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Validate Me: An Exclusive Foreword from Charly Cox and Elizabeth Day

Posted on 9th September 2019 by Mark Skinner

Charly Cox and Elizabeth Day, two of the most prominent voices of their generation, have joined forces to craft a truly unique foreword to Charly’s latest, breath-taking collection of poems, Validate Me. Written entirely on Charly’s phone, Validate Me both celebrates and condemns the online world and the pull of social media and does it with lashings of wit and style.

Emails From Elizabeth

My phone had been half-touched for days. Hands that used to jitter and shake, pocket grab and stroke, now sat upon, occasionally pulling at eyes, mostly reaching for a glass of wine; until now.

Of all my pathetic and medical addictions, the obvious glaring things that come with pictures of sick babies and bleeding gums printed on packets, this one that I swore was beneficial and not a benefactor to the others, has risen up to reveal all of its truths. I am drinking more and smoking more, my body is now coffee and debt, I blame it all on the devil and idle hands that are punishing my lack of swipe and simpering. I blame its toxicity for the others’ latent lure – that I am carefully forgetting all came long before it. All my other crutches felt, through my phone, like lovely little brush strokes on a caricature of me, this ludicrously dressed mad woman always offering out a lighter and smudging spilt wine with the other hand, phone safely nestled in bra ready to whip out to digitise it in all of its glory, a portrait of posterity.

But without it, albeit a few days and albeit notably lost because of a pulsating anxiety behind each eyelid and heavy in throat and throb of limbs, that portrait no longer hung. Its gilded frame is simply empty wall. Those things alone were dirty and sad and desperate. They needed, they were alive, on the anecdote and laughter, the tapped-in postcodes and lofty, last minute WhatsApp plans. The pirate red lipstick-stained bad habits could only be dragged out of bed in this state by friendship. By communication. Perhaps, much like the other things I hated to love, it was me that was the perpetrator, I was the problem. My need to constantly wash out silence instead of really listening to the whirring inner monologue of crapped-on cogs. Distraction. That's all any of this boiled down was. A magician blaming its faulty tricks when he himself had not mastered the magic at all. I was killing the doves before they had chance to fly.

The next evening, as I stopped to sit and write this in the grandeur of a bar I had screenshotted so many interior shots of it no longer felt exciting to actually sit in, I deleted the tweet.

I braved my email. Braved! What a hero! Who was this modern-day saviour, so stoic and nouveau?! Surely not I. But it was. A subject line glared through me and my eyes welled up in elation. It was Elizabeth.

Elizabeth who I'd met twice but, knew within a fraction of the first instance and consolidated on the second, knew me beyond the facade. She met me as me and liked me as this half-hashed idea of an adult that I was trying to grow into and to when I ran away from myself in body and mind. Here she was without a lifeboat, but an email to drag me ashore. A little rubber dingy-shaped offering filled with love and hope and reality (reality!), speeding towards me in the horizon. I’d mentally waved the white flag, brain just sparks of panic flare, I bloody well needed this days ago, I had received this days ago, but it was me who had denied it.

The doves started to flutter, all white and crisp and mesmeric, the dancing line that flashed and taunted after each new word that had legs to be absolution pulled at its chain, a new word, a new line, a new admission, a new honest recount of the dismal place my brain had reached, pulling pulling pulling, wings flapping and flapping and flapping until it felt such a cruelty to let them struggle any longer whilst they had such pure and powering intentions of freedom. So I let them. Before I shut off their wings back into my faulty box and lay furious that the words I needed had been waiting for me all along, the connection, the communion, I let them flap and fly to reply.

The back and forth, mammoth paragraphs of encouragement and update, lit me with all the things I had been hoping to find by running away and turning everything off. It dawned continuously, a buffering morning, that nearly everything that had happened, great and devastating, but with concentration on the great, had been possible because of the online world that I had grown up in and become so dependent on. Before my dependence, of which I was both to blame and a product of society, it had initially looked to me to be pearlescent gates that I owned the key to unlock whenever I needed to skip through and find something that I couldn’t find anywhere else.

The nights at fourteen that turned into early mornings, making friends on forums discussing boys, and on many occasions saving strangers from the things that they couldn’t bear to tell their parents or closest friends. The endless meme share and laughs and frankly incriminating WhatsApp messages that solved even the most intricate maladies. Photos found and reblogged that pushed me to believe perhaps one day I could take and one day did. Recipe blogs that proved to me cooking delicious meals was attainable, within my reach, good for my mind and my body. WikiHow that taught me, somewhat shockingly much later than I care to admit, you can in fact wee with a tampon in. WebMD that had convinced me of ailments that would later make them money, but also validate my symptoms that I couldn’t articulate in real life and give me a second chance. The dating apps that joined me with heartbreak but also with now best friends of whom I know certainly I would not still be alive to write this without. The confidence that I had previously used it with, not a crutch, but as a tool, had shaped me to be the person sat alone in a bar five thousand miles from home, heartbroken and lost, sad and defeated, but with someone to pull me out and hope to keep me going. The former were things I was in control of and had lost hold of. The latter, a gift from the very thing that I had spent so long castigating that I could pick and choose the direction of but had held too firmly.

I flail from my bar stool and catwalk to the loo. I announce it to the suited waiter, ‘Just popping to the loo!’ and he laughs as I knew he would because they think it’s charming and British and I know it’s crass and uninteresting. It feels a half a step forward to acceptance. I am crass and uninteresting and somewhere deep down I love that, I hope.

The bathroom itself is incredibly opulent, the walls are coated in a flaked gold leaf and the mirrors have the sort of back light I would assume most 14 year olds now are able to fix to their front cameras. My eyes look tired, a bit drunk. But they upturn slightly as they survey each orange patch on my collar where my foundation has run from sweating and crying, sweating with anxiety of realisation, crying at the relief of just that. I tug at it and then laugh and then cry again and then sweat some more at the prospect of this very image existing on someone’s CCTV footage. I half want to ask if I could get a copy, my brain whirring at what sort of Tracey Emin performance piece I could make this and then I stop.

I had placed my bag in the sink and had taken no caution as to think that a toilet as fancy as this one would likely have sensored taps. My bag filled with water and I just sort of watched it. I didn’t flinch. After much, much too long, I picked out my belongings from the basin and smiled. Had I totally lost the plot? Or had I finally, like Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, thrown her phone into a Parisian fountain and realised I absolutely had the power to stop my life being so unbelievably miserable for the sake of appeasing a beast that the world worshipped but did me no good?

The transformation had been done. The portrait complete. I was an Anne Hathaway meme.

I, albeit totally penniless, albeit totally heartbroken, albeit five thousand miles from my actual home, had refound place and had taken back accountability. A product of all the things I thought so wrong had made me into enough of a person to turn them into riot acts of rights that I could now scream.

I don't want to have to say

‘AM I RIGHT, LADIES?’

But

It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all. It is also better to resent something so passionately and then see it was just a mirror, than to have never owned a phone at all.

Am I right, ladies?

. . . answers please on the back of a postcard.

Foreword by Elizabeth Day

I first met Charly Cox in a hotel suite, which makes it sound like an illicit romantic assignation. I suppose, in truth, the reality was not so very far removed given the instantaneous nature of our connection. I loved her straight away, with a ferocity reserved for only the most special of kindred spirits.

I knew her by reputation only, after discovering one of her poems online and finding myself laughing at one line, wincing in recognition by the next and weeping at the last. I followed her on Instagram where she was funny and self-deprecating and talented (and beautiful, of course, but this was the least important). Everything she posted got thousands of likes. Of course it did. Everything she posted was brilliant. Everything she posted had heart.

When I met her irl, she was even better. Yes, she had heart. But she also had soul. She claimed to be 23 but really I knew she must be lying because her entire being was shot through with the gold thread of wisdom. I had that thing – that curious, embarrassing thing that you barely ever feel when you’re grown up – of wanting desperately for this woman to like me back.

We were in the hotel to do a series of readings to mark its opening, while various guests from a party downstairs were shepherded through the suite to listen to us. It was surreal. At one point, Charly was standing in front of a bath-tub performing one of her poems while I was perched on the edge of a four-poster bed reading a passage from a novel. Afterwards, we bonded over the glorious weirdness of the evening. Now, she is my dear friend.

So you won’t be getting one of those objective, academic forewords where I analyse the cadence and rhythm of her language, wonderful though it is. No, this is a wholeheartedly subjective take on why you should read this collection.

If you’ll allow me to tell you, from my unabashedly biased position as Charly’s friend, why I believe you should read Validate Me, it is because Charly gives voice to the things we think but never manage to say. She gives expression to the intangible qualities of loneliness and alienation in this superficially connected world, and in doing so she makes us feel heard. More than that, she makes us feel understood. She probes darkness with the same tenderness as she tests the light, from the position of someone who has experienced severe and debilitating episodes of depression, but who has found the strength never to let this illness define her wholeness.

The book you have in your hands is precious. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you nod your head in affirmation. And when you turn the final page, it will make you understand a little bit more of what it is to be human.

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