The List of Uns

Maya, my white-pawed, chronically grumpy cat, is not good in a crisis.

She likes to play chase, but every time I chase her she panics, becomes paralysed by indecision, and finally runs into the nearest corner and flips onto her back.

I’ve explained to her plenty of times that in the wild, this would really be seen as less of a survival strategy and more of a suicidal strategy, but no amount of practice has made her any better at evading fake predators. Every. single. time. she is chased, she does the same thing. You can see it happen. The pupils dilate, her eyes flick madly from side to side as she considers her options, and by the time I’ve reached her it’s too late for her to escape and so she just flings herself into a corner, completely at my mercy.

At first, I thought it was hilarious. Thank God there are no large eagles about that might pick her off the balcony as a snowy snack. I’ve seen The Proposal and that’s the only part of it that has stuck in my mind. Eagles are a considerable hazard for small white pets, apparently.

Lately though, I don’t find it as funny because I’ve realised that we have a lot in common, Maya and I.

Guys. GUYS.

It’s been ages. I know. I missed you!

The truth is, I rang in 2019 with good food and great friends.

…And it was all downhill from there.

I got sick. I spent a full seven days of the first month of the year staring at the ceiling and punctuating the silence with a honking cough that made me sound like a forlornĀ  (but still aggressive) Canadian goose. I curled myself into a comma and lay there, an entirely useless lump of humanity, as things piled up around me. Layers of clothes carelessly tossed on the ground became small hillocks. The work I didn’t feel well enough to do stacked up. The list of chores I had ambitiously made at the beginning of the year grew longer and longer and longer until it covered four or five pages spread across three different notebooks.

By the time I had mostly* recovered, I was faced by an incoming tsunami of Uns. Christmas presents ungiven. Friends uncontacted. Work unprepared. Tasks untaken-care-of. Shows unwatched. Food uneaten. E-mails unsent.

The list of Uns was very long.

Instead of diving under the wave like I should have, I made the mistake of letting it crash over me. Instead of bracing myself for the onslaught, I just… slipped under the surface.

In other words, I pulled a Maya.

I panicked. I found a corner, and I flipped belly up, paws outstretched, waiting to drown in a sea of Uns.

The past week and a half has been a string of all-nighters and wide-eyed, sleep-deprived flurries of frantic activity interspersed with many, many tea breaks. On Friday, I was in bed by 9pm, exhausted by my attempts to claw my way back to normality. My list is still long, I still have a lot to do, but today I feel capable, or at least prepared. I have my inflatable armbands on. I have decided not to run headfirst into any more corners.

Okay 2019, let’s be having you.

*I still have a cough but it now sounds like a small dog’s bark and comes on with hardly any warning at all, surprising both me and my cats.

Memories Are Made of This

memories-thinking-about-past-remembering

If touch is my drug, then memories are my kryptonite.

I am an overthinker. I have always been an overthinker. As a child, I remember adults telling me, “Don’t think so much!” and wondering how they could ask that of me. I could no more control my thoughts than the weather. They rushed over me in a continuous wave of questions and hypotheticals.

Over the years I learned to stem the tide of thoughts when they got too much for me. I learned to put them away. Today, my mind is a hoarder’s attic, stuffed to the brim with ominously unstable stacks of thoughts and emotions and worries and passions and dreams and experiences and fears and imagination and memories.

I don’t know what other people do with their memories. My brother has somehow managed to purge all of his childhood memories … or lose them. I’m not sure which. My own seem to be (much like my real life belongings) stored in a state of organised chaos. I revisit them often. I turn memories over and over in my mind until the jagged feelings that used to jut from them are worn away, leaving the recollection itself smooth as a pebble. Easy to handle. Almost comforting.

Sometimes I forget memories only to find them years later, untouched, unexamined. When this happens, I’m always surprised to find the feelings that came with them are still there, unblunted, in the corner of my mind. I prick my fingers on the sharp points, and the unexpected sting of it startles me. My mind makes an immediate jump to hyperspace and I start overthinking again.

  • How did I forget this?
  • Is it even real?
  • Do the other people in the memory remember this?
  • Is it important?
  • Why do I only remember this now?
  • How many times have I examined this memory?
  • How many more times will I examine it before the feelings disappear?

Then I worry that when I’m finished turning it over and over, it will become another pebble: a skimmed pebble. It will bounce twice or three times on the surface of my consciousness and then sink to the depths. I’ll forget it for good.

Something about this, something about memories, makes me profoundly sad. It’s not nostalgia. At least I don’t think it is. Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as:

“a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of

some past period or irrecoverable condition.”

I don’t long to go back. I don’t wish for a time-machine. It’s not the moment in the past I feel a strange yearning for, it’s the memory itself. I worry about my memories getting lost forever. I worry that I am altering them all the time until I can no longer trust which ones are true. I worry that I’ll smooth away all the edges and be left with flat, polished versions of every memory I’ve ever had. Easier to manage, yes, but also smaller. Diminished. Sanitised. Sterilised. Incapable of making me laugh or cry.

A forgotten memory found its way into my mind yesterday. It caught me so completely by surprise that a tear escaped and made a run for it down my cheek before I even had a chance to realise what I was thinking of. The instant rush of thoughts and feelings gave me a sentimental papercut. I sat, listening to music, pressing against the sharp ends the same way you use your tongue to press against a loose tooth. It hurt, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t help it. The pain pleased me.

I examined the memory from every angle. I wondered if there was more to it that I had forgotten. I wondered who else remembered it. If they do, does it come tied to an emotion, or has time buffed away any inconvenient feelings?

If I am the only one who has kept it, does that make it more precious, or less?