Tuesday, 20 September 2016

To Joanna, 1995

Hi Joanna, or perhaps Joey - as you're probably still called.

I don't even remember how you think anymore, twenty years on. I remember you being quiet but not noticing; I remember you having the stomach to wear cropped vests; you rarely wore makeup; you idolised James' sisters; you thought you were cool. But no probs there - everyone thinks they're cool and original when they're younger. It becomes more nuanced later - so enjoy, keep trying things and keep doing what you're doing.

You have some interesting, fiercely loyal friends. Treasure them. Lots of strange people will come and go, and many of them you won't like. That's fine. Accept that and accept some won't like you. You're happy enough as you are. Later you'll become more worried about people liking you, but really, 80% of them don't matter. I want you to know that only the people you like are important - and I wish you'd learnt that sooner.

On a more positive note: you've got some brilliant experiences coming up. You'll feel the rush as your friends stand up to cheer you getting Deputy Head Girl, you'll love being a student (rather than a pupil), you'll land yourself a job - waxing lyrical about Graham Greene - that puts you in touch with magical literature and film, famous people you admire, and a truly overwhelming and passionate love. You'll feel flirty and attractive and vivacious. You'll push yourself through really tough interviews, for art college and for high-level jobs, and you'll get some of them through pure, infectious passion. More amazingly still - at least it seems to me - you'll take time out from the world in your thirties to do an MA (a brilliant collaborative experience), make some great contacts and get a job as an Associate Editor for an analytical science magazine. Shocked? Me too. You don't study science again, and you don't hear about the existence of analytical chemistry until the winter of 2015. Yet I write this from a hotel room in Minneapolis, at a conference for that very subject. You'll write about volatile organic compounds and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy and characterisation of biosimilars and the only person who will be surprised you can do it is you.

There'll be breakups, of course. Everyone has those. Just brace yourself for 2011/12, that's all. I don't know if you'll feel love like that again - I'm 35 now, and opinions are mixed - but you'll be dizzy with joy when you have it. SWIM in that feeling; it's incredible. People will make comments about the number of boyfriends you have, but screw that. It may be 20 years before you truly spend time alone, but these people will put you in touch with feelings, experiences and friendships you may not have encountered any other way. Just promise me you'll be kind to Alan - he didn't deserve being screwed around.

FEMINISM. Prepare yourself. It'll be like someone waking you up. Expose yourself to it and stay openminded, and - fruitless as it is to say it - don't take it too personally when people disagree. Not everyone is the idealist you are.. I don't have to tell you that sometimes you get it wrong, because you'll always by hyper-aware of that. I wish I could take that away. You learn social strategies - to such a degree that people don't believe you're an introvert - but you will go through some excruciating periods of beating yourself up every time you open your mouth. Some will get you, though, and some will like you. Some will love you. Trust them when they say it.

You'll obviously feel the need to 'break out' from Burnley and family, and that's natural - go for it. Living in London (which you'll do) will be tough but will expose you to so much and will make you the independent person you are later on. (When you go to New York, at 34 years old, you'll hop on the subway to Brooklyn without a second thought - and love it.) You'll come to rely so heavily on Mum and Dad, though. They have their moments, but they're incredibly supportive of you, proud of you, and do so much to help you financially, practically - and even emotionally. You'll always know they love you, and you appreciate that as you get older, believe me. You and Jess will reach a nice stage too - though even now I suspect that's an ongoing process.

There are so many things I could mention: the shoes, the fashion blog, the older men, the dicks you'll meet...but there's so much. You get 22 moves, two cities and about 15 lovers into 20 years. What might make you laugh: Paul, your first proper boyfriend, the trainee footballer - who you'll go out with for all of three months - will be the best hairdresser you know 15 years later. He'll also perk you up after the heartbreak I mentioned.

So where does that leave us? I don't know how to sign off. I just wish I'd had a me when I was you. You're the best friend you have, and I wish I could convince you of that. I don't think I'm fully grasping that yet. I love you though, 1995 Joanna. Just please do try your hardest to love me.

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