It was 20 years ago today

Right, I’ve nicked this idea from the experimental chimp, or, as he puts it, I have adopted it as a meme.

(And, you know, we should all give some thought to adopting memes.  Do you know that every day thousands of memes are suddenly ignored when their owners lose interest in them?  Many of them will end up whoring themselves on the highways and byways of the internet, forced to hold up signs saying “Will increase blog traffic in return for being hosted”.  It’s a terrible situation, but one that you can do something about.  Support our campaign – Pass Me Along, Don’t Pass Me By – today, and do your bit to stop this needless cruelty…)

Sorry, where was I?  Oh yes.  Basically, this is what I would say if I could travel back in time and speak to my younger self.  The chimp only had to go back 10 years, but because I am – muffled sob – rather older, I’ve gone back 20, to a time when I was a mid-range teenager.

Hello.  You there.  Yes, you, boy.  Stop wandering round the place in a dream and pay attention.  Ok, now, I’m you, but you from the future.  Yes.  You know, most people would have been weirded out by that – you really do read too much Sci-Fi, you know that?  Don’t worry, in a few years time you’ll realise that Isaac Asimov is not actually the greatest writer of all time.  (You will still think that R. Daneel Olivaw is a really cool character, but you’ll be too embarrassed to admit to it in public.)

Well, where to start?  Oh, I know.  Yes, you are gay.  That thing you’re trying to do at the moment where you look at attractive men and then try and convince yourself that in some weird way you’re actually thinking about girls?  It’s not convincing anyone, not even you, so you might as well just give it up.  I mean, your nickname from the age of 8 has been Gaylord…

Anyway, it’s not a big deal.  Your folks will be cool with it.  This idea you have at the moment that you’re going to have to wait until all your family are dead before you can be open is just nonsense.  Your boyfriend will even get invited to your parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, in about 2 years time you’re going to meet a guy called Calum.  He’ll wear blue and white striped trousers, but you should try not to hold it against him.  You’ll end up spending a couple of nights camping out with him by the sea, getting drunk on cheap cider, and watching the lights on the boats as they drift by.  On the last night he’s going to kiss you.  Now, this is important – don’t panic.  Kiss him back.  If you don’t you’ll spend the next 20 years wondering what might have been.*

The next few years are going to be pretty good for you.  You’ll do well in your GCSEs (although a little more work on maths might not be a bad idea).  Make sure you say goodbye properly to your friend Chris after the last Physics exam, because he and his brother are going to be killed in a car accident a few weeks later, and you won’t see him in the 6th form college like you think you will.

You’ll have a pretty good time of it in 6th form, although you’ll look far too young to get served in pubs.  Oh, and you’ll also spend a lot of time feeling like you’re missing out because you never get invited to the cool parties where everyone gets really drunk and has loads of sex.  Don’t worry about that.  Everyone else is thinking the same.  Think about it, they always say “my friend was at this party at this girl’s house”, never “I was at this party…”.

Anyway, even without the excuses of getting regularly slaughtered and shagging your way through the male population of the college, you’re going to do really badly in your A-levels.  You’ll blame it on the fact that you’re really tired after working flat-out to get good GCSEs despite having been more out of school than in for several years, and you’ll be half right.  But you also need to understand that the things that were keeping you out of school are never really going to go away, they’ll just be less obvious for a while.  That thing where you can’t concentrate, and spend a lot of time staring out of the window and thinking about how you’re going to die?  That’s going to become a big problem for you, I’m afraid.

But not yet a while.  You’re going to take your one A-level, and with it you’re going to get admitted to a college of higher education in a small town in the south of England.  I know, I know, it sounds ghastly, but, actually, you’re going to have a great time.  It’ll be the only time in your life where you’ll feel at the centre of a really big group of friends.  You’ll be able to walk through the town, or go to the college bar, and meet someone you know and have a chat.  You’ll almost count as – whisper it – popular.

I’m afraid part of your popularity will be because you’re gay, and the more alternative set at the college will adopt you as a kind of mascot so that they can outrage the people in the Christian Fellowship.  That’s ok, though, because you will hate the people in the CF too.  Yes, I know at the moment you’re not quite sure if you’re an atheist or not but, trust me, a couple of encounters with people who think Christian compassion means telling you that you’re going to die of AIDS, and that they’ll come and cheer at your funeral, will help you to decide pretty damn fast.

One of the problems with being a high-profile poof in a fairly conservative town is that you’ll find yourself being turned into a spokesman, and that people will feel they can ask you what gay people think about something and that you’ll know the answer.  When people do this, you need to understand that it’s ok to say ‘Fuck knows!  I can tell you what I think about it, but all gay people everywhere?  How the hell would I know?’  Otherwise you’re going to end up spending a lot of time worrying about whether you’re being a good ‘representative’ for gay people, and that’s not going to be good for you.  You already have a tendency to think that when you do something it has to be perfect, and that’s going to come back and bite you in the ass in a bad way, believe me.

There will be good things about being a high-visibility homo too, though.  For example, everyone in the college, and a lot of the lads from the agricultural college who travel into town sometimes to drink in the bar, will know you’re gay.  This will give you some personal opportunities.  Sorry, what?  Oh, yes, yes, that does mean you’ll get to have sex–

Ok, look, I know you’re excited, but try to pay attention, will you?  You can put away the balloons and the party hats for a start, I’m trying to be serious here.

The more important thing it will mean is that you’ll be asked to help people who are struggling to understand themselves.  In long, dark, despairing nights in years to come, you will be able to look back at people like Rachel and Michael, and knowing that you did, genuinely, help them will be one of the few answers you’ll be able to give to the self-asked question “What have I ever achieved in my life?”  So, don’t panic and say ‘Ask someone else!’ the first couple of times you get asked, ok?  This is something you’re good at, it helps other people, and it’s good for you to do it.  It’s a win-win situation, and there aren’t many of them around, believe me.

After college, I’m afraid things get a bit less good.  On the plus side, you’ll meet a guy who’ll turn out to be a keeper, and you’ll get to spend 8 years with him, but, on the employment front, things are going to be shit.  You’re going to go through a lot of jobs.  Most of them will be dead-end, but you’ll still find yourself thinking that it’s all your fault when you can’t hang onto them.  It’s not.

The proof-reading job you’re going to have for a few months may look like a cushy number, but really it isn’t, not with your mind working the way it does.  Sometimes your attention to detail will be perfect, but other times you’ll be letting dozens of errors slip through, and you’ll end up being shouted at in front of the whole office and frog-marched to the door.  Much the same will happen when you’re filing correspondence for a bank, and they eventually realise that the only way you’ve been able to meet your productivity targets is by hiding lots of it in your bag and bringing it home with you, then eventually building a fire in the woods and burning it all, a piece at a time.

There are going to be lots of situations like that, I’m afraid.  Each time you’re going to realise that you’re not coping with the job, but you’re going to deal with it completely the wrong way.  You’ll start trying to work harder, setting yourself more and more unrealistic targets, or starting to arrive earlier and earlier in the morning and leave later and later at night.  You’ll also start drinking too much, and that’ll just make things worse.  So, when you feel yourself starting to fall behind, when you’re starting to get those ‘Shit!  I can’t cope’ feelings, ask for help.

Yes, I said ask for help.  I know, that’s not something you like to do, but trust me, you’re going to have to do it eventually anyway, so you might as well do it sooner than later.  Go and see your GP.  Yes, even though there’s nothing wrong with you physically.  Tell them how you feel.  They’ll understand, and although they may not ultimately be able to do much about it, it will help you so much to know what’s going on.

Don’t bottle everything up.  Talk to your boyfriend.  Really.  It’s better than saying nothing at all, then getting far too drunk, and having long, rambling, incoherent arguments about nothing much at all.  After a few years of that even your kind, patient, wonderful boyfriend is going to have had enough, and will feel the need to escape to another city.  If you don’t, this is going to be another one of those what-ifs – if I’d gone for help earlier, would I still be single?

Anyway, listen, the trans-temporal portal is beginning to destabilise,** so I have to wrap this up.  You should go and see loads of bands live.  You’ll realise in your late 20s that you really like seeing bands live, and you’ll kick yourself for missing out on the whole teenage mosh-pit thing.  Apart from anything else, it’s a socially acceptable way to spend an evening rubbing up against sweaty young gentlemen of your own age.  And, it’ll act as an antidote to the endless reams of Madonna and boy bands and Kylie you’re going to have to suffer through in clubs because some people seem to think that the phrases ‘being gay’ and ‘listening to shit’ are synonymous.  Yes, yes I did say Kylie.  You might think she’s a flash-in-the-pan Australian nonentity, but she’s going to be around for ever.  And you won’t even be able to criticise her because the poor lady will get breast cancer and that’ll automatically give her Living Saint status.

Well, that’s more or less it, what else is there?  Oh yes, don’t, whatever you do, get in an aeroplane.  You hate flying, you see, and being trapped in an airborne metal box in a state of abject panic for a couple of hours, and then knowing that you have to do it all again to get back home again, is going to be one of the worst experiences of your life.  I know you think it’ll be fun, and that you’re missing out because your parents refuse to take you on holiday abroad, but, trust me, a wet week in the Mendips is going to be much more your kind of thing.  Give it a few years and you’ll start being able to say you’re doing it for the planet, and not because you’re a great big scaredeycat who’s afraid of flying…

Anyway, that really is it.  Look after yourself, kid.  Enjoy what you can when you can, and try not to keep thinking things will get better in the future – take pleasure in what you’ve got right now instead.  And don’t worry, if some of this sounds a bit bleak – you’ll make it through somehow.  I mean, I’m here, aren’t I?

* – probably nothing more than some drunken fumbling and a lot of really uncomfortable silences on the train home the next morning, but, hey, you never know.

** – see, I told you I read too much Sci-Fi as a teenager…

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8 Responses to It was 20 years ago today

  1. Alex says:

    That’s some outstanding writing there Aethelread. I can identify with a lot of it, too. I think I might steal this meme…
    PS. Asimov is an awesome writer. Did you ever read any of his Black Widowers books? To be honest, I preferred those to any of his SF I’ve read (heresy, I know, but still).

  2. The Chuckle says:

    Wow A, great post and like Lexie – so identifiable too. Actually, i ended up stuck in a conservative southern town, it hasn’t got a lot better!

  3. lsnduck says:

    Daneel is great! I don’t in any way unofficialy name my projects at work after Asimov characters. My website isn’t called Baley and neither are there Giskard, Daneel, or Seldon.

    That was an excellent post.

  4. Cellar_Door says:

    Nice to get an insight into your past…but then I am just nosey :0)

    I am tempted to ‘adopt’ this meme…it will have a good home next to all the others I’ve been doing recently…!

  5. cb says:

    It’s a really nice idea. I was almost tempted but I’m almost scared about what I might write!

  6. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for all the comments.

    You’re very kind to say it’s good writing, those of you that have, but a lot of the praise should really go to experimental chimp – i pretty much just copied his template, although i did change things around slightly to fit what i wanted to say.

    Alex – i have to be honest, i’ve never even heard of Asimov’s Black Widowers books. I can feel my claim to being an Asimov geek slipping away from me…

    The Chuckle – not a lot to say, except don’t let the southern conservative bastards grind you down. :o) (BTW – i intend no disrespect to southern conservatives who may be reading… Paranoid about causing offence? Me?)

    lsnduck – Yay, you’re back! And do you, i wonder, call your boss the Mule… ;o)

    Cellar_Door – Well, god knows i don’t often give away much background info, so you might as well make the best of it when i do! And if you do decide to go for the meme, i’d love the chance to be nosey about your past too… :o)

    cb – lol, and thanks for commenting.

  7. Zoe says:

    Hey that was a tour de force! It’s becoming repetitive and monotonous to keep saying this, but your writing is a joy to read. I also love the caring way you are able to imaginatively approach your younger self. As a concerned older mentor. I see that to some degree you are still able to identify and do the best thing for yourself even now. (I know it isn’t always easy or possible). I see that as indicating a good prognosis IMHO…signed Doctor Zoe.

    Thought I would point this out because many of us would not be capable of viewing our younger selves with the same degree of empathic, humorous indulgence. Your post shows a high level of insight, self-knowledge and emotional intelligence. There is also much wit and hilarious social observation.

    So much to celebrate. If I wish one thing for you it’s that you continue to find the world a funnier and less scary place. :)

  8. Zoe says:

    Ps, did you really burn the filing you couldn’t do? Priceless!

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