Hello

I carried a towering pile of items to the till and placed them on the belt.

“Hi!” said the cashier.

The friendly chirpiness in her voice was probably due to the fact that it was almost closing time, but that’s just a guess. I smiled and returned the greeting, and then focused all of my limited attention on placing the heavy items at the front of the pile so I could bag them the proper way.

Little known fact, but that’s actually what adulting is all about; trying not to smoosh the brie beneath tins of tomatoes. True fact.

The cashier made a comment about the weather, and my friend smiled and agreed while I expertly separated the items in order of weight. I dropped the cartons of milk into the bottom of the bag, followed by the tins of tomatoes and the packet of pasta. I eyed the brie and broccoli as the cashier scanned it through. I was determined to absolutely nail this bagging business.

As an unrelated aside – it’s amazing the things you can trick your mind into thinking are little victories when the going gets tough.

Five minutes later, everything was carefully bagged and paid for. The cashier handed me the receipt. She smiled warmly and said, “Have a good evening now!” to which I naturally replied…

“Hello.”

Not an ‘oh hello, didn’t see you there’ type of hello.

Not a nice, friendly, ‘Hello!!’

Just a flat, short, “Hello” in the same tone you would use if you were to automatically mutter, “Thanks” to a cashier who had just handed you a receipt.

…Which is what I was aiming for when my mind panicked and “Hello” popped out instead.

Cue an awkward pause as the cashier narrowed her eyes at me, probably trying to determine if I had some form of short-term amnesia. I grabbed the bag, turned on my heel and walked right out of the shop while screaming internally.

All this to say that today is my one year blogiversary. I know this because WordPress sent me a little notification to remind me. Thanks WordPress! One year on and I am still having awkward interactions with strangers. One year on and I am still embarrassing myself so you don’t have to. One year on and I am still waiting on that damn manual.

But in the meantime, I’ve got you guys to keep me company.

Hello!

 

Red Head

 

I got ID’d yesterday.

I was buying 20 eggs and a bottle of spiced rum – a questionable grocery list at the best of times – when the young guy working the till stopped and looked at me expectantly. There were about five people waiting in line behind me, so as if looking for answers or permission I first glanced at them, and then back at him, and chewed the inside of my cheek nervously. Anytime I – for any reason – hold up the line at the checkout, I’m (I think not unreasonably) afraid that a riot will break out behind me and I will die, suddenly and ignominously, when somebody throws a bottle of Elderflower Cordial at my head.

After a pause that was probably only five seconds long but felt like the eternity of time compressed and squeezed into a matter of seconds, his mouth twisted at the corner and he said, “Sorry, but I’ll need to see your ID?”

As if it was obvious.

As if I pass for an 18 year old on any given Tuesday.

I can say with certainty that I don’t look 12 years younger than my age, so this came as a bit of a surprise. For a moment I wasn’t sure I even had any ID on me. I started to get preemptively annoyed about potentially being prevented from buying my bottle of rum.

The person behind me in the queue shifted his weight from one foot to the other and this tiny gesture (the first sign of the aforementioned riot; I’m sure of it) spurred me into action. I dug into my bag and pulled out my passport card, which I was only carrying by pure chance and have literally never used for any practical purpose.

I handed it over with a face that might have read ‘You have absolutely got to be kidding me‘ but might also have read ‘Please hurry up before someone lamps me with a turnip and I have to go to intensive care for the sake of two cartons of eggs and a bottle of rum.’

He took his time looking the card over. He tilted it to check the holographic shine, then scanned it for my date of birth. When he found it, his eyebrows shot up into his hairline and he looked at me and said, “OOooooooOOOOOOoooOOOOoooh!”

The man behind me shifted his weight again. I swear I could see his fingers twitching. He was probably having graphic, detailed fantasies of throttling the two of us.

My face started to burn and I turned an unnatural, almost-fluorescent hue that lit up the shop with a rosy glow. Unfortunately, not only do I flush red when I’m embarrassed, but I also find blushing to be absolutely mortifying, and so it becomes a cycle; I turn into a human traffic light stuck on red.

The guy still held my passport card, and was now grinning at me with one eyebrow raised. He slowly moved to hand it back to me, and although I itched to snatch it off him and sprint out the door, I forced myself to move at a normal pace. I took it back and busied myself burying it deep in my bag, hiding my face with my hair in an effort to get my skintone back to an earthly shade. He handed me my rum, still grinning, and I felt another wave of heat wash over me. I tapped my card on the machine and grabbed the receipt off him a moment sooner than might have been polite, and as I turned to walk away, he called after me:

“I hope you have a wonderful night!”

And then, when I didn’t reply straight away, he added (with a touch of innuendo):

“Have fun!*”

Without turning, I lifted the bottle of rum in acknowledgement of his comment and continued out the door.

It’s cold in the Dublin evenings now, but not to worry; my flushed face kept me warm for a few minutes longer.

 

*I suspect he either thought I was a tiny alcoholic with a penchant for spiced rum and omelettes OR he thought I was on my way to get properly hammered and egg someone’s house**. Neither is particularly flattering.

A Bad Time

When we’re young, we’re thrown together with other children and told to go and play in an effort to gift our long-suffering parents with a blessed hour of peace and quiet. Before we begin to play, we have simple, rudimentary ways of assessing each other:

“What’s your favourite colour?”

“Blue.”

“Me too! Will you be my friend?”

Then we each grab a stick with twigs sticking out the bottom and start studiously brushing the dirt in an attempt to clean our “house,” which is really just the space under a bush where the frost killed off the lower branches, but thankfully we have the imagination required to bridge that minor gap in realities. It doesn’t present too much of a challenge to our world view.

That same imagination is, I think, what helps us form these fast friendships. We make huge leaps of logic from stepping stone to stepping stone of assumption. We decide that since we like blue and are okay, if they like blue they must also be okay. That’s enough. It’s enough to have a shared interest in the colour blue, or in ponies, or in holographic stickers, or pogs (are they still a thing?), or whatever we have our open little hearts set on at that particular moment.

As children, once we’ve established that one binding fact that cements our friendship, we don’t act passive-aggressively forever more if one person claims that Skipper is better than Barbie. We don’t thump each other until we need medical assistance over a difference of opinion on whether Micro Machines are better than Hot Wheels. We don’t refuse to speak to each other ever again because we don’t both want to watch Aladdin. We accept these things as valid and skip over these differences because the important things are still true; we both like the colour blue, and we like each other.

As time wears on, our lives grow more complicated. Our requirements for friendship grow more complex. We start to write people off for small, niggling reasons. That one person who breathes through their mouth. That other person who won’t watch movies with subtitles. Chasms open up where opinions on religion and politics diverge. Instead of the simple acceptance we had as children, we now debate and argue – viciously, ferociously – in an attempt to change other people’s points of view. Race, class, beliefs and values all get dragged into discussions.

Nobody cares about your favourite colour anymore.

It seems like the world is fracturing at the moment. Cracks have appeared as if from nowhere and I can’t tell how deep the damage goes. It seems like the planet is tearing itself apart at the seams, with untidy, fraying stitches just barely holding everything together. What used often to be educated discussion is now aggressive shouting. Disagreements are now total incompatabilities. Apparently there’s a worldwide chronic deficiency of imagination at the moment and people are either unable or unwilling to understand opposing points of view.

Facts have been sacrificed on the altar of audience engagement and squeaky wheels everywhere are getting the grease of media attention, no matter how insufferable the squeak.

The cracks might not worsen. They might stay as they are, never worsening but never healing completely. Or they might at any moment become a break. A split. An insurmountable challenge.

An impassable chasm.

The worst part is that I think a few more seams are going to rip open before this is over. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and I don’t know what to do in the meantime. I definitely don’t have a manual for this. What I do have is a history book, and it’s not exactly reassuring me if I’m honest. If anything it’s making me think we’re about to be in for A Bad Time. A Bad Time with a lot of shouting.

And I hate shouting.

So if anybody wants to hide out and be friends, I’ll be hiding out in my blanket fort with a few micro machines and (since we’re grown ups) some bottles of vodka and gin.

Only people with the password* allowed!

*The password is your favourite colour.

Regarding Writers…

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There is something acutely personal in talking about your favourite writer.

For me at least, I often hesitate to name my favourite writer because I feel like it reveals a part of me I’m not sure I want to share. I somehow feel that by saying his name out loud, my soul is been sliced open by a knife with an edge so sharp I can hardly feel it. I can be peeled back in layers so fine they are practically transparent, and somehow their name, like an incantation, allows whoever hears it to leaf through my innermost thoughts as if they are flicking through a book.

I don’t know why this is. It’s only a name, after all. The writing doesn’t reflect my life experiences, or expose any dark secrets I might harbour. All I know is that anytime I say his name, I feel like I’m divulging some confidential information that cuts right to my core. In some ways, I feel that – ludicrously – just knowing the name tells you everything you need to know about my likes and dislikes, hopes and fears.

I can still remember the sentence that cemented my obsession with his writing. I remember reading through a book and reaching a metaphor that made me double back and start the sentence over. It bounced around in my head, and that night as I lay in bed I said it out loud. Softly. Just to myself. Just to hear what the syllables sounded like in the darkness.

I fell in love.

I don’t always agree with the subject of his writing, but I always enjoy reading it. I love the way he constructs a sentence like nobody else. I get an actual, physical thrill out of some of his descriptions, where the words seem to crawl up the back of my neck and tickle my mind. I see through his eyes, and even if I don’t agree, I understand.

Any time I start to read something of his, I can feel a low hum inside me as my creativity stirs. When his words make me laugh or cry, feel anger or dismay, I can feel it stretching, as if after a long nap, and it nudges me gently, saying, ‘Look what words can do. Look. Look how they can make you feel. Look how you go from tearful eyes to unwitting giggle in a single paragraph. Don’t you want to sit down and write? Don’t you want to try?

If I fear I’m losing myself, or losing my way, or losing my words, I read a few pages from his book and I remember why I love writing. It makes me feel, even when I’m not feeling much of anything else. Tripping my fingers across the keys lifts my mood. Usually by writing about certain thoughts or experiences, I get a clearer, more honest look at how I feel about them. Sometimes I even surprise myself with the words that appear on the screen.

Of course, this can and sometimes does stop me from writing about certain topics.

I avoid the painful, the awkward, and the inconvenient. I skirt around them as if even the merest mention might prove agonising. I hate confrontation of any kind, and I know that writing about certain things will mean confronting myself, in a way. I will spill out – and spell out – thoughts that were previously only a nebulous, amorphous fog. When they stay in my head I don’t have to examine them too closely. I am aware of them, but they exist as old, dusty books in the attic of my mind. ‘I’ll get to them in time,’ I tell myself, and carefully sidestep the ladder that leads up to where I’d rather not go.

And sometimes, when my mind is all fog and I can’t see my way out, I know I should write.

And sometimes, when this happens, I reach for his book.

Guided by his vivid, powerful imagery and a healthy sense of humour, I reignite my sputtering love of words. I feel it again, the tingle of carefully, precisely placed consonants and vowels stacked against each other. Like building blocks, they allow my imagination to get to work building landscapes and concepts I might otherwise struggle to see.

Later, I sit down, and I write.

 

Open Letter To My Body

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Dear Body,

I feel like you and I are not on the same wavelength these days, so I thought I’d write you a quick note. You know, just to check in.

We’ve had some communication issues this past while. Or maybe you’re mad at me? It really could be either. I know a steady diet of Honey Monster Puffs* and tea probably isn’t the best and most nutritious form of sustenance. Also I doubt my soft spot for chocolate peanuts is helping matters. Still, did you have to go and get a full-body common cold yesterday? Was that necessary? You know we have a wedding to attend tomorrow, and now we both feel awful. I really feel like you’re letting me down.

Also, what’s with the knee thing? You know I was excited by the idea of becoming one of those bouncy people you see on the street who never stop hopping from foot to foot, even at traffic lights. I was ready. I was going to be a jogger! But you were very much against the idea from the start. I get that now. I heard you loud and clear after the seventh time my right knee buckled on the stairs. So my question for you now is what do you want me to do?

I thought I was doing the right thing by you by exercising, but now I see you’re really not a fan of Duracell bunny running, and every time I try it, you take it out on me in the form of making my knee buckle at inappropriate moments. The only time I’ve ever read of buckling knees has been in trashy novels where the heroine is constantly having her legs give way from lust, and I would just like to make it clear that I’m okay with lust-induced knee-buckling. I’m fine with that. In fact, I welcome it.

Really.

But … this other damn-I-forgot-how-to-use-my-legs buckling that momentarily makes me look a bit like a less cute version of the Little Mermaid walking for the first time? I’m not okay with it. So… Fine. I’ll stop the running, if you stop the knee buckling. I mean, I don’t really mind because it doesn’t hurt, but it’s a little embarrassing to unexpectedly fold like Mr. Soft from the Mentos ad.

So.

Jogging.

But we can’t just do nothing. What about dancing? What about krav maga? What about the pilates we did at the beginning of the year? Remember that? That was fun! We got to wear Flashdance-style wristbands! Would you prefer it if we went back to that? I don’t remember any collapsible knee moments after that class.

I’m willing to work together on this, so just let me know. I’m open to suggestions.

… But for now, could we kick the cold please?

Yours hopefully,

Q.

*[Sidenote which almost turned into a post of its own]: I actually thought these were called Sugar Puffs, but when I googled them I was redirected to Wikipedia’s page on Honey Monster Puffs, which has this intriguing note stickied at the top:

[This article is about the cereal. For the oldest living horse until 2007, see Sugar Puff.]

Which, I mean… naturally I clicked on that. Who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, there was no full and vivid biography of Sugar Puff the pony, only a note that said he lived to the ripe old age of 56, so of course I had to dig deeper. Here are the results of my investigation:

Sugar Puff was a dark brown pony who lived in England with a family who owned a riding school. At Christmas, they would let him inside the house. Yes, inside. Like, into the kitchen, or maybe into the living room to open his presents from Santa? I’m not sure how this worked in practice. Upsettingly, there are no photographs provided of Sugar Puff pulling a christmas cracker with his teeth. He was put down by a vet at the age of 56 when his organs started to fail. It doesn’t say, but I have to assume they buried him in the garden.

So.

There you have it.

The more you know!

Ghost In The Cell(Phone)

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I may not be active on the dating scene, but I am aware that the times they are a-changing and these days it’s all about the swiping. I know that mirror selfies are a hard swipe left, and photos with dogs are a swipe right, and when I’m talking to friends who are users of Tinder, Bumble, or OKCupid, I’ve noticed something come up over and over and over (and over) again…

Ghosting.

I’m not talking about the Slow Fade. I’m not talking about slowly stretching out the time between unenthusiastic responses until they completely drop off into the void of forgettable connections. Last time I was single, the Slow Fade was considered the “kind” way to let people know you’d really rather not. The hint was subtle at first, but the process was drawn out and gradual and by the time the other person was taking four days to reply “Yeah lol,” you knew. You knew it wasn’t going anywhere. One last, “Okay let’s meet up soon!” (read: Never) and you were off the hook.

This ghosting business though, it’s different. It’s rough. The dates will go well, the texts will be promising, and then-

NOTHING.

One day they’ll be texting back within seconds, saying they see themselves with you and they’re a little worried they’re taking things too fast but they can’t help themselves, and the next they’ve vanished completely from this corporeal realm. Someone else will text deep into the night after your second date about how great a time they had with you, and how they can’t wait to see you again… and then they’re gone as if instantly vaporised by an alien weapon. Except that unfortunately, they haven’t vanished or been vaporised; thanks to the power of social media, you can see that they were last on Whatsapp two hours ago.

Three days later they’re sharing memes on Twitter like you never existed.

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Everything is so instant now. Push notifications on your phone tell you about likes and retweets and messages and statuses the minute they’re posted. Everything happens NOW.* Does the ghosting phenomenon mean that people are no longer willing to invest a little time in being kind to people they’re not interested in? Is it a case of, ‘Why bother?’ You’re not interested, it’s not going anywhere, why waste time writing back to them when you could be spending those valuable 30 seconds swiping right on someone you might actually connect with?

I don’t understand.

I’m trying to understand, but I’m failing miserably. I’ve tried to look at ghosting from the most sympathetic angle (they don’t want to hurt you by straight-up saying they’re not interested) but even that falls a bit flat. It is far more confusing and disorienting for someone to be unabashedly enthusiastic to the point of cringe and then drop off the face of the earth without so much as an adios, than it is to reply to a couple of questions with monosyllables before hitting them with a quick, ‘Hey, sorry but I’m just not feeling it. Was lovely to meet you though.’

In the first scenario, there are multiple things that can have happened. Maybe they were in some horrendous accident, or they dropped their phone in the toilet, or they were falsely accused of a heinous crime and are now in prison where they had to use their one phone call to ring their lawyer, or they’re in a monastic hut on a remote island somewhere with no reception, and they’ve been desperately trying to communicate with you via smoke signals, but since smoke signalling is a lost art you saw his, ‘I miss you and can’t wait to see you again, how about Friday?‘ wisps of smoke, and mistook them for nothing more than distant cloud.

I mean really, anything could have happened.

The second scenario is a lot more cut and dried. They’re just not that into you. It is what it is. It sucks, but there’s no ambiguity. There’s no need to expend valuable mental energy wondering what happened. It doesn’t feel like something potentially promising was cut short for reasons unknown. You just didn’t click and sometimes that happens.

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Maybe it’s because I don’t use Tinder or Bumble (unless I’m using them on the behalf of close friends, which is great fun and highly recommended), but it really bothers me that ghosting is so common. I heard the other day that ghosting is “common after the second date.” What? Why are people putting the effort into pretending to be interested, rather than putting that same amount of effort into slowly stepping back in a gentle way?

Absorb the fact that at least one person out there thinks it’s a reasonable move to text someone about having kids… and then never text again. Just sit with that for a moment. What is that about? Am I the only one that feels like the leap between those two actions (the text about kids and the ghosting) is a bit like the leap between two four-storey buildings? Like, sure, you can do it, but I wouldn’t advise it and I definitely don’t think it’s healthy.

I think certain things are getting lost in our instantaneous culture; I think some kindness is slipping through the cracks in communication.

Have you ghosted or been ghosted before? Can you explain the thought process? I’m feeling very old and out of the loop here. There’s enough to be confused and worried about in the world than why your Tinder date hasn’t whatsapped you back even though they’re online and you know they’re online and they know you know they’re online…

Can’t we just bring back the Slow Fade? Is it retro enough yet to be cool again?

*I’ve disabled pretty much all push notifications on my phone for the last while. Other than Whatsapp and Snapchat, nothing gets through instantly anymore. It’s actually been pretty great! If you have a lot of social media accounts I definitely recommend trying it for a week.