Be a person who wears hats

Hats are like haircuts. Like getting a whole new wardrobe. Like growing a beard, or shaving off your moustache. Like swapping your Converse for high heels, or your jeans for suits.
     They’re about making a change in your physical appearance; adopting something new; being someone your ex doesn’t know. They’re a “fuck off” to who you were before, a symbolic gesture of defiance, a secret password to grant you entry into the next stage of your life.
     But more than all that, hats are cool. And kind of quirky.

My own love affair with hats was brief but powerful. I wandered into Urban Outfitters one afternoon, in that vague, half-hypnotised, post-breakup way of mine (the dominant stage at the time was depression, interspersed with “fuck you” bolts of anger and euphoric interludes of denial); I staggered from display to display of painfully cool garments and accessories, occasionally reaching out to stroke a fabric or check a price tag, performing (unconvincingly) the role of a normal girl doing some shopping. The whole exercise was entirely futile: I didn’t actually want anything.
     And then, there it was. There may have been angel song and that white light that shines down from the heavens, like a celestial spotlight, when items of importance are divinely revealed; there may well have been “thunders and lightnings”* (this being London, the likelihood is quite high). There may also have been Beyonce and the strip-lights of a store on Oxford Street, but sometimes you’ve just gotta make do with what you’ve been given. In any case, there was certainly a biblical feel to the moment, and the LORD delivered unto me A HAT. It was artfully arranged on top of a pile of books, on a display table that also featured faux-gold costume jewellery and several pairs of inexplicably high-waisted jeans. It was felt, a deep, rich fuchsia in colour, with a dark brown ribbon, and undoubtedly made by the hand of God. It spake unto me and said, in a raspy, sexy voice: You must have me. I beheld it, on its pedestal of books, and felt slightly nauseous. ‘I don’t wear hats,’ I retorted, hopefully not out loud. I walked away, and pretended to take an interest in a crocheted iPhone case. I came back. I touched it, tentatively, with the tip of a finger. Thunders and lightnings and that low, seductive voice. I am yours. My fingers tightened around the rim. For twenty five pounds, the hat hastened to add. ‘But I’m not a person who wears hats,’ I insisted helplessly. Yes you are, declared the hat. And all of a sudden, I was. It was a tiny but monumental shift in my personal paradigm, whereby not being a person who wears hats was nothing more than a story I told about myself, and I could be any damn thing I wanted, simply by deciding it was so.
     I swiped the hat off the table, and clutched it tightly to my chest, lest it realised I wasn’t worthy, after all, and chose someone far cooler than me to take it home. We made it to the till without incident and there I placed it reverently on the counter, in front of a bored-looking assistant.
    ‘I have decided I’m a person who wears hats,’ I shared with her.
    ‘Right,’ she said flatly. ‘Great,’ and pushed the card machine towards me.
     Feeling slightly dejected by her lack of enthusiasm, I typed in my pin and returned the machine with my best normal-person smile, to show I wasn’t completely deranged.
     She looked up as she handed over my receipt. ‘Put it on,’ she said.
     ‘The hat.’ She nudged it in my direction; I did as I was bid.
     ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I can see it.’ She gave a nod: a final affirmation, and a dismissal. ‘You don’t need a bag.’
     So I wore my hat out of the store and onto the streets of London, where the wind and rain tried to whip it off my head and I had to hold onto it with both hands, which ruined the effect a little bit. But it didn’t matter. I was a person who wore hats, cool and quirky, and surely not one to let a bit of rain and a failed relationship kill her vibe.

It’s been a while now since I was that person. I revisit her sometimes, on mild, windless evenings when a hat can be worn, but it’s rare. I will always think of her fondly but, the truth is, I don’t need her anymore. She served her purpose, as did her hat, which is now displayed in a prominent place in every room I make my own. As a reminder that, although I no longer wear hats, I can still be whoever the fuck I want. With an edge of cool and quirky, if the mood takes me.

On that note, if cool and quirky is what you’re after, there are several other accessories you can adopt that’ll do the trick just as well. Braces, for example, are an excellent choice, for men and women alike. And the more traditional haircut route is not to be frowned upon, either. My own recovery was significantly helped along by getting my hair cut really short – mostly because I wanted to, and also in part because Iceman (who frequently bemoaned my lack of femininity) had expressly forbidden me from it. Symbolic gestures and small victories: it’s what the path to getting the fuck over it is strewn with. There will be big, defining moments of revelation, too, but in the end, it really is the little things that count.

*Exodus 19:16 (King James Bible) – these, coupled with a thick cloud upon the mount, preceded the delivery of the Ten Commandments. Also applicable to hats.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Get the fuck over it (a literary self-help guide for intelligent people). I hadn’t planned to share it, but then my actual, original post about buying that hat came up on my facebook memories this morning, and it was impossible to resist.

Publishing as therapy


I was going to be a young author: that was the plan. I was going to be one of those twenty-something publishing sensations, wise far beyond my years, and heartbreakingly talented. They would come, the men who decide such things (publishers? gods?), to the pub where I worked, humble but trusting in my destiny, and they would tell me. They would say it out loud, for all to hear, and I, still humble but vindicated, would take off my apron, slowly, and wash the beer off my hands, and I would follow the men out of the darkness of the pub and into the bright lights of recognition.

I was thirty-six when I published my first book. Not exactly over the hill, but I could see its top and how it sloped downwards on the other side. Young, but not in any sensational way. Nevermind that in my head I was still twenty-two and entirely bewildered when people referred to me, politely, as “that lady”; the world saw a thirty-six-year-old in Converse All Stars standing on a hill of average height, slightly out of breath, clutching a book to her chest and trying not to think about downward slopes. All around me, people were climbing mountains. The men were not impressed.

But it wasn’t my first book. The book I was clutching that made me an author at last, on the wrong side of young, wasn’t my first. I became an author at thirty-six, but I was a writer long before that, and I wrote my first book at twenty-five. It could have been my sensational debut; it could have been my passage to the lights, my recognition. It could have been, but I stumbled as I made my way up the hill, and I lost my balance, and I dropped it. And I didn’t pick it up again. And the years passed and we aged, my book and I.

Perhaps I should have been more careful where I put my feet; perhaps I should have worn better shoes. Perhaps I should have seen that the things I stumbled on I could have just stepped over. Perhaps I should have known that balance is within, not without; perhaps I could have had the strength to pick myself up when I fell, to pick up my book and hold it high above my head, for all to see. Perhaps, but I was young. So I wrote my book, my sensational debut, four hundred and fifty pages full of words and little bits of wisdom far beyond my years. I submitted part of it for my Master’s thesis and I passed; the men, the gods gave a little nod. I walked on: I finished it and called it Common People and printed it out, all four hundred and fifty pages of it, and sent it off to the men: the agents, the publishers, the gods of this realm of bright lights. The gatekeepers, but passage was denied. Thank you, they said, but no. I stumbled. My friends picked me up; they read my book and said carry on. I gave it to my boyfriend, the man who would have smiled and held me and held my hand so I didn’t stumble and fall; the man who would have devoured four hundred and fifty pages of his girlfriend’s inner world, and handled it gently, for the precious, fragile thing that it was – but no: he smashed it with his fists. For all the men and all the gods and the rejections they delivered, it was this man who dealt the fatal blow, because he took my book and never read it. Cruelly, unapologetically, inexplicably: he never read it. And I fell. And I didn’t get up for years.

Never use your writing as therapy they told us at university, and this is therapy – what I’m doing now. But I understand what they meant. We write from experience, but writers take that experience – the personal, the subjective – and turn it universal. We write from our preoccupations, we write to exorcise our demons, but we need to dress those demons in clothes that other people recognise and have them speak in words that can be understood. Self-indulgence has no place in literature: that’s what therapists are for. Write your shit out first, they told us, get it all out – only then can you write a book. I understand. But sometimes there are things that hold us back and we don’t even know it. There are demons that lurk, in disguise. An ageing girl, an ageing book, a sensational young author juggling pint glasses in her apron and looking for recognition in all the wrong places. And publishing, this time, as therapy.

I no longer need recognition; that’s one thing I learned from climbing up the hill, to recognise myself for what I am. I don’t need vindication, because there was never anything to prove. I became an author at thirty-six, but I’ve been a writer all along, and I just want to write. But I published Common People this week, my sensational debut, time-travelling to take its place in a line-up of six. I published it because I could, and because, although it has aged as I have, it’s still a book of this time, and its time has come. I didn’t publish it as therapy but I can see it now, how it was one of my demons, disguised and fooling me all these years. It didn’t sit there quietly, it didn’t sit forgotten; it was heavy and I carried it, it was a thing I stumbled on, over and over again, and it was taking up space inside of me, a space I didn’t even know was occupied. A space that’s opened up now, all of a sudden, endless and clean and inviting, a kaleidoscope of words and colours and the bright lights that were there, all along, if only I’d known where to look. I didn’t publish it as therapy but I can see it now, how it’s cured me of something, a thing that was finished but unfulfilled, the latent dreams of a young author shaping themselves into regret. But regret had no place here, on my hill; it would only obscure the view.

Publishing as therapy and it’s now that I’ve gotten all my shit out; only now can I move on. My twenty-five-year-old self is a published author. I’ve done right by her and her words; I’ve set her free, and she can make her own way in the world, into the space that’s opened up. And I can make mine, at last, without looking back, because I can see it now, from this place I’ve reached in my Converse All Stars at age thirty-eight: that over the hill are other hills, and also valleys and mountains and forests and seas, and we can go to any of those places. Or just stand still for a while and enjoy the view. Waiting for no one and with absolutely nothing to prove. Trusting in our destiny, humble but certain that we can make our own bright lights.

Common People is available on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.