Life Skills Unlocked: Being a Girl

I can still remember the exact moment when I decided that being a girl was bullshit.

I had spent my first few formative years generally unfazed by gender roles. Sure, I had to wear horrendous dresses on special occasions, and that seemed unfair. My brother wore shirts and shorts and ran around like a loon while I wore dresses with collars that could have doubled as bibs and faced instant restrictions.

“Don’t sit like that.”

“Don’t get dirty.”

“No, you can’t climb trees in a dress.”

My best friend was a boy we’ll call P, and together we would spend afternoons watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and made dramatic explosion sounds as we mashed his Micro Machines into the carpet. We rollerskated in the church carpark beside his home, falling hard and getting back up again, wincing when we had to brush the grit and gravel out of our grazes.

As we grew older, things started to feel different. I remember trying not to be upset when P’s older brothers told me I couldn’t play football with them because I was a girl*. I didn’t really understand it at the time. We were the same, after all. I could do all the things P could do. I could do some of those things better than P could. I didn’t understand being made to sit on the sidelines – literally – to watch the boys. It annoyed me.

I spent long summer evenings scrabbling in the dirt with my brother and our friend A, making a ‘den’ in the bushes by the train tracks. We cleared the area with all the finesse of adolescent gorillas, then swept it clear of leaves with “brushes” made from branches. We dug seats into the slope of the earth, and sat under the canopy of Rowan trees to talk about films or music or school or cartoons. I didn’t feel any different most of the time…

But still.

I noticed that in general there were expectations of me that didn’t extend to my brother. I was expected to be quieter. More patient. More obedient. More gentle. More pleasant. I couldn’t sit cross-legged or sprawled out on the floor, I had to sit with my knees together. I couldn’t laugh as hard. I couldn’t shout as loud. My clothes were less comfortable. My pockets were smaller.

It annoyed me.

For a long time I thought it was because my brother was younger than me. I thought maybe he was allowed to have more fun because he was the baby. It didn’t cross my mind that he was allowed to have more fun because he was a boy.

I was sent to an all-girls school. I collected worms at break time. I made friends with the groundskeeper and followed him around until my teacher, probably concerned about impropriety, pulled me away and told me off. I made friends with a quiet French girl with an apple orchard in her garden, and spent a lot of time after school hanging upside down from the trees until my head felt both heavy and light at the same time.

I started to notice double standards. When boys talked about each other they were “venting”. When girls did it they were “gossiping.” When guys did something funny but malicious it was “banter.” If a girl did it she was “being a bitch.” The expectations I’d noticed when I was younger seemed to spread. The clothes got tighter and less comfortable. Some of the pockets disappeared altogether.

And then one day, I woke up feeling terrible. Every part of me hurt, and I felt heavy and sad, as if I’d had an awful nightmare that I couldn’t quite remember but that had left behind an emotional hangover of epic proportions. After breakfast I still felt strange. I went to the bathroom and closed the door. Taking a deep breath, I pulled my trousers down and found blood. Just… a lot of blood. I stared blankly at it. I didn’t know where it had come from or why it was there. I supposed I was probably dying. I didn’t know what to do, so I cleaned it up as best I could and then carefully folded up some toilet paper and put it in my underwear.

I walked around in a haze for about five minutes, wondering how I should break the news to my parents. I was pretty resigned to this fate of death by unexplained blood loss; my main concern was how to bring it up with my mother. Eventually I decided I had to tell her, and I caught her elbow as she was going up the stairs.

“Something is wrong with me,” I said.

“What?”

“There’s blood…” I trailed off uncomfortably.

She looked at me and then pulled me to the bathroom, where she told me that actually this is just something that happens and handed me a sanitary pad from the top of her wardrobe.

My mind was exploding. This was a thing? I had always thought bleeding was bad, but now I was being told that sometimes bleeding was just a normal occurrence. I unwrapped the sanitary pad and stared at it. It looked like it had been cut out of a baby’s nappy. I put it in my underwear. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there. I tried not to cry.

Half an hour later, I was out on the street, bursting with questions for my mother. Why did this happen? Why hadn’t it happened before? When would this happen again? How long does it go on for?

She was very matter of fact with me. She said it would last a few days.

“A few days?!”

She said it would happen every month.

Every month?!”

Every month for the rest of forever, pretty much.

“FOREVER?!?!?!”

She told me not to make a big deal out of it, that it happened to everyone. That made me feel better, briefly, until she added, “Well, not to boys. Only to girls.”

And as I walked uncomfortably down the street with tears of self-pity pouring down my face, trying to absorb the fact that I was going to be in pain and bleeding for a few days every. single. month. for the rest of my life. I just remember thinking:

‘It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not FAIR.’

…Which was a succinct representation of how I felt at the time, but if I’d had the vocabulary back then, it would simply have been:

‘Being a girl is bullshit.’

‘Being a girl is BULLSHIT. What kind of a hellish design flaw is that? I have to be okay with feeling like my insides are being pulled out of me with a rusty coat hanger every month like clockwork for about the next four decades? I have to be uncomfortable and in pain and bleeding almost 500 times in my life and I have to expect it, and prepare for it? And I can’t even go swimming because of the weird nappy thing, and who the hell designed this anyway because I HATE it, this thick, squishy, crunchy piece of plastic that makes me feel like I’m walking around with a pool noodle between my thighs. And the reason I have to deal with this blight on my life is so that one day I can experience the “miracle of childbirth,” which is to say that someday I will get to feel like I’m being ripped apart as I squeeze something larger than my own head out of myself? Am I crazy to think it is TOTAL BULLSHIT that boys don’t have to deal with any part of this? Who came up with this plan anyway?’

I watched boys my age running around, blissfully ignorant of my predicament, and I burned with jealousy. I lay in bed that night crying, thinking, ‘I just want to be a boy. Can I just be a boy? Please make me a boy. I just want to be a boy.‘ If I’d known about people being transgender at the time I think I would have jumped on that in a heartbeat, such was the level of my distress. I felt incredibly hard done by. All along someone had been picking teams and somehow, without my noticing, I felt like I’d ended up on the wrong one.

And then… adolescence. And breasts. And boys. And when I was sixteen walking home from a temp job, a man in his thirties stopped his car in the middle of traffic to jump out and give me his number and I felt simultaneously flattered – because I had never felt pretty before – and frightened. I bumbled my way through this part of my life by testing limits and pushing boundaries. Can I do this? Yes. And this? Yes. And this? No, too far. Okay, roll it back, let’s go back to the beginning.

I came to terms with things eventually. I discovered the soothing effects of maximum strength ibuprofen, and the undetectable magic of tampons. Later still, I came to recognise the wonderful world of back-to-back-to-back birth control packets, which allowed me to live my dream of almost never having to deal with the horror of periods. I grew past the age of having to wear dresses and reached an age of actually wanting to wear them every so often. I developed a fondness for eyeliner.

I still prefer jeans to dresses, though. I still think girls get a raw deal biologically speaking. I miss Micro Machines, especially the ones that changed colour in the bathtub. I miss baggy cargo pants with multiple pockets. I have feminine moments, but I suppose for the most part many would call me a tomboy. I don’t keep up with the Kardashians, but I like to keep up with rugby and romcoms and Formula 1. I like glitter, but I don’t like bows. Yesterday I made a tray of blondies because baking is my therapy, and the day before that I spent six hours taking sixteen ball bearings apart, cleaning them, degreasing them, lubricating them and then putting them back together. I’ve kissed some boys. I’ve kissed some girls.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t think there’s a right way to be a girl. Or a boy, for that matter. I am who I am, and no knees-together seated situation in a floral dress is going to change that. On balance, I may like traditionally “masculine” things more than “feminine” things a lot of the time, but who decided on those categories anyway?

The idea of “being a girl” brings with it a whole wheelbarrow’s worth of stereotypes. Being a girl means being sugar and spice and all things nice (because that’s what little girls are made of), and wearing pink and frilly things and ribbons and bows and manicures and elegance and ladylike behaviour and a slim figure and a sweet voice and a pleasing manner and NO POCKETS and uncomfortable clothes and no-make-up make-up and being a smart (but not too smart), clean and tidy human who always looks lovely and is kindness personified.

The whole idea of “being a girl” is bullshit if you buy into those tropes and compare them to the freedom of boys to be comfortable and have roomy pockets and be loud and adventurous and competitive.

Happily, it turns out that you can be a girl without any of that. Or with only some of that, if you prefer. OR all of it if that’s what makes you happy! You can pick and choose your interests, your lover, your wardrobe, your life. You can mix it up and try all the different forms of being a girl if that brings you joy. You can be flexible. Despite how it may have seemed to a younger me, there are no rules. That’s the great thing about it; it’s all optional!

Except periods.

Unfortunately, those are still pretty mandatory.

 

*To this day there are few things that make my blood pressure spike as much as when guys go silent or hold their tongue because I’ve suddenly joined the group, saying “Oh… I don’t want to say… I mean, there are ladies present.” WHAT IS THAT? As if somehow because I have different genitals I couldn’t possibly hear a sex joke without swooning, or allow my tiny delicate ears to hear an interesting story without thinking those involved are perverted deviants. Is there anything more obnoxious? It’s like the adult verbal equivalent of a ‘BOYS ONLY’ club…

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The Sticking Point

I don’t know if you have ever heard of the Bodies exhibition. 

It is an exhibition of real human bodies – dissected, plastificated – which has been touring the world for years now, and I visited it when it happened to be in Madrid, Spain. It was astonishing; human anatomy as I had never seen it. Maps of blood vessels and arteries, stiffened and displayed between slabs of clear acrylic. Skeletons in motion. Muscles, lungs, and other organs exposed to my curious eyes in a way that seemed slightly indecent. I kept having to remind myself that once upon a time these were people, real people. They had lived and loved and laughed and died and somehow they had ended up here, frozen forever in a frisbee-throwing pose or sliced into sections for intrigued spectators. A modern side-show.

Although I was much younger then, I still remember the black fabric-draped tent in one corner of the hall. A sign by the doorway warned those with sensitive dispositions to turn away. I passed the sign with barely a glance and entered into a long, narrow, spotlit room with numerous glass containers forming a line down the centre. Each glass container held one unborn human, from visible embryo to fully-formed baby. A sign on the wall explained that each specimen had been donated after a miscarriage. The room was sombre and silent, and I remember feeling a wave of sadness for the parents, and the amount of potential happiness and life that had died only to be preserved forever in these glass canisters.

I walked along the rows, reading the signs and looking at these unborn babies. The first few look like tadpoles. Then indistinct shapes with clouded eyes. Then embryos that looked like they might become baby rabbits. As I continued down the row of glass canisters I could see the development, the growth, the unfolding of a new human. The last one looked just like a newborn baby. It had hair, and fingernails. It floated, suspended in the solution, and the circumstances that had led to me standing there, looking this unborn boy in the face struck me as both grotesque and strangely serene, fascinating and utterly depressing.

I tell you all this because I want you to appreciate that I understand what is at stake. I am not ignorant of the facts. I am not blind to the sadness of the situation. I know what an unborn baby looks like; I have seen it with my own eyes.

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In 1983, in an Ireland where abortion was already illegal, a constitutional subsection was voted in giving the unborn an equal right to life to the pregnant woman carrying it. This was intended to safeguard the unborn against any possible ramifications of the Roe vs Wade ruling across the pond. Making abortions extra illegal seemed important in a Catholic Ireland where people still could not buy condoms without a prescription*.

One week from now, Ireland will be asked to vote on whether to remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

The no campaign has, as you can probably imagine, been extremely organised and well-funded. Their message is simple, and blunt, and effective: if you vote no, you are saving  babies. If you vote yes, you are paving the way to eugenics, and voting for the mass murder of innocents. They mention the decreased number of people born with disabilities in societies with legalised abortion. They discuss ‘contraceptive abortions’ borne solely of convenience. They talk of babies yawning and sucking their thumbs in the womb. They speak of women who have had abortions and later regretted it. 

The yes campaign for this referendum has been scattered, divided, and comparatively disorganised. I don’t think this is a problem with the campaign, as much as it is a problem with the issue at hand; there are many different reasons why people might vote yes, and not all of them mesh well with others.

Some will vote yes because they agree with the idea of legal abortion being accessible.

Some will vote yes because they trust women to make the best decision for themselves and their situation.

Some will vote yes because they find it hypocritical that Ireland continues to outlaw abortion*, while legalising travel to the UK for the same purpose.

Some will vote yes because they think it inhumane that a couple dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality must travel abroad if they want an early termination.

Some will vote yes because they don’t want anyone else – or they themselves – to become the next Savita.

Some will vote yes because they think rape victims should not have to carry a resulting pregnancy against their will.

Some will vote yes because they believe the lives of living, loving, thinking, breathing adult women should not be equal in value to that of ‘the unborn,’ because ‘the unborn’ is very vague; is that the unborn, newly fertilised egg? Is it the unborn embryo, bean-sized, dependent on the mother? Is it the 25-week old unborn baby? Is it all of the above? If it is not, then where is the line? The placement of that line is controversial and, depending on the individual, can be based on personal, religious or scientific reasons.

Some will vote yes for all of the above reasons, and some for a combination of only some of the above.

“We can’t focus on the hard cases,” is something I’ve heard often in the run-up to this referendum. “Not when 95% of abortions are not hard cases. Not when most abortions are done for the sake of convenience.”

I have feelings about this perception that women are getting abortions the same way they’d get their nails done. I have feelings about it, but for me it’s not the main issue.

The sticking point, for me, is this:

What if I’m that woman?

What if my wanted, yearned for, unborn baby is diagnosed with some awful condition that means that although I might carry it to term, he or she will die, suffering, within seconds, minutes, hours of being born? What if I have to endure nine months of well-meaning questions from strangers, each kindly remark about an impossible future cutting through me like a knife through my soul? What if I want an abortion to save my unborn baby (and yes, myself) the suffering? Would you think it fair and reasonable that I should have to fly to England, where I would then – like so many other women – have to make decisions about where to go, where to stay, and what to do so far from home with the remains of my very much wanted, heartrendingly loved child?

And what if I am raped? It doesn’t matter by who. An old friend. A man in a dark alleyway. A relative. A stranger with a knife at my throat. I am raped and now I am pregnant. I am already struggling to cope with this awful thing that has happened to me, and now I am pregnant with a daily reminder. Crying, I confide in you. I tell you that I can’t do this. That I’m not mentally strong enough. That perhaps I can overcome sexual assault but I cannot overcome it if I have to carry within my body the result of this rape for the better part of a year. Would you think it fair and reasonable that I should have no choice?

And what if I am diagnosed with cancer, and I am pregnant, and I want to live? What if my doctor tells me that because I am not at imminent, immediate risk of dying, they will have to work around my pregnancy, give me treatment that is less effective, but also less likely to kill my unborn baby? What if they tell me that early, aggressive treatment will cure me but that I cannot access this treatment unless I get a termination abroad? Because my life is equal to that of my ten-week old developing foetus, they cannot harm it any more than they can intentionally harm me. Never mind that inaction will indirectly harm me. Legally, their hands are tied. I must be dying, and not only dying in a long-term manner; I must be dying enough to warrant intervention. What if the time it takes me to carry this pregnancy to term is the time the cancer needs to become terminal? What if I don’t want to take that risk? Would you think it fair and reasonable that I not have a say? 

I have spoken about this to people who are thinking of voting no, and they pat me on the arm and say, in what is meant to be a reassuring tone of voice, “Stop worrying about these things. They almost definitely will never happen to you. The chances are so, so small. These “hard cases” only happen to about 1000 women every year.” And every time I hear this I feel frustrated and upset that I have not managed to communicate my point effectively. 

I’m not worried that it will happen to me.

It’s not about me.

It’s about you.

It’s about you, and how you would react to my being in these situations. It’s about how you would feel if it were someone you know. It’s about whether the needle on your moral compass starts to shake with uncertainty if that one ‘hard case’ is you, or your mother, or your sister, or your best friend, or your cousin, or your daughter. If I become a “hard case” – or, God forbid, you – what does it matter to either of us how many other people are trapped in this same private hell? What does it matter if it is five? Or fifty? Or a hundred? Or a thousand?

It’s about the women that this is happening to right now along the length and breadth of the country. As I am to my friends and family, those women are to others. They are loved. They have people around them who are impacted by their joys and sorrows. Their tragedies unfurl like drops of ink in water, dispersing and turning everything around them a shade darker.

It’s about why the statistics and percentages and numbers of ‘hard cases’ don’t make a difference to me. I don’t think there should even be one couple crying, leaving the ashes of their baby in Liverpool because they can’t afford to courier the remains home. I don’t think there should even be one victim of rape forced to sacrifice their health – mental or physical or both – to carry the resulting unwanted pregnancy to term. They should have the choice to do what they feel is best for their lives.  We should have the compassion to allow them to make that choice.

In one week, Ireland will be asked to vote on whether we should remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

I will be voting yes.

*Condoms and other forms of contraception were fully illegal until 1980, and then legal only with a prescription until as late as 1985. 

**Abortion currently carries a 14 year prison sentence.

Predator and Prey

David Attenborough’s voice

On the vast plains of the Penneys homeware savanna, a small Grant’s Gazelle picks her way past the rows of bed clothes. Distracted by the sight of a particularly fluffy cushion, she pauses in her pursuit of wildly unnecessary purchases.

A small movement in her peripheral vision attracts her attention. Suspicion causes her eyes to widen and she freezes, staring blindly across the shelf of vanilla bean tea lights. She can feel something watch her through the tangle of children’s clothes. A moment of utter stillness passes, and reassured by the lack of movement, she continues on, trotting past the scented candles.

Out of the corner of her eye she spots another movement. She stops next to the tea towels. Something is following her. Now truly alarmed, she picks up the pace and makes a break for the relative safety of the ground floor. The predator behind her veers off only to come at her from the side and corner her at the foot of the stairs. Her heart flutters with panic.

“Heyyyy….” says the jackal. “How are you doiiiing?”

“Fine thank you” says the gazelle, because maybe she is overreacting? He hasn’t really done anything yet after all. Maybe he’s just an overly friendly jackal. She tries to step around him but he places a paw on her. She doesn’t like it.

“Excuse me,” she says, and sprints up the stairs before he has a chance to react. A swift run gets her to the till, where I hand a t-shirt to the woman behind the register, because I am the gazelle and this metaphor has gone on for long enough.

As the cashier slowly scanned the barcode, my mind ran down dead-ends and alleyways in a frantic effort to keep ahead of my anxiety. I thought about asking the cashier if there was, per chance, a jackal of a man lying in wait for me, but on one hand I thought that if he hadn’t followed me from downstairs then I might seem a bit hysterical, and if he had, then I might freak out the poor woman. And what if security asked him to leave? Then what? Would he wait outside for me? And he was foreign and hadn’t exactly done anything other than make me feel very uncomfortable. Would they think I was a racist?

I kept my mouth shut and paid by card. She handed me my bag and I took it as slowly as possible, stalling for time. When she started to eye me suspiciously, I realised I could put it off no longer. I turned around inch by inch and…

… And he was there. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I shook my head at him as if he were offering me something, and bolted for the door. Afraid to look back in case he took any eye contact as a sign of encouragement, I headed up the street and across the road. I pushed into a throng of people in an effort to disappear. I am no stranger to people following me, and I’ve learned that my gut feeling is usually correct. This time my gut feeling was that I was being hunted. I made a sharp right into a women’s clothes shop and made directly for the stairs at the back. I tripped down them two at a time before heading for the farthest corner. When I had nowhere left to go, I turned around.

Only to find him there. Behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

He moved to corner me again. A frightened “No, leave me alone” hissed through my teeth and I dodged him. Back through the store. Back up the stairs. Out a different door to the one I’d used coming in.

At this point, I was texting Scrubs. Partly because I didn’t know what else to do, partly in an attempt to normalise the whole situation.

“Some dude is following me” I wrote. “Wtaf”

A quick lap of the ground floor told me he wasn’t giving up.

I tried hiding in a food hall. Every time I turned in an aisle he was behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I was lagging and my panic levels were through the roof, so I did the only thing I could think of and ran upstairs, straight into the women’s public toilets. I sank down on the red PVC seating provided with a sigh of immense relief.

I honestly could have stayed there all day if necessary. I sat there for twenty minutes. A peek around the doorway revealed he was leaning against the wall, scrolling through his phone, presumably waiting for me.

I considered calling the police. I dismissed it as hysterical.

I waited another twenty minutes.

Finally, he left. I emerged from the toilets and glued myself to the wall as I scooted around the perimeter of the shopping centre and made my way to the exit. Once out on the street I felt exposed, like he might appear out of nowhere at any moment. I hid in the Asian supermarket until my tram arrived, and made sure he wasn’t getting on before I hopped on myself.

Honestly, the stress. I know people say that all the time, but seriously THE STRESS. I got a migraine and had to spend several hours in a darkened room almost crying with frustration.

Every so often I tell myself I should get out more, go into town more often, but then something like this happens and it makes me want to become a cloistered nun. Except, you know, without the nun part. I am a perfectly average person in every way so if this is happening to me, it must be happening regularly to an awful lot of people out there. Either that or I have the invisible tag of “ABSOLUTE SUCKER” attached to me somewhere and I have yet to shake it off.

I used to enjoy bumping into strangers and striking up a conversation, but more and more I find myself immediately wary of anyone who so much as catches my eye, much less tries to talk to me. I am becoming a social hermit crab, and my earphones are my shell.

I don’t want to feel like prey. I want to feel like a (tiny) lioness, well able to stand my ground against any jackal.

Maybe it’s time to take up martial arts.

A Gentle Reminder

 

Sometimes worry comes calling, and stresses abound,

And there’s too much to do, and yet time can’t be found,

And your stomach’s in knots, and your head is in bits,

And you’re starting to wonder if vodka’s the fix.

 

And your life has begun to feel slightly unglued,

And you can’t even seem to find two matching shoes,

And your top’s inside-out, and your plans are reversed,

And you start to suspect that you might have been cursed.

 

And if this has been you, (as indeed it’s been me),

And this feeling has left you completely at sea,

Just know that in this, there are many like you,

For at some point we all have felt anxious or blue.

 

But if you keep in mind that you are at heart good,

And you’re doing your best (as all good people should),

And you plant yourself firm when you’re desperate to flee-

You will find that it passes,

Eventually.

 

2018

We are now in 2018. Welcome everybody! Grab a glass of bubbly! I’m glad we both made it. It’s so good to see you again!

I always start the new year with a niggling feeling like I just barely made it through a stargate and am now standing in a random field, swinging my arms, wondering what happens next. I swear I spend the first week of the year with a cloud above my head that says, ‘NOW WHAT?’ in bubble lettering.

Even though the passing of a year is fairly arbitrary.

Even though it makes no real difference.

Even though it should just be a continuation of what came before, and not some odd date on the calendar that feels like a new page, a clean slate, a blank wall of concrete staring you in the face when you have an unused can of spray paint in your hand.

It’s time to start over.

You know….

Again.

So here we are, in the future of the past which is now the present. I rang in the New Year in Spain, choking on grapes and crying with laughter. I spent the first day of 2018 exploring small towns with medieval walls, before chasing down chocolate con churros with a single-minded focus usually found in bloodhounds on a hunt.

Nothing gets between me and my churros.

Today, the world is glitteringly cold. The sky is a clear, pale blue and if you run outside in your socks (as I – very briefly – did), it feels as if your feet might stick to the ground, rooting you to the spot, freezing you to the flagstones. Everything has been delicately brushed with a thin coating of twinkling frost. In patches of sunlight the ice has melted away, retreating to the safety of the shade, revealing the bright, true green of the grass or the vibrant red of the few remaining autumn leaves.

I have no list for this year. No boxes to check. No impossible goals or overly ambitious aims. Instead I have a word that I’m hoping will propel me into the new year with all the fire and energy I felt I was lacking last year:

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Great things happened in 2017! I visited Mexico! I visited Bali! I swam with sea turtles! I got engaged! I got two enormous kittens with over-sized portions of personality! I planned an apartment overhaul that has turned us into nomads with capsule wardrobes that consist of jeans and more jeans (the toilet did eventually arrive by the way, for those of you who have spent the holidays on tenterhooks waiting for an update about our plumbing)!

I’m hoping that by the end of this month, we will be in apartment 2.0. I’m hoping that it will be the first of many great things in 2018. Part of making that happen, however, involves taking action and pulling on a blue boiler suit (size XL; I look like nothing so much as The Michelin Man in a cleanroom) and a respirator so I can continue the work I started yesterday*.

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So far, ‘action’ is turning out to be deeply uncomfortable…

If you have a word or a resolution, let me know – I find they rub off on me sometimes! Whether you do or you don’t, I wish you all the luck in this new year. I wish you personal successes and private accomplishments. I wish you joy, and love, and happiness. I wish you a minimum of tears (unless they’re from laughter – those are allowed), and I wish you pride in yourself, bravery in your actions, good company and great friends.

Now if you could all just wish me a bit of sunshine so that I don’t freeze and spend the first month of 2018 as a glittering but immobile garden gnome….

 

*I am in the middle of spray painting our kitchen cabinets, and it is both messier and slower than is truly ideal in minus degrees.

 

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?

 

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…

Cutting It Fine

CUTTING IT FINE

It’s Friday. Usually I post on Fridays, and today is no different except that today my post is on somebody else’s blog.

I’ve loved Lauren’s blog ever since I first read it. She’s written about her past, she’s written about mental health, struggles, inspiration, good days and bad days. She writes about her future (she’s pregnant!), and she does it all so beautifully and so honestly. Everything is personal and from the heart.

When she first asked me if I’d like to guest post I immediately said yes, but it took me a while to actually write the post I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to write about mental health, and I also knew I wanted to write something deeply personal. Something from the heart. A sort of It-Gets-Better for people who have similar struggles.

But it’s scary, right?

It’s scary writing about things you know some people won’t understand. Every time I sat down to write the post, I found myself writing about the reasons why I was going through such a rough time. I got mired in a Swamp of Sadness made up of largely irrelevant (to everyone but me) details about my past, and the post was so dark and depressing and not at all what I wanted to write.

It’s difficult, though.

It’s hard to write about both the past and mental health without feeling like you need to explain, and defend, and justify, when you can no more control or change what has already happened than you can control your dreams.

Finally, I scrapped what I’d written, started over, and got it all down. It’s not perfect, it’s probably not for the squeamish, but it’s extremely personal, and it’s from the heart.

You can find it here:

Cutting It Fine

 

T&E (Tired and Emotional)

kitten biting laptop

Well I have to say…

They’re no Lenny.

They’re better than Lenny, obviously, but Lenny was chill. He minded his own business and kept himself to himself. He fed himself, watered himself, and on the rare occasion that we ran into each other, we would both stop in surprise, as if we’d forgotten the other even lived in the apartment. On the last day, he waved goodbye with a single antenna and I nodded my head in acknowledgement. It was a civil arrangement; a cool but not unfriendly relationship.

Thing 1 and Thing 2  (their names are not yet decided) are small, furry, projectile missiles that enjoy biting hair, toes, curtains, shoelaces, faces, and each other. They frequently attack thin air. They need to be fed four times a day (FOUR!), and Thing 1 tries to eat both bowls at once. They are noiseless ninjas, appearing underfoot without so much as a meow of warning, so that you live in a constant state of shredded nerves from the possibility of standing on one by mistake. They live in a single room for the time being, but have recently become aware that there is a wider world beyond the door and Thing 1 has made about 47385 escape attempts so far. Thing 2, more cautious by nature, hangs back and watches his sister volunteer as tribute with a shocked look on his face. Neither of them speak English, and they have a particularly limited understanding of the word ‘No.’

They are small, and soft, and Thing 2 is more photogenic than I could ever be (Thing 1 doesn’t stay still long enough.

ragdoll kitten

“fvgh).“kiiiiiiiiiii,” says Thing 2, as he pads his way across my keyboard.

Still, last night, after so many months of anticipation and such high expectations of how I would feel once they arrived (LOVE, obviously – the same kind of love I had for my cat that passed away last year)… I found myself feeling strangely low. I didn’t feel the unconditional love I was expecting to feel. I didn’t feel instant, uncomplicated happiness. Instead I felt slightly frightened and a bit overwhelmed. I started to panic on the inside. As I looked at their dark little faces, watching me with wide blue eyes, I felt a crushing sense of responsibility.

kittens ragdoll

“I might have to keep you safe for twenty years,” I told them in a desperate whisper at about 2am. “Can I do that?! I don’t even know if I can do that!”

They stared silently. Thing 2 blinked.

“I mean, every house plant I’ve had has died. That’s why they’re all artificial now. Did you notice? They’re all plastic!”

Thing 2 yawned and flopped down on his side. Thing 1 started to climb up the leg of my jeans, a mad look in her eyes. I peeled her from my thigh and sat down on the bed. A tear rolled down my face and I wondered if I was actually losing it completely.

“I had a cat before, you see,” I told them. “He was the best cat – my little man – and last year he was put down. So you have… really big paws to fill. You guys are really cute, and I like you a lot, but you’re baby strangers. I don’t know you yet, and you don’t know me, and there are two of you, and there’s only one of me, and you’re all over the place, and I only have a single set of eyeballs and they both point in one direction, and I’m feeling very overwhelmed and tired and I just… I just need you to work with me and give me a bit of time. Okay?”

As I spoke, Thing 1 and Thing 2 sat up straight, staring at me solemnly. Then Thing 1 approached me and curled up against my side, and Thing 2 padded straight up to my face and reached up to lick my nose.

I petted them and they purred.

I googled it then and found that it’s actually quite a common thing. Apparently, when expectations are (consciously or subconsciously) very high, you can get a sort of post-adoption depression when everything is suddenly REAL LIFE and you really truly internalise the fact that you are now responsible for two kamikaze floofballs for almost as long as it takes to pay off a mortgage, and you will have to get to know each other a bit before you can realistically expect to have the same kind of bond you had with your 16 year old domestic shorthair family pet.

As I write this, they are asleep beside me; two stretched out little snuffleupagii.

20170712_152934

Although they clearly need a few more English lessons, they certainly seemed to understand my rising panic last night. Since our heart-to-heart, they’ve been very affectionate and have stopped biting my hands (as much). The number of attempted escapes has decreased dramatically, and Thing 1 has let me take a photo or two.

IMG_20170712_105535_077

I’m feeling much better today. I have the gruesome twosome booked in for a vet visit tomorrow, I’ve made them an Instagram account so as not to spam my own with pictures of their fuzzy faces, and I am no longer in imminent danger of having a meltdown.

Amazing what a few hours of sleep can do!

Ragdoll kitten