Things I Thought I Had to Do (That I Don’t Have to Do)

When you’re growing up, there are lots of things you have to do that you don’t want to do. Going to school might be one of them. Homework is definitely one of them. Brushing your teeth, taking exams, PE, going to your first disco – the point is, you don’t want to do any of these things, but you have to make yourself do them, because you know they’ll benefit you in the long run, and make you a better, more well-rounded person. So it’s no surprise that you enter adulthood in the same mindset.

But the fact of the matter is that, as an adult, you have a control. And I’m not saying you should never leave your comfort zone, but I think that by your late twenties you have a pretty good idea of the things you’ll absolutely hate. So here is a list of the things I was incredibly relieved to discover I didn’t have to do. What were yours?

Having Children

“Oh god, it’s going to be terrible when I have to have children,” I used to think. “It’ll be so stressful, I’ll hate the noise and the rushing about, and it’ll stop me doing so many other things.” It never crossed my mind that I didn’t have to have them.

Before we go any further, I’d just like to reassure you that I don’t hate children. I’m not a Roald Dahl villain – It’s just that I don’t have a maternal bone in my body. I work with children, and I like them in small doses (but I certainly couldn’t eat a whole one!!!) -but even if I didn’t, that shouldn’t make me a terrible person. Everybody’s different.

The fact of the matter is that the world is overpopulated as it is – there’s no urgent need to reproduce. So the people having children should be those who really want them, not those pressured into it by family, society, or the idea that it’s the “next thing to do” after meeting someone and settling down. “But isn’t that a bit selfish?” you might ask. “Having children makes you focus on something other than yourself, and turns you into a more giving and sympathetic person”. Well, my riposte to your imaginary remark is that it’s selfish to have children just to turn yourself into a better person!

Besides, if I suddenly completely change my entire personality and decide I do want children, there’s absolutely nothing stopping me from doing so. But saying I don’t want them takes a huge weight off my mind, and prevents family and potential partners from expecting something that isn’t delivered (pun intended).

Going “Out Out”

God, I hate fun. And by “fun”, I mean society’s conventional definition of “fun” – namely, suffering dreadful music in a club full of drunk strangers. “But you’ll enjoy it when you’re there” – no, I won’t. I’ll want to be in bed reading a book about Victorians and eating biscuits. The moment I realised I didn’t have to be cool, and that no-one was watching anyway, was a great moment indeed.

Becoming a Teacher

“If you can’t do, teach” – I was having trouble getting a job relevant to my degree, so teaching was the natural route to take. You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I wasted feeling guilty for not taking it. Teaching is a worthy occupation, and gives you the power to do a great deal of good in children’s lives, but if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. “But you’d be such a good teacher!” That doesn’t mean I have to do it. I’d probably be quite a good assassin, but if you’re not temperamentally suited to it, you’re just making yourself miserable. The scales fell from my eyes when I couldn’t even cope as a part-time science technician in a secondary school, because it brought back too many bad memories of all the bullying I’d endured in that environment in my formative years. Nobody has to put up with that if they don’t want to.

Going Travelling

“Travel Yourself Interesting” is the tagline of travel agents Expedia. Well, believe me, if you’re not already interesting, going travelling is not going to make you so. In fact, it’s far more likely to have the opposite effect, as people flee from your endless “gap yah” anecdotes (the only funny one I ever heard was when my friend got trench foot). I haven’t yet thought of anything 10,000 miles away that’s more fun than anything I could do here, and that would outweigh the expense, stress, faff, disease, jetlag and language barrier of going, but when I do, I’ll be on the first plane there.

(Sorry, that sounded a bit Scrooge-like. Of course I’m open to travelling if something really special takes me there, but I won’t devalue the experience by doing it just because I feel I have to).

Getting Married

I hate faff, and organizing a wedding is the worst faff I can possibly think of. It was hard enough getting my three closest relations to come to my graduation (which culminated in my dad panic-buying a shirt and tie in Next clearance and getting changed in a photo booth minutes before the ceremony) – let alone spending thousands organizing a large-scale event I have absolutely no interest in taking part in. Of course I’d do it if it meant a lot to my (hypothetical) significant other. But as for any other reason I should get married – I hate to break it to you, but it’s not the Victorian era any more! (As much as my style might fool you otherwise…)

Having a “Real Person” Job

Short of not being a burden on others, there’s absolutely nothing to dictate what kind of job I have. Yet feeling I’ve wasted my degree, or that I’m a disappointment, or that I’m not “giving anything back”, is the main thing that’s plagued me since graduating. I still intend to get a real person job, in which I can hopefully to some good. But I’m past feeling guilty about the years in which I didn’t have one. I realised yesterday that if I’d gone straight from university into a full-time office job, rather than fannying about in a series of part-time lackey jobs like I did, I probably wouldn’t have had the time or head-space to write a novel, or bring out four albums, or countless other bizarre schemes that may, for all I know, have entertained and inspired up to tens of people. And I probably would have felt creatively unfulfilled.

And that’s the thing: I didn’t know what my dad’s job was til I was 12. I still don’t know what my uncle Mick does (none of us can remember, and it’s gone far beyond the point where we can reasonably ask). I can’t remember what half my friends’ degrees were (sorry!). And most people remember me for my octokittens far more than my museum guiding. The point is, when you think about someone you know, your first thought isn’t what they do as a job, it’s what they’re like as a person – cheerful, miserable, nice, annoying – and so I’ve decided that, if at all possible, I’m not going to have a job that turns me into an unpleasant person.

Some of this might sound a bit selfish and close-minded – in fact, the absence children, marriage, travel, and all these conventional rights of passage might make my life sound joyless and empty. But I’ve had some amazing experiences some people might never dream of. I’ve written a novel in a month; another month I performed a space opera every night. I’ve jumped off ruined castles into lagoons. I’ve been in loving and happy relationships. I’ve written a children’s book that’s been reprinted in Welsh. I just don’t believe in making things difficult for myself for no reason – there are enough ways for our lives to be difficult as it is. And as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I don’t see any harm in that.

An Interest in Interesting Interests

Steampunk Tea Dance 2

blonde octo

There’s no hiding the fact that I have some bizarre interests. I’m obsessed with the Victorians, I can’t stop hand-sewing octokittens, and, most prominently, I’ve been known to keep Giant African Land Snails as pets – to the extent that I proudly answered to the epithet “Snail Girl” all through primary school. Now, I’ve always taken it without question that if you have an unusual interest, it will inevitably put off a certain proportion of people from wanting to become a friend or potential suitor. And that’s fine – that’s just how it is. But what I’ve never really thought about is: what exactly is it that they’re scared of?

Lovely snails!
My most recent charges, Herculine and Chevalier.

I think it’s an interesting question that I’d genuinely like to get to the bottom of. Are they worried I’ll refuse to talk about anything but snails? Or that I’ll bring snails to the date? Or do they equate unusual interests with being unstable / unpredictable / not very down to earth in the context of a relationship? I feel a bit conned by the latter explanation, because despite my unusual interests, but I’m actually a disappointingly boring and normal person deep down (as anyone who’s attempted to make me “go out” and “have fun” on a Saturday night will attest). In fact, maybe some people think having unusual interests means the person is boring – although I’d have thought the exact opposite!

Strawberry Fields
Strawberry Fields (2012)

Still more infuriatingly, how come some people seem to be able to “get away” with being strange more than others? I had a friend who was far more bizarre than me really, but people never seemed to notice as much. Are certain “kinds” of bizarreness more acceptable? I think appearance has a lot to do with it – I’ve seen countless films where the main characters’ behaviour would have got them sectioned was it not for their aesthetic value. The protagonist’s beautiful, arty, pathologically manipulative sister in the 2012 British film Strawberry Fields is a scarily realistic example.

I think gender comes into it too. This article discusses the way in which eccentric men tend to be labelled as “visionary” or “genius”, while women are often dismissed as “mad” or “quirky”, or filed under the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl stereotype. And it’s something I’ve personally experienced a lot as a performer, as well – there was a whole year when one compere of an open mic night never used any other adjective to describe me apart from “crazy”, but would describe even the most randomly surreal male acts far more thoughtfully. I found this quite dismissive, and a bit of a cop out, too, because although my songs often have unusual subjects, if you listen properly there’s method in the madness – in fact, I think they’re often quite well thought-out and witty (but then I would). As the above article says, “To call stories like this quirky is to admit that you haven’t really listened”.

I’ve forgiven him now, though!

I’ve also been pondering about where people’s interests come from in the first place. My theory is that once they reach a certain age, people’s brains want to learn deeply about something, so simply latch onto the first vaguely suitable thing that presents itself at the time. That’s why a lot of people’s interests can seem very random. Of course, there’s obviously a logic behind some people’s interests: family / friend influences and wish fulfillment are the most prominent factors that come to my mind. I know that my interest in snails is at least partly due to my fervent childhood desire to own a horse – this being impossible, my mind simply latched itself onto the nearest garden animal that I quite liked, as a more practical pet on which to focus my affections.

Fancy pigeons

I think fashions work in a similar way – society seems to simply latch onto the first random thing that people might conceivably be interested in. This is the only possible explanation for the nation’s all-consuming obsession with pigeon breeding in the 1850s (to the extent that Charles Darwin was advised to re-write The Origin of Species to be on this subject – and the opening chapter is, indeed, about pigeon breeding. The craze was also responsible for our modern infestations of town pigeons. Thanks, Victorians).

This is why I’ve always pronounced myself “not cool enough to be a geek”. In geek culture, there seem to be certain things that it’s cool for people to be interested in (sci fi, comics, anime etc.) and other things that are not so cool (snails). But why one thing, and not another? Is there some kind of logic behind it, or is it just random?

I really would be interested to hear your thoughts and theories on this matter. Where did your interests come from? What runs through your head when you find out someone has an unusual interest? In fact, maybe all this will become a new INTEREST of mine!!!!!!!!!!!