People are people (even if they’re small).

I don’t have children (except for two great young people I had the pleasure and privilege of stepmothering), and I’m not going to, either. Some people assume that it’s because I don’t like children. I think that’s a ridiculous assumption, but only as ridiculous as the idea that you should like children. What for? Some of them aren’t very likeable. Some of them are lovely, just like there are lovely adults and much less lovely ones. Should I take a position on whether I like or dislike adults?

When we “love kids”, we’re pretty much saying that regardless of their personalities, their primary attribute is their child status, and we like or dislike them based on that. Even worse, when we love them just because they’re children, we’re giving them love based on an attribute that they can never expect to hold on to. Maybe we like the feeling of being needed that we get when we’re around people too young to be independent, but that doesn’t sound all that noble when you put it plainly – in fact it sounds a lot like a power thing. Luckily, there are many many adults out here loving their young family members for who they are .. but those people don’t usually ask me about why I “don’t like kids”.

(For the record, I like a lot of people who are currently children, and expect to continue liking them when they’re not.)


Young man in a railway station café.

Glances flick around the noisy room: noisy both in sound and vision, the bustle and hiss of the people and the coffee machines in the ears, the visual disarray of bags, tables, suitcases and chairs, and amid it all, a well of calm, he sits there, not fiddling with anything. Every pair of eyes, sending darting looks around alighting on the scribblers, the internet junkies tap-tapping on their tablets, the parents wearily calming tired toddlers: every restless gaze lands on him and pauses, at least, before flicking on. His earthy red hair, half-tamed into directed disorder, the lightly freckled pale of his early summer skin, the youthful angularity of his profile silhouetted by the early morning sun, all offer no reason to look away, but it was his grace, his contentment to just sit and be.. that was what kept you looking, risking the awkwardness of being noticed noticing.  Plenty of pairs of roaming eyes coursed the public space  looking for a safe place to land and stopped on him, and when he inevitably looked back, it wasn’t a look of pride in his attraction or of hostility in defence of his privacy; more of curiosity. Like he’d just answered the door.

 


Solace

I stood there, smiling that incongruous smile that you do when you’re not ok, where all the muscles do the right things (or at least, they do if you’re good at it) but you know with the certainty of having seen it many times in others, that the eyes are not going to lie for you. Lips are slick liars. Put your lips around the shapes that make phrases like “Get home safe” and “Was good to see you” and they will do it with all the nonchalance of “Move along now” and “Nothing to see here”, but you can’t stop your eyes just going on and on and on with the pitiful “Don’t go” and “But I still want you.”

Like I want him to see any of that. I don’t. So I blinked and looked away and made goodbye a blunted moment of brief and forced good cheer, one that still felt like an age of peeling and splitting painted-on bravado.

I played music in the car, stuff I know so well that I sing along without thinking; upbeat stuff that doesn’t let you sink into any long outbreaths.

At home, feeling like I’d made it, cleared the danger point and ready to push forward in some new direction. Maybe a couple of drinks with some friends, maybe do some work, straighten up the flat, maybe sort out some of these things lying around.
These things. Things you just somehow hold on to, not noticing for ages that you’re holding on, until you realise how hard it is to let go of them. Like the presence that’s just wrapped itself around me: the scent he left in my clothes that he wore, now lying limp in my hands, in my arms and against my cheek: rocking with me from side to side, an invisible man materialising inside my empty clothes, here in my empty arms, giving me hollow consolation for the vacancy he left in me.


Different boxes.

It’s a matter of closing or opening a circuit.  Or maybe a box. Knowing a thing, closing the loop and moving on, or not knowing it, and feeling the way the leaking mental energy continues to dripfeed you the question from its uncauterised bleeding edges.

It’s why I fail, constantly, to remember my to-do list (and I don’t mean remember what’s on it, I mean just remember it at all), my appointments, the things I have to take with me to complete my day.  I feel the nagging unfinishedness of each point, and it holds me in a defocused state of divided attention, so I close it down. Tie the ends together.  Maybe I put a reminder in some kind of system, maybe I just make a choice and tell myself it’s an answer.  Maybe I just forget.  One way or another I close it down. Why would I allow my attention to be sapped, dragged down by a thousand Lilliputian concerns? I need all of my energy to notice how his smile draws his top lip flat against his teeth, and how the azure of his eyes is cobalt at the spot where a windowful of blue sky is reflected.  How could I hold onto payment plan details and fuel price comparisons in the face of such fleeting detail? I can’t ever check up the acid sweetness of wild autumn fruit in any file or website, and no amount of knowing the best route and keeping all my appointments could ever compensate me for one intense second of my small, seven-year-old’s fingers on the deliciously prickly stubble of my stepdad’s face as he carried me on his shoulders. How the wind tried to knock us over, pulling my hair in all directions and robbing the breath from my mouth as I laughed. I know I felt it, completely. I probably didn’t think to practice my handwriting that day though, and my teacher probably continued to be unhappy with my writing. She definitely continued to report that I needed to focus more.

So I don’t know the registration number of my own car.  I’ve closed the loop, with good reason or none, I’ve shut the box. I still know, though, how my first lover used to rock us to sleep, how weird was the greyish taste of fear in my mouth when I fell out of a tree far enough from home to know no-one would come if I was hurt, and how surprised I was to find that in my solitude I had forgotten to cry out my fear and hurt to the dusk-lit trees. These boxes are open, leaking sense and feeling all over my mental landscape.

I know others choose differently. I see them, and on some days I envy their retention of the useful and applicable facts and data that smooth their paths in life. Some of them seem to have all the right boxes open. One friend knows the tram times, the conjugations and the exchange rates, but also the right tartness for a lemon curd and the smell of his daughter’s hair. I admire him. I love to visit him and wonder at his capabilities, and the wonder adds to my collection of moments I’ve lived. If everyone were like that then I could settle contentedly into my role of happy loser, cosy at the foot of the pile, but there are those far unluckier than me. Those who can’t handle the constant tugging any more than I can, but who started big, closing boxes starting not with “Where are my pencils?” but with “How should I live?” They talk about their certainties, their convictions and how they know the way things really are: they tell me who made the world, they tell me about men and women, rich and poor, and about The Way Things Are, and I ask them “Isn’t it a matter of perspective?”, and they tell me that no, I just need to open my eyes, that my wishy-washy bleeding-heart is not for The Real World.

I wonder if they’ve noticed how they close the distance between us as they say these things, how they throw their standing shadow tall and long over my seated form. If they will remember how my smile surrendered and reluctantly evacuated, leaving a face protectively expressionless. If they have seen how the low autumn sun has silhouetted my downturned head as I gave up on eye contact and shielded myself with disconnection.  Probably not.


Spokesmanship

I read a lot of stuff on the internet, partly because there are lots of interesting things to read, and partly because I’m easily distracted, which seems to be the primary function of Web 2.0 – to distract us from the things we could have been doing In Real Life (frequently shortened to IRL, but I’m wasting enough of my Real Life reading disposable internet opinions without electively shortening it as well).  Ooh look, a cat in a box.  Sorry.  Where was I?

Some of the time I comment, because I, like every other commenter, think that I’m the one who sees these things clearly, unlike the massed mindless drones of commenters flaunting their wrongness in forums across the wide e-universe.  It’s like traffic jams, queues for the Christmas post and the table seats on trains across the let’s-call-it-civilised world: they’re populated by people who wish the crowd would bugger off, not counting themselves as part of it.  This is the phenomenon of seeing oneself as separate from all the others chasing similar incentives under similar conditions, and I find it vaguely annoying, as does probably every other irritated individual in the altogether annoying crowd. The opposing phenomenon, however, is one I find more than vaguely annoying.

The inverse of the I’m-not-part-of-this illusion is the I-speak-for-all-of-us illusion.  Commenters reply to articles with “we”, implying a spokesperson’s mandate, partners tell waiting staff “we’re fine”, not knowing if it’s true or not and politicians spout more “we” than an overwatered toddler, all of which makes me wish I knew how to grind my teeth. I can wiggle my ears, and raise one eyebrow, but the teeth are..  ooh look, a cat falling off a shelf.

So.  Yeah.  Anyway. People forgetting that they don’t have a mandate to speak for all of X-, Y- or Z-kind. Dear people-who-are-not-British, please don’t listen to “What the british think about (insert group here)”, it’s probably just what the writer thinks and we all disagree with his/her opinion. I know this because I speak for all people who are not that writer. Dear generation-other-than-mine, please disregard the assurances given to you in articles claiming that my generation either despises or venerates you, it’s all tosh, we haven’t even noticed you as are we’re the selfish generation who just want to cut-throat our way into a job at some point so we can live a life of luxury and one day own our own hovel.  I know this because I speak for my entire generation. Dear Men: I wouldn’t know what to make of it either.  If I collected all of the “What women really want” articles and posts created on the basis of one writer’s personal wishes, supported by having asked a couple of mates if they agree, I’d have a very very big pile of annoying rubbish. If men are expected to treat us as individuals (which they are by me, although who knows what the other, obviously wrong, commenters think about it) then I think it’s making the job unfairly hard to tell them we all want the same thing.  Maybe the same problem exists with “What men really want” articles – I wouldn’t know, I’m too busy trying to combine being myself, avoiding clinginess, showing vulnerability, not letting him lose face and showing him I need him with .. ooh look, a cat on a skateboard.

All those people writing their blogs, thinking their opinion matters.  They don’t speak for us.  That’s not what we want – we don’t want someone to stand up and speak for us, we want to be listened to as we are.  We don’t want to be categorised and labelled, we want to be accepted as individuals.  All of us want that.  Exactly that and nothing else.  I know this because I speak for all of us, and I am, unlike every other driver, post office queuer, train passenger and internet commenter, not wrong. I speak for all of us, because I .. ooh look, a dancing cat.

 


Optiophobe

There are some places where I just don’t go anymore, because it’s not safe. These places include High Street clothing shops, rooms with televisions playing in them and supermarkets with more than four checkouts, and it’s because I’m an optiophobe: scared of choice. Well, I say “scared of choice”, but obviously I’m not humiliatingly, irrationally, terrified of it like I am of spiders, and I don’t want to abdicate all choice, otherwise I could just commit a terrible crime and look forward to a life prescribed for me by prison officers. On the other hand, given a choice of 60 different types of ice-cream, I will invariably choose either:

a) Vanilla,
or
b) No ice-cream at all,

because the thought of choosing from the endless variety is just too much for me.

This may give the impression that I’m a useless, pathetic weed who is simply incapable of thinking things through and making up her own mind. This would be only partly true. I am, of course, a useless, pathetic weed, as the sum total of my action to defend myself against the ills of this world consists of this blog, so the weed charge stands. Thinking things through, however, is another matter: I’m quite good at it, and I do it all the time, which is exactly the problem. While I’m contemplating the 60 available ice-cream flavours, I can’t help but begin comparing them and their interactions on my palate. Not only that, but their nutrition value, possible melt rate, desirability by my companions (share value), relationship to my diet so far that day, their place in my overall ice-cream consumption, their price, location, fat content, and the social signals I’m receiving from the person selling them and from the other customers, all flicker through my consciousness before I can bring myself to make an order.

Help in making choices can be hard to find.

Help in making choices can be hard to find.

I can do it, I honestly can. I can summon all my mental powers to focus and tune out, and clear my mind of everything not related to ice-cream purchasing, and I can get the job done…. but then, why should I? The things I’ve had to evict from my sphere of concentration are probably much more important than what kind of ice-cream I should have. When I then forget to transfer the money for the rent, or turn up for work without the presentation I’m meant to be presenting, I can’t help wondering if that’s because I quashed exactly that “remember the rent/presentation” thought, in order to make some trivial and irrelevant decision involving an unnecessarily broad spectrum of choice.

Choice is like food, or water. A certain amount is necessary; increases beyond sufficiency are not necessarily beneficial. Too much leaves us bloated, overweight and drowning.

The end effect is, I couldn’t give two hoots if people think I’m socially incompetent when I stand there blankly refusing to pick one. They may well think “This idiot really needs to get a handle on these basic life decisions”, respond telepathically with “Get your choices out of my face: I have better things to do with my brain than this.” I don’t want a choice of doctors, I want one competent doctor. I don’t want an entire high street of fashion labels competing for my attention and limited finance, I just want a pair of trousers and a shirt, and so I have developed a number of coping techniques. Here are my favourites:

  1. Only wear clothes in one colour and without logos.  The in-shop choosing is almost annihilated once you’re limited to the clothes that fit these criteria and your body, and getting dressed is then also simplified, because everything goes together.  Yay!
  2. Stop eating meat, or some other very common ingredient.  Your choices in restaurants are similarly decimated.
  3. Stop trying to get a really good meal/dress/wine/whatever, and aim for something acceptable.  This means you can get a recommendation from the staff and just buy that, safe in the knowledge that it’s probably not a disaster. Be a good tipper and you’ll probably end up with all the nicest stuff anyway.
  4. Go with loyalty instead of trends, in everything except brands. Stick with everything you’ve got: objects, friends, clothes – don’t go for new when you don’t have to.  Mending old clothes (or having them mended) is still cheaper, faster and less stressful than shopping.  Mend old friendships wherever possible too.
  5. Stop watching TV (another source of endless and trivial naffing choices), and use an adblocker on your computer.  Cultivate ignorance of consumer culture, and even salespeople will start to steer a course around you.
  6. Practice a blank idiot stare to defend yourself with in high-choice scenarios. After step 5 this will come automatically.

A bit of a crash diet? Maybe. But it does mean I remembered the rent this month, and my presentation too.  I count that as “acceptable” which, by my own rules, means it’s good enough for me: I win!


The Boss (short)

He sits at his desk, croaking well-meaning grumbles like a bloated amphibian, short-tempered and snuffly, shuffling his day’s work-papers decisively to one side and then to the other, busily resenting bothersome questions and dismissing with an irritated wave the foot-to-foot shuffling questioner, immersed in their own miserable frustrated hurry. He frowns away all plaintiffs, referring them mercilessly to unfathomable systems and processes of his own unnavigable design, impatient and work-wearied at the start of the day. “Get to the point”, he tells them, and those naïve enough to do so get the bluntest of short shrifts, “what on earth do I have you here for if I have to do your JOB AS WELL AS MINE” he barks, heartless and oblivious to their helplessness.

“Hello you”, I breeze, adopting his accent to announce my address to his personal self, “how’s your motor?” Tectonic plates shift under his amphibian features and he suddenly radiates cuddly uncleness; she’s running a lot better now, do I want to borrow it at the weekend, know you’re visiting family and the trains, well they’re terrible dear, isn’t it? The mottled cheeks wobble with jollity: do I have everything I need for the day? Lots to do yes, but all in a day’s work, isn’t it, how did it go with the stuff he put together for me last time? “Lovely, lovely job, thanks for the help, much appreciated”, oh not at all, flushing slate pink under the compliment, just let him know anytime, always there to help. His smile puts an arm around me and the grey-skinned dictator is another man, one who swallows him up on a bad day, except you know that you know, that you’re never really sure who swallowed whom.


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