An Impotent Rant About Impotence

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It happened again, mis amigos!

To fully set the scene, I must first explain certain truths about myself, like the fact that grocery stores relax me. I know, but they do. They are my zen garden. They are my mountaintop sanctuary. I can’t explain it, but walking up and down aisles of consumer goods just speaks to my soul. I don’t necessarily have to buy anything, it’s just the actual act of browsing that makes me feel a deep and abiding sense of calm. Roaming Target at 11pm with no shopping list in mind is my idea of bliss.

Also, I love automatic sliding doors and those little metal barriers that spring open as you approach; I always put my hand out, wave it to the side, and pretend I’m a Jedi.

Try it! I promise it will brighten your day considerably.

Anyway. I’m in the grocery store and I’m strolling aimlessly up and down the aisles. I have my earphones in because I’ve been listening to a podcast*, and I am idly contemplating a packet of crisps when a large guy comes over and starts talking to me. At first I don’t hear him, so he gets right in my face. I pull out an earbud and he says:

“Hi, how are you?”

What an opener. Ladies and gentlemen, witness this masterclass in charm.

“Good, thanks,” I reply politely with a smile, and then put the earbud back in my ear and step past him. He follows me and gets in my face again. I stop and pulled the earbud back out, feeling a tingle of irritation.

“Are you looking for something or just browsing? You look like you’re just window shopping. Are you window shopping?”

I blink.

“Yeah, pretty much.” I put the earbud in my ear and step around him again.

Now, I know I haven’t stuck my hand out and primly stated, “KINDLY LEAVE ME ALONE, GOOD SIR. YOU ARE INTERFERING WITH MY SUPERMARKET MEDITATION” but to be honest, I don’t feel like I should have to resort to that in order to be left alone. If I were to pull the other earbud from my ear and smile gormlessly into his face, twirling a lock of hair around my finger, then he would have reason to persist. That’s not what’s happening though. None of my body language is inviting even the slightest prolonging of the moment. I am actively trying to escape the situation. I don’t think my feelings on this can possibly be misconstrued.

AND YET.

Instead of taking the hint, he turns and falls into step with me. I can hear him talking still but at this point I’ve tuned him out and am actually annoyed because 1.) I’ve given absolutely no indication of being interested, 2.) he’s ruining my mountaintop sanctuary experience and 3.) he’s really large and persistent, which makes me feel threatened. I hate feeling threatened; whether the threat is real or not. I feel vulnerable, and I hate feeling vulnerable, so then I feel annoyed that someone has put me in the position of feeling vulnerable, which just makes me feel angry….

It’s a complex tangle of emotions.

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Here is my artistic representation of this moment

I take a breath and imagine for a moment that I am a porcupine. I imagine that I am covered in spikes and every quill on my body is ready to impale him if he gets too close. Then I exhale deeply and ruefully accept that sadly, I am not a porcupine, and even more sadly, I have no quills. Instead I am a small, soft, squidgy human, and I cut my fingernails quite short, so I don’t even have acrylic-talon weapons of death** at my disposal. I decide my best plan of action is to pretend I can’t hear him over the sound of my non-existent music, and just leave the shop. Which I do.

It’s a shitty feeling. If you’ve never felt so intimidated you’ve needed to leave a public space, you might not understand this. All I can say is that it feels really rubbish to change your plans because someone makes you so uncomfortable you don’t feel you can stay. It feels like weakness, and I guess it is weakness, but I’m polite and I’m also half the size of this man who thinks he can wear me down with inane conversation, so I retreat like the coward that I am. I walk down the street and turn the corner. I walk down another street, go into a shopping centre, take the escalators up to the first floor, and wander into another shop.

And this [unutterable word]…. he follows me.

I realise I might be particularly sensitive thanks to past experience, but this guy appears in front of me like a recurring hallucination from a bad trip and says, “Hey beautiful, we meet again!” as if it’s just a total coincidence and well fancy meeting you again so soon and he is looming over me grinning and I want to punch him in the face with my tiny fist because seriously, screw this guy and his dogged determination to ruin my day.

I don’t, obviously. Partly because that would be an overreaction, partly because I’m polite, and partly because I’m afraid that he would punch me right back with his fist the size of my face and I’d end up embedded in the tiled floor.

I know there are people thinking, ‘He probably just wanted to talk to you,’ and I agree. You are right. That is probably what he wanted to do. Maybe he thought I was shy, and I just needed the right amount of persistent conversation in order to bloom like a delicate flower. Maybe he thought he was being brave, walking up to me in the supermarket and striking up a conversation out of the blue. That is pretty ballsy, after all, and I don’t really have a problem with that. Take your chances chatting up the girl buying groceries. Go hard! Maybe she’s only strolling the shop floor because she’s waiting for a guy to sweep her off her feet next to the cereal. Maybe your eyes will meet over that box of Rice Krispies and love will blossom on aisle five. Who knows? Life is short, take a risk.

However, I do have a problem with the fact that once it’s clear I’m not interested in a conversation, he doesn’t just… let it go. He sidesteps my sidestep. He actively ignores any and all signs of discomfort on my part because his desire to talk to me is apparently more important than my desire to walk around without feeling hunted.

That’s how I feel in that moment. I feel like a wide-eyed, frightened rabbit. I let my eyes glaze and slide right over him, and then I turn and walk in the other direction as if I haven’t seen or heard him. I wonder whether he will keep following me around the shop. I wonder if he will follow me home. I keep moving through the aisles without actually looking at anything on the shelves, keeping an eye on him out of my peripheral vision. Then the heavens open up outside and it starts bucketing down.

I take my chance and, while other people huddle inside the door fiddling with hoods and umbrellas, I walk straight out into the downpour and keep putting one foot in front of the other until I reach my apartment complex. As the gate swings shut behind me, I feel like I’ve reached the safety zone in a kiddie game of tag.

Once I get inside my apartment, I am so angry I am shaking. I am angry with him, because he ruined my day and made me feel small and weak. I am angry with myself for being small and weak. I am angry because after listening to two episodes of a podcast about boundaries and anger, I totally and completely failed to express myself in terms of either one of them. I was too afraid of the consequences to use my words. I was too afraid of what his reaction would be if I rejected him. His total dismissal of my obvious discomfort made me far too uneasy to challenge him in any direct way, because if he can ignore my disinterest so fully, why wouldn’t he ignore my rejection?

Instead, I’d run back to my burrow like the frightened rabbit I am. All keyed up, I ranted about it on Snapchat. Now I’ve ranted about it here. Maybe next time I’ll get loud and brave the consequences. Maybe I’ll take up Krav Maga in the meantime. Or maybe…

Maybe there won’t be a next time.

That would be nice.

 

 

*It’s a comedy podcast called The Guilty Feminist and you can find episodes of it here.

**I always wondered why people get such awkward looking nails and how they’re able to do anything with such long claws but now I’m thinking that actually they seem like a sensible choice in terms of self-defence and maybe I should invest in my own set of tiny daggers attached to my fingertips.

Is Nothing Sacred?

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I rolled out of bed. I had breakfast and got dressed. I worked diligently for a few hours and then decided to go to the shop and buy some shampoo.

Yesterday, I woke up in a good mood. 

Now, a quick note about this. I have long hair. It’s not Rapunzel-length – I don’t have to worry about yanking on it when I sit down – but it’s long. I also don’t use any hair products because I’m weird about texture and I really like my hair to be soft. I have yet to try a mousse or hairspray or serum that doesn’t make my hair feel either crunchy or sticky or oily, so I just go without. This means that the heavy burden of making sure my hair looks, feels and smells awesome rests squarely on the shoulders of my shampoo and conditioner dream team.

 Yes, I realise as I’m typing this out that I sound a little manic about my hair. I’m not. I barely even brush it. I’m just trying to explain why I have such strong feelings about shampoo.

I’m not quite sure I’ve succeeded.

Anyway.

About two months ago I trotted into Boots* to buy some shampoo and found myself in the no-sulphates section. I am not entirely sure what sulphates are or what they do, and I don’t care enough to google the answer, but apparently they’re Not Good, because there were a whole bunch of no-sulphate shampoos. I picked one at random and took it home.

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And then I fell in love.

I fell in love with a shampoo.

It’s perfect. It smells a bit like men’s shower gel, but I like that. It made my hair feel clean and soft and lovely. I was disproportionately excited about it; honestly, much more excited than anybody should ever be about shampoo. I mean, it’s shampoo. Not exactly life-altering.

Still, the next time I was in Boots (which was about a week ago) I decided to buy some more. I walked down the shampoo aisle. I walked up the shampoo aisle. I walked back down the shampoo aisle. There was no sign of it.

I shrugged and went to a different store, now on a mission; I was like a tiny bloodhound, and the scent I was following was that of rosemary and botanic oils.

Still no sign of it.

Yesterday, after my productive morning, I walked into a third Boots with a spring in my step. This Boots is large and well-stocked, and I fully expected my shampoo to be there waiting for me in all its vibrant verdure. At this point I had come to terms with the fact that this shampoo is obviously rare and endangered. I decided to stockpile it. I mentally prepared myself to become a shampoo hoarder.

I turned the corner and glimpsed a glint of green winking at me from the bottom shelf. My face brightened. I subconsciously picked up the pace.

And then.

AND THEN.

And then a Boots staff member snatched those five tubes of shampoo and matching conditioner right off the shelf and marched off with them before my very (horrified) eyes. Just… swiped them right off the shelf and disappeared into a back room without a word! I stood there for a moment trying to process what I had just witnessed, then whipped out my phone and found that this shampoo and conditioner is not rare or endangered. Oh no. It’s much worse than that. This shampoo is extinct. It has been DISCONTINUED.

Well.

That was just the last straw. There’s only so much I can handle before I need to go and lie down in a dark room. It’s not enough that Donald Trump is out there stomping on people’s lives and liberties like a flabby, mentally-compromised Godzilla with no self-control?

Now they take my shampoo?!**

There are no words.

Everything is unbearable.

*Like Walgreens, but better.

**I have ordered three of the remaining tubes on Amazon to soothe my anguish. Thank you for your thoughts at this difficult time.

Life’s Little Disappointments

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I am big into art and crafts.

I’m not into all crafts. I’m not even into useful crafts, but I really enjoy making new things with my own two hands. I go through phases of intense focus where I NEED to learn how to decorate cakes/use watercolours/pyrograph/d├ęcoupage/make jam. Then, as soon as I’m good enough at it that I’m satisfied I could gift the results to some unsuspecting victim without having my skin fall off from the holy mortifying shame of it all… I lose interest. No sooner am I happy with the results of my jewellery-making than I’ve dropped all my beads and picked up some oil pastels, ready for my next challenge.

I’m like a tiny, fickle, Martha Stewart but without the multi-million dollar empire and the tax-evasion and the facial expression that implies she is perfectly capable of killing you with her own bare hands.*

For about two years now I’ve wanted to make a dreamcatcher. Yes, I’m talking about the tragically uncool, yarn-and-feather, possibly culturally-appropriative things that everyone used to have on their wall. They weren’t very useful for catching nightmares – or whatever it was they were supposed to do with your dreams – but they were a surefire sign that you were probably a girl growing up in the ’90s.

I have tried a couple of times to harness the power of the dreamcatcher, but every time I’ve just ended up with my fingers tangled in yarn. For about five glorious minutes, my creation looks like something spun by a drunk spider, and then it unravels completely, spilling beads across the floor. Every few months, I try. Every few months, I fail. You know what they say though; if at first you don’t succeed, just keep trying until you almost amputate your own finger by means of an accidental yarn tourniquet.

With this in mind, imagine how excited I was when I received an e-mail from Ikea telling me they were having an activity day during which there would be a craft class for how to make dreamcatchers. I was excited. I mean, I was really excited.

I put it in my calendar. I planned my weekend around it. I knew I wouldn’t have the car and Ikea is a trek away, so I plotted my route accordingly. When D-Day (Dreamcatcher Day) arrived, I set off on my adventure with high hopes. I took a bus to a place I had never been, and then walked to another bus stop where I took a second bus to a stop about half an hour from Ikea. I then walked (bounced, really) the rest of the way. I was going to CRUSH this! I would finally, finally, learn how to make a dreamcatcher. You know when cartoons think of money and dollar signs flash in their eyes? If I had been a cartoon in that moment, my eyes would just have been a series of potential dreamcatcher colour combinations.

I walked in the entrance to IKEA and looked around for my craft class. I was bang on time, so I knew it should be starting. It took me a couple of minutes, but eventually I found the sign for the dreamcatcher crafting crew. Once I realised I had found it, I stood, blinking, trying to comprehend what I was seeing.

The people making dreamcatchers were toddlers.

The “dreamcatchers” were big circles made of cardboard.

The “craft class” was actually just a sort of advanced childminding station.

Paralysed with disappointment, I watched as a dozen toddlers scribbled fiercely on their cardboard circles with fat, washable Crayola markers. A couple of IKEA employees moved from child to child, wiping snot and spit and encouraging them not to draw on the table. Tongues poked out in concentration as they pushed their markers back and forth, squiggling thick lines of colour all over the place.

When I could bring myself to move again, I glumly trudged to the homeware section and picked up a candle and a potted plant to soothe my soul.

Then I left, and got my two buses home.**

 

*Seriously. Does nobody else find her smile completely terrifying? I think it’s a combination of the smile and the wrinkle-free shirts. There’s just something very Patrick Bateman about her.

**To this day, I still have not mastered the art of the dreamcatcher.