Free January

I have an odd relationship with social media. It’s sort of like eating fast food. You know there’s absolutely nothing beneficial in it but for a little while it’s fulfilling. It gives you something to do with your hands. It’s something to look at. It’s usually pretty bright and shiny and will get something spilt on your trousers. In the end it will kill you and everyone you love. Alright, I didn’t completely think that comparison through. The important thing is that in January 2016 I decided to cut myself off in the name of my sanity.

For over a decade I’ve been addicted to social media. I was on Bebo and then I was on Faceparty. I was on MySpace and then I was on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. Not a day goes by when I don’t write something pithy and mildly irritating to the masses (approx 700 friends on Facebook, 500 followers on Twitter, 400 followers on Instagram, 250 followers on Tumblr). It’s not a massive amount, I’m not Katanga Jenner (my knowledge of pop culture “icons” is slipping as I approach 30 and this might not even be the vacuous person I intend it to be). I sometimes feel like I owe them something, that if they don’t know what I’m eating then they’re going to struggle to sleep at night. “Sure I have a roof over my head, a wardrobe full of clothes I don’t wear and a fiancé who wants me dead but what does Paul Schiernecker think about the Cuban Missile Crisis?” I hear them crying out as they toss and turn on their pillows. It was this narcissistic tendency that made me decide I should probably give the whole thing a rest. It’s effing dangerous and it’s toxic. It was either give up social media or give up caffeine and you know how I get without my morning coffee enema.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with social media and I’m not saying it doesn’t offer a great deal of prospects and opportunity to do good, it’s just that it was quite nice to take a break from it.

The first thing I had to get over was “the twitch” – the desire to reach for my phone like the heroes and villains of the old west would reach for their pistols. Any time I’m on my own, vulnerable or anxious, which to be fair is a fairly constant state of play in my life, I reach for my phone and busy myself in the world of Minion-based mum gags and photos of meal preps and protein shakes. Again, I’m not gym-shaming although I am possibly Minion-shaming. They’re about as funny as finding a lump while scrubbing the key areas in the shower. I found myself still reaching for my phone despite the fact I wasn’t about to shoot down anyone in the town of Red Rock and knowing I had deleted all social media applications from my phone on the evening of January 1st. To combat this, I took a tip from one of my favourite blogs, The Minimalists, and replaced the Facebook app with the Kindle app. I already have an account with Amazon and a Kindle but the app gives access to all the books you have in “the cloud” – that mysterious land above our heads which is slightly better than heaven because someone stole celebrity nudes from it. I also started utilising the podcasts app and am now addicted to The Nerdist, The Minimalists, Stuff You Should Know, Infinite Monkey Cage, Serial and Desert Island Discs. I’ve finally started reading War & Peace properly (currently at 12%) and I’m learning a lot more about the world around me.

I have however found a new addiction. I’ve started eBaying. I love the thrill of the countdown, the way the digits tick over, the fact that it doesn’t feel like real money for real things until they turn up and smell like other people. I’ve realised I’m going to have to have a clear out of my wardrobe in favour of all my fancy used things from other people. I’ve got far too many jumpers (when I’ve realised I don’t really wear them) and have so many coats that I could warm a netball team (I initially said football team but doubt I could stretch to eleven unless some of them were very small and could fit in a pocket).

I’ve been able to spend time with the people who matter to me and actually make it count. It doesn’t matter if it’s digging out dinosaur fossils with my girlfriend in the lounge, dancing to The Beatles with my godsons or running around an abandoned shopping centre from a horde of East 15 zombies, I’ve taken a lot of stuff on this month and won at it. There’s something about me that wonders if I will ever return to social media again. I know I’ve missed out on a couple of social occasions as a result of not being on Facebook and if I don’t make some kind of contact I could soon miss my own birthday but I feel like I’m actually connecting with people and enjoying things a lot more and without the desire to prove something to the outside world. I’ve had a number of conversations with a close friend about the nature of our social media selves – the version we promote – and that’s just as toxic. The second it takes to smile for a picture is bookended by the absolute sorrow that is life in the twenty-first century. Is anyone actually happy anymore? Does that happen for anyone? Answers on a postcard of your favourite Beatnik writer please.

This month I managed to finish a manuscript about depression, plan my next book, start the Insanity workout, help film a promo video, learn to make Huevos Rancheros, read seven books, get addicted to eBay, complete GTA V, run further than ever, remain reasonably sober, book a holiday and enjoy everything presented to me. I’m not saying my life is perfect and I don’t know how much of this is just the positive outlook I try to bring to the first month of the year but the fact remains, this month, without social media, has been a holiday.

Kooks

When I was a kid we used to go on holidays that involved dangerously long road trips through Europe. One of the best things about them was being able to listen to a league of incredible music that my parents chose to expose us to. The best of this mix was David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. An album that has come to mean a great deal to me. In tribute to the great man and because I know it’s one of my dear mother’s favourites, here’s my cover of Kooks.

An open letter to your next transition.

Dear David Robert Jones,
The Man Who Sold The World,
The Man Who Stole My Heart,
The artist, the musician, the icon, the hero, the mime, the alien, the heathen,
I didn’t know you. I would like to think I did but how well can two people who never knew each other know each other? All I knew was the image. What you allowed me to see and I wanted to thank you for that. From the earliest age I remember you, like an extra parent. I would stare at your mismatching eyes and the globule on your shoulder and wonder what it all meant and where you had come from. Then there was that voice. Those sounds. That instrumentation. The way you cut and pasted words until the sentences made more sense than anything else I had heard.

I can’t imagine a time without you and that’s why it feels like there is a rock in my guts. I’ve never been in a world without you before. No matter how quiet and tentative you kept, I knew you were there and now you aren’t. A fascinating man and an incredible artist, this world will never see anyone like you again. Your characters and your reinvention were so important to so many people.
You can assess people on their favourite Bowie. Your terrifyingly handsome face on the cover of Hunky Dory will always be my favourite Bowie but like we are all taught, it’s what is inside that counts. The eleven tracks on that album take me somewhere else. I get lost in your words. I cry for you. Thank you for that.

I don’t know where you have gone but as you said yourself, it won’t be boring. You have not just influenced but changed the world we live in and that debt can never be repaid. From the first to the last you were your own man and you were so incredibly cool about it. I hope that whatever transformation you have taken on is worth leaving us for. There’s no way you could have gone in the way they are reporting. Something so plain and human. No. You have been abducted. You’ve dissipated. You’re gone. You’re never going to be forgotten. You’re right though. It would probably blow our minds.

Enjoy the great beyond.

Where is Paul Schiernecker?

Hello. It’s me. From the outside or something. That’s what she says isn’t it? In the song.

In January 2016 (now) I decided I was going to give up social media for the month. This is a big deal. I chuffing love social media. It has all those bits you can drag down and release to update and it jingles and woops for you. What is not to love? I’m just worried it’s a bit dangerous. I spend so long on there that it gets fucking depressing. I’m supposed to be a writer. I’m supposed to produce things. How can I do that if I am locked into this infernal battle of baby photos and engagement announcements. That’s why I’m giving it up.

Those of you with me last year will remember the struggle of Dry January 2015. I didn’t drink. Apparently I don’t drink a lot now, and last night I downed three cans of San P Limota in a move that left me slightly nauseous for the rest of the evening but I assure you, I still drink. I wanted to give up something this year that had the same level of overlap with my life. It was either going to be social media or caffeine and I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to my grandes.

I’ll do a nice big wrap-up of what has gone on this month at the end but I just wanted to drop you all a message to say I am ok. I’m focusing on the things I actually enjoy. I’m writing a lot. I’m making plans that I hope to see through. Everything is awesome. I’ll see you when I’ll see you. Alternatively, there are other ways of getting in contact with me and you can use any of them. Don’t be a stranger or at least, don’t be any stranger than you usually are.

Peace.

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2015: In Review

There we go, like narcissistic thieves returning to the scene of the crime we find ourselves back at another January. The chance to give everything a lovely little wipe clean and an opportunity to take stock of our life choices, or the chance to mock anyone who would consider changing anything they’ve ever done just because of the date. Either is good. It’s been a funny old year. I often wonder which it’ll be that the entire world gets destroyed because of bad decisions but here we are in another new one, blinking slowly through our hangovers and willing our genitals to return to normal size after knocking back half an E with a glass of bubbly because “fuck it”. Many things happened in 2015, politics and stuff, but what you are really wondering is what I made of the weird stuff that happened to me. Well, I’m going to tell you, breaking it down month by bloody emboldened month.

January: The year began much like others before it, by following on from the year that had been. I spent most of the month accidentally writing 2014 on documents and having to correct myself and dreaming of the day I would have to make a 5 look like a 6 rather than making a 4 look like a 5. I was also swiping right with a fiendish speed I first established playing Track And Field as a kid. It was an experimental time for me as a man although one which, as good fortune would have it, stopped me from being on the Channel 4 show, First Dates. I will forever be in debt to the replacement bus service I refused to get all the way to London on the promise of a background TV date and a dinner (which I have in my head would have definitely been a battered sausage and chips). Elsewhere, my glasses got trodden on in a sex kerfuffle and were never the same again.

February: As with every year before it, February was celebrated nationwide as being my birthday month. While the House of Lords still veto the suggestion we all get the whole month off and call it a Pauliday I did get a lovely four Saturdays and Sundays off in a month as well as a mixed grill to celebrate the day itself. In a move that shocked many (me), a number of my friends forgot the date and spent weeks afterwards trying to make amends. I pigheadedly refused to lower myself to their level and instead floated around my flat in a pair of mop slippers. I went to my first ever Drive-in movie where I saw ab-flashing gay romp Top Gun for the first time. I went to a very nice hotel in London and upset the establishment by drinking a lot of vodka martinis while dressed like I was in Mad Men.

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March: Two incredible things happened in March 2015. The first was that The Strokes announced they would be playing Hyde Park in the summer. I booked tickets. The second was that Secret Cinema announced they would be showing The Empire Strikes Back in the summer. I booked tickets. The third was that I started talking to an incredible woman via my blog who utterly compelled me. The only problem was that she was in Manchester and I was in Essex. With the near-Vulcan levels of logic I possess I got on the National Express website and booked tickets. I was also asked to perform at Old Trunk’s Tales & Ales events. My best bit from the show was getting to say cunnilingus onstage, I’m like Shakespeare.
I also forgive my friends for forgetting my birthday when they surprised me five weeks late with a meal out. I almost cried hard salty man tears.

April: I spent most of April darting back and forth to Manchester and falling in love like an idiotic little schoolboy. I also got to visit Salford Lads Club and having been there and done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. Everything I had ever said in the throes of my relationship-hating mentality were served up to me on toast points. I was literally (not literally) eating my words (metaphor). After spending three days together Charlotte and I decided the best thing we could do about the two-hundred miles between us was reduce it to about fifteen feet at all times and she started packing up her life to come and be with me. As I am constantly reminded, the north remembers, I know nothing, winter is coming… except it wasn’t. Spring was. And I was full of the joys of it. I was reasonably youngish, I had a foxy lady and somehow I managed to get an interview for a job I had lovingly gazed across the room after for about six months.

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May: In May everything went proper mental. I had to clear enough space in the wardrobe for another person to get their stuff in there and I found out I got the job I had been pining for. I could practically smell the impressive job title on subtle off-white business cards, It would even have its own watermark. I bought a number of suits because I was still watching too much Mad Men and tried to negotiate a start date. After a heavy 24 hours in which I drove back and forth to Manchester with a carload of stuff we got Charlotte moved in and began our domestic bliss of cold cups of tea, love and dolly grips fucking everywhere.

June: In a matter of days I got to see two of the most important things in my shared love of life with my hetero-life partner Antony. We watched The Strokes and then we watched Star Wars and it was a-maz-ing. I finally felt like I was at a point in my life where I could be the adult version of child me, allowing these incredible opportunities I had always hoped for to play out. More than anything I always wondered when I would get to a point where I was happy with my lot. I seemed to have found it. Charlotte and I also welcomed our ridiculous bundle of joy Rigamortis into our lives. The rescued halfling of a cat with bowed back legs became our fur baby and we started creeping other people out with the way we talked about her as if we had birthed her ourselves. I started my new job and was immediately overwhelmed.

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July: For Charlotte’s birthday we went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour and geeked out for a number of hours. I discovered that regardless of what I may have thought I was never in Gryffindor House and have been flying the Ravenclaw flag ever since. We visited her family for a few days and traveled to Hay-on-Wire for all the bookshop feels.

August: I was reminded of just how cool all of my friends were as they simultaneously jumped ship for the Edinburgh festival. I submitted a new novel about a version of me with a different name to agents and publishers across the land and was told I had made the main character purposefully unlikable. It was a low point. I spent weeks trying to make myself purposefully likable again. Reading Festival allowed Antony and I another chance to geek off as we spent four hours circling the M25 before finding our turn off, drinking too much, thinking that some of the children at the festival should really locate their mums and dads because they’d had far too many disco biscuits for their faces to deal with unattended and then watched The Libertines locked arm-in-arm.

September: I started trying to fit six months worth of training ahead of my annual charity trek into just one month as it dawned on me I was going to actually be flying to the Grand Canyon. I spent my weekend walking across the very flat and un-Canyon-y Essex countryside, taking refuge in the sitting rooms of anyone who would have me and making Vines that I assumed were hilarious. My fourth book, The Stamp Brotherhood, was released upon the masses (my parents and possibly some people who got the free e-book) and once again I waited for Lady Fame to come knocking at my door. The book did incredibly well, getting into the Kindle Top 20 for its category and earning me even more of a smug demeanor. I got three new tattoos, finally reaching a point where I realised I don’t have to explain the relevance of them to everyone each time I get one done and it can simply be because I like something. It’s not like it is permanent anyway.

October: I flew to Las Vegas and was jettisoned out into the desert to trek the Grand Canyon. I met some lovely and incredible people who I will remain in touch with, as I did after the Sahara and Peru treks. I raised over a thousand pounds for the Guide Dogs charity and I added another country to my roster of blagging rights when I looked off wistfully and recalled the time I hurt my knee in a cave. I got drunk in a casino, was denied entry to a club, lost my underwear on a building site and was shown to an executive business suite in the course of one night out. I downplayed this element compared to all the great charity work.

Vegas

Charlotte and I visited Bath, enjoying a relaxing day in the thermae spa, a trip around the Roman baths and a lot of good food. We both got tattooed on Halloween.

November: I decided I was going to write two novels instead of one in the National Novel Writing Month event held each year in November. I completed the first one, at sixty-one thousand words, in just twelve days, promptly had a breakdown and was offered counseling. The second book is still in development. I also took too many truffles and got weird on a houseboat on the canals of Amsterdam.

December: Then we got here. Lovely little month December is. The warmest since records began. I ran about everywhere in a t-shirt, sweating and trying to work out if I had bought enough stuff for everyone. We commandeered a Christmas tree and set it up with the fancy baubles and bangles we had collected on our recent travels. I got to perform with some of my friends in a weird quiz show held at The Alex where I was the sexy scorecard boy. It developed my desire to bring back crop tops for men. Star Wars brought absolute joy to my face. I watched it twice and wept quietly each time. I went to so many Christmas parties that I forgot what working without a hangover felt like. Then it was Christmas and we were packing up and off to the midlands again. It was the first Christmas I had spent away from home and Charlotte’s family made me feel very welcome.
I got to see in the new year with my shoe brother before heading round to see other friends and get weird into the wee hours.

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Every year has its ups and downs, it has triumphs and it has disappointments. I’m trying my best to navigate through it all, to celebrate the things I have done and recognise the fact that I’m in a very good place and space. As a very wise man recently told me, you need to find success in the life you are living and enjoy those victories. Here’s to 2016. Cheers.