In Defence of Confession, And Why It’s Not Better to Last Than to Burn

“Someone tells me: this kind of love is not viable. But how can you evaluate viability? Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it better to last than to burn?” – Roland Barthes.

Recently, I’ve been feeling very inferior. Somewhat undereducated and woefully under-read, I’ve been writing more and feeling increasingly less confident in what I’m writing. Confessional to a fault and driven rather by the burning need for catharsis than any intellectual desire to impart anything to the reader, my effluence of prose is rarely anything more than a pack of drama-laden words hunting for a point. I cover the same ground over and over, seeking for a way to make it more viscerally real rather than identifying new viewpoints, new ideas. This has been panicking me; but I am determined to be panicked no more.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is fundamentally flawed to suggest that the confessional, the experiential is, by its nature, not saying anything more than ‘this is what happened, this is how I feel’. The greatest joy of conversation is (or, more accurately, should be) the connection that we make to other people. Performative conversation is a fascinating thing; two people peacocking knowledge is inherently competitive and can be as stimulating for the external viewer as any real-life cock fight. Intellectually, these conversations stimulate me, but they are not the ones I remember with any bursting warmth of feeling. Instead, it’s the conversations I have in the half dark, one bottle of wine in, where secrets are revealed and you feel the reaching out of another’s soul to yours. I feel the same about literature.

Yes, I seek out intellectual stimulation, but it is the books that have kept me up until 3am, awash with tears that I return to again and again. The dismissal of emotive novels as ‘women’s literature’ is often founded on the fact that they are perceived as falling into this latter category. Ultimately, can the outpouring of emotion, so often seen as a feminine trait, ever have the same value as the perceived-masculine intellectual? If my writing is more interested in touching your heart than engaging your head, is it inherently lesser? As I’ve said, recently I’ve been increasingly concerned that it is.

Today, however, I’ve taken a bit of time to actually think about it, without any outside influence, and I’m a lot less convinced. The argument that the intellectual is more worthwhile than the experiential doesn’t hold any sway with me. There is plenty of literature, mostly written by dead white men, to be discussed in pubs by boys who only smoke Marlboroughs, only wear black, and self-confess to being ‘dead inside’. These are not the people I write for, they have enough literature for their disappointing experience. They have the privilege of smugly transcending the experiential – our whole society is geared towards their experience of the world.

Instead, I write for me. I write for the girl that is huddled under her covers, setting the duvet on fire with the bedside lamp, and crying with relief that someone else has experienced what she’s going through. I write for the girl checking out books she isn’t allowed to read from the library and covering them in a different dustjacket. I write for the first heartbreak, and for the strength that is in the softness to let it keep happening. I write for the determination to think what you like, and the enormous triumph that is when you don’t have the privilege of encouraged freedom of thought. I write for the woman that girl will become. I write for the intellectual awakening that occurs through the experiential awakening. For myself and, if it touches you, for you.

Certainly, my writing has something of the teenage obsession with strength of emotion, but I’m not convinced that this in itself is a weakness. I don’t write as a performance, to make people wonder at my enormous intellect, at my ground-breakingly spurious mental somersaults. I write so that just one person can say: that helps, that touches my soul. After all, as one eminent dead white man said – why is it better to last than to burn?

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The Working Girl’s Guide to Exercise

I’ve started a new job. A proper, grown up job that is resolutely awful just as everyone warned me it would be. I listened to lots of indie ballads and convinced myself that the city lights were calling me, thus saddling myself with four hours of commuting a day. Needless to say, my biweekly plunges in the local pool have died a death and now the closest I get to a swim is turning up to work wet and bedraggled, with make up running down my face, having been caught in a deluge of biblical proportions on my walk from the train. Never fear though, dear reader (all one of you, hi), for my foray into exercise has not been abandoned! Every day I find myself red faced, sweating and panting in the throes of some new and unusual exertion. I give you, for your reading pleasure, The Working Girl’s Guide to Exercise:

The Stair Sprint

To be performed every morning without fail. Groggy with sleep, I stumble to the bus stop and nap fitfully, head lolling against the foggy window, all the way to town. Waking with a start, I leap off and walk to the train station. The orange light of the arrivals board floats eerily over platform one, barely perceptible in the mist of cold breath, puffed out from tired cheeks. The 8.02 service to Manchester Victoria is delayed by approximately 7 minutes. Damn it, that’s all the spare time I have to change trains. I open the National Rail app, which informs me that the train is in fact only 5 minutes late and intends to make the time up between stations. I sink into a seat and instantly regret it as the icy frame of the chair grips my body, chilling me to the bone. Once on the train (6 minutes late) there are no seats, forcing me to reach over the head of the man leaning against the full length of the handrail and prepare for 40 minutes of apologising for falling into him as he leers at me over his paper. I check the digital clock hanging from the roof of the carriage compulsively, like someone with a pronounced and rather alarming tick. If we pull into the station in exactly 20 minutes I’ll be okay. If we pull into the station in exactly 5 minutes I’ll be okay. We need to pull into the station right this minute. Get ready. I rise onto my tiptoes, heels tucked into invisible starting blocks, my finger cocked over the ‘open doors’ button like the keenest of starting guns. Ding, ding, and we’re off. I shoot out of the train doors, bag and scarf flying, knocking old ladies and young men in suits down like so many skittles. I head for the stairs, begin to sprint up, hearing the hem of my skirt split as I leap up, gazelle like, taking two at a time. I get stuck behind two boys chatting to each other and tut frantically, I have exactly 1 minute to make my train. I feint right, then left, eventually abandoning manners and pushing past, sprinting up the rest of the stairs. I’m going to make it!

On reaching the top I realise that the train is leaving from the platform I arrived on. Shamefaced, I slink back down the stairs and stand behind the old ladies I pushed past, frantically trying to stifle the panting gulps of air my lungs are insisting on sucking in. A boy behind me tuts, then giggles.

The Speed Walk

To be performed hobbled/heeled. On a fair day, the stair sprint is to be followed by the speed walk. The station platform in the area I work has inexplicably been placed a good foot below the height of the train carriage, so on arriving I close my eyes and jump, hoping that today is not the day that it really is too far to jump without a parachute and I meet my untimely demise on the broken concrete below. Having landed safely, with all my bones intact, I begin the speed walk. Usually, I am wearing a pencil skirt, which acts as a hobble around my knees and causes any attempt at speed to be quite uniquely ungainly. I also haven’t yet been able to replace my boots with a pair of work appropriate shoes, meaning I am also wearing incredibly clumpy heels. Nonetheless, in order to make it to work on time I have to make the 13 minute journey (google maps’ approximation) in 9 minutes or less. This means the speed walk. To overcome the hobble I have a variety of options. Option 1: pull the skirt up so it resembles a sort of fabric belt. Stride out, propelling each leg forward until I reach a great speed. Stop paying attention to my skirt for one minute, as I run across the road. Find that my skirt has immediately slipped back down, instantly binding my knees together, causing me to take a suddenly shortened stride and trip over the edge of the pavement. Go red and look around to make sure no one saw. One attractive boy and three mean teenage girls definitely did. Option 2: Try to take shorter steps, but also increase speed. This is most effective if I swing my hips from side to side to create more speed. It also makes me look like a manic Miss America pageant winner ON speed and ensures that I arrive at work completely out of breath. Option 3: My preferred option. Leave the skirt where it is, but try to take long strides anyway. This means that means that I can move at a sensible speed and keep it up long enough to get to work without bursting a blood vessel in my eye with the effort. It also completely cuts off the circulation to my calf muscles, causing all the extra blood flowing to my speeding feet to get trapped in my calves on the way back up. They become alarmingly swollen and purplish. Everyone at work definitely fancies me.

The Oh-Gosh-It’s-Raining Half Jog

To be performed in inclement weather. See above, except it’s chucking it down with rain. Torrential. Stair rods. Please-let-me-on-the-ark-I’ll-be-good-promise. I turn my collar up and grimace. I discover that I’m actually getting quite wet. I break into a little trot, hoping that getting to work faster will make me less wet. The additional speed forces the rain more directly into my face, my coat, my skirt, my tights, my shoes. I arrive at work drenched right down to my underwear. I go into the toilets and try to dry myself with some toilet roll. I arrive at my desk completely soddened and covered in suspicious bits of bobbly white paper that don’t come off in the wash, spreading instead to all the clothes I own.

Print Room Aerobics

To be performed on boring afternoons. I spend all day sat at my desk and I have a theory that this causes all the blood to flow away from my brain, rendering me completely useless by 3pm. My solution to this is print room aerobics. First I print something off (that I need, of course). Then I got to the print room to collect it. I look aimlessly out of the window for a few seconds, wondering how this tedium can possibly be my life. I press the big green button on the printer. I check no one is passing the door, then do a few subtle star jumps, followed by a little jog on the spot to push the blood back up to my brain. Then I do a couple of deep squats, collecting my work from the printer at the bottom of the last one, stand up and wander back to my desk as though nothing happened.

Train Yoga (Bikram Edition)

To be performed every evening without fail. To avoid doing too much cardio and developing the gaunt, hungry look of greyhounds and CrossFit enthusiasts, I like to catch the busiest train home possible. Rammed into a rattling train carriage, I instantly begin to sweat, salty droplets beading down into the wool of my scarf, which is trapped between two people behind me and thus pulled noose-tight around my neck. My feet are firmly planted about ten inches forward of where I am standing, causing me to bend banana-like backwards, away from the brandished newspaper of the man in front of me. The position necessitates me thrusting my hips out towards his groin, causing me to have to place my handbag as a kind of shield between us to protect both of our modesty. I hold the handbag-shield-banana until my abs begin to shake, causing newspaper-man to look up alarmed at my sudden amorousness. Just as I am about to collapse, an inexperienced travelled at the far side of the carriage decides to make a bid for the door in preparation for the next stop. Everyone begins to change position. I bend my body sideways into strained-s-shape-supported-by-the-nose-pressed-against-the handrail, before being carried by the crowd into pressed-full-length-against-the-window-with-one-hand-trapped-behind-back. The train stops, the doors open and I am suddenly released into collapsed-against-a-chair-whilst-perfectly-made-up-girl-looks-at-me-in-alarm. I sink into full-length-of-the-train-seat-aka-Shavasana in relief, content to know that I have had as much exercise as any girl could wish for. Train hard, people. Train hard.