A Bullet-Point Decade

Inspired by Maggie Steifvater, I have compiled an out-of-order list of things that have happened to me this decade. I’m going out later so I’ll probably get emotionally introspective initially while I’m washing my hair and then while I’m varying degrees of tipsy; I think a list is good for stating unequivocally that things happened, regardless of how we felt about them at the time.

  • Wrote one novel, a dozen or more short stories and a number of fan fictions that we will be leaving in this decade
  • Visited 6 or 9 countries (thereabouts? Does France count if you’re driving through it)
  • Discovered that Pilates is actually a great idea
  • Passed all my GCSEs and about 80% of my A Levels
  • Scrambled up a set of steps at an ancient Cambodian temple using both my arms like a spider and promptly almost fell to my death because a tourist laughed at me and I lost concentration
  • Saw My Chemical Romance play twice; mourned My Chemical Romance; rejoiced at the return of My Chemical Romance
  • Wrote 685 posts on this site
  • Broke at least one toe
  • Met one of my best friends and reconnected with multiple old ones to the extent that this decade feels more friend-y than the previous
  • Met Judith Kerr, an author who illustrated my formative years; she was lovely
  • Meditated for 192 hours, apparently
  • Met Maggie Stiefvater, an author who is illustrating my current years; she was lovely
  • Actually met a tonne of authors (Stephen Chbosky, Adam Silvera, Becky Albertalli), all actual gems
  • Dyed my hair multiple rainbow colours and forgot to take photos almost every time
  • Learnt to drive
  • Burnt the skin off part of my right arm with Tiger Balm
  • Said goodbye to two of my aforementioned best friends and two grandparents
  • Read some Jane Austen
  • Became self employed
  • Learnt to make curry
  • Did more physio sessions than I can count
  • Got 3 ear piercings
  • Tried to read The Iliad twice, twice put it down for another day because god Homer have you heard of a line break
  • Figured out how the London Underground maps work
  • Learnt what tarot cards are
  • Diagnosed with IBS; found a fix for IBS that I’m tentatively excited about
  • Learnt to hula hoop

I started this decade at 14 and am ending it at 24, which seems like more years than actually fit into a decade. The next one will be incomparable in a lot of ways, although I fully plan to increase the novel count and would quite like to hula hoop more.

Let me know your bullet points – we should all have at least 10 when you think about it – and look after yourselves in the next decade. Happy new year!

An early new year’s resolution ft. mental health and mobile phones

I feel a bit dumb even writing this post, but it’s about something that we should probably talk about more: I have hair on my toes. Kidding, although I do (hoping it might thin out as I age, though). What I want to talk about today is the fact that yesterday evening, I switched off my phone before I went to sleep.

You either read that and thought ‘isn’t that an obvious thing to do?’ or you thought ‘YOU SWITCHED OFF YOUR PHONE?’ I’m talking to both groups here, because it’s important to bridge gaps between communities. A couple of things prompted the Great Phone Switch Off. First of all, I used to switch off my phone before bed and recall, somewhat fondly, that my mild insomnia was less irritating when I did. Secondly, I’ve been getting brain fog and numb, tingly fingers recently, and because I’ve been thinking about the NHS lately, I want to do everything I can to improve my mental and physical health before I see my GP. I’d need a double appointment, too, because ten minutes is not long enough to talk about two issues, and a double appointment would cost the taxpayer, like, eighty million pounds.

So, the insomnia: it’s probably never going away because my brain has 567 tabs open at all times. Cool, whatever, it makes me a good writer. The worse it gets, though, the longer I spend looking at memes on Instagram after I’ve gone to bed, trapped somewhere between being awake enough to scroll but too tired to do anything else. The brain fog: happens this time of year, every year. Once I’ve actually fallen asleep I sleep like the dead, I wake up three hours later than I do in the summer and can’t organise my 567 tabs even a little bit. Because pre-Christmas is my busiest time for my stationery business, the first thing I do once I’m out of bed is check my email and the Sell on Etsy app to see how many pencils I have to ship to northern Illinois. It’s also the last thing I do before bed and the Instagram scrolling. The finger tingling and numbness: I first noticed it when I was doing my GCSEs and assumed it’s part of the repetitive-strain-injury-carpool-tunnel-tennis-elbow-bad-posture thing I’ve had since my GCSEs. My wrists and hands have been infinitely better since I left school and can set my own timetable but everything plays up when I’ve had a long week or been on my phone too much.

You see a pattern emerging, huh. Last night the finger tingling made me panic because I’m only 24 and there isn’t actually such a thing as a Luke Skywalker arm unless you’ve been in the military and lost a limb and they give you a high-end prosthetic, and actually I’m quite attached to my current arms and would like them to last my whole life and isn’t it bullshit and entitled to just assume I should be given a replacement limb and also I’m a writer and also and also and also

Once I stopped panicking, several other things occurred to me. I’ve been getting ridiculously dry skin on my face and scalp, to the extent that I’m going to stop dying my hair for a bit because there’s no point when I just wash it with Head & Shoulders every five minutes. My fingernails are really brittle, I keep seeing things out of the corner of my eye that aren’t there and I turned my car around just after I’d left the driveway the other day because I was so tired I didn’t trust myself to drive.

FRANCESCA, my body is saying, CHILL THE FUCK OUT.

Something else I’ve been thinking about lately is that I don’t really eat meat any more but I’ve been to foggy to cook properly, so it’s safe to assume I’ve been eating way too much selection box confectionery and way too little vitamin B. Is it vitamin B you have to be careful of when you’re a vegetarian? Iron? I’m scared to Google it in case I come across a good case for abandoning peanut butter on ethical grounds. Anyway, on the off chance my body is also saying, FRANCESCA, LEARN TO COOK MORE NUTRITIOUS MEALS, the other day I bought spinach.

Alice curtsying

I’m digressing.

I can’t be alone in feeling like I’m in a mental washing machine; everyone I know is run down, irritated and overworked. I’ve seen, heard and had so many conversations recently about mental health and social media and about burning out. It feels like so many of us switched on all the time, but the wiring is starting to wear out. Eventually we’re all going to become fire hazards.

What a metaphor.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want to wait until new year to ‘resolve’ to do something about the brain fog and the tingling and the dandruff. New year is the absolute worst time to decide to do anything (except The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, the second draft of which I began on new year’s day 2018 but does that even count when I was clearly always going to write weird YA novels as a hobby). Also, new year is ages away. I am foggy now. I want to start forming better habits now. I don’t want my morning routine to be up-loo-contraceptive-pill-70-emails-check-Instagram-feel-bad-about-my-life-compared-to-other-people-on-Instagram until my right thumb stops moving. I don’t want my evening routine to be shower-bed-read-a-book-scroll-feel-bad-mild-crisis-scroll-try-sleeping-radio-on-radio-off-scrollololol until I have a nervous breakdown. Typing all that nearly induced a nervous breakdown.

If I want to do anything in 2020, it’s do more of what I want on my own terms. I’d like to  reduce the finger numbness without compromising the quality of my work; I want to keep my customers happy without putting them before my sanity. It’s on me to decide how to proceed. Switching off my phone before bed won’t by itself improve my skin/sleeping/fingers. Deleting the Sell on Etsy app won’t. Installing a battery-intensive phone usage tracker won’t. But they might all help a little bit, so I’m willing to try them. Telling you all this might help too, because now I’m accountable to a tiny corner of the internet which now knows to look out for my flaky face. I’ll know I’m being judged if I post to Insta stories at 11pm.

So, my non-new-year’s-resolution is to try to be more mindful about my tech use, and to make the tech I do use work for me. At the moment I feel like I’m just a pair of eyeballs that belong to Mark Zuckerberg. What I suppose that boils down to is being more mindful: of my diet seriously need to Google vitamin B, of my time management, of what I actually want to spend my time doing.

This is the longest post I’ve written for ages. Let me know in the comments if you, too, feel like you’re in a washing machine. I’ll keep you updated on the mindfulness thing. Ironically, I thought I’d be done with this post two hours ago and planned to spend the evening washing my hair. C’est la whatever. Happy Wednesday!

In which my attitude to this election is the word ‘fuck’ whispered softly while cradling a strong alcoholic beverage

I didn’t think this election was bothering me until this evening, when I picked up a box of Heroes I bought to take to work tomorrow and ate half of them while I was watching the news. So it’s possibly time to admit I’m experiencing internal conflict. (I’m also really annoyed I’m furring up my arteries for something that isn’t Christmas.) For the first time ever, I don’t know who I’m going to vote for.

I live in Southend, which is Very Conservative and usually, I don’t care. It’s been Tory since, like, 800 BCE, so I don’t loose sleep, you know? I think I voted Green then Lib Dem in the last two elections, or possibly Lib Dem then Green. Mostly they were protest votes against the inevitable re-election of a middle aged white bloke. I went with those two because I’ve never held either of the main parties in anything other than contempt, and because if I have to pick a team, I’m maybe somewhere near the Lib Dems or the Greens. Ish. This is an accurate depiction of how I generally feel about politicians and the division of people into specific parties:

Frank Iero fuck off gif
from Tumblr

This election, the Lib Dem guy lives in Surrey (seriously) and the Greens aren’t standing. That leaves the Psychedelic Future Party (fun idea, waste of a vote), and independent (my spiritual home I think). The independent candidate is a GP, and we need more of those in parliament. He’s also South Asian, and we need fewer white people in Parliament. So independent it is! But. Buuuut. Because we have the first past the post system, and because the Labour candidate was very popular last time and is standing again, my constituency is a marginal. So I could vote tactically to remove the middle aged white guy.

Our Labour candidate is a younger woman, and we need more women in Parliament. We need a younger Parliament. She’s LGBT, and we need a queerer Parliament. But. Buuuut. I have about as much faith in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to command a government as I did in Boris’s, and Theresa’s. I don’t think a Labour government is going to fix or solve Brexit, because Brexit is a black hole of fuckery whose outcome will please precisely nobody. I don’t think Corbyn has any more support amongst his party, or control over it, than Theresa did with hers. I’m appalled by the complete lack of action over anti-Semitism. But. Buuut. A vote for the independent GP is just a vote for the incumbent.

Does it even matter? The number of people who spoil their votes or don’t vote at all are going to dwarf the number of people who vote, regardless who they vote for. My constituency will likely return the incumbent regardless of whether I vote Labour, independent or Psychedelic Future. The government will be a shit government regardless of which party wins, Brexit will be a mess regardless, the Scottish independence issue won’t go away regardless. The only thing it comes down to is my instincts and a decision I can live with until the next election. Which could be in five years or could be in March. Fuck knows.

I thought writing this might help me decide. It has not. I also now have indigestion. I want a drink. I want a more representative voting system. I don’t want to distrust every  politician. I want a clear cut choice. I want to live in a town with a better funded hospital and no knife crime. I want to feel like my vote actually counts. I want to write ‘a plague on all your houses’ on the ballot. I don’t want to waste a vote that people died for.

Fuck’s sake. I’m going for a bath. See you on the other side.