I’m in the library. I’m in the coffee shop. I’m in the combination library and coffee shop (and also art gallery).
Quite nice, exploring Leeds on weekends. I take Sunday and Mondays off these days – I made the change in Avignon, because Seth had Mondays off too, and it just stuck when I came back to England. Don’t really need to take Saturdays off, because Saturday is the day everyone goes drinking, and I don’t drink at the moment. Six weeks off the booze now, two months off cigs – longest I’ve ever abstained from either of them. Really proud of that. When I get in a grump about life I remind myself: no matter what else is vexing, whatever else may be dissatisfying, you’ve put a pin in two habits that were ruining you. And that’s really, really good!
I’m here ostensibly to work on my Australia novel (yes, still), but writing this site is like a little warm up, or something. I don’t like to leave World Hangover empty for too long. I worry about it. I think ‘what if friends I haven’t seen in a long time feel like having a read, just for old time’s sake, and they find I’ve not written anything – I will have wasted their time’. Another of the apparently endless little guilts I feel, basically always. But I’m alleviating it by doing this!
You have no idea how many of these articles I begin and then delete. It’s probably once or twice a week that I sit down and start to write these little diaries, and they’re inspired for the first 500 words and then the muse just fucks off and I find myself spiralling into tepid mediocrity and inarticulate ramblings about shit all, and then I shut my laptop and huff and then I’m in a bad mood all day believing I’m a talentless grub. But sometimes – like now, apparently – it goes well, and I feel good.
I bought some new clothes yesterday. I got some tan trousers and a sunburnt yellow top to wear under a denim shirt. I’ve been trying to make a summery new image for myself, to pair with my new ‘don’t be such a twat anymore’ vibe. My old clothes remind me of bad decisions and destructive behaviours. Like, it’s hard to look in the mirror and tell yourself that you’re on the path to positive change when you see the exact same person staring back. I guess that’s why girls dye a pink streak in their hair after breakups, isn’t it: the pink-haired person is somebody new. All those bad things happened to some other person.
I’ve grown a beard, too. I love my beard. It makes my jawline look fantastic. I’ve had the ability, more or less, to grow a beard for the last 7 years or so; I’ve just never stuck with it because it always gets itchy and messy and I can’t be bothered with it. I always get to around the 2 week mark then shave it off. But that’s a microcosm for my new outlook: fucking sticking with things and not giving up just because it’s hard. It’s so easy to write that, so simple it makes me want to throw myself through a window for not figuring it out sooner – but yeah. Nobody in life ever learns a lesson because somebody else gives them good advice. They learn by ballsing everything up, over and over, until ballsing up is simply not an option anymore. Because people don’t like change – especially slow, difficult change – and if our poor life decisions are working even just a tiny bit, we maintain our course, even as we fall apart. Unless you’re some sort of emotional willpower genius, you’ve got to hit bedrock. And it sucks ass. You lose everything. Then, eventually, once you’ve finished weeping and rolling around going ‘why me God, I am innocent’, you go: actually maybe I’m not so innocent. Maybe I am a bit of a problem. Maybe even a really big problem. But maybe I don’t have to be. And then you begin again – but better.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took them fuckin ages.
I watched a video on the rise and fall of empires the other day. It’s a Youtube video by Ray Dalio, a business guy with lots of money who talks very plainly about the things that he has learned throughout his career. In it, he talks about the universe, and life and all of it, and he talks about how we are all basically machines, and every single machine works for a while – wonderful – and eventually breaks, and comes apart, and parts of the broken machines become other machines, and the cycle continues like that. It made me feel inconsequential, in quite a comforting way. It’s nice to look at the rise and fall of entire societies, people fucking up all throughout time and history, and realise that you’re just another fuckup in an infinite line of fuckups. Just have to do your best.
He has a video on the economy too, which I found interesting. He talks about cycles of boom and bust on a grand scale, across countries and continents, and how we have these decades of high-earning, high-spending, followed by decades of relative poorness. And it moves in even bigger cycles too, which you can only see if you zoom out: century cycles. The roaring 20s, followed by the 1930s and the Great Depression. It got better very slowly, until at the turn of the millennium people were pretty affluent. Then pow – 2008, Great Recession, same thing again. I was panicking about the appalling job market and the cost of living until I saw that. It’s not the world ending. It’s just another cycle – the shame about it is just that me and people my age were born into a world dealing with the troughs of it all, rather than the eventual new peaks. Again, kind of makes me feel good. It’s not nihilism – just a release of pressure.
Still doing salsa, once a week. I really love it. I’m still in the beginner’s group, partly by choice, because the intermediate group is full of the serious salsa people who’ve been going for a long time, and I think I prefer the silliness of the intro group. I feel welcome there now; I’ve been the last four weeks in a row, Wednesday nights after work, and I know the teachers and say hello to them, and everybody dances with everybody, so in the space of two hours you’ve danced with maybe 20 people. How cool is that? How often can you say that you’ve danced with 20 people in an evening? Or even a year? And it’s all kinds of people too – young, old, posh, skint, any nationality. Everyone laughs, everyone gets stuck in, and I chat to the people I dance with and laugh a lot, and everyone ends up sweaty and discombobulated. It’s such a kick. I’d recommend it to anybody seeking to improve their mental health, I swear. In a world where loneliness is pandemic, the answer is simple: go hold hands with people in a room, learn to spin each other around, and laugh until your cheeks hurt! They ought to describe it in doctor’s offices.
I’m convinced that it’s here the answers lie. Not just in dancing, per se, but in human connection – in silliness and learning things together. You should see the smiles on people’s faces. Nobody in that room is thinking about their job, or their cock-ups, or their future or yesterday or last year. They’re just present. Absolutely present.
I go climbing, too, every Monday. My friend Alex picks me up at 9 or 8.30am – because you can get up at that time very easily when you’ve not been boozing all weekend – and we go to this climbing gym called Depot, just outside Leeds centre, and we stay there all day. It’s a vast, sunny, warehouse, colourful and clean, and they have a cafe where they sell cakes and fruit and coffee, and we climb for maybe 90 minutes, then we take a break and sit with our laptops. I work on my novel, he writes job applications, and then we climb a bit more, and four or five or six hours pass that way. Then in the evening we go back to his house (he’s at his parents too, he’s got a Masters from Oxford and a PhD from Cambridge, if he can’t find work either I feel validated), and we watch the dumbest films we can find – those films that are so crap they’re good. We watched ‘Old’ by M Night Shyamalan a few weeks back, it was outrageously shit and I worked myself up into a rage yelling out the insane plot holes, and I loved every second.
And on Sundays I often go see my dad and my little sister, and we go for a walk or a roast dinner or something, and I drink 0% Guinness and I catch up with my old man in between bouts of tickling with my sis. I tell my dad my plans for the future, and sometimes he says yes Dan, that’s a very good notion, and other times he says what are you on about you idiot, and then I say hmmm and have a little rethink. And sometimes I stay over, or sometimes I get the bus back to my mum’s, and I play a little Playstation with my brother Jack before I go to bed. And I sleep deep and easy, because it turns out you sleep blissfully when you don’t drink alcohol.
Still don’t know what the next step for my career is. Still don’t know where I’ll eventually settle and make a home. Still don’t know if I’ll ever finish my flippin book. I still don’t know what the future will look like, but that’s okay, because the present is pretty nice.