New starts don’t come gift-wrapped. I wish they did, as it would make it a hell of a lot easier both to spot them, and seize them by the balls. The lack of packaging begs the question, what is a new start anyway? I recently bought a knife specially designed for cutting ridged vegetables, and it’s changed my Ratatouille incontrovertibly. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about full-blown, cataclysmic identity overhaul. Exactly the sort you might consider during Freshers Week. And exactly the sort you should whole-heartedly avoid.
If I’ve learnt anything from a menagerie of painful, awkwardly British experiences it is, ‘don’t be fooled’. Taking up larping because you quite like men with beards, or joining Muggle Soc because you are convinced that the reason you’ve never really fitted into the Muggle world is because you are, and always have been, a wizard.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for trying new things. But just not as a means to escaping acceptance of who you really are. If there’s one thing that gets on my grate, it’s that personal reinvention is all around us. “Buy this Herbal Essence shampoo and you will become an unrecognizable, sensual goddess immediately on stepping out of the shower. Eat exactly seven and a half Goji berries, and you will have the energy of Michael Phelps.”
I can sadly tell you that Chanel no. 5 does not turn you into Keira Knightly on the back of a motorbike in Paris, no matter how much you try. New starts – new ‘you’s – don’t come gift-wrapped. We’re so used to things being delivered in boxes, we don’t know how to look for things anymore, because we don’t need to; things are looking for us.
But Freshers week seems to be the sneaky exception. It’s the new start that gets delivered in a seven-day-sized box, with a wristband and a bar crawl t-shirt. But that’s it. The rest is up to you.
Not even the most unrelenting fresher should have to handle that kind of pressure: to have made, at the end of seven days, new friends, a new hobby, and a new you. I certainly failed miserably fulfilling that brief, but what’s just so fine, is that now as a sagging, middle-aged, gin-drinking third year, I have come to realise that the task was never going to be completed anyway.
If there’s something you don’t like about yourself, like having a monobrow, then use a new start to change, to pluck it right out of your life. But becoming someone entirely new is a totally unfeasible proposition, because it just won’t work.
Maybe it’s true what they say: things don’t change. People like consistency. I remember one girl in my flat dying her hair dark brown for her new start at York, even though all the pictures on her bedroom wall were of her with platinum blonde hair. Surely she realised we could see Old and New, and that that was somewhat unsettling? It’s only bloody hair colour I hear you cry. Well, at least it’s not changing your name, which is surprisingly common, at least on Facebook anyway.
I feel for the likes of JK Rowling, not because she’s changed her name, but because her first book to be published post-Potter is rubbish, apparently. A Casual Vacancy, which has been slated for it’s lack of sympathy to her already devoted fanbase, has been both a challenge and a let down to them. Why do it JK? Why go and reinvent your writing career in the vain hope of people instantly thinking you’ve become an entirely different writer? If the new goods aren’t even better than the old, it’s a new start wasted, and a dignity damaged.
I have always stood by the fact that the greatest wisdom in life can only be offered by cab drivers, because there’s no fuss involved. A wise cabby once said to me during a lift at an ungodly hour of the morning that, “One of the greatest lessons you can learn, is that most people, most of the time, genuinely like you for who you are.” So who needs gift wrap?