I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions any more. January is smack in the middle of my busiest time of year, it’s always bloody cold or raining, and everyone around me is undertaking a detox, which only makes me want to surrender myself more to Bacchanalian excess, provided such excess can be carried out from the sofa, and not interfere with my punishing Netflix schedule.
Instead, for me, September is the time of new beginnings. Like anyone who ever went into further education, I think you never shake that ‘back to school’ feeling, that sense of a new beginning. It’s an excuse to buy new notebooks, of course, too, which always makes me happy; some atavistic sense recalling those virgin jotters of youth, all ready for our unformed scribbling and being backed with brown paper and scraps of wallpaper for reasons that, even after all these years, are unclear to me. What speaks of promise more than an empty notebook?
This sense of a new start is reinforced for me personally by the fact it’s my birthday in September. I am, theoretically, rested after my quieter season of summer (alas, this year that is only theoretical – I remain as knackered as ever) and ready to roll up my sleeves and get back to work. I am also, if I am entirely honest, now at the age when every birthday comes with a shuddering realisation of ‘shit, I’m [redacted] old and I still haven’t yet [life goal]’, which lends an urgency to the proceedings.
So I will, come my birthday, be making a list of resolutions, but this year I also want to implement some wise advice I got from a barista at my local coffee shop, which makes this sound like one of those tales of made up folk wisdom, but is really just an indication of how much time I spend in my local coffee shop. We were talking resolutions, and he dismissed the idea out of hand: ‘I don’t make resolutions,’ he explained to me (over coffee, natch), ‘But I make a list of everything I have achieved, and I remember how, at the start of the year, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d done half of them, and that inspires me’. (Snobbish folk may say, well, that’s fine if your career is a barista, but he told me some of the things he was including on his list, and they were seriously impressive, so snobbish folk can go get lost and need not to be so damn snooty).
This particularly appeals to me, as I do find that as I’m getting older my gratitude that I’m still actually alive – sharpened by the loss and ill health of several friends my own age over the last few years – is tempered by asking ‘shouldn’t I be/have/earn more by now?’, that nagging voice of comparison that is the fast track to unhappiness. Sure, I care about self-improvement, about achieving things, but I want to celebrate what I have done, too. I also think as a writer – where the temptation to measure yourself against the real or imagined success of others is further hampered by the fact that, hey, writing takes a long time, so you might not actually finish a book in a year, or get that screenplay produced, and THAT IS OK, it does not make you a failure.
So here, to inspire your own list, not to brag (well, OK, to brag a little, but let’s call it ‘rejoice’ as that sounds better), are some of the things on my list this year:
- I co-wrote a play that was shown in the Tristan Bates Firsts Festival and at the Brighton Fringe
- I wrote a screenplay for a short film, which is potentially going into production this autumn
- I stood on a stage, and looked out at the auditorium, in a classic old theatre
- I published a Dark Dates short, A Vampire in New York, and put out Wolf Night in paperback
- I saw a LOT of theatre (and wrote about some of it), including Nicole Kidman in Photograph 51, Imelda Staunton in Gypsy (far and away my favourite thing of the year), Mark Strong in View From The Bridge, Damien Lewis in American Buffalo, Bradley Cooper in Elephant Man, Ben Whishaw in Bakkhai, the blistering Grounded, and Blanche McIntyre’s beautifully subtle Arcadia
- I was interviewed on the radio
- I went to Newcastle, for the first time in a couple of years not for a funeral, and had a lovely week catching up with family and old friends
- I saw Some Like it Hot on the big screen
- I went to the Savage Beauty Exhibition at the V&A, which I have been desperate to do since it was announced, and marvelled at the artistry. I also went to see a Karl Lagerfeld exhibition in Germany, and… didn’t.
- I went to a writer’s retreat for the first time
- I tried some new things, including a hot stone massage and hypnotherapy
- I made friends with my neighbours
- I worked for several new magazines, expanded my work portfolio and got several new UK and international clients
- I went to Bonn, a city I had never been to, and did a boat trip down the Rhine
- I went to Cardiff, a city I had also never been to, and did the Doctor Who Experience and pretended to be chased by a Dalek
- I saw (and supported) work by several of my friends, thus fulfilling a resolution to support and celebrate other people’s successes, even if you’re a bit jealous of them
- I caught up with people I hadn’t seen in years (in one case, in nearly a decade) and reminded myself that good friendships are easily rekindled
- I discovered several new TV shows and binged them on Netflix (oh, shut up, to me that’s an achievement)
- I had sex with a ridiculously handsome, heavily tattooed foreigner whose only drawback was he quoted Joyce when drunk*
- I completed a draft of my new Dark Dates novel and collection of short stories, and prep notes and ideas for three other books
So… all in all, maybe not a bad year?
*This totally isn’t true, I just wanted to see if you read to the end. It’s on my goals for next year, mind.