A Christmas Limbo

 

I love Christmas.

I LOVE it.

I love it the same way boy racers love souped-up cars with LED strips, or the way crazy horse people love horses with braids. It is a strong, evergreen, slightly irrational love. Every year I get tingles of excitement when I decorate the house. I shamelessly sing* along to Christmas carols at home (and sometimes shamefully in public), and I often have to pull over to fully absorb the giddiness the comes over me when I see a particularly overdecorated house.

Each December I pick a colour scheme for the tree and go all in. Last year was metallics; gold and silver and twinkling warm white lights. I strung up silver snowflakes made of wood and placed a garland on the mantelpiece to keep the stockings company. I had a “_____ DAYS TO CHRISTMAS!” board where I’d rub the old number off each morning using the side of my fist before using a piece of chalk to write in the number of days left.

I also love to cook, but it isn’t the same kind of love. It isn’t the pure, blind, uncomplicated love that I have for Christmas. The kitchen is a bit of a mixed emotional bag for me (I’ll probably go into this in a future post), and yet it’s one of my favourite rooms in the house.

…Or at least it would be, if it were actually a room and not a space the size of a broom closet.

Off the top of my head, here are a few of my feelings on cooking:

UPSIDE: I love cooking and baking, I find it really relaxing, particularly if I am stressed out about something in particular.

DOWNSIDE: My kitchen is miniscule. Tiny spaces and large hot baking trays make for inevitable burns. Burns are, needless to say, not relaxing in the slightest.

UPSIDE: I love to scrape all the cake batter from the bowl before putting it in the dishwasher (I obviously eat it all).

DOWNSIDE: I eat so much raw cake batter I generally feel sick for hours afterwards.

UPSIDE: I feel actual heartwarming joy when I feed people.

DOWNSIDE: I bristle at the slightest hint of being taken advantage of, so even though I like cooking, I don’t like being expected to cook. It’s a fine line and where exactly the fine line is tends to depend entirely on my mood.

UPSIDE: I love to cook with other people.

DOWNSIDE: I hate to cook with other people who get wound up and stressed about things, or who get sick of it halway through and decide to half-ass the meal in a way that makes me twitch. Also, as I mentioned earlier, only half of a human being can squeeze into my kitchen at any given time, so cooking with other people in my kitchen can get quite… intimate.

Regardless, my feeding foibles are about to be inconsequential, because this year things will be different for both my Christmas and my kitchen.

I won’t be at home, for one. In a lazily planned, then hastily planned, then stalled, then not so much planned as suddenly-thrust-upon-us turn of events, the kitchen and bathroom will be undergoing a much needed makeover. Since we only have the one bathroom and a kitchen is a fairly necessary component over Christmas, we will all be moving out for the foreseeable future. That means no tree, no snowflakes, no fairy lights, no glitzy tablecloth, no Christmas candles, no gingerbread house, and no stockings. Maya, Oscar and we the people will need to pack up our clothes and out cat trees and relocate until some all-too-distant date in January.

It’s not the best timing, but it does have a few things going for it:

  • Any fluttering concern for my glass baubles in the paws and claws of two very playful kittens is no longer relevant, since they (baubles, not cats) will be staying boxed up until next year.
  • The kitchen will soon(ish) be able to comfortably fit more than half a human being, which is very exciting since currently a great portion of my cooking and baking time is taken up spinning slowly in circles looking for any relatively flat surface on which to precariously balance things.
  • The sooner it starts, the sooner it’s done. Presumably.
  • It is forcing me to be a lot more organised than other years**.

Having said all that, I feel conflicted about this lack of Christmas in my home. I have to mentally smack myself down every time the giddiness rises up within me. I wind up having short, cyclical conversations with myself that leave me feeling flat and defeated.

‘Maybe I’ll pull out the-‘

‘You will NOT!’

‘But it’s no harm to just-‘

‘NO.’

‘Perhaps one single-‘

‘Inner voice, I will strangle you with a length of tinsel, so help me God.’

‘…’

I am fighting my own Christmas spirit.

Let’s hope I can get through this strange holiday limbo with my Christmas cheer – and my sanity – intact.

Itwillallbeworthititwillallbeworthititwillallbeworthit…

*I use the word loosely.

**This is stressful and if I think about it for too long it makes me want to roll myself into a blanket burrito until the new year; I am not an innately organised person. At the end of each school year I would open my locker and immediately be buried in an avalanche of loose A4 pages. I would then have to dig my way out of this mountain of paper before hastily shoveling it into plastic bags and making it dissapear before locker inspection. Were they notes? Were they important? Who can say?

 

 

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 Last First Kiss

 

We had been sitting next to each other – awkwardly at first, then more comfortably – for about an hour. I could feel his thigh pressed against mine. When he moved his arm, I felt his sleeve brush against my sleeve. He made bad jokes and gave me lopsided smiles while I babbled non-stop in an effort to disguise my nerves. He took a phone call and unfolded himself from the couch to pace the room, so I moved to the window to look out over the river. Even from across the room I felt like there were delicate filaments of feeling tying us together, vibrating with the low sound of his voice and the shy uncertainty woven through my every action. I absent-mindedly flicked through a stack of DVDs as he wrapped up the call, and then he crossed the room until he was standing right in front of me, toe to toe.

“So?” I said.

He smiled down at me. “So.”

My gaze slid sideways to avoid meeting his eyes.

“Are we going into town?”

“No.”

I looked up then to find him looking down at me with an intensity he hadn’t had earlier. I felt it; a strange, electric thickness that hung in the air between us.

And then he dipped his head.

And then his lips met mine.

And that was my last first kiss.

******************************************************************

I was thinking today about being single.

Not longing after it, or wondering how it would be to be single now (although the thought of Tinder makes me deeply uncomfortable), but rather thinking about how I felt when I was single. I loved being single. I enjoyed myself immensely. If ‘love is… selfless‘ then ‘being single is… never having to compromise‘, and there is an unrestricted joy in that. You can do everything for yourself, by yourself, whenever you want, however you want. Your time is your own. There are a lot of things to love about it.

Still, if I were asked what I loved most about being single, it wouldn’t be that I had more me-time, or that I never had to compromise on holiday destinations.

It would have to be the microsecond before a first kiss.

I don’t mean casual first kisses. I don’t mean spin-the-bottle kisses, or truth-or-dare kisses, or seven-minutes-in-heaven kisses. I don’t mean prearranged kisses at teen discos, or kisses that are granted through friends of friends. I mean the few first kisses with people who matter. I mean the monumental first kisses; the kisses that feel like they might change everything and turn your world right on its head.

There is a strange magic about that sliver of time. That fraction of a second before your lips meet is loaded with possibility and hope and anticipation and excitement and sometimes a tiny flicker of fear. There are infinite lifetimes contained within that split moment. It’s like pulling hard on a lever to suddenly and irreversibly switch tracks. It sets you down a course that might lead anywhere. It might take you to a beautiful place, or on a short but scenic route on the way to somewhere else, or it might lead you through a dark tunnel… or it might just send you smack into the side of a mountain before burying you in a landslide of despair.

You have no way of knowing.

If you’re anything like me, all of these barely-thoughts and almost-feelings fuse into a single burst of energy that electrifies the air. Trepidation, lust, expectation, unease, desire and apprehension slam into the thrill of the unfamiliar to create an exhilarating mixture and, in all of its innocence, I honestly think it’s the most wholesome form of intoxication.

Now, my last first kiss is behind me* and instead, in the future, I’ll be experiencing subcategories of that kiss: first kiss as a wife**; maybe first kiss as a mother***. Who knows?

Here’s what I do know:

I pulled the lever and switched tracks that day without hesitation, and I have never regretted it. That’s pretty unusual for an overthinker such as myself, who goes back and forward over the same patch of memory with the fine-toothed comb of anxiety, worrying and wondering about all the other ways things might have gone and might still go.

So while I miss first kisses of that magnitude, I don’t regret having kissed them goodbye.

(And I don’t regret that pun, either.)

 

*Barring some awful tragedy. Touch wood.

**Typing that felt like an out-of-body experience. The word ‘wife’ sounds bizarre when you’ve been a girlfriend for so long. I already struggle with ‘fiancee.’

***(shudder of fear)

Life Lessons

 

There are certain people that come into your life at crucial moments and shape a part of you.

They smooth out a rough edge, or they shave off a section of your heart and cut another facet into your soul. They shape you. Some people add parts to you that you never knew you were missing, or cause you to grow a prickly coating to protect yourself from future encounters with nefarious people. People add and subtract from you as you go, making you more than or lesser than you were before coming into contact with them.

I went to the same school from the age of 4 to the age of 18. Junior school was one thing, but when I stepped into senior school I was 70% hormones and 30% terrified child. I wasn’t a particularly bad student, but I wasn’t a particularly good one either. I often said or did things that would get me into trouble… or at least, the sort of tame, mouthy things that get you into trouble in expensive private schools. I was late with my homework. I drew on my tests. I daydreamed, I sent notes in class, I got caught skipping P.E. I put no effort into anything, because I was afraid of trying hard and failing. It was easier and less embarrassing to not even bother; at least then the disappointment was purposeful.

There was one class in which I excelled however, and that was English.

My English teacher was not well liked. She never laughed with us. She didn’t drop by at lunch. She didn’t talk about her personal life. Her sense of humour was incredibly dry. Her comments were blunt and unadorned, and her criticism was often harsh and cutting. She demanded a lot from her students. Sometimes she demanded too much. Her punishments were always slightly more severe than those of the other teachers, and she was rarely lenient. She would give you a grade lower than what you felt you deserved, and then claim it was so that you always had something left to strive for.

And yet.

Of all the teachers at my school, of all the years that I walked in and out those doors, she was the only teacher that I felt ever really saw me.

I suppose the most likely reason for this is that I used my English homework as my emotional safety net. I would funnel myself and my heightened emotions into impassioned railings against the hopeless stupidity of Juliet or the bigoted hatred of Bob Ewell. I suspect that a lot of the time my homework gave more of an insight into my own feelings than those of the characters I was supposed to be critiquing.

Having said that, I never in my life mentioned anything personal. At school I was a happy-go-lucky, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl who never had anything ready or prepared and didn’t care. So I didn’t have my books. So? So I didn’t have my homework done. And? It was fine. I’d be fine. I was always fine!

The truth is I was struggling. I’d been struggling for a long time.

I remember one particular moment that knocked me off balance.

I had been getting in more trouble than usual. In our school, for every infraction you would get a “slip,” and once you reached three slips in a single semester, you were “on report.” Being on report essentially meant that for one week you had to get signed off by every teacher after every class, and at the end of each day your parents had to sign off to say they had seen the teachers’ notes and all the homework was done.

I wasn’t even halfway through the semester and I had accumulated seven slips.

Somehow this had escaped everyone’s notice until one day my English teacher asked if she could speak to me outside. In the middle of classtime, she pulled me out to the landing on the first floor and folded her arms.

“What is going on with you?”

I chewed the inside of my cheek and scuffed the toe of my chunky black shoe against the tile. I wasn’t sure what this was about but I knew it wasn’t good. I stayed silent.

“Quinn, you and I both know that you have seven slips at the moment.”

After a long pause, I nodded. I knew what was coming. I was going on report.

At the thought of this I started to feel a familiar panic course through me. I felt like my veins were on fire. I didn’t care about stupid pieces of paper, or having teachers sign me off. What I cared about – what terrified me – was the idea of my mother knowing. It’s hard to explain in isolation, but suffice to say I started to have a full-blown panic attack right there on the landing. I felt my eyes widen, and even though I shrugged and tucked my chin under so she couldn’t see my face, I couldn’t stop tears from just leaking out onto my cheeks. They streamed down and dripped from my jawline. As if removed from myself, I watched them splash against the tiles. I was numb. There was a ringing in my ears and I just wanted to leave, to hide in a bathroom cubicle and sink through the floor until I disappeared into nothingness.

My English teacher stood watching me for a moment, her arms still crossed.

“Okay.” She said.

I couldn’t speak because I felt as if I had swallowed my tongue. I was shivering so violently I figured she must notice, so I pulled my sleeves over my trembling fingers. I couldn’t think of anything to say because my mind had become a dense fog of fear. A small part of me somehow retained the ability to feel shame, and I did. I felt a red hot trickle of shame at what she must think of me, this overreacting, overly dramatic problem student who was having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the day over a few signatures.

“Okay.” She said again.

There was another pause as she contemplated me, and then she moved to stand right in front of me.  I watched her shoes stop in front of me.

“Look at me, Quinn. Look at me.”

I swiped at my eyes with my sleeve and reluctantly lifted my gaze.

“We both know you have seven slips at the moment-“

I was trying so hard to stem the tears that they pooled, turning her into a blurry collection of colours in front of me.

“Quinn. Listen to me. You have seven slips and you should be have already been on report not once, but twice. I should call your parents myself-“

I lost the battle and another wave of teardrops raced for the floor.

“But I know…” Her voice softened a bit. The most I’d ever heard in her years teaching me.

“I know that you don’t want me to do that. Am I right?”

My gaze dropped back to the floor as I nodded vigorously and gulped for air. Was I going to have to explain? Was she going to ask? Could she tell? What did she know? 

“You don’t want me to tell your parents.”

I took long, juddering breaths and tracked the lines of grout between the tiles.

“Quinn, listen to me. This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to strike five of your slips from your record.”

I barely heard her I was so deep in my state of panic. She paused long enough for the words to sink in, and I slowly raised my head to look at her in disbelief.

“Yes. Look. You’re not trying. I know you and you can do better. You have to try, Quinn, and not just in my class. In all of your classes. To be clear, I’m not wiping your slate clean; I’m simply giving you a second chance. I am leaving two slips on your record, so if you get another this semester, you will go on report. Is that clear?”

I nodded.

“Alright.” She sighed, her arms still folded. “You’re excused, Quinn.”

I tugged at the sleeves of my jumper, still wordless, completely unable to believe that I had just received a stay of execution. Before she could change her mind, I went to duck past her into the corridor. She grabbed my elbow as I passed.

“I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Don’t let me down.”

I made a beeline for the bathroom where I locked myself in a cubicle, wrapped my hands like a boxer (if boxers used tissue paper) and silently cried my heart out, partly to release all the pent-up energy and partly from relief.

Ten minutes later I had splashed water on my face and managed to get my heart rate down. I returned to class with puffy eyes, and when I walked in my English teacher turned and looked at me as if the past twenty minutes had never happened.

“Back to your seat, Quinn,” She growled.

I somehow managed to avoid another slip that semester. I dodged that bullet. I tried harder, although not always as hard as I might have. I always tried my hardest in her class though, and she always kept an eye on me like she’d promised.

Once, before we reaching the Hamlet years, she stopped at my desk on her way into the classroom. I had my head bowed low over a book, and daisies I had picked at lunchtime were strewn across my desk.

“Sometimes you remind me so much of Ophelia,” she told me.

I asked her who that was, and she told me it was a Shakespearian character. I shrugged and went back to my book, but later I looked it up, and when I did and found a fragile girl who drowns herself in a lake, I was offended.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, I see it differently.

I was pretty fragile. I thought I was tough, but the truth is that I was brittle like porcelain and completely unaware of it.

I think of her often.

In the mathematics of my life, she added a lot. She made me more.

 

******************************************

 

DEPRESSING POSTSCRIPT: A couple of years after finishing school, I went back to tell her all of this. She was out sick, and I was going abroad, so I decided I would write a letter. I thought I might return again after my trip away and if she was still out, I could at least drop it off for her.

 A few weeks later, as I put the pen down on the seventh page of the long-winded novel of gratitude I had found myself writing, I got a message from my best friend to tell me my English teacher had been found dead.

I went to her funeral. I cried like she was my own blood.

She taught me one last painful lesson:

Don’t wait until it’s too late to say the things that matter.

 

 

Me Too

ME TOO (1)

I’ve been seeing this #metoo trending hashtag everywhere and I’ve had fairly mixed feelings about it, honestly. When I sit down to comment on it, I either get so agitated I can’t type coherent sentences or else I feel a bone-deep weariness and sit, staring blankly at the screen, until I give up and close my laptop.

I thought that perhaps now, after dragging a 27kg box down my road and up a flight of stairs, I would be tired enough to tackle this issue, but I’m still sitting here jiggling my leg anxiously. I don’t like the #metoo campaign. I just don’t. I don’t like it, even though of course ‘me too’.

Perhaps because ‘me too’.

Have I felt harrassed?

Yes.

When?

How about the time I was 16 and a man in his mid-thirties stopped his car in the middle of traffic to run over and chat me up?

How about the time a man at least two decades older than me sat – uninvited – at my table during my lunch break, followed me back to my workplace and then sent me effusive poetry?

How about the many times I’ve had my ass grabbed, or the men who have slid their arm around me and nonchalantly stroked my breast? How about the guy who almost followed me into my house? Or the men who have forced their unwanted, unasked-for compliments on me and then acted like I owed them? Or the guy whose name I didn’t even know, who made me mix CDs I never asked for and followed me on my commute home? Or the guys who have kissed me against my will?  Or the man who stalked me from store to store despite not a single sign of interest? Or the many men who don’t listen to the first no? Or the second no? Or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth….?

Here’s the thing about sexual harrassment; 98% of the time, the people doing it would never admit to themselves or anybody else that what they’re doing is harrassment. I think that a lot of the time they really are completely unaware that what they’re doing is creepy, or intimidating, or frightening or enraging or just plain inappropriate. They think they’re flirting. They think they’re being charming, or “cheeky,” or that they’re – shudder – wooing you. They either don’t realise or don’t care that your laugh is a nervous one, or that your smile is plastered on over gritted teeth. They are completely oblivious to the fact that you flinch when they try to touch you, and they ignore any subtle hints you might drop about them leaving you alone.

They don’t stop to think about positions of power, or whether or not women feel like they can shut it down. They mistake any gesture of politeness for encouragement. They mistake silence for enjoyment. They don’t stop to consider that maybe politeness feels like the only option. They don’t bother to contemplate alternative interpretations of the silence.

Did I say or do anything?

I once had a job in a large office block. I worked on the front desk of the building, but since it housed several different businesses – each of which had their own receptionist – I didn’t have very much to do. The office I interacted with the most was the one on the ground floor staffed solely by a group of middle-aged men.

Most of them engaged in what they considered “friendly banter” with me, and a lot of it was inoffensive and light-hearted, so I didn’t mind. There was one man in his early sixties, however, who routinely said things that made my skin crawl. It started with outrageously over-the-top flattery and escalated quickly from there. After a week or so he was saying things like, “You’re way better than the last one, that bitch was no fun. And you’re much easier on the eye!”

And then:

“Come down to the garage with me for twenty minutes and I’ll give you anything you want!”

And then:

“I’m going away with my wife for a sexy weekend, but I’ll be thinking of you the whole time!”

And then:

“Oh you have a form for me? Come sit on my lap and read it to me like a good girl!”  – and when I slapped the form down on the table, narrowed my eyes at him and walked out – “That’s okay, I like to watch you walk away too!”

Every time he approached my desk I felt a mixture of negative feelings. Revulsion. Fear. Intimidation. Discomfort. Powerlessness. Shame. Rage. He would say these things – and many others – in front of his colleagues and then wink at me, flashing his dentures in what I’m sure he thought was a dashing grin. His colleagues would laugh, or groan and then laugh. At no point did anybody pull him up on his behaviour. At no point did anybody say that it was inappropriate. At no point did anybody say anything at all.

And neither did I.

Why not?

  • I was young and not very confident.
  • I was afraid of how he (and the rest of the office) would react.
  • The fact that nobody around him ever said anything made me feel completely outnumbered and made me second-guess myself, wondering whether I was making a big deal about nothing.
  • I wasn’t going to be there for very long, so I figured I should just stick it out.
  • My job wasn’t actually linked to his office, so I wasn’t sure who I should even talk to about it. If anybody would be moved it would be me.

… So, you know, the usual reasons people don’t report these things. Or rather the usual reason, singular, because it really always boils down to the same simple truth:

I was afraid of the consequences.

Whether you’re afraid the repercussions will be violent, professional, dangerous or simply awkward, it always boils down to the consequences of standing up for yourself to people who are generally larger, more powerful, more important, and completely unpredictable. The #metoo campaign is like picking up fistfuls of sand and feeling it slip through your fingers; there are so many ‘me too’s. Too many ‘me too’s. It would be better to ask for people who have never experienced it to step forward. Find the scant handful who have never felt that tingle of fear, or that burning shame of not feeling able to risk their job/reputation/safety.

I guarantee you they are few and far between.

So maybe stop looking for the #metoo.

Maybe look for the #luckyfew.

 

My Engagement Ring

 

My Engagement Ring (1).png

It’s been a few weeks now since I started wearing my engagement ring.

At first, it felt weird. Really weird. It’s heavier than any ring I’ve ever worn before, and it’s so… SHINY! It seems to catch the light no matter what I do. I almost felt a flicker of embarrassment even wearing it. I felt like I’d grown an extra finger. I kept catching it on the pockets of my jeans and I constantly worried about it falling off, even though it fits me perfectly.

Now I’m used to the weight of it, but I’m still sometimes surprised by its presence. I’m slowly getting used to it. Slowly!

When I started looking at rings, certain things quickly became obvious. Like the fact that certain rings I thought I liked actually made me look like a centenarian on her way to the opera, or the fact that yes, by and large they still all looked the same to me. It was just rows and rows (and rows) of identikit rings with tiny variations. This annoyed me slightly, because I didn’t enjoy the thought of dropping a large amount of money on something that had nothing to distinguish it from thousands of others.

Remember when you were in junior school and everyone in your class had that same plastic Aladdin lunchbox, but you knew which one was yours because nobody else was unlucky enough to have salami sandwiches and a pear inside of theirs?

I guess I wanted the positive, pretty, ring version of that lunch box. I wanted something inside my ring that made me nod and say, “Yep, this one’s mine!”

…Only, you know, with more enthusiasm than I ever showed for salami sandwiches.

In no time at all I sped through a quick game of No-No-No-Yes until I had narrowed down my options. I decided on the following:

  • One stone, because my fingers are stumpy and anything more than that made me look like a pirate gnome.
  • A plain band, because while I was ALMOST swayed by this gorgeous antique ring (the details! Can I buy that one just to frame it in a shadow box?), I am not nearly stylish enough to be wearing that sort of thing on a daily basis.
  • A tiny detail to make it personal.

Scrubs and I made an appointment with Diamant and met with Tom. You really need to have a pretty solid idea of what it is you want before you meet with him, because he doesn’t have three hours and hundreds of rings for you try on. What he does have are certified diamonds. Well, diamonds and contacts and a lot of knowledge. Before you meet him he asks for a budget and what sort of a ring you’re looking for, and then, like a gemstone hunter gatherer, he finds you a number of loose cut diamonds to choose from.

On the day that you meet with him, he sets a few tiny, glittering crystals before you in order of cost, and you decide – in what for me was a slightly surreal and uncomfortable experience* – which one you want. Honestly, unless you have a microscope and a diploma in gemology** you can’t really tell the difference. They all look practically identical. Then your chosen diamond is shipped off to Antwerp, where a gruff but genial goldsmith named Reggie sets it to your specifications.

In the end, I decided I wanted a round cut diamond in a thin, plain band, with compass prongs (four prongs in a north-south-east-west placement instead of the far more common box shape). The one little detail I wanted to mark the ring as mine?

Scrubs’ birthstone on the inside of the band.

A teeny, tiny emerald.

I love it. It’s not blinding. It’s not ornate. It’s exactly what I wanted; simple, and sparkly, and when I twist it around my finger I know that the smallest emerald you ever did see is rubbing against my skin; a reminder of Scrubs and the reason I’m wearing it.

*Nothing to do with Tom or Diamant (who are awesome and even leave you alone for a while to make your decision in private), just my own general awkwardness at the entire idea of choosing between virtually identical sparkly stones.

**This is a thing.

 

It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

It's Okay to Not be Okay

I don’t know if this post is for you. Maybe. I guess you won’t know either until you’re halfway through it. If it’s not for you, that just means it’s not for you today. It still might be for you three weeks from now, or next Summer. At some point, I think this post will be relevant to your life.

Unfortunately.

Even though it’s Monday, and I would have preferred to start the week with something lighthearted, I sat down to type and this poured out instead in a wave of emotion, so here we are.

I want to talk about unhappiness.

This is not an overt unhappiness with people crying at bus stops, or being unnecessarily mean as they cut in front of each other in queues. It’s not a screaming-at-service-staff-about-something-that’s-not-even-their-fault unhappiness, or even the kind of unhappiness that leads to dark undereye circles and terrible dreams. Instead, it’s an almost invisible cheese-wire thread weaving through people’s lives, slicing through their good days. It’s this weak but persistent undercurrent of…

you’re not good enough

you’re not funny enough

you’re not normal enough

you’re not popular enough

you’re not successful enough

you’re not loveable enough

you’re not doing enough

you’re not worthy enough

you’re not trying enough

you’re not happy enough

…..And here’s the thing about that.

It’s always been there. This Gregorian chant of insuffiency is an unfortunate symptom of the human condition. Thankfully, not always. It’s not constant for most people; it tends to chime in at brutally inconvenient times like when you feel so lonely you actually have a legitimate concern you might be invisible, or when you feel like your self-confidence has reached rock bottom and proceeded to dig, or when you have failed spectacularly at something in a public way and are desperately searching for the words to pretend that everything is fine.

It really picks its moments.

This repetitive, monotonous, doubting drone of voices has always been around me, and I just haven’t been paying attention. Now that I’m looking for it, I see it everywhere. I see it, and I recognise it, because guess what? I have it too. Everyone does. Trust me when I say that even the person you look up to the most has had days where they didn’t want to get out of bed.

We know this. We’re all aware of it. We’re alive, and sometimes life is a kick in the teeth. Even the luckiest person can’t avoid the most difficult parts of life forever. Even the cockiest person can’t ignore their inner fears at every waking moment. We’re human, and that means we are skin-draped skeletons walking around with an expiration date, and our short lives are vibrant pops of colour filled with emotion and adventure and love and heartbreak and passion and fury. We collect memories and experiences and feelings and struggles throughout our lives, ee mix them together as we grow, and whatever muddy concoction remains is the sum of our parts.

On some level we are all aware of this.

I think we are getting better as a society at articulating the stickier parts of life, the parts that slow us down, the parts we feel we’ll never move on from. I think it’s great that it’s slowly becoming less taboo to discuss negative feelings.

Have you noticed how we talk about them though?

When negative emotions come up, people have this habit of being unable to talk about them without attaching wholly unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame, like carabiner clips of dead weight. I do it too. I feel terrible, and then I feel terrible about feeling terrible.

Why?

It’s already exhausting to struggle through hard times. When life gets tough, your usual daytime stroll unexpectedly becomes a hike up a cold mountain in the dark, and most of the time it blindsides you and you’re entirely unprepared; you didn’t bring water, you don’t have emergency chocolate, there are no signposts, you’re pissed off because now everything is going to take that much longer, and you didn’t even bring a jumper.

It’s the worst.

Now imagine attaching two dumbells to your waist so you can drag them up that incline with you for no good reason.

Why?

I know that there’s an unease about what people will think. Everything is always supposed to be fine, right? Instagram should be comprised only of excessively highlighted people in beautiful clothes, eating photogenic food in perfect lighting. Twitter should be an oasis of sanity and witty, relatable comments from People Who Have Their Shit Together™. Human unavoidables such as misery, and fear, and unhappiness, and the sort of concerns that keep you up at night until five minutes before your alarm goes off don’t fit neatly into 1:1 ratio photographs or 140 character limits. They ruin the narrative. It’s not a comfortable thing to shine a light on dark thoughts.

And so any reference to these inescapable truths of life and humanity seems to be couched in remorse and embarrassment, and then wrapped in a shroud of shame. There’s usually an acknowledgement of heartbreak or depression or anxiety or failure, and then in the same breath it’s linked to a feeling of weakness or anguish. So not only are we not okay, but we’re not okay with not being okay. Sometimes it’s even followed by an apology, or a reassurance that it will soon change, or a determination to turn things around.

I see this happen not just in myself, or in people I know and love, but also people I don’t. Friends of friends who pop up on my facebook. Complete strangers that are retweeted on my timeline. I see it everywhere, this idea that not being okay is not okay.

So on this dreary Monday, let me just say this:

If you have been unknowingly looking for permission, or subconsciously searching for some sort of sign that you are allowed to take a moment for yourself to just wallow, or cry, or scream into a cushion, or punch a pillow, or go for a long walk with nothing but your thoughts, or anything that you had previously written off as an indulgence… I am giving you that permission.

This is that sign.

You don’t have to be okay all the time. You don’t have to be perfect, ever. You are human, and you are loved, and you have a unique life unlike anybody else’s, and you are wonderful. You have talents in you that you aren’t even aware of.

If you have recently felt less than, know that you are not alone, and you are not less than.

If you have recently made a mistake or done something you wish you could take back, know that we have all been there (more than once!), and that the discomfort you are feeling is what teaches us not to make the same mistake again.

If you are feeling lost, know that sometimes the road is winding, and can even loop back on itself. Familiar landmarks are not necessarily a signpost of stagnation; remember that even when you feel stuck, you are still moving forward.

If you have recently had your trust betrayed, know that you are not foolish for having being fooled. Trust is a precious and fragile thing, and you are not to blame for somebody else having broken it.

If you have recently experienced heartbreak, know that this is the price of having loved fiercely, and that it is worth it every time. Some heartbreaks will make you feel like you got scammed, that maybe it wasn’t worth the cost. It was. It always is.

If you have recently had failure, know that there will also be success. Try not to tip the scale by giving more weight to the failure than it deserves.

If you are melancholy, or depressed, or afraid, or worried, or anxious, or struggling, that’s okay. That’s okay. You don’t have to feel guilty about that. You don’t have to apologise for not being a presentation-worthy version of your best self at all times. You don’t have to feel bad about experiencing the exact same struggles as everybody else.

You just have to be you.

It’s okay to just be you, even when you’re not happy. Even when you’re not having the most photogenic of feelings. Even when life is roundhouse kicking you in the teeth repeatedly and you feel like self-defence is not an option because your arms have inexplicably turned into pool noodles. Even then.

This is not to say that you can stay there forever.

Eventually you will have to stop punching the pillow. You will probably have to drink some water, because non-stop crying is very dehydrating. You will have to get up off the floor, pull your shoulders back, and tell the frankly irritating buzz of self-doubt to shut the hell up. I am not giving you carte blanche to wallow forever in the Swamp of Sadness. We all know what happened to Artax (NSFL), and you, dear reader, are far too precious to me for an ending like that.

Eventually, you will slide back down the scale to relative normality, and the feelings will shift, and the path will be clear again… at least until the next time.

But right now, as you read this – whenever that may be – if you find yourself in a heap, or you just need a breather, or you’re losing it, or you’re feeling ashamed because you’re losing it, and you don’t have anybody else around who can deliver this message in a timely fashion when you need it most…

This post is for you.

36 Questions: The Third Question

 

Today’s question is strangely intimate.

I feel like there’s something about it that gives you an embarassingly personal insight into my life. Then again, I think I’ve probably covered that in previous posts, and honestly there are posts coming up with far, far more intimate information, so I suppose this is really just tiny training wheels for the future.

Also, if you haven’t realised I’m a bit weird by now, there’s probably no hope for you. You need to work on your cray-dar.

You know, like gaydar, but for crazy people.

Yes I just made that up. You can use it. Don’t credit me.

SO!

Now we get into it.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?Why?

Okay.

First of all, can we all agree that in this day and age, phone calls are unnecessary. Unless you are having a crisis, or need to tell me something that cannot be trusted in writing, or I know you almost as well as I know myself, there is absolutely no need for you to call me. That’s what Whatsapp is for. Or Twitter. Or Snapchat. Communicate with me in a way that gives me time to go over my reply please. I’m in the Slow Learner group and apparently I still haven’t mastered the art of french braids (STILL!) or telephonic communication.

Secondly, I would just like to state for the record that phone calls make me deeply uncomfortable.

Not all phone calls, obviously. When I need to call Scrubs to remind him to pick up two litres of milk because I’ve guzzled the entire household supply overnight, I don’t even think twice about it. When I call my friend to catch up on life, I don’t feel anxiety. I’m fine with friends and family. I know their voices. I understand their intonations and their pauses and the words unspoken behind the words that are said aloud.

BUT.

“Official” calls – anything even slightly professional – is a different matter entirely. If I have to call a stranger or a business, I will rehearse what I’m going to say because I suddenly develop the most ridiculously irrational fears.

Hypothetical 1: The other person answers the phone and I involuntarily vomit out random noises instead of words. Just… a string of consonants and vowels with no meaning. It just spews out of me and I have no control at all over what I’m saying.

…After a brief pause, the person on the other side of the phone says, “Excuse me?” and I hang up in a cold sweat.

Not ideal.

Hypothetical 2: The other person answers the phone and I start my sentence, only to completely forget what I wanted to say. Half a sentence hangs awkwardly in the air like a deflating balloon while I frantically struggle to remember where I was going with this now meandering disaster of a phrase.

via GIPHY

…The person on the other end of the phone eventually assumes I’m having technical difficulties rather than just moronic social ones and hangs up, shrugging to themselves.

Also, not ideal.

So yes, to avoid either of these nightmare scenarios, I rehearse what I’m going to say. I don’t rehearse it word by word, sentence by sentence – I’m not that anal – but I roughly sketch out what it is I need from the call, and how I’m going to start the conversation.

As if that will somehow vaccinate me from the risk of stumbling over syllables.

Ha!

As the phone rings, I feel butterflies. Not the nice kind of butterflies that are a little addictive, but the horrible, biting kind of butterflies that flutter around in your stomach with tiny butterfly petrol bombs, gleefully lobbing them at your stomach lining like insect arsonists. Then, in my mind, a spider diagram erupts with all the possible conversational catastrophes that might happen during the call, and I scramble to cover every possible base before the other person picks up the phone.

And then there’s that tell-tale click, and the other person intones their robotic greeting that always ends with, “How can I help you?,” and it’s as if there’s a tiny man in the wings with a clipboard who has been counting down from five, and now he just yells “GO! GO! GO!” and I stutter to life, and trot out my own rehearsed line to get the call going.

“Hiiiiiii…..!”

 

At Home on Sandymount Strand

 

 

 

 

Sandymount Strand (1)

I grew up next to the sea, near Sandymount Strand.

Sandymount Strand is a strip of coastline which used to just consist of a tarmac path and jagged  boulders leading down to the beach. A few years ago someone official got serious notions and put in streetlamps for the dog walkers and exercise machines for those who 1.) use the strand as a running track and 2.) have no shame*, which has actually improved the area quite a bit. When the tide comes all the way in, the sand disappears entirely, and the water crashes up against the rocks, flooding the gaps and trapping sea-borne debris. When the tide goes out, the sea is almost in line with the horizon; it retreats so far out that the beach looks like a desert.

It’s a very recognisable stretch of coastline, largely due to the 680ft Poolbeg chimney stacks** on the left, which rise up from behind the Dublin Bay Nature Reserve. Their jaunty red and white rings make them look like they were painted by a rabid Where’s Wally? fanatic, and I’m glad that they’re now protected structures because the skyline wouldn’t be the same without them.

The strand features in ‘Ulysses,’ if you’re ever brave enough to read it, and it’s a nice place to stare out at the edge of the world for a while and gather your thoughts. Although I’ve never been one of those people who pound the sand in brightly-coloured running shoes and would have to be dragged bodily into the water – since willingly setting foot in the sea around Ireland is not something I will ever do again*** (I only willingly venture into the sea when I’m abroad) – I’ve always loved it. I love how the landscape changes so radically with the weather.

I’ve seen a swathe of cloudless blue so bright it would hurt your eyes. I’ve seen rainbows. I’ve seen purple evening skies and clouds slung so low you could touch them if you stretched. I’ve seen flat, sneaking tides and wild waves that crash over the granite sea wall, ignoring the sandbags hurriedly placed to keep them at bay. I’ve sat on the sand, and on the rocks, and on the grass, and on the benches, and on the wall of what remains of the old sea baths. I’ve been caught out by the tide and had to wade shoeless back to land more than once.

Sandymount Strand has always been a part of my life. It’s played a million different roles as I’ve grown, and I’ve felt every possible emotion on that beach. At times it was an escape, and at other times a refuge. I have so many snapshots of memory and feeling that feature the strand, it’s almost an extension of my home. On that strand I shivered with friends while trying to light disposable barbecues. I prodded at dead jellyfish with pieces of driftwood, and picked through mounds of seashells for seaglass. I walked the dog so many times, in so many different kinds of weather, that I’m sure there isn’t a grain of sand she hasn’t sniffed.

I’ve walked down there to pick blackberries with only blank happiness on my mind, and I’ve run down there to cry until I thought my heart would burst. I’ve been kissed in a parked car there, looking out at the stars, drunk on love, and (on a different occasion, thankfully) puked out the passenger side of a car, just plain drunk, in more or less the same spot.

Dublin has a lot of beautiful areas, and honestly, Sandymount Strand probably isn’t on anybody’s Top Ten of things to see in the city. Places like Killiney Hill, the Phoenix Park, St. Stephen’s Green and Temple Bar would be more highly recommended than this capricious bit of coastline. Still, I love it. It has character.

Now that I live away from the strand, I miss it from time to time. I miss the wind whipping my hair into one mad scribble, and I miss coming home from a winter walk by the sea with my nose and cheeks red from the cold. I’ll have to make an effort to get back there more often.

In the meantime, one of my best friends gave me a print of it for our home, where it has pride of place in the living room. It reminds me that homes don’t always have to be houses.

Sometimes they’re simply a strip of shoreline with sand and saltwater spray.

20170911_174414

*I have yet to see a single person use these. I think most locals would rather die than be spotted using them in any kind of unironic manner.

**You can actually see them in the U2 video for In The Name of Love, although the video is black and white so you don’t get to see them in all their loony glory. You do get to see Bono with a mullet though, so that’s something.

***When I was about ten my parents entered me in a Sea Swim. Safe to say the traumatic memories still linger. I thought I was going to pass out and drown from the cold, and I emerged from the water a changed child, blue-tinged and with a thousand-yard gaze.

36 Questions: The Second Question

36 Questions- The Second Question

Here we are, Friday at last, and it HAILED earlier. What on earth, Ireland? I know, small potatoes when you compare it to weather happening in other parts of the world, but still! It’s only September! Let’s stay lukewarm for another couple of months, at least!

But we don’t have time for idle chit chat, because it’s almost half eight and I haven’t had any dinner yet. I need nutrients in the form of something delicious (chocolate?), so let’s get straight to question numero dos:

Would you like to be famous? In what way?

On our first day in Delhi, a tall, rangy teenager approached us with a mobile phone in his hand. He giddily asked something of Scrubs, who shook his head in an awkwardly terse movement, and then the boy bounded away, melting back into the crowd.

“What did he want?” I asked, curious.

“He wanted to take a photo with me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I said no, anyway.”

“Why?”

“Why did I say no?”

“Yeah, why did you say no? It wouldn’t have cost you anything and it would have made him happy!”

Scrubs looked at me as if I had suggested we join a commune and live as goat herders for a year.

“Because it’s weird, that’s why.”

I shrugged and let it go. Scrubs is tall and blonde and blue-eyed and obviously foreign, and this is more than enough for people to want a photograph of you in India. It happened again, and then again, and each time I teased Scrubs for not being willing to get in a photo.

Then it finally happened.

We were sitting in a palace museum, heads together, poring over a guidebook, when a teenage girl shyly shuffled over with her camera dangling from her wrist.

“Excuse me,” she said timidly. “Can I get a picture with you?”

I immediately glanced at Scrubs before realising that she was actually speaking to me. I puffed up. THIS WAS IT, I thought. THIS WAS THE MOMENT I GOT TO DO THE GOOD DEED AND MAKE THIS GIRL’S DAY.

“Of course!” I said graciously, only barely restraining myself from surreptitiously elbowing Scrubs.

The girl gave me a crooked smile, and then dashed down the corridor.

“What the-“

She returned just as speedily with a dozen classmates, obviously on their school tour, all delighted to have caught sight of two tourists in the wild. I suddenly felt like an animal spotted during a safari.

She flapped her hands at us to stand, and we did. She gestured for them to all crowd into a photo with us, and they did. She asked us to smile, snapped a couple of photographs, thanked us profusely, and then the horde of teens disappeared around the corner, never to be seen again.

I sat back down on the marble bench, dazed.

“That was weird.” I said, deflated.

“I told you.”

“Well I thought she meant just her, not her entire class!”

“It would still have been weird if it had just been her.”

Since I had already dug my heels in on the subject, I stubbornly refused to change my position. For another week or so, I consented to every photograph with a stranger no matter how uncomfortable. As time passed I realised it barely mattered either way; the vast majority of people simply stuck their phones in our faces as we walked past, photographing or videoing us without asking. I started to feel like I owed the more polite people a photo just for treating us as fellow human beings.

And then I visited the Taj Mahal.

The day I visited Agra, it was extremely hot. After exploring the inside of the Taj Mahal (very nice, I’m sure you’ve seen it in photos, it’s very white and gleaming and cold and intricate), I sat out on the marble flagstones overlooking the river. Next to me, a family of Americans sat eating their lunch. I watched them as they were interrupted over and over and over again by middle-aged Indian men asking to take photos with their blonde, rosy-cheeked children. The parents, obviously flustered but afraid to be rude, kept acquiescing and shunting the children (a six year old boy and a girl of about eight) into photographs with these strangers, who would put an arm around them or lay a hand on their shoulder. After the seventh such photograph the little boy burst into tears. The parents allowed him to sit down and eat his sandwich while his sister continued to stand, her expression mutinous, for photograph after photograph. I felt so sorry for them… and at the same time a small, snakey part of me was relieved that this family were unwittingly acting as a lightning rod for all the attention.

Who wants a photo of a dark-haired foreigner when there are little children who look like actual cherubs about?

That changed my mind and sapped all my good will. It was clear that the children didn’t want to be in the photos. It was even pretty clear that the parents felt cornered into forcing the children into these photos. And yet a steady stream of photograph-seekers approached them without pause. They were still being pestered when I left the steps.

The last week that I was in India I worked hard on my RBF and turned down every request for a photograph. We still got snapped, but by now Scrubs and I were definitely on the same page. We didn’t owe anyone a photo. The idea of strangers having photographs of us for no reason that made any sense was unnerving. We kept our heads down and learned to dodge the people who pointed their lenses at us.

After this experience – this tiny sliver of a taste of what it would be like to be famous in today’s world of social media – I look at this question, ‘Would you like to be famous?’ and I think no. A thousand nos. No thank you. No gracias. Not ever.

Unless…..

Unless I could be Banksy, and be anonymously famous.

Hey, maybe I AM Banksy!

I’ll never tell.

 

 

*I’m trying to get over it and join the 21st century but looking at my instagram I can tell you that out of the last five selfies, all of them have involved some amount of alcohol. Make of that what you will…