I’m taking a break over the summer, from Twitter and WordPress, to concentrate on getting my short-story collection finished.
P.S. Thank you so much for your support for my writing. It means a lot.
I’m helping my friend pack up her house. I said I didn’t want to help her on the day of the actual move, because it’s too stressful, and everyone ends up arguing because they’re bone tired. It’s the same reason I gave when I didn’t want to go to Ikea with her. Everyone knows someone whose had an argument in Ikea. Someone I know had a theory that they sell you the dream and slowly draw you in. That’s why it’s so cheap. Before you realise it, you’re in a giant warehouse queue wondering if all of these boxes will fit in the car, and there’s the dread of knowing you still have to build your own furniture.
However, I am expert packer, even if I do say so myself. I’ve done it dozens of times. I know what I’m doing, so she’s left me to it, whilst she packs up her books. I’m on kitchen duty. Bubblewrap. Check. Sellotape. Check. Boxes. Check. Parcel tape. Check. Marker pen. Check. Spray kitchen cleaner. Check. Kitchen roll. Check. May as well clean as I go.
Headphones on. 80s pop. Sleeves rolled up. A bag of chocolate eclairs. A bottle on the go, well, some gin in a small bottle of Pepsi max. It’s what Scroobius Pip drinks, so we call it a ‘Pepe Pip’.
After an hour or so of mildly repetitive and strangely satisfying packing of glassware, plates and saucepans, my friend finds me. She’s carrying a few hardback notebooks. “Check these out.” she says excitedly. “These,” she says, holding up the books, “are my teenage diaries.” She hands me one.
“Oh wow!” I exclaim. “Can I open it?” Everyone knows you don’t read someone else’s diary, no matter how tempting it is or entitled or jealous you feel.
“Sure. It’s probably all bullshit anyway. Angst about why doesn’t he like me or how my life would be totally perfect if I was thin or had a nosejob or better tits. Comparing myself to other girls. That it’s so unfair that I have to have a part-time job. That kind of self-obsessed crap.”
Over the next hour, we forget we are supposed to be packing up her new life, whilst we unpick her old one. We laugh at forgotten fashions, sympathise with emotional problems that meant everything, and remember how easy and carefree everything seemed back then.
“Oh my god.” She says “This is too real. This is what I wrote when I was nineteen.
My ideal man.
I must have passed up on so many men over the years, because they didn’t match everything on that list. Why am I so picky?” she sighs, and closes the diary.
I put my arm around her shoulder and squeeze it.
“God. If my mum had read this at the time, then I would have probably left home and never spoken to her again, god rest her soul. It would have been such a betrayal. I would have been totally mortified. And now it’s just a pile of crap. Wishful thinking about how life was going to be. I had no fucking clue did I? When did we get this old?”
“We’re not that old.” I say. We’re no spring chickens, but who wants all that aggro? Anyway, we’ve had our time. You only think you’re old because you could be the new bloke at work’s mum. Remember, he didn’t even know who Noel Gallagher was!”
“Do you think kids these days keep paper diaries any more?” I ask. “You know. I reckon they do it all online now, with private blogs. Selfies and pictures of them semi-pornstar posing naked under the pretence of being hashtag body positive, you know, that clean eating bollocks. I read that there is no market for paid porn for female pornstars aged between 22 and 30, because the market is flooded with so much amateur stuff. You’re a schoolgirl then milf”
“That’s really sad.” She says. “They’re obsessed but it’s all so fucking fake.”
“Except hipsters, obvs.” I say. “I bet they go to open mike nights where people read out their own teenage diary entries, to feel deliberately awkward. They probably type their journals on old typewriters or do that bullet journalling. Ha. I’m saying it like I even know what it is.”
“I’ve no idea.” She says. “Did I tell you about that time we were clearing out my nan’s house after she died, and we found some photographs of her posing in her big pants when she was young? I reckon that’s the equivalent of sexting these days.”
“I wouldn’t be young again now, you know. Too much choice. It’s all swiping right and hooking up. Yolo. Fomo. Whatever. I reckon most of them have never even risked asking someone out face to face without being pissed, and are too scared to put in the effort into getting to know someone in case they miss out on their perfect person who is just around the corner. I bet there’s loads of men out there who have never even seen public hair or unshaved legs on a woman. God, I sound bitter. Do I sound bitter?”
“Nah. You’ve not been deprived. You make sense. Someone should tell the young uns that the perfect person doesn’t exist and to enjoy what they’ve got while it lasts. It ain’t gonna be me though. No-one wants an al woman telling them not to have fun.”
Just then the doorbell rings.
“That’ll be the pizza.”
“It’s so easy to sing it to a crowd, but it’s so hard my love, to say it to you out loud.”
‘No Light, No Light’ by Florence and the Machine
I very often mumble or trip over my words when I’m talking, or say something that’s immediately mortifying. For a society that builds its socialising around alcohol, it has taken me decades to learn surprisingly little, except to not even try again. Pubs are not for me. Deep friendships have died within a short conversation, and for months I have dissected the interaction until I know not what is true and actually took place, or what I thought did happen. I find it so difficult to socialise in a group, so generally stick with one-to-one interactions or activities like craft classes or concerts where talking is not a requirement.
Yet, when I write, I have no hand-wringing fear of regret. I’ve always freely given myself in poems that were spoken in assemblies or sung as lyrics. Long-forgotten beaus with my love letters kept in shoeboxes for years. Twitter/texting conversations with the exact same content that would be in my handwritten diary – that is if I didn’t regularly destroy all paper traces of my thoughts.
An imagined intended audience, whether there or not, lifts the writing over an invisible barrier and releases it. Much of the time, it is an entirely fictitious stranger inside my own head. The permanence is liberating. I’ll never know a fraction of the people who’ve read or listened to things I’ve written, or their opinions about it.
I still cringe over something trivial I said to someone years ago, who no longer remembers my name, but not think twice about writing about a raw, desperate moment for anyone to read.
I’m secure, self-aware and know myself well enough to be receptive and grateful for feedback from immediate family and friends, but I wouldn’t censor my writing for them, like I try to do so often verbally and fail. But I want to respond, not react. Writing is way more comfortable a way of relating to others than talking. It is not the curation of a persona, but rather a way to sort out the jumble into a list of organised words, to communicate more effectively.
I’ve been told I can act, and take direction, but I wouldn’t voluntarily view any recordings until it was long over, if ever. I do dance like no-one’s watching, and they may very well be covertly filming it, but I’d never want to see it.
My screen name is the muddle inside my own head. When I’m upset, my head is a shed.
I know exactly why I do this and I’m working on it. Judgement, rejection, awkwardness, acceptance. The claustrophobia of crowds; to absorb and filter their emotions if I am expected to try to find common ground. I cannot fit into the space allocated to me. It drains me. Inexplicable crying at gigs. I’m invisible and rarely myself. Vulnerability and the possibility of meaningful connection gets easier with fewer people around me.
Give me a heads-up on how you are, so I can prepare and tune in. Surprise me with a curveball and I may be so immediately overwhelmed that I recoil and need to retreat with a quick exit. A permanent one if I find out someone did this on purpose because I need to learn not to be “so sensitive and take things so personally.” I might be crushed easily, but I don’t need to be fixed because I am not broken. I have a friend who recognises this; when I need to “de-stress my distress.” Time alone and my batteries recharge, that is if I’m not ruminating on some stupid thing I’ve said.