1. Be with nature wherever you are; climb trees, lie in the grass, take trips to the seaside, and genuinely marvel at the sky.
My skin is tanned now; my eyes are a lighter shade of brown. The hair on my arms is blonde and downy, and linens fill my wardrobe and sway with me in starched sounds as I walk. There's an ancient oak near the house where I grew up. Each time I return to it, I expect it to feel shrunken, but it doesn't. It seems that no matter how fast I grow up, I stay the same size. I turn to him to ask where he finds his peace. He turns to me in stoic stillness and asks me to watch him beneath the next storm and ask again. There is peace in nature, just as there is battle.
There is no greater love of mine than the love of the sea. I think I should leave my lover for it. I was in Edinburgh in August. I ate a sandwich and stared at the ocean. She stared back at me. We sat in stasis for four hours; I listened for the music between her crashing notes. I got lost in the sky. She told me everything.
2. Live in and for the moment
When the city reaches boiling point, it feels painfully close. The day the world will burn and we will finally feel everything. Scorched ground. Skin sore and pink. Fire on the tracks that lead into town. The elements pull us back to the moment. So we hold onto it with sweaty palms, the twisted sticky sheets proof that we exist. When you complain of poor sleep, I think of the rain that will come and the winter after and winters always feel like they last forever. But for now we are here sitting on your blanket in the park, sipping canned cocktails, watching the light dart between branches on the trees. The sun makes us feel clean. When the rain finally did arrive, I let my skin get damp, my hair turn frizzy. Then later, playing ‘Happy When It Rains’ and watching the storm drown the tarmac below, I realised we live on the edge of the 6 o’clock weather forecast, the heat and rain ensconcing us in the moment forever.
3. Do things that make you feel free; dance when you want to, lie under the sun and moon, walk in the rain, stay out late, and run without inhibitions
There's a connection between childhood and girlhood; the running, the screaming, and the uninhibition. Sometimes I just want to be cold. Sometimes I want to wear my grief on the outside. Sometimes I want to destroy so I can reconstruct. Sometimes I want to laugh unprompted. Sometimes I want to cry unprompted. Sometimes I want to run. Sometimes, I look to women, and I think perhaps the adolescent madness is starved off, not something that disappears with the taste buds that had me craving dip dabs and sherbet lemon. Do you see the glow in my eyes as I ripple the sand with my feet? Do you see how my belly moves when I scream? Do you see how my face softens under moonlight, how my eyes light up to music more when it's late at night? Do you see how our primitive desires are not a product of childhood but a product of humanhood? Do you want to walk with me at midnight?
This summer, I felt pain that connected me with before; to the me who hurt loudly and wore it itching beneath long sleeves, and I decided to scream this time. I filled my lungs and gutturally roared until all else fell silent, and the only thing that remained unchanged was the sun-softened tarmac and the people who raised me. All else was quelled, dirtied, grounded. I screamed as a child would, as a woman should, and then I ran to freedom.
4. Read, Listen, Watch, Feel, Think
The thud of my feet against the barren grass echoes into my bones, and I can feel it in my eye sockets. I walked to the place I used to walk to nightly, where I would smoke cigarettes and shroud myself with impulse body spray before I walked through the front door. It was different now; I was older, full of boredom and tired of the heat. I actually followed a cat here; she was laid on the side of the road, and we played together for a while before she strutted off in this direction, and I found myself where I've always found myself; at the top of Deakin Leas, lost and found. I lay for a while and watched the clouds. Then I wanted to read T.S Eliot, so I loaded 'The Hollow Men' onto my phone, turned to lie on my stomach, and recited it to the bees. I let my phone fall to the ground as I uttered the last lines and considered that the more time went on, the more this rang true. It was 32 degrees in England, and the streets were as desolate as the grass was thirsty. Perhaps this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a dehydrated whimper.
5. Wear whatever is weird by your hometown standards
A sea of school buses. Houses that never change. The real world always a train ride away. We’re coming of age in suburbia, holding our breath, crossing our fingers, waiting for life to begin. Sometimes we visit a different high street, search the skeletons of shops in another small town. Wherever we go, we find them. We watch them dig their heels in, push defiant and alone against the grown up grain. Sometimes they’re in all black, sad hope and impatience from behind a haphazardly chopped fringe and heavy dark eyes. Lip piercings. Striped tops. Others frozen in time at the skatepark, a blur of oversized tees and cigarette smoke haze. Or they sit in parks with fishnet tights, stolen vodka and a smirk. Timeless half-drunk melodrama when, at sixteen in the suburbs, we’re nobody and we could be anybody. An in between age in an in between place, using the only clothes our pocket money can buy as a doorway into another world when our worlds still feel so small. I play this precarious dress up game each morning and step through the school gates more defiant than the day before.
6. Stay aware of how romantic things are, photograph them, write them down, crystalise them
The needle falls down and we’re dancing in living rooms to teenage heroes. This could be 2014. Or 1996. Or 1987. There’s romance in the sameness of these rituals; a need to move our bodies in friends’ houses with dust and IKEA furniture and beer. I sway like I always have on the first day of spring. Smell of barbecue through open windows. Someone tells a joke. The same song plays in a taxi ride to the airport at 3am. Sleeping city, liminal space. The queen died and we walked home from the pub in the rain, stumbled in like two wet dogs, writing stories to tell our grandchildren.
7. Cut your hair, it will grow back
I faced the mirror, met my eyes and ached to meet them outside of the glass. I touched my hair, stroked my cheek and stuck out my tongue. The sensations were warped in the reflection backwards. I suppose they were. I snipped at my hair until it was changed, and I continued until I was different. I made tea. I found myself drawn to shiny surfaces like Narcissus. I ached to experience myself; how it is to witness me and not be me. I wondered how I looked now and if it reflected the way that I thought. I thought about how I might look to people who don't know my thoughts. I thought about how I couldn't plait my hair tomorrow or tie it in a ponytail when I got hot. I thought that short hair might not be such a problem in the heat, and I smiled. I ran my fingers through it all night and felt the absence of it. I woke up to a different me, and I stepped into the world more defined.
It grew back. I cut it again.
8. Notice first times whenever they come and feel them like you always have
I walked until London didn’t feel like London anymore. In those days, the area still felt new to me. Green Lanes leading onto Wood Green leading onto the first fringes of suburbia. I walked past kebab shops and fruit markets and the crappy little shopping centre. I had wanted to escape to the city, but the sound of Seven Sisters road grew oppressive. My heart hurt. So when I reached the semi-detached houses, makeshift football pitches and cluster of schools, I was surprised to feel comfort in their familiarity. Yet, it was the first time I’d come here and I had never felt more alone. The man in the corner shop sold me chocolate milk and a peach. I kept my sunglasses on, scared he could read me if he saw my eyes. It was the last day of summer and there was a feeling that we all wanted it to end. I didn’t. I touched my lighter in my pocket. I’d spent too long this summer thinking about the past. I pushed myself forwards to a place I’d never been before, knowing that one day I’d romanticise this first time too. But for now, I sat on a park bench feeling the sensation of the sun and my first summer in the city until I finally decided to start the long walk home.
9. Stay aware of bitterness in yourself and others
Last winter, I found myself walking around with an expression acrid from the butcher's blood that I stepped over on my way to work. I began to count the bones in the gutters and listen out for the wails of poverty hidden behind the handsome, independent cafes of Southeast London. Soon, the smell of animal blood hung in my nostrils, and my eyes became like magnets to destruction and neglect, and I began counting the roadkill on country lanes as I drove back to my childhood home. I noticed damp patches instead of floral arrangements; I shrivelled my nose at the sight of street litter instead of cloud gazing; in short, I became hard to be around. The bitter taste in my mouth was a constant reminder of the bad. My tongue became swollen, my words came out spiked like nettle, and I had little reason to leave the room I wasn't cleaning. I became bitter.
What happens when someone starts to see more of the bad and less of the good? When you walk around hung-headed and rained upon? Is that what makes your soul hungry? Earth is balanced in bitterness and sweetness; there is so much to cry over and an abundance of resources to replenish the tears with laughter. We run out of neither. Stay close to the freedom of emotion, allow the beauty to rain atop the bitterness and neutralise it.
10. Drink lots of water
I turn on the tap and watch the water flow. Pile of dirty dishes, yellow glow from the neighbouring flat. It all comes back to water. It all comes back to water. My throat is dry. I drank too much last night. I want the rain to wash over me, but I’m too weary to go outside. I want to step into the sea, but I live in the city. The water from the tap cools. I fill my glass, tip it back, feel it drip, think of this moment and every other moment I take for granted. I tell myself I’ll drink eight glasses today, drown in all the things I’m supposed to do. I had a dream we were drowning once, woke up in your arms to the news of dead bodies off the coast of Camber. We only let the waves touch our feet the next day.
11. Write every day, write about everything, write about love
A yellow book stands on a bookshelf about fifty miles from here. A brown one with a blue star lies hidden beneath a fireplace, unmoved for a decade. An extract:
'I love it when the sky is blue, but the temperature makes you question whether the blood running through your veins is still warm. The world seems sharper, more defined as if it's on a hinge to another place, as if you step too hard, you might fall through and disappear, so all you're left with is memories.'
In November, I spent three hours reading my journals like they were epic novels. My unique experiences were not that different from the tales of love and loss that I have read or witnessed elsewhere; all the heartache, the drugs, the misadventure, it had all been done before and will be done again. There is so much beauty in that simplicity, and it is not so frightening to be alive. I used to be angry with the idea that my pain is not unique, as sometimes when it is so earth-shattering, it feels as if it should be. It is not unique. I have felt more than some and less than others, and the same as a group of other lonely individuals. It is connective, and it is communal. It is beautiful. Note down your experiences, however mundane, and read them back when you are old and see how we all feel with the same colours.
12. Cry about everything, cry about love
The couple kiss four times beneath the light of the yellow street lights then continue walking down the street with their dog. Standing beneath a north London bus stop, I’m a little drunk, watching the blurry videos of the gig on my phone and wondering when I started to relate to people who said that couples make them feel sick. I’ve always loved love even when I wasn’t in it, pledged my allegiance to old pop songs, grew proud of my heartbreak. But tonight, I watched another couple at the gig, how he stood with his arms around her, a whole head taller and they both looked so safe while I stood next to an old friend from uni, sipping lager from a can and trying not to think about tomorrow or the fact that I would never be able to express myself the way the band onstage could. I read ‘In The End It Was All About Love’ and wrote in the back of Tom’s copy to give back to him. In it, the writer’s therapist tells him to feel his loneliness, so he goes home and wails into his pillow and then sleeps. In the morning, he gets up as usual. There is work to do. So, I get home, cry about love. Then tell myself to, sleep, sleep, sleep.
13. Laugh about everything, laugh about love
We promised ourselves we'd make a movie about us. We sat two meters apart, bowling socks into shampoo bottles last December because she wanted to go home for Christmas, and I had a temperature and a cough. We were living above Peckham Rye, and our flat had two balconies, so we met outside every so often to smoke cigarettes and talk through the air and into the night. We burnt candles, ordered beer to our door, and laughed in the face of separation. We were unbeaten. We spoke about everything, how our last boyfriends fucked us over, and then we howled as we were mean about them; perhaps our laughter was metallic with spite, but I don't think it mattered. We laughed when we caught ourselves mid-bowl at the hilarity of it, but then we praised ourselves for finding the fun amid the disaster. We cried a bit, too. And then we laughed about how emotional we felt. It was a dramatic feat to hold a Christmas party in a two-bed flat in isolation from each other, but we did, and we laughed.
14. Succumb to youth; grow up forever
We chase the sunset down the beach. Orange cuts across the horizon like fire. The sky is a giant, the sea a magnet for our surrender. Someone sets off fireworks over there, a flash flung into the deep blue. We’re drunk and it’s summer. There’s friendship and sand and the tinny sound of music from a phone speaker. We’re no longer on our way somewhere. We’ve arrived. The summer evening like silk against our skin is enough, and clarity hangs on the peripheries. Lost in dreamland, he’s still smoking all night on the ghost train, but we’re somewhere no one can reach us, somehow still singing like we’re seventeen spinning records in my teenage bedroom. But this time, we sink fingers into sand and talk sad but stay defiant. Lying on the beach and growing into our pain, we shudder and realise, with relief, that life has only just begun.