Without You

I am not cool.

I don’t have a cool accent, I don’t wear cool clothes, I don’t know how to order cool drinks at Starbucks and I don’t listen to cool music. If I ever decide to hop onto a trend-driven bandwagon, it’s usually not until long after it’s departed, around the time that it starts to disappear over the horizon.

I love miming the high notes in The Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles), and repeating the relentless rhymes of Best of All Possible Worlds (Kris Kristofferson). I bounce around the house to the staccato energy of Crocodile Rock (Elton John), and sway to the slow sadness of Vienna (Billy Joel). I care more about lyrics than melodies, but will unironically enjoy the hell out of Uncle John From Jamaica (Vengaboys) or If You Want It To Be Good Girl (Backstreet Boys) on the same day that I listen to Curse Me Good (The Heavy) or Julie London’s smoky version of Cry Me a River.

My musical palate is completely uncomplicated by coolness. If it suits my mood I like it, and if I like it I learn it, and it’s about as simple as that. Years and years later, hearing the opening strains of a song will still cause me to regurgitate the words like some strange form of musical muscle memory. Without knowing that I know them, the words will pour out of my mouth. Songs are so strongly tied to feelings for me that familiar tunes are like disembodied time travel.

Scrubs is not of the same musical persuasion. Scrubs likes music that I don’t understand, that barely has lyrics, that runs into the next tune with no warning. He likes music with psychedelic background graphics that remind me of early Windows screensavers. He likes the kind of music that was made for dark places with neon lights and people who don’t like to dance or sing karaoke. 

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In 2015, Scrubs and I linked up with a few of our friends to go to Vegas. We spent a week there, lying by the pool and running between air conditioned buildings in choked sprints, spending money on blackjack and laughing at superstitious craps players. Our first weekend there we had bought passes for Electric Daisy Carnival, a dance music festival that takes over the Las Vegas Speedway and turns it into an awesome, heart-bursting multi-coloured wonderland. I had stumbled on a trailer for it a year before and thought it was something both of us might enjoy; Scrubs would like the music and I would like… everything else. 

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Walking into EDC was mind-blowing. It was a sprawling, glittering fairground full of smiling, beautiful people. I left Scrubs in a tent called Neon Garden full of sombre-looking people bobbing their heads to moody tunes and went exploring. I visited the giant dandelion seeds and the colour-changing caterpillar. I cheered for two strangers getting married in the chapel. I watched a girl hula-hoop for what seemed like hours and exchanged kandi (plastic bracelets) with a bouncing girl in a turquoise tutu.

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I loved it. I loved the people who were so obviously having the time of their lives. I loved the vibe of pure happiness around the place. I loved the costumes and the crazy installations and the art cars. I loved exploring the different sections and getting lost and somehow finding people again among the multitudes.

And I even loved some of the music.

On the first night, I dragged Scrubs to Circuit Grounds to watch Fatboy Slim. I love Fatboy Slim. Something about him makes me happy deep in my bones. I’m not sure if it’s the unabashedly awful shirts he wears, or the fact that he doesn’t try to be anybody other than who he is, or the fact that he’s a bit older than the average headliner, or the fact that he just seems to enjoy what he does so damn much… My glittery rainbow hi-tops barely touched the ground for his entire set. 

The next night I made a beeline for the main stage, Kinetic Fields, to listen to Avicii.

For someone who largely doesn’t understand (or even really like) EDM, Avicii was my happy place. For once my tonally deaf ears could differentiate between songs. That set made me so happy. The wholesome lyrics that made me want to hug the stranger next to me, the crowd thousands strong calling them out at the top of their lungs, and the drops that made the mass of people move as one made me understand why people loved EDM. The voice of Etta James boomed out over the speakers, led into Levels, and I was in a blur of bouncing, kaleidoscopic colour.

He finished his set with a song that I had listened to on repeat for the year that I spent living in Germany.

I tried to carry the weight of the world, but I only have two hands.
I hope I get a chance to travel the world, but I don’t have any plans.
I wish that I could stay forever this young, not afraid to close my eyes,
Life’s a game made for everyone, and love is the prize.

So wake me up when it’s all over,
When I’m wiser and I’m older,
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost.

That song and The Nights (He said “One day you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember”) are such bittersweet songs. The lyrics are enough to bring on a minor existential crisis, but the tune is so thumpingly upbeat there’s no time to wallow, so instead you’re left with a distilled reminder to focus and hold on to the important things in life. That night I got such a buzz from just being there and bouncing along to the beat. I didn’t know anything about Avicii other than the lyrics of his songs and that was enough.

Three years later, when I heard that he had died this week it really knocked me. That happens to me sometimes; I feel pummeled by seemingly random events. I blame my mood. Or what I ate that day. Or the weather.

Really it could be anything.

Regardless, it made me truly sad to think that the world is minus one talented and introverted Tim Bergling. I thought about the fact that, waving away all the touring and the music, he was just a 28 year old guy. I clicked on his instagram, where there’s a photo of him and his dad, and another of his dog, Liam. I thought about how upset his family must be. I thought about how confused his dog must be. I just felt… deeply sad.

And so despite not being a fan of dance music, or even really of Avicii, I find myself writing this blog post about a person I have never met or had any connection to outside of listening to a few of his songs on Spotify and seeing him at EDC. I find myself thinking how strange – but also how powerful – music is to link people up like this, forging gossamer-thin strands of connection between strangers at festivals who might never speak to each other, and between audiences and headliners who never see individual faces but instead just one giant, constantly moving wave of people. I think of all the people who have their own important memories associated with certain songs, and how songs create webs of thoughts and feelings and remembrances that span across the globe, and how the people who created those songs will only ever know about the smallest sliver of a fraction of them.

It’s sort of… sad?

Amazing, but sad.

I hope Tim found some peace for himself in the last two years without the constant touring. Avicii, thanks for bridging the musical gap between me and Scrubs. Thanks for bringing so many people together to bellow along with the powerful voice of Etta James. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for making EDM accessible to everyone, including those of us who don’t know a bass from a treble.

Predator and Prey

David Attenborough’s voice

On the vast plains of the Penneys homeware savanna, a small Grant’s Gazelle picks her way past the rows of bed clothes. Distracted by the sight of a particularly fluffy cushion, she pauses in her pursuit of wildly unnecessary purchases.

A small movement in her peripheral vision attracts her attention. Suspicion causes her eyes to widen and she freezes, staring blindly across the shelf of vanilla bean tea lights. She can feel something watch her through the tangle of children’s clothes. A moment of utter stillness passes, and reassured by the lack of movement, she continues on, trotting past the scented candles.

Out of the corner of her eye she spots another movement. She stops next to the tea towels. Something is following her. Now truly alarmed, she picks up the pace and makes a break for the relative safety of the ground floor. The predator behind her veers off only to come at her from the side and corner her at the foot of the stairs. Her heart flutters with panic.

“Heyyyy….” says the jackal. “How are you doiiiing?”

“Fine thank you” says the gazelle, because maybe she is overreacting? He hasn’t really done anything yet after all. Maybe he’s just an overly friendly jackal. She tries to step around him but he places a paw on her. She doesn’t like it.

“Excuse me,” she says, and sprints up the stairs before he has a chance to react. A swift run gets her to the till, where I hand a t-shirt to the woman behind the register, because I am the gazelle and this metaphor has gone on for long enough.

As the cashier slowly scanned the barcode, my mind ran down dead-ends and alleyways in a frantic effort to keep ahead of my anxiety. I thought about asking the cashier if there was, per chance, a jackal of a man lying in wait for me, but on one hand I thought that if he hadn’t followed me from downstairs then I might seem a bit hysterical, and if he had, then I might freak out the poor woman. And what if security asked him to leave? Then what? Would he wait outside for me? And he was foreign and hadn’t exactly done anything other than make me feel very uncomfortable. Would they think I was a racist?

I kept my mouth shut and paid by card. She handed me my bag and I took it as slowly as possible, stalling for time. When she started to eye me suspiciously, I realised I could put it off no longer. I turned around inch by inch and…

… And he was there. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I shook my head at him as if he were offering me something, and bolted for the door. Afraid to look back in case he took any eye contact as a sign of encouragement, I headed up the street and across the road. I pushed into a throng of people in an effort to disappear. I am no stranger to people following me, and I’ve learned that my gut feeling is usually correct. This time my gut feeling was that I was being hunted. I made a sharp right into a women’s clothes shop and made directly for the stairs at the back. I tripped down them two at a time before heading for the farthest corner. When I had nowhere left to go, I turned around.

Only to find him there. Behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

He moved to corner me again. A frightened “No, leave me alone” hissed through my teeth and I dodged him. Back through the store. Back up the stairs. Out a different door to the one I’d used coming in.

At this point, I was texting Scrubs. Partly because I didn’t know what else to do, partly in an attempt to normalise the whole situation.

“Some dude is following me” I wrote. “Wtaf”

A quick lap of the ground floor told me he wasn’t giving up.

I tried hiding in a food hall. Every time I turned in an aisle he was behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I was lagging and my panic levels were through the roof, so I did the only thing I could think of and ran upstairs, straight into the women’s public toilets. I sank down on the red PVC seating provided with a sigh of immense relief.

I honestly could have stayed there all day if necessary. I sat there for twenty minutes. A peek around the doorway revealed he was leaning against the wall, scrolling through his phone, presumably waiting for me.

I considered calling the police. I dismissed it as hysterical.

I waited another twenty minutes.

Finally, he left. I emerged from the toilets and glued myself to the wall as I scooted around the perimeter of the shopping centre and made my way to the exit. Once out on the street I felt exposed, like he might appear out of nowhere at any moment. I hid in the Asian supermarket until my tram arrived, and made sure he wasn’t getting on before I hopped on myself.

Honestly, the stress. I know people say that all the time, but seriously THE STRESS. I got a migraine and had to spend several hours in a darkened room almost crying with frustration.

Every so often I tell myself I should get out more, go into town more often, but then something like this happens and it makes me want to become a cloistered nun. Except, you know, without the nun part. I am a perfectly average person in every way so if this is happening to me, it must be happening regularly to an awful lot of people out there. Either that or I have the invisible tag of “ABSOLUTE SUCKER” attached to me somewhere and I have yet to shake it off.

I used to enjoy bumping into strangers and striking up a conversation, but more and more I find myself immediately wary of anyone who so much as catches my eye, much less tries to talk to me. I am becoming a social hermit crab, and my earphones are my shell.

I don’t want to feel like prey. I want to feel like a (tiny) lioness, well able to stand my ground against any jackal.

Maybe it’s time to take up martial arts.

Neighbourly Concern

The new neighbour arrived without my noticing.

One day the apartment was an empty shell of freshly-applied white paint, and the next a family had moved in. Two tall, slender brunettes and their tiny child now occupied the home where Hank and Daphne had previously lived. They have no names.  If I were to see them on the street I would most likely pass them without recognising them as my neighbours.

They don’t have a dog.

What they do have is some sort of a cycling obsession. I know this, because the nieghbour man often puts his very expensive-looking bike on a stand on his balcony and cycles for hours. HOURS. Which is fine, obviously. Who am I to say whether or not it’s unusual to get dressed in your lycra onesie and hop up on your perfectly road-worthy bike only to never leave the safety of your balcony?

Unfortunately, Oscar, the once-kitten, now small-bear-cub, has taken a keen interest in all this cycling malarky. Any day with a sighting of the stationary cyclist is a good day in Oscar’s book. I know this because the first day that we saw him pedaling furiously to nowhere, Oscar made an ill-advised attempt at joining him. He was busted only as he dangled on the edge of the window – a hefty wad of fluff swaying drunkenly in the breeze – calculating how far he would have to leap to catch the cycling man.

It turns out my cats have even less spatial awareness than I do, and have yet to master the seemingly simple concept of small versus far away.

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Considering Cycling Man lives a block over and a floor down, I suppose it is – in theory – possible that Oscar has flying squirrel capabilities I am not yet aware of (who knows what lies under all that excess fluff), and was about to deploy these skills to glide gently and gracefully down to our new neighbour. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that he would have leaped optimistically off the balcony like a rotund, airborne starfish and speedily plummeted into the holly bush below our window.

Ultimately, he was snatched to safety and now I am far more aware of our neighbours’ activities than I was before, if only because I have a feline bicycle enthusiast.

If I look out the window right now, I can see Cycling Man pedaling away like he’s trying to out-cycle his demons. Oscar is watching him with obsessive interest.

The window, naturally, is closed tight.

 

 

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Tomorrow is Paddy’s Day so I just want to wish everyone a great Lá Fhéile Pádraig – please remember the cardinal rules relating to shamrocks (never clover) and Paddy (never Patty), and don’t drink too much green beer (know the one that’s one too many; one. One is one too many. Drink something decent instead)!

 

An Open Letter to Sleep

Dear Sleep,

Why do you elude me?

At 4am, when there is a minor rattle from the washing machine that in no sane and rational world would wake any normal person, why do you startle and desert me?

Why do you disappear in a clap of silent thunder at 6am when Maya decides to play hopscotch on my head?

Why do you vanish like fog and refuse to return, leaving me wild-eyed and desperate for a doze?

I love you! Come back to me and wrap me up. Sink me into a coma-like state until morning. Please let me stay with you for at least six hours straight. You don’t understand how much I need you!

When you abandon me in the barbaric hours of the morning, I spend the next day bouncing from sugar high to sugar high, from cup of tea to cup of coffee in an attempt to make it through the waking hours in something resembling a functional state. I spend the day on autopilot, daydreaming about wrapping myself in a plush throw and throwing myself on the couch like a human burrito.

But even more than this…

Why let me start dreams that you’re not willing to let me finish?

Dreamtease.

You seem willing to let me plod through the grimmest of dreams to the brutal and bitter end, so what about the good ones? You know I hate unsolved mysteries. Your habit of slowly unraveling intriguing storylines only to cut the fun short before I can find any resolution is mildly infuriating enough to deserve its own hashtag.

#MildlyInfuriating

Sleep, please let me love you.

Life sucks without you.

Just People

When you’re a child, everything is very black or white.

You’re well-behaved, or you’re bold.

You’re bad, or you’re good.

The world is arranged into two halves and, with good parenting, you are steered towards the positive. “Yucky” things are smacked out of your hand, and the explanations of the world leave no room for nuance. You’re too young to understand the intricacies and complications of a lifetime. You’re told that bad people are bad, and that’s it. Nobody explains why, or how, or tempers it by telling you that these bad people have good qualities too.

Conversely, good people are held up as paragons and then, as you grow, you realise slowly that they are in fact… just people. Not heroes. Not knights in shining armour. Not infallible humans. Not perfect examples of personhood.

Just people.

It makes life a hell of a lot more complicated when you realise that souls aren’t as black as pitch, or as white and sweet as icing sugar. People are a mass of humanity as seen through the eyes of a dog; varying shades of grey in every direction.

Every so often though, you seem to encounter people who are determined to be a dark shade of charcoal grey for no reason at all. Even when it is entirely unnecessary. Even when the alternative would almost have been the easier – certainly the simpler – choice. They complicate what is straightforward. In a world full of cronuts and compliments, they go out of their way to sour every interaction with casual dishonesty and ugly disregard for the people around them.

Why?

Life is hard enough. Each of us at one point or another will spend time wading through our personal Swamps of Sadness. There is grief enough, and heartbreak enough, and struggles enough to fill each person’s cup many times over. There is personal difficulty and overwhelming disappointment. There are insecurities and fears and concerns in other people’s lives that we can know nothing about. Each person carries these weighty issues around, and sometimes thin, delicate cracks of pressure appear on our façades. Of course, we hurriedly papier-mâché over these lightning bolt fractures. Nobody wants to look like the one damaged item on the lot.

Nobody stops to consider that none of us are in pristine condition. Not one. We are all of us dinged, battered, scraped, burnt out or splintered by life in one way or another. We walk around with our private stories tucked tight inside our chests, right up against the breastbone.

And we gently bump up against each other.

Sometimes we bump up against jagged people.

They snag on our scars. They press slowly and deliberately against tender bruises. Their serrated edges cut away at stitches, reopening old wounds. It feels threatening. It hurts. And when this happens it can be very hard not to revert to childhood programming.

It can be very hard to remember that people aren’t pure, undiluted “bad.”

I try to keep that fixed in my mind. They’re not bad people. They’re not pointlessly cruel. Their morals might be so flexible as to seem backwards, but their life experiences have led them to this point, in the same way that my life experiences have led me to mine. They might seem as cold and hard and cutting as steel, but they too have their own private story buried away next to the heart I sometimes suspect they might not have.

They are not entirely bad.

They’re just… people.

 

Notes From the Country

I was born in a city. I have always lived in a city. I grew up with a street lamp outside my window and the sound of a train passing by every twenty minutes. I’m used to light, and noise, and shops that are less than five minutes of a walk away. I’m used to lots of people going about their business with earphones in, purposely not making eye contact and completely ignoring the existence of anybody else on the road.

So when I take a trip to the countryside, I’m always reminded of the things country people take for granted that are – for me – hugely abnormal. Every so often something happens and I feel like I’m surrounded by Dothraki nodding and muttering “It is known” about something that is decidedly not known. At least, not to me!

Here are a few of the many things I don’t understand about life in the country:

  1. People letting themselves into your home with absolutely no warning.
    • Not so much as a knock on the door! They just turn the handle and walk in. I once got out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and padded down the corridor to the kitchen to grab my hairbrush only to find the parish priest sitting at the table casually making himself a cup of tea. I reversed myself back into the corridor at the speed of light, believe me. I stood in the corridor frozen with horror before deciding that my best course of action would be to speedwalk back to the bathroom where I locked the door and listened for the sound of the door.
  2. The lack of convenience stores.
    • I mean really, the clue is in the name. They’re convenient. Usually they are open all hours of the day and night and they sell everything you could possibly want at 2am when you’ve only just realised you’re in dire need of a pack of kitchen roll, a carton of milk, a bag of basmati rice and a tube of toothpaste. Here in the countryside there is only a single shop, it is the size of a large bathroom, and it stocks a wide variety of random items that you might – or might never in your life – require for any reason at all. It also closes at six and the walk there definitely takes more than five minutes.
  3. The silence.
    • It is unnaturally silent. The only time you hear real sound is if the rain is pounding against the window or the wind is making the house creak. The cars are too far away to be heard and so instead there are only inside-noises; the ticking of the clock, the hum of electricity, the sound of the pipes kicking into gear… It’s uncanny.
  4. The darkness.
    • It is onyx outside once the lights go out. Unless the moon is working as God’s own spotlight, you can see absolutely nothing at all. Although I don’t mind this, it does have the peculiar effect of imposing a sort of natural curfew on me; at home I think nothing of leaving the house after dark, but here I suddenly feel like it’s so much later. As soon as the windows become opaque black rectangles, I am ready for my pyjamas. There’s no way I’m going anywhere. I am not afraid of the dark, but if I were I would be terrified because it is black as pitch.
  5. The country hello.
    • In Dublin, I can happily spend half a day surrounded by people without acknowledging even a single one of them. In the countryside, on the other hand, you can’t pass a single person without them nodding their head and saying “Hello there!” or “Fine weather we’re having!” or “How are you?” or making some other kindly, weather-related utterance. When they know you, this greeting is usually accompanied by a smile, but when they don’t it’s often delivered with a suspicious, gimlet-eyed stare. If you make the mistake of coming to a standstill in front of them for any reason, it’s even worse; they try to entangle you in a sideways game of twenty questions in an unsubtle attempt to find out who you are, where you came from and what you’re doing there. Any unfamiliar face is treated to the same gentle interrogation, as if they’re trying to make sure they have a full character profile to hand over to the police for when you, the suspicious stranger, start up some nefarious business and threaten to upset the quiet community vibe.

There are things I love about the countryside too, of course.

I love the animals.

There are lambs in all the fields now, springing around in a wobbly way as if they’ve been made from cheap pipe-cleaners. There are friendly little robins that don’t look as if they should be able to take flight at all, they’re so rotund. There’s Charlie, the cat, who sometimes greets me with a bloody mess of a breakfast outside my bedroom window (usually one of the aforementioned rotund robins). There are crows, watching carefully for leftovers, and wagtails bobbing across the patio. There’s even a hefty badger that trundles up the path at night to eat whatever Charlie’s left behind. He gobbles up anything in the bowl before trotting back into the darkness. As a city kid whose only exposure to wildlife was cats, dogs, red foxes rooting through wheelie bins, and roadkill… the badger in particular always delights me.

I love feeling ‘away.’

Although it’s inconvenient not being able to go anywhere or see anyone at a moment’s notice, it’s also nice to be here. It’s nice to feel removed from the normal. It’s nice to be out of my everyday timetable; it’s not hugely productive, mind you, but it is nice. It’s like hitting F5. I’m ready for the city again. I’ve had my break and now I’m ready to put back on the robes of routine.

I love how clean the air feels.

I mean, I think the air in Dublin is pretty clean too, but here it feels healthy. When I inhale, I feel like I’m doing my body good. It’s nice.

I’ve been doing a lot of inhaling and exhaling, thanks to your many suggestions on my last post. It’s helped! Thanks guys. Sometimes I just need the reminder to breathe.

If you also need the reminder, here it is: Breathe!

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s starting to get dark, so I’m off to put on my pyjamas…!

A Rollercoaster of Emotions

So far, 2018 is proving unexpectedly stressful.

In case you couldn’t gather from my last post, I’ve been having a couple of weeks where my waking thoughts have been consumed by one worry or another, and my nights have been spent dreaming of strange amalgamations of the same worries. It’s just wrong; the nightmare equivalent of a giraffe with elephant legs and a crocodile snout.

Honestly, even when I’m not stressed I have a certain amount of The Fear running through me like a low voltage current. I overthink everything until it makes no sense to me. I overthink and overthink and overthink until my thoughts end up in the same place as the word ‘banana’ after you’ve said it 27 times. Gibberish. Total gibberish. The sort of gibberish you need three expert linguists and the Rosetta Stone to decipher.

So you can probably imagine what I’m like when I actually have something to worry about…

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It’s very calming.

The worst part about it is that I’ve had some great news so far in 2018! Really exciting things are happening! Good things are coming! Love is in the air! I have so many things to smile about, and yet the wind must have changed because I can’t seem to move my facial muscles into an arrangement of anything but ill-concealed panic.

So here’s a true adulting struggle: how do I juggle these sorts of extreme emotions so that I can feel them all at the one time? Or even better, how do I overcome the obstacle of overthinking to get to the happy place? Do I just wait it out? Do I simply wait with endless patience for it to pass, so that I can then unashamedly enjoy the good stuff? Or do I try to set the stresses aside for a few minutes a day and ignore the guilt that comes with that?

At the moment I’m just sitting and waiting (and hoping) for the stress to pass, so that I can stop baking therapeutic banana breads that nobody feels like eating.* I’m keeping my happy feelings safe and boxed away for a few days more, in the hope that I can fully enjoy them once life stops making me feel like I’m rollerblading on gravel.

I’m sitting, and waiting (and hoping), and baking banana breads.

*It turns out baking is an inconvenient coping strategy when you have no real appetite.

 

A Gentle Reminder

 

Sometimes worry comes calling, and stresses abound,

And there’s too much to do, and yet time can’t be found,

And your stomach’s in knots, and your head is in bits,

And you’re starting to wonder if vodka’s the fix.

 

And your life has begun to feel slightly unglued,

And you can’t even seem to find two matching shoes,

And your top’s inside-out, and your plans are reversed,

And you start to suspect that you might have been cursed.

 

And if this has been you, (as indeed it’s been me),

And this feeling has left you completely at sea,

Just know that in this, there are many like you,

For at some point we all have felt anxious or blue.

 

But if you keep in mind that you are at heart good,

And you’re doing your best (as all good people should),

And you plant yourself firm when you’re desperate to flee-

You will find that it passes,

Eventually.

 

Notes for a Younger Me

When I look at photographs of myself when I was younger, I experience a strange, out-of-body feeling. It doesn’t feel like I’m looking at myself. It feels like I’m looking at someone else. The child of someone I know, maybe, or a distant relative. It doesn’t feel like me.

Sometimes this slightly freaks me out, because it makes me wonder if this is how it will always be. In twenty years’ time will I look at photos of myself now and feel like a different person? Will I have changed that much? Will I feel like the experiences and memories and thoughts of Now Me are so removed and foreign that they might as well belong to somebody else?

*shudder*

I was sorting through old photographs a couple of days ago hunting for something in particular when I came across a number of photos of Baby Quinn. There I was meeting my godmother for the first time. There I was going to school. There I was building LEGO and jumping through a stream and walking around with a Pampers box on my head. I have chubby legs and big eyes and wild hair. I am wearing flowery hand-me-downs (which means the anti-feminine movement must not have been active until much later) from what must have been the set of Mary Poppins.

In many of these snaps I am looking at the camera head on. There is no expression on my face. I am just staring, wide-eyed, either straight down the lens or with my gaze turned slightly upwards at (presumably) the photographer. I look as if I might be waiting for something. Maybe waiting for someone to tell me something? Maybe waiting for the manual?

Since we all know the manual never made it, I thought I might tell her something now.

Baby Quinn,

You are a small, round little ball of pudge. Look at you! You weren’t always like that (I’ve seen the earlier photos where you look like an alien beamed down from another planet complete with tubes in your head; those photos are less than lovely), but from this stage forward you’ll basically look like this, only stretched.

Not stretched by much, mind you. We stay pretty low to the ground.

In case you’re wondering, that pouty bottom lip will never go away. Don’t worry, you kind of grow into it. Anyway, it will come in handy whenever you want to make your feelings known. For example, on your way to school…

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Yep, just like that.

You will have a brother. You get on very well except for a brief period during which he does nothing but scream for things at the top of his lungs and pinch you when your parents aren’t looking. Don’t worry, he improves.

Your first friend is a boy called Peter. You spend many hours flinging micro machines at walls of LEGO, and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is an age during which you frequently collect worms and put them in your pencil case to “save them” from lashing rain and the indiscriminate stomping of children’s shoes. Please do not do this. They die from dehydration and you feel absolutely terrible when you have to shake their desiccated, hardened corpses out of the pencil tin. It’s very grim.

You also stop eating around this age. Why? Who can say? You hate food. All food. You are not a picky eater, you are a non-eater. You just can’t stand the horror of having to taste and chew and swallow. You can’t bring yourself to eat. Every meal is a battlefield. The very idea of a future filled with the torture of breakfasts, lunches and dinners looms ahead of you every day for the rest of your life.

Luckily, as with the worm infirmary, this too shall pass. I am happy to relate that I now enjoy eating very much. VERY much! Food is amazing. So are drinks (although stay away from the fizzy ones; you can’t burp, so fizzy drinks make you feel like you have a chestburster from Alien struggling to get free). Wait until you try a White Russian for the first time.

You make a best friend. She is awesome. She likes Oasis when other people like Boyzone. You spend a lot of time thumping up and down the stairs of her house and playing on her road. There are many sleepovers and late night chats. Mind her, love her, be good to and for her. She’s still our best friend. She’s still awesome.

With the help of many books from the public library, you reach your teenage years with a wealth of information at your fingertips. You are ferociously outgoing and impulsive to the point of stupidity. You make decisions that are questionable at best, downright dangerous at worst. You skate along safely though, blithely unaware of the disastrous consequences you narrowly avoid along the way.

You fall in love.

The first year or so is amazing and then it’s just one long, drawn-out, awful descent into misery. You follow your heart and it leads you right into The Swamp of Sorrow. You’re not experienced enough to recognise or understand the lies or the gas-lighting. It’s a long three years of crying and fighting and crying and feeling like an idiot and crying and being manipulated and crying. Just… a lot of crying. Prepare yourself. Invest in tissues, even though you don’t use them. Your heart gets irreparably cracked (although you don’t realise it then) and over time, words and actions bluntly bash at it until the cracks grow wider.

The last, powerful, brick-breaking karate chop makes sure it’s properly smashed into glittering shards.

You end it, too damaged and much too late. For three long years you’ve been told that this is what love is, that your idea of love – with respect, and honesty, and common decency – is straight out of the storybooks and that this is as good as it gets… but you (finally!) realise that anything at all is better than this war of attrition you’ve been losing.

There’s more crying, because your heart is still broken after all.

Let’s just speed through that part.

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If I could warn you about all of this… I wouldn’t. Yes, it SUCKS. It sucks. It’s honestly brutal. The lessons you learn are emotionally beaten into you with what feels like a sledgehammer.

But after all that, you do learn.

You’ve learned what you need to be happy, and so you go do that for a while. You spend time with nice people who love you and you slowly put yourself, your sanity and your heart back together. You become a real person, not just a tangled mess of emotions  and frustration strung together in human form. You make good decisions, or at least decisions that are good for you. You take your time.

You fall in love again, and it’s pretty great. Better than expected.

Better than the storybooks.

So here are a couple of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way, Baby Quinn. The things that should have come in your manual. Here are the lessons you learn along the way:

Stay creative.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how it turns out. Some part of you is always waiting to create something. You’ve drawn, painted, cut, carved. You’ve burned names into chopping boards and made cakes that lean like drunken towers and sliced paper into slivers. You are happiest making things with your hands, and the end result is not always delightful but it is always satisfying.

Play with gouache, with watercolours, with acrylic. Play with clay, and candle wax. Crafting is the one area in which you’re never afraid to fail, so keep trying. Keep failing! Every so often you’ll find something that you’re good at that makes people happy.

Do that. It makes you happy to see other people happy.

Fall in love.

You are an affectionate child. You love hard. Keep that with you.

As you grow up, you grow less willing to be open about how much people mean to you. You close yourself off. You still care, but you hide it. You get shy.

Fight that!

It’s nonsense. You still think about people you haven’t seen in years, and cry for people you don’t even know; the least you can do is reach out to the people you love and care about now, today. I know that it makes you feel vulnerable and you hate feeling vulnerable, but the alternative is letting them think you don’t care, and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fall in love, and not just with people. Let yourself fall in love with places, with animals, with experiences. Fall in love with lessons learned and dreams that dissipate five minutes after waking up. Fall in love with food (Italy will help), with adventure, with strangers. Fall in love with all of it.

Be excited about the future.

Sometimes things are really rubbish. Sometimes life feels endlessly terrifying and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going. You look ahead and all you see is an expanse of hopelessness. There are panic attacks and weeks of dull numbness.

DON’T WORRY.

I mean, worry – by all means worry; you’re going to do it anyway – but as Sunscreen says, know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. In the midst of all that worrying, be excited for the future! Even when things look grim and you can’t imagine what there might be to be excited about… be excited about the unknown, because great things happen.

Great things happen to you, I promise. You, I, we have fed pelicans at a zoo! We’ve played with a tiger cub! We’ve bumped around Goa on a scooter, and gone swimming with sea turtles in Gili Air, and seen Mayan ruins in Tulum, and eaten ramen in Tokyo, and galloped around the pyramids of Giza, and sat drinking mint tea in Marrakech, and had gelato in Rome, and lived in Heidelberg, and gone skiing in Bansko, and seen a fever of rays in San Diego, and, and, and…

… And we’ve had hot chocolates on snow days. We’ve read great books. We’ve had long conversations with our grandfather. We’ve had hugs when we most needed them. We’ve danced in the apartment alone, and talked with friends over cups of tea. We’ve discovered maltesers in salted popcorn (the only decent way to watch a movie), and combed the beach for seaglass after a storm. We’ve had quiet, happy slices of time where everything was just right, just for a moment.

Those moments are all you need.

We’ve had good times so far, Baby Quinn. We’ll continue to have them. In the darkest times you couldn’t even have imagined any of those moments ever happening, but they did. They continue to happen. Right now I’m sitting here typing this to you under a barrage of raindrops with a cup of tea next to me and a cat curled up at my feet. I’m more than okay. We’re more than okay.

You’ll be okay.

 

Retail Therapy

Yesterday I bought myself an uncharacteristically pink jumper.

I am not really a pink person. I can probably count on one hand the number of pink items in my wardrobe, and they are all varying versions of “nude”. ‘Girlie‘ isn’t really my style, partly because I was raised to think ‘girlie’ was a synonym for ‘simpering halfwit’ and partly because now that I know that’s not the case I feel… unworthy. Floral, ruffled, pink things with bows are for delicate, graceful butterfly people who can braid their own hair and wear white without getting stained in the first five minutes, not galloping whirlwinds of disaster who wear black to disguise the mess and faceplant in public places with startling frequency.

I usually stick to jeans and white/grey/black because anything more complicated than that necessitates the intervention of people like Olga.

And we know how that turned out…*

Anyway.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with a good friend, an old friend, a friend who time and circumstance has distanced from me. She now lives on the other side of the world, and has a husband and a baby and a life that I barely know. We talk, but I miss her. I see her over skype, but I miss her. When I walk into Penneys, I don’t have her there to tell me that I definitely need those fifteen things that I definitely don’t need. When I go to Butlers and get a free chocolate with my coffee, it tastes a little less sweet for not having her there with me.

So it was strange seeing her again after three years; I felt distressed about missing so many of her milestones, but delighted to have her back again. The emotional tumble-dryer in the pit of my stomach propelled me into a shop, where I blindly walked the aisles trying to sort out my feelings.

In Penneys I spotted the aforementioned pink jumper. This shapeless chenille cloud the shade of mass-produced raspberry sorbet made me smile. I tried it on and looked in the mirror. I looked like a fuchsia version of Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka.

It made me smile.

I bought the ludicrously bright jumper, and it kept me smiling all through the day. Even after I realised that it was leaving a fine but determined dusting of pink fluff all over my black jeans. Even after I realised that the fluff was relentless and probably uncontrollable. Even after I met up with Scrubs and his eyebrows shot up into his hairline.

“That’s… bright,” he said. He side-eyed it, probably worried that looking at it straight on might strike him blind. “You look like a marshmallow.”

I looked down at myself and plucked at the hem. “I think I look like a raspberry.”

Scrubs nodded slowly, considering this comparison.

“Mmm,” he eventually said. “Maybe a raspberry marshmallow…”

That made me smile too. I handed over €10 for a jumper that is high-visibility enough to be used for cycling on country roads, and that ridiculous purchase lifted my mood through the rest of the day. I guess that’s why they call it retail therapy. Sometimes all you need is a break from routine, even if that’s as banal or minor as reaching for a pink jumper instead of yet another grey one.

Sometimes all you need is some time as a happy raspberry marshmallow. 

*TL;DR: surprisingly well, actually!