When I was a kid, the word ‘emo’ got bandied about in unpredictable ways. It was almost always used as an insult, but not always to mean the same thing. It could be used to criticise a band for sounding like My Chemical Romance. It could be used to criticise someone for looking like they might like My Chemical Romance. It could be used to criticise someone for things they put as their MSN name. It could be used to criticise someone for their haircut. It could be used to criticise someone who was basically a little bit different in any way from the person who was calling them an emo.
The word emo seems to have gone out of fashion a bit (unless you’re talking about music, where it turns out, some bands that get classified as emo are actually pretty damn good). In fact, I’d completely forgotten how often I used to hear the word emo in day-to-day conversation until recently, when a good friend of mine, in front of a group of people in the pub, asked me ‘remember when you were really emo for a while?’. My immediate reaction was to feel uneasy. I wasn’t sure why. I hadn’t heard the word emo used like that in years. I wondered if somehow it had been so drilled into me as a kid that even being accused of being emo was a terrible thing, and so my natural response was to feel on edge.
It was only when I got home that I realised what my problem with it had been. I’d had a spell of around four years where I suffered from pretty severe depression. What my friend actually meant was, remember when you were suicidal? Remember when you couldn’t function at all? Remember when you spent days crying and then weeks in near-silence? Now, granted, I was listening to a lot of Joy Division and reading a lot of Sylvia Plath – but there was something more going on there.
I think what I found particularly concerning about this was that this was a friend of mine who had seen me go through that dark period and knew how difficult it was for me. It was pretty disheartening for me. Not because my past pain was being slighted, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I do it quite a lot myself because it can feel helpful to distance myself from my depression in that way. What concerned me was the derisory, mocking tone it was brought up in. The subtext was that was silly, wasn’t it? And yeah, I’ve no doubt, at that time, I was a silly, silly person. In fact, I still probably am. But the thing is, I was also a terribly sad, sad person. And what if one of my friends at that table, in that pub, was experiencing something similar? What if they had wanted to talk to me about it knowing I’d gone through it too, only to hear those feelings dismissed in such a casual way? They’d feel ashamed. And embarrassed. And weak. And a million other things that depression makes it very, very easy to feel. That detached macho attitude is what leads to a perceived inability to discuss these problems. It’s what leads to distressingly high number of suicides in young men.
2016 sees the release of my debut novel. It’s called Waves, and recently I’ve had to start explaining to people what I think the book is about. People close to me are often surprised to hear that it has some semblance of positivity in it. My favourite writers (Hunger is probably my favourite novel) tend to be pretty bleak in their outlook.
But that’s exactly why it was important for me to write a book that has some degree of joy in it. Or hope. Or something between the two. Maybe it’s a naive hope, some would definitely say so, but that doesn’t really matter. I needed to write something where someone found their way out of something painful and moved onto something else. Because suicides in young males are at terrifying figures – if a man aged 20-45 dies in the UK today, it is more likely to be from suicide than any other reason – and sure, dark art can comfort you in dark times, but to get you through them you need something else too, and I wanted a book that worked in that zone where you’re ready for something else.
We all know how to get from our On The Road chaos to our Big Sur despair, but how do you get out of that Big Sur phase and onto the next thing? A lot of people don’t, and Kerouac sure didn’t, so as I reach an age where a lot of people around me are coming out of their young fuck-everything phase, and having to face their mental demons, it’s a conversation I want to be a part of. And I want other people to feel able to be a part of it too.
This post is brought to you by Jared A. Carnie.