Twenty-six sentences on turning 26

Today, I reach my 26-year breathing streak. Approaching another year closer to my last breath, I recount the past year in search of pride. What do I find? There are the advertisements I wrote, which appeared in the country’s most widely read newspapers. Let us just not name them, nor elaborate on how banal the copy. For a travel magazine, I wrote about amazing destinations across the globe without ever boarding a plane, or even leaving my chair. This was the year I got to say, “I am a copywriter.” Hurrah, I have acquired another label that tastes foul on my tongue and is deafeningly dull to my ears. But I guess it counts as a survival skill in this world of consume, consume, consume. (Not that I’ve found anyone who will pay me to help the world gorge itself to death.) Fortunately, I have made honest coin serving drinks to patrons of the performing arts. Although the pay is little, the reward is great.

Let work not dictate the terms of achievement, however, for the real pride lies in what is given freely without hesitation. I have volunteered my time liberally to others and have only regretted time I squandered whilst alone. This year, I wrote letters to family and friends, and I penned a tale that only I and one other would understand. I witnessed an exchange of vows, the engagement of two I hold dear, stood beside my pals who graduated, celebrated a new boy soon to enter the world, and I danced until every inch of my body ached for days. And this year, I committed my days to the page, memories etched in black ink. Every penstroke carries the hope that there will be more. It was a year where self-affirmation stood equal to self-deprecation. The mirror man and I are not yet friends, but he has mellowed and eased up on his cruelty. And though my chronic singledom persists, I am fortunate to surround myself with loving friends. It is a privilege to be a side character in the extraordinary stories of the most extraordinary of people.

Sixteen-year-old me had set some strict goals for my 26-year-old self. And I had vowed that if I were unsuccessful, I would immigrate to the land of the unliving. If I were to honour my younger self, you would be reading my final words. You can rest assured that you haven’t heard the last from me.


Redirecting my creative energy

After much inactivity, I finally managed to send out a new issue of my newsletter.

Here’s a general update taken from the newsletter’s writing report:

On Tuesday 12th July, I tested positive for COVID. I would continue to test positive until Sunday 24th. The illness and isolation, matched with that disgusting heatwave that hit parts of Britain with 40-degree temperatures, completely derailed my July.

I lost work. I lost what passed for a routine. I lost motivation. And at times I thought I’d lose my will to live.

The COVID symptoms were not so terrible, they were mostly gone after a week. But I was not prepared for how torturous the isolation would be.

During that time, I could not bring myself to blog, write fiction or poetry, or send out a newsletter. All I could manage was to write in my journal. Even if it was just to complain about my isolation. But amidst the whining, I found some clarity through thinking on the page.

A lot of creative energy has been misdirected towards the wrong kind of writing for me. I spend too much time thinking about what I can turn into short-form content, drafting and scrapping so many blog posts, rather than searching for stories. And telling stories is what I really love.

So, I’m going to spend August focusing on writing stories. I’m going to write some fiction, but I want to have a go at writing more personal stories too.


There is no right to sex, but we should talk about the politics of desire

Paperback cover of The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan

Sex, which we think of as the most private of acts, is in reality a public thing. The roles we play, the emotions we feel, who gives, who takes, who demands, who serves, who wants, who is wanted, who benefits, who suffers: the rules for all this were set long before we entered the world.

The above quote is taken from the introduction to Amia Srinivasan’s essay collection The Right to Sex, and it summarises why we all need to talk about sex. There’s a lot going unsaid that needs saying, and it’s not just a discussion between intimate partners — it’s a public conversation with societal implications.


Embracing obscurity

I’m a nobody, which is a fortunate place to be.

In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how “In the beginning, obscurity is good”. The reason obscurity is so valuable is that nobody is paying attention to you whilst you fuck up and constantly reinvent yourself. You get to experiment with different ideas and drop things that aren’t working for you without consequences.

Once you lose your obscurity, that’s when the real pressure comes. Or as Kleon better puts it:

There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better. No public image to manage. No huge paycheck on the line. No stockholders. No e-mails from your agent. No hangers-on.

You’ll never get that freedom back again once people start paying you attention, and especially not once they start paying you money.

So, I’m embracing my obscurity and throwing a lot of shit at the wall whilst I continue to discover more about myself as a writer.

To be clear, I’m aiming to make the shit as good as possible, even if none of it sticks. I’m aware that there are several of you are watching, but what I hope is that you’ll bear with me and enjoy the ride as much as I will.

I wrote earlier this week about testing different writing processes to see what breaks and what I can fix. Right now, I’m in a phase of trialling lots of things and seeing what works for me. Hopefully, what I’ll find is a way to get more stuff out there and we can all appreciate the mess together.


Finding out what breaks and seeing if I can fix it

I began writing at 14. Back then I wrote embarrassingly bad rap songs, which were often repetitive and were imitations of far more competent lyricists.

What amazes me now, though, is how consistent I used to be. Back then I would come home from school, sit in front of Microsoft Word for an hour and mash out a few verses and a chorus — every single line ending in rhyme.

But whenever I tried to pen lyrics into a notebook, I could never finish a song. None of the words ever looked right on paper. Rhymes did not come so easily, and every line felt forced.

Flash forward 11 years to now, I most enjoy drafting poetry by hand. In fact, pen and paper has become my favourite method of drafting anything creative.

In all the years I’ve been writing, never have I worked out what process works best for me. Whenever I think I’ve found an answer my system breaks, and I lose the habit once again.

That’s where I’m currently at as a writer, trialling new ways of working and seeing if it sticks or breaks. And if it does break, rather than abandoning it altogether and stalling my writing habit, I’m going to see what I can fix.


Books I’ve read in 2022 (so far)

Collage of all 10 book covers featured in blog post

Considering we’re more than a third of the way through the year, I’ve not read nearly as many books as I would have liked.

But I thought I’d do a roundup of all the books I have read so far this year and share some quick thoughts.


Maybe social media isn’t for me

When there’s bad news, I’m always in the same place. I’ve just woken up, I’m in bed and I’m on Twitter.

It’s where I was when my heart broke upon learning the Conservatives had won the 2019 General Election. When the January 6th Capitol Riots happened, I had watched a dozen videos before my first cup of coffee. And I was still under my warm duvet when I learnt of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and panicked over fears of nuclear annihilation.

I average anywhere between 12 and 16 hours of social media usage per week, of which most of that is scrolling through Twitter. When you take out 8 hours of sleep, 16 hours is a full waking day. That’s a whole lot of wasted time. On Monday alone, I spent over three hours on social media — 2 hours 17 minutes on Twitter.

Bear in mind, I’m a lurker, not a poster. Every morning I start the day by microwaving my brain with the hottest takes, and I don’t even engage in any cathartic dunking with a quippy quote tweet to maintain an equilibrium.

What’s hard about admitting this is a problem for me is that I needed social media to find who I am today. The combination of a university education, working in an academic library and creating a Twitter account were all necessary to realise that my secondary school education and upbringing had enclosed me in a conservative bubble. And whilst going to university and working in a library had pivotal roles in bursting that bubble, Twitter (embarrassingly?) did much of the heavy lifting.

One of the biggest pros of social media is that it grants us all access to a wide array of perspectives. Not all perspectives are equal, of course. Disinformation is rife and spreads like wildfire, for example. But we can find trustworthy and intelligent voices on these platforms.

However, the bubble has long since burst and it’s time to re-evaluate my relationship with social media. I must be responsible for my own education beyond what the social media algorithms push in front of me. Especially now that I’m growing more aware of the negative effect it is having on my mental health.


Thoughts and quotes from Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You?”

Hardback cover of Sally Rooney's "Beautiful World, Where Are You?"

Last week, I finished Sally Rooney’s third novel Beautiful World, Where Are You? I can’t say I loved it like I did Normal People — one of my favourite books of 2020 — but I still enjoyed this follow-up.

Rooney can transform even the most mundane of human interactions into engaging prose, whilst also making her characters feel like real people with frustrating but compelling flaws.  

However, it wasn’t the relationships that most gripped me in this book, it was the emails protagonists Alice and Eileen exchanged every other chapter. Their emails are treated like the modern-day equivalent of letters that they are, and within them the two women discuss politics, religion, societal issues, among other things.

Whilst character interactions outside of these emails also pose interesting questions, I felt the real meat of the novel was in these emails.

So I decided to pull out 5 key points, with quotes, and share them here.


Finally caught the Wordle bug

My Wordle guesses for 10th – 13th March

When the Wordle trend started, I didn’t care much for it. I wasn’t bothered by a bunch of black, yellow and green squares flooding my timeline, and I wasn’t intrigued either. It was just a thing other people did.

Then last week I was on a train and didn’t have a book with me. Bored, I decided to give this Wordle game a go.

Now I’m hooked.


15 things I could blog about but currently don’t

During the catch-up call I had with my friend Ellie the other night, she described her week as having been filled with thoughts rather than events. This has really stuck with me as it perfectly describes my week almost every week. Whilst my life is rarely eventful, my brain never takes a day off.

This also made me think about my writing — or lack thereof. I must create the impression I spend little time with my writing considering I share little of it. What doesn’t come across is all the ideas and plans I scrap or put on hold. Only a fraction of what pops into my brain makes it to the page, and an even smaller fraction of what does get written is shared on the Internet.

So I decided to make a long list of ideas I’ve had for this blog, which may or may not turn into future content. I understand it’s arguably tedious to write content about content, let alone content about content that doesn’t exist. But I thought it might be fun to illustrate how I come up with ideas and say a bit more about myself.