Having just clocked up three decades of existence, Jemima Williams has done an audit of what she has learned so far, and thought it prudent to put it in a letter to her 15-year-old self. Just in case Doctor Who turns out to be a documentary.
Dear Jemima (1999),
Hello you/me/us. It’s currently 2014 and we’ve just turned 30. Now before I go any further, I need to cut to the chase and tell you we are nowhere near where we thought we’d be by now.
There’s no fancy house, we are not married to Christian Slater, and there’s no gaggle of adorable mop-topped kiddies running around. In addition, we never worked on any of the Lord of the Rings films, and – as my bank screamed loudly at me recently – our financial portfolio is nonexistent.
And prepare yourself, hoverboards aren’t everyone’s get-about go-to yet. I KNOW, RIGHT? (Apparently a techy firm are planning to bring Marty McFly’s A to B future-time favourite to the masses by Autumn 2015, but we’re not there yet.)
Don’t get me wrong, I kind of like who we are now (I KNOW, RIGHT?), but that’s because of all the horrible, bumpy bits you’ve still got coming.
(Meanwhile in related matters, don’t worry… your actual “bumpy bits” do get bigger. Just give it time.)
I realise this may be a little disconcerting for you to hear. With this in mind, I’ve put together some bits of advice to help you along the way.
1. You don’t have to be the best at everything. It takes a long time to get good at not being good at things. I know you want to be able to try your hand at clarinet, or archery or the Charleston and discover a natural talent that needs no formal lessons. But you know what? The love you receive should never depend on your skills or achievements and if it comes with conditions so superficial, it’s not the kind of love you need. Also, the Charleston is bloody hard.
2. Tampons are your friend. Put your trust in tampons.
3. Wear whatever the hell makes you feel good. Whether it be fashioning yourself like a Musketeer, or a 1920s flapper. Dress up. Have fun.
People might stare, but then they’ll walk on and you’ll never see them again. Remember that time on the tube with mum, dad and our brother in London about eight years ago when that woman got on? She was dressed head to foot in shades of vivid green, with bright scarlet hair and lips.
You asked dad who the “funny lady was” – he replied “probably an art student”. Twenty years later in a lift at Belsize Park station going to an event dressed in full 1940s skirt suit, hat, gloves and perfectly set hair, a little girl will point at you and ask her mother the exact same thing.
We have become the “funny lady” on the tube, Jemima. I’m OK with that. I hope you are too.
4. Do No Harm, Take No Shit. This is a good way to lead your life. Being kind, and nice to people is good, but there’s a line – a fine one at that – between being nice and being a doormat.
A guide at an assertiveness course (you go for work, OK?) will tell you that sometimes life is like being a balloon in a room of other balloons, all jockeying for space.
If one balloon wants to expand, its only choice is to crush the air out of the surrounding balloons. Either that or – occasionally – you can be the bigger (then smaller) balloon and let a bit of your own air out to make some room for others.
The theory goes that the next time said balloon wants to expand, it will remember what you did and decide not to crush you.
This is, of course, not always true, because some balloons are just bastards, but it’s a nice way to look at things.
5. It’s OK to be a Hufflepuff: Slytherins are mean, Gryffindors are stupid, Ravenclaws are arrogant, but Hufflepuffs are scared, which makes them kind.
Jemima, you will be scared every day for the rest of your life. But don’t be (any more) afraid.
As you are now, you’re scared to take the bus into town alone. Next year you’ll be scared to kiss that boy you like.
There are many fears which have struck between 15-year-old Jemima and the Jemima sitting here at 30. Take that fear, use it to challenge yourself if you can, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t. I can promise you, you will do things that surprise you.
6. Know who your friends are. Jesus, you will be around people who will make you feel crap, and they’ll do it with a smile, and that’s the worst of all. Your friends should make you feel like that big expanded balloon (see point 4); like you’re full-to-bursting with all the good things. Don’t keep people in your life who make you feel small.
7. Try not to be embarrassed about the things you love… even though some people will want to make you feel bad about them. Pity these people. How empty their lives must be without music and history and Game of Thrones episodes and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch whirling around their heads like a constellation of joyful little sparks.
8. See the beauty in the little things, when the big things are hard, or loud, or ugly. One evening you will be sad, and you will walk down Carnaby Street in the pouring rain and see the neon blue lights reflecting in the puddles as David Bowie sings “blue, blue, electric blue!” in your headphones. In that moment, it will feel like the planets aligned just for you.
9. Go places alone. Go to the theatre, to dinner, on holiday, for a walk. It’s bittersweet, but it’s wonderful to stand at the top of the Empire State Building, or see a sunset and want to turn to someone beside you and share in how bloody brilliant life can be and have no one there.
But one day, there will be someone there, and it will be sweet without the bitter, and it will be because you have done, and can do things alone.
Also, no one is staring at you. And if they are, they’re thinking, “Who is that awesome, self-confident woman sitting alone? I want to know her.”
10. And yes, when you’re 30, you’re allowed to refer to yourself as a woman, and be more than happy with that.
It has just occurred to me that letting you have all these spoilers – helpful though they may be – means you’re going to miss out learning all of the above through experience. This is the kind of thing Doctor Who (who you’re going to love, by the way) tells me is some kind of timeywimey paradox thing.
With this in mind, forget all of the above and carry on as you are.
Keep on truckin’.
Me/You/Us (depending on when you’re reading/re-reading this) x
Jemima is an illustrator, besotted with yesteryear, and works as a designer in animation (mainly drawing small cartoon pigs)