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An Ode to Promises We'll Never Keep



When looking for a pithy round-up on some aspect of modern life, I often turn to the Disney corpus for material and am rarely disappointed:


Cogsworth the talking clock may have classified ‘flowers, chocolates and promises you don’t intend to keep’ as the courtship accessories of unimaginative lovers, but he has also paid lip-service to a valuable and under-celebrated source of existential nourishment.


Flowers, chocolates and wildly optimistic promises are some of the finer fleeting pleasures of modern life. When in full bloom, a hopeful, vague promise can provide as much pleasure as a fat cloud of wild flowers spilling over a vase on your bedside table. It is an instant, melt-in-the-mouth indulgence that is richly satisfying. I like to self-medicate with regular hits of good intent – they are a generous pool of pleasure that those on a tight budget can drink from freely without guilt.


Currently, I am nurturing a promising bloom of optimistic promises: “reduce screen time!”, “stop smoking!”, “grow something in that empty window-box!” These probably won’t survive the first frost of winter – like flowers and chocolates they spoil quickly - but when did we ever reject something just because it wasn’t built to last forever? Promises are hearty and restorative – a language spoken fluently by our better shadows.


Making promises we’ll never keep helps us deal with the present by reframing it as a work in progress, shifting it into relief through a narrative of continual improvement. What better way to wade through the hopelessly imperfect present than by painting a utopic scene just out of reach – a future washed clean of our grubby human weaknesses? We are fundamentally hopeful creatures and our unwavering ability to believe in our limitless potential, in the tantalising promise of an empty window-box, is a potent, delicate power that we must hold on to. It is our photosynthesis - turning light into energy, optimism into impetus - converting intangible, gaseous thoughts into sustenance that can help us navigate moments of aimlessness. Hopeless optimism isn’t a bi-product released haphazardly into the atmosphere – it is rocket fuel that can push us forward through periods of boredom, frustration and even sadness.


I consider it my right to walk around high on a free and constant supply of promise crack – a limitless flow of good vibes that appeals greatly to my impatient, instant-gratification millennial sensibilities. You can cash in the endorphins from those babies straight away, no need to wait 2 business days before it hits your account. Making a wildly optimistic promise can bolster my sense of purpose quicker than anything else.


It may be the middle of a hot, airless summer in London – I may be sitting in my underwear with a hangover and £75 in my bank account, but right now I’m high on the imagined rewards of a completed novel, a whole kitchen garden grown on my window sill, and a plump pair of squat-toned buttocks. I am sitting here in the soupy chaos of adult life, happy as I admire my little bloom of promises, lost in a world of neverneverland that is always just around the corner.


Written by Jess Bird

Illustrated by Hortense Bedouelle

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Cover illustration by Christopher Bragg

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