Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Gargoyle and Big Foot

A not-so-nice someone from my past quietly joined my list of followers and I just as quietly blocked the person.  No emotion.  A simple, not happening.  No further thought about it until today when out of the primordial ooze of sleep deprivation I rose . . .

Big Foot & the horse she rode in on
by Siniharraka Urban Photography
 My current WIP isn’t progressing.  I’ve been working on the same paragraph for about two days, not so much because it’s a difficult passage but because of this pickpocket, water loving, newly arrived noodle.  There are horrible and marvellous things happening in the world at large, but in the Writing Closet, there is only Big Foot.

We’d long been thinking Big Nose needed a friend, but he’s such a wonderful dog, we feared the chances of getting a canine version of the Gargoyle Possum.  You remember him.  The stray cat who turned out to be a bloodthirsty desperado with a brain tumour.

Gargoyle Possom
Big Foot is no Gargoyle Possum.  She brings all the clownery of puppyhood but inside a calm and grounded personality.  When she starts sleeping through the night, I may even begin to love her.  (Okay, so I already love her.)

 All the cats including Gargoyle have adjusted amazingly to Big Foot.  In an aura of complaisance, we noticed one of Gargoyle’s paws twitched when he slept but if you have dogs, a twitching paw doesn’t compare. 

So one afternoon, I’m snoozing on the couch with Big Foot when the slap of body part against wood wakes me up.  The Butler, who’s not really paying attention, says it’s Gargoyle twitching in his sleep.  Gargoyle is out of the Butler’s line of vision, but I see the cat’s upper body rise and slam against the floor.  The Butler’s examination makes Gargoyle march indignantly into the back garden and the incident gets swept away by Big Foot doing a flying leap onto the kitchen table.

The next morning, the Butler goes into town.  Big Foot settles into her morning nap.  There are various cat bodies scattered around making cat snore music.  I’m at the computer writing when Gargoyle goes into grand mal seizure.

If you’ve never seen a cat have a grand mal, don’t put it on your bucket list.

The vet wanted us to see if Gargoyle had another fit before medicating him.  Fuck this.  The cat has a brain tumour.  Of course he’s going to have another one.  We’re now in the stage of continued petit mals until the meds are regulated, but everyone (except, presumably Gargoyle) knows this is the last stretch for him.  We’d hoped he’d go quietly in his sleep, but he’s never been an easy cat, has he?

There’s no sense of Alpha-Omega for me in this juxtaposition of Big Foot and Gargoyle.  It’s the story that’s happening now in my anonymous little life.  While I toss tennis balls and take shoes away from Big Foot, Gargoyle’s emergency rectal dose is always within reach. 

Accepting inconsequential details
by Siniharraka Urban Photography
Every life is made up of these inconsequential details.  The heroic outburst of the Paris rose, the variety of butterflies around the buddleia, the buzzard and fox sightings, Big Nose’s hydrotherapy and Bunny Butt’s latest kill, these are the warp and weft of my existence. 

So it is that when these inconsequential details are attacked, taken from us, something so small that it seems childish to complain, that’s actually where something greater, more destructive starts.  Awards that are only allowed display in the guest bathroom.  A favourite TV show always interrupted.  A brazen hussy of a red dahlia ripped up by the roots.

The message here is that your right to small little pleasures pales in comparison to mine.  Or maybe even that this right doesn’t exist for you.  That, my friend, is a scary message.  On an interpersonal level, it’s new stepchildren insulting the bride’s friends at the wedding lunch.  On the global level, it’s the genital mutilation of all females aged 11 to 45.  Or happy dances over the most recent genocide.

by Siniharraka Urban Photography
In my garden, there grows an inconsequential detail I call trollops.  Malopes, to the uninitiated.  El Punko, who has narcoleptic episodes when I discuss the garden, took photos of them for his urban photography website.  The message here is that exercising my right to have small little pleasures actually gives him pleasure.

With people like that in my life, not-so-nice someones from my past will continue to be quietly blocked.  If only it were so easy to block the not-so-nice from doing harm on the global level.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Gauche Writer in England

Dear Playwright,

Photo by SiniHarraka
Urban Photobraphy
Living in England isn’t great for my mental health.  The dismal weather suits me fine.  It’s the social etiquette that does my head in.

Thank you for submitting your work and congratulations on making the long list.

This isn't because I'm American, but because I'm gauche.

Please forgive the vague nature of this e-mail but, as you know, the [redacted] is an anonymous prize and we are still unable to know your name.

And when I have my writer's cap on, I'm something several steps past gauche.

We wanted to know whether you'd like to discuss your work over a cup of tea?

So when I received this Dear Playwright email, my response was,

If we can change my order from tea to coffee & throw in a cake, I'll give you my real name.

The English typically react to my humour by becoming more formal and removing all sharp objects from the room.  They never say what made them uncomfortable, but make it clear it has something to do with me.  It’s not the fault of the English ­– their culture’s been around a long time and it works for them.  It’s not my fault, either.  It’s simply a bad mix of an eccentric personality in a reserved society.

But for a communicator (that would be me) to consistently be met with silence, displeased silence, anxious silence, that makes a statement about who I am.  An unacceptable who. 




I'm sorta like
a pink marzipan pig.
I, the former trauma therapist, cause innocent bystanders distress by simply being.  This gives me moments of self loathing.  Sometimes extended moments of self loathing.  It also gives me other moments.  Like when I show up with pink pig cakes from Betty’s that the Butler bought so I’ll have confidence at this meeting.  Moments when I actually think I’m pretty worthwhile.

I’ve lived in six countries and visited a few others.  While my gauchiosity has elicited various reactions, it’s never been met with stony silence except by the English.  As if what I am here is so overwhelmingly threatening, they daren’t make eye contact with me, the social Medusa. 

When I’m not occupied with self loathing over this, it seems really funny.  Being gauche and fat and badly dressed – even the fact my heart isn’t always in the right place because let me assure you, there are a handful of people I’d gladly take out if I wouldn’t get caught – being all those things isn’t scary.  It’s about on the level with having freckles.  And I’m a trained mental health professional, so guess what?  I know I’m badly socialised.  It’s not worth breaking eye contact over.

But this is me versus a whole culture.  You don’t live in multiple countries without figuring out that the culture always wins.  All things considered, England is not a place I want to grow old in.  I think the English will be relieved to hear that.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Perfectionist and the Misanthrope

Dodgy book sellers

The Butler loves community activities => pantos in the village hall, safari suppers, pop-up restaurants, carollers, table quizzes, fetes.  Me, I’m a bit of a misanthrope.  Our compromise is that if I participate, I can insult our host when he discusses his wife’s frigidity over dinner. 

Three guesses, what the Butler’s reaction was when the notice came about the open gardens. 

In preparation, our initial focus was on neat and tidy, but about five days before the dread weekend, the penny dropped that perhaps more were expected.  We’ve never really gotten the hang of June, you see.  In spring, there’s all those wonderful bulbs.  In late summer and autumn, we’re a bee and butterfly paradise, but June?  Everything holds its breath and waits. 

I laughingly told the Butler I couldn’t believe that people were paying money to see the expanse of dirt in our flower beds.  Later, I looked up from weeding the gigantic mauve thing and found myself alone.  I went inside, suggested the Butler get off his ass to help if he wanted the resident misanthrope to behave herself when company came.

After that, the Butler would jump to his feet whenever I came into a room and like a kid who hadn’t done his chores, announce he was headed to the garden.  He seldom made it outside before 2pm and seldom stayed.  The same man who loved all these goddam village events and being civil in his Irish accent to UKIP neighbours and putting his body between mine and the guy at Burns Night who said trans people were selfish.

Something weird, this way comes.
Something weird was afoot. 

The Butler hadn’t always gardened.  Presumably his superhero regime of work-by-day, single-parent-by-night had something to do with it.  I remember our first gardening projects – a dubious Butler watching from the sidelines, concerned the neighbours might look over the fence and see me showing my arse.  Figuratively, of course, although on occasion . . . well, that’s a different story altogether. 

Then a brazen hussy of a red dahlia sang its siren song to him and he believed he could make beauty happen.

To be honest, I’d led the poor Butler astray by approaching gardening the way I do manuscript drafts.  I tinker.  I toy.  I try to find the best place for ruffled basil by setting up plastic bottle mini-greenhouses in every flowerbed, only to learn there’s no best place and we really have to consider getting a life-size greenhouse one of these days.  Pansies live between the onions, and corn?  Well it grows in the meadow because it’s a grass.  The rose bed is carpeted with creeping thyme while glads preen themselves among the pumpkin vines and a nasturtium sprouts from the neck of a statue that lost her head.  Nature’s feedback means an oak grows in a pot where a passing squirrel planted it, and the feverfew knocks itself out hiding the oil tank.

Pansies & onions, o my!
People laugh, but I never think their derision is about me.  Ever.  Firstly, it’s a reflection of how rigid their minds are but also, it’s a boundary issue because the Butler and I should have a garden we enjoy, not one that meets the needs of Mr UKIP down the road. 

But with the open weekend days away, I now suspected the Butler’d taken it personally all along.  Worse, that my own laughing sent him off the ledge.  When did this stop being fun for him?  Had it ever been fun for him?

When we talked about it, the Butler reminded me of when he was off work a few years ago because of his back.  He literally convalesced while curled up in a ball, taking copious amounts of painkillers, imprisoned with his own thoughts.  During those hours of not being able to DO, he realised that he took about 80% of his self worth from what he did, and only about 20% from who he was. 

That 80/20 mentality got him through his superhero years of resuscitating patients during the day, cooking meals and ironing uniforms at night, squeezing in patient transports overseas while the kids were at school.  The open garden weekend brought this all back to him, the conviction that to be a good human being, our little space needed to be a horticultural wonderland.

Gigantic mauve thing.
Skipping forward to the weekend itself, when he and I trespassed in our neighbours’ gardens, the Butler was full of curiosity and wonder.  See how they do that!  Oh, I love that species of astrantia.  I’ll distract them, Lora, and you steal the seeds.  He didn’t have a word of criticism for anyone.

So why for himself?  Why do any of us set our own standards so mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa high that we will never be enough, so that whenever the Butler’s asked to bring a covered dish, he brings two and when we go to the barbecue, I ask him later how often I embarrassed him and when either of us stand up to protest that someone has treated us Less-Than, we’re ashamed that we made such a fuss.

I could blame familial/societal indoctrination.  As a trauma therapist, I saw this over and over, that the legal system and the family and society as a whole placated the person acting out, expected the target of insanity to always keep her cool, be reasonable, never respond in a sane way to the bastard.  It boggled the mind.

But I believe we’re more than that, more than the recipients of indoctrination.  If we see that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothing, we certainly can be audible activists about the whole sordid affair but more importantly, we can take care of ourselves in the situation.  We can nurture our lives and seek out what we need, what we want, what we dream about. 

It isn’t easy.  And it isn’t a failing on your part if sometimes you hide in the house and think with dread about visitors tromping through your back garden.  It’s your back garden and it’s precious to you.  So while they’re kicking pots over and tugging branches off the buddleia, remember the lusty red dahlia you brought to life, the beauty you inspired in the space around you.

The weekend brought us lots of visitors.  I listened raptly when anyone felt compelled to say that an oak would outgrow a flowerpot.  No one who asked where I came from, then sang Country Roads got shoved ass first in the pond.  I feigned surprise that the statue had lost her head and couldn’t explain how a nasturtium took root there.  The poor creeping thyme will undoubtedly need therapy, considering the number of people who groped it to see if it were scented.

It’s thyme, people.  An herb.  Ergo . . .

Your own brazen hussy.
But there were people who were kind about annuals hastily planted in the bare spots, folk who appreciated that we’d welcomed them into our back garden – in effect, offered them hospitality.  Others shared their knowledge of pruning or species of holly or pond care.  People interested in the Latin name for the gigantic mauve thing (something only the Butler could answer) traded the Latin name for that yellow stuff we’d always called Vigorous. 

And a few people said as they left us, that we’d created a space of calm and welcome.  That’s what you want in life.  Not perfection, but a place that’s home.