Friday, 23 August 2013

Advice I’m not qualified to give, but am giving anyway

Or, "stuff I wish I'd known sooner - not that I would have listened, in the event of actually being told".

My sister officially became a teenager last Sunday. I say "officially" - emotionally, she's been one for about the last four months. It's come as quite a shock to my mother: "she doesn't talk to me anymore, and she goes off in strops all the time. She's turning into you". Thanks, Mum*. And welcome back to the world of teenage girls. I suggest you buckle up.

*To be fair to our mother, I was a horrible teenager. I still am a lot of the time sometimes, at the age of 23.

I recently read a piece by one of my favourite writers, Daisy Buchanan (to the book geeks, yes, that is her actual name), that made me go "Aww!" It's an open letter and commencement address to her younger sister, who's about our age and has just graduated. Click here, if you're interested. And, in the absence of anything more pressing to write about, I thought I'd do my own, but for my much younger sister. So here's a handful of useful nuggets I have found to be, well, nothing but useful. I'll try and keep it as unpretentious as possible, but you know what I'm like; that won't be easy. I'll give it a go.

So then...

1) Work hard at school. There's no shame in being the diligent, conscientious one. Figure out the things you like and are good at, and get better at them. It really does make life so much easier, both now and later on.

2) Read. Read loads. You'll never be lonely again (well, almost). Getting totally emotionally involved in a story is an unrivalled joy. You'll never be stuck for something to talk about, and you'll pick up all kinds of information - you'll end up like Stephen Fry, basically. It also improves your spelling and grammar with zero effort - the more you read, the more you get to know when a word or sentence looks wrong. Which, while it isn't the most important character trait, does make you a lot less annoying to get e-mails from.

3) Get a part-time job as soon as you possibly can. It will do you the world of good, even if you're pretty ace already. It's the fastest and most effective way to become more responsible and a good team-player (guess who's spent too much time on recruitment sites recently. Eurgh). And, if you're earning your own money, no one can tell you what to do with it - because it's YOURS and YOURS ALONE.

4) Ignore magazines, and indeed anything or anyone that tries to tell you how you should look, or that you should be thinner. (Such as Mum. Please don't follow her example. Please.) The overwhelming majority of diets don't work, so just kind of pay attention to your body - it's quite good at telling you what you need. Unfortunately, a large part of the rest of the world doesn't quite seem to trust women to know what to do with their own bodies just yet, so it's up to you to tell them to bugger off and mind their own damn business.

5) Experiment with your looks. The time will soon come when you have to look like everybody else, and while you've still got the "teen" suffix in your age, it is not that time. Put bright blue streaks in your hair (maybe wait until sixth form to do this, I know what your school's uniform policy is like: militant), try out flicky black eyeliner or neon pink lipstick. Make-up is a good thing - unless you apply it with a tablespoon. It can cover things you don't like and enhance the things you do like. Have fun with it, it's cheaper than clothes.

6) Fancy someone you shouldn't. In a legal sort of way, I mean. One of those boys who thinks they are God's gift to women - you know the type. They’re not, so get this out the way early in life and you’ll save yourself a metric shitload of drama. Then find someone who’s kind (this is underrated, and shouldn’t be) and who thinks you’re wonderful. And makes you laugh til you yelp like a seal in distress. Yes, you can vomit. But it’s important.
     6b) You don’t have to have a boyfriend, either. (Or girlfriend, for that matter.) I didn’t have a proper relationship until I was nineteen, which was... fine. I didn’t absolutely love being the only person in my friendship group who was single, and it can feel especially bad when your best friend gets a guy and suddenly she’s not around half as much, but you’ll do the same thing one day. Plus, relationships are bloody hard work at times - factoring a whole other human being into your everyday life can sometimes be a case of moving from one uneasy truce to the next. You can quote me on that, it's probably the truest thing I'll say for a long time.
     And the majority of relationships that start before university/the age of 20 do NOT last. A rare few do, BUT MOST REALLY, REALLY DON’T. I cannot emphasise that enough, you're just going to have to trust me on it. You might get to your A-levels, look at a couple you know and think, “They’re going to be together forever, and get married and have babies”. Give it two years, love…

7) Learn that being cool is a myth. Or rather, the coolest people are the ones who just do their own thing, like what they like and stand by their opinions, even if those opinions aren't popular.

8) Stay in touch with friends who move away. Take it from someone who is God-awful at doing this. Even if you just drop them the odd Facebook message, it still helps. It's never anything but lovely when you hear from someone you haven't spoken to for ages: "Oh! They were thinking of me? Well, that's made my week".

9) Be nice. Polite. Kind. You know, not a dick. If you find yourself in, say, a shouty situation, or a serious personal disagreement, and manage not to make it worse, then it's a start. Being able to walk away with a clear conscience gives you one less thing to worry about.

10) I've saved the best two things for last, you'll see:
     10a) Always, always, ALWAYS send hand-written thank you notes for presents. ALWAYS.
     10b) If you're feeling down, look up videos of babies laughing on YouTube. Ditto baby animals doing pretty much anything.
Yeah, you're welcome.

OK, now I have a request of any blog-readers that may be out there. I'm planning to enter a feature-writing competition, and I need some assistance. I'd like to write something about mental health in university students - you know, cheery stuff - for reasons you're probably aware of, if you've read previous posts. So, if anyone found that being at uni either triggered, or worsened any mental health/emotional issues/problems they had, and fancies dropping me a couple of lines about it, then please do. Names won't be used in the piece, obviously, and I'm certainly not going to be gossiping down the pub about anything I do get told. I am particularly interested in people who actually managed to use their uni counselling service - did it help? Etc, etc. I will also be writing about my own "I think I'm losing my mind" moments in the feature, too. So, if anyone feels able to share, I would be very, very grateful.

Music time! If I could have anyone write the soundtrack to my life, it would be Gary Lightbody - he just has an unparallelled knack for writing simple songs with all-time melodies; tracks that are effortlessly epic. And he's one of those rare singers who sounds better live than he does on recordings (the Northern Irish accent helps too). This is one of my favourite tracks from the new Tired Pony album - an album that feels like being reunited with an old friend - easy and joyful. And here's another - it starts all slow and yearning, then takes you by surprise about 1:18.

And this lady needs to make a comeback; it's been years. That isn't one of her best songs, by a long way, but it's a fun, playful one.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

I didn't want this to be a list post, but...

...I spent two weeks at Student Beans, in the name of finally getting something a bit writer-y on my CV, and most of the 30+ ideas I pitched to them over the course of the fortnight were list-type posts, a la Buzzfeed. It was a good fortnight though - it turns out being a writer involves spending a lot of time on the internet and then trying to be faintly amusing. I've been doing it right all along.

I managed to break the golden rule, though - the first rule of work experience is you do NOT get ill during work experience. I don't do ill. Aside from the odd migraine and like, one bad cold a year. So to go down with tonsillitis on the evening of my very first day was, to be honest, absolutely hideous. I'd never had it before; does it always reduce its victims to weeping messes who are incapable of anything except drinking tea, sleeping and crying? It's rare that I shamelessly heap praise upon the Boy (Lord knows he's all too aware of this) but that week, he more than earned my eternal gratitude. From not complaining about my 6.30am alarm, to spending five straight evenings marathoning Modern Family* with me - someone give that boy a medal. Or I'm actually going to have to start being nice to him.

*I'm starting to develop some seriously maternal feelings towards Lily. I mean, look. Look!

Since work experience ended, I've felt a bit drained of ideas for the blog. I've got a couple of other writery projects on the go too, but it's been a month since my last post, and if I'm honest, I'm missing seeing those spikes on the page-views graph. Which is sad but perhaps inevitable.

As my friends and I were trying to leave the pub on Monday, we walked into - or rather, through - an argument about what the best super-power is. My friends are geeky enough to have this conversation down to a Really Fine Art, so naturally they decided to weigh in, with amusing consequences. Which got me thinking - no, not what the best power is, it's clearly and unarguably "being able to control people's moods" - but what the best pub conversations are. Because nothing spells conversational gold like being happily drunk and gathered round a table with your best friends.

1) The top one is obviously "if you could have any super-power, what would it be?" As I've said, my friends and I have spent hours debating this one. I always go for mood control, the Boy always goes for something to do with having infinite time, and my friend James just wants to control everything. (I think.) It often takes interesting detours, such as "would you rather have an arm that could turn into anything you like, or be able to make it snow whenever you want?" We must have been a few beers in by the time that made any sense.

2) The lunatic idea conversation. A conversation that genuinely happened on Monday night began thus: "What if there was a pill that could give you an instant orgasm?" I felt really, really sorry for the people sitting at the tables either side of us. We got pretty vociferous over this one - the boys were more concerned about how rich it would make them, and I was sitting there wondering aloud if it would bring about some awful societal decline.

3) The heated debate. Say the word "adoption" to a few of my friends, and watch them turn ashen and start going "OH GOD, NO. Not again, please, no." Last summer, during a cheese and wine evening, we started talking about adoption. (I've no idea why.) Cut to about two hours later, and we were all shouting at each other, going "You're wrong! You couldn't be wronger! Please stop offending me with your utter WRONGNESS."

Shit gets rowdy after too much Camembert, you know how it is.

We've also all agreed to never again discuss who, out of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, is the funniest. And no, don't you start.

4) i) The sexual bucket list one. Where you all end up talking about your "lists of stuff you'd like to try". You have to be quite drunk for this, and often, the weirder and more comical, the better. Can lead to...

    ii) ...the sexual tell-all one. (For cleaner version of this, see no 6.) Often a girl thing. You end up divulging everything you've ever done ever, and asking each other questions you wouldn't dream of had you not drunk an entire bottle of wine and multiple shots of tequila.

5) The character assassination one. One of your friends couldn't make it out, and conveniently it's the one you all find a bit annoying. After a while, you start talking about them. Then talking turns to bitching, and bitching turns to "I know! Let's make up a drinking game based upon their behaviour, and unbeknown to them, play it the next time we're all out together!"

6) The rant. Similar to 3), but it usually involves whisky or wine. I get my feminist rage on - and start saying things like, "when I have my own column in the Guardian" - while someone else I could name but won't once gave us the complete and unabridged history of his love life. With visual aids via the use of Facebook. Recounting this to my stepfather, he said "Aye, whisky'll do that to you."

7) The argument. Again, similar to 3) but much, much more personal. "I didn't tell you this before but I really have to tell you now. YOU REALLY HURT ME THAT TIME YOU -" etc, etc. Often ends with the argument-starter weeping profusely and declaring passionate and undying love to their victim. (I in no way speak from experience.)

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head, but I'm sure there's many more, so feel free to chip in (hark at me getting all interactive).

Music time - and what a lovely bunch of stuff it is too...

Just when I think I couldn't want to be this girl anymore than I already do, she comes up with a track that's even more gutsy and soulful and Stevie Nicks-esque than her previous stuff. Oh yes.

And I've not loved everything this band has done, but this song is perfection.

And this too, it's beautiful (and that kid is brilliant).