29 things

I turn 29 at the end of this week, and are you even a writer on the internet if you don’t publish a list post around your birthday? Here are 29 things I’m fairly certain I know for sure. But ask me again in half an hour a year’s time…

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7 things I know about life in general

It is too short for you to be anything other than who you actually are. Wear things that when you catch sight of yourself make you smile, don’t save things for ‘best’, get the tattoo, stick with the people who make you feel warm and golden and whole, and phase out the ones who leave you feeling tired and confused.

If you’re going to snog a man who rocks a beard or stubble, bin any facial exfoliating products right now and invest in a good moisturiser.

The truest thing J.K. Rowling has ever written is when Hermione says to Ron, “Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have”. It’s possible – not to mention deeply exhausting – to feel about four or five different things simultaneously. A few months ago, I was still mourning the end of a serious relationship, sad about the ending of another dalliance, interested in someone new, and feeling horribly guilty about how much mental space was being devoted to boys. But the refrain of my life is fast becoming, “hey, it’s all material” so if you’re not out of your emotional comfort zone, you’re probably not learning anything about yourself.

Doctors and vets are angels who walk among us. I almost – almost – pay vet fees gladly and with abandon when Noodle’s done himself a mischief. (I then go straight home and dig out the pet insurance policy documents – but the point stands.)

If it’s not entirely beyond your means, find a therapist. Even if you go fortnightly rather than weekly. I’m forcing myself to be less apologetic when I say things like, “so I had this conversation with my therapist” because yes, while it sounds unforgivably American, therapy is a great thing to do. It is the people in this world who never stop to examine their behaviour or think about why they do what they do who cause the most damage. Any steps you take to better understand yourself will only yield positive results.

Mothers and grandparents are, annoyingly, right: a good night’s sleep, a vigorous walk in the fresh air, and a cup of tea are all failsafe mood-improvers.

A damp flannel kept in a bag in the fridge will wake up a tired and/or hungover face. Just remember to whack it in the washing machine every so often.

6 things I know about work

There is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re making an honest living. I have no time for job snobbery; we’ve all got bills to pay.

It’s OK for your day job to not be the thing you’re most passionate about.

When you’re starting out, cheerfully saying yes to the menial tasks is a) necessary and b) unlikely to go unnoticed.

Nothing makes you grow up faster than having a job. When getting paid depends on turning up, being reasonably pleasant and doing both what you’re told to do and what you say you’re going to do, that’s when adulthood begins.

When you haven’t yet joined the management ranks, work is mostly a case of having ideas that don’t get enacted until someone more superior repeats them, and learning which hills you can and can’t die on.

Work friends often turn out to be some of your best friends. Find someone you can have a cup of tea and a good old bitch with and your workplace experience will improve immeasurably.

5 things I know about writing

Read everything you write out loud. If you write and you don’t do this, you’re wrong.

Write your third thought (about a given issue). To paraphrase Alan Coren: your first thought is what everyone thinks. Your second: the clever people think that. Your third: that’s more interesting. That’s more yours.

It’s your job to be both on the outside and emotionally involved. You have to have at least a toe over the line in every interesting situation, saying to yourself, “yes, I am being hurt right this minute but how can I spin this into a story? This is fodder”.

Crippling sensitivity is both the cause and the curse of writers. The thing that makes you a writer makes it really hard to deal with being edited. 

Writing is simultaneously really difficult and not difficult at all. On the one hand, you’re not down a mine, or pulling children from a burning building. On the other, you’re trying to turn untidy thoughts into tidy prose. Ascribing meaning to mess; corralling chaos and trying to give structure to structureless things. That’s not always easy.

4 things I know about cooking

Take eggs off the heat a fraction sooner than you think you should.

Season generously. And then a bit more.

Add a bit of sugar when cooking with tomatoes.

Always have a lemon and a lime on hand. You’d be surprised at how often a splash of the juice of one or the other makes the difference between, “yeah, that’s nice” and “oh God, that’s perfect”.

3 things I know about sex

It’s essentially ridiculous. The human body is a wonderful, strange, unreliable, ugly, beautiful thing. The best thing you can take into the bedroom? A sense of humour. This isn’t dental surgery, or a meeting with a mortgage broker.

Consent is crucial, but it’s also the bare minimum. Aim for sheer joy, if possible.

Even the most intellectual, feminist, nerdy, seemingly-cerebral man will go a bit daft if you mention stockings and suspenders. This is highly endearing. But to get stockings securely attached to a suspender belt without having some sort of breakdown, you’ll need: a willing friend, some diazepam, a crochet hook and a stiff gin.

2 things I know about joy

You don’t get it from other people. You give it to yourself, and you should give as generously to yourself as you would a treasured friend.

It’s there in the small things. The crisp blue sky and the vivid green grass on a spring morning. Smiling at dogs and small children. A new notebook and a good pen. Making a joke that lands. Half an hour in a bookshop. Cheese on toast. Helpless giggles. Pulling a cake or a tray of brownies out of the oven. Coming home after a holiday. The words, “shall we just get a bottle?” Utterly unwitting puns. That first sip of sparkling wine. That last breathless suspended moment before a kiss.

1 more thing I know about life in general

It is never too soon to make a joke about a bad situation you’re in. Find the humour and you regain a little control. Make the joke yourself and you’ll never feel like the punchline.

And 1 final, final thing to make 29…

You never know what’s coming. How you feel today has nothing to do with how you’ll be feeling tomorrow, next week, or next month. Hang in there.

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