Baby Steps

Hello,

Yes, I am both alive and writing! This impromptu hiatus came from the good old-fashioned ‘shit I have a year’s worth of revision to do in three weeks’ fear, which is quite a reassuring kind of piercing dread compared to the other sources of piercing dread in my life these days.

And it’s that piercing dread, and assorted painful emotions prefaced with violent adjectives, that I want to write about today: shattering fear, gouging regret, gut-ripping despair, and the like.

This last year, from September to now, has been the hardest of my life. Certainly not the worst, but absolutely the hardest. I’ve fallen out with at least two close circles of friends twice each, and painstaking rebuilt the bridges I myself burned in operations about as easy as constructing a 1:1 scale replica of the Empire State Building out of matchsticks, chewing gum and discarded zippers from Sports Direct tracksuits. I also shed my assigned gender in scenes closely resembling the emergence of a butterfly from a cocoon, except if that butterfly suffered from crippling insecurity issues and fled back to their boring cocoon state whenever they hung out with their more beautiful and experienced butterfly mates who have been doing this butterfly malarkey for much longer. I started a magazine, lost interest, picked it up again, lost it again, and generally behaved as inconsistently as Rowan Atkinson’s character in the first season of Blackadder, and I was simultaneously distant from all of my societies, yet fanatically interested enough to sign up for two committee positions – including a presidency – next year, all but ruining any fledgling hope I still had of getting a first.

It’s been a year of swings, from wanting to get all dolled up in heels and makeup one minute, to loathing myself and anyone who comments on my appearance the next; from feeling painfully lonely one second, then being afraid of my friends at any social gathering with alcohol and/or more than five people. I was once told that this year has been like a pendulum, and I’m swinging wildly now, but it will soon settle into a more composed and coherent middle ground.

And last night, for the first time, I began to see that middle ground.

I was invited to a three-tiered social extravaganza, promising to whisk me from pub to flat to club like a Disney princess, only with fewer anthropomorphised lizards and more crushing social anxiety. In first year, I would have jumped at such an opportunity; I’d have put on one of my many shirts that falls into the ‘edgy and offensive but not quite insulting enough to result in my being barred from a club’ collection, rocked up painfully punctually, and enjoyed an evening of watching my friends fall into drunken, and hilarious, stages of affection, poor life choices and endlessly retweeted regret. This year, however, such interactions have filled me with horror; for reasons both personal and tediously complex I’ve developed a de facto fear of alcohol, for reasons mental I’ve fallen into increasingly unstable voids of non-confidence about my gender and appearance, and for reasons relating to my personal failures I’ve neglected a lot of my friends, turning social interactions into awkward bridge-rebuilding exercises, rather than anything necessarily fun.

Last night, however, these factors were more nuanced. The fear of alcohol was still there, and it honestly made the night difficult. Even the diabetes tried to screw me over, making everything a little more stressful and painful. But gender wasn’t an issue; I wore a dress and did my makeup and felt genuinely pretty for perhaps the first time ever. I talked to friends, and instead of our early exchanges being awkward and forced, I thought they were fun and relaxed. People were open and talkative, rather than shunning me in the way that I perhaps would have done had our roles been reversed.

Because ultimately, I don’t fit into a lot of ‘conventional’ (in heavy air quotes) social circles: I don’t drink but quite enjoy dancing but hate being in large, loud groups but love being lost in a crowd; I like playing sports but hate the afterparties but enjoy becoming stronger and fitter but hate gyms. If every social scene has, say, ten key features, I usually enjoy about five of them, and am repulsed or scared by the other five.

However, this is not to complain aimlessly, but to provide a starting point for next year. If there aren’t enough non-drinking socials at a sports club, I’ll invent some; I’m a president for gods’ sake. If I like dancing but hate most club music I’ll find new venues and drag my well-meaning but confused friends along to those. I’ve spent two years trying every social niche I can find – arts societies, magazines, sports clubs, after-work socials, you name it – and instead of getting frustrated at not fitting into one or two, I should be looking for new things, and if that fails, making my own amusement.

And I’m sure I’m not the first person in the world to think this. Surely not everyone at KOKO genuinely feels as elated as the handful of grinning dancers in photos they plaster all over their Facebook page, so I don’t want to set up a ‘me against the world’ approach where all my friends represent mainstream enemies, and I’ll find enjoyment by shunning them to start one-person moshpits in my bedroom. I’ve tried that, and it sucks.

I don’t know where this approach will lead me, but I’m excited to find out. In year one I tried everything under the sun, in year two I tried nothing out of fear and spite; now let’s find some events I’ll love with the people who are important.

Casey

On being Straight Edge

Evening folks,

I’m Straight Edge, and often I wonder why.

For those of you unfamiliar with 80s hardcore punk – shame on you – a quick explanation. Straight Edge is an idea that people don’t need things like meat, produce, drugs or even sex, and we would be better off living a more restrained, ‘clean’ lifestyle. It grew out of the 1970s, as rock become increasingly extravagant and ostentatious, and people wanted a more stripped-down alternative. In the early 80s, New York punk band Minor Threat rolled out the song ‘Straight Edge’, whose opening lines ‘I’m a person just like you, but I’ve got better things to do / Than sit around, fuck my head, hang out with the living dead’ quite succinctly sum up the idea. The song was catchy, the fans loved it, and soon frontman Ian MacKaye had accidentally invented a name for a movement.

It’s important to stress two things about being Straight Edge: it’s flexible, and it’s personal. When I was younger, I didn’t drink or take drugs, but still ate meat, and called myself Straight Edge; now I’m a vegan, still don’t drink, and am equally Straight Edge. There isn’t a list of Straight Edgy things to tick off that grants you access to some elitist club, it’s more of a mentality than a movement. Similarly, it’s super personal, as I’m Straight Edge for myself, and have zero interest in spreading it to other people; my friends drink, they eat meat, and they do the drugs, but they’re still the most important and wonderful people in my life.

Which often leads me to question why I’m Straight Edge, and why it’s so important to me, if it greatly differs from all of my other intellectual stances. I think video games are the most important form of art of the 21st century, and want to tell people this – I run a gaming magazine and my final-year dissertation will be a comparison of Old Norse mythology to Skyrim. Similarly, in my opinion Tom Brady is the greatest NFL quarterback of the century, and will happily tell you why Manning just isn’t quite as good for hours on end. I care less about football, and perhaps less about intellectualising games, as I do about being Straight Edge, so why the difference?

Perhaps being Straight Edge is so important to my idea of myself that it’s not up for debate in the way that other things are. My identity has been swinging all over the place for eighteen months now – I’m redefining my sexuality, gender, interests, friends and plans – but I’ve always loved Minor Threat and hated alcohol. It’s important, I now realise, to have a few anchor points of selfhood that let you wake up in the morning and complete the sentence ‘I am…’, and being Straight Edge has been a huge part of that. I don’t want to think about not drinking, it’s simply inconceivable that I would drink.

I’m also aware that it’s all a bit silly, in the end. Like my veganism, I know that other people aren’t gonna drop their burgers and WKDs because the great JP Casey wrote a blog post about it, so I’m not going to bother to try. I’m less interested in people’s opinions on things, and more interested in how they reach those conclusions; it doesn’t really matter if I’m vegan, or vegetarian, or pescatarian, or a conscious meat-eater, as long as I’m thinking about what I’m eating and why I’m doing it.

And while some of being Straight Edge could be considered preachy – ‘I don’t smoke / I don’t drink / I don’t fuck / At least I can fucking think’ – I don’t engage with any of that. I’m not Straight Edge to change the world, or shame you into eating lettuce. I’ll do my thing, you’l do yours, and that’s all there is to it.

But Minor Threat are still a great fucking band.

I wrote more about Straight Edge for Public Pressure, which you can check out here.