Don't laugh at me ('cause I'm a fool)

For as long as I’ve been aware, my reaction to any and all bad news or uncomfortable emotion has been to make a joke of it. No matter how inappropriate or solemn, nothing is safe, nothing sacred. Of course I can, and do, cry:  I wear a sombre face and feel the depths of pain, but I can’t resist the urge to wear the red nose,  bend the moment and shape a joke as though life were sometimes made of little more than long thin balloons, wrangled into the shapes of dogs or hats or swords. Quite often the joke is a darkly bitter one, but it is a joke all the same.

Recently, when asked if I was a good child, my sister looked thoughtful and gave the considered answer, “Well, she was eccentric. Not malicious, but not always good.” She paused and looked puzzled for a moment. “She has always been a bit funny.”  The sense of funny that she used was almost certainly not the one pertaining to humour. And yet, my earliest memories are of people laughing at me. With me, I suppose, but around me, certainly. In a house that was filled with unspoken tensions and minefields of fear (which at the time seemed puzzling and unfathomable) the relief felt from people laughing was as warming as gulping hot chocolate in winter and as thin as the skin of a balloon.

I suppose it isn’t surprising that to gain approval, to keep the peace, to break the tension that I could feel but not place, I learnt to make jokes of all the things that scared me. In doing so, I never fully learnt the art of being still. The stillness of listening and just absorbing. The stillness of sympathy. The stillness of compassion. No, instead I ramble and burble. I dodge and weave and take circumlocutions around the simple things that need to be said and heard because I can make people laugh - and because it is easier for me. And I tie myself up in twists and knots, shapes of things that I am not, and try to amuse.

It is usual for a child to want the world to be simple and easy for them, for the world to be a place of entertainment, of crudely formed animals made of latex and breath, but as an adult I should be more prepared to embrace the complex, the difficult and the solid. I am angry at myself for always cracking jokes - often to try to make others forget their pain for a moment, but also so I don’t have to look too closely at all that pain in its rawness and vulnerability - when I should just be still. I don’t know that I can change, although I know I need to grow up, but maybe, just in case anyone mistakes my joking for callousness or a lack of empathy,  I should put my balloons aside for a while and take off the red nose. I am listening and I do care and I am still.

Hiding in Plain View

This is a hidden post. It wasn't written on September 29th, 2005. Far from it. But I didn't know where else to write. No-one looks here, anyway. Who'd read the archives of something they don't know exists? -Or of something they've read before and didn't really take notice of then, either? It's not as though you'll find pearls of wisdom here...I'll charitably assume you've at least read some of the rest: you are expecting either caustic amusement or depressive tracts about life in LesBohemia. Well, you can fuck right off. I'm writing this because I want to, you don't come into it.

I could write whatever I like in a hidden post - who'd know? I should have written what I liked, when I liked anyway- but I didn't. Self-censorship/ self-editing. Wanting to seem "amusing" or worse, "nice". Pretending to be part of some online "community". What was the fucking point? What is the fucking point, eh? Oh, I won't get answers, I know that. But maybe I'll get myself some new questions.

So, if you've read any of this before - you think you know me.
You don't. I hardly know myself - how could you?
But let me set a few things straight.

1. I am bored.
-Bored beyond credulity at the smallness of the life I have created, the non-career I have passively let drift over me...
And yet I am far too terrified of anything new and exciting that I couldn't contemplate doing/being anything different. What scares me? Failure.
- And success.

(-I never said I made any sense.)

Someone pointed out that if I have given up hope, then I might as well not live: you know what? They might very well have a point...

2. I gave up hope when I was twenty-three.
Twenty three!
I sat myself down and talked - aloud - about what a middling, meddling mediocrity I was- that being "promising"- a promising student, writer, whatever- when younger(!) was a false promise, and I was promise breaker; that I should (even if it was by force) accept that I will never amount to more than... (-well, even then I couldn't finish the sentence. What is the point of having abstract ambition? I can't put a task or a job to my ambition; I want to "be" better. How woolly-minded and pointless is that?) "I am a mediocrity!" I shouted it aloud, wandering the streets of Stratford on Avon, almost hallucinating from cheap whisky and self-loathing. I believed it then.

Now, I believe I may have become it. I wasn't mediocre: I was scared and alone and mired in past hurts. I still could be, I'm not sure (certainty goes with age, doesn't it?) but I have become almost invisible, I am so cautious and reticent.

I want to be so much more that this pathetic, wary paddler on the edge of life.

3. I don't need your pity/sympathy/contempt/compassion. I can supply my own, thank you. You might find my way of navigating my emotions to be scary, even nonsensical - but I've been charting this area for some time now, and I know myself far better than I let on.

4. When I say I'm OK, or that I don't know why I can't sleep, am depressed, etc., etc., I am lying through my teeth: I know precisely and exactly why (and I know that you wouldn't like the truth and so I am sparing your feelings.)

There might be some other hidden posts along the way. You might find them. Then again - you might want to ask yourself why the fuck you are looking for them in the first place? What are you looking for? Why here? Why?

Fifteen things I have learnt today [snot and sinus special edition]

  1. When I have a cold (as I do now) I rage and seethe like an Old Testament prophet
  2. Some of this can sound unintentionally funny
  3. I like the words, “accursed” and “forsaken” more than somewhat
  4. I can’t think of a single “ordinary” conversation where I might be able to use “accursed” and “forsaken” without sounding archaic, mad or worse…
  5. Mrs Gripes enjoys a scarcely concealed degree of schadenfreude
  6. I don’t mind her gloating as long as she does it quietly
  7. My postman scratches his nose using the envelopes he then posts through my door
  8. I don’t want to open my post now that I am aware of this fact
  9. I actually find the fuzzy, warm sweaty feeling of a fever pleasurable
  10. I am less fond of the tacky, cold feeling of a fever cooling down
  11. You can actually get used to the taste of blood.
  12. The smell of cat food can permeate even the thickest slugs of snot inhabiting one’s nostrils
  13. I can impersonate Elmer Fudd
  14. One shouldn’t impersonate Elmer Fudd when phoning one’s line-manager
  15. Particularly when said line manager is well know for being bereft of both a sense of humour and all compassion…

Thankfully one can’t get sacked for talking gibberish on the phone when off sick… but I bet she’d have good go if she thought she could get away with it! Humourless bint.

After writing all this mince, I am knackered now and need both a Lemsip and nice lie down. I would prefer the nice lie down to be with a pillowy-bosomed companion who would tend to my whims, soothe my fevered brow, and allow me to loll and idle in capacious luxury - but I’ll settle for the Lemsip and some idle day-dreaming. Probably about luxuriant pillowy bosoms and idle lolling.
And whims.
*sigh* I do like a good whim. Bad whims aren’t so good, but if you find a good whim? Ooh, it can change your life…

[The_Gripes_of_Wrath hopes to be returning to something approximating sense within the next day or so (usual variables apply) Please excuse the break in the usual doom and gloom: all donations of tissues impregnated with Aloe Vera gladly received …]

Kneejerk Pessimist

Right now, things are going well in my life. I can’t complain.

I have a job I enjoy and at which I am proficient (I’ve even been headhunted and offered supplementary work. That’s never happened before and I am stunned!). I am healthier than I have been for years (no smoking or drinking, regular exercise, easily five plus portions of fruit and veg a day, a healthy libido and gleam in my eye…). I have a partner who I love and who loves me (– Civil Partnership, ahoy! Rings and everything! But heaven forfend that anyone should deem it a marriage: it isn’t. So, no meringue frocks or wedding presents for us, just a deeply significant trip to the registrar and nice cup of tea). I have a future, commitment and security.  I have friends. I am not in debt, I have all the toys and gadgets I desire, I have free time to play with them and a little money in my pocket to spend on other small distractions. I live in one of the world’s most beautiful cities and I get to explore it every day.

- So why do I feel that it is all a trembling house of cards, waiting for the slightest breeze to tumble and fall? Why am I waiting for it all to go wrong? What part of me cannot accept that sometimes good things happen – not necessarily to good people, but to all people, regardless of the mealy-mouthed idea of “deserving”? Why can’t I feel that I am deserving of stability, love and success?

If I analyse too much, if I let my brow furrow and my gaze turn inward, if I keep thinking that it will all go wrong, then -as sure as autumn is readying its leafy coat- it will. And I know it. And still I can’t stop.

And then the questions start again: is your job really the best you can do? Why bother with the health kick? – your inheritance is almost certainly a tumour of some kind. Am I really loved and in love –or is it habit that is comfortable? What future do I really have? Why would anyone want to be friends with this? And so the toxic, self-defeating questioning goes on…

Even if this flurry of insecurity lasts a minute – a second, even - it is enough to rattle my whole day. I trip over my feet, I catch my hand on the kettle, I stammer and lose my train of thought. I become a self-fulfilling prophesy, lousing things up, hearing that mocking voice in my head that I can’t shut out “I knew you’d fuck it up. You’ll never be good enough.”  I hear the litany of my failures, in a dull intonation. I adopt an inner cringe. I withdraw.

I know I should be more accepting. I should be kinder to myself, congratulate myself for things I do well, the good things that I am, but it is hard. I should accept that I am loved- I find it hard to believe it, but I am- I should accept that I am loving, and that positive emotion can be expressed without fear of retribution. I should keep working hard to be positive so that maybe one day it won’t seem like hard work.

So, right now, things are going well in my life. I shan’t complain.

... and another one.

by Carol Ann Duffy

If we were shades
who walked here once
over the heather, over the shining stones,
fresh in our skin and bones
with all of the time to come
left to be us,

if we were dust,
once flesh, where a cloud
swoons on the breast of a hill,
breathing here still
in our countable days,
the words we said,

snagged on the air
like the murmuring bees,
as we lay by the loch,
parting our clothes with our hands
to feel who we were,
we would rather be there

than where we are here,
all that was due to us
still up ahead,
if we were shades or dust
who lived love
before we were long dead.

From Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy, published by Picador on September 16,price £12.99.
(To order a copy for £11.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875)

Carol Ann Duffy: Rapture

I want to call you thou, the sound
of the shape of the start
of a kiss — like this, thou —
and to say, after, I love,
thou, I love, thou I love, not
I love you.

Because I so do —
as we say now — I want to say
thee, I adore, I adore thee,
and to know in my lips
the syntax of love resides,
and to gaze in thine eyes.

Love’s language starts, stops, starts;
the right words flowing or clotting in the heart

Don’t spend too long wondering if a hardback is just “too expensive”, or that you aren’t sure whether or not you “like” poetry. Just buy this book – and fall in love with words, love itself and Carol Ann Duffy…

As in "ha-ha" or...?

This week I went for a coffee with an old school friend. The last time we saw each other would have been fifteen years ago, I reckon. I can’t say we’ve been in touch all this time: throughout my school career I deemed her my best friend, however once we left school we fell out of contact entirely. Occasionally, a nugget of information would be passed via the “maternal network” – my mother would get news and gossip via a work colleague, who was in turn an acquaintance of my friend’s mother- but information was little more than sketchy. There was one piece of news that rattled through like freight train: she had become a Buddhist nun.

Anyhow. We met up last week in a favourite Edinburgh coffee house (that sells dreadful cake -and pretty dreadful coffee too – but the ambience is great!) and caught up on the past fifteen years. Apart from being older, more confident and very composed, she was exactly as I remembered her – funny, disarming, slightly offbeat, something of an iconoclast and very compassionate. We chatted comfortably for a couple of hours. I had brought a photo-album from when we were at school and we were sanguine about the fashion horrors that lurked within its pages (well, it was the late 80s…) and filled each other in on the occupations and whereabouts of some of our classmates.

I was curious, not so much as to how or why she had become a Buddhist nun, but how she could leave it behind. Her explanation made perfect sense and I was glad that I had asked (it had been worrying me for years: I had feared some kind of crisis had arisen, but in fact there had been no problem- it was just that she had entered the nunnery for a fixed period and when her time had come to leave, she felt happy to do so) She was curious as to how and when I came out, although not in the least surprised that I had: she was more surprised that I was in a “proper grown-up relationship” – something which surprises me, constantly - and that we both were now non-smoking, non-drinking, drug-free and “responsible” professionals. When we were younger, we each viewed the other as being the wilder and more daring one: the reality was perhaps that I really was the more out of control. I certainly drank more, did more and risked more - I did it all more furtively, however, and it is the furtiveness that is now the hardest habit to break.

As we were leaving, I remembered something from when we were fourth or fifth years, desperately trying to keep ourselves amused during our tedious French lessons with a teacher who rejoiced in the nicknames, “Miss Marple”, “Trout”, or more starkly, “Death”. With another couple of friends, we had formed a gang -although a shower or clump would be a more appropriate term - and in self-deprecatingly ironic form, had named ourselves the “CND-Hippy-Save-the-Whale-Lesbian-Nuns” (to be said in our best Naaaaaaridge accents) – thus defusing some of the more common insults hurled our way (As I said, it was the late 80s and each of these terms were considered insulting!). I realised, with some degree of amusement, each of our friends had adopted one or more of these insult terms as a lifestyle: one of our friends was doing conservation work, another had become a wild-life photographer, we had all joined CND at one point or another and, of course, I was definitely a lesbian- she had most definitely been a nun. Funny how our jokes sometimes become real. Well, sort of funny, anyway.

Because 30-Something asked so nicely: Gripes meme memento...

Seven Things I Plan To Do Before I Die:

  1. Er…
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. ...
  6. ...
  7. ...Learn to stop procrastinating.

Seven Things I Can Do:

  1. Lick my own nose
  2. Put up shelves (far harder than you might think)
  3. Recite most of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth word for word
  4. Feign confidence
  5. Break bad news to someone gently
  6. Clear up other people’s vomit without being sick myself
  7. Love

Seven Things I Can Not Do:

  1. Lie convincingly
  2. Fit carpet or lino
  3. Hop on my left leg
  4. Tell jokes
  5. Shave my legs without missing a bit
  6. Fake a convincing Scots accent
  7. Understand why anyone reads Jeffrey Archer books

Seven Things That I Find Really Attractive About The Opposite Sex:

(I’ve never done the hettie thing, so this is a really tricky one. I suppose if “really attractive” can incorporate the qualities I admire in my male friends then I can give it a shot…)

  1. Single mindedness
  2. Confidence in their own geekdom
  3. Ability to tell jokes
  4. Indignance
  5. Unexpected sensitivity
  6. Open and unabashed appreciation of sex
  7. That I don’t have to have sex with them

Seven Things That I Find Really Attractive About The Same Sex:

  1. Soulfulness
  2. Emotional awareness and expressivity
  3. Strength and vulnerability
  4. Wit/humour (and women’s humour is not the same as men’s, that’s for sure)
  5. Curves – the more the better
  6. Soft skin…everywhere
  7. Taste *deep sigh*

Seven Things I Say The Most:

  1. Fuck it
  2. Bugger me blue!
  3. Er…./Mmmm/….Aaaaah (or indeed any other form of filled pause)
  4. OK? (rhetorical reinforcement, not an actual enquiry)
  5. Ultimately
  6. Shitfuckarsewank
  7. They were/it is/it could be “challenging”

Seven Books I Love:
(in no particular order and frequently subject to change...)

  1. Trumpet: Jackie Kay
  2. The House of Sleep: Jonathan Coe
  3. The World’s Wife: Carol Ann Duffy
  4. Tales of the City series: Armistead Maupin
  5. The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare
  6. The Passion: Jeanette Winterson
  7. Nights at the Circus: Angela Carter

And should anyone care to compare and contrast, I am setting this meme free!
Go! Run with it…

Hi ho...

I feel sick.
I’ve barely slept.
I can’t face my breakfast.
I want to run away. A long way away.
I could get a train or plane ticket and just get the hell out of here: I’m sure I could afford a B&B for a while. Maybe I could learn to forage, or use the fading remnants of my charisma to blag a place on someone’s sofa? I’m sure someone would take me in…Wouldn’t they?
I could feign a sudden trauma and become mute, that might work.
I could develop a sudden allergy to whiteboard markers. Near fatal, it would be.
If I didn’t live on the ground floor, I could throw myself down the stairs…
I could eat some of that gunk that has grown at the back of the fridge, that might do it.
Projectile vomiting!
Semi-permament incontinence!
I could gnaw off my own hands…

I am a lecturer at a college of Further Education.
Today is the first teaching day of a new term.

I have yet to meet any of my new students. I am crazed with fear and apprehension - far more so than any of my students could be. This rising panic has been building up for a week or so, to a point where I am getting palpitations, nightmares and breathless panic attacks. I try to relax, try to tell myself that it will all be fine, but it doesn’t sink in. If anything, every year it gets worse…

Give it a fortnight and everything will be back to normal. I will cope. I will stop panicking about being unprepared, entirely unsuited to teaching, having nothing to give these people, or that I will be found out as a fake, that I won’t “get away with it” any more, that I will be doing more harm than good… All will be routine and manageable, calm and order.

But for now…

I feel sick. I’ve barely slept. I can’t face my breakfast. I want to run away…