British poet and mental health activist Charly Cox shares the lessons she learned in 2020, and how she plans to bring levity to her life in 2021.
For the majority of us, digital life has been equally as stress-inducing as it has been stress-relieving. For poet and mental health activist Charly Cox, it’s been about the same—though, with her knack for poetry and prose, exploring the difficult balance between fun and digital burnout sounds much more graceful in her words than, say, the vague-slash-melancholy tweets the rest of us send at 2:33 a.m. on a weeknight.
In fact, Cox has an impeccable sense of timing: Weeks before COVID-19 forced the world to stay home, she considered the mental gymnastics it takes to co-exist with the internet in 2019’s Validate Me: A Life of Code-dependency, her second collection of work and written entirely on her phone. In the year that followed publication, questions about what it means to meaningfully participate in our generation’s greatest tool (and when to take a break) became more prevalent than ever—as did making time for laughter amongst the tears it takes to figure it all out.
Although nobody has the answers to what an ideal relationship with the internet looks like, Cox’s work has taught us that no one rides alone on the rollercoaster that is Logging On. To kick off the new year, Cox joined us to look back at the challenges and lessons of 2020 and forward to the steps she hopes to take next, whether she’s traveling through the world IRL or finding balance in an off-kilter world wide web.
“How are you?” has always been a kind of throwaway question, but 2020 seems like the year to bring some intentionality to that inquiry. So how are you doing, really?
“How are you?” is such a lovely question when it’s an intentional inquiry, isn’t it? I’m hanging in there, thank you. One thing I’ve really taken from this year—a year that makes me hope I’ll never have to go through such immense absurdity again—is how far gratitude gets you along when it feels like you’ve really got nowhere to go. I’ve been so grateful this year for my health, for solitude, for slowness, for the ability to dream—of new destinations, of future experiences, of past experiences that made me so happy. 2020 was a jarringly awful year, but I know absolutely that I’ve come out of it softer.
You’re a multi-hyphenate. How do you describe your work?
I joke often that I’m successfully sad for a living, which I suppose is half true. I am a poet, a writer, and a mental health activist. I dabble in feelings. It’s quite ridiculous and so, so brilliant.
How has your work shifted this year? How have you shifted this year?
It’s shifted in medium, I suppose. I always fall back on crafts when I’m finding life difficult; glitter and PVA seem to fix a lot for me. I turned our spare box room into a reasonably functional art studio and started experimenting again with paint and clay and fabric. I’ve always loved writing poetry because really, there aren’t any rules—but it becomes even more exciting and more interesting when you push the no-rules further and take poetry off the page to create something more tangible. I spend a lot of time writing out in bars and cafes, and that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration from the atmosphere of places and how they make me feel. This year has forced me to shift to relying on new things and new feelings driving me. Old things, it turns out, are very useful, too.
Validate Me: A Life of Code-dependency explores your digital life. How have you navigated your digital life when we haven’t been able to be “IRL” for most of this year?
I’ve had to be very disciplined with it. Last year, having finished writing Validate Me, I had a mental breakdown and ended up in the hospital. I think a great deal of my overwhelm and unhappiness had come from attempting to internalize every bad comment or negative review, or even from just navigating my own expectations. I’ve tried to make sure I spend more of my day interacting with something that doesn’t have a screen.
Tell me about your relationship to travel.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have always had a job that’s required traveling internationally so that my formative years have been spent both organizing other people’s adventures and enjoying my own. I love traveling alone—I like the unrestricted nature of being able to go to a new place, invent a new version of yourself, and indulge in whatever nooks you find and fancy. I was such a homebody as a child, and it’s something that I’ve noticed as I’ve traveled more—I completely shirked that side of myself. I am at my happiest when I’m traveling. Give me a nine-hour train journey to Scotland or a 10-hour flight to Los Angeles and I will hunker down with my over-packed bags and enjoy it just as much as I will the final destination.
What do you take with you to stay grounded on the road (or what items are you currently using at home to stay grounded)?
I’m like traveling with a child—in fact, I often get asked when I’m going through security if I have packed my child’s luggage when it is in fact…my own. I need to have plenty of things to keep me occupied so I don’t fixate on travel nerves.
I always take far too many books. One thing I absolutely couldn’t travel without is lavender scents and frankincense oil—it’s so calming and feels instantly familiar, like I’m home but also somewhere new. All the things that I’d put in my hand luggage are the same things that I have relied on so heavily during this pandemic: calming scents, distracting activities, comfy clothing.
What do you hope we take with us as we travel into 2021?
I hope we return back to the world as children, with a renewed sense of wonder and excitement. We’ve all realized just how lucky we were in previous years to travel, and I hope, I pray, we use that gratitude as fuel to fulfill all the places on our bucket lists, even if some of the top spots have shifted to somewhere more local to see family.
- 1Away Carry-On in copper, $325
- 2Away Zip Tote, $195
- 3Moleskine notebook (price varies)
- 4Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest, $17
- 5Pour Me: A Life by A.A. Gill, $11.50
- 6Sol De Janeiro Glowmotions body oil, $35
- 7Larry King volumizing hair mist, $39
- 8Byredo Hand Cream in Eleventh Hour, $42
- 9Erborian CC Dull Correct, $44
- 10Canon AE-1 (price varies)
- 11L'Occitane Pillow Mist, $24
- 12Scrunch London scrunchie in gingham, $24
- 13Adidas Americana sneakers, $80
- 14Chateau Marmont T-shirt, $85