You may or may not remember the Neighbours episode where Susan and Karl Kennedy wrote a list of all the things they liked about each other and all the things they didn’t like about each other. (Guy Garvey once told me he did the same with his ex.) When my best friend stayed for a sleepover, she suggested we do the same. We were 10 at the time and I was pretty much in love with my best friend. Our universe was very small and stakes were very high (although, unbeknown to us, not as high as a marriage), yet all I could come up with on the “dislikes” was a yellow scrunchie and her right kneecap.
Recently, I’ve basically been doing that exercise with myself (and some unsolicited input from my boyfriend mid-row), yet really only focusing on the dislikes. And, let me tell you, it has *not* been difficult to come up with things. It’s like my 10-year-old pal has handed me back a brutal, very long list.
At the top of the list: I’m selectively lazy, which is even worse than just out-and-out lazy, because I know how to work hard – I just choose not to. I’ve been that way ever since I cried to get out of sports day in Year 4. I will write and read endlessly about the things I am interested in, but can I read an email about a gas safety check? Can I write an email to the landlord about a dodgy plug? Can I clean the bathroom? No. Of course I can't. Because I’m lazy. And I’m spoilt. And, somewhere along the line, I thought I didn’t have to do things I didn’t want to. (Which is something I regularly loudly deplore in others, so I’m a lazy hypocrite, too.)
Next: I take those closest to me for granted. It’s painfully true. While I’ll happily organise a drink with a new acquaintance, I don’t suggest to my dearest, most loyal friends that we have dinner. I’m late with their birthday presents. I’m late at texting them back, if ever. And I’ve won the friends lottery, because they're still there. I think. I hope.
The list goes on: I can’t take criticism. I’m prone to gossip. I make snap judgements about strangers – I don’t like you first, before I decide I do actually like you. I expect someone else to sort out chores and bills and train times. And there’s a whole bunch of other things that I’ll refrain from sharing in fear you never read another word I write.
Look yourself in the eye and realise there are chunks you don’t like – it’s terrifying and hard, but strangely liberating
I don’t like this behaviour. This is no perverse #humblebrag. I’m not taking a lead from Joan Didion, who, in the new Netflix documentary, confesses that if someone had drunk the last Coca-Cola in the fridge, “there’d be a scene”. I’m no artistic genius who can behave disgustingly because I’m capturing the social landscape as a once-in-a-generation essayist. And, hell, even if it was, I’m *still* not buying it. There's nothing but shittiness and shame about these traits. But I am quite interested in why I’m seeing them so clearly right now. Why it’s like a list of my worst qualities is being read by a town crier off a parched scroll in my head.
And I think this is partly because, when I was younger, I wasn’t really sure who I was. I didn’t know if my behaviour came from me or from the manipulative sorcery of a mediocre bass player living in Homerton. I didn’t know if the arrogance and attitude was the alcohol or my own angry voice. I didn’t know if my hostility to criticism was because the world is mean and cruel and wrong, or because I have more pride than a John Wayne Western. I didn’t know who was to blame – me or all the strange, new, confusing, exciting things swirling around me. And youth was a security blanket – how could anything really be my fault? Being young and stupid is the greatest get-out-of-jail-free card ever.
But, now, I am beginning to know me; I live with someone whom I am always completely and utterly myself around. I am only friends with people who I can be totally and utterly myself around. There is no one else to hide behind when I look in the mirror and see something I don’t like.
And it’s brutal. I dare you to write down a list of your worst traits. It stings.
But it also feels like progress – the way putting antiseptic on a wound does. Because owning up to your shit is halfway there to cleaning up your shit. In the moody silence after stormy fights, the calming waves help you to think longer and harder about what you did or didn’t do, what you said or didn’t say – and why. There’s nothing like puffy eyes, scraped-back hair and an oversized jumper as an armour for some hardcore self-reflection. Look yourself in the eye and realise there are chunks you don’t like – it’s terrifying and hard, but strangely liberating. It’s out there; you’ve said it. Now, you can begin to tackle it, like rebuilding a sandcastle that you kicked over like a spoilt brat.
Lots of women resent themselves for reasons they shouldn’t – things that society makes them feel they have fallen short of. One of those things is being nice and good – a maternal, saintly virtue that makes women carers and minders, allegedly. My shittiness is not something to celebrate, perhaps apart from reiterating the fact that women are flawed, they have faults, they are complicated and difficult, and are human.
I can be pretty awful. And that's pretty awful, but accepting it feels like an empowering remedy. And, while I am disappointed in some of my behaviour, I don’t hate myself either – because, like anything you value, it takes work. Now, excuse me while I go and text all my friends.