The Cuts of Life

Comment Editor Bridget O'Sullivan reflects on life and lockdown, and how to embrace mediocrity.

When I think of the term ‘cutlets’, I think of meat. I think of blood-dripping, mouth-savaging meat. I don’t like meat, don’t eat it, but I like the word cutlets. And I don’t think it should apply specifically to meat cutlets…what’s wrong with using ‘cutlets’ as a cringey little life metaphor? Is life not a long slab of meat, or tofu, or whatever your preference is? Is it not sectioned into parts, stages, or as I prefer to say, cutlets?

When we enter a new stage of life, we sever ties with the stage before. Sure, we cling on to people, and memorabilia, but we are kidding ourselves if we think that the sever can be undone, that we can return to the old stage. Life is not like a chopped-off thumb…there’s rarely a doctor to seamlessly stitch one decision to the next, one cutlet to the next. We cut through life with application forms, tickets booked and ‘gut feelings’, and ties are severed thereabouts, ties to our old selves, to our old narratives. But why am I banging on about ‘life cutlets’? Because the world seems to have collectively entered a new ‘cutlet’ recently. If someone had predicted summer 2020 six months ago, I’d have called them a conspiracy theorist. Alas, here we are, redefining how we socialise and, perhaps, wondering if we’re doing okay.

Most of the time, we cannot amend the bad decisions we make, the trajectory we take. Sometimes we don’t want to mend it, though, sometimes, we cut into our slice of life at the right time. You choose the right A-Levels, then cut through to choosing the right undergrad course, and getting the right mortgage at the right time on a semi in the suburbs. These people’s life cutlets are clean, relatively blood-free and downright commendable. These are the people behind those shaming lockdown testimonies (masked as ‘relevant news articles’ on my twitter feed); ‘I wrote a whole novel in lockdown!’ and ‘I learnt Spanish with all the spare time I had!’.

Thankfully, and despite what our inner tormentors might tell us, such people are a minority. I sigh with relief at a stat from the Independent claiming that two-thirds of Brits are unfulfilled, and nine out of ten British youths lack purpose. Such stats soothe me, they confirm to me that I’m not the only one making bad decisions like it’s a necessity. ‘I’ll get it together at 25’ is a line friends and I often use to calm the directionless wave apparently drowning most of us. Seriously, think about it…most people are discontented enough with their life cutlets that they are willing to confess it to the media…need there be more evidence to confirm that we’re doing something wrong?

Even by the time we get to University, I think most of us know what regret, the pioneer of unfulfillment later in life, feels like. I’m talking about the serious type of regret that makes you sweat if you get to thinking about it too much. Regret sticks around like gum on your Nikes, and before you know it, it’s changed your perspective, cut itself a cutlet from your slab of life. I think a lot of us won’t admit it, and we’ll shroud it in Insta-throwbacks, and social media flaunt-attacks, but we know, deep down in the pits of our stomachs, that our lives are not usually the sitcoms we’re presenting them to be.

But what if the world began to rejoice at wonky, questionable cutlets of life? What if, and the clean-cut types might flinch at this, we embraced mediocracy? What if ‘A Day in the Life’ videos didn’t shame the rest of us into brewing our own kombucha and meditating before sunrise? What if we stopped only posting highlights, and starting accurately describing our lives, our ‘okay-ness’ and purposelessness, without being labelled ‘brave’ and ‘honest’? We’re holding humanity to a low standard when telling the truth is considered an act of bravery. Life doesn’t tend to incise as neatly as a block of tofu does, and why are we pretending it does?

So, does that make every ‘social media is my trophy cabinet’ type a coward? Does it make all the people who seem to have it so together that you feel they should come with a trigger-warning, toxic? No. Why? Because while they’re too busy avoiding mediocrity, they forget to embrace the bliss of knowing that ‘fine’ is enough sometimes.