It’s tempting to say that this year has been a write-off, a total horror-show, my own annus horribilis. And honestly, the last few months have been patchy at best. But if nothing else, I’ve at least gained some wisdom this year. Whether I’ll put it to good use is another matter entirely – but ANYWAY, enough doom and gloom.
The run-up to Christmas is as good a time as any to share some of the things that thanks to the myriad dramas of 2018, I now know, deep in my bones. Here goes.
You have to look after yourself, because no-one else is going to do it for you…
No-one else is obliged to look after you. Honestly. You may well have someone or someones plural to take care of you, but for the most part, it’s no-one else’s job to do this. So you need to treat yourself kindly. Which means taking yourself to bed when you’re angry and weepy from sheer exhaustion, not having a glass of wine every single night just because it’s there, saying no to things, making an attempt to eat some vegetables. It’s all boring but utterly necessary. You will thank yourself for it when you awaken after eight hours’ deadweight sleep and you no longer feel like committing actual murder. The sky will look brighter, I promise.
…that said, you can survive on less sleep than you think
You can. It’s not ideal, but you can do it. You will crash though, and if you find yourself relying on caffeine and sugar too much, take it from Yours Truly here, your skin and body will start to rebel.
Routines will save you
I complain about him endlessly but Noodle has been a Godsend during the last few months. Having a dog is exhausting, and a real bind, and requires levels of organisation and indeed patience I do not possess, but it’s also life-affirming. Hauling yourself out of bed and going to the park on a chilly weekend morning is good for the soul. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in your head, the dog needs walking, and feeding, and affection. The dog needs you to love him, and when you’re disillusioned with the very notion of love, having it pulled out of your bruised heart by a fluffy-eared wind-up merchant will do wonders to soothe your soul.
Pets are great for giving your day some structure, but they’re not essential. Walks in the fresh air will calm you. Going to the office and determinedly plugging away at what needs to be done will make you feel useful. Getting your chores and life admin done will make you feel productive. Routines can be saviours.
Just because someone tells you something about yourself, it doesn’t mean they’re right
This is a big one. Learning which voices to listen to and which to filter out. Even if it’s someone that knows you well, or that’s known you for a long time – they are not necessarily correct. There are at least two sides to everything and everyone speaks from the trench they’ve dug themselves. Also: be wary of where you get your advice. I’m one of those awful people who, when she’s going through something, will ask everyone she’s ever met for advice and then not take any of it. I just like to get reassurance that I’m not going mad, I think.
When you go through a break-up, everyone has words of wisdom to share, but the only really useful words will come from those who’ve gone through a break-up in similar circumstances to you. A friend said to me, more than once, that it was “really weird” that the Drummer helped me move into my new flat, given that we were splitting up. This irritated me, because frankly, if you’re in a serious relationship and can’t get your head around the idea of being helpful to your partner in the event of things going wrong between you, then that says far more about your maturity levels than it does about anything else. I have very limited patience for relationship-related naiveté – sorry. Mic drop, etc.
(It’s my fault for asking, I know.)
If you write, you need to talk to other writers
Mainly because no-one else will or should have to put up with the self-indulgent, wanky things you’ll find yourself saying. I’ve said most of what I need to say on this matter but will remind you briefly (from my previous post):
The thing about writing… is that it’s both far easier and far harder than writers would have you believe. It’s mostly chiselling, whittling, making something crisp and clear from something intangible. Fiddling with the lens until life comes, sharp and bright, into focus. Starting to type is most of the battle won. You don’t have to waft around creatively, being deep and mysterious – because there is no mystery. But there’s also no agony like knowing what you need to say but not having said it yet. There’s a formula to most if not all writing; it’s essentially code-breaking.
The other thing that’s dawned on me in the last few weeks is this: if you write, you may have a tendency to think that if you control how the story is told, you control the story. (I’m talking about Life Events in general now, in case you hadn’t noticed.) If you stick your flag in the narrative, find the perfect punchline or the potential conclusion, you start to think you’re in control of events. You can make sense of the mess that is being a fallible human being if you can turn it into an anecdote, a killer kitchen-table story. This is a lie. You can’t make sense of tangled feelings, beaten hearts and fragile egos. It takes a long time to be brave enough to let things unfold.
Living alone is wonderful
As I am a) perfectly happy with my own company, and b) rather selfish at heart, I always suspected I’d love living alone, and I can tell you for sure, I do. That moment when you arrive home after work, the door clicks shut behind you and you are alone in your little nest is pure relief. Then for me, if I don’t have to go out again or go and walk the Hound, it’s: make-up off, bra off, pyjamas on. I can come home after a night out and eat crisps in the kitchen without a care in the world, I can shout indignantly at Arron Banks on the Andrew Marr show (and God, wasn’t he odious?), I can plant myself on the sofa on a rainy Saturday afternoon with the papers, a massive mug of Earl Grey and a snoozy Hound, and everything is right with the world.
And now for the good stuff…
In times of sadness, you need to wallow for at least a little while. You need to feel your feelings, however gut-twisting, nauseating, and downright fucking heart-smashing they may be. You can coast for a while, a few weeks or months, but then something unrelated will trigger a deluge of tears or a wave of rage so biblical you’ll scare yourself.
Break-ups, bereavement, loss of any kind is a process, not an event. Get that tattooed on the backs of your hands if you have to. It’s a process, not an event. It’s a process, not an event. This means there are stages that must be got through, like a to-do list of emotional admin. Skive them at your peril. They’ll come for you in the end, and if you’re unlucky, pain will manifest itself in the Bad Ways. So let the sadness in, give it a comfortable seat – your own sofa – and let it have a home, a quiet place, a cup of tea and a biscuit. It’ll break in and trash the place, otherwise.
And when you’re sick of its company, stuff yourself with culture. Gorge yourself on other people’s stories. Start with these…
Album of the year
Throwing it right back to the start of the year for this one. Lissie seems to fly beneath the radar while producing truly beautiful, melodic, uplifting records. Castles is her most mature album to date, and also her most musically diverse. There’s the buoyant pop-rock of Best Days, the hazy, sun-drunk Boyfriend, the ethereal Meet Me in the Mystery, and the moody, knowing Love Blows.
Late entry: KT Tunstall, WAX
Tunstall gets dismissed as a bit bland and ‘Radio 2’, but I bridle at this, because for a start, she was doing all that live loop pedal stuff long before Ed Sheeran’s mother was having a post-shag cigarette. Also: that voice. Nicely husky with a great range, she can do everything from crunchy-guitar-driven bluesy rock, to folky sweetness, to dreamy pop. WAX certainly does have its low-key moments, but it also has its belters, like Human Being, Backlash & Vinegar, and Dark Side of Me.
Comedy gig of the year
Dylan Moran, Brighton Dome, November
I’ve seen Moran live three times – with his mix of dagger-sharp observations and moments of pure whimsy, he’s the godfather of my entire sense of humour – and each time he’s been brilliant. But his most recent show, Dr. Cosmos, was genuinely breathtaking. Every line was sheer perfection. I laughed ’til I was in physical pain and it was glorious.
Film(s) of the year
Oh, this was a pure delight, the kind of film you want to crawl into and inhabit, if only for a little while. Funny, sad, heartwarming, superbly acted – and Saoirse Ronan not wearing make-up so she actually looked like a teenager with a touch of acne. My hero.
Runners-up: Widows and Sorry To Bother You
Both of these are excellent, and I don’t want to say too much more as we’re nearly at 1500 words. I adored the former for showing women being thrown together and, shock horror, not being Best Friends Forever straight off the bat. They were allowed to be difficult and troubled and complex and good God, more difficult, troubled, complex women onscreen please. And not just white women, either. The latter – well. Just go and see it. Nothing I say here will do it adequate justice, so just go.
Book of the year
In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin, Lindsey Hilsum
Rather embarrassingly, I hadn’t actually heard of Marie Colvin until I caught some extracts of this biography on Radio 4. I’d only wanted some background noise during a work-from-home day, but found myself pinned to my chair, listening in awe to stories of Colvin’s reporting, socialising, and hectic, often-troubled personal life. I promptly downloaded the audiobook (it was a freebie and I couldn’t justify buying the hardback) and spent the next fortnight boring all my friends absolutely rigid with how much I was enjoying it. Well, “enjoying” is the wrong word. The hallmarks of a good story are usually: the sense that you’ll actively miss it when it ends, and the sense that you’ve learned something new about the world. And I have missed Colvin’s presence every day since I finished listening to her story.
She was a true original. Obsessive about her work, incredibly passionate, headstrong – she threw herself into life, into warzones, into relationships (and oh, how badly she was treated by the men she loved), and into parties. She drank and smoked heavily for much of her life, was cavalier about deadlines (there’s hope for scatty writers everywhere), and unsurprisingly, was damaged by the years and years spent bearing witness to the worst things human beings can inflict upon each other. I think the reason her story has resonated so strongly with me is that she was a messy woman – strong feelings, bad decisions, no half-measures – but her work still made the world a better place.
But the thought that stays with you – long after you finish the book – is best summed up by what Marie’s mother told journalists when they descended on her home after the news of Colvin’s death had broken:
‘…I don’t want my daughter’s legacy to be “no comment”, because she wasn’t a “no comment” person. Her legacy is: be passionate, and be involved in what you believe in, and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.’
The perfect words on which to sign off, I think.
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