CAROLE JOHNSTONE

British Fantasy Award Winner 2014; 3x British Fantasy Award Nominee

Friday, 29 January 2016

Life's Too Short for Juggling

When I lived in Glasgow, I spent a few years living in vast houseshares with mostly mad strangers. One of these (mid-tier mad, although he lasted less time in that particular houseshare than I did) used to call anything that was worse than shit, shit on a stick.  I never knew why shit on a stick was any worse than just shit, but it was. And on Hogmanay last year, as I was feeling like crap, determined not to give that most significant of midnights any of my miserable attention, that long-remembered phrase was all that I could think of.  Because 2015 really was shit on a stick.

But I’ll tell you a couple of great things about years that are shit on a stick. They make you take a long hard look at your life: at who your friends are, and at who you are.  Your life is your life, of course; it’s whatever you make it, blah, blah – but pretty often what you’ve made of it is some horrible amalgamation of everything you did want, you now want, you think you will want. And then everything else that actually happens to you when you’re not looking.  It’s chaotic, exhausting, and unfulfilling.  It’s crammed full of every opportunity and every eventuality, striving towards fuck knows what; full of pleasing everyone, trying to be liked by everyone; full of self-promotion and chronic self doubt, and endless, endless juggling – and mostly you just keep on going because if you stop you’re pretty sure you’ll drop the lot.

At the end of 2015, I had good cause and pause to wonder when it was that I’d let my life get away from me; when I’d started considering myself worth so little that nearly everyone else’s opinion (or lack of) mattered more than my own.  Most of us do, women probably more: you make excuses for friends who are shit on a stick friends (and, of course, that also goes for professional relationships too, and for some, family), but ultimately folk will only value you as much as you value yourself – it’s a women’s mag cliché because it’s true. A friend who is not there for you when you were there for them is worthless, whether you met them two years ago or twenty. And sometimes, what people present to you is not the real person; finally meeting the real them can also be a shit on a stick moment. And, perhaps hardest to realise, not all friendships are meant to last. Sometimes they are just a period in time, a mutual helping along until you’re both pretty much okay to carry on without each other. And it’s always worth realising that there are probably a few folk who consider you shit on a stick yourself.

January is peak friend-culling season on Facebook.  Or rather, it’s peak announcing you’re going to be doing a friend-cull on Facebook.  You might consider this post no less passive aggressive, but in my opinion, the venue is all.  Facebook is a bunfight which makes everyone look like shit on a stick: the smugness, the tactlessness, the cluelessness, the neediness, and worst, the outright sycophancy (this one is an unapologetic favourite of certain writers, and flares up badly around award seasons). But, as far as friend-culling goes, it’s only the snide announcement of intention that gets to me.  I’ve nothing against the actual process at all.  I think it’s pretty essential.

I have very good old old friends and old friends, and in recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to have made a few wonderful new ones through writing, and I am grateful for every one of them because they have only brought me happiness and kindness and that wonderful feeling that nothing else ever beats: of knowing that someone just gets you and you get them, and you’ve both got each other’s back.  But isn’t it weird how we always try harder with people who are harder?  Such ludicrous perseverance!  Not that weird, I guess, not when indifference or rejection brings you back around to worthlessness.  But, for Christ’s sake, what a waste of time, of energy.  Of bloody juggling!  You can’t, after all, flog a dead horse.  Especially if your stick is shitty (this metaphor would like to announce its long overdue retirement).  And all of this I finally realised – also long overdue – at midnight on Hogmanay.  Because bad or pointless friendships don’t exist in a vacuum.  And getting rid of them really is passive aggressive if you don’t look at why you indulged them in the first place.  If you don’t look at yourself and your life and be honest about what’s wrong with both.

Is that what a midlife crisis is?  Most likely.  If I’m lucky, I’m in the middle of my life, and one definition of crisis is a turning point; an important change, indicating either recovery or death.  So...y'know.  Applicable here might also be the awful midlife crisis cliché of old (because not all clichés are good clichés, and neither regression nor pseudo-vampirism will sustain one of them for long).  No one really wants to relive their youth anyway.  They’re re-imagining it, that’s all.  Nobody enjoyed any of it, for fuck’s sake.  They forget that while the eighteen year old them had no mortgage, no spouse, no kids, no CV, they also had no money, no confidence that could withstand much more than a surface scratch (despite all that bravado), and no clue.  What they really want, of course, is the years back – and they can’t have them, they’re long gone.

But positive decisions can still be scary.  Distancing yourself from people with whom you once had a connection, however unhealthy, is also scary.  But life really is too short to waste on anyone or anything that isn’t worth it.  That isn’t necessary.  That doesn’t help.  Stepping into the unknown is scary.  I will never be well, I will never be rich, I will never be as sure of myself as I was at eighteen, and death and grief and illness will happen no matter what I decide or do.  But I can control what I decide or do next.  I can always control that.  And that wonderful Doris Lessing quote, “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always going to be impossible,” should ring true for us all, even those of us who have thus far lived small and careful lives.  As far as resolutions go, I reckon those are the best that we will ever make.  Because life really is too short for juggling.  Or for never knowing what you’re worth.

“There’s a lot of livin I gotta do,
Give me time to make a few dreams come true, 
Black star”
© Sid Wayne/ Sherman Edwards

2 comments:

  1. Oh Carole, I wish I had read this before seeing you today - much more insight as to where you are just now. Am in complete agreement that we shouldn't waste precious time on those who may have been around for years or, in my personal instance, decades, and suddenly, inexplicably, become toxic, making us feel like something unpleasant they found on the sole of their shoe. No matter who we are, we are all unique individuals who have worked to be where we are now and we just have to continue the fight to find our own criteria by which we can measure ourselves. (And be alert to that all-too-easy underselling we do in case, god forbid, we sound pleased with ourselves.) How others measure us is their business, not ours.
    I hope 2016 is a shitless year for you and that your plans come to amazing fruition. They will if you remember Lessing's wise words.
    Loads of love, and keep in touch occasionally. Am so very proud of you and what you have achieved so far. Sxxxx

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  2. Thank you so much! And I agree with everything you've said too. I'm only realising now how important it is to take stock (and be brutally honest while you're doing it). Life really is frighteningly short. Lots of love x

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