I do airport art. It’s a very specific kind of public art. You have to get the balance of placelessness and comfort just right. Standing in the kitchen with half my right hand under the tap, I curl my left hand into a fist and jam it into my mouth. Looking out the window at the patchy turf and rosemary bushes I scream into my knuckles and try to drag the sky down around me like a blanket. When the dishes are all neatly stacked, I give my girlfriend a neck rub and tell her all my ideas about the violence between clashing reds and purples.
Letter I would have written to the 11 year old American girl on the train if I’d had some paper:
So, here’s the thing.
When we’re toddlers, we get things that we want by making this protracted grizzling, whiny noise, which is so annoying that our parents fall over themselves to give us things until we stop making the noise. It’s a lamentable part of our development, and luckily, most people grow out of it quite quickly.
There’s also a phase that children go through, which lasts even longer if they have siblings (as you do, in the form of an equally irritating, equally American seven year old sister), where every minor issue is solved by invoking a parent to come and settle the matter. This is known as the ‘dobbing’ phase, and it is extremely grating for the adult concerned.
You are displaying both of these behaviours, today, on this train.
Here are the reasons that this is unacceptable:
1. You are, by the looks of you, eleven. Eleven is nine whole years away from two, so that consonant-free sooking drone that you are making is not a suitable method of communication.
2. You are in public. This means that the number of adults who are being irritated by your whining and constant pleas that your ‘mu-uuuum’ come and fix your petty squabbles about who did what to the smartphone go from the usual one or two to over fifty.
3. You are American, which automatically makes you more annoying. The timbre of your voice is already unusually persistent. Keeping it oscillating constantly makes it sound like someone has dropped something heavy on a midi keyboard.
To be honest, I was against you from the start. I was irritated, for example, when upon my stepping into the carriage and attempting to sit down in a free seat, you bounded up to me, and rather than saying ‘I’m sorry, I was sitting there, and I just stood up for a minute to attend to my bike – would you mind terribly if I kept that seat?’ or similar, you made a mewling noise of dismay which was as childish as it was startling. There were, I hasten to point out, many nearby seats in which you could have parked your loudly tie-dyed posterior, one of which was directly opposite the woman I took to be your mother.
But as annoying and entitled as you are being, the point isn’t about the minutiae of your infantile pettiness, your high-pitched arguments with your little sister or the fact that you were forcing your parents to become Bad Guys in front of a crowded carriage, which obviously made them extremely embarrassed.
The point is that in life, throwing tantrums and being irrational does get results. But when you gain something through that behaviour, it is always given out of a spirit of frustration and disgust.
So the much better thing to do is this: become the sort of person who people want to help.
Become someone kind, and good-humoured, and respectful, and silly, and honest, and thoughtful, and interested, and understanding and generous, and you’ll find that people will give you things freely, and what’s more, they will actually want to keep giving you things, and what’s more, giving you things will actually make them feel good. Because you make them feel good.
Being a lovely person will make people love your company, and strive to be more like you, and when people love being around you, you feel better about being around you, and the result is that everyone ends up being nicer people who are generous with their time and their stuff.
So my advice to you is to start, right now, working on being one of those people.
It’s an ongoing project, and if you slip every now and then, it’s okay, as long as you try hard to get back on the task.
For most people, it’s something they have to work at their whole lives. Sometimes, we all have days where we want to write angry letters to entitled children on the train.
But in the end, if we all work a little at it, we’ll all get somewhere good.
So that’s what I’d like to say to you.
Good luck, little lady.
And for god’s sake, do try, for one second, to shut your goddamn mouth.