Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Theft on many scales

Today, everything both starts again and goes back to normal.

"That's a bit melodramatic, isn't it?" my mum said when I told her this on waking. "Goodness. Just how hard can it have been for Christ's sake?"
"It was a very exhausting process," I replied pithily.
"What," she said: "like a real job? Most people do ten hours of work and still manage to find time to do the laundry and feed the cat without collapsing into a corner with a hand strewn across their foreheads, Holly."
"It's not about physical exhaustion, mum," I announced (I always do this when peeved: I say the word mum like it's an insult). "It has been a journey. I have learnt a lot about myself, and my life, and what I want, and who I want to be. It has been an emotional rollercoaster," I added with dignity.
"Oh, really," she said with a distinct lack of punctuation. "What have you learnt?"
"Well," I said, staring thoughtfully out of the window. "I've learnt that... I've learnt that I really, really like beautiful islands in the Whitsundays."
There was a pause. Apparently this was not sufficiently rollercoaster-y.
"And I don't want to live with dad anymore, really," I added in a rush: "I need to find my own place pretty quickly. And I don't like being broke, and I really, really, really want to write forever and permanently. And I've learnt that boys are mean, and I talk too much. And I do too much to my hair. And I need to go travelling, as soon as I've got any money, which I don't have, so I need to get a job too."
There was a silence down the phone. I could hear mum was eating toast.
"I've learnt that my life kind of sucks, really," I summarised miserably.
I listen to mum swallow.
"And you didn't already know this?" she asked eventually. "I mean, forgive me if I'm wrong, Holly, but you didn't move home to party with your father: you moved home so you could write, and save money, and go travelling. You've always been rubbish with boys, and you've always talked too much. And don't get me started on your hair: if you had just left it alone when you were 15 like I told you to, you wouldn't be in this mess to start with." She took another bite of breakfast. "Your life temporarily sucks," she added, "so that it can be less sucky eventually. But we all knew that. I don't see what this competition has done other than make how sucky your life is public to the rest of the country."
"Alright, alright," I snapped. "I just like emotional journeys, mum. You know that. I don't want to feel like I'm back to the beginning, only four weeks behind, poorer and less popular. I have to feel like I've come out of this with something I didn't have to begin with."
"Well," mum said, "you have. You stole that pen from the Trafalgar Hotel, didn't you?"

She's right, of course. I did steal the pen from the Trafalgar Hotel. (And the stress ball, and the pack of mints, and the clip-board with fluffy-velvet lining.) And I probably haven't learnt a lot about myself that I didn't know already, except that I've announced it publicly, on air, to journalists and to a BBC film crew.

And that, I think, is the difference. In every sense possible, I have spent my life too scared of being rejected to put myself out there. In answer to the question "what do you do?" my response is usually: "I'm unemployed and I... er... you know... do a bit of scribbling in my spare time". I have never had the courage to say: "I am a writer. That's what I do. I write"; I have never had the courage to say it to myself, let alone to anyone else. I have put everything on the line to do it - left behind my job, my friends, a flat in London, a wage, the money to wear clothes that make me vaguely attractive - and yet I have never been able to hold my head up and say: "and if I fail, so be it. Here I am." I have spent my life brave enough to follow my dreams, and yet too scared to give them to anyone else to look at. Too terrified of having them broken to let them leave my hands.

Because of this competition - because I have had no choice ("if you don't start up a blog, you're out") - I have been pushed, blinking, into having to believe in myself, and having to risk being rejected. In a writing sense, but also in a romantic sense. I have gone from refusing dates for six months out of fear of being hurt again, and writing in my room in the dark for the same reason, to dating - and hurting - on national radio and putting my writing where everyone can see it. Nothing has changed - what I want has not changed - but my ability to say it aloud, to myself and to everyone else, has altered completely.

Today, my life goes back to normal. I will drink coffee, eat toast, write, perhaps go for lunch with Sarah (other Brit candidate: that's not normal, obviously. I didn't know her before hand). But, at the same time, I'm not sure it ever will go back to how it was before. Something has changed in me that I don't think will ever change back, and I'm not stiff with terror anymore that somebody will shatter my hopes and dreams and I will never be able to put myself back together again. Whatever happens, I think I now have the confidence to stand up and say "and if I fail, so be it. Here I am".

And that - along with the pen - is something I will steal from the last few weeks and carry around with me forever.