thetillyvanilly

Awkward things.

Asking is an Art

asking-is-an-art-copy

This post originally appeared on http://www.theindiechicks.com

No matter how much of a badass you are, at some point in your life you are going to have to ask for something. It might be something small and stupid, like a piece of gum, or it might be something big, something life-shatteringly, heart-flutteringly, floor-crawlingly important, like a phone number. Either way, it can be a pain in the ass to put yourself in that position. But it doesn’t have to be.

Amanda Palmer, the queen of badassery herself, has just published her self-helpography ‘The Art of Asking’, and it reads like a how-to of getting exactly what you want. I definitely suggest you check it out yourself, but here are a few things it taught me:

  1. It’s OK to ask.

Yep, you’re allowed, and the best thing is, unless you’re asking someone dangerous for something inadvisable, it probably won’t kill you. You can’t keep building it up into this massive event, when really all you need is one quick question and, BOOM, you’re done. Finito. Voilà. And other foreign words. Chances are that the person you’re asking will say yes. Maybe they’ll say no. Either way, the world keeps turning, you keep breathing and life keeps moving. You’ll never know if you don’t take a deep breath and spit it out.

  1. Sometimes you don’t NEED to ask.

A lot of the time, I find myself nervously asking people permission to just, I don’t know, be myself. But I’ve had that permission my whole life and I usually don’t wonder where my certificate is. Like, am I allowed to be this me? Is it OK? The answer is yes, all of the yes. You are allowed to be who you are, but you don’t need my permission. You are a grown-ass woman (or man. Hey guys!) and you can do whatever the hell you want, whenever the hell you want, unless it constitutes a crime, and even then, you can just close your curtains and lie low, no apology needed. You do you and I’ll do me and that’s all fine and dandy.

  1. Sometimes you’re standing in your own way.

You know the voice in your head that knows all the words that sting, all the memories that make you want to jump off something high, and all the right spots to prick you just to watch you bleed? Yeah. That voice is a dick. Most of the time it isn’t your sane, reasonable, epic, brainy brain that’s telling you that you’re not worth it, it’s The Voice. And clearly The Voice knows screw all, or it wouldn’t be telling you how much you suck. The Voice wasn’t watching when you graduated, or when you got promoted, or when that dude checked you out. The Voice didn’t read that letter from Mensa, or your recently published article or that letter from the people who love you. So obviously The Voice needs to skip out of your life and along to the opticians, because you’ve got shit to do.

  1. You shouldn’t feel guilty for what people are willing to give you.

You are not a fraud because you grabbed someone’s hand on the way up. It may sound crazy, but people do actually WANT to help you. Think about it. How great does it feel when you do someone a favour? When someone gets somewhere with your help, it’s like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. No-one is an island because being an island would suck. It’s lonely and not to mention impossible to do everything in a vacuum. It’s ok to ask and it’s ok to take, but it’s not ok to beat yourself up about it.

  1. Most people are only after one thing.

No, get your mind out of the gutter, at least for a moment, and then you can stick it back in again. A lot of the time when we’re asking for something, what we’re actually asking for is love. There’s not enough of it hanging around and waiting to be grabbed, so sometimes asking is the only way to get it. We all want to be accepted and we all want to be liked, but sometimes, for whatever reason, we can’t see the evidence. So we ask for a hug, for a ride, for them to stay the night. Do you like me? Do you want me? Do you love me? We ask the question in such simply worded, convoluted ways and hope to God that the answer is yes.

  1. Sometimes the answer is no…

…And that’s OK. Life is like a box of chocolates, after all, and sometimes you’ll get caramel and sometimes you’ll get rhubarb, and sometimes you’ll get praline and die because you’re allergic to nuts. It sucks, but it’s a ride, right? It’s an unconditional relationship and if there wasn’t even the slightest chance of being shot out of the sky, it wouldn’t mean as much. Let’s look at it this way: If there was no chance of a no, the yes would mean nothing. It’s only a risk because the answer’s not certain, and the risk makes it worth the question, otherwise you might as well be asking a tree for a hug. Don’t ask, just hug. The tree’s cool whatever.

  1. There is a massive difference between asking and begging.

When Amanda asked her fans for help, the best comment on the difference between asking and begging was this: “Asking is like courtship; begging, you are already naked and panting.” And that image, gross as it may be to those of us with overactive imaginations, totally works. There’s nothing icky about asking. They could say no, they could say yes. Hakuna matata. Begging implies arms wrapped around legs whilst Adele plays in the background and everyone is crying. Not good. When you ask for something, it needs to be able to go either way, or you’re verging cliff-close to begging, and the no will make you both feel bad.

  1. Asking is an art.

Anything that’s worth something is hard. It’s the fight that adds value to the prize. But while it might be difficult, it’s light years from impossible, and, like all the things, the more you do it, the easier it gets. So what’s the solution? Practice. Ask. A tampon, a ride, a hundred dollars, their hand in marriage. Make it a daily task to ask for something. It doesn’t have to be big, especially not to start with. How hard is it to ask to borrow a pen? Exactly. Sometimes you will hit a wall and it will take a while to clamber over it, but you will, I promise. And pretty soon you’ll be in the International Space Station or the White House and you’ll wonder why you never asked before.

So what’s your hardest ask, and was it worth it?

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Rejecting Rejection

Rejection Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Storm Clouds and Sky.

I was all ready to write something that mattered today, something that was heartfelt and well-observed, something that clicked and flowed and ticked all the right boxes of awesome.

Ha.

Hahaha.

Nope.

So instead of the soggy piece of wet flannel nonsense that I was writing, I’m going to write a rant about the stupid Catch-22 that I seem to be in, in the hopes of clearing out the crap and unclogging my brain.

Failing that, at least I’ll have produced something that hasn’t been crossed out, crumpled up and tossed into the trash.

Basically, there’s a site that I really, really, REALLY want to write for. I have sent them a bazillion pitches, (not exaggerating) and have progressed from form rejections to personalised rejections. Woo… They’re still rejections. And I’m getting to the panicking point where I feel like I’m running out of ideas, like I’ve wasted my good ones and now I’m down to nothing

And I feel like the world is ending. It’s stupid and self-centred and so bloody millennial of me, I know, but this is IMPORTANT. I am the girl on The Face, crying and humping Naomi Campbell’s leg, because this is the only thing that I can do, and the only thing that I want, and now I’m being told that I can’t.

It’s not the end of the world. I know. There will be other things, other times, and there are a lot of corners and God knows what’s around them, but right now I want to punch Naomi in the face and run away and hide and cry until I fill the room and find the dodo.

But hey, who doesn’t, right?

It’s all part of life, this rejection thing. It just totally sucks. Wouldn’t it be good if we could win at everything? If we could get picked for every team? If we could get medals for spelling our names right and getting out of bed in the morning? If there were no more red pens and frowny faces and men in suits telling us that CVs shouldn’t be written in crayon and include photographs of Nicholas Cage wearing various hats. That would be pretty sweet. But until the world crowns me supreme overlord, I guess we’re stuck with rejection, and maybe we should start getting used to it.

So here are my top tips for dealing with those times when you want to punch supermodels and earn strait jackets…

  1. Do not punch anyone.

No, not even Naomi Campbell, however much she seems to totally deserve it. Violence is never the answer, unless the question is ‘what is not the answer?’ But then we enter into a weird time-travel style paradox that encourages yet more anger and violence.* Basically, if someone rejects you, it’s not because they’re a terrible, horrible, shitty person, but because they have terrible, horrible, shitty taste. Don’t hate them, pity them. They probably don’t understand the value of S Club 7, stick on glitter tattoos and Mary-Kate and Ashley movies. Think of how empty their black and white lives must be.

  1. Give up.

If you’re trying and trying and trying and getting no cigars whatsoever, then maybe you’re never going to fit into their hole. Maybe it’s time to look for a different hole. Not necessarily bigger, just differently shaped, something that you don’t have to suffer to squeeze into. If you’re working hard and producing stuff, then you HAVE to be improving. It’s like the law. So if after a long time trying you’re still no closer, then you might have to admit that you’ve come as close as you’re going to get. Take a few photos and turn around. There are people around who will appreciate your art, trust me.

  1. Go at it with a battering ram.

If you’re really super sure that this is the place for you, then keep swimming upstream, but up your arsenal. I’m talking heavy duty machinery. Bazookas mainly. And chainsaw blow torches. Basically, you need to use everything in your toolkit to get your foot in the door. You have a connection? Stalk them until they panic and give in. You have a good reputation? Big it up. Obviously they’re not getting the message of how epic you are, so make sure they do. If they still don’t get it, there are always power tools.

  1. Stop being yourself.

The usual stuff is not going to cut it, obviously. They said no, so they’re probably going to keep saying no unless you alter your approach. Look for what they like and imitate it, or at least digest enough of it that your own style merges with theirs. Be who they want you to be. I know it sucks that they don’t appreciate your awesomeness as it stands, but if you want it that much, you have to be willing to compromise. It’s not a dirty word, it’s just another trick for getting your own way, but in a different format. Ok, it’s slightly selling out, but sometimes you have to sell out to sell, you know?

But seriously.

If you’re any kind of artist, you’re going to have to deal with this sort of stuff, and in my experience it really doesn’t get easier. Every time someone says no, I am the kid getting picked last for sports. It hurt like hell then and it hurts even more when you’re getting rejected for something you can actually DO. Sure, don’t pick me for hockey. I suck at it and will probably score ten own goals and break your ankle, possibly not even by accident. But if I write something for you, if I pour my heart, soul, blood and guts onto the screen, if I let you inside my screwed up mind and let you look around, then your no feels like a hot poker to everything that matters.

But still we keep swimming towards something we know exists, even though we might never have seen it before.

We write until our fingers ache and our minds are empty buckets.

We stumble uphill in the darkness, our feet searching for ground that might not be there.

Until…

We reach the top.

We see the sun.

We get the yes.

And we realise the nos are nothings and it’s been worth every single one.

*Bonus tips: Don’t ask stupid questions and stop trying to make time travel happen, Gretchen.

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I Give Myself Very Good Advice…

advice

Sometimes I don’t take my own advice.  Ok, so most of the time I don’t take my own advice, or anyone else’s for that matter. In fact, I’m usually way too busy metaphorically speeding down the M4 in the wrong lane wearing a blindfold to even bother opening my ears. I like life a little exciting, but terrifying will do. Anything but dull is appreciated, but I’ve realised recently that that’s a really stupid way to live your life. I look back over the years and there are so many horrific situations that I have sleepwalked into, all because I’ve been looking for a story.

I really should take my own advice.

But it’s one of those things, isn’t it? It’s easy enough to tell someone else not to look down, but when you’re the one on the tightrope, you just want to see how far you’ve got to fall. And it’s a long way down.

Lately I’ve been trying to listen to myself more. It’s not that I think I’m that great at advice, although obviously I wouldn’t give it to my friends if I thought that it was somehow going to result in them screaming out for Spiderman. It’s just that I want to practice what I preach in life, and I want to see what sort of gift I’ve been giving, and whether I should keep doling it out.

This is shaping up to be a super interesting year, and everything’s gone crazy in my world, so it’s the prime time to be looking for some semblance of control, and control to me always comes in the form of rules. I use them to bar my way and beat myself with, but I also use them as what they’re designed for – structure. And some structure right about now would be pretty sweet.

So here are some of the things I say when times are tough and I’m asked for advice, and the reasons I’m starting to listen:

“Be kind to yourself”

Why is this so hard to do?! When I look in the mirror, my knee-jerk reaction is to pick myself apart. I grew up with a mother who grabbed at her stomach and yanked it hard, whilst moaning how fat she was, and I’ve started to do the same. It’s not just physical either. Every time I make a mistake, I can’t help but call myself stupid. The worst F word is failure, and it’s right there, on the tip of my tongue. I can spend all day beating myself up emotionally, and where does it get me? Sulking in bed with a large tub of Booja-Booja, watching America’s Next Top Model and hating them ALL. Hardly a dream destination. Clearly this needs to stop. If my friends had the same masochistic approach to their self-esteem, I would knock some sense into them with a self-love stick.

So I’m updating my vocabulary. Now if I don’t know an answer, I ask, and I’m not dumb, I’m learning. If I look in the mirror, I’m Bootylicious, not fat. I am challenging myself to reframe everything, to look at it all from a new, sunny direction. I am reminding myself that I am a human being, with feelings and needs and all the squishy emotions of a child, just packaged differently. And it feels so much better so quickly! I am no longer terrified of my own reflection, despite making no change to the size of my derriere. I am nicer to other people too, way more understanding. I think I’m just more aware of the battle they might be having inside their own heads for the silliest reasons, and I want them to know, subconsciously, what I’ve learned: “You are beautiful and you are doing just fine.”

Put Into Practice Rating: 4/5 (I’m not Tyra fierce, but I’m getting there!)

“Don’t worry, it’ll be fiiine!”

Yes, I am one of those annoying ‘glass half full’ people, and I do say it with exactly that emphasis. It’s in my nature to be so enthusiastic and positive that it’s irritating, verging on ‘calm down dear’. I believe in the goodness of life, I believe in my friends, and I believe that they will land on their feet with a million pounds in their bank account and a free teacup pig. Unfortunately my sunny side up stance doesn’t translate to my own life. It’s not because my positivity ends at my doorstep, but because I examine every possibility in my life with the finest of toothcombs.* Of the myriad futures that flow out before me, there is a large amount that will be negative. If you look at the theory of the multiverse, somewhere, somewhen, there is a version of you that’s in prison. Another one’s considering suicide. Another one is about to be probed by aliens. Another one is a fan of Robin Thicke. All these things could happen to you, or me, or any of us, and that is utterly terrifying.

But I’m trying not to think about that.

Lately I’ve been turning my back to any possibilities with a hint of gloom. I’ve barely spent any time considering the likelihood of my worldwide televised embarrassment, which, really, I should get a medal for.** My future is being hardcore shined with a J-cloth and a bottle of Cif. Everything is supposed to be amazing unless proven otherwise. If I have an interview, it will go awesomely. If I take a test, I’ll pass with all the flying colours of Rainbow Dash. If I have a date, he will fall in love immediately and whisk me off to the beach. Of course, these things might not happen, but so what? Does being prepared for failure make for less bruises? Nope. It just means that you get a double dose of misery, and who wants that? I’m liking the sunny side of the street and I intend to hang out here for the foreseeable. At least if I trip, I’ll have had fun on the fall.

Put Into Practice Rating: 5/5 (I may not be realistic, but I’m happy!)

F**K IT

This is related to the last piece of advice, but is less about wandering around with a big grin on your face, and more about wandering into the Danger Zone with the same big grin. My friends could be about to make a really stupid/impossible/insane complete mistake, involving rabid dogs and Z list celebrities, but if they ask me what to do, I tell them to jump. Now this is not because I’m an awful friend, but because I don’t know for sure if it’s a bad idea, but I know that jumping is the way to find out. A lot of things look bad close up, but when you step back or turn around to check them out from the other side, they’re actually brilliant. So many impossible things have happened in this world that wouldn’t have even been bothered if someone hadn’t been blinkered against the massive pile of cons and said f**k it. And even if it all goes horribly wrong, hey, at least you’ll have a story. An anecdote about the time you tried to drunkenly ride a dog and discovered that it was a little old lady named Dorothy, who was wearing a fur coat and bending over to rescue a dropped Werther’s Original ALWAYS goes down well at parties. Trust me.

So I know all of this, but can I take my own advice? Hahahahahaha…No. I think it helps with this one to have a devil on your shoulder prodding you with a pitchfork, or at least a best friend threatening to tell all of your secrets to the FBI*** if you don’t do the awesome thing right now and take pictures. Doing crazy, impossible, epic things is scary and hard. And it’s sooo much easier to push someone else off a bridge than jump yourself. It doesn’t help that I have a habit of building things up and up and up, until they can only be disappointments. Even if the apocalypse started right now, and buildings were ablaze and aliens were tweeting their mass murder plans from a spaceship that looked EXACTLY like a glitter ball, I’d be like, “Where the hell are all the zombies?” So I become unwilling to risk day-to-day humdrum for the mediocrity of a poor apocalyptic performance, and when Jesus comes back and is all like, “Now?” I’d shake my head and say, “Not now, Jesus, not now.” And he’d be sad and I’d be sad and where would that leave us? Exactly.

Put Into Practice Rating: 0/5 (I am a coward when it comes to the big, scary, possibly life-threatening stuff.)

The lesson here is that I give awesome advice, and someone should really pay me for it. I’m thinking a Ricki Lake-type show, with added unicorns. Ooh, and a gunge pit for men who fail the paternity test and anyone who tries to wrestle the security guards. And the security guards will be dressed as Smurfs and carry tasers! Yes. This is brilliant.

So for my final thought****, I just want to say that life is really difficult sometimes, and sometimes it’s the easiest thing in the world, but it’s all the same life, all the same journey. Everybody is going through some stuff. Even when someone’s smiling, you really can’t tell what pain they’re smiling through. So the best advice I can give you, and the best advice you can take and use and share is to:

“Take care of yourself, and each other.”

*You NEED to Google toothcombs. The universe is epic.

**Not even joking.

***Please note, government spies, that my secrets are the really boring sort, and you’d be as pissed as me if she told you. Plus I’m British, so all of my secrets involve things you wouldn’t understand, like Marmite and top hats and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.

****Sorry Jerry!

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The New Valentine’s Rules

Valentines-Day-Love-5

So it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m not a crying mess. This is progress.

Usually I’d be on the super-fast roller-coaster of Hate-Yourself Day emotions.

It starts with: ‘I don’t care. It’s all a greetings card, Illuminati-funded conspiracy to guilt the vulnerable into buying up all the chocolate so they get fat and feel sad, then they buy all the diet pills and feel great, then they buy up all the bikinis. So clearly there’s a Scientologist company that produces a surplus of crappy cards, raspberry ketones and itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikinis… And garage flowers.’

Which morphs into: ‘Oh my gosh, I hate myself. Nobody loves me. Nobody will ever love me. Why can’t I find a man to last minute panic buy me wilted flowers and cherry Lambrini?!’

Then: ‘It’s because I’m fat and ugly. No. It’s because men are evil. And stupid. All the men are complete bastards. I don’t want one anyway. Maybe I’m a lesbian? Nope, too into lumberjacks to be a lesbian.’

‘Hey, hold on. Equality! There are probably definitely female lumberjacks.’

‘With beards?’

‘Maybe. Don’t be so negative.’

‘Are there even lumberjacks anymore??? I’ve never seen one, so maybe they’re extinct…’

‘You’ve never seen a manatee either. Do you think that manatees are extinct?’

‘Oh my gosh, Tilly. This is why you’re single. You’re comparing lumberjacks to manatees. You’re going to die surrounded by unread paperbacks and a family of cats that can’t stand you.’

‘I’m allergic to cats.’

‘That’s how you die. Duh. Let’s add stupid to the reasons you are incredibly, unbearably, pathetically single.’

‘Ouch.’

BUT…

That’s not where I am right now, which is like happy.

This Hallmark-funded farce of a day, (Ok, maybe there’s a teensy bit of resentment still lurking) I will be using it to spoil myself. I am starting a revolution.

I will be my own true love.

Self-love is a thing I’ve been into lately, since I’ve finally come around to the idea that if you don’t look after yourself first, you can’t look after anyone else. You know, when the plane starts to dip and rumble and there’s smoke and everyone’s screaming and flailing their arms around, it’s important to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help the child next to you. Because how helpful is a child going to be when you crash land on a deserted island? I’ve read Lord of the Flies and I wear glasses, so I’m not taking any chances with that.

So how can you be your own true love and avoid throwing yourself out of a top floor window with a V card scrawled in your mum’s handwriting strapped to your chest? Luckily for you, I have it all figured out. Here are my tips…

  • Be Nice to Yourself

If you’re anything like me, you might not be too great at this. There’s that bitchy part of your brain constantly telling you that you’re not good enough, that you’re too fat/skinny/ugly/spotty/stupid/boring/whatever. Well today is an important day for you, because you’re going to learn how awesome it is when you send that bit of your brain out for a loaf of bread and then lock all the doors. Extra points for cutting up its clothes and tossing them out of the window. Today you need to tell yourself you’re awesome and beautiful. Use the opposite of whatever ex-brain says, because ex-brain doesn’t even know there’s a spare key under the mat, so how could it possibly offer any real insight on your value as a person? Every time you catch yourself flirting with nastiness, I want you to chuck it out and then dowse the area in kindness like it’s bleach. Three kind thoughts for every mean one. You’ll be feeling like Beyoncé by the end of the day.

  • Feed Yourself Good Food

And by good food, I do NOT mean all of the reduced chocolate in the world, drowned down with rosé. That’s not what’s going on here. Spoiling yourself isn’t literal. A teensy bit of chocolate is awesome, as is a teensy bit of wine, but choke down the whole corner shop and you’ll be feeling like you want to die. Then you’ll get on the whole pills-bikini merry-go-round, and it’s pretty damn hard to get off. So spoil yourself, but in a kind way. You love yourself, right? Or at least you want to. So you need to act like you care when you’re deciding what to eat. Think healthy, lots of fruits of vegetables. But this is a special day, this is YOUR day, so make it pretty. Make an effort with your food. Have you ever been to a fancy restaurant and eaten something so delicious that you vowed to make it at home, but never did? This is your chance. You’re awesome so you can do it, and more importantly, you DESERVE to do it.

  • Pamper Yourself

Pampering doesn’t need to be expensive, and that’s where a lot of people go wrong. If you put stuff in the box of ‘one day’, you are never going to get around to it. And this is important. All you need to properly pamper yourself is a book, (I like easy, cheesy reads when I’m chillaxing, maybe something you got free with a magazine) a bath, some incense or a candle, (salted caramel Yankee candle – you’re welcome) a bath bomb, bath salts or bubble bath and some sort of oil (baby oil is fine). The trick is to take time. Don’t rush things. You have the rest of your life to do the things you need to do. Today is your day, so use it. I want you to relax in the bath with your book until your fingers and toes go pruney, and then I want you to massage yourself with the oil, paying attention to the body parts you hate, and I want you to be kind to them. Remember the bitchy brain is outside banging on the back door. Today you love your wobbles and your wrinkles and your bones, because they are yours, and you are pretty damn awesome.

  • PRESENTS!

I saved the best tip until last because, if you’re anything like me, you see the word ‘presents’ and this pink, sparkly haze descends and you lose control of your limbs. I love presents. But the thing is, I much prefer giving presents than getting presents. Getting presents can be hit and miss, and you have to act all grateful when they hand you a singing fish that only knows one song and NEVER SHUTS UP. But giving presents lets you be thoughtful and excited and watch the smile explode onto their face when they realise that their gift is not something they’re going to have to beat with a hammer an unreasonable amount of times in order to get some sleep. Today you need to do that for yourself. Not the hammer part, the presents. But don’t go crazy, this isn’t about going bankrupt. Set yourself a limit, and then think hard about what makes you truly happy. I like to buy lots of little gifts, stuff like candles, luxury teas, and books that have been on my Amazon wish list for so long that they’ve got bored of nagging me to buy them. You know what you’d love to be given and this is your opportunity.

So there you go. Follow these and you’ll have an amazing day, which will hopefully prompt you to be kinder to yourself in general. One day your lumberjack will lumber along, but he’s going to be looking for the future you, not the you now. So kick that bitchy brain out into the cold and start pampering. This day is all about you, so use it, because you are the kind of awesome that a card could never describe.

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New Resolutions

time

I think anyone over the age of twenty would have to completely disagree with Willow Smith. Time does exist. We know it exists because it’s been screwing us around for the past however many years, making us believe that it’s going to be there when we’ve finished the Netflix marathon, or after the ‘quick’ Tumblr browse that lasts for all of eternity and then some, or after the super important crafting experiment that basically consists of gluing fluffy stuff to shiny stuff and covering the whole thing in ALL THE GLITTER!!! But time, being the fickle bitch that it is, has gone off with its cooler, thinner friends by that point, to do all the things you said you’d do once you could be bothered. Lesson one billion and fifty four: You will never be bothered. Excited? Yes. Completely kitted out and poor? Totally. But bothered? Next week, maybe.

And that’s the beauty of New Year’s resolutions. They are not happening right now when you want to be doing something much more fun involving many more calories. But they creep up on you. Time roars forward, because it totally exists, and as well as being older, greyer, fatter, wrinklier and a whole lot grumpier, you are also being shamed by your own ego. Remember when you said you were going to do yoga every day? Remember when you were going to learn to play the drums and start a punk band? How’s that novel you’ve been working on, huh? It was all well and good when it was in the future, because it was a beautiful, fictional dream. But once it’s here and it’s real and it’s not getting done, that’s when life starts to suck.

I’m not saying don’t make resolutions. No way am I saying that. Self-improvement is my guilty pleasure. I absorb self-help books and affirmations with all the smug joy of Gwyneth Paltrow, but without the awesome body and bazillions in the bank. I just think that you have to ease into bettering yourself. The thing is, we’ve all got this image of who we could be in our heads. Some are achievable and some aren’t. To figure out which camp you fall into, I’ve created a quiz. Yay! Quiz!!! Ok, so here we go…

Q1. When you imagine future you, does he/she:

  1. Look like you, but thinner/happier/healthier/chiller/richer/etc.?
  2. Look like Adriana Lima/Vin Diesel/Taylor Swift/Ryan Gosling?

Q2. Think about your goals for a second. Are they:

  1. So achievable you’re thinking of asking your gran if she wants to get bigger guns too?
  2. So terrifying that they would make The Rock burst into tears?

Q3. Have you thought about the fact that you might fail?

  1. Yeah, but it’s cool. You’re not going to beat yourself up. You’ll just get back on the horse.
  2. Fail? Me? Pfft. You’re cray cray, Holmes.

Q4. Why are you even doing this anyway, when you could be drinking ice-cream in bed for 365 days straight?

  1. Because I want to be healthier/calmer/more successful/happier/more well-rounded.
  2. Because I think it’ll help me score.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that if you’re hanging out on the b side of the fence, you’re doing it wrong. For resolutions to work out, they need to be realistic, achievable and for the right reasons. You also need to have a back-up plan, because life happens at the most inconvenient times, but if you’re ready for it, you’ll be fine. People are amazing and they do incredible stuff all the time, but in order to be amazing, you need to bullet-proof yourself, or you’ll go down with the first hit.

There’s a lot of stuff that I intended to do this year that didn’t get done, because all I had was the intention without the solid plan in place. I was totally going to do a zip line. This was definitely happening. Absolutely. But it was too cold, then life was too busy, then the place I was planning on was closed. It’s impressive how awesome we are at making excuses. The truth is, I was scared. Really scared. The idea of doing a zip line? Yes. Hell to the yes. I am so into that. Once I’ve done a zip line, I can do anything. I will collect my Wonder Woman certificate and cape and get on with my life. That’s the dream anyway. In real life I have a fear of heights so crippling that I climb two steps of a ladder and Freak. OUT. So it didn’t happen. Am I sticking it on next year’s list? Duh. Will it happen? Hopefully. I’ve taken baby steps to get over my fears, so I will cross things. But if it doesn’t, I won’t beat myself up.

This year I got a lot done, and that is because I didn’t make resolutions. I made goals. Clear, concrete, black and white goals. Here is my list for you to see how I did:

2014 goals

Because I’m me, my eyes are drawn to the big blank spaces that should be filled by ticks. But that’s bogus, because come on; I’ve done well. I’ve done a lot. A year is a long, short time. While you’re in it, it’s like wading through treacle. We wish away the minutes and the hours to get to other days. We pine for holidays and birthdays and whatevers. But the year seems to go by so much faster than the days do. Before you know it, you’re another year older and you’ve thrown it all away with wishing. And that’s how you know you’re old, because you’ve figured out that it can’t be controlled, and you start to realise that you want to hold onto every minute, before the minutes add up and it’s over. So don’t make resolutions, make goals. Try your best to achieve them, and if you fall down, get up, because the time goes whether you waste it or use it, and you can do more with less than you think.

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I Am Nine and I Am Fat

scale

I am nine and I am fat.

The older girls have noticed what I can only call man boobs, since puberty won’t hit me for another four years. They say I need a bra. On the bus ride home they push gum into my hair and spit at me. I don’t want to be fat if this is what it means. I’ve heard the word before. My mum uses it as she screws up her face in disgust and tugs at her belly. I like her belly. She lets me play patty cake with it, when we’re lying on the sofa eating biscuits dunked into her tea with no sugar. It sounds hollow inside, like something’s fallen out. Maybe that’s what’s making her sad.

I wasn’t always bigger than the other kids. I used to fit in with everyone else, hiding under a cover of approved hobbies, cheering for the right football teams and requesting Barbies for Christmas. Then my nan died and a chunk of something fell out of me, just like with mum. I never discovered what it was that fell, but I found out how to fill it. Crisps worked best, packets and packets of them, chocolate too, trifles and cakes and all the bread in the house, cut into slices and delicately dipped in egg. Then when that wasn’t enough, it was wolfed down in platefuls of toast and mountains of sandwiches, barely stopping to breathe.

I am eleven and I am obese.

That’s a new word I’ve just learned. It’s the only thing that fits me. I kind of like having a name and a status to crawl into. I’m not like the other kids. I wear tracksuits and trainers and sing musical theatre at the top of my lungs. I write stories about the friends I never made and the brothers and sisters I never had. I imagine boyfriends and send myself love letters, always too pink, too saccharin, too obvious. But now I have a word for what I am and a place where I belong. Capital O. Obese. I finger the leaflet in my hands, with the smiling, skinny kids holding carrots and jumping rope. Another has a boy that looks like me, sitting, shoulders rolled forwards, mouth wound down, alone. That’s who I am now.

I knew this was coming, the whole measurement thing, and I tried my best to get out of it. I cried until my parents wrote a note to the school nurse, claiming spurious religious reasons for my opting out of the medical. The school nurse saw right through it, (of course) and asked me directly whether I would consent to being weighed and measured FOR MY HEALTH. Being a child who can’t say no to a cupcake, I nodded silently as she guided me to the scales. The BMI chart was shaded from sunshine to vomit. I am deep into the vomit section. I get the feeling that I am a terrible person, that my double chin will somehow keep me out of heaven. I picture Satan dangling crisp packets in front of my mouth and suck it shut. I grab the rolls of fat, and I vow to live on carrot sticks and fresh air until I fall into the friendly, yellow slice of the graph, labelling me ‘OK’.

I am thirteen and nothing’s growing the way it’s supposed to.

I’ve seen pictures, so you’d think I’d be prepared, but I’ve decided that I’m an alien, or a genetic mutation that hasn’t been seen before. I’ve yet to discover my super power. I hope it’s invisibility. How I’ve prayed for that. My boobs are growing down instead of out. My body’s growing out instead of up. My sweat stinks of cigarettes and everyone’s convinced that I’ve started smoking. I haven’t. My mum’s cigarette smoke seeps into everything. Even smelling like an ashtray can’t add a popularity point to my score. If anything, I’m in the minus digits.

I’ve invented a boyfriend. His name’s Ashley and I send soppy texts to my own number to prove his existence. No-one’s figured it out yet. Ashley thinks I’m beautiful. He calls my dimples cute and thinks I look perfect without any makeup. Ashley doesn’t care that I’m four sizes bigger than the other girls, that my bedroom floor is littered with chocolate pudding pots with the sides licked clean, that the number on the scale keeps ticking up and up and up. Ashley doesn’t care because he’s imaginary. Real boys look at me like I have the plague. They part like the red sea when I walk through the halls. Sometimes I fall into believing my own beautiful lie, until I have to text myself again and the vision cracks and breaks. Then I cry into my pillow and wonder how I could be so stupid.

I am seventeen and I have a boyfriend that I didn’t earn.

Every time he touches me, I cringe away from his fingertips, certain that he can feel my worthlessness through my t-shirt. I’m too fat for a boyfriend really, everyone thinks it and it’s not like I don’t know. I just keep crossing my fingers and hoping that he doesn’t realise and run away. I’m afraid to hold his hand. He thinks it’s him. I just don’t want to claim him in public, don’t want the world to know how low he’s stooped on the social scale. I don’t want to embarrass him. His best friend has all the fat jokes you can think of on repeat, and all the jibes waiting on the tip of his tongue to snipe at me, to slap me back in line. I think he thinks I haven’t heard them before, that with every footstep, I’m not calling myself the names that hurt the most, urging myself to walk faster. Fat. Bitch. Fat. Bitch.

I’m waiting for the day my boyfriend sees through my veneer. It’s just hard for me to pretend to be happy when he’s getting so close. One day I’ll let him under my skin. One day I’ll let him underneath my clothes. His hands will wander and freeze when they feel flesh, warm thick flesh that shifts an inch with every movement. Sometimes I think that I’m a good liar, like maybe the outside world sees the girl I’m projecting. Then I see myself side on, my stomach stretched out and my head shrunken by car windows in the sun, and I realise it’s only myself I’m fooling. There is no shell and there is no camouflage and there is no safety net. I’ve jumped. For him I’ve jumped, and he hasn’t run yet. Perhaps this is love. Maybe love isn’t roses and perfumed love notes and stretching up to reach his lips in the rain, but feeling swollen, dimpled skin and not giving up and going home.

I am eighteen and I am hungry.

I’ve been living on too little for too long. My dad told me to stop eating and I did. Just like that. For years I’ve been stuffing my face with everything that my hands can grab, and now I’ve discovered the secret. Just stop. At first it was a revelation. The scale’s hands juddered left every morning, another pound down. Every time my stomach growled beneath my desk I would smile, superior in my starvation. I was getting thinner. With every minute that I didn’t taste or chew or swallow, I was shrinking, purifying, transforming. And then I turned the corner and smacked right into a wall. I can’t sleep. I can’t think. I can’t string a sentence together. All I know is the clack of the scale as my soles slap against it, and the pounding of my heart, too loud, as I wait, naked and shivering, staring blindly into the bathroom mirror.

My life has become a series of mathematical equations. I used to see the world in Guitar Hero format. I’d close my eyes and reds and greens would descend on me. Now I close my eyes and I see ones and twos and, God forbid, fives, flashing like warning lights, telling me to stop eating. There are too many numbers. 100 kcals + 580 kcals. How many grams of fat? How much do I need to eat to lose? Too late. How much to sustain? Too late. How much am I going to gain? How long until dinner? BMIs, BMRs, fluctuating dress sizes, calories in an avocado, calories in a rice cake. I could drink five hundred cans of diet soda and be fine. I’ve forgotten my cell phone number again.

I am nineteen and I am alone.

The inevitable happened. He dumped me. I should have seen it coming, but I fell into the fairy tale. His mum told him that he needs to be single right now. He’s going to university and he should be open to new things and new people. People that aren’t me. I want to hate her, but I know she’s right. I’m like a rusty anchor dragging him down into the dark. I keep trying to remember that the success rate for first loves is hardly impressive anyway, but deep down I know it’s me. If I was thinner, I’d be harder to leave. If I was beautiful, I’d be worth keeping. If I was anything other than myself, I wouldn’t be scrolling down his Myspace page, clicking constantly at the word ‘single’ as if I could undo it, whilst shovelling ice-cream into my mouth.

I feel like I should be grateful that I had him at all. I feel like the last two years were charity work for him. He was doing me a favour and now I should just let him leave for greater things and a wider world. It’s been, what, two weeks and he has a new girlfriend already. She looks a lot like me. Her cheeks hide her eyes when she smiles, but she doesn’t smile often enough to tell. Still my brain blames the blubber that’s bulging out beneath my skin, crowding around my elbows and my knees. I still have his hat, and his hoodie, and a pair of pants that I tried to squeeze into, but failed. It feels like a metaphor for us, so I keep them, even though they don’t fit.

I am twenty-six and I am fat.

I’m only just learning what my body can do and thinking how dumb that is. My whole life I’ve seen my stomach as a sign of my status, my thighs as mottled, bloated skin packed with lard, intent on scraping against each other just to piss me off, my boobs as flaps of skin to be built up with padded bras and one day slit open and stuffed with silicone. It never occurred to me that my body is fit for purpose. My body moves. My feet can take me anywhere. My hands can hold someone else’s. My eyes can show me the world if I care to look hard enough. My body is a gift and I’m sick of hating it.

So what if it’s not like the pictures in the magazines? I am not a girl in a magazine. I am a real person and I’m done with living my whole day in someone else’s terms. If I have cake, the world won’t implode. If my jeans are snug fresh from the wash, it’ll be all right. If someone makes a catty comment about my bingo wings, that’s their damage. I don’t have time for other people’s opinions, and I don’t have time to starve and pop pills and develop complicated mathematical formulae for how much salad is too much. As long as I can dance, I will, and as long as I can smile, I should.

When I look at strangers, I don’t see legs and stomachs and arms and cheeks. I see people. We are people. We are souls stuffed into bodies. We are brains and hearts. We are doers, dreamers, thinkers, achievers. We can climb mountains and run marathons and skydive. We build computers and write books and give birth. We are gifted with these amazing tools and we’re all too eager to insult them or scar them or starve them. We try to squeeze our bodies into soul-shaped holes and it’s impossible. I’m never going to look like someone else and that’s fine, because I am me, with all my lumps and bumps and beauty spots and bruises.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to say that you like the way you look. Even if you’re Adriana Lima, it’s hard because we are brought up to find faults. “Oh my gosh, my nose is so big.” “Yeah? Well check out these pimples.” It’s all a big competition of who can be the ugliest, who can be the saddest. And while we’re busy picking ourselves apart, we’re only too quick to throw compliments at other people. “Shut up, you look great. You’re crazy!” How about you compliment yourself, because you’re crazy too, and you’re beautiful, just like them. I’m beautiful, and I am not a mannequin or a painting or a dream. I am a real girl with real feelings.

So from now on, whenever people look at me they won’t see a body. I won’t let them. They will see a smile, perfectly formed, because I know who I am, and I’m done with hiding it under blankets of insecurity.

I am twenty-six and I am gorgeous, and my BMI can go die in a fire.

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Time for Change…

change

I’m flailing around a bit right now, looking for something, anything, to hold onto. And all the while, like the contrary girl I am, I’m pushing everything away, my sanity, my health, my career, everything. So I’ve decided to write a list of things that I’m screwing up on, and how I intend to fix them, if only to wave a flag of good intentions and win a few Brownie points to cash in. Here we go…

Attitude

How I am right now:

This is the biggie. I am generally an annoyingly cheerful person. I’m talking bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun- Please stop it now, before I change my stance on pacifism. I am an expert on upsides, the sort of person who will drop an anvil on her big toe and cheerily trill ‘oh sugar’, when anyone owning a single bone marked ‘normal’ would make full use of every swear word they’ve ever been taught, even the French ones. But when I fall in the misery swamp, I fall right down to the bottom, and everything is a problem. I hate everything and everyone, everything is pointless, nothing is right, and I just want to lie in bed and complain about things.

What I’m doing about it:

I am challenging myself to think of five positives for every negative. For example, if the anvil were to decide that it hadn’t done enough damage, and go for my other toe, I might complain about the fact that my toe f%$*&@g hurts, but then, being forced to find the upsides, I would realise that the anvil missed my skull twice, (which is lucky!) I hadn’t painted my toenails, so there was no chipping involved, I now have a lawsuit on my hands with the anvil-carrying company, which could lead to a swimming pool and better anvil-transportation laws, it could have been something worse than an anvil, for example, a poisonous, radioactive, laser shark, and the anvil is a lovely shade of grey, which is nice. I feel awesome already, and I didn’t even have to have an anvil incident!

Money

How I am right now:

Ugh. When I am sad, I decide that buying everything in the world is the answer. I am especially drawn to fluffy things, sparkly things, things intended for children under the age of five, things that will never fit me, things that I would never wear, even if I was a hooker with the self-esteem of Charlie Sheen, notebooks, (I have approximately two hundred already) books, (this is reasonable – there is no such thing as enough books) and anything that costs my entire pay cheque becomes ridonculously tempting. Basically this is me:

shut up

And that’s bad and it needs to stop. Mainly because I’m spending all my book money on lucky cats and bread machines.

What I’m doing about it:

Not spending money basically, which is harder than it sounds. Like way harder. It’s like that thing when heroin addicts can avoid heroin, alcoholics can avoid alcohol, and fat people and spenders are screwed. I’m screwed. I still have to buy food, (more on this later) and I still have to buy essential things, (like batteries and an ancient, battered collection of Shakespeare. Illustrated. Like I said, essential) and I still have to browse Etsy for a few hours a day, just in case I see something that I fall in love with, so I can cry into my pillow and complain about the world shortage of rich, eligible bachelors. But it’s getting easier. I just have to remember the difference between want and need, and essential and non-essential. For example, I WANT a cushion with Benedict Cumberbatch’s face on it, so I can stare lovingly into his eyes before I fall asleep and- Nope, bad example. I kind of do actually need that…

Food

How I am right now:

Ah food, you delicious, delicious bastard. How you taunt me with your seeping sauces and your gooey middles and your melt on the mouth-ness. But I know what you’re doing. Oh yes, I’m onto you. I see the pounds creeping on, like blubbery ninjas, sneaking in through my nostrils while I sleep and hanging out on my hips, especially my right one for some reason. I notice my jeans getting tighter and the mirror being meaner and everything going blurry every time I try on clothes in a changing room. But the joke’s on you, food, because I am embarking on another diet, and I will lose weight, (only to put it all back on again) so ha. That’ll teach you.

What I’m doing about it:

It’s getting boring now. Losing weight, gaining weight, and losing weight again. It’s like a never ending merry-go-round of compliments and odd looks and new clothes and old clothes, of fat days and skirt days and taking photos and taking down anyone in a thirty mile radius with a camera. It’s tedious and it’s tiring and it sucks. Eating right and exercising is like the Holy Grail to someone like me, but where the hell is it? And how and why and all the questions. You exercise and it transforms you into a ravenous eating machine. You eat healthily and can barely move, such is the energy licked from carrot sticks and lettuce wraps. I’m being facetious, I know. I’m being pig-headed and awkward and wilfully ignorant and basically doing everything I can to eat cake and shrug and say that diets don’t work for me. Well they do, and it starts, like always, tomorrow.

Pepsi

How I am right now:

The fact that it’s Pepsi and not Coke says a lot. For those of you in the know, I used to have a hardcore Coke problem. We’re talking the carbonated beverage, not the white powder.  I was easily glugging three litres of the stuff a day. It was bad. Then I kicked the habit, was very proud of myself, and wrote a blog about it. Everything was wonderful… Until I got sad again. Now, because I am me, and sometimes I think I’m smarter than I actually I am, in the grip of my depression I decided to poison my body from the inside, and I needed some heavy duty stuff. But because I’d kicked Coke, I couldn’t go back. Oh no. I was going to reach for something that didn’t have the power to reel me in, something that I could put down as easily as I picked it up. I went for the Daria to my Quinn, the sister that Coke wouldn’t be seen dead with. I chose Pepsi. And I got hooked. Because brown liquid chemicals are brown liquid chemicals, and labels are lies.

What I’m doing about it:

Drinking all the Pepsi in the world ever. Because maybe Pepsi and Coke aren’t that different, and this time I’m not talking about the drink. I don’t know. I will quit. I can quit. I just… Now isn’t the right time for me. I mean, I’ve got all these excuses ready, and it wouldn’t be right not to use them. Ok, ok. I will quit, and soon. Just, let me deal with the other stuff first, yeah? For now I’m going to savour the taste of aspartame and make a list of upsides.

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Pep Talk

justkeepswimming

Stop it. Stop feeling crappy right now. Do you know how awesome you are? How funny and smart and special? There isn’t a single person in the world like you. And I know that sometimes that might not feel like a blessing, when you’re getting on your own nerves again, when you’re stuffing the entire contents of your fridge between your already greasy lips and you have no idea why, but you are not that moment.

You are not the way that your jeans feel tight, or the way that you cried when he said what he said. You are not the score on that test, or that job rejection or the feeling that dragged you almost through the gutter when those guys shouted those words across the street. You aren’t the books you haven’t read, or the people you don’t know, or the places you haven’t been. You aren’t too old or too fat or too boring. You aren’t anything that anyone thinks is bad.

I know that times are tough, and I know that nothing seems to cover the hurt that won’t stop bleeding. I know that you’re reading this through narrowed eyes, thinking it’s all stupid and what do I know anyway? I don’t know you. Even if I do know you, I don’t know you, know you. I can’t imagine all the ways you stab yourself in the brain, the words you scream with every step you take, every breath you breath, every second of eye contact you don’t make, because you’re this or you’re that or whatever.

But I know what I do to myself, and I know that it has to stop. Right now.

Every second is another tick on a chart, another tick of the clock away from who you were, who you don’t want to be, who you’re running from. You’re not her. You’re not him. You’re not your past. Right now is all you can control, and as long as you’re moving, you’re doing. You should be proud. Every day that you haul yourself out of bed is another success. Every time you get dressed, you’re pushing through the sludge and out the other side. Every time you smile, you’re beating your demons with a baseball bat. You’re a hero.

So don’t feel bad for the weight that you’ve gained, or the Facebook pages you’ve stalked, or the catty comments you made when her back was turned. That’s gone. Done. Over. Unless you’ve got a time machine, you’re not going to change it, and if you have a time machine, what are you doing reading this article? Go back and stop them cancelling Clarissa Explains it All. The world needs you.

To anyone who isn’t saving society from a lack of thrift shop clothes and ladders banging against windows, to you I say just keep swimming. It’s a long road, but there’s a lot of cool stuff that you’ll find in the laybys, and down dirt tracks and in the woods when you’re searching for somewhere to pee. There will be blurred parties and autumn days hiding under the covers from the sun, sipping hot chocolate and scalding pyjama-clad legs. There will be eyelid kisses and snow angels and water fights. There will be DVD marathons and park benches and sand-covered sandwiches and not enough time in the sea. There will be life, sucked up through your nostrils and drunk down by your eyes and it’ll just keep flooding in. There is no time to give up and go home, because the world will keep spinning.

You’re still in it, so keep living, and don’t worry, because there isn’t enough time for that.

You are who you are now, and that’s good enough.

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