The Personal Essay: Psychedelly’s 2017 to 2018

So, here we are. It’s almost the end of the year. I’m sitting in my room, trying to type up my year summary now, so that I don’t give in to the feeling of nostalgia and start trying to sell you thoughts that came to me just before New Year’s Eve or a while after. I’ve done a handful of these before – after all, I’ve been blogging since 2005, and whether it was “my dear diary” sort of thing or proper journalism, I never seemed to escape it.

And honestly, it’s also the first year of my adult life that I can call really, really good for me personally, from the start to the finish line. I feel fulfilled, and it’s a pleasant feeling that equals to looking at a puppy you’ve been overseeing for quite a while; I’ve done so much of what I’ve planned that I’ll really give myself some self-care this Christmas.

This year, I’ve drafted a novel. I’ve written quite often. I’ve completed a journalism course, as well as two film-related ones. I’ve watched a lot of films, some of them at the London Film Festival for the first time in my life. I’ve travelled around Europe, making my small dream come true. I’ve got my first photography assignment that I’m proud of. I’ve designed some nice things.  I went to some great gigs, some cool exhibitions, read some excellent books. The first proper year of post-graduation adulting has gone down pretty nicely.

But there are a couple of things I need to change in the new year, and as I tweeted before: if you say it on a public forum, it’s on you to do it so that it doesn’t bite you back. So here it goes: be it pulling a plug on social media, learning, self-care or continuing to fight anxiety, all listed below.

Firstly, I really and truly need to learn how to detach myself from social media. Without a doubt, it’s an essential tool for me: I aspire to be an author and entertainment writer, so I need to stay up to date and interact with people. The websites like Twitter capture the prompt changes better than anything else, and it’s the only medium for me, technically still outside the industry, to interact with writers and experts I look up to. However, as an old-time idealist and a person who tries to be aware of the impact of the current events, I’m also extremely impulsive. Consequently, I get angry at everything that’s unjust.

In the past two years, I’ve seen the worst, saddest of the headlines breaking on social media. That does bring you down, and although you want to do something that changes the world, you end up doing nothing else than shouting at the vortex that eventually throws your words onto the Data Centre 242 somewhere far away. Read receipts on or off, it stops mattering until it does, until somebody scours your social media profile to understand you better, or to pick on you. Is she progressive? Does she sound silly? Does she say things that could break T&C’s or something? Gotcha. Screenshot that. Actions matter more than words. Words matter more than actions. Adjust as necessary, take them out of context and put the new words in their mouth. There are real fake news to be fought, but this is a new alternate reality that applies to everyone. Two things only the people anxiously desire: bread and circuses; if you lack the primer, feed them with alternative facts. There’s always a multitude of the latter, so don’t worry about that: as A Pop-Culture Icon once sang in Circus, two types of people only the world recognises: entertainers and observersWho are you proclaimed to be?

Scroll to the comment section to find out.

@username_213: “Why did you just put ancient Rome and Britney in one paragraph, you bloody millennial? It’s a blasphemy, you ruined Julius Caesar now.”

@uniqueuser432: “@username_213 LEARN HISTORY SNOWFLAKE ITS NOT JULIUS CAESAR!!! ITS SOME POLITICAL POET JUVENAL LET THAT SINK IN”

@badegg: “Well actually, this metaphor is so pretentious, why would you add some ancient analogies to it?! Nobody cares lol”

@someegg: “She just sounds darn grumpy lmao”

@imjustanegg: “Such a nuanced take on Britney, but I wish it had a little more context, like an analysis of her previous work.”

@opinionated_guy: “Is this a review of The Greatest Showman? Asking for a friend”

@keyboardwarrior: “Women should stay in the kitchen. Also, bloody foreigners!!!”

@YouNeedJesus: “These children go abroad and forget their homeland, they forget their faith!!!”

@SomeoneOnInternet: “Did she cut her hair recently? I think it might be a breakdown.”

Miss Social Media Karma, another day, another drama. A Millennial Mary Sue, or modern Nero burning Rome with an opinion at a time? I let out a chuckle, close the app with a quick, well-practiced swipe, then put my earphones in. I press play, I pick up a book. The airport lounge becomes serene.

Towards the end of the year, Daisy Ridley and Armie Hammer left social media, prompting me to ponder about how we interact when we don’t get the feeling of that real person on the other side. To be honest, it’s easier for me to just be myself on there precisely because of that. But I’ve had a lot of thoughts regarding how toxic these platforms can be, especially when the likes of Facebook, Twitter and whoever else are more focused on getting people hooked in with endless scrolling for ad revenue rather than actually understanding human behaviour and weeding abuse out. Are you still watching? Are you still scrolling? Are you enraged enough to stay?

I am, endlessly scrolling, Twitter_User25523, the data centre profile with preferences that allow others to sell me shit I’ve already got, but much cooler. I am, a Londoner, with a degree, occupation: Professional/technical, market segments of interest: Media & Entertainment/Movie Lovers, Book Lovers, Art & Theater Aficionados, News & Politics, Travel/Air Travel. I am, and this is how a machine sees me, through data; the ultimate dossier and currency of power, collected with a little help from our partners, which you voluntarily give up if you want to stand up on your own piece of the online floor. Sign up, sign in, show up, repeat.

Wait, if it wasn’t for these #personalised ads, many media outlets would have no way of sustaining themselves, even a quarter of a penny per view makes a difference if the audience is big enough. Shut up and take my money, then. But isn’t it the same for alt-opinion platforms, still accepted by the advertisers who care about the reach, #conversions and not the quality? Brands Capitalise On Social Responsibility, Experts Say, but only a few actually try to do it. And yet I am, still scrolling and therefore complicit, but dedicated to having an opinion and uprooting the world by kicking, punching and screaming at something I can’t see. I am. Dubitoergo cogitoergo sum.

Screw facts, use strong emotions, that’s how you connect with people, they say. Tag your friends, they say. And so, I feel connected with, at any given time and place, therefore I exist.

I get sucked in easily, scrolling through the timeline. I find myself reaching for the phone every time I’m not focused or bored. A machine labels me with restrictive categories, but it’s a pain when I comply with the algorithm thinking and start acting all robotic. Refresh. That’s funny. Retweet. That’s OUTRAGEOUS, WHAT DID THEY DO AGAIN?! Bad take. Can You Hear This GIF? Because They Can And It Will Surprise You. Refresh. Good take. Hit like. Uh, the last episode of Black Mirror was so disturbing, who knows what the future will bring? Like. What the… Okay. Quote-tweet that with some smartassery you came up on the spot. And that, too, is exhausting; as millennials, we get a bad rep for posting every single thought that crosses our minds, yet the time goes so quick in this new reality that we have to weigh in on everything 24/7 not to fall out of the loop. Oh, the youthquake, the word of 2017! And although social media opened up the world for conversation, it also fundamentally misunderstands it. Trolls growing in swathes, energy vampires lulling you to sleep with their altoptions once you’re wearied. They’ve got a platform, therefore they exist.

I think that I started to realise that being a Very Viral Person 423523 gives you a quick shot of dopamine and instant gratification, but it also attaches some heavy baggage to your mental health. It’s easy not to compare yourself to people, and so I go on Behance to rethink my skills, on Medium to question my writing, or on Instagram to stack my lifestyle against others. It’s all shiny, it’s in my magpie nature to watch it glimmer. But you’ve got to build a body of work to make yourself established as an artist. One hit wonders don’t work, and gaining expertise takes time and consistent effort.

Now, I’m reading Winter by Ali Smith, and it touched me deeply with a handful of cold observations of this world we live in. And therefore, I proclaim to disconnect more often. Social media has grown to be more than a tool, and I need to keep it where it belongs. It’ll stay a platform to express my thoughts, a platform to be vocal about the issues I care about, but not something that destroys my self-confidence and wellbeing.

Hashtag, Get Offline And Let It Go Sometimes.

Secondly, I know I need some self-care that I’ve often been neglecting. I’ve been lifting heavy weights throughout the year. Unfortunately, that often meant I forgot to sleep or eat, especially from October onwards. The mythology of the side hustle speaks to me a little too strongly, and I tend to stay connected with the people who do the same thing to inspire myself. That’s why I write myself enormously long to-do lists, deal with a massive inbox of my magazine when I come back home from work, I put together the answers to my assignments.

But you’ve got to do it all to have it all. Let’s be honest, I adore being busy too, for it fuels my sense of purpose. And you can have it all, you little ray of fucking sunshine, just push harder and think of the results. And it doesn’t help that I want to do everything myself because I’ll learn, and if it goes wrong, there’s no one else to hold accountable but myself. You gotta aim high, right?

But the outcomes of the extreme are easy to predict: bad moods, migraines and my body trying to put me to sleep when I need to stay awake. The ray of sunshine faded and lost a fair chunk of its badassness (okay, fine, I’m gonna check if this word even exists). To fix it, I’ll start this Christmas, actually: I’ve got the entire home spa routine planned, books stacked and films added to the watchlist. I’m gonna chill so hysterically that I’ll stock up on all the stardust I’ve lost over the last couple of months, I promise.

Contrary to what some of the success tales might want you to believe, it’s important to recharge, and I need to make it a habit. Someone I follow on social media shared this article recently, and it applies to absolutely everyone in the high-geared society that moves three times as fast as it used to. And although I half-agreed with some of the arguments, the conclusion had a really strong impact on me. Before you write out another list of goals and slam another Red Bull, think about what you are really trying to accomplish.

It’s counterproductive to be on all the time; it’s a highway to a burnout. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely important to put the hours in if you want to get something, but you can do it without shattering yourself to pieces. Sometimes, I feel, it’s also arrogant and irritating to others when you can’t hang out with them for the sixth time in a row because your mind is elsewhere, you’ve got a million things on your to-do list, and you never do the elaborating on what you’re actually doing. Or when you do, it starts sounding more like an excuse than an explanation. I’ve had it done to me, so I should probably know better. And I don’t want to become this person, so I’m learning from my past mistakes and doing little things for myself in the upcoming year: a coffee with a friend, a run in the park (last time I’ve done it was in the summer, can you believe it?!), a haircut because I want to change something and not because it’s easier to manage shorter hair, a good book and a cup of tea with a room full of scented candles, a film for pleasure of watching it, or simply a peaceful sleep at night.

Conclusion: Chill Out Sometimes.

Next up: I want to continue learning. As I said, I’ve completed a journalism course to get the opportunity to write more often, because it’s my nine-to-five only to a certain extent, and in a totally different context. I’ve fast-tracked a film business course, so I feel I understand the industry a tad better. Finally, I took a film theory course, which gave me a better background to analyse the films I pick, but it also allowed me to refresh the classics I’ve seen when I was younger and watch new stuff.

Having accomplished that, I think I need to get back to square one: I’m planning to get out there and hopefully work with more experienced editors. It’s been four years since I last wrote for a national newspaper in Poland, my English has improved and I feel I need to dare myself more often. And I’ll sit down to re-learn the rules of grammar and punctuation to make sure I’m doing it right. Not to mention it’ll help me redraft my novel, too.

I also want to learn informally. I’m still in awe when some of my favourite film critics throw references to films I should know into their reviews and essays. I understand I need to watch more and challenge myself with stuff I’ve never seen before. My indie film watching habits were much better when I was still a student, but I managed to improve them a little towards the end of the year. I’ve watched much more than a hundred this year, I think, and that’s far more than an average human being would see, but I’m craving new stories with every new movie I encounter.

My Goodreads reports I’ve read 14 books this year, which is a terrifying underachievement. Granted, I didn’t put all the stuff I’ve read on there, so I likely finished around 20 this year (still a disgrace!). I’ve travelled to 12 countries, but there are so many places to go to and explore that I’ll still want to take a couple of breaks next year. I’ve seen around four theatre plays, which could’ve been better. I’ve been to a few gigs, but I’d still love to see bands live more often. And that ties in nicely with the previous resolution or whatever we decide to call it: find people to do it with you, then go. If there’s no one to go with, go on your own and don’t wait for anything.

Learn More Sometimes, I hear my mentor saying.

And the final point is the shift in my attitude, which is highly connected to all of the above. I need to find some balance and peace of mind, take a closer look at and reconsider a couple of things. My mindset is so much better than it used to be when my eating disorder and depression beat me down:  I accept I can’t control everything, and take things as they are. I know that perfection is subjective, and there are always things that can be worked on with feedback, without stressing myself about it or putting myself down. What’s coming will come and we’ll meet it when it does, I repeat after the book hero, which saves me from a little bit of unnecessary worrying. Also, I tend to put myself out there more often these days, doing more things that frighten me, and it’s only for the best.

However, there are things that I intend to work on. I still can be overly concerned that people won’t like me for who I am and that I’m a massive fraud that’s about to get revealed, so I hide this meticulously and still step back from interactions quite often. There’s that thing, and it might be strange: I’ve never particularly thought of myself as introverted until the worst of the ED mess hit me for the first time at sixteen, and I most certainly don’t think of myself as such when I’m with a large group of people but I’ve got back-up. I can enjoy the party all right, especially after a few drinks, and I’ve usually got no problem to talk to strangers (the fact that I’ve recently made friends with my local tube station team might be the proof).

What’s more, I’ve got a hell of a temperament, which I used to hone in performance classes: there was no one who would voluntarily participate in every school play as often as I did, and I was a little annoying teacher’s pet superstar of every poetry performance contest my school has ever organised. I remember that I wrote a parody song for a contest once; despite the fact that my singing abilities have much to be desired, I got out there with my classmates and we started to be plain stupid onstage without an ounce of shame. Then, waiting for the result, we went into the crowd and encouraged people to vote for us. The next day, somebody started singing my very own dumb lyrics at me, and I wouldn’t hang my head down and mutter something under my nose, no. I’d snap something in response instead.

Then, consider this: I’m at uni, in an improv class, and I’m begging not to be engaged. It looks fun, but nah, I won’t do it. Everyone will judge me, and I’ll be humiliated, so why would I bother? My accent is really annoying, I think, so I’d rather crawl under the desk. My turn comes. I say something incredibly weird that makes people laugh, but I don’t see this as a good thing: I still step back with my palms all sweaty (oh hi Eminem!), limbs shaking and heart pounding.

Sadly, and it might have something to do with my Polish upbringing, I was taught that you shouldn’t be proud of your achievements because it’s not humble enough, and a girl should pride herself in modesty. They’ll find you if you do good work, I heard so many times. And it’s the worst piece of advice anyone could give me in the golden age of personality.

Now that I think of it, I believe that I tend to use the introversion label to avoid certain situations that make me scared, and I think I finally need to step up and deal with it so that it disappears completely. It did improve a lot when I worked in customer service, to the extent that I actually stepped into supervising others, but because my setting tends not to have interaction with people under pressure that requires thinking on your feet these days, I don’t practise as much (and practice makes perfect when it comes to these things).

Again, I’ve had that test at work that tells you what your personality type is, and when I got the result, I read a bit about introversion. I’ve finished Quiet. I’ve had a handful of questions, so I went to Susan Cain’s website to find an article that basically mirrored my behaviour in some situations. And it did feel familiar when I read thisIt makes you slip out of the birthday party early because you’re convinced you’re boring or don’t fit in or that you’re breaking out in hives and everyone will see. But then you miss the cake and the singing… Oh dear, it sounds just about right. And guess what, it becomes some sort of self-fulfilled prophecy too. Having read this, I understood myself better, because being an introvert isn’t supposed to make you feel bad: it’s meant to be your choice when it comes to your interactions and not a reason for avoidance. If you feel it’s not your nature, you seem to have a problem to solve.

And I’ve done so much to better myself already that it’d be a shame not to fight the issue that’s hindered my life for so long.

Therefore, Fight Your Fear Sometimes.

Beyond all this, there’s a handful of smaller things. Vlog more. Start a podcast. Make the most of Beside, even after the departure of some of the writers which will be missed dearly (and they know that). Sometime in the future, make it a print thing. Draw more if you get a chance. Make wiser choices. Meet new people. Send thank you emails to writers whose articles/books made you feel something. The list can be a lot longer.

All of them point to one sentence, however.

Keep yourself occupied, chase your dream, and dare to be happy.

 

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Dear Reader.

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