Throughout 2019, whenever I met up with anyone who I hadn’t seen in a little while and they asked me how things were going, my answer was always the same. “Tens and ones,” I’d say. “Tens and ones.”
First, the ones: I lost my regular income at The Pool when it folded. At the time, I was owed just over two grand, a fraction of which was recouped – rather humiliatingly – when a nice woman crowdfunded on behalf of the fucked-over writers. I was glad she did it, and glad to get some money, but it’s not how anyone wants to be paid for their work. The next One: the newspaper I had a regular column in folded. The next One: two members of my immediate family became extremely sick. The next One: my partner’s brother became extremely sick. The next One: I had a cancer scare of my very own. The next One: the dog started limping, and we were charged £500 for the confirmation that she was, indeed, limping. Another One: My front tooth came out. It is costing me £5,000 to get it replaced.
You see the pattern.
Then, the tens: I wrote 20,000 words of a young adult novel that sold for a lot of money. I sold the TV rights to a production company. I finished the young adult novel. I finally finished my second adult novel. I started another adult novel. The podcast grew, and it even got nominated for a couple of awards. I made some really nice new friends. Tens, tens, tens across the board.
I want this to be a story about how great triumph comes from adversity, but I don’t know if that’s true. At least, that’s not what I’m proud of. I’m not proud that I had no money at one moment and some money the next. I think the start of a new year is a good time to be transparent about your sense of pride and where it comes from. I’ve been reading a lot of the lists of achievements that have been shared on social media over the last few days. I think the lists are a good thing, by the way. When people aren’t allowed to brag openly they start doing the long-boring-humblebrag-over-lunch thing, and I can’t sit through that for love nor money. Anyway. I digress.
I’m proud that, in a year of tens and ones, my emotional equilibrium has stayed between a five and a seven. Things fell apart, but I didn’t. I started therapy to help manage things, but I didn’t stay in bed for days at a time. I didn’t go on crazy spending sprees when things got good, and I didn’t send any snippy “why aren’t you more happy for me?” texts. I sort of stayed… the same.
In 2018 one of my best friends died, and for a little while, all my other best friends and I could do was look at each other. It is a time in my life so horrible that even now I have to approach the wound sideways, touching the red-ripe gum with the edge of my tongue. But I do remember this: I remember that after he died, it felt like a star had somehow exploded and that all the good luck and fortune that had been allotted to his life was spread around all of ours. Suddenly everyone was getting money and everyone was getting struck by the muse. If we put a pair of jeans on we were bound to find a fiver in the pocket. It was another year of tens and ones. Or, minus tens and ones. The bad was so bad that the even mildly good felt like champagne.
Of course, we were all off our rockers. One day I tried to change from the Bakerloo to the Jubilee line and just couldn’t do it – couldn’t tell the difference between west and eastbound, couldn’t read the list of stations. There were friends who I didn’t speak to, who I invented elaborate grudges with, and didn’t speak to for a year. I met up with one of those friends recently to apologise for my behaviour. “I was just so confused,” he said. “I kept trying to think what I did to upset you.” Nothing, I said. You did nothing.
The new year is about charting growth, marking progress, ticking off old goals and creating new ones. For me, there’s something immensely forgiving about just holding 2019 and 2018 against one another, and finding it enough that I had absolutely no psychological equilibrium in one and plenty in the other. I was all over the map in 2018, and I was basically fucking unshakeable in 2019.
I’m turning 30 in May. It feels like time to be 30. It’s a grown-up age, and I’m ready to be it. You’re ready to grow, I think, when you’re able to stay the same.