Saturday, 31 May 2014

I Didn't Even See The Snapchat (a poem...?)

You forget that humans have so much blood until you see it.
Lines of it, horizontal and vertical and sideways and diagon-ways, slant-ways and knife-ways.
He doesn’t show you, doesn’t try to hide, merely exists.
Your mouth forms words over and again that stick, pebbles in your throat. It’s a 99 pence plastic stocking filler toy that’s gummed up and broken before you even start.

“What happened?” (The “again” is silent.)

He answers in shards of light. They said, they said, they said, he said. So many third persons. Are they all the same one?
He rips the bandages off and tells me to smell the iodine. Hospitals and childhood and hostels come back to me, become me. I portrait myself, paint my face into being a deity of indifference.
I cannot meddle.

He was worried, that he got blood on his sheets. Angry that he ruined his favourite pair of jeans. He has to wear shorts now, the bandages poking out from underneath them. Glowing ghostly white, and the plasters are pale too.
Literally, he was sewn back together. We have the technology, we can rebuild him.
He had a friend with him, waiting. Who came, because he sent an A&E selfie. I can’t believe we snapchat fragility now, hashtag wrecked.

When he goes to pee, I see it, on his desk. Such a tiny, innocuous thing, this snap blade of his.

I pick it up, carry it with me as a token with a smear of his blood still on it.
I recite voodoo spells, wrap it in chains and tie it to a cinderblock, throw it in the poisonous lake that bubbles away in the centre of our campus.
(How strange, to have a university with a toxic centre. It’s a metaphor, I’m sure of it, it must be.
I just don’t know what for yet.)
The geese flee. Flapping, squawking refugees from that slither of metal and cold.
I take all the sharp edges from the world to my power-sander gaze, scratch off the sharp corners, marshmallow the steel.

I hear him come back and put it down.

He cleans the wounds, airs them out. Hanging them out to dry, like laundry. A clothes horse of himself.

He says he keeps the blade as it is safe. Safer that burning his flesh or snip-snipping arteries with scissors. There are only two scratches on his wrist, tiny and parallel. Tally marks?
There is no desire to die sooner than natural. We both want him to stop hurting.

What scares me most of all is how sensible he is. Rationality, parceled up with curly hair and a firm grasp of logic. 
He is too sensible to really hurt himself, I say, when I can't sleep.

If he did die, I would sob bitterly. Should have done more, said more, hidden Ninja-like behind his door ready to protect him from himself. Should have Big Brothered his medication, strung him up in Spiderman silk so he could not move.
Worse still: one day, it would stop hurting. A person, reduced to a blip in my life, anecdotally.

Self-harm discussed over tea and toast. Pass us the butter, are you okay, one time a long time ago my friend died. Well, obviously.
I mean – the “one time”, that is. Obviously. Death is a pretty one-time thing.

Monday, 26 May 2014

"Who wants to look old?"

That was the question posed by someone vain on the paper-thin documentary I'm watching at the moment instead of writing an essay.

The person who came out with the offending line was some teenager's dad, who'd spent £14k on plastic surgery and hair transplants and teeth whitening. He looked like he was made of wax - but young wax. Freshly moulded wax, that had not yet been left out in the sun to melt. Who wants to look old, indeed?

I kind of can't wait to be old. I'll probably panic in middle age when everything sags, but it's not like I've got a tiny size 6 booty to lose. A bit of a complacent spread, bingo wings and dimpled thighs don't really bother me - I've sort of got those going on already. Whatever, I like food.

And I'm fairly ambivalent about my face too. Selfies irritate me and I wear make-up like warpaint, as an extra layer of protection if I need help to face the day. I remember wearing blood-red lipstick to my University Challenge heat, which I messed up - but it made me feel brave, a little separated from myself. Fearless. Hashtag fierce.

So, once the minor fear of aging has passed, I shall dance gleeful into my 50s. I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn't go, and definitely is not a reference to a poem. I will be as mad as possible, speak frankly about sex and drugs, and scare the kids into order.

I am far more worried about being successful than I am about being pretty. Who wants to look young forever? I'd rather look lived-in, experienced, with a face that can tell a hundred stories for every laugh line on it.

Why don't we want to look old, though? This is what worries me. And I think it comes down to the inevitable: death.

If you're busy looking good for yourself rather than for potential partners, it's not really about sex any more. And, if sex is not the driving force behind your actions, it's death. While I am aware my psychology here is generalising at best, and woefully incorrect at worst, hear me out.

We know so much these days. We know we might live to a hundred and ten, but we also know we can't live past hundred and twenty. Fifty is a mid-life crisis. After that, your best years are all gone, aren't they? Or, if not the best years - well, the bulk of them. Your body falls apart, bit by bit. And if you admit to looking old, to having had a life that's left its marks on your face, then you're haggard and tired, stressed and careless. Not taking care of yourself.

I think we run away from the simple fact of our aging because it's a reminder of the simple fact of our inevitable deaths.

Why bother with tans? With straight teeth and perfect eyebrows? If all we're doing is running away from our own mortality, making ourselves look instagram-ready isn't going to help us do anything. Life is short. So we'd better spend it doing useful things rather than preening and primping.

And that's why I can't wait to be old, really; because, I think, by the time I get there, I'll have done stuff worth talking about. Being old will be proof I've made it through this turbulent, tumultuous journey called youth. I'll have all the best stories to tell, and an old face will be an invitation for you to hear them.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Anecdotally... 3: I hated school.

I can hear my mother on the phone at the moment, talking to my cousin. My cousin is ten years older than me, married with children, forever involved in the dramas that come of growing up in a middle-class world and suddenly finding yourself shut out from it.

My mother is talking about my cousin's kids, and what they'll be like when they grow up. She recommends waiting for something until her oldest is 12.

"By the time he's 12, he'll be out playing with friends," she said.

That assumes that, at 12, you have friends.

Friends probably come from school, when you're that age. At 12, in my first year of secondary school, I hated it. And I'm not saying that in the way that everyone hates school at 12 years old, when they resent the idea of being kept indoors on sunny days and having to give up Mondays in order to learn long division.

I hated school in a real, visceral way, that manifested itself in aches and pains and dizzying headaches. I hated the institution, the stuck-up natures of the people there, the unsympathetic teachers and the boring, banal homework we were given every evening. I hated the cliques, the childishness of everyone trying to act grown up, the forgotten invites to parties and the over-reactions to harmless remarks.

School is not a place for the strange. School, at 12, is not a place for the make-up shunning sports-failing sarcasm-dripping misfit. I excelled academically, hated every minute of it, and was too wrapped up in my own misery to try and reach out and make friends. Self-pity enveloped me. I hated school then, but looking back, I hate Past Me just as much. She should have tried harder.

I would go so far as to say I hate most of my past selves, and everything from 12 to 16 should be destroyed, erased from my past. I cringe when people bring those years up. Then, I lived for music, and gigs: they were a driving passion which obliterated all other thoughts from my mind. I fiercely defended friends I made through them, but now we've drifted so far apart I can barely remember their names. Some have changed so much that I wonder why I liked them in the first place, and conclude it was the mutual sense of not fitting in. Society had abandoned us, so we in turn cast out the conventions we were meant to adhere to.

School is the best days of your life, according to my mother.

I have no doubt that was true for her, affable and small and pleasant and good at tennis. An in-between sort of girl, not too cool or too clever but just enough of everything to be generally likable. She had part-time jobs and friends and a place on a nursing course before she even sat her A-levels.

I think adults misrepresent school. We're fed this bullshit from such a young age - that it is the best time of your life - that I felt guilty for not liking it. I felt like I was wasting a valuable chance, spunking away a childhood of youth and freedom on things that did not matter. Even now, I get jealous when people talk fondly about their early teenage years: I hated everything up till 17, when I shook off the loner victim mentality and proclaimed introversion to be too emo.

We can't put youth on a pedestal just because we retroactively yearn for it. Sure, sometimes I miss school, but only as an abstract notion. I miss the concept of playgrounds and half-terms and being with your friends five days a week. I don't miss the reality of backstabbing bitchiness and chronic sick-days due to my total, actual inability to face the world some days.

University was what kept me going. The prospect of it, golden and radiant, and predicating a good school education to get there. I got there. The institution of secondary school was worth it, and I am truly genuinely happy now (or, at least, working on it). I only hope to get happier.

I hope my cousin's son is happier at 12 than I was. I hope I am never that miserable again. But I take issue with all blanket proclamations that school years are the best years of your life. You can't spend life assuming your best days are behind you: all of my best days are to come, and will still be to come, for as long as I live. What's life without something to look forward to?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The first existential crisis of exam season.

Ah, if only I had the same focus in revision as I do in writing rambling blog posts.

There are many problems with the exam culture that has permeated education, and the most pernicious issue we face is that they are nothing like the real world. Yes, in keeping with the idea that young people know nothing about the real world, exams are structured in a manner that has no realistic semblance of anything which occurs beyond education.

Exams are like machines. You put the Right Thing in, and Good Marks come out. You are obedient and compliant and you spend your days sat in front of books and computers instead of going out getting high on life and other noxious substances - because that is the Right Thing To Do. And we all know if you do the Right Thing, you get Good Marks.

It's not right. It is so not right. Admittedly I am writing this as a form of procrastination, but right now I'm finding it hard to visualise what use literary theories will have in the rest of my life, unless I devote myself to the pursuit of academia. Post-modernism itself is dull as dishwater: it is only useful when considered as part of a grand narrative (which it, itself, so scrupulously rejects). Is our world postmodern or post-post-modern? Can we actually tell? And, most pressingly: does it matter?

I think that's what all exam questions should boil down to. X: Does It Matter?


The Feinmann Diagram: Does It Matter?

Freud's Theory of Dreams: Does It Matter?

What Caused World War 2: Does It Matter?

You can argue - yes or no, or maybe or somewhat - but it shouldn't matter, so long as you can back up our arguments with opinions and evidence and feeling. You can relate it to the wider world, and talk about the importance or lack thereof. Ideas that followed from it, ideas it influenced, ideas it completely destroyed. In the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn't matter much how to do a basic titration experiment - but you could argue its technique can be applied to times when it does matter, or that it is a waste of time invented to keep children busy at GCSE.

Education should be about teaching people to think, not to fall into line with what is expected. I want university to tell me to rail against the system. Examine the questions we are asked, and ask why it's important. Ask what is important. Have passion and conviction.

A lot of the time, I feel like I have no conviction left. It has been sucked out of me. I know how to pass my English exam, but I don't particularly want to: I would rather be out agitating for fairer wages and having torrid flings with widely unsuitable people, because that's really how we learn. By making mistakes and having experiences, not writing set things within an allotted space of time.

Maybe this should all be boiled down to Exams: Do They Matter?

Yes, I suppose they do. They are why I am at university, fundamentally - to get that piece of paper which says I passed exams and know what I am doing well enough to be considered for jobs. But it seems like a terrible waste of youth, to spend it revising.

Once exams are over, my real education of dancing till dawn in strange cities will resume.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The worst case scenario.

I live a life a melodrama, of sharply contrasting emotions, which bump against each other angrily and repeatedly. I praise the things that make me joyous and make me laugh, eternally retelling stories of perfect moments until they are almost myths. They are on a pedestal: I look at them and wonder, sometimes, if they actually happened at all, or if I spoke their names too many times, and poof! They disappeared. I cry easily, complain about everything unjust, and live my life in a generally over-the-top manner. This is colour, this is texture, this is how I live.

And so, for me, this is the worst case scenario.

It is 2024 and I am thirty. Well. I am just shy of my thirtieth birthday, and have been adamantly avoiding it for so long that I have prematurely aged. My face looks thirty-three already. People have started making subtle comments that my looks will go soon. The pervasive sexism of young middle-age is yet to be perfectly eradicated.

Since graduating, I have had a couple of jobs but my itchy feet got in the way of my young ones. I spent sixth months as a magazine freelancer until they let me go, but the market was tough and I was getting desperate. In the end, I just took what I could get, grabbing with both hands for something I didn't really want. It was just a stop-gap, I told myself: something to get me by, until I could quit and go travelling and then start anew in a year.

A year passed. Then two, then three, and I still had not left my job. It is in an office in a respectable part of London and I work in marketing or publicity or as a sort-of job that crosses the two, and involves coming up with dynamic Twitter solutions. I have a 45-minute commute on the tubes every morning from my flat, but it's an okay place. It's not as shabby as my last two were. Once a week I go on dates, watching foreign language movies and strolling through the park and telling myself this isn't a bad life, really. I find myself lusting after the interns. They are so young, so full of potential. I want to devour them.

I don't write, really. Not any more. I'm too tired after working all day in things I couldn't care less about. I try to leave, sometimes, but it's so hard. Somehow I am stuck, and responsible. The last place I went on holiday was Venice, with my then-lover. We argued the whole weekend, and I came home with only a handful of photos and a brooding sense of resentment. I look at the tattoos I got while young with a sense of detachment. They feel like someone else's. That can't have been me. I would never spend £200 on ink and pain; that could get me a nice pair of shoes, or earrings.

It's not a bad life, this corporate drudgery and complete obedience to the status quo, with nothing unexpected and no adventures. There is no melodrama, and I watch as my friends from university get pregnant and married and divorced, fired and evicted and transatlantically job-shifted, and I tell myself the stability is everything I need. It's not ideal, but it's... not bad.

But it is the worst case scenario.