Temper, Temper

I have anger issues.

Or rather, I have a single anger issue. It’s not an issue clouded in a dangerous red haze, that bursts from my forehead like the emotional descendant of Athena, explosively demanding TO SPEAK TO THE MANAGER!

No.

It’s the other kind of issue. My anger issue is that I am not terribly good at expressing my anger. Either I am emotionally involved – in which case my eyes invariably leak in a way that looks suspiciously like crying but is, in fact, just a watery expression of intense frustration – or I am not emotionally involved, in which case I would just rather not, thankyouverymuch. Here is how my (unemotional) anger tends to develop:

The idiot does something idiotic.

I try to ignore it.

The idiot continues to do the idiotic thing.

I consider the fact that perhaps the idiot doesn’t know any better and is, in fact, doing what they think is right. I continue to try to ignore them.

The idiot starts involving me directly and pre-emptively defends their idiotic position out of a (valid) fear of being judged.

I feel a twinge of pity that the idiot finds this idiocy a productive use of their time. I think about the many things the idiot could be doing instead, like reading, or going to the zoo, or taking a long walk. I feel a sort of remote concern about the life circumstances that have brought them to this point. I wonder about their parents and whether or not they have any friends. I take a long, slow breath and calmly explain my point of view to the idiot, while accepting that they clearly have their own view of the matter at hand. I tell them they don’t need to agree, they just need to try to at least understand that others feel differently.

The idiot does not understand. The idiot does not even try. The idiot simply gets louder, more annoying and more aggressive about their idiocy.

I start to feel a stirring of annoyance. Not because they are an idiot – after all, I’ve already concluded that they probably can’t help it; who chooses to be an idiot, after all? – I just really dislike loudness. Can’t we keep it to regular decibels? Is the hysteria really necessary? I regret not having bought ear plugs with my last amazon order. I ask them to keep it down, please. I ask them not to scream in my ear, because it happens to be quite disagreeable. Also, I am not hard of hearing and would really prefer for this discussion to come to an end with this still being the case.

The idiot ignores me and continues to shout, but is now approaching a sort of feverish level of rage, and so the shouting is louder and more unpleasant. Their face has turned an unflattering shade of puce and their hands are trembling with indignation.

Now I can feel that strange, unfurling of anger deep in my stomach. A small part of me is stirring, galvanised by the grating sound of unrestrained agitation. The idiot cannot tell, of course, because this part of me is well concealed beneath layers of decorum. I cut in while they’re taking a wheezing breath. I speak the idiot’s position back to them, to make sure I’ve grasped their (idiotic) point, and then make my argument as clearly and concisely as possible. Again.

The idiot is INFLAMED that I might understand their position and still argue against it. They escalate into a mad frenzy of spit-flinging fury. At this stage they are so psychotically furious their words have devolved into incoherence, and I can only lean back and watch the spittle fly.

Now I am angry. Actually angry. I can feel my entire body stiffen with adrenaline and blaze with a rage that has been slowly brought the boil…

…And I’m out. I’m sorry, but I really don’t believe there’s anything to be gained once the idiot is foaming at the mouth. I say something like, “Okay, let’s just leave it. We’re not getting anywhere with this.” Then I walk away, my veins pulsating with unreleased anger. I go for a walk. I let the cool air bring my temperature back down until it’s no longer the same as that of an exploding star. I read. I go to the zoo.

Sometimes I enjoy a flicker of satisfaction in imagining how it would feel to yell “YOU RUDE, INSUFFERABLE GODDAMN IMBECILE! CAN YOU PLEASE RUB THE TWO LONELY BRAIN CELLS THAT ARE FLOATING AROUND IN THAT THICK SKULL TOGETHER AND GET THEM TO START A SMALL SPARK OF UNDERSTANDING! THERE’S NO REASON TO BE SUCH A HEINOUS TOOLBAG, FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

But it never makes its way to the surface. It stays stuck in my throat like a spiny hairball. I swallow it down while I’m on my long walk. It sinks to the bottom of my stomach where it joins the rest of them; the many words of anger that are left unspoken. My anger issues.

Staying Alive

The other day, while out walking with a friend, we took a detour on our way home and found ourselves in an old cemetery.

It was, as she put it, the sort of place Tom Riddle might show up to challenge you to a wand duel. The ground, bulging with overgrown roots, was uneven and covered over with long blades of grass that soaked us to the ankles. Most of the engravings on the oldest headstones were illegible; the inscriptions had been gently buffed to smoothness by the passing of time. Speckled with lichen and pushed by either weather or slowly shifting soil, the stones leaned drunkenly at different angles. We wandered between them, calling out unusual names to each other or pointing out particularly old dates. Some went back to the 1800’s.

We found a few sad ones; children, siblings, husbands who died in their thirties with wives who died in their seventies. We found a few interesting ones; a headstone marked the passing of a man named Lemon Booth who had died in 1910 (I pictured him as a kindly eccentric with a penchant for wearing yellow). We also found a slab of what we assume is a family crypt dug into the foundations of what used to be a church.

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Some people strongly dislike graveyards. They find them creepy, or depressing, or taboo in a way that makes their skin crawl. The thought of dead people underfoot gives them the heebiejeebies. Some people feel it’s almost sacrilegious to walk through a cemetery full of people you have no connection to, propelled by nothing but curiosity. Some think that cemeteries should only be for the broken-hearted. Some think that it should only ever be a private place for grieving and goodbyes.

I actually quite like them.

Not – obviously – during burials, when my heart feels like it’s being finely grated into ribbons of despair and deposited straight into the ground with the coffin… but after. Later. I find comfort in the fact that so it has been and so it will always be; humans losing loved ones and creating rituals to say goodbye, with something tangible to mark the passing of generally unremarkable people. That’s you, and me, and most people. We, the Wikipedia-entry-less.  We, the people who live important lives but on a private scale. We, the remarkable unremarkable. We live full, busy lives of friendships, and stories, and memories. We have favourite activities, and things we are most proud of, and quirks that are unique to us. We laugh and cry and develop habits and grieve and love and then, at some point, we die and leave it all behind.

Honestly, I hate the idea as much as the next person. Saying goodbye to loved ones has always been so hard, and although my grief stems from not wanting them to ever leave my life, a small part of it also comes from the sadness that comes with the thought of leaving my life. I grieve for myself, but I also grieve on their behalf, for their having to say goodbye to everything. I love this world, the colours in it, the smell of petrichor, the taste of freshly baked bread, the feeling of a badly-needed hug, the sound of a loved one laughing. I love this world, even with the really rubbish bits. Even with the tragedies. Even with the dangers. Even with the Trumps.

I like my unremarkable life. I like being alive.

They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time. I always think of this as I read the names on headstones, shaping the consonants beneath my breath, taking a moment to wonder about the person behind the name, and the life that person left behind.

It comforts me to think that over a hundred years from now, someone might find the marker of my unremarkable life and say my name aloud, wondering about me…

Keeping me alive a little longer.

 

 

Birthdays, Waiting Days & Holidays

 

On Wednesday it was my birthday.

I always feel slightly unworthy on my birthday, like I didn’t do enough to deserve the ‘happy birthday!’s flung my way. I feel like I should have accomplished something great this past year and I just… haven’t. I feel like I didn’t do sufficient good this year, as a human. I didn’t contribute enough. I am lacking, somehow.

Still, as with every year, it’s just made me more determined to knuckle down this coming year. I will blaze through 2018! Hopefully!

….My resolutions start early.

To date, I think this might be my least organised Christmas yet! As things currently stand, some of the Christmas presents I ordered online won’t arrive until the new year, and all I want for Christmas (now that I’ve got my two front teeth) is a time turner or a portable black hole. I need some way to scrounge a couple of days in the midst of the madness to assemble an entire kitchen and do some heavy duty spray painting, so if any of you have time travel theories you need testing, let me know.

I am starting to wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but my innate optimism in anything relating to matters outside of myself is really buoying me up and persuading me it’s possible. I suppose we’ll see, won’t we? I’ll either manage it, or I’ll be crushed by a falling floor-to-ceiling cabinet and leave a Quinn-shaped hole in the floor (in which case I grant you all permission to tut and say, “Typical!” in a disappointed-but-not-entirely-surprised tone of voice).

Since my home is now a building site, I am currently sitting in the lobby of a local hotel, vagrant-style, stealing warmth and wifi while I wait for a toilet to be delivered.

When you’re ten years old, you never think about the fact that your adult life will one day involve hours of waiting for a toilet bowl to be delivered. You think about the fact that you can have ice cream for breakfast if the fancy takes you, but you never imagine that one day, you too will need to buy a hoover. Someday you will need to iron your clothes*, and weigh up the merits of coyote oak over frappuccino oak, and think about things like triple-glazing**.

You won’t have a clue what you’re doing.

That’s fine.

You will strongly suspect that the shop assistants don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

That’s fine too.

Unlike our parents, we have the internet at our fingertips. The world is smaller than it’s ever been. Just this past week I took in a delivery from Galway, and now I’m waiting on a delivery from Germany. I wish I had a bed to curl up in, but since the bedroom looks like a smaller and less organised version of IKEA’s warehouse I am sitting in this blue twill armchair in this hotel lobby instead.

ikea boxes
There is a bed in there somewhere. At least, there used to be.

The lobby is quite nice actually.

Unlike my home, this lobby has heating.

Unlike my home, this lobby has a bathroom.

Unlike my home, this lobby has a Christmas tree.

Unlike my home, this lobby has somewhere for me to sit that isn’t a precariously balanced assortment of wiring covered with black tarpaulin.

I have been here four hours.

I was told the toilet would arrive “in the morning.” There is an hour of morning left. My toes are numb and I have Christmas shopping to do. If I don’t leave here soon I am mildly concerned that I will become an inadvertent mascot like that cat, Billy, who wandered into the Algonquin Hotel in NYC back in the 1920’s and never left.***

Although… Now that I’ve been here for four hours I am curious as to how long I could stay here before being quizzed about my business. How long do hotels let you hang out if you have a laptop and a purposeful expression on your face?

If the toilet never arrives, I’ll let you know.

Happy Christmas, everybody. I’m sending you all the love, all the good wishes, all the hugs and twinkles and fairy lights and mistletoe kisses you could possibly want.

Have a great one!

PS: If anybody is feeling generous and feels the need to gift me a birthday coffee, there’s a link in the sidebar! I have a dream that one day I will go to Insomnia and order every different kind of hot chocolate, and I suppose if you were so inclined you could make this deranged chocolatey dream a reality! Thank you to those of you who have been kind enough to buy me one already; I REALLY appreciated both them and you!

*For the record this day has yet to come for me. I make a point of only buying clothes that don’t need ironing. Or if they do, I wear them crumpled and pretend they’re supposed to look like that. If I absolutely MUST get creases out of something, I use my hair straightener. This is not because I don’t own an iron (I do; a very intimidating hulk of a thing with a water reservoir and everything), but because life is too short to be faffing about with ironing boards and irons and those tiny plastic water jugs and all the rest of it.

**If you’re anything like me you will have conjured up a mental image of a donut positively dripping with three thick, smooth layers of sticky-finger glazing, but actually this is to do with windows and insulation. Adulting is an endless series of low-level disappointments…

***He kicked off a whole hotel cat tradition. Their current cat is a ginger tabby called Hamlet.

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)

Thoughts On… What It’s Like Being An Adult

 

When I was a child, there were always things I had to do before I could go out to play with my friends; homework, tidying, dishes, extracurriculars… Whatever it was, I had to finish it perfectly before I was let loose to climb trees, or to run around in the undergrowth, or to make up terrible, terrible dance moves, or to collect earthworms and snails to “rescue” them from being stood on by careless pedestrians.

I was a weird kid.

Anyway, I would take care of my tasks, and then I was free to leave the house and find my friends*. My mind would empty of school worries or drama, and I would throw myself into whatever crazy fictional plot we had dreamed up that day.  Elaborate scenarios were created during playtime only to dissolve at sunset, imaginary sandcastle worlds washed away by the tide of bedtime.

Today, if somebody were to ask me what it’s like to be an adult, I would say it’s like never getting to playtime.

As you grow older, the tasks and chores start to stack up on each other like LEGO. Not fun LEGO. Not here’s-a-bin-of-multicoloured-bricks-have-at-it LEGO. No. I’m talking Belville LEGO.**  Once you’re officially An Adult™, this Belville stack of  tasks just grows and grows until it becomes a veritable wall of responsibilities; an insurmountable barrier between you and the blank-slate mindset of playtime. Now, at the age of thirty, I can honestly say I can’t remember the last time I had nothing pending. There’s always something hanging over my head.

For example, my immediate To Do List says I have to:

  • Finish this blog post.
  • Work on my course project.
  • Discover the (presumably revolting) reason why my uncarved pumpkin is leaking.
  • Go grocery shopping, because the fridge is empty and I can’t survive without a steady supply of milk.

Then, later, once those are done, I will have to:

  • Feed the kittens, because otherwise they will eat me in my sleep.
  • Make dinner, or I will be eating cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner***.
  • Make a few home decisions.

And, more generally, I have to:

  • Clean the windows (this one’s been on the list a while…)
  • Plan on planning a wedding at some stage.
  • Get my eyes tested.
  • Make life decisions.

….And countless other small, niggling things that have been waiting patiently for my attention.

There is never a moment when I’m just… done. I can be done for the day, sure, but I don’t think I will ever have a moment in my life again where I feel like every single one of my tasks have been checked off the list and I can devote myself wholeheartedly to the kind of mindless playtime I once enjoyed. It’s exhausting to even think about, but it’s true. When you’re young, you’re unaware of the people around you shouldering the burden of life’s responsibilities. Slowly, they sneak up on you, and before you know it the To Do List is several thousands of items long and you’re wondering where your abundant spare time went.

I think this is why people call childhood “carefree.” Of course children have worries and chores and struggles and lessons to learn, but somebody has already reached across the able and carved everything up into bite-size chunks. The worries and lessons are usually workable. Except for in tragic circumstances, children’s lives are carefully managed and engineered to ensure that not too many tasks fall on those tiny shoulders.

And then you grow, and your shoulders start to press against something unfamiliar, and then it starts to press down on you, and before you know it, you’ve become the Atlas of your life, with your world carefully balanced between your shoulderblades.

So here I am, the Atlas of my life, trying to fit things into my calendar like an actual old person. Ticking off boxes like An Adult™. Sighing heavily because I realise the To Do List isn’t just the twenty things I have written down, but the never-ending, scrolling list that whirrs through my brain at 3am, making that KRSSSH SHHH WHRRRR SHHHKSH sound that receipts make when they’re being printed.

Infuriating.

Now I better go feed the kittens before they start chewing on my toes….

*ticks another item off the list*

*I know, I’m as surprised as you that I had any at all with my fists full of earthworms.

**Does anybody remember Belville LEGO sets? They were completely rubbish. They were just like regular LEGO, but everything was larger and lacking any sense of fun or accomplishment.

***Which – although this is something that I can (and do!) do as An Adult™ – is something that should be reserved solely for times of stress. Or lack of groceries. Or high sugar requirements.

Something The Tooth Fairy Never Mentioned

Sometimes conversations don’t at all go in the direction you were expecting.

One moment you’re talking about balloons as cat toys and the fact that your wisdom tooth is digging into your cheek, and the next the conversation has taken a sharp left turn and you are hearing a sentence that doesn’t seem relevant in the slightest.

“Before you get pregnant, it’s vital you get any dental issues out of the way.”

“Excuse me?”

This conversational clanger had been dropped in – apropos of nothing – by my mother. Just to be very clear, I have no plans to get pregnant. None at all. I am not a broody person. When I see babies* on the street I smile politely, that is all. As a general rule, babies hate me. They tend to respond to my touch with shrieking cries of instant unhappiness; I think they can sense my fear.

“Yes, teeth before you get married. It’s very important.”

I narrowed my eyes and squinted at the wall, hoping the paint markings might provide some insight regarding this sudden non sequitur.

“What- I mean, why- “

In my mind, question marks popped like bubbles. I stumbled over my words before deciding that ultimately, wherever this road was leading wasn’t worth it. The journey would be too painfully infuriating. I massaged my forehead with my fingertips.

“… Never mind…”

I needn’t have bothered. My mother simply continued as if I hadn’t interjected at all.

“You know, before my sisters and I got married, my father took us each to the dentist in turn to get our mouths fixed up.”

“… What now?”

“Yes, each of us in turn. Right before our weddings. It’s crucial to get it all done before you get pregnant.”

My head fell back and I eyed the ceiling as I imagined some faceless man pulling at lips and examining gums and checking teeth before slapping my mother and my aunts on the back and calling them “Fine fillies!”

… Or whatever the Spanish term is for good broodmares.

There was a long, yawning silence as I debated whether or not I wanted to continue this bizarre and mildly disturbing line of conversation.

Anyway-” I started over in an attempt to change the subject.

“I’m serious. Teeth are very important to get fixed before you get married.”

“Okay, but I mean-“

“It has to be before you get pregnant.”

“Okay but I never said-“

“So you should do it quickly now.”

“Well I mean there’s definitely no rush-“

“You should definitely do it next month.”

As somebody who has no plans, somebody please explain this logic to me. Is this some sort of strange common-but-unspoken thing that I have never heard of? Do people go to the dentist to get “their mouths fixed” before they marry? Is there any reason you wouldn’t get your mouth fixed before then?

There is nothing wrong with my wisdom teeth; they’re good teeth, Brent. They are, however, growing into a mouth where all the space is currently occupied, so I just feel like they may have to vacate the premises. It’s on the long list, you know? Riiiiiiiiight below growing my hair out and finding a dress to wear at Christmas and going to Dubai and getting a job that will pay for both the dentist and the dress.

So you know, on the list, but down a bit.

No, down further.

Further. Keep going. Yep, next page.

There it is!

*In comparison, when I see a dog on the street my eyes turn into lovehearts and I make a beeline for them so I can pet them and tell them they’re beautiful. Can you be dog broody?

 

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.

 

Thoughts On… Size Matters

SIZE MATTERS

I am small.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I guess it bears repeating for the purposes of this post. I am 5ft 1″ tall… or small, as the case may be. Almost inevitably, the first words out of most people’s mouths when they meet me in flats is, “Oh my God, you’re so short!” And I am!

I am so short.

I am so short the only exercise my upper arms ever get is from dragging chairs over and back to the kitchen so I can reach for the ingredients I need while cooking. I am so short that when things are on the top shelf in the supermarket I need to ask for assistance to get them down. I am so short that if somebody tall sits in front of me at the cinema, I spend the entire movie tilting my head from the left to the right and vice versa in order to see the screen, and if a concert is standing-room only I am guaranteed to see nothing but a sea of shoulders.

Having said that, I am not petite.

Short, petite people look like fairies or sylphs. They’re graceful and delicate and look as if the earth’s gravity only barely holds them tethered to the ground. I do not look like that. I look like a regular person who has shrunk in the wash. I look like I was popped in on a hot cycle by mistake and left in there for a tumble dry.

I went through a phase as a teenager when I hated my height. I hated the terrible, terrible, dad-level jokes that came with it. All the cheery, “Oh, how convenient! An armrest!” lines accompanied by an elbow on my head, all the times I was unexpectedly lifted off the ground, all the morons who thought it was absolutely hilarious to hold things just centimetres out of my reach… I imagined myself suddenly extending like Inspector Gadget and backhanding them across the face.

With a bionic hand, of course.

For maximum impact.

Luckily for me and my blood pressure levels, this period of my life was mercifully brief. I grew into myself (though obviously not too much) and embraced my inner shorty. I realised that my height could sometimes be a positive. For example:

  • I’ve never had to worry about towering over anybody because that has simply never happened.
  • No matter how high the heels – or the platform heels – I still have never had to worry about towering over anybody. Still no. Always no.
  • I can shop in the children’s section, which sometimes has nicer stuff.
  • Scandalously short dresses are an acceptable length on me.
  • Long tops can be worn as scandalously short dresses.
  • No matter how cramped airline seats get, there will always be more than enough room for my legs.
  • I have never had to duck because of a low ceiling.
  • Ditto for low shower heads.
  • Ditto for small doorways.

So overall…. it balances out. Do I have legs that go on for days? No. But do my feet ever stick out over the end of the bed? Also no. I can stretch out like a starfish and know that the duvet (no pun intended) has me covered.

I’m looking at my two six-month old kittens right now. Maya is a flimsy, lean little thing. She is, as kittens go, petite. I can pick her up with one hand. She is graceful and agile and manages jumps I didn’t think were possible for a mammal that isn’t a kangaroo or a jerboa.

jerboa
This creature that looks like a mouse photoshopped onto bird legs is a jerboa

Oscar on the other hand, despite eating the same amount of food and being the exact same age, is a bona fide chunk of a cat. He weighs the same as a miniature hippopotamus, and has no discernable elegance in his movements whatsoever. He thumps around the apartment like a tiny despot, singing the song of his people. Sometimes he leaps – front legs stretched wide like a flying squirrel – for the bed, or a chair, or the windowsill, and he misses, landing back on the ground with an earth-shaking thud. He is dense. He has a wide, fat little head and when I lift him, I make an audible “OOF!” sound.

If he were a human child I would have already signed him up for the local rugby club.

Maya can leap in enormous bounds that Oscar will never manage, but Oscar can pull himself up bodily to areas that Maya can’t reach. Maya can slink through the narrowest of gaps if a door is left slightly ajar, but Oscar can bulldoze his way in head first.

It all balances out.

Does size matter? Not in my experience.

…But I know it’s harder for guys.

*As a teen. I am no longer a hellion demonspawn. I wasn’t a rebellious teenager but at times my moral compass was in need of a good shake.

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.

One Stranger, Two Viewpoints, Three Drinks

 

One STRANGERTwo viewpointsthree drinks

I had a pretty interesting but slightly infuriating conversation over the weekend.

It wasn’t really that infuriating at the time, because I had already had two vodka & cranberries and at that stage I’m content to slip easily into the role of Devil’s Advocate on any given subject. I don’t know about you, but I’m a happy drinker. After a drink, I just want to do two things: talk and dance. I don’t much mind where you want to take the conversation, I’m happy for you to take the lead as long as I have a white russian in hand.

Unfortunately at the weekend I didn’t have a white russian. Instead, I had just started on my third vodka and cranberry when this man engaged me in conversation. He began by asking me where I was from (of course), and then launched into a lyrical ode to his home county, which I won’t name here. He asked me what I knew of it, to which I replied, honestly, that absolutely nothing was coming to mind. No landmarks, no tourist hotspots, no holiday destinations. My mind was a total, freewheeling blank. He puffed out his chest and told me that actually, it was one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. I lifted a skeptical eyebrow and pulled my phone out of my pocket. Slowly and deliberately, I typed “Things To Do In _________” into my search bar, partly because I was curious as to what would come up, but mostly just to rile him. Which it did! Only not in the way I was expecting.

“THAT’S WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD!” He yelled over the music.

“Google?” I asked, confused.

“NO, EVERYTHING. GOOGLE. PHONES! I TELL YOU THAT _______ IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE AND THE FIRST THING YOU DO IS PULL OUT YOUR PHONE INSTEAD OF JUST BELIEVING ME!”

I bit back a laugh, because yes, I do tend to believe aggregated opinions of many different people over the sole (biased) opinion of one person. Is that bad? I opened my mouth to interject but he was off again.

“WE WERE BETTER OFF WITHOUT IT! DO YOU WATCH TV?”

“TV? Yeah, sometimes…” I mumbled, thrown off balance by the abrupt change in topic. I thought we were talking about phones?

“I BET YOU WATCH KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS!”

Okay. Look. As it happens, I have never actually watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians, but millions of people have. MILLIONS. I’m tired of this implication that people who watch the show are a zombified army of braindead shopaholics who speak solely in emojis and don’t understand basic grammar or syntax, particularly since it’s a disdainful accusation thrown almost exclusively at women. I know plenty of intelligent people who watch it regularly. There’s no reason to use this as an insult.

It’s not the first time I’ve had this said to me with a curled lip of disgust, as if what I watch on television somehow lowers my IQ. Not only does what I watch have no bearing on my intelligence, but it’s almost* enough to make me want to watch the show, just to spite them.

I chased ice cubes around my glass with my plastic straw and tilted my head.

“No…?”

“WELL ANYWAY,” he continued, “I KNEW A MAN WHO LIVED WITHOUT ELECTRICITY AND HE WAS HAPPIER THAN ANY OF US PROBABLY.”

I breathed deeply and looked around me, considering my options. The dance floor was bathed in deep pink and purple lights. To my right, a blonde in a short skirt ran her hand down the arm of a laughing man with dreadlocks. I stabbed at the ice cubes, then took a drink.

“He lived without electricity? Is that what you said?”

I mean, I was in it now. Might as well let myself be pulled by the conversational current.

“YES! LIVED WITHOUT ELECTRICITY. HAPPIEST MAN I KNEW. JUST HAD A RADIO THAT HE RAN WITH BATTERIES AND A PHONE.”

I eyed the ceiling and debated whether or not to point out that a man who has a radio and a phone is not entirely without the benefits of the modern age. I decided, with drunken magnanimity, to let it go.

“What did he do at night?” I asked, instead.

“LIT A CANDLE IN THE WINDOW!”

I laughed.

“You can’t read by candlelight! Have you tried it? You’d ruin your eyes!”

“HE DIDN’T READ HE WOULD JUST SIT ALONE WITH HIS THOUGHTS!”

I side-eyed him.

“That’s fine in the summer when it gets dark at a reasonable time, but what happens in the winter when it gets dark at 5pm?”

“HE LIKED IT THAT WAY, HE WAS A VERY HAPPY MAN! WHAT’S WRONG WITH BEING ALONE WITH OUR THOUGHTS? I THINK MORE PEOPLE SHOULD DO THAT INSTEAD OF SITTING IN FRONT OF THE TV WATCHING KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS!”

There he goes again, I thought, with the Kardashians. What is the deal?

“That’s well and good if your thoughts are kind ones,” I pointed out. “But what if they’re not? Thirteen hours is a long time to be left alone with unkind thoughts-“

I barely had a chance to finish the sentence.

He leaned in, cutting across me to shout, “I BET YOU NEVER KNEW ANYBODY WHO LIVED WITHOUT ELECTRICITY!”

My eyes narrowed. The vodka and cranberries I’d consumed were busy sketching out a pale pink outline of the sort of person this man thought I was, and it wasn’t particularly flattering. If I squinted the right way, I could see the exact stereotype this guy had pinned on me.

I took another sip of my drink and thought for a moment.

“I did actually.”

“WHO?”

I was starting to feel like Alice down the rabbit hole. Where was this conversation leading exactly? How far down where we going to go? I told myself to relax and let myself flow into the empty spaces left by the holes in his argument.

“The people in my grandparents’ village in Spain lived without electricity.”

I paused, thinking about the pueblo. It’s a dying village. Even when I went regularly, the inhabitants all seemed as ancient and weathered as the sun-split rocks down the hill. I thought about the women I had known with deeply lined faces and no dental care, sitting outside their houses in black shapeless tunics, leaning on canes and fanning themselves.

I thought of my great aunt pressing 100 pesetas into my hand with her bony fingers and shuffling next to me as we made our way to the bakery across the square, which doubled as the only place in the pueblo you could buy anything.

I thought of my great aunt’s house, where the ceiling sagged in the middle, looking like it might cave in at any moment. I thought of the way doors were always left open to cope with the heat, with a beaded curtain strung over the doorway, keeping out the burning sun but nothing else. Walking into the house was an assault on the senses. My nostrils would sting from the smell of cat urine, and I would blink furiously, my eyes taking a minute or two to adjust to the darkness. The reason for the smell was quickly apparent; stray cats would shoot out from under every piece of furniture the moment I took a step in any direction.

Yes, their lives were simple, but their lives were hard. They faced tragedies and difficulties I can barely imagine. My grandfather would tell me stories that would break your heart. They lived lives of quiet isolation and tight community not because they chose to eschew electricity and modern conveniences, but because they had no choice.

The man at the gig, meanwhile, had been surprised into a momentary silence at my assertion that I had, in fact, known someone who lived without electricity. I took the opportunity to squeeze in another sentence.

“They didn’t choose not to have electricity, though. They were very poor. They didn’t have the option.”

His eyes skated around the room as he considered what I had just said.

“BUT THEY WERE PROBABLY HAPPIER LIKE THAT!” He roared in my ear after a moment.

I felt an unfamiliar tingle of annoyance. Unlike me. I thought. It’s a Saturday night. Don’t let him harsh your mellow.

For some reason though, my thoughts flew to the woman who had lived opposite my grandparents. Alone and elderly, she had lived all her life in a tiny cottage draped in grapevines. I thought about how, after she had died, I would look through her window and see her kitchen table, still draped in an impeccably crocheted tablecloth. A small plate sat on the table that had once held a long-since disintegrated piece of toast, and a carefully balanced knife rested on the edge of the plate.

Untouched since her last meal, the room was a silent testimony of her existence. Every year I would crouch to look in through the window, and only two things ever changed; the number of stray cats using the furniture, and the thickness of the layer of dust. Over time, the colours slowly muted and the room took on a ghostly, grey air. When sunlight streamed in the dust particles glistened, making it look even more ethereal.

Had she been happy while she was alive?

As a child, I hadn’t liked her, and that’s putting it mildly. She seemed positively antediluvian, shrunken by age and circumstance. She had once engaged my parents in conversation about the stray cats that my grandmother often fed, and recounted how she had killed a great number of them by swinging them by their back legs and smashing their heads against a rock. Hearing her tell this story had the same effect on me as if she had admitted to being an axe-wielding maniac with a penchant for scalping children; after that I avoided her like the very plague.

Now, with time, I am more understanding. She was completely uneducated and lived in that same small pueblo her entire life. She had no family. The war she waged on the stray cats was ended by her death and, in a twist that shows life has a sense of humour, in her absence they took over her house and made it their own.

I thought of this wizened woman, and how different her life might have been in other circumstances. I thought of my great aunt. The more sober section of my mind struggled to steer my train of thought onto a straighter path. After all, this was a Saturday night chat at top volume with a stranger during a gig, not a cosy in-depth debate in a dark corner at a party. Not exactly the best time to argue the merits of education and how electricity contributes to a greater quality of life.

I leaned towards him so he could hear me clearly.

“I don’t think they would have chosen that life if they had had an alternative,” I said, watching his face.

“BUT YOUR GRANDPARENTS LEFT, RIGHT? BECAUSE MAYBE THEY WEREN’T HAPPY LIVING LIKE THAT. BUT THOSE PEOPLE DIDN’T LEAVE! BECAUSE IT’S A SIMPLER, HAPPIER LIFE!”

My grandparents left because they could, because my grandfather dragged them out of there through a combination of dogged hard work and compromise and connections.

My great aunt, who had been in a relationship with my grandmother’s brother, found out she was pregnant while he was away at war. Unfortunately he was killed in action, and so she had her son out of wedlock at a time when this was enough for society to shun you. The son was born with an intellectual disability. Thankfully my grandmother’s family treated them kindly and supported them despite the circumstances, but still, her life was difficult. It was complicated. She was poor and uneducated and had nobody by her side to make her life easier or more bearable. She went to mass every day and pulled wooden rosary beads between her skeletal fingers, her gaunt face a mask of peace as she prayed.

Do I think these difficult times in her life would have been greatly improved by having a light switch and a functioning fridge? Not necessarily. Some hardships can’t be softened with electric lighting and chilled goods. I do think, however, that electricity often reaches places at much the same time as other things like literacy, and education, and modern plumbing, and state aid. I think those would have made her life easier.

The pueblo had a school, and running water, and electricity in my childhood. The neihbour died. My great aunt died. My grandparents also died. The population continues to decline. In 2015 it had a population of 280 inhabitants.

Back at the gig, I threw my head back to dislodge these thoughts and tried to untangle myself from a conversation that was going nowhere fast.

“I agree that our addiction to our phones is bad but dude, I don’t agree we would be happier without electricity.” I waved an arm around me. “We wouldn’t be enjoying this without electricity!”

He nodded his head from side to side as if conceding the point, and then we were loudly (and thankfully) interrupted by a friend wandering over to say hello.