There comes a day when you realise you cannot continue as the child you are now — fashioned in an unfashionable decade by your poor parents, and at a time when they were inadvisably discombobulated by Caesarian stitches, fundamental disagreements with their own parents, retrospectively laughable hair-cuts, and utter exhaustion. They were not masters of their trade, in those days. No parents ever are.
On this day – when you're thirteen, or fourteen, or fifteen or so — you will start to fizz with the desire to start wearing clothes that you have chosen; to cut your hair as your parents would not choose; to go out into the world — every night! Every night if you may! — and find the records and films and poems and heroes and books that you will use to make your new self. This is your job, now. Your first one. You will use pop music as rocket-fuel, to launch yourself out into the world, and find "your" people, and literature as the maps and co-ordinates for how to get there. You will begin the fundamental, amazing, boring, infuriating, illuminating, never-ending endless purpose of your life: you will start to build yourself.
My new book, How To Build A Girl, is about this: the recalling of the messy, gleeful teenage years in the 1990s when I began to montage myself out of excessive eyeliner; Doc Marten boots; the magnificent, almost exhilarating feeling of gloominess of Victorian sea-side towns, in the rain; Pixies; Prodigy; Philip Larkin hymning "A real girl/In a real place"; Slash's top hat; both Dickens's frock-coats and class-war anger; Elizabeth Taylor showing off the biggest diamond in the world "On my fat little finger", Bugs Bunny dressing up as a woman and seducing the fool, Fudd, and David Bowie singing "Oh, God – I could do better than that!"
During those amazing, appalling years — 1989-1995 inclusive — I could have saved so much time had my future self been able to travel to my backwater town, in 1992, ordered my teenage self to put down the pint of cheap, sweet cider, and heed these seven pieces of advice:
- Darling, you know all those hours you spend alone in your room, worrying no-one will ever desire you? Go out — out anywhere where young men drink alcohol — and ask a boy with nice hair to kiss you. They always will. They always will. Indeed, over the next twenty years of asking boys to kiss you, none of them will ever say no — despite the fact that, for the first ten years of this kiss-quest, you look - as an over-weight, back-combed goth — like a fat Edward Scissorhands, but with hands, instead of scissors. You, uniquely, are Edward Fingerhands. And yet, you will always find someone to kiss you. Always. The world is more benign/drunk than you believe.
- That top-hat doesn't suit you. Also: it greatly annoys being standing behind you at gigs.
- There are, in fact, more than 2 calories in a potato. I know! Contrary to all your very firm assumptions, the more "ordinary" you perceive a food to be does not, in the end,dictate its calorific value. On a similar tip, a slice of bread is more than 9 calories. Amazing! I'm telling you this now so that you may, if you wish, skip the next twenty years of being called "Edward Fat Hands."
- Those people who you desperately want to impress, and have as your friends? You will never impress them, or be their friend. Your friends are already impressed by you. That is why they are your friends. Friendship is as easy and perfect as your favourite old t-shirt — the one you sometimes sleep in, but also wear to the pub. It is not the mad electric crown you seem to presume it is.
- Similarly, love. Although you've never articulated this to yourself, you currently presume that love, when it arrives, will explode in your face like boiling hot jam — or descent from the mountains, in a pyroclastic blast. In actual fact, love, when it arrives, turns out to be as gentle as rising sun, on your arms, in the morning. And just as sure.
- Think of what it is to "Be cool" — in black leather and sunglasses, being constantly cynical about everything. Now think of what it is to be "Uncool" — running into a room wearing a jolly cardigan, shouting, "I love baked potatoes, and the songs of Billy Joel!" At some point, you will realise which of these you prefer to be. I hugely recommend you figure this out by the age of seventeen, tops. The young cannot afford to be cynical — in their distrust of the world, it is the possibility of their own future they are dismissing. You must stay optimistic. You must always believe in joy, and glee. It is the things you love that will lead you to the people you love, and the places you love, and the job you love. Hate will leave you static, and brittle, and doomed. This is the only thing you will ever really know, in your bones, as a fact.
- You know your utterly demented desire to be "legendary"? To say everything as if you were in a movie? To either metaphorically, or actually, ride into your first job on a unicorn, with four inch-high magic Beatles flying out of your bum? You're going to find that exhausting. But not as exhausting as everyone around you is going to find it. You are going to knacker them. They will not want to hang out with you, and you — busy trying to fire Fabs from your fun-hole — won't understand why you so often end up alone. Then, when you're 19, someone will give you an amazing piece of advice — advice that will change your life. "Why don't you just be … nice, instead?" a boy will say to you. "Just kind, and chilled, and interested in life?" You are so impressed with this Zen piece of advice that, eventually, you marry the boy. But that is the next adventure, for another time. Right now, just keep drinking your cider, trying to do your eyeliner like Courtney Love, and follow the music and the book-words down to London where — just as you suspect — everything is about to be amazing.
Bestselling feminist author Caitlin Moran was named Columnist of the Year by the British Press Awards in 2010 and Critic and Interviewer of the Year in 2011 for her work in the Times of London. Her debut book, How to Be a Woman, won the 2011 Galaxy Book of the Year Award and was an instant New York Times bestseller. How To Build A Girl — out September 24 — is her first novel since the one she wrote when she was fourteen, which doesn't count. You can follow Caitlin on Twitter @caitlinmoran.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.