunate in having a lot of nightmares also have a dreaming life that is at least as creative, positive and vivid as it can be distressing and terrifying,” she wrote. “What’s more, this imaginative richness is unlikely to be confined to sleep, but also permeates waking thought and daydreams.” Even after people wake up and shake off the nighttime demon, in other words, a trace of it stays behind, possessing them throughout the day.

On… Anniversary 2016


The 2016 Anniversary Portrait is DONE. And yes, this morning was as traumatic as that photo looks, that is indeed a photo of a toddler in a trench coat screaming in misery while his parents laugh and kiss above him. Our actual anniversary yesterday was twice as traumatic, as it involved a trip to ER and stitches for the same tiny redhead after a playground adventure went awry. (He’s fine.)

You can see the rest of the anniversary portraits here. (I am still stunned we manage to do this year after year.)

So here’s a quick making-of-the-damn-anniversary-portrait blow-by-blow. We walked to City Hall, took the first set of photos, realized that we should wait for the sun to be on the plinth thing and do it again, waited for about ten minutes (which is a LONG TIME when you are two and four-and-a-half), bribed the boys with the promise of ice cream if they just waited nicely, finally got the damn photo, got some ice creams, and finally walked home. End of anniversary portrait, 2016.




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On… Everybody Wants Some!! (update!)

Finally saw Everybody Wants Some!! on the weekend, and IT IS AWESOME. I was worried it would be a sexist bro-fest. But instead it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s easy, it’s just… it’s so damn good. It’s a movie about dudes, sure, but it’s not sexist: the female characters are given as much depth and thought as the male characters. (Unlike shit like The Hangover – when I watch those dude-fest movies, I’m reminded over and over again that I’m not invited to that party, that women are a punchline or a punching bag – but we’ve discussed this in previous sessions.)

I love Richard Linklater movies because you can watch them and have total trust that you’re in safe hands. The storytelling, the tone, the dialogue, the characters, the pace – it’s always smart and thoughtful. This movie is about college and freedom and figuring out who you are and how to be yourself, but be part of a team… it’s just… it’s really fucking good. See it.

I posted the UK trailer in the below post, just for good measure, here are the US ones.

Also, the music is always outstanding in Linklater movies. I’ve been listening to this on repeat for three days. Enjoy.