The Best Things Come in Small Packages

I have an unfortunate bedtime habit.

It takes me what feels like twelve thousand years to get to sleep, and I would rather have my skin peeled from me in strips than lie in the dark with my thoughts, so instead I have a habit of propping my phone on its side and scrolling mindlessly through r/politics or the Aliexpress app on my phone until I fall asleep, one fingertip still pressed to the screen.

(You might be able to guess where I’m going with this…)

On more than one occasion I have woken up having purchased some truly ridiculous items are not in any way necessary to my life: a stamped metal 3D puzzle of C3PO; ten identical tongue bars; a clockwork mouse; a set of enamel dinosaur pins; 30 whale-shaped bookmarks…

…And when I say ‘on more than one occasion,’ what I really mean is ‘regularly enough that I know to check my orders first thing in the morning in case I need to cancel anything.’

If you’ve ever used Aliexpress then you know that this is not the end of the world. Most items cost under $3, and truthfully the worst that can happen is that they unexpectedly arrive two months later, like badly-packaged surprise presents to myself. They arrive wrapped in what look like black bin bags that have been hurriedly repurposed, with curiously vague, Google-translated descriptions on the custom notes such as “needle beauty” (tweezers), “claws” (hair clips), and “stationery cat” (cat stickers).

The postman who delivers these questionable acquisitions to my door is an energetic man who bounds in and out of each building with superfluous energy, cheerfully swinging his crossbody satchel like a young, fit, baby-faced Santa Claus. Instead of ringing my doorbell, he often just hollers, “HELLOOOOO!” and waits for me to appear before whipping out some small lumpy package and handing it to me. It’s a loud and interesting interaction that often breaks up my day.

So, here I must rewind and explain that about two months ago I ordered a space hopper. That part is a long story so to shorten it I will just say two things:

  • This was only a half-asleep purchase; I did in fact sort of kind of maybe mean to buy a space hopper. I probably wouldn’t have bought it while wide awake but the fact remains that I made no move to cancel this order.
  • It was not for actual space hopping, it was for a craft project*.

By the time it arrived I had forgotten I had ever ordered it.

Last week, the postman bellowed his usual greeting and I popped my head out the door only to see him pull an irregularly shaped, flat, floppy package from his satchel. He handed it to me and, in an attempt to remember what it might possibly be, I flipped it over and read the description aloud:

“Toy balls.”

Except that even as I started reading it, my eyes had already jumped ahead to the next word. I could tell it was going to sound wrong. I suddenly remembered the space hopper, but I had already started reading and didn’t feel like I could really stop mid-word. My reluctance to finish the phrase slowed my speech down considerably, and so it wound up sounding more like:

“Toyyy….. baaaaaaallllllls……”

Followed by an awkward silence that stretched between us the way the Sahara desert stretches between the Red Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

I looked up and locked eyes with the postman over this limp black bin bag. He slowly nodded in amused sympathy.

“We were wondering down at the post office what that could possibly be, alright!” He said, eventually, when the awkward moment had stretched for so long that time had lost all meaning and we had simply become two blushing inanimate objects in an uncomfortable still life.

My mind flashed through a series of possibilities as to how this might play out. Should I open the package so he could see it wasn’t anything questionable? I could, but then I would have to unfold and reveal a lurid pink space hopper. And then I would have to explain the space hopper, which honestly almost makes me sound more insane than if I’d ordered something vague but kinky all the way from China. Or worse, he might think the space hopper itself was for vague but kinky purposes…

At this point we had been staring at each other for so long I was starting to feel like we had unwittingly entered into a relationship, so I just squeaked, “Thanks!” and dashed back inside with my “toy balls”.

I am now avoiding the postman, and I am also avoiding Aliexpress at night because clearly I cannot be trusted with late-night purchases or people.

Such is life.

Happy Friday, guys.

*The space hopper was too small for my craft project, and so was gifted to a small child who can actually use it for hopping.

 

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.

Hello

I carried a towering pile of items to the till and placed them on the belt.

“Hi!” said the cashier.

The friendly chirpiness in her voice was probably due to the fact that it was almost closing time, but that’s just a guess. I smiled and returned the greeting, and then focused all of my limited attention on placing the heavy items at the front of the pile so I could bag them the proper way.

Little known fact, but that’s actually what adulting is all about; trying not to smoosh the brie beneath tins of tomatoes. True fact.

The cashier made a comment about the weather, and my friend smiled and agreed while I expertly separated the items in order of weight. I dropped the cartons of milk into the bottom of the bag, followed by the tins of tomatoes and the packet of pasta. I eyed the brie and broccoli as the cashier scanned it through. I was determined to absolutely nail this bagging business.

As an unrelated aside – it’s amazing the things you can trick your mind into thinking are little victories when the going gets tough.

Five minutes later, everything was carefully bagged and paid for. The cashier handed me the receipt. She smiled warmly and said, “Have a good evening now!” to which I naturally replied…

“Hello.”

Not an ‘oh hello, didn’t see you there’ type of hello.

Not a nice, friendly, ‘Hello!!’

Just a flat, short, “Hello” in the same tone you would use if you were to automatically mutter, “Thanks” to a cashier who had just handed you a receipt.

…Which is what I was aiming for when my mind panicked and “Hello” popped out instead.

Cue an awkward pause as the cashier narrowed her eyes at me, probably trying to determine if I had some form of short-term amnesia. I grabbed the bag, turned on my heel and walked right out of the shop while screaming internally.

All this to say that today is my one year blogiversary. I know this because WordPress sent me a little notification to remind me. Thanks WordPress! One year on and I am still having awkward interactions with strangers. One year on and I am still embarrassing myself so you don’t have to. One year on and I am still waiting on that damn manual.

But in the meantime, I’ve got you guys to keep me company.

Hello!

 

36 Questions: The Third Question

 

Today’s question is strangely intimate.

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

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

You know, like gaydar, but for crazy people.

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

SO!

Now we get into it.

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

Okay.

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

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

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

BUT.

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

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

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

Not ideal.

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

via GIPHY

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

Also, not ideal.

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

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

Ha!

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

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

“Hiiiiiii…..!”

 

Okay, Let’s Talk about Anxiety

anxiety-2019928_1920

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.

The Human Turtle

sennheiser_momentum_on-ear_headphones_cream

I feel like there are certain universal social cues that everybody understands. I think everyone would agree, for example, that people wearing earphones are generally not looking for a conversation.

Despite this, somehow, for some reason, people break this seemingly simple rule with me all the time.

I can’t tell what it is about me that invites this kind of behaviour. Is it my tiny stature? Is it something about my face? Do I have an invisible ink tattoo that reads ‘TALK TO ME’ under strip lighting? It happens a lot. A man once motioned for me to take my headphones off in Tesco while I was looking at packets of rice, and when I did so, he said, “I just wanted to tell you, you have really lovely hair.” And then he sat back on his heels and stared at me expectantly.

I’m not really sure what he was waiting for. I cast a surreptitious glance either side of me to make sure there were no hidden cameras. I hadn’t even brushed my hair that day. There was nothing worth complimenting there. I thought about the food I still needed to buy for dinner. I thought about the awkwardness of the moment and how it would only increase if I got stuck in front of him in the checkout line. I thought about the fact that he probably thought he was being nice by interrupting my day to pay me a wholly inexplicable (and unnecessary) compliment, and I thought about the fact that by doing so he was making me deeply uncomfortable. Then I slowly placed the packet of basmati rice back on the shelf, said, “Thanks,” turned around, and left the shop without a backwards glance.

I beat a hasty retreat in all awkward situations. I am basically a human turtle.

Of course, sometimes I’m not given the option of being a turtle. Sometimes I am trapped by wretched misfortune. Sometimes I am on a 6am flight next to somebody who insists on a conversation.

The last time this happened was relatively recently. I’d had to wake up at 4am (which I’m sure you’ll agree is not at all conducive to a pleasant demeanor), and I was looking forward to listening to a podcast and napping on my two-and-a-half hour flight. I decided earbuds wouldn’t cut it, and brought my heavy duty Sennheisers to completely block out ambient noise.

Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on the persistence of my fellow passenger. Before we had even taken off, I felt a tap tap tap on my shoulder. I removed my earphones, expecting the flight attendant, and instead twisted in my seat to meet the smiling face of the man sitting next to me.

“Are you off on holidays?” He asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, just for a week. You?”

“Oh no, I live there now.”

“Oh, nice.” I put my headphones back on. I lay back and closed my eyes.

tap tap tap

I took my headphones back off.

“Do you know anyone over there?”

“Yeah, I have family there.”

I put my headphones back on, feeling a little guilty for being so rude. Still, if I’m honest, there are very few people I would want to have a conversation with at 6am; a stranger sitting next to me on a plane is definitely not one of them.

tap tap tap

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

I ripped off my headphones and turned my body to face his. I stared daggers of pure, undiluted hatred straight into his soul. He stared back at me with a bland expression of irritating, energetic cheerfulness. I crumpled back into my chair in defeat.

He talked to me without pause for the next two and a half hours.

It would be more accurate, in fact, to say that he talked at me, as he didn’t seem to require any actual participation on my part. At first I thought he might just be a nervous flyer, and this softened my attitude towards him. I felt a lot better about him tapping me on the shoulder three times when I thought it stemmed from nervousness rather than an obnoxious disregard for my personal space.

“Do you not like flying?” I asked, sympathetically.

“What? Are you kidding? I love flying!” He replied, before launching into an exhaustive list of the many places he had visited.

My juicy grape of sympathy shrivelled instantly, and hardened into a sour raisin of resentment that can only truly be understood by people who are too polite to extricate themselves from these sort of situations.

He told me about everything he had received for Christmas. He told me about his grandmother, his niece, his woollen jumpers, his hobbies. He told me about where he lived, and why. He told me about his parents, his siblings, his holidays. At one point he paused in the middle of a story to point over at a man who was similarly talking the ear off a woman a few rows ahead of us.

“God, look at him. You can tell she’s not at all interested and he’s just chewing her ear off! Poor woman.”

I stared at him. “Yes,” I said dryly. “Can you imagine?”

He shook his head in an agonizingly oblivious show of pity and then continued with his extremely detailed story about his family pets.

By the time we landed, I think I knew almost everything there was to know about him.

I collected my suitcase feeling dazed and wondering once again what it is about me that invites people to ignore the sacred social cue of the headphones. Does this happen to other people with as much regularity? If you’ve had this happen to you, how did you handle it? If you’re someone who has interrupted a stranger wearing headphones… why?

I’m off for a walk now. I’ll be wearing my headphones.

I hope I haven’t jinxed myself.