"Sad, saaad girl," I used to talk to myself when I felt particularly upset by life in general. This had a funny effect on me, those pitying words being spoken aloud. Because I heard myself, I could assume a slightly more distant standpoint. I was the receiver of my mood now, as well as the creator. And if this was combined with looking in the mirror (at that sad, sad face of mine, bespattered with tears as it often was - I used to cry a lot these days), I would get a double shot of negative motivation. "Get a grip, girl," I would plead my reflection. Gradually I would become an impartial observer of my own sorrows. This I would remain for anything up to a week, until the balance shifted, and I assumed full-time the role of the sad, saaad girl again.
Not that my life was plagued by the minions of misery: broken homes, malevolent people, problems with health. No, the pain did not come from the outside, but rather it was a matter of spirit - of thinking and feeling. Scholarly terms such as Weltschmerz and existential pain appealed to and applied to me, though I can't say with what precision. They're quite broad, so maybe I met the requirements. Anyway, my chief concerns were three: school, family and friends. Little of my life protruded outside those labels. No grandiose tragedies. Perhaps that was the issue, lack of excitement, whether positive or negative. But all in all, I knew my unhappiness was in my head. I was unable to come to grips with life. I lived in the clouds, dark and stormy most of the time. My existence crushed me - the feeble female - under its marginal weight. The pancakes I made were never edible.
The big breakthrough came, however. Very unexpectedly, but there it was, take it or leave it. It came about in stages: firstly, because I hadn't been careful enough with my pen, doing homework on the sofa (lying, it was bound to end in a disaster). My hand slipped, of course, and I stained the elegant piece of furniture, for which my parents had worked God knows how many hours to pay. Silly girl, me, but I didn't feel like laughing. Angry at myself I looked up the first phrase that came to my mind on the Internet: how - space - to - space - wash - space - ink off furniture - question mark. The nearest hit was How to Remove Ink Stains from Upholstery, which was even better than requested. I clicked through and found myself on the site howtodo - all one word - dot com. Their advice was brilliant: hair spray onto a clean, white towel, dabbing, blotting, repeat with modulations, until after a period of excited cleaning the mark came off. Really, I felt as if I had been granted absolution after years of sinning.
But I didn't make out much of this development, not beyond those first critical minutes. I didn't return to the website. It was helpful, true, but becoming sentimental about everything I see on the Internet was not my kind of madness. It was only a week or two later that I had another of my breakdowns. I just had too little to do, it being a weekend and me having no plans how to manage the surplus of leisure. I stood alone in the middle of my room, and the time was heavy on my hands. It accumulated, my cupped palms overflew with it, and soon the whole lot spilled and splashed on the carpet. I felt rather miserable.
"Get a grip, girl," I kept telling myself. How pointless to despair pointlessly! No, it's okay, mum, just feeling a little blue, for no particular reason. Go back and watch telly, really. Don't worry. Everyone did, though, despite my petitions to the contrary. This time round I didn't want to sob.
Then, I remembered the site. It popped into my head out of the blue, prompting me to excavate the link in my browser's history, and click it. I sought diversion, I think, but found a great deal more: it was great, great stuff there, lots and lots of practical advice written and edited by users for other users' benefit. What an unselfish deed on the part of the former! Poor little Emily was speechless with amazement, and she experienced one of those rare moments when she stayed at home for the whole of Saturday and Sunday without her spirits sinking in tears. A success! I was encouraged.
By and by we became good friends, me and the site - in the span of a month, say. I confess taking more from it than giving back, which might not be a sloppy foundation for friendship, but we rubbed along nonetheless. That's the reason I'm writing what I'm writing, as a matter of fact - this account. It's been roughly three months since the Sofa Incident (which occurred at the beginning of March), and I've been reading articles on howtodo.com in droves. I've read hundreds. Quite recently, I've turned to ones such as How to Be a Writer, How to Write an Essay, How to Write a Short Story. Since I consider it important to put ideas into practice, I've decided to give it a try, whatever the outcome. Such a change in one's life as I had is worth documenting, be it for posterity, or for the future me. That's what it says in How to Keep a Diary.
How to Deal with Loneliness was the first thing I looked up on that fateful Saturday, if I remember correctly. It was a succinct guide in twelve points, four under each subheading. When I am skimming through it now I run out of fingers to count the platitudes it contains: Remember that we all feel lonely sometimes, it assures me in the opening lines. Be an active member of your family, it says when I scroll down a little. Funny how we dismiss some pieces of advice only because we have heard them a million times already. As if that made them less adequate. No, I myself want to be a cliché-lover, if a cliché is what I at any given moment need.
I read a few articles more, after that one (about making proper pancakes, too); but eventually my eyes grew tired, I turned off the computer screen, and went to the living room to join my parents and brother. They seemed relieved when they saw me. I was relieved myself.
The next portion of pancakes of my making has been noticeably improved. They weren't yet something anybody could eat for pleasure, but for survival's sake people would be ungrateful to complain. My brother said he'd rather eat those pancakes than die, which was quite nice of him. The sensation of progress excited me. It wasn't long till I was again breaking eggs in the kitchen, attempting to win over more of my brother's taste buds, who had so generously offered himself as a critic.
In due time I typed into howtodo's search engine every phrase or concept that had the slightest bearing on my life. For good and for worse the school reality makes up a large part of it, and so I learned how to learn better, faster, and not just learn to forget in a week's time, but commit to memory permanently. Funny they don't teach us that at school - how to weave stories in order to memorise long strings of data, how to use our imagination, redundant in matters of importance, but running wild and crazy to follies. And who would wonder at this, if she's so unwanted in daily business. I feel for her strongly.
Socially I became more open, thanks to the combination of How to Be More Socially Open and How to Have Small Talk, supplemented by several minor articles on the neighbouring subjects. I showed willingness to mingle with the crowd beyond my customary triangle of Anna, Kate and Lisa. Understandably, many interesting persons were too busy with their own lives to pay attention, but a number of others appreciated my new-found involvement and were willing to reciprocate. One thing led to another, and within a month I found myself holding rather big conversations with Lenny, whom I have always respected and thought a great boy. Of course, I was geared up for this. Conventional wisdom has it that holding a face-to-face conversations for hours is an innate human ability, much like child-rearing and so on, while in point of fact there are seven rules which we rarely keep in mind and don't always follow with rigour. Good talking may be spontaneous, but why not help yourself beforehand and secure a safe success? Planning is the king, says the third point on the list - and I agree.
In case of an emergency, I studied also How to Hold Hands, How to Look Him/Her in the Eyes with Passion and How to Kiss for the First Time. I admit I was nervous when waiting for the last of these to load - blissfully elated, but also insecure, out of my depth. At that time we were still two weeks away from the first kiss for real. But it paid off, all this reading: whereas my earlier self would have panicked and ruined everything, the new one felt strangely in control, by virtue of having experienced everything in theory. Things happened around me, and either they matched the descriptions I had read or they differed slightly. I compared; I analysed; I translated from mind to life and the other way round; but I was never baffled or confused. I felt - I feel - really, really strong.
At present even my parents have got over the shock that their little Emily has found herself a boyfriend. My life has been profoundly altered, and yet without any profound stimulus to set me off. The beginning was excellent in its mundanity: the ink stain on the sofa. Indeed, I love to think about it this way: chains of random events with more meaning and impact on life than they can, well, put in chains, entangle in their midst. If that isn't wonderful then I don't know what is.
She doesn't know what is, she wrote, tying up her account. Proud though she was of her literary achievement, she didn't contemplate it for long. She exited the text editor without re-reading: in three separate articles she had been instructed to follow artistic creation with a period of rest. When she returned to make corrections at a later date, she'd do it with a fresh and unbiased mind. A day or two should suffice.
But this left her with a large part of Saturday evening as free and empty as a desert, in terms of scheduled activity. Lenny was away in the countryside, visiting his grandparents. School duties had been dealt with, and anyway homework was scarce in the middle of June. Emily's parents had gone off to their adult acquaintances. Her brother played football with his friends.
Emily mused about her story, deciding that it had come out pretty good. She could do more of this writing in the future. Show it to Lenny for criticism. And why not write an article for the website? She'd written about taking more from it than giving back, but maybe she could reverse the trend, maybe she could pay back a wee bit of her enormous debt?
She read the guidelines for would-be editors meticulously, even though she didn't need to; she knew the style it required; she was steeped through and through in the tradition. She decided to contribute a tutorial about drawing a cartoon cat. It seemed a natural choice, as she had been famous for her shapely cats since as far back as late kindergarten.
She relished the paramount significance of the moment. It delighted her, the sheer thought of a snake swallowing its own tail, of life playing out in circles, only on higher and higher levels, up through the clouds, up out of the orbit. She typed rapidly and with passion, encouraged by ancient muses.
When she had finished, she went through the text again, sifting for typos, improving some paragraphs to perfection. She couldn't postpone this work till a day or two later for fear that someone else might submit a similar article in the meantime, and her efforts would go to waste. Okay. She did it. She chose the appropriate file, and sent it to the website.
To her astonishment, she was informed that her How to Draw a Cartoon Cat article would be available online in less than ten minutes. It was up after three. Emily sat back in her chair and read her masterpiece again, in the habitat in which it belonged, officially on howtodo.com - with pictures she had drawn and scanned by hand, with advertisements even. She loved it. It read like all the other articles she had perused, or even better. She was impressed by her own know-how - by her skill and art - now that they were presented in the exclusive environment of the world-popular website which had saved and redeemed her life. She hoped her tutorial would help many. It might. It had turned out she was no worse than any other article writer. They were just like her, and she was just like them.
And then, the truth dawned on her. All at once and each individually she broke the nine golden rules of How to Hold Back Tears. She cried, for the first time in months.