Suspicious

An ice-cream truck drives by my house almost every single day.

I know this because I can hear it as it tinkles along. It plays a teeth-grindingly irritating melody that I could hum for you by heart if I were able to hold any semblance of a tune, and even when it’s raining out I still hear it, like I’m being haunted by a particularly obnoxious music box.

Since nobody in their right mind is buying ’99s* in the Irish autumn, I have a theory about this ice-cream man:

I think the ice-cream merchant is a drug dealer.

Granted I have never seen him (unless he’s the man that wolf-whistled at me from a van with ‘Mr. Softee’ written down the side, in which case… the jokes write themselves), so my theory is based solely on my auditory experience of his daily habits. There just doesn’t seem to be any other explanation for a musical jingle of that sort to be ringing out when the weather is decidedly chilly. Nobody can convince me that even when it’s raining and people are wearing parkas over polo necks, my area is in fact a hotbed of activity for frenzied ice-cream aficionados.

And so what are we left with? We’re left with a suspicious ice-cream van touring the city, suspiciously ringing out a suspicious Pied Piper tune every evening when it’s starting to get dark.

SUSPICIOUS.

Obviously I need to do some undercover reporting to catch this absolute monster who is out there peddling ’99s and probably crystal meth. In my mind it’s a lot like when Walt and Jesse started up their enterprise in Breaking Bad, except that instead of a camper van it’s an ice-cream van, and instead of being inconspicuous in the middle of the desert he’s blasting that subliminal-messaging music up and down the streets of Dublin. I need to find this heinous human.

I don’t care about the ice-cream. 

I don’t care about his potentially illegal side-gig.

I just want to rip the music-box out of his van so I no longer have to feel my blood pressure rise to the slow and disproportionately maddening rhythm of his ice-cream melody.

And then I might buy a ’99 with strawberry syrup off him.

Even if it’s raining.

 

*That’s a vanilla cone with a Cadbury’s flake stuck in it for any deprived souls out there who have yet to enjoy the simple pleasure of a ’99

“Traditional”

It’s almost October.

You know what that means. It means damp, russet leaves underfoot and a chill in the air like a whisper telling you to make vegetable soup. It means zipping up jackets and debating whether or not you need to wear a beanie. It means gratefully pulling on your Uggs on the way out the door because they have once again become borderline acceptable, like they do every year around the time Starbucks brings out the pumpkin spice latte. It means cold fingers and early dusk and thick, knitted jumpers that feel like inanimate hugs.

I like Autumn, and I particularly like October. There is something magical about Halloween; I love that the tradition has lasted to the present day. I love the pumpkin-carving and the skeletons and the ghosts and the fireworks. I love the idea of a holiday that involves death in such a harmless way, a traditional, cultural celebration that’s a little macabre but ultimately unthreatening.

A couple of years ago, I visited family in Spain and brought with me some cartoon Halloween stickers for the kids. They were packs with the usual cast of characters – an arched cat, a laughing witch, a cheery pumpkin – and I gave them out to the younger children because it was about this same time of year, and in my experience all little kids love stickers.

Quick as a flash their dad was right there, taking them back from the children and shuffling them into a neat pile as if he were taking cards from gambling addicts about to play a game of poker. I stared at him, wondering if he intended to save them for later. Maybe he was afraid they would stick them on the dashboard of his car?

Instead, he turned, held them out to me, and stiffly said, “Thank you, but we don’t celebrate pagan holidays.”

I took them from him wordlessly and stared in disbelief as he got into the car and they drove away, a huddle of forlorn faces looking longingly out the back window at the contraband stickers in my hand.

I think about that quite a bit around this time of year, especially as the houses in my area start to get creative with their front garden decor. Some put motion-activated sensors at their gates so that anyone passing through hears rattling chains and ghoulish moans. Plastic ravens are twist-tied to trees, and small stuffed ghosties made from ping-pong balls and tissue paper dangle from invisible string. There are candles and cobwebs and paper decorations in the windows. It’s like a creepy Christmas. I LOVE it, and so do the kids. I would hate to see the tradition of trick-or-treating die away.

Last year in Spain there was a lot of controversy, because some of the traditional Three Wise Men parades that happen every January were… modified. They were adapted; secularised slightly in an professed attempt to make it more inclusive. The staunch Catholics were, of course, up in arms about it. They complained about there being a lack of respect for tradition and how it shouldn’t matter that it’s a Catholic tradition, because it’s part of the culture, and it’s for the children after all, and why can’t people just enjoy it?

Personally, I agree that traditions are important. They’re cultural touchstones. Even if the root of the tradition is something to give pause (I’m not sure American Thanksgiving is as wholesome as the name suggests, and Valentine’s Day celebrates the execution of a saint), the traditions themselves bring people together. I remember the magic of the Three Wise Men when I was a child. I remember them throwing fistfuls of sweets into the crowds, I remember the jeweled robes and the pageboys and the music and the sparkling lights. I LOVED it. I certainly didn’t stop to think about the religious undertones, in much the same way as I was largely oblivious to the pagan history of Samhain when I dressed up for Halloween.

As I listened to the Catholics on the television banging on about how people needed to think of the children and respect the beauty of tradition, I thought about the Halloween stickers. I thought about how intolerant that man had been with what amounted to a silly symbol of a strange and wonderful tradition. I wondered why people feel so threatened by beliefs other than their own, and why sometimes we can’t just allow ourselves to enjoy things that aren’t hurting anyone.

It would be nice for people to respect the beauty of tradition, but I would happily settle for people just learning to respect each other.

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.

Neighbourly Concern

The new neighbour arrived without my noticing.

One day the apartment was an empty shell of freshly-applied white paint, and the next a family had moved in. Two tall, slender brunettes and their tiny child now occupied the home where Hank and Daphne had previously lived. They have no names.  If I were to see them on the street I would most likely pass them without recognising them as my neighbours.

They don’t have a dog.

What they do have is some sort of a cycling obsession. I know this, because the nieghbour man often puts his very expensive-looking bike on a stand on his balcony and cycles for hours. HOURS. Which is fine, obviously. Who am I to say whether or not it’s unusual to get dressed in your lycra onesie and hop up on your perfectly road-worthy bike only to never leave the safety of your balcony?

Unfortunately, Oscar, the once-kitten, now small-bear-cub, has taken a keen interest in all this cycling malarky. Any day with a sighting of the stationary cyclist is a good day in Oscar’s book. I know this because the first day that we saw him pedaling furiously to nowhere, Oscar made an ill-advised attempt at joining him. He was busted only as he dangled on the edge of the window – a hefty wad of fluff swaying drunkenly in the breeze – calculating how far he would have to leap to catch the cycling man.

It turns out my cats have even less spatial awareness than I do, and have yet to master the seemingly simple concept of small versus far away.

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Considering Cycling Man lives a block over and a floor down, I suppose it is – in theory – possible that Oscar has flying squirrel capabilities I am not yet aware of (who knows what lies under all that excess fluff), and was about to deploy these skills to glide gently and gracefully down to our new neighbour. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that he would have leaped optimistically off the balcony like a rotund, airborne starfish and speedily plummeted into the holly bush below our window.

Ultimately, he was snatched to safety and now I am far more aware of our neighbours’ activities than I was before, if only because I have a feline bicycle enthusiast.

If I look out the window right now, I can see Cycling Man pedaling away like he’s trying to out-cycle his demons. Oscar is watching him with obsessive interest.

The window, naturally, is closed tight.

 

 

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Tomorrow is Paddy’s Day so I just want to wish everyone a great Lá Fhéile Pádraig – please remember the cardinal rules relating to shamrocks (never clover) and Paddy (never Patty), and don’t drink too much green beer (know the one that’s one too many; one. One is one too many. Drink something decent instead)!

 

An Open Letter to Sleep

Dear Sleep,

Why do you elude me?

At 4am, when there is a minor rattle from the washing machine that in no sane and rational world would wake any normal person, why do you startle and desert me?

Why do you disappear in a clap of silent thunder at 6am when Maya decides to play hopscotch on my head?

Why do you vanish like fog and refuse to return, leaving me wild-eyed and desperate for a doze?

I love you! Come back to me and wrap me up. Sink me into a coma-like state until morning. Please let me stay with you for at least six hours straight. You don’t understand how much I need you!

When you abandon me in the barbaric hours of the morning, I spend the next day bouncing from sugar high to sugar high, from cup of tea to cup of coffee in an attempt to make it through the waking hours in something resembling a functional state. I spend the day on autopilot, daydreaming about wrapping myself in a plush throw and throwing myself on the couch like a human burrito.

But even more than this…

Why let me start dreams that you’re not willing to let me finish?

Dreamtease.

You seem willing to let me plod through the grimmest of dreams to the brutal and bitter end, so what about the good ones? You know I hate unsolved mysteries. Your habit of slowly unraveling intriguing storylines only to cut the fun short before I can find any resolution is mildly infuriating enough to deserve its own hashtag.

#MildlyInfuriating

Sleep, please let me love you.

Life sucks without you.

Just People

When you’re a child, everything is very black or white.

You’re well-behaved, or you’re bold.

You’re bad, or you’re good.

The world is arranged into two halves and, with good parenting, you are steered towards the positive. “Yucky” things are smacked out of your hand, and the explanations of the world leave no room for nuance. You’re too young to understand the intricacies and complications of a lifetime. You’re told that bad people are bad, and that’s it. Nobody explains why, or how, or tempers it by telling you that these bad people have good qualities too.

Conversely, good people are held up as paragons and then, as you grow, you realise slowly that they are in fact… just people. Not heroes. Not knights in shining armour. Not infallible humans. Not perfect examples of personhood.

Just people.

It makes life a hell of a lot more complicated when you realise that souls aren’t as black as pitch, or as white and sweet as icing sugar. People are a mass of humanity as seen through the eyes of a dog; varying shades of grey in every direction.

Every so often though, you seem to encounter people who are determined to be a dark shade of charcoal grey for no reason at all. Even when it is entirely unnecessary. Even when the alternative would almost have been the easier – certainly the simpler – choice. They complicate what is straightforward. In a world full of cronuts and compliments, they go out of their way to sour every interaction with casual dishonesty and ugly disregard for the people around them.

Why?

Life is hard enough. Each of us at one point or another will spend time wading through our personal Swamps of Sadness. There is grief enough, and heartbreak enough, and struggles enough to fill each person’s cup many times over. There is personal difficulty and overwhelming disappointment. There are insecurities and fears and concerns in other people’s lives that we can know nothing about. Each person carries these weighty issues around, and sometimes thin, delicate cracks of pressure appear on our façades. Of course, we hurriedly papier-mâché over these lightning bolt fractures. Nobody wants to look like the one damaged item on the lot.

Nobody stops to consider that none of us are in pristine condition. Not one. We are all of us dinged, battered, scraped, burnt out or splintered by life in one way or another. We walk around with our private stories tucked tight inside our chests, right up against the breastbone.

And we gently bump up against each other.

Sometimes we bump up against jagged people.

They snag on our scars. They press slowly and deliberately against tender bruises. Their serrated edges cut away at stitches, reopening old wounds. It feels threatening. It hurts. And when this happens it can be very hard not to revert to childhood programming.

It can be very hard to remember that people aren’t pure, undiluted “bad.”

I try to keep that fixed in my mind. They’re not bad people. They’re not pointlessly cruel. Their morals might be so flexible as to seem backwards, but their life experiences have led them to this point, in the same way that my life experiences have led me to mine. They might seem as cold and hard and cutting as steel, but they too have their own private story buried away next to the heart I sometimes suspect they might not have.

They are not entirely bad.

They’re just… people.

 

Notes From the Country

I was born in a city. I have always lived in a city. I grew up with a street lamp outside my window and the sound of a train passing by every twenty minutes. I’m used to light, and noise, and shops that are less than five minutes of a walk away. I’m used to lots of people going about their business with earphones in, purposely not making eye contact and completely ignoring the existence of anybody else on the road.

So when I take a trip to the countryside, I’m always reminded of the things country people take for granted that are – for me – hugely abnormal. Every so often something happens and I feel like I’m surrounded by Dothraki nodding and muttering “It is known” about something that is decidedly not known. At least, not to me!

Here are a few of the many things I don’t understand about life in the country:

  1. People letting themselves into your home with absolutely no warning.
    • Not so much as a knock on the door! They just turn the handle and walk in. I once got out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and padded down the corridor to the kitchen to grab my hairbrush only to find the parish priest sitting at the table casually making himself a cup of tea. I reversed myself back into the corridor at the speed of light, believe me. I stood in the corridor frozen with horror before deciding that my best course of action would be to speedwalk back to the bathroom where I locked the door and listened for the sound of the door.
  2. The lack of convenience stores.
    • I mean really, the clue is in the name. They’re convenient. Usually they are open all hours of the day and night and they sell everything you could possibly want at 2am when you’ve only just realised you’re in dire need of a pack of kitchen roll, a carton of milk, a bag of basmati rice and a tube of toothpaste. Here in the countryside there is only a single shop, it is the size of a large bathroom, and it stocks a wide variety of random items that you might – or might never in your life – require for any reason at all. It also closes at six and the walk there definitely takes more than five minutes.
  3. The silence.
    • It is unnaturally silent. The only time you hear real sound is if the rain is pounding against the window or the wind is making the house creak. The cars are too far away to be heard and so instead there are only inside-noises; the ticking of the clock, the hum of electricity, the sound of the pipes kicking into gear… It’s uncanny.
  4. The darkness.
    • It is onyx outside once the lights go out. Unless the moon is working as God’s own spotlight, you can see absolutely nothing at all. Although I don’t mind this, it does have the peculiar effect of imposing a sort of natural curfew on me; at home I think nothing of leaving the house after dark, but here I suddenly feel like it’s so much later. As soon as the windows become opaque black rectangles, I am ready for my pyjamas. There’s no way I’m going anywhere. I am not afraid of the dark, but if I were I would be terrified because it is black as pitch.
  5. The country hello.
    • In Dublin, I can happily spend half a day surrounded by people without acknowledging even a single one of them. In the countryside, on the other hand, you can’t pass a single person without them nodding their head and saying “Hello there!” or “Fine weather we’re having!” or “How are you?” or making some other kindly, weather-related utterance. When they know you, this greeting is usually accompanied by a smile, but when they don’t it’s often delivered with a suspicious, gimlet-eyed stare. If you make the mistake of coming to a standstill in front of them for any reason, it’s even worse; they try to entangle you in a sideways game of twenty questions in an unsubtle attempt to find out who you are, where you came from and what you’re doing there. Any unfamiliar face is treated to the same gentle interrogation, as if they’re trying to make sure they have a full character profile to hand over to the police for when you, the suspicious stranger, start up some nefarious business and threaten to upset the quiet community vibe.

There are things I love about the countryside too, of course.

I love the animals.

There are lambs in all the fields now, springing around in a wobbly way as if they’ve been made from cheap pipe-cleaners. There are friendly little robins that don’t look as if they should be able to take flight at all, they’re so rotund. There’s Charlie, the cat, who sometimes greets me with a bloody mess of a breakfast outside my bedroom window (usually one of the aforementioned rotund robins). There are crows, watching carefully for leftovers, and wagtails bobbing across the patio. There’s even a hefty badger that trundles up the path at night to eat whatever Charlie’s left behind. He gobbles up anything in the bowl before trotting back into the darkness. As a city kid whose only exposure to wildlife was cats, dogs, red foxes rooting through wheelie bins, and roadkill… the badger in particular always delights me.

I love feeling ‘away.’

Although it’s inconvenient not being able to go anywhere or see anyone at a moment’s notice, it’s also nice to be here. It’s nice to feel removed from the normal. It’s nice to be out of my everyday timetable; it’s not hugely productive, mind you, but it is nice. It’s like hitting F5. I’m ready for the city again. I’ve had my break and now I’m ready to put back on the robes of routine.

I love how clean the air feels.

I mean, I think the air in Dublin is pretty clean too, but here it feels healthy. When I inhale, I feel like I’m doing my body good. It’s nice.

I’ve been doing a lot of inhaling and exhaling, thanks to your many suggestions on my last post. It’s helped! Thanks guys. Sometimes I just need the reminder to breathe.

If you also need the reminder, here it is: Breathe!

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s starting to get dark, so I’m off to put on my pyjamas…!

A Rollercoaster of Emotions

So far, 2018 is proving unexpectedly stressful.

In case you couldn’t gather from my last post, I’ve been having a couple of weeks where my waking thoughts have been consumed by one worry or another, and my nights have been spent dreaming of strange amalgamations of the same worries. It’s just wrong; the nightmare equivalent of a giraffe with elephant legs and a crocodile snout.

Honestly, even when I’m not stressed I have a certain amount of The Fear running through me like a low voltage current. I overthink everything until it makes no sense to me. I overthink and overthink and overthink until my thoughts end up in the same place as the word ‘banana’ after you’ve said it 27 times. Gibberish. Total gibberish. The sort of gibberish you need three expert linguists and the Rosetta Stone to decipher.

So you can probably imagine what I’m like when I actually have something to worry about…

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It’s very calming.

The worst part about it is that I’ve had some great news so far in 2018! Really exciting things are happening! Good things are coming! Love is in the air! I have so many things to smile about, and yet the wind must have changed because I can’t seem to move my facial muscles into an arrangement of anything but ill-concealed panic.

So here’s a true adulting struggle: how do I juggle these sorts of extreme emotions so that I can feel them all at the one time? Or even better, how do I overcome the obstacle of overthinking to get to the happy place? Do I just wait it out? Do I simply wait with endless patience for it to pass, so that I can then unashamedly enjoy the good stuff? Or do I try to set the stresses aside for a few minutes a day and ignore the guilt that comes with that?

At the moment I’m just sitting and waiting (and hoping) for the stress to pass, so that I can stop baking therapeutic banana breads that nobody feels like eating.* I’m keeping my happy feelings safe and boxed away for a few days more, in the hope that I can fully enjoy them once life stops making me feel like I’m rollerblading on gravel.

I’m sitting, and waiting (and hoping), and baking banana breads.

*It turns out baking is an inconvenient coping strategy when you have no real appetite.

 

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.

 

Notes for a Younger Me

When I look at photographs of myself when I was younger, I experience a strange, out-of-body feeling. It doesn’t feel like I’m looking at myself. It feels like I’m looking at someone else. The child of someone I know, maybe, or a distant relative. It doesn’t feel like me.

Sometimes this slightly freaks me out, because it makes me wonder if this is how it will always be. In twenty years’ time will I look at photos of myself now and feel like a different person? Will I have changed that much? Will I feel like the experiences and memories and thoughts of Now Me are so removed and foreign that they might as well belong to somebody else?

*shudder*

I was sorting through old photographs a couple of days ago hunting for something in particular when I came across a number of photos of Baby Quinn. There I was meeting my godmother for the first time. There I was going to school. There I was building LEGO and jumping through a stream and walking around with a Pampers box on my head. I have chubby legs and big eyes and wild hair. I am wearing flowery hand-me-downs (which means the anti-feminine movement must not have been active until much later) from what must have been the set of Mary Poppins.

In many of these snaps I am looking at the camera head on. There is no expression on my face. I am just staring, wide-eyed, either straight down the lens or with my gaze turned slightly upwards at (presumably) the photographer. I look as if I might be waiting for something. Maybe waiting for someone to tell me something? Maybe waiting for the manual?

Since we all know the manual never made it, I thought I might tell her something now.

Baby Quinn,

You are a small, round little ball of pudge. Look at you! You weren’t always like that (I’ve seen the earlier photos where you look like an alien beamed down from another planet complete with tubes in your head; those photos are less than lovely), but from this stage forward you’ll basically look like this, only stretched.

Not stretched by much, mind you. We stay pretty low to the ground.

In case you’re wondering, that pouty bottom lip will never go away. Don’t worry, you kind of grow into it. Anyway, it will come in handy whenever you want to make your feelings known. For example, on your way to school…

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Yep, just like that.

You will have a brother. You get on very well except for a brief period during which he does nothing but scream for things at the top of his lungs and pinch you when your parents aren’t looking. Don’t worry, he improves.

Your first friend is a boy called Peter. You spend many hours flinging micro machines at walls of LEGO, and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is an age during which you frequently collect worms and put them in your pencil case to “save them” from lashing rain and the indiscriminate stomping of children’s shoes. Please do not do this. They die from dehydration and you feel absolutely terrible when you have to shake their desiccated, hardened corpses out of the pencil tin. It’s very grim.

You also stop eating around this age. Why? Who can say? You hate food. All food. You are not a picky eater, you are a non-eater. You just can’t stand the horror of having to taste and chew and swallow. You can’t bring yourself to eat. Every meal is a battlefield. The very idea of a future filled with the torture of breakfasts, lunches and dinners looms ahead of you every day for the rest of your life.

Luckily, as with the worm infirmary, this too shall pass. I am happy to relate that I now enjoy eating very much. VERY much! Food is amazing. So are drinks (although stay away from the fizzy ones; you can’t burp, so fizzy drinks make you feel like you have a chestburster from Alien struggling to get free). Wait until you try a White Russian for the first time.

You make a best friend. She is awesome. She likes Oasis when other people like Boyzone. You spend a lot of time thumping up and down the stairs of her house and playing on her road. There are many sleepovers and late night chats. Mind her, love her, be good to and for her. She’s still our best friend. She’s still awesome.

With the help of many books from the public library, you reach your teenage years with a wealth of information at your fingertips. You are ferociously outgoing and impulsive to the point of stupidity. You make decisions that are questionable at best, downright dangerous at worst. You skate along safely though, blithely unaware of the disastrous consequences you narrowly avoid along the way.

You fall in love.

The first year or so is amazing and then it’s just one long, drawn-out, awful descent into misery. You follow your heart and it leads you right into The Swamp of Sorrow. You’re not experienced enough to recognise or understand the lies or the gas-lighting. It’s a long three years of crying and fighting and crying and feeling like an idiot and crying and being manipulated and crying. Just… a lot of crying. Prepare yourself. Invest in tissues, even though you don’t use them. Your heart gets irreparably cracked (although you don’t realise it then) and over time, words and actions bluntly bash at it until the cracks grow wider.

The last, powerful, brick-breaking karate chop makes sure it’s properly smashed into glittering shards.

You end it, too damaged and much too late. For three long years you’ve been told that this is what love is, that your idea of love – with respect, and honesty, and common decency – is straight out of the storybooks and that this is as good as it gets… but you (finally!) realise that anything at all is better than this war of attrition you’ve been losing.

There’s more crying, because your heart is still broken after all.

Let’s just speed through that part.

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If I could warn you about all of this… I wouldn’t. Yes, it SUCKS. It sucks. It’s honestly brutal. The lessons you learn are emotionally beaten into you with what feels like a sledgehammer.

But after all that, you do learn.

You’ve learned what you need to be happy, and so you go do that for a while. You spend time with nice people who love you and you slowly put yourself, your sanity and your heart back together. You become a real person, not just a tangled mess of emotions  and frustration strung together in human form. You make good decisions, or at least decisions that are good for you. You take your time.

You fall in love again, and it’s pretty great. Better than expected.

Better than the storybooks.

So here are a couple of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way, Baby Quinn. The things that should have come in your manual. Here are the lessons you learn along the way:

Stay creative.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how it turns out. Some part of you is always waiting to create something. You’ve drawn, painted, cut, carved. You’ve burned names into chopping boards and made cakes that lean like drunken towers and sliced paper into slivers. You are happiest making things with your hands, and the end result is not always delightful but it is always satisfying.

Play with gouache, with watercolours, with acrylic. Play with clay, and candle wax. Crafting is the one area in which you’re never afraid to fail, so keep trying. Keep failing! Every so often you’ll find something that you’re good at that makes people happy.

Do that. It makes you happy to see other people happy.

Fall in love.

You are an affectionate child. You love hard. Keep that with you.

As you grow up, you grow less willing to be open about how much people mean to you. You close yourself off. You still care, but you hide it. You get shy.

Fight that!

It’s nonsense. You still think about people you haven’t seen in years, and cry for people you don’t even know; the least you can do is reach out to the people you love and care about now, today. I know that it makes you feel vulnerable and you hate feeling vulnerable, but the alternative is letting them think you don’t care, and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fall in love, and not just with people. Let yourself fall in love with places, with animals, with experiences. Fall in love with lessons learned and dreams that dissipate five minutes after waking up. Fall in love with food (Italy will help), with adventure, with strangers. Fall in love with all of it.

Be excited about the future.

Sometimes things are really rubbish. Sometimes life feels endlessly terrifying and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going. You look ahead and all you see is an expanse of hopelessness. There are panic attacks and weeks of dull numbness.

DON’T WORRY.

I mean, worry – by all means worry; you’re going to do it anyway – but as Sunscreen says, know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. In the midst of all that worrying, be excited for the future! Even when things look grim and you can’t imagine what there might be to be excited about… be excited about the unknown, because great things happen.

Great things happen to you, I promise. You, I, we have fed pelicans at a zoo! We’ve played with a tiger cub! We’ve bumped around Goa on a scooter, and gone swimming with sea turtles in Gili Air, and seen Mayan ruins in Tulum, and eaten ramen in Tokyo, and galloped around the pyramids of Giza, and sat drinking mint tea in Marrakech, and had gelato in Rome, and lived in Heidelberg, and gone skiing in Bansko, and seen a fever of rays in San Diego, and, and, and…

… And we’ve had hot chocolates on snow days. We’ve read great books. We’ve had long conversations with our grandfather. We’ve had hugs when we most needed them. We’ve danced in the apartment alone, and talked with friends over cups of tea. We’ve discovered maltesers in salted popcorn (the only decent way to watch a movie), and combed the beach for seaglass after a storm. We’ve had quiet, happy slices of time where everything was just right, just for a moment.

Those moments are all you need.

We’ve had good times so far, Baby Quinn. We’ll continue to have them. In the darkest times you couldn’t even have imagined any of those moments ever happening, but they did. They continue to happen. Right now I’m sitting here typing this to you under a barrage of raindrops with a cup of tea next to me and a cat curled up at my feet. I’m more than okay. We’re more than okay.

You’ll be okay.