And the Lord said: if thou art a writer in 2016, thou must choose between think-pieces and listicles.
Like a lot of writing, this was inspired by a horrific hangover.
I’ve written before about how growing up a bit simply means figuring out what you’ve got the energy to worry about, and what you haven’t, but what is life if not a work-in-progress? There’s a few things I know I need to stop doing, for the sake of my own sanity, and if I’ve learned anything over the last few weeks, it’s that no-one else is going to keep you sane. For the most part, that’s on you.
Here’s the list.
1) Getting really drunk.
As much as I like to think I’m at my incisive ranty best when I’m at a kitchen table, surrounded by friends, halfway down a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a good third of the way into a puddling round of Camembert, I’m probably not. Well, any more than a couple of large glasses takes me from “potential Have I Got News For You panellist” to “best relegated to something featuring Keith Lemon” (one day, I’ll get to sit next to Ian Hislop at that big desk and it’ll be the greatest evening of my life). I’m not a fan of drunk me, and what’s more, I simply don’t have the time to be hungover.
A few weeks ago, I had a Big Night, involving what felt like every bar in Islington. I have not looked at the receipts from that evening, and I don’t ever intend to. By some miracle, I made it back to Brighton and was even vaguely coherent when I collapsed into bed next to the long-suffering Drummer Boy. I spent the entirety of the next day in tears in my dressing gown, curled up on the comfy chair, getting up every so often to throw up and wonder if I’d actually done some serious damage. “I think I might be dying,” I said sorrowfully to DB, while sipping boiled water like a Victorian invalid. “Only of self-pity,” came the bracing reply. “Have some toast.”
As ever, he turned out to be right. Copious amounts of tea and toast later, and I was right as rain, raging at the Giles Coren column in the Saturday Times and getting excited – tentatively; I didn’t want to strain anything – about the writers’ event I was going to that evening. At which I nursed a glass of nothing stronger than lemonade.
2) Paying attention to magazines, and lifestyle/beauty bloggers. This is a tricky one – not least because they’re connected in so many ways. The rise of beauty bloggers has directly brought about the decline of magazines – we’ve lost so many mags over the last few years, which means that editors, writers and art directors have lost work, or their jobs outright, and that is patently a Bad Thing. But magazines can’t escape the fact that as soon as they go to print, the content is out of date. Online, we’ve got more beauty advice, fashion photography, celebrity interviews, pop culture writing and arts reviews than we’ll ever need, and it rolls on like a tank; there’s always a new piece of content to consume (this is getting a bit dystopian, isn’t it?).
What both magazines and lifestyle bloggers have in common is that while they can be empowering, and thought-provoking, and even just joyfully indulgent, they can also fuck you up a little bit. You catch yourself thinking, why does my life not look like that? And it takes a moment for sense to kick in – no-one’s life looks like that. Or rather, only someone who is paid to produce ‘aspirational’ content, who can afford professional camera and lighting equipment and editing software, and who works with brands to showcase their products. It’s literally their job to make people want to buy stuff. *Makes a mental note to keep this in mind.*
3) Big, shouty arguments. To stop DB’s scoffing-in-disbelief in its tracks, I’d like to point out that this is very much an ongoing project. I’m a natural scene-maker, descended from a long line of shouters. As a toddler, I would shriek and bawl so loudly every time I had my hair washed in the bath that the neighbours would come round to see if everything was OK. I like my feelings to be heard, you know? Alas – or perhaps fortunately – Drummer Boy is the polar opposite. Maybe it’s because his posh voice is booming enough already, who knows? But he never raises it. Ever. Oh no, once – when we were attempting to drive around Leeds. But if you’ve ever tried to negotiate Leeds’ one way system about two weeks after passing your driving test, you’ll understand.
The point being: most of the time, a loud, neighbour-bothering ding-dong only makes a bad situation worse. I never actually feel better after a row – just more upset, and guilty with it. I’m working on trying to discuss things with an indoor voice, and without losing my shit; it’s not a quick process when emotions are louder than logic, but it takes work to break the habit of a lifetime.
4) Being ‘one of the guys’.
It’s a curious fact of the internet that if you’re female and have the temerity to say you get on better with men than you do women (on, say, Reddit or similar), you’re putting yourself first in the queue for a world of pain. People on the internet hate women who say they have more male friends than female ones. Thinking about it, it’s not just on the internet, you just notice it more there – the hate is distilled.
I’m intrigued as to why – it seems incredibly tribal to be so suspicious of the lone woman in a group of men. Are we really that paranoid that she perhaps knows things we don’t? Are we still so into “slut-shaming” that we automatically assume – and, more oddly, care – that she must be sleeping with all of them? What is it, internet, I don’t understand?!
Because men who have mostly female friends, who get on better with women than they do other men, don’t get this shit. Or at least, not to the same extent – we might privately and erroneously assume that a man who has mainly female friends is either gay or, you know, fairly shag-happy.
Phew, deep breath. I used to be a bit “yeah, I get on better with men than other women”, and it was definitely a hangover from spending the five most emotionally volatile years of a girl’s life in an all-girls’ school. I cannot tell you how against single-sex schools I am, so I’m not going to launch into it now. Attending such a school from the age of 11-16 meant that from the age of 16-19, I was terrified of both men and women. Of women because I knew what they could do, and of men because I didn’t.
Anyway, I now work in the charity sector, and it’s practically a running joke as to how female-dominated that is. But that’s what’s great about it – I didn’t realise until I started working full-time how precious female friendships are, and how supportive women can be of each other. No-one in an all-female team bats an eyelid at tears in the office – they just step in with hugs and tissues, and mums in particular have a great sense of perspective. You fucked up a sales report? Big deal, they’ve dealt with vomity toddlers at 2 in the morning. Women are great. Women cheer when you turn up to the pub after saying you didn’t think you could make it. Women take your side unreservedly and wholeheartedly. Women are brutally, passionately honest, and talk properly – nothing is off-limits. It took me a while to fully appreciate the value of female friendships, but I’m starting to see they’re as vital as blood and air and cheese. Non-negotiable if you want to be happy.
5) Being scared of failing. I think this one might literally be impossible, but it can’t hurt to try and articulate why I know I need to stop letting fear decide. I want to write full-time, eventually. I know people who do it. I see them. I know being a full-time freelance writer is a thing that people do – and do successfully. They’re not all starving artists in moth-eaten cardigans, or living with their long-suffering parents. They might be living in their overdrafts, sure, but not forever.
When I was a kid, I was always writing. And if I wasn’t scribbling away, hand cramping with effort of keeping up with brain, I was reading. It might as well have been written in neon over my head: “this kid should probably be a writer one day”. But my family said over and over that writers don’t make any money, that I wasn’t assertive enough to make it, it wasn’t realistic. Normal stuff – good advice, really, when you consider what the job description of a parent is. Hundreds of years ago, we tried to protect our children from disease, or being carried off by the nearest lord. Now, we want to protect them from debt (well, more of it than they’ll incur just by being alive, anyway), and paying a billion pounds a month to live in a damp studio flat. I get it. But that line of thinking – “do something realistic, get a proper job” – isn’t working for me anymore. It’s like anything you try and suppress; it just comes back when you’re not looking and whoops, you’re in its jaws.
I’ve got quite the to-do list, it seems.