How Do You Like Me Now?
I know this is first and foremost a writing blog, but sometimes a book has such an impact on you that you have to write about it straight away. How Do You Like Me Now? was one of those books...
It's Saturday morning. I'm wearing my favourite jeans (a £3 charity shop purchase made even better after googling the brand and realising I'll never be able to afford a pair of jeans like this ever again), the metallic trainers I got in New Look last year because there is no good reason not to own sparkly clothes, and as an added bonus, my skin isn't rebelling against me.
This is probably the point I should snap a selfie, attach a thousand irritating hashtags, and wait for the likes to roll in. But I don't.
I very rarely take pictures of myself (have you ever tried to take a selfie when you have a huge forehead that your equally huge glasses somehow don't proportion out?) largely because I don't think I can take a good picture of myself. The lighting isn't right, or I can't filter out those blemishes, or I can't nail the right facial expression. And if that wasn't difficult enough, when I go out I tend to be either by myself or maybe with parents or family. If I was to ask them to help me, all I'd get is some sarcastic comment about millenials and how social media is ruining our lives.
I mean, they'd have a point, but whatever.
This is all too familiar to Tori Bailey, main character in Holly Bourne's adult debut, How Do You Like Me Now? A writer whose bestselling memoir, Who The F*ck Am I? has led her to event after event where she helps those in their twenties through various life crises. But Tori is hitting thirty, and everyone around her is settling down.
Unlike Tori, I'm not in my early thirties. Instead, I'm about turn twenty six (your LATE TWENTIES. I'm already terrified) and my brain has apparently decided that having an existential crisis about meeting societal expectations is the best way for me to spend my time.
I think this all stems from the expectation that you'll be making progress all the time, ticking something else off the list in a stream of facebook posts (for me, facebook is the worst offender) that show the whole world that you are moving FORWARD with your life, that you are permanently achieving. Whether that's a promotion, or moving in with your other half, or getting married, or having a kid, or launching a side hustle - there's that societal push saying you should be doing this now. You should be succeeding already.
And it's addictive. I run two blogs - this one and www.discovering-shakespeare.com - my instagram, a Shakespeare twitter and tumblr, a bullet journal youtube channel, plus writing the second draft of a novel, and working on a Very Exciting Project with a good friend. But it doesn't feel like it's enough.
It doesn't feel like running those blogs and social media channels, and writing a novel, and planning an epic project is enough. What's the point in writing blog posts, if you don't get the gratification of your stats bar on wordpress lighting up? What's the point in spending loads of time on pictures for your instagram, if you don't get tons of likes? Why bother slogging away at a project when nobody is ever going to say to you 'here, live that #girlboss dream right now from your insta-ready desk'? What's the point in persevering with the novel that you love when there are apparently hundreds of people ahead of you getting first time book deals, being celebrated as the next big author, and who are inexplicably much younger than you which somehow seems to make them more marketable? And why dear god WHY is my facebook feed full of people being sickeningly excited about being married aka 'The Best Day Of My Life!'? NO MORE PHOTOSHOOTS, internet. I beg you.
This is why How Do You Like Me Now? was the book I needed at this exact moment. The social media posts included in that book really hit home for me because we all see those posts on social media every day. Granted, mine hasn't reached the 'yummy mummy' stage yet, but I know it's only a matter of time. Watching Tori call bull**** on society's expectations whilst simultaneously suffering poor mental health from not ticking the 'life achievement' boxes she despises, really hit the nail on the head for me. Holly Bourne has such a fantastic way of writing the problems with mental health in the modern day (one reason I adore her Spinster Club series so much), and to see that in an adult novel equalled a book I hadn't realised I so desperately needed.
Because I KNOW social media is a highlight reel. I KNOW that people don't share the bad parts of their lives (or at least, most of us don't). I KNOW that we don't see the difficult days, the upset moments, or that time you had a fight with someone you are close to - just like Tori does in the book - because that's not what we use social media for.
And yet social media still has that power over us. It doesn't stop that sinking feeling in my chest when I open wordpress and don't get the instant gratification of people viewing my content. It doesn't help when all I seem to see on my feeds are people in their thirties going ahead with their passion projects which they're only able to do because they're financially secure and, most of the time, stay-at-home mothers. And then this makes the passion projects seem like 'mothers with a project' rather than 'business woman who happens to have kids', which in turn makes me so frustrated I want to scream a little bit. This does nothing to contradict the view that your priorities should be get married, settled, have kid(s), because you're expected to do all of that before you can even think about a career again!
It makes me think of the scene in How Do You Like Me Now? where Tori is scrolling through her friend's wedding photos making sarcastic comments about how every single one of them seems posed within an inch of its life; where she's surrounded by friends who are all relatively new mums whose lives seem to revolve around social media posts talking about how adorable their kids are, as if their entire lives have been put on hold because they're mums now. And yet those mums are just as trapped in presenting themselves as good mothers, as mums who are doing fun stuff with their kids, instagramming their days out or adding captions about how their kids are their ‘world’. There's no acceptable option for 'actually my kid is screaming and I could really do with a break right now'. Everything has to be a shiny social media post that tells the world how successful you are.
And then, within the next day or so, you're expected to repeat this whole charade over again.
This is what How Do You Like Me Now? challenges so well for me. We are so wrapped up in looking successful on social media. I'm just as guilty of that as anyone, as I've said. Like Tori, I want to be able to take a selfie and not have to take twenty different photos and throw the one I finally choose through a zillion filters before I feel okay uploading it to the internet. I want to be able to open my instagram or my blogs and not have my self-worth wrapped up in how many likes I get on a post.
And I've been really grateful that recently, on twitter, there has been a real surge of people sharing the stories of when they first got an agent, or first got published, to try and dispel this myth that has built up that if you don't get published young you won't get published at all. Things like this are crucial to try and get us out of this warped mindset of needing to constantly show ourselves being successful, and needing the likes and favourites to prove it. How Do You Like Me Now? is a fantastic step towards doing that.
Now I'm going to upload this post, and try not to think about whether it will or won't be 'successful'...