On 31st May 1999 I was 16 years, 6 months and 18 days old. In the midst of my GCSEs. Life was mainly about Kohl liner ringed eyes and angry stares. Bass guitars and flutes. Science fiction and literary classics. Languishing in the thrill of stolen cigarettes and fleeting, grubby, romances. I was probably revising, and it was probably English that I was revising, as that was the only thing I cared very much about. If I wasn’t revising then I was working in a pub as a waitress, avoiding unwelcome bum pats from the landlord and flirting with the cooks in the kitchen. This day was the day a song by Baz Luhrman, Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen, was released.
As an actual member of The Class of ‘99 the song, despite being enormously popular (a negative characteristic for my sub-culture-gravitating adolescent self) felt special. Always. To me.
It is a song I gravitate to at times of positive transition. Perhaps I do so, unconsciously, to measure my life against the advice dispensed in the song. Perhaps not. It’s an enjoyable exercise in nostalgia, whatever the reasons.
After listening and reflecting on it this week I thought some of the advice was a bit shit. To be honest. And I thought it would be fun to write my own 2022 version. So I did.
I don’t tend to give much advice. It’s not my thing. But hey… I must have amassed at least a sliver of wisdom as I enter my 40th year.
Everybody’s Free to Put Their Phone Down
Ladies, gentlemen and non-binary folk who read my blog at the beginning of 2022.
Put your phone down.
If I were to offer you only one piece of advice then putting your phone down would be it.
The negative impacts of smart phones have been proven by scientists…
…whereas the remainder of my reflection here has no basis more reliable than my own, most curious, experiences…
Experiences amassed through 39 years that were largely spent within a two mile radius from my home to the local Sainsbury’s. Moving through a post-industrial, working-class city in the centre of England, with an anxious, hyper-vigilant, gaze, shuffling feet and my nose most often stuck in a book.
I am not, by most people’s definition, successful.
Despite these caveats, and with no promise that I have a single answer
I will dispense this advice
Enjoy the madness and chaos of your brain. Oh, never mind…
…you will continually reject the the madness and chaos of your brain until you put down the notion that your mind should be lovely, serene, entirely silent and well behaved. It can’t be.
But trust me, it is not how you think that makes you experience your life as crappy. It’s how you respond to it. And someday you will come to a place where you can recall, in a way that you can’t grasp now, just how much possibility sits in that chaos, how much you could create from that place. How unique and magical your beautiful messy brain already is.
You are not as unusual as you imagine.
Breathe. Do it gently.
Do not watch Instagram Reels.
Or do, but know that doing so is as healthy as trying to cleanse your body by eating nothing but Radox bath bubbles and paracetamol.
The filler of ‘empty’ seconds in your day can come from all kinds of unexpected places. From glimpses of other human experiences that cross your path as you walk to the corner shop… the old man, flat-capped and cautious, who smiles tentatively to the ground as you pass him on the pavement, tilting his head toward you for a fleeting moment, a moment that, to now, you never seemed to notice. From nature manifesting in polluted cities, the fog of a January morning across the muddy playing field that’s flooded with crows as pigeons fight nearby over a discarded, cling filmed, sandwich. A ladybird landed, and wandered up, my laptop charging cable as I wrote this line. How magical is that? All of it is fascinating, beguiling, if you deem it worthy of your attention. It’s got to be better than watching adult humans pointing at pithy captions on a screen. Stop reaching for your phone.
Do at least one thing every day that moves you. Physically. Emotionally too. That makes you sweat. That makes you cry. Both are good for you. That’s science. If you can find an activity that combines the two… wonderful. And be sure to let me know what it is.
Don’t be a dick to other people. Watch your outward gaze. Soften it. Fall in love with humanity. Fall in love with what irritates you in others. It will help you, massively, in the effort of falling in love with yourself.
Have compassion for those who move through with the world full of anger. For the haters and the trolls and the suffering. Don’t put up with anyone shouting at you, but remember that you never know what other people are carrying. Except that, for all humans, life is pretty heavy.
And if you can’t… consider getting some therapy for that.
Consider getting some therapy, anyway.
Don’t waste your time on comparison. It really is the thief of joy.
Sometimes you’re on fire, sometimes you’re not.
Sometimes you win. Sometimes you can’t be bothered to enter the race at all.
The journey is long and, in the end, the competition, the game, it is only ever with yourself.
Compliment others wildly. Spread kindness around. Write down every compliment you ever receive. Also write down the insults. If you do this you can hold the compliments to remember them (you won’t otherwise) and, when you’ve gathered a handful, you can ceremoniously burn the insults.
Print out your photos with friends, family…of your own version of beauty in nature. Delete your selfies.
Stop blaming everyone else.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t always get shit done.
The most brilliant people I know rest a lot.
Some of the most interesting seem to do nothing else.
Get plenty of magnesium, b12 and fats that are good for your brain.
Be kind to your knees.
You will wish you had been when they’re fucked up by the time you’re 40.
Maybe you’ll be successful. Maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll be healthy. Maybe you won’t
Maybe 2022 will be the best of your life full of erotic moments, travel, creation and wonder, or maybe you’ll spend huge chunks of it shovelling ice cream in your mouth under a duvet, unable to face life at all.
Whatever happens, don’t congratulate yourself too much, avoid the humble brag on social media.
But don’t berate yourself either.
Whatever your belief system.
Remember that what happens to you is bound by what has come before in your life, shaped by the good and bad things that have happened, funnelled through how much privilege you have. Life is often about luck. Yes, much of it, too, comes from choice. But your choices are bound by all of this too. None of this makes you, by default, a good or bad person. We are all grey.
Enjoy your body. Look at it, naked. Touch it, softly. It is beautiful. Every inch of it. Yes yours. Yes everybody’s.
Don’t be afraid of it. No matter what Dr. Google tells you. He is rarely correct. Forget him. If you can.
Your body is the greatest instrument you’ll ever own. Full of stories, potential, and untold possibility.
Have goals. Hold them. Make altars to them. Remember what it is that you want.
Laugh, even if you’re alone, find writers, comedians, songs, that tickle you.
Don’t read the newspapers, not if you can help it.
Stay off Facebook. It will only made you feel offended.
Eat some crisps.
I’ve tried all kinds of diets over the years and I am certain they are a necessary food group.
Get to know your emotions, name them. You may find you have a lot more than you think you do. Enjoy the full spectrum. It’s so amazing to be human.
Be nice to your Amazon delivery driver. They’re underpaid, overworked, and the person who has delivered you copious little dopamine hits in the form of brown paper boxes over recent years.
Understand that your friends are important. More than any crushes, irritating colleague or social media influencer.
And yes, friends come and go.
But a precious few, who truly see you, the real you, who should hold on to, foster, take time for.
Work hard to bridge the gaps between the off-world digital landscape and your real life.
The veneer of what your friend’s life looks like from afar and the reality will always be so different.
The more you watch friends from a social media feed, the less you will know them at all.
Log in to Instagram once per day but leave before it makes you horrified.
Go out in nature once per day and don’t feel you have to film it to make it ‘real’.
Climb trees. Ask for their permission before you do and say thank you as you clamber down again.
Sing. In the shower. As you run. As you drift out of consciousness as your head hits the pillow.
Don’t slag off Zoom. It’s saved us from ourselves over the last two years. Feel grateful for its beneficent presence in our lives from here.
Accept certain inalienable truths.
No one is perfect.
Not everyone will like you.
Bad things can happen.
You will get triggered. Often. And when you do, you have a choice in what you do.
Don’t shout at anyone.
Take care of yourself.
Don’t expect anyone to save you.
Maybe you have a year ahead of tinder dates, a partner of fifty years, or a new adorable puppy… or perhaps you are completely alone. Whatever your circumstances, it is never someone else’s job to make you feel good, better, or valued.
Your life is a human one. With sadness. With fear. With loneliness. With hope. If you could bottle all the emotions you feel across this year you may find that the ‘happy’ bottle is more full than you imagine it to be. All of the bottles are important. Don’t put them on a shelf to get dusty. Drink them down. Feel them. You’ll release them eventually, in the sweat and in the tears.
Don’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks about your hair. Your clothes. Your kinks. Your diet. Your way of being.
Who cares if, by the time you’re 40, you look 75 and dress as if you were 22. You’re bloody amazing.
Be wary of gurus, big promises and charismatic leaders.
The promise of health, holiness, enlightenment and your masochistic tendencies being played out in hugely inappropriate sex games… yes they are alluring. But everything you’re looking for… believe me, it’s already in you.
Buy some good sex toys.
And trust me on the phone thing.