The existential dread. Join us… or are you already there?

sma niell

The existential dread has hit my little urban family hard this year.

I thought it’d happen at 30. That’s what people tell you. And don’t get me wrong, at 30 I had a fair enough freak out. But it wasn’t dread. At worst, it was just confusion.

The dread, is a whole other thing. I can best describe it as a sense of mild panic, nostalgia and guilt, mixed in with irrational fear. I’ve always been neurotic, so I thought best to ignore it. Concentrate on work in the week, and concentrate on drowning the fear with wine at the weekend.

But it’s come to light that it’s not just me, it’s an epidemic. Which was at first comforting, but then I realised, if we all feel like this, and none of us have a clue what we’re doing, how do we stop it?

The only thing I can think of is to share the fear and hope that it’ll make someone else in the same situation feel better. Safety in numbers after all.

Sleep (including lie-ins)

What the fuck happened to sleep? Lyrics & books are a great way to judge how your outlook changes over time. Read something at a certain point in life, then read it again later and you can feel the meaning shift like a shaky foundation underneath you.

When I was thirteen, me and my friend Donna bought Catatonia’s International Velvet. I remember listening to Cerys singing a particular line in Strange Glue; ‘The end of the night never comes too quickly for me’.

What? (Thought my incredulous 13-year-old-self) The end of the night always comes too quickly. A lie in, bed, a great sleep has always fixed everything.

It’s only recently I’ve understood what she meant. Now (especially on a Sunday), the night is a series of hours where your own bastard brain relentlessly demands to know you what you’re doing. It reminds you about money. Tells you you’re going to fail at work. Tells you you’re going to look like shit in the morning because you haven’t slept. Tells you you should follow your dreams (whatever they are, you aren’t sure) instead of doing what your doing (whatever that is, you’re not sure about that either).

In the morning, you curse yourself for not having slept well, because if you had, all these issues (now a distant and trivial memory) wouldn’t even have occurred with you. You’re like a vampire in the daylight again, hiding the cracks with sunscreen (or foundation) so you don’t have to answer any questions.

Relationships

Don’t get me wrong, relationships have always been a pain in the arse, and a source of potential panic. I know this. But in your 30′s, for an extra bonus, you’re aware of time. It was painful, cocking things up in your 20’s. But now it’s not a sharply felt pain – it’s a niggling, like a headache about to start.

What if you make the wrong decision? Waste a year in your 20’s – no biggie. Waste one in your 30’s, that’s one year less that anyone, anywhere is going to fancy you because you’re heading to 40.

What if you never get married? What if you don’t want to get married? What if you marry the wrong person? Better end it now than get divorced. But what if you end it now through fear of divorce, and realise everything was actually fine and it was just the fear talking? Do all the people who say ‘when it’s the one, you just know’ actually know? Or are they just lying?

More likely – are they just more practical? Who the fuck knows. This kind of pointless train of thought leads on to the following…

Babies

Do I want one? Should I want one?

I like having my time free to write neurotic rants like this, then go to the pub with mates. With my vagina in tact. I like having the option to sleep at night (though often that’s scuppered anyway, as mentioned in point 1). But surely not as scuppered as it would be by an unnecessary, expensive, time and planet resource consuming child.

What if I decide at 45 I did want one, but now I’m too old? What if having a child (quote verbatim from my ma) “will be the making of me”, and I don’t have one, and am therefore never truly, er, made.

What if I don’t have one and I have no girlfriends to hang out with anymore as they all had one, can’t come out at normal adult-with-a-job social hours, and on the odd occasion they do we have nothing to talk about as I don’t know or really care what small people do, and my nearest point of reference is how drunk big people act?

What if I do have one, and (as mentioned in point 2) it was with the wrong man, and he either leaves me stuck with the energy and youth sucking little shit, or worse, doesn’t leave me and we spend the next 30 years resenting each other and putting a face on ‘for the kids’.

Again, I have no answer to this.

Jobs

What does my job mean? Does it matter?

What happened to my hopes and dreams, of travelling, being a journalist, all that. Do normal people jack all that in for stability and a decent wage?

Did it take so long to haul-ass up the ladder (the climb sustained by the worry I’d be a barmaid forever living on tips and free drinks) that I forgot to look where I was going? Do I actually love my job and feel guilty about it?

The higher you climb, the more you find yourself riddled with guilt and terrified of falling off. Half of you is proud, half of you is panicked. But past a certain age, you hide the panicked part because you have to, and your exterior becomes a mask of calm.

Is that normal?

Is it ungrateful to even wonder whether it’s normal? Am I a dick? The last question I can answer definitively. Yes.

Where are all the grownups?

Remember that time you lost your parents in a crowd? You were probably looking at something shiny and grabbed the shiny thing. When you turned round to show them, you were met by a forest of towering legs below a sea of stranger’s blank faces, going about their business.

You felt tiny and lost.

Well your 30′s are like that, but you’re not permitted to have a breakdown on the floor in tears. If you did, rather than kindness, you’d be met by redundancy and and bill you can’t afford from a shrink.

You are the grown up.

The grownups you remember, the ones with mortgages, kids, cars, jobs where you wear a suit and read a paper at the weekend – they’re you and your friends. The same friends you smoked a fatty with in the skate park while necking 20/20 what seemed like five minutes ago.

Got a question and need advice? You’re fucked.

Last but not least… rose tinted specs. 

My friend Donna (remember, from point 1) – has known me since I was 11.

If she reads this, she’ll no doubt (another great 90’s band, with an ironic name given the context) remind me that when we listened to that Catatonia album for the first time, we hugely overanalysed the lyrics, searching for what they meant.

I know (thinking logically, which I do on occasion) I’ve always been a little unsure of everything. I think we all are.

This may be the most irritating thing about your 30’s and the existential dread.

Friendships, jobs, relationships – everything seems easier and more fun when you look back.

I hate it when I hear my dad hark on about the golden days of the 50s, maybe because it strikes a nerve. Do we all turn into our parents in the end, lamenting our lost and semi-fictional youth?

Probably.

I’m also aware that we aren’t that old.

If anyone could advise on how to get a good night’s sleep and prevent the continuation of this shit, i.e., lamenting the lost awesomeness of my 30’s when I’m 40, I’d like to hear from them.

Anyway, fellow friend of the fear, sleep well…

Theatre review: Fagin’s Twist @Circomedia, Bristol

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Energetic, brutal and beautiful, Avant Garde Dance’s Oliver Twist is not nearly as well-mannered as the Oliver we’re familiar with. This Oliver doesn’t ask for more, he demands it.

Circomedia’s unique stage is the perfect place for an urban retelling of Dickens’ tale of poverty, crime and homelessness. Read the full review in Bristol 24/7…

Theatre Review – Jack Thorne’s junkyard at Bristol Old Vic

The cast of Jack Thorne's 'Junkyard'

Often the hardest stories to tell are the most simple. Junkyard’s wonderfully guileless and direct plot is so disarming that you cannot help but be drawn in by its innocence.

From acclaimed Bristol writer Jack Thorne (This is EnglandLet the Right One In), Junkyard is a musical like none you’ve ever seen.

Read the full review in Bristol24/7

Small Stories has something new to say…

Small not back

Welcome to Small Stories!

For anyone who has been to Small Stories before, we used to be a monthly event for local writers – but we’re aiming to say something different this time.

Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone has the opportunity to tell it. The most interesting stories tell the truth. But in a world of noise and distraction, where charity funding is cut and self-promotion and marketing are key, many important stories get drowned out.

That’s where Small Stories comes in.

We aim to give charities and the people they serve a voice. Our audiences can enjoy and evening of honest, interesting and important stories that may otherwise go unheard. The people who need to tell those stories get to have their say, and hard working charities who can help them get to spread their word – for free.

The new Small Stories events will raise funds and awareness for local charity and community organisations by giving them a bigger voice. The best stories are rooted in truth as well as imagination.

We’ve got a great line up for you, for a great cause.

For our first event, we’ll be working with The Harbour, a Bristol based free counselling service. We’d like to tell you a few tales about why talking, writing, and having a space where you can honestly share your thoughts, without judgement, makes all the difference.

Expect an evening of Spoken Word, Comedy, Short Stories, and Poetry – followed by an open Q&A about mental health.

That’s not all. There’ll be live music and immersive visuals to wind you down – and a Bristol-based street artist will be illustrating live on stage throughout our performances. The original art will be auctioned off to you, the audience, to raise funds for The Harbour.

We’re still in the planning stages, but if you’d like to be a part of something great, leave your email and we’ll send you all the details…

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Zero @ Alma Tavern – Review

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Sometimes you meet someone, out in the pub, surrounded by noise and chatting at ten miles an hour. They’re a bit gobby, they’re making too many jokes, and you know it’s not real. You wonder what they’re like when they’re on their own, and whether they are sad.

You can see that most of the people around them haven’t noticed, because they are having fun. Or they have noticed, but it’s harder to ask if that person is alright than it is to keep up the banter. If they ask, they don’t know what answer they’ll get. It might ruin the party.

Read my review in Bristol 24/7

Reginald D Hunter @ Bristol Comedy Garden – Review

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Not being funny, but Bristol needed a laugh this week.

After the sporting and political fails on the European front, it was bound to get a mention. And of course, it did. The one good thing about Brexit is that it meant freshly written material at Bristol Comedy Garden last night.

Read my review in Bristol 24/7

Help! Review of Viki Browne’s play at Wardrobe Theatre

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It takes a brave woman to stand in front of a room full of strangers in a skin-coloured leotard. It takes an even braver woman (and one with a bloody good sense of humour) to wear a leotard and confess that she needs help. Because, well, that makes you look like you do. 

And that’s the whole point to Bristol performer Viki Browne’s bizarre, touching and engaging one-woman show.

Read my full review in Bristol 24/7 mag…

Review: It’s Shaun the Sheep! Aardman Animations in conversation with Marcus Brigstoke: Bristol Slapstick Festival 2016

Shaun the sheep

On Saturday afternoon Shaun the Sheep fans young and old gathered at St George’s to hear from Aardman writers and directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton about just what makes Shaun such an internationally adored critter.

Read my full review in Bristol24/7…

Film Review: Chicago – Cecil B. DeMille (1927)

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Murder, adultery and all that jazz: Chicago has been a hit Broadway musical, a critically acclaimed film, and has sparked the imagination of anyone who secretly loves a little glitz, a moonshine cocktail and a bit of bad behaviour. And there’s something uniquely compelling, fun and totally unique about Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent Chicago that the other film versions just don’t have.

Read the full review in Bristol24/7

Here’s to the neurotic lost people, you winners. Happy 2016.

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I usually do one of these rambles on the new-year. But this year seems a bit different.

I turned 30. I’m an adult, (at least numerically). The only thing that’s changed though really, is that I pretend a lot these days. What if writing the usual ramble exposed the pretence, I thought.

Then I thought, fuck it.

This ramble is for those people who have failed relationships, have had terrible jobs, have made big mistakes, and, most importantly, are still a bit lost. If that’s you, good work. Being lost is the best thing that will happen to you. If you think you’re not lost anymore, then you’re screwed. Here come some things I think I’ve learned.

People are unkind, but only when they’re scared.

Brizzle chaps will remember that bit of graffiti in the bear pit that just said ‘Relentless Optimism’, as you stepped out into the grey chaos of Stokes Croft.

That’s the best bit of advice I’ve ever read, and I read a lot. The world is fucking mean. By 30, you realise 90% of the people you know don’t really give a toss about you. They don’t really know you in fact. They get on with you because your lifestyles circumstantially cross over for a fleeting time.

And in time, when (if) you meet up with these people again, you have to revert to being whatever person you were during that brief time you had something in common. However, the 10% you meet that are still friends when all that convenient lifestyle shit is over are pure gold. You can’t make those friends by arranging awkward lunches, going shopping, having similar jobs, all that crap.

They make the 90% who say they’re are proud if you do well, but only because it makes them look better, and who are only kind when you feel bad because it makes them feel better, worth knowing. Those people have their value too. Their value is to make you realise fitting in is exhausting, and actually, you don’t really give a shit.

Don’t expect anyone to bail you out.

Most people, no matter how much they know and love you, or how well you think you know them, won’t help you. They have their own stuff to do and worry about.

Some people will help. They’ll support you, they’ll notice when you are sad or struggling, without you having to make it explicit. But most people won’t pick up on your hints. They won’t have heard, and if they have, all they will see those hints as is an inconvenience, and they’ll see you later, when you’ve sorted it out.

If you are a kind person, just bear that in mind.

Don’t judge. No matter what people do, they had a reason.

People will do awful things. They will make you sad, and they will make you mean and bitter if you let them. You’ll do the same to people back, even if you don’t realise it, or mean to.

However, everyone does what they do for a reason. Most of the time, that reason isn’t because they are a bad person. You can paint anything anyone does as awful if you are on the receiving end, and they can do the same to you. If you are kind to people, whatever they’ve done, most will respond well in the end. If they don’t, don’t hate them, just accept you’ve done all you can and move on. Just stick them in the forgettable 90%.

You can run anywhere, but you’ll still be there.

The saddest I have ever been was in the most perfect place I could imagine. That’s why I went there.

I escaped to Barbados, and swam far, far out into the sea, early in the morning. I’d messed up everything at home, badly. My family are from the Caribbean, so that’s where I thought I’d go.

I swam because I couldn’t sleep, and looking back at the pure white beach, the palm trees, while the sun came up, it was the most perfect place a person could ever be. And all I wanted to do was go home.

Sound like a whiney bastard? Yeah, I know, but that’s not really the point.

The point is you can look fine on the surface. You can buy everything. Drink everything. Be in all the best places. You can have the most perfect looking life, job, relationship, whatever. If you’re using all that stuff to hide from something in your own head, it’ll never work.

Wherever you run to, geographically or otherwise, you’ll still be there, snuggled in with your destructive side. However you manifest that, it’ll be there until you sort it out. So sort it out, then run, if you feel you still want to.

Stop saying yes to everything because you have to prove yourself.

That means friends, deadlines, favours, relationships, jobs… but it’s hard to stop. In your twenties, you have to prove a hell of a lot. You agree to a million things you shouldn’t, because you haven’t the confidence to say no. You may miss the opportunity, the chance to learn.

And that’s great, in a way. Agreeing to everything teaches you, slowly, to realise your worth as a person, and how much your time is worth.

Just be wary of trying to prove yourself, whether to partners, bosses, or any number of other people who charm you, flatter you, and who you feel are doing you a favour by giving you their time.

Women especially, I speak to you. Switch it around.

Are these people really worth your time? Are they really being kind, or do they see that you want to try your best, and can therefore politely undermine you for less that you’re worth?

You are as valuable as they are, whether you feel like it or not. And they are as unsure of themselves as you are too; they’ve just learned to hide it better.

No one is a grown up.

A long suspected accusation, but it’s only in the last year I’ve realised it really is true. And while terrifying (there really is no one to help you, you’ll just have to muddle through yourself, sorry) it’s quite a nice discovery.

First, there’s that bit where you suddenly understand your parent’s motivations for things, and realise that they hadn’t a bloody clue what they were doing either. And actually, that’s okay. They muddled through in their own way.

Then there’s work and all that other adult shit you pretend to understand. You spend forever working up; dealing with business, bosses, estate agents, bankers, you know, people above you, real adults.

But when you stop finding them intimidating and listen, you realise they haven’t a clue what they are doing either. They have learned to articulate themselves better, and to stop fiddling with their hair when they talk. That’s it.

At some point, those scary ‘grown up’ people realised they needed to learn the lingo. They started posturing. Standing in a position that takes up space, rather than making room for others.

Again, women generally seem to learn this a lot later than guys in the workplace, if ever.

N.B., Any blokes that are reading this and doing the ‘ah, a feminist rant’, sigh – Stop there. It’s not. Shy guys do the same thing, but I am a female, and therefore, I’ll write as such. That’s all I know!

When people intimidate you, just remember, it’s all blag. Every one of them feels like they are pretending, same as you.

Sometimes you will feel small.

That’s because you are. And if you ever feel big and important, you’re probably an industrial unit*

There are many people doing things that are as important as whatever you are doing, if not more so. That can seem daunting or depressing, but it really isn’t, not at all.

It’s horrible when you feel small and lost and like no one is looking after you, but that’s what being an adult is, and that’s great as far as I can see. Once you realise you are small, in charge of yourself, and that everyone can easily get on without you, you can be happy.

And you can do whatever you like.

You probably won’t make a lasting mark. Most people don’t. But what does a lasting mark mean anyway? If you can make someone else happy, just by being kind, and live a life where you are pretty happy with yourself, even though no one is looking, you’re onto a winner.

So why write this opinionated crap?

I feel better for starting 2016 knowing that if all the things that I worry about day to day go totally wrong, it’ll be fine.

If you think I’m being cynical or self indulgent, that’s your problem.

If someone reads this and feels better too, the relentless optimism was worth something after all.

*Whoever did that Bear Pit graffiti, thanks.