Reflections On A Birthday

*Gasp!* A personal, self-indulgent post! On a blog devoted to nothing more than shamelessly promoting my own upcoming work and stirring up interest! Who’d have thought?

…As if every word that comes out of my mouth isn’t self-indulgent.

Anyway. Carrying on.

A few days ago, I completed my twenty-fifth turn around the sun. The day was as low-key as any birthday in These Unprecedented Times™ can be. I got a few nice presents, I got to eat some lovely homemade chocolate cake, and I totally destroyed my sister and her friend in a startlingly short game of Monopoly. The wisdom I’ve been stubbornly touting for years finally paid off; I impulse-bought whatever I could, invested in the amenities and train stations most of my family point and laugh at, and adopted a bull-headed approach to negotiation where I tried to hamstring my competitors far more than building up my own resources. And it all worked out, pretty damn fine.

As birthdays go, it wasn’t the most spectacular, much like last year’s, thanks in no part to the state of the world. In ordinary times this wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much – apart from my three bacchanalic undergrad years I’ve never really been big on birthdays (or Christmas, either, if I’m being honest), so I didn’t feel I was missing out by not rocking up to the nearest club and getting shitfaced.

I’d say I enjoyed the day more than last year’s, primarily because last year both the world and I were in a significantly darker place. Last year I scarcely marked the day at all, as thanks to shielding through lockdown one I literally hadn’t left my house (scarcely my room, in all honesty) in about 2 months by that point. I was also about 30,000 words deep into Legion That Was – with the planning and outlining all done upfront, but still doing a lot of research on the fly – and the only presents I’d asked for that year were Ancient Roman reference books to help with the work!

It’s fairly easy to get tunnel vision when the world around you – literally, the entire freaking world around you – is going to shit. And that’s a fair assessment of what I did last year. I practically forsook any connection to the outside world, doing nothing to stop my bonds of friendship and accustomed level of human contact completely wither away to nothing.

And short term, it worked. I got a lot of wordcount done in those first few months of pandemic. It was probably, from that narrow perspective, the most productive few months of my adult life, when you compare it with my last few years. But it wasn’t sustainable. To say I hit rock bottom that summer is probably the understatement of the century, but it happened nonetheless. The year or so that’s followed has largely been an effort to build back up from that point, the patience of family and the support of some amazing friends.

But I digress. While I’m better than where I was, I can’t say I’m particularly happy to be 25. Quarter life crises really are a thing, and the fact that I’m no longer in my early twenties – that I’m in fact, closer to 30 than 20 by a handful of days – certainly is a sobering revelation.

I think it’s because, like I suspect a lot of people my age, I’m not really where I’d like to be at this point, four years since leaving Uni. The pandemic has a certain way of tanking career plans, and thanks to my lovingly-persistent side course of chronic pain, I’m still not at a point where I could start a new position. It has a way of limiting a fair few other parts of life, too, those that aren’t already limited. For someone who used to be very physically active, and took an almost narcissistic pride from that fact, that’s probably been the biggest blow of all.

There’s every reason to believe that this state of affairs won’t be permanent, just like there’s every reason to believe that if we all keep our discipline and safely roll ahead with life, we’ll be able to put the pandemic behind us.

But both, I’m sure you’ll agree, do feel kind of distant from the here and now.

I feel the urge to make a shitty quip about great art coming out of great suffering, and how it took a long and painful bout of arthritis in 2018, and a global apocalypse now, for me to be able to earn my stripes as a writer. But in all honesty, the prospect of only being able to produce work in times of personal calamity is… troubling. Being able to write full time and live comfortably is the dream for me, as I’m sure many other writers would agree, but for the immediate future at least, I’d still like to be able to write at the same time as doing something else in the world of work.

I didn’t get many messages to mark my birthday this year, which like most years, momentarily got on my nerves before I came down to earth again. I notice it more because I spend an inordinate amount of time in my room, either ‘working’ or simply reflecting on what I’m missing out on, and it’s easy to forget that at this stage, plenty of other people are enjoying a little more freedom. I’ve long transcended the point of giving a fuck about my social media (my personal ones, at least), or measuring my self-worth through then, and since leaving Uni I’ve found there are more meaningful ways to measure one’s friendships.

One curious upshot of These Unprecedented Times™ is how much I’ve shifted to actual voice and video calls, instead of just texts and messages. For someone who would rather roll over and die than speak to a stranger on the phone, I’ve surprised myself, and the effect has been obvious. Whether it’s Sunday evening Discord chats or the occasional facetime over WhatsApp, I’ve been in contact with my nearest and dearest far more regularly than I’ve ever been before.

Which is something, if not everything. While having that consistent interaction with family and closest friends has been a massive part for all of us getting through this apocalypse, human beings aren’t built to just mix within their tribes. I read an article a year or so ago about how the pandemic has unwittingly erased entire classes of friendship – not necessarily the people you are closest to, the ones you make time for, and would make efforts to see in normal times regardless of circumstance. But the people you fall in with unintentionally. The ones you just see, or cross paths with, whether that’s at work, in the cusps of neighbouring friend groups, or who rub shoulders on the commuter train or coffee shop. It doesn’t feel like much, but it’s a big thing to be starved of.

I’ve had this niggling suspicion for a while now that, if anything, the year ahead could in some ways be harder than the one that came before. Sure, things are largely better, and while we’ve probably got some more surges ahead, the virus is gradually getting beaten back with every vaccine and bit of research. But on the other hand, after god knows how long of hunkering down and accepting a new, diminished way of life, gradually returning to normal could be a more painful road than we expected.

At the time of writing this, I know people who are moving to other cities to start jobs. I have friends who are getting married this summer, and are steaming ahead with plans as restrictions ease. People I know from the drama scene, after a year of virtual work, are finally rehearsing in-person plays again. And that’s wonderful. That’s amazing. They’re all encouraging signs of a world sliding slowly, perhaps unwillingly, back to normal.

But as someone who has gone through those same tribulations, and who isn’t quite getting a let-up any time soon, I admit watching all that is giving me some very mixed feelings.

So, in all honesty, no. I’m not especially thrilled at the prospect of being 25. Or for what, precisely, this coming year holds.

Here endeth that painfully earnest bout of introspection. I’m not really in the habit of waxing philosophical, particularly online. I also appreciate that people come to this blog to read news about my work, not to see me air my melancholic dirty laundry, and I assure you I’m not planning to make a habit of this.

You have my word that I’ll be back on my usual self-promotional bollocks next week.

In other news, The Ebony Tomb trundles along, fairly slowly. I had a fairly bad week productivitywise, and didn’t get much done for a couple of days either side of my birthday, but I’m hoping to get more done in the coming seven days. I’ve also started sketching out some preliminary notes for the next ghost story I’m going to write, Exeunt, though given how much of a grind this current one is, it may not be out for a while.

In the next couple of weeks, I may have something else to show you too. Something Roman-y. Maybe something cover art-y.

And in conclusion, perhaps it’s time to end this rather sombre blogpost with a slightly sunnier sentiment…

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