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…!

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.

 

Temper, Temper

I have anger issues.

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

No.

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

The idiot does something idiotic.

I try to ignore it.

The idiot continues to do the idiotic thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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

 

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So, Touching

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I am a tactile creature.

Not so much with people, but with things. I like to touch soft fabrics, and run my fingers through deep pile carpet. I like to trace the grain on solid wood, and press my hands against granite stone so hard the imprint is left on my palms. I love searching the seabed, trying to find beaded seashells and tide-smoothed driftwood and coarse-edged coral. I like the slippery coolness of glass, the feel of a salty breeze on my skin, the springy tension of needles on a pine cone. My fingertips explore the world around me. it’s not always enough for me to just look at things; I have to feel them.

I suppose I don’t seem overly tactual when I first meet new people. I didn’t grow up in a cuddling kind of household; I still feel a bit awkward hugging people that aren’t my closest friends. It feels uncomfortably intimate, and I’m never quite sure how to arrange my limbs so that they fit against the angles of a stranger’s body. I overthink it, debating whether or not to stick my hand out or just hug-tackle the person before they have a chance to decide for themselves. When I touch strangers, I always feel like I’m intruding, rudely popping their personal space bubble with my clumsy presence.

If I care about you, it’s different.

If I care about you, I like to sit shoulder to shoulder with you. I like looping my arm around your waist while we belt out lyrics to terrible songs. I like sitting against walls, thighs touching, talking about life. I will hold your hand on the way to the shop. I will throw an arm around your shoulders and pull you close. I will hug you hard and long, because I missed you, or I hate saying goodbye, or I’m happy for you, or just because. I will hesitate for a split second before doing any of the above because it doesn’t come naturally, then do it anyway because I want to be close to you.

But if I love you.

If I love you, I can’t keep my hands to myself. I want to run my fingers through your hair, and trace the outline of your lips. I want to hook my arms around your neck and stretch against you, tucking my head into your shoulder and disappearing into a feeling of warmth and quiet thoughts and soft exhalations. I want to rake my nails lightly down your back.  I want to slip under your clothes and feel the difference in texture between the cotton of your t-shirt and the warmth of your skin. I want to lace my fingers through yours, and kiss a trail down your throat, and place the heel of my hand in the hollow of your shoulder. I want to lean against you, and rest my forearm on your thigh, and be acutely, painfully aware of your arm around me. I want to slip a finger through one of your belt loops, and tug at the rough denim. I want to sit between your thighs and feel the safe, solid weight of your body against my spine. I want to outline the features of your face until I recognise them blindfolded.

The chasm between the stiff discomfort I feel with casual physical interaction and the greedy, bottomless hunger for touch I feel when it comes to those I love has always bewildered me. I assume it has to do with feeling vulnerable, and feeling safe, and the mix of both of those things making it possible for me to express myself. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking that I am not a physically affectionate person. Maybe I am an intensely physically afffectionate person and it just happens to generally be constrained by a straightjacket of apprehension, unease and the usual social anxiety.

Physics says that our electrons never actually come into contact. Our electrons repel each other, keeping us apart from anything we reach for. On an atomic level, I suppose I am never actually touching anything, only following its form.

My fingertips will always hover an infinitesimal distance from yours.

Wedding Daze

Wedding daze

I love a good wedding, and I was at a great wedding on Saturday.

The bride, my cousin – who is stunning on a bad day – looked so beautiful she actually glowed. I’ve read about people “glowing” before and always thought it was hyperbole, but I can’t think of any other word to describe her when the fact is that she legitimately had a honey aura going on.

Although we’re cousins, we look nothing alike. She is the blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, high-cheekboned, glamorous blonde to my hazel-eyed, dressed-in-the-dark, sallow-skinned brunette. As teenagers we would lie side by side on her bed, talking about boys and secrets and friends and life. Even though she’s a little younger than me, I’ve always looked up to her. She’s ambitious and determined, beautiful, strong-minded and incredibly talented. It doesn’t seem fair that one person managed to get all of those attributes, but here we are.

As a clear and timely example, let me tell you about her veil. If you tuned in (along with 2 billion others) to watch the last English royal wedding, you’ll have seen Carrickmacross lace before. It was all over Kate Middleton’s dress. Carrickmacross lace originates in County Monaghan, and involves a painstaking process of handstitching fabric to lace before cutting away the excess material. Consider that for a moment, and then consider the fact that my cousin decided – with all the ambition and determination and talent I outlined above – that she would make her own veil for her wedding day.

As you do.

I can’t imagine the patience it must have taken to make. If it had been me, I would have thrown it out the window after the first couple of months. Tulle and lace, needles and thread would all have gone sailing out onto the lawn in an unwittingly graceful show of frustration. My cousin being who she is though, she stuck with it; she found a teacher, learned the technique, and over many, many, many months… made her own veil.

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the veil

Even the most hamfisted, chronically unimpressed heathen would have to admit she did good. She did better than good. I mean, look at that. I don’t know anybody else on this earth who would take on that task on top of wedding planning and a full time job being the country’s best art teacher.

But that’s my cousin for you!

The day went off without a hitch. Everything was perfect. The cherry blossoms at the church, the incredible food, the heartfelt speeches from the wedding party, the cake that her mother made for the reception… In terms of talent and creativity, it’s a case of like mother, like daughter. As they say in the country, “She didn’t lick it off a stone!”

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the cake

So we danced, and we drank, and we toasted, and we talked, and we sang (not well), and we enjoyed ourselves. My cousin and her kind, loving gentleman of a husband (!) celebrated getting hitched and we were lucky enough to be witnesses.

After the meal, as I leaned back in my chair and wondered if I would ever need to eat again, I thought about growing up, and falling in love, and how complicated it is sometimes, and how simple it can seem from afar. It’s like an impressionist painting; from a distance it’s easy to think it’s a distinct scene painted in three or four colours, but once you really get up close and examine it, it’s so much messier than that. Every person lives in their own bubble, feeling things you can never know unless they tell you. Everybody has their own secret inner life, with their most personal dreams and hopes and memories and fears. It’s terrifying to trust someone enough to tell them all of that. It’s hard to let other people into your bubble.

And yet… we do it. We risk it. We feel passion, and loss, and love, and pain. We trust in people, even when we’ve been hurt before. We’re honest with people, even when we’re afraid they’ll throw it back in our faces. Over and over, we put our hearts on the line and we tell people the truth about how we feel, and sometimes it’s a disaster, and sometimes it’s magical. People have been doing this in all countries, in all cultures, again and again, over and over, since the dawn of time.

I can’t decide if it’s beautiful, or boneheaded.

Here’s what I do know though…

Life is hard sometimes. Nobody makes it through unscathed. With that in mind, it’s pretty amazing to find someone who you know has your back. I know that my cousin has found a guy who will go to bat for her everytime. If life was a zombie apocalypse, they would both be in the Winchester with her husband watching the door while my cousin came up with an elaborately detailed yet highly effective plan to get them to safety. They’ve got it on lock.

In the end, that’s what we all want, I guess. Somebody who will make the good stuff better and the bad stuff less bad. Somebody who you know is on your team, no matter the highs or the lows. Somebody who will keep the zombies of life distracted while you map out an escape plan using paperclips and toothpicks.

And vice versa.

 

 

 

 

 

Open Letter To My Body

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Dear Body,

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

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

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

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

Really.

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

So.

Jogging.

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

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

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

Yours hopefully,

Q.

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

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

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

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

So.

There you have it.

The more you know!

Okay, Let’s Talk about Anxiety

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It seems like these days, everyone has anxiety. Not just anxiety, but frustrating, life-altering, capital-A ‘Anxiety.’

I hear the word used a lot. I hear it in different forms – ‘I have anxiety,’ ‘I have social anxiety,’ ‘I am a super anxious person’ – and when I do, I want to tug on that person’s sleeve and ask, “Really? Do you really? Are you really an anxious person? How anxious? When you say that, what do you mean exactly? Can you tell me about it?”

Here’s the thing; on one hand, hearing other people talk about their anxiety makes me feel like I’m not alone. Considering how many people talk about it, it almost makes me feel normal. I mean, everyone seems to have it. Maybe everyone does have it to some extent.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel like a lot of things get lumped into the anxiety category when they probably don’t belong there. I mean, sometimes I’m reluctant to do something, but that doesn’t mean I have anxiety about it. Sometimes I’m nervous about something, and that also doesn’t mean I have anxiety about it. In my case – and I can only speak to that, because everyone has different experiences – anxiety is a different beast to either reluctance or nerves or fear or pure unwillingness. It feels different.

When my laziness makes me disinclined to do something, it usually sounds a bit like a petulant teenager. It grumbles, and sighs, and mutters things like, “Yeah, no. I don’t want to do that,” or, “Uhhhh… yeah I’d rather stay home and watch something on Netflix. Imma do that instead.”

When my nervousness makes me disinclined to do something, it sounds a bit like a frightened child. It makes high-pitched noises only dogs can hear, and groans, and whines things like, “But do we haaaaave to?” or, “What if the other kids don’t like me?”

My anxiety doesn’t say anything. My anxiety doesn’t sound like anything. It feels. It feels like my soul is digging its heels into the floor and refusing to budge. It feels like my heart is a hummingbird. It feels like my throat has suddenly shrunk to the size of a plastic straw and getting air is a conscious effort. It feels like I need to vomit, even if the only thing I’m able to bring up is bile. It feels like my mind is either at 0 or at 100; either blank with panic, or piling worry on top of worry on top of worry until I can’t see over the top to the horizon of normality.

It feels like flying down a steep hill on a bicycle with no brakes. It feels like when you’re on the stairs and your foot misses a step. It feels like waiting for results you know are going to be bad. It feels like cold heat flooding your body.

It’s a deeply, deeply unpleasant feeling.

Thankfully, I don’t feel this steamroller, flat-out, full-force version of anxiety too often. When I do, I try to push through it. I don’t take medication*. I don’t wonder if I’m dying. Instead, I tell myself that it’s not real, that I’m in control, and that my brain is being (excuse the language) a dick. I tell myself that emotions are constructs, and that it will pass.

And you know, it does. Eventually. Somehow.

So now tell me, do you feel anxiety? If so, what brings it on? What do you do about it? How do you manage it? Inquiring (and anxious) minds want to know!

 

*I have nothing against taking medication and have often considered it, but the potential side-effects have always frightened me more than the idea of just dealing with the anxiety.

Madrid Memories

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Madrid is my soul city.

I haven’t been there in about nine months now, and I’m starting to feel that familiar ache that comes over me when I go too long without visiting. Half of my extended family live in the city, and I have been faithfully flying over at a rate of at least twice a year for the past thirty years. Three years ago, my last remaining grandparent – my Yayo – passed away, and I worried that this would change things. I worried I might not feel as welcome in Madrid now that I no longer had somewhere to stay. I worried that the connection I felt with my family and the city might loosen or come undone now that we no longer had La Comida del Domingo (Sunday lunch) to bring us together each week.

I needn’t have worried.

I still have a place to stay. In fact, now I have places, plural. My aunts welcome me with open arms and comfortable rooms. They feed me and fuss over me and keep me up to date on their lives as if nothing has changed. I visit cousins who are more like older siblings, and walk the streets searching for churros just like I’ve done since I was a child.

I miss the apartment I grew up in, though.

The loss of that apartment and the loss of my Yayo are completely enmeshed in my mind. When I think of him, I think of him sitting in his chair by the window, watching the world pass by. I think of him flipping through the leather-bound photo albums I’d taken down by precariously balancing on the armchair next to the bookshelves. I think of him napping in his armchair and then pretending he had actually been watching mass on the TV, even though we both knew it was untrue. I think of him teaching me to make Arroz Con Leche in the kitchen, with military precision and instructions that bordered on orders. I think of sitting on the leather Chesterfield in the study, watching him write poetry about his childhood or my Yaya. I think of him combing back his hair in front of the bathroom mirror before leaving the house. I think of him sitting at the head of the long dining table at Christmas, proudly watching over his family as we laughed and chattered over wine and homemade food.

Somebody else owns the apartment now. A young family bought it and, as far as I can tell, renovated it from end to end. They closed off the balconies and changed the windows. Even when viewed only from the outside, it looks different to the place I once crawled, then toddled, and later walked through during different stages of my life. I am a really sentimental person, and I feel a bone-deep sense of sadness at the reminder that things change, and people die, and we can’t always hold onto the things and people and places that make us happiest.

Then again, they say ‘Good things fall apart so that better things can come together,’ and while I throw that phrase a highly skeptical side-eye, it’s true that without the sale of the apartment, we would have struggled to save up a deposit for our own place. It’s true that at the moment, as I sit at my own dining table, I can reach behind me and touch onyx figurines that used to sit on Yayo’s sideboard, and now sit on my own. I have reminders of him and of that apartment dotted around me; the onyx elephants, the silver Mexican plates, the vintage glass sweet jars and the art deco cutlery set.

Some days, I wish I could sit down and write Yayo a letter like I used to, complete with drawings and addressed to YAYO! (block capitals as standard), telling him about my life and my worries and my thoughts. After he passed away we found all the letters I had sent over the years stacked neatly in the drawer of his desk under lock and key. He had kept my cards, my letters, my childhood drawings of the apartment (complete with a very questionable grasp of perspective), and anything else I had sent tucked neatly between his pages of poetry and his bank account statements.

I’m not sure why I’m in such a melancholy mood today. Perhaps it’s due to the sun having disappeared, or just because I feel exhausted, or because I have a low-level headache happening at the moment that I’m about to bomb out of existence with some industrial strength ibuprofen. Lia is currently snoring away on the floor at my feet, somehow managing not to wake herself despite sounding like a anthropomorphised jet engine with sleep apnea.

Or maybe I just have Madrid withdrawals.

There’s only one remedy I know for Madrid withdrawals…..