On unempathetic headfighting

I have a handful of friends I very (very, very) rarely see in person. We live too far apart and our lives don’t collide on any kind of regular basis. Instead, we write (and now that corona’s struck, we have more time for more in-depth writing). Technology is a wonderful thing.

Except.

Except, regardless of all the emojis and jokes and stories of our days and silly photos of things we find share-worthy, sometimes words fail to convey the emotion behind the keyboard.

Things that sound harmless in my head occasionally snowball down my arms and through my fingers, so that by the time they reach the screenpaper several latitude lines away, they’ve built up a dangerous energy and explode through my friends’ eyes and send splitters of bad feelings into the furthest corners of their minds, pressing all the niggly buttons as they go. The buttons I would never intentionally poke. The ones my friends are aware of but still, after all this time, haven’t worked out how to disconnect. The ones that are hard-wired into the central nervous system and which set off their own trails of destruction like dominoes or the mouse-traps in comedy films, except fully lacking the humour.

The same reaction can be sparked by the lack of a response.

I know how well these automatic reactions work because I have enough buttons of my own. Buttons my friends press, as unwittingly and unwillingly as I press theirs.

Harmless isn’t always harmless. Sometimes it really hurts. Sometimes it’s the memories of past hurts that come to haunt us, sometimes, but luckily far less regularly, the hurt is new. The ‘battleground of past hurt’ is one of our most frequently but unintentionally visited places.

That we’re still friends is something of a miracle and I’m grateful for them and their patience and ability to work things out.

***

Accusations

My About Page starts with the following story:

Once upon a time, someone interrupted my rant about someone else, with the words, “you do that too!”. That stung for a while, but it’s proved helpful since then. It makes me stop and check my position before getting stressed about others.”

That accusation feels like an eternity ago. Since then, there have been (many) other stinging comments from various people, but nothing quite as soul-shakingly succinct or ‘for general-purpose use’. Things happen, people say things, we work through them and they’re over. Rinse and repeat.

Recently I received the following general-purpose slap-round-the-face-with-a-dead-fish type comment:

“… [you] like to win arguments through domination and tone, not solve anything in any factual or sincere way – it’s all unempathetic headfighting.”

BAM.

*breathes*

Ok.

I would argue (!) that I aim for factual more than dominating, but I can accept that I miss the mark (and hit the wrong tone) more often than I’d like to admit.

“Headfighting” is a word I’d never heard before it was thrown at me like a grenade, but it’s a good word, one I can live with. It fits me and the way I argue more perfectly than any other word I can currently think of. The more I think about it, the more I like it.

Of all the uncomfortable words thrown at me in one sentence, it’s the “unempathetic” that really stings.

No matter how much I tell myself it’s unlikely to be true, that I’m probably not completely unempathetic, the idea lingers that it doesn’t really matter how empathetic I am or think I am; if it’s not felt by the people I care about most, and this person I care about is obviously not feeling it or they wouldn’t have found it necessary to say such a thing, then it doesn’t count.

That’s kind of worrying.

***

Empathy

Wikipedia says: “Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Definitions of empathy encompass a broad range of emotional states.”

If anyone had asked, I would have said I often sense what people are feeling. I would have said I regularly ‘know’ what kind of mood people are in before they start talking. Once upon a time I was even proud of picking up mood changes by the punctuation people used when writing to me. I would have said I could pick up differences in the atmosphere like a people-y barometer. Sometimes I get so caught up in other people’s emotions that I lose track of my own.

Turns out that none of that’s worth very much if you lack the words or the ability to do anything with that knowledge (thinking of it as “know-ledge” when really it’s “feel-ledge” might be part of the problem…) and I lack both, to varying degrees in varying situations.

***

Emotional Vocabulary

When Kate asks me how I feel about things, I tell her what I think about them. I lack vocabulary for feelings and emotions and even when presented with a list (!) I have a hard time matching them to myself or other people. I once told her “I don’t feel.” In return, she sent me a quote that I instantly identified with:

“Others of us come equipped with a somewhat more basic emotional vocabulary that […] consists primarily of ‘good’, ‘not so good: and ‘I already told you’.

When […] asked what they are feeling, they usually say ‘Nothing’, and when they are asked how they are feeling, they usually say, ‘I don’t know.’”

– Stumbling on happiness

This is me.

This is so me, it’s weird reading it from someone else.

I might have a few more words than the person in the book, but it’s not a long list.

I’m working on it, but it’s a sloooow process.

***

Talking about feelings (and cats)

Luckily, or maybe unluckily, this lack of emotional words is only an issue when it comes to things involving people.

Inanimate objects, with the possible exception of glass, don’t care or talk about feelings. (The washing doesn’t care how aggressively I load it into the machine. My bike doesn’t care how I’m feeling when I cycle it. The weather doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it, it does its thing regardless of who hates it. The wardrobe doesn’t care how indecisively I get dressed. Glass, for reasons I haven’t yet discovered, does care what mood I’m in, at least enough to only cooperate when I’m being nice to it. Even then, it doesn’t talk to me, so words aren’t an issue.)

(Many) animals can sense moods and intents and act as they gauge appropriate. A cat might curl up on your lap and let you stroke it, or it might hide and avoid you, but it won’t talk about feelings, neither its own, nor yours.

People do. Especially people you know. In the best case, they care what you do and feel and they have their own doings and feelings which need considering and reacting or responding to. A while ago, when I was seething about something, but willing to admit that it wasn’t a rational something, and not wishing to explode all over the person I deemed ‘responsible’, a friend suggested I give my hurt a bubble bath. That is an idea I would never have had in a million years.

When it comes down to it, my approach to feelings (and empathy) is much more cat-like than people-like. Approach cautiously, then, if I like you, and/or I think you like/need my company, I’ll stay close and listen and maybe hug depending on the person, or if I don’t like you or I feel disliked or unappreciated or hurt or scared, I’ll distance myself (maybe after I put my hackles up, hiss, scratch or bite). I might well talk, possibly too much, but I am unlikely to talk about feelings.

***

Private thoughts and Button pressing

I love good words when they’re directed at me, but I’m more likely to return my sentiments in a hug than an equal outpouring. I don’t ‘gush’. It takes me forever to tell people I love them (if I ever do :/). I try not to get angry. I rarely cry in public. I don’t shout at people (in public or otherwise). I don’t (like) kiss(ing) in public. I don’t go in for public displays of anything. Private things are private, and even then, even in private, opening up to what’s more than just below the surface is something I don’t do easily. Stirring up what’s below that, is something I hardly do by myself…

Against that, when my buttons are pressed, and they are unfortunately quite easy to press, especially when I’m tired, and even more especially in writing, I can get hung up on something secondary, something unimportant and not at all the point of what was being said. If I feel hurt (or angry or any of the ‘not-so-good’ emotions) I have two main go-to ‘programs’ either retreat-and-sulk or claws-first, reasons-after. Reasons, especially badly explained written reasons (or any reasons at all when aimed at heart-people), aren’t particularly useful as either bridges or bandages, and sulking doesn’t solve anything. If I’m very aware of myself and my own needs, there’s a third option – to accept that I’m not able to respond to something constructively ‘right now’ and say so, but that is something I’m still working on, very very slowly. (NB: I’m open for advice on further options..)

***

Robotic self-awareness

Awareness is a hard beast to tame. Sometimes, when I try to focus on not stressing, not hurting (you or myself), not getting angry, not being unreasonable, not saying anything that could be misinterpreted, I end up sounding robotic. Getting rid of the perceived negatives sometimes seems to erase the humanity in the positives. I’m sure there’s some way of striking a happy balance, but I haven’t found it yet.

In primary school, we were read a story about someone who built a wall around their garden so they could stay safe and wouldn’t be harmed by anything. It took them quite a long time to realise that they were also keeping out the good things. I don’t remember the details, but at the end they took down the wall, and let everything in. That’s something I’m working on too.. Unfortunately, I still have overly-enthusiastic antibody-like guards to warn me that ‘bad things’ are coming and to defend me from them, and there are far more of them than celebratory-messengers to let me know about ‘good things’.

***

Dodging deep feelings

On a related note, when I’m scared by the deep deep feelings in myself, I’m liable to skirt round yours, partly because I don’t know how to help, but also partly so I don’t have to deal with my own. Sometimes I’ll actively pick out the bits I’m confident I can handle, and ignore the rest, sometimes it’s more subconscious than intentional. Sometimes I get stuck on the first bit of new information and don’t register the rest.

If you tell me Ghandi survived on a grain of rice a day and that you know that it’s possible because you’ve been close to death [by starvation], there’s a good chance I’ll focus on Ghandi and the rice. That’s something I don’t know and which causes an instant “need to know more” reaction. Death (and related suffering) is not a topic I’m good at talking about, at least not on a personal level, so I, mostly unconsciously, skip it. I’m not trying to reduce your experience, or imply that you’re not telling the truth.

If you tell me you’re so scared or worried by what someone told you that you won’t be able to sleep, and then, almost in the same breath, ask me how I prioritise what I keep in my too-small freezer, I’ll be 3 lines deep in frozen soup and fishfood before it even registers that there are deeper and more important issues at stake. By the time I’ve discovered what’s happened, we’re buried in superficialities and the potential for sharing (and possibly eradicating) the “can’t-sleep-tonight,-help-me” moment is gone. I don’t want to think about how many similar moments I’ve missed ;(

***

People pleasing

Being responsible for other peoples’ unhappiness is one of the worst things I can think of. Yeah, there’s all that stuff about everyone being responsible for their own reactions, but I think if you punch someone, or bash them with your suitcase when you rush past in a packed station, you’re responsible for the physical pain they feel, even if it wasn’t on purpose. I don’t see that it’s all that different for mental pain. If I say something that hurts someone, regardless of whether I did it on purpose or accidentally, it’s still something I did. Apart from not being a good thing to do, it hurts to see other people hurting and if I can avoid it, I will. I think this is kind of normal.

My problem, if it can be called a problem, is that I’m not really sure where ‘actively hurting’ stops and ‘not actively making them happy’ starts. I don’t think it’s my duty (or even actually possible long-term) to make people happy but I still feel bad if I do something they would like me not to do, or could do something but choose not to do it.

This makes it difficult (not impossible) to create and protect my boundaries or organise my own priorities.

It also makes it difficult to know when to object to the way things are said to me, especially if I can appreciate that the person saying them is stressed about something else. Awarding myself the same right to remain unhurt often comes second to being understanding.

Choosing to stand up for myself, at the cost of not siding with the other person, not being accepting, not being ‘nice’, is really hard, especially if that person isn’t happy as a result of it.

The ‘easy’ version of this, as something to practise on, is arguing about things of no consequence.

***

Self-criticism and slippery slopes

On top of that, I am ridiculously self-critical, to the point that if I think you’ve criticised one thing on my list of Things-I-criticise-myself-for, I will probably assume you would also agree with everything else on my list and more, and come to the conclusion that you think pretty much everything about me needs changing and that you’d be better off if I wasn’t inflicting myself on you. This is not logical or rational. I know this when I’m happy. On a not-so-good day, I can often recognise what’s happening and think my way out of it. On a bad (or very hormonal) day the slope is very slippery.

If you, for example, tell me you didn’t enjoy playing a game with me and that you would have preferred to do something else, that is entirely reasonable from your perspective because you’re letting me know something I couldn’t otherwise find out. It’s a knowledge transfer. A sensible reaction is probably to file that information and offer to play a different game next time. And yet, given the right circumstances (tired/hungry/upset/hormonal/whatever) it might well set off a chain of negative thoughts that are almost entirely unrelated to you or the exact game in question but entirely logical in my head, and before either of us know it, I’m having a pity-party that you didn’t see coming, and don’t understand when I try to spell it out, if I even try.

***

Words, in person and in writing

Words are tricky things. They evoke different feelings and meanings in different people. Nuances aren’t always minor. Explanations don’t always explain anything. What I say isn’t always what you hear (and vice versa).

In ‘real life’ face-to-face interaction it doesn’t really matter so much if we have words for things or if we don’t agree entirely on the meaning. Assuming I can remember the numbers correctly, the actual words people use make up something like 7 % of face-to-face communication, the other 93 % is all the non-verbal stuff; tone, gestures, facial expression, the way you’re breathing and standing and and and… We can wave our arms about and make faces and work out if we’re happy or sad or whatever. Happy is easy. Happy just involves existing and being interested and joining in the rejoicing. Sad (etc) is harder, but when I can’t offer words, I can offer hugs, or ice cream, or sit in the kind of silence that [I hope] isn’t oppressive. If there’s something that needs doing, I can join in with doing it.

It’s (much) harder on the phone, but I’m pretty good at hearing how people say things (I think), which makes it easier to know what they mean, and easier to change track or explain what I originally meant as soon as it’s obvious that something didn’t come across the way I intended it to. It’s instant too, like in ‘real life’, so you can work through things as soon as they happen (that’s simultaneously a potential bad thing, because you have no time to think out an answer, but on the whole still good).

In writing, this becomes horrendously difficult. If you can’t easily express what you’re thinking and feeling in person, when you’re face-to-face, with the whole range of possibilities, you have very little chance in writing, when you’re stripped to nothing but words and a scattering of small, round, yellow faces. Small gaps or differences in understanding can turn into a huge, ravenous canyons seemingly instantaneously. Even emojis, which are supposed to help, are subject to interpretation. I spent a long time using one smily as a ‘guilty-as-charged’ stand-in, later, I was told most people use it to indicate eye-rolling. That’s quite a difference. I use the monkey covering its eyes to represent situations when I would cover my face, apparently there’s a different one for that and the monkey is for ‘see-no-evil’. I can’t even begin a similar list for words. Ice cream doesn’t travel well, and since no-one knows what you’re doing when you’re not writing, silence can be taken as avoidance or lack of interest when you’re actually desperately scrambling to choose a fraction of what you’re thinking and feeling, and arrange it into something that can be read and understood by someone who doesn’t inhabit your head. Or you’ve just been phoned. Or your battery’s just died. Or your computer/phone’s frozen and you can’t make it unfreeze.

***

After all that introspective rambling, I think this is what I’m trying to say:

When you, whoever you are, are upset about something, I would love to be well-grounded and stable enough to wait out the storm and be an island if you need shelter before heading off again. To put myself aside and make a space for you until things are better. That….is not always a realistic expectation :(.

Sometimes I’m not strong enough for both of us, sometimes I’m in the middle of my own storms. Sometimes the way you talk to me hurts and I concentrate on my pain and not on yours. Sometimes I focus on ‘facts’ and not (your) feelings. Sometimes I try to see the whole story and miss that you need me to see your story. Sometimes I miss the whole point and think we’re talking about something else.

Sometimes I don’t have the words I need, to say what you need to hear.

Sometimes I let my words get in the way.

Sometimes I put them in the way on purpose.

Sometimes I suck at being a good friend, not just at being empathetic.

I’m sorry for the times I’ve been a lousy friend. Will you help me become a better one?

On love and phone theft

I phoned a friend yesterday.

Half an hour or so into the conversation her partner came into the room..

Friend’s Partner: is that Jess?

Friend: yes..

Friend’s Partner: I want to talk to her, give me the phone *takes phone*

Friend: (in background) ..but..

Friend’s Partner: shh! Go away, I’m on the phone!

Friend: ..but.. (in background) ok Jess, let’s talk later..

Friend’s Partner: *takes phone outside*

Can’t say anyone’s ever fought over the chance to talk to me before.. *loved*

On Jesus and the Billy Goats Gruff

Has anyone else noticed the similarities between the prophets, John the baptist and Jesus with the three Billy Goats Gruff?

“Me? Nah, I’m not tasty/big/important/mighty enough – you want the next guy, he’s much tastier/bigger/more important/mightier than me!”

(the small part where Jesus dies can be overlooked as part of the biggest-billy-goat-kicks-troll’s-butt scuffle – coming back to life presumably counts as winning overall).

On balance

It seems that it’s impossible to add purely Good Things to a life.

Great news? Bam! Bad news.

Good mood? Bam! Some reason to hide.

Have lots to do inside at the weekend? Bam! Have a couple of fabulously warm sunny days so you either feel guilty about missing them by being inside or about not doing the things you’d planned.

Finally get motivated enough to practise running? Bam! Do something to your ankle and need to take it steady for a while.

Finish a project at work? Bam! Get a crazy migraine headache and have to be rescued because there’s no way you’re going to cycle home.

Find a friend you haven’t seen for years? Bam! Someone you love is taken to hospital….

The great universal scales seems to need balance.

Banal or super-important, nothing is safe and even if nothing is actually related, sometimes it seems to be.

On tears and tablets

I need to go shopping.

The tears fall heavily, the breaths juddering and irregular, my thoughts spiralling and my face getting steadily more puffy.

The tears have nothing to do with my need to go shopping. They’re just there. And their presence is a hindrance.

I want go back to bed. To hide. To cry until all the tears are gone and there’s nothing left inside me.

I know that if I do that, the shops will shut before I resurface. Tomorrow they’ll stay closed, and by Monday I will be ravenous.

Instead of hiding, I take the tablets*, pushing them out of their blister packaging with shaking fingers, washing them down with big, greedy gulps of cold water.

I still need to go shopping.

Whatever magic is in those tablets, they’re truly incredible – the tears dry up almost instantly. I pull myself together. Pull myself back into this world of doing not being.

Then I wash my face, pick up my shopping bag and go shopping.

While I’m out, I buy postcards. The wordy sort my family don’t approve of. I’m going to put them on the wall with the others. Regardless.

The tablets might dry tears but they can’t reduce puffiness. The shops don’t care though. My money has the same value regardless of what my face looks like. This, I think, is probably a good thing.

* they’re just vitamin D. They contain more placebo than anything else 🙂

On making time to be ill

It’s Friday.

I’m supposed to be in the middle of a two day committee meeting. Instead I am lying on a towel looking at this:

rejoicing at the slight breeze and listening to the birdsong and the buzzing of a million insects.

Yesterday I looked up at the sky through the branches for the first time in too long. As I lay there, I couldn’t actually remember the last time I’d done that. It’s amazing how seldom I lie on my back outside.

The day before that I lay beside a lake and looked at the reeds and listened to the frogs:

***

I have been neglecting myself recently, or at least not paying attention properly.

I’ve been working long hours during the day and watching the stars at night and not sleeping enough in between. I’ve been talking too much and not listening to my body enough. I’ve been eating beans and pancakes and müsli and chocolate and not nearly enough fruit and veg. I’ve been cycling and rowing (on the machine) but not stretching or actively relaxing. I’ve been trying to get things done, but not standing back to see which things are actually important. I’ve been spending a lot of time dithering and rushing about (mostly in circles) inside and not so much just existing outside.

All this is probably why I was the perfect victim for a passing virus. And also why I found myself spending the last few days in an exhausted heap observing the greenery and assorted wildlife.

As they say,

“If you won’t take time to be healthy, you’ll have to make time to be ill”

There’s a lot of truth in that.

Unfortunately.

On the other hand, even though being ill is no fun, there’s a lot to be said for lying on the ground under a tree, just recuperating. I might have to come here more often, even when I’m well again. Also, having a sore throat is the perfect excuse to up my icecream consumption :p.

***

I was invited to a party on Saturday. I had to turn it down because I wouldn’t be back from the committee meeting in time. That meant I was free to go to my AuPair kid’s birthday on Sunday, seeing as I was in Southern Germany anyway (and once I found out that I wouldn’t make it back for the party). Now, I’m not going anywhere. Hmph.

Not travelling means not needing train tickets. I was so chuffed about booking them in advance (and thereby saving money) but it seems that even if I am organised it doesn’t work out.. Very miffed about that – I thought I was doing so well! Luckily the train company refunds tickets up to the day they’re valid so I only “lost” the cancellation fee.

***

The next bit’s boring, mostly just for my memory in case I need to be reminded later.

I was tired and unmotivated for most of the weekend. Things that should have taken a few minutes took several hours. I started things and left them on the floor. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to buy when I went shopping and spent ages dithering between this one and that one, walking back to the shelves and putting things back, only to turn round when I reached the end of the isle and pick it up again, having changed my mind (this is a semi-normal thing when I go shopping, I’m just not usually quite as dithery as this weekend).

I had a dry throat and unquenchable thirst, along with a headache for most of Monday and Tuesday. Drinking 3L of water in less than 6 hours is possibly a little excessive, but it’s been 30+ degrees C in Berlin for a while, and 34+ in the workshop, so I assumed it was due to a combination of heat, dehydration and potentially a slight lack of salt.

Then I dropped my bike while getting off it at the crossroads on the way to work on Tuesday. Who’s that weak?! I put that, too, down to the heat and made a point of drinking even more, this time alternating water with squash, briefly thinking about adding some kind of strength training into my already largely unsuccessful mornings.

Swallowing started to hurt (rather than scratch) about mid afternoon. I waited until no one else was using the loos at work and looked at the back of my throat in the mirror (my mirror at home is waiting for me to finish its new frame). My tonsils were swollen and had white patches. Ewww.

That night I tossed and turned, froze, boiled, fought with the duvet, staggered back and forth to the bathroom and was generally not particularly rested when the alarm went off in the morning. I fought my way out of bed and towards the end of the road. I wanted to stop at the doctor’s before work and ask what to do about of the white splotches.

Turns out working isn’t good for healing. It’s also not good for other people if you work while you’re contagious.. Who knew. 😉

She stole some blood and wrote me off work for 3(+x) days and told me to get lots of rest and to avoid other people and talking. (She also recommended medicinal throat sweets, but they made my mouth hurt, so I gave up after the 4th).

The chemist suggested vitamin C crystals with added Zink. Taking that as she recommended.

Slept well and often for most of the rest of the day.

On going directly to prison

A couple of days ago I came across a YouTube video of a person I’d never heard of before being arrested. The arrest had been caught on camera by spectators. So far so normal. People get arrested all the time and people have had access to video recording equipment for a long time.

A couple of links and videos later I found out that this person had been arrested, tried, found guilty and taken to prison within a matter of hours (anywhere between 1 and 6 depending on the source). That seems much less normal..

I could understand them being taken to the police station or even to some kind of detention centre until the court case…but having the trial on the same day as the arrest seems a little bit crazy.

Also, although I’d never heard of them, they appear to be a Known Person. That means there’s a lot of public interest in finding out what happened.

However.

For some reason the judge issued a total ban on mentioning anything to do with the case, effectively forbidding anyone to report on the case since anyone who does mention details of the case stands to be arrested too. That’s reporters, journalists, newspapers, TV presenters, witnesses, family/friends of the person, random people using social media, etc etc etc. Some of the original news articles have apparently been removed from the websites they were published on.

That all means there’s no official information, which leaves a lot of room for speculation.

I understand (kind of) the idea of keeping ongoing cases non-public until the jury have made their decision. I would have thought that once the sentence has been given, then the case is officially over…

Apparently not.

That also seems crazy.

As does the fact that the arrest and consequent sentence took place in England. In 2018. Last weekend.

***

Regardless of who they are and what they’ve done (or haven’t, perhaps), can someone please tell me how it’s logistically possible to go to prison on the same day as the alleged crime, the arrest and the court case? And if it is possible, why it is that some cases take such a long time to settle?

On the day the world didn’t stop turning

Sometimes, when you’re small and still busy growing up, people tell you not to do certain things because otherwise Bad Things will happen.

Sometimes, many years later, you do those things anyway, and realise that the world doesn’t actually spontaneously combust, or stop turning or fall on your head.

It’s quite a let down in a way. But it’s a welcome let down. I didn’t want to be responsible for the end of the world 😉

On being an awful partner

I currently have a friend over for a long weekend and I am becoming more and more aware that I am not cut out for a long-term female partnership..

How do I know?

I have no patience for conversations about frilly knickers, nail varnish, the best way to burn candles or which bread has the lowest glycemic index. (But I can sit for hours listening to people talk about the finer points of changing the blades on a thickness planer machine, despite never having seen one).

I am not very knowledgeable about yoga, stretching, running, or really any exercise in general.

I don’t care much about fashion, fabric, design, pattern, or clothes as long as I’m dressed and warm enough.

I have less than no idea about hairdryers. I don’t blow-dry my hair unless I absolutely have to. That happens maybe once a year, twice if I go to the hairdressers. I have a small hot-air-blowing device which I use on the rare occasions when I deem it necessary, and which packs into a small bag in a cupboard for the rest of the year. (Naja, that’s not quite true, it’s also pretty good at drying paint/woodstain if I’m too impatient to let things dry by themselves, so it does get to come out of the cupboard sometimes). It turns out it isn’t a proper hairdryer but rather a styling brush (and therefore not useful for drying one’s hair). Who knew?

I wouldn’t recognize an electric nail file if I tripped over it, nevermind know which way to hold it or how (or why) to use it. Or an electric callous grinder (see? no idea what they’re even supposed to be called). I don’t remember ever having or doing a pedicure, unless you count filing the pointy edges off my toenails when they break and threaten to make holes in my socks.

I am used to being the dithery party. I am used to getting lost in places I’ve been before. I am used to people complaining about how long it takes me to get ready to go anywhere. I am used to people getting stroppy about me leaving a trail of my things strewn across the house. I am used to people laughing at or not understanding my clothes (“so what is this thing anyway?!” – talking about a wrap around skirt).

I am not used to waiting for more than an hour to get into the bathroom in the morning.

I am not used to working round other people’s PMS.

I am not used to multiple (many many many) bottles of ‘body care’ potions appearing all over the house.

I am not used to getting home and being greeted by a wave of ‘girly smells’. Perfume and baby powder and shampoo and conditioner and body lotion and hand cream and whathaveyou each with a different (but strong) fragrance.

I can’t work up any excitement (at all) for an evening of ‘pampering’ if it involves anything other than massage. Start talking about mutual makeovers and I will bail.

I can’t deal with “What’s up?” “Nothing.” conversations.

I don’t understand freezing but simultaneously objecting to either finding another jumper or turning the radiators on.

I don’t understand why anyone would [regularly and willingly] eat nothing but salad for dinner and then get up in the middle of the night to raid the fridge and the breadbin.

When I get ill, I am more likely to have manflu and go to bed with honey-and-lemon and a hot water bottle (and maybe my laptop) than to try and keep up my manic schedule while sneezing, snuffling and coughing, at least for the worst couple of days.

I am not naturally a tidy person. I don’t think anyone could reasonably call me a neat-freak (:)) – I severely dislike washing up and doing housework – but finding cups in the bookcase and plates left on the coffeetable instead of at least in the vicinity of the sink has helped me develop a new sympathy for people who are.

Also. Hair. I used to laugh at a long-distant-ex-boyfriend for complaining about the “hairy woman-beast” inhabiting his space. I’m not going to take sides with him, but I can at least see that he might have had a point.

In short, I feel like I’m suddenly on the wrong side of all the bloke-whinges-about-girlfriend cartoons/sketches/blogposts and I’m not used to it. I’m not sure I even like being on the other side of the frustration.

Ok, so frustration is frustrating on both sides.. I’m just usually defensively frustrated, at the people trying to hurry me for example, but I could never really see where they were coming from. I used to get upset at people who weren’t understanding or able to listen or were obviously disinterested by what I was saying, people who wouldn’t cooperate with me and/or my way of working, people who were more concerned about reaching a destination than enjoying the journey..

I am slowly starting to understand some of the people who complained about me, as well as some of the actions of the people I complained about… and that’s worrying!

I’m not a particularly good hetero girlfriend, but it seems I would be an incredibly awful lesbian… 😉

***

NB: Against the impression I’m probably giving, I do like this lady 🙂 I’ve just previously only seen her in smaller doses (like for an afternoon) and never had her to stay..

On hurting (and carrying on regardless)

Dear mind, dear body, dear soul,

Yes it sucks. Yes, it hurts. Yes it’s hard.

Know what though?

We’re carrying on. We’re not going to stop or give up or collapse or breakdown. We can go slower if you like. But we’re not stopping. There’s a long way to go yet.

Sometimes, like when hunting bears, you can’t go round it, over it or under it, you have to go through it. Guess where we’re going?! Yup. “The only way out is through” and all that jazz.

And we will get through it. Eventually.

Apparently the right kind of pain means you’re getting stronger. I have no idea which sort we’re working with, but let’s assume it’s the helpful sort and go from there.

It hurts more than before, but we’re better than before, so we can deal with more than before. We got through everything to get here, we can get through this to get further.

On the way, we’re going to keep smiling, keep cycling, keep rowing, keep walking and plodding and crawling. Keep talking and writing and listening and laughing and reading and building and trying. Especially trying.

Even when it’s hard. Maybe especially when it’s hard. Or raining or windy or snowy or silent or uphill.

We can do this.

Slowly.

With a million setbacks and a million and one restarts.

With tears and bruises and scars.

With stories and memories and pictures.

With late nights and early mornings and cake and hot chocolate and parsnips.

With barely-done-up trousers and worn out shoes and a brand new coat rack.

With good books and sunny days and amazing conversations.

With fish and fluffy slippers and freshly-put-up lights.

We’ve got this.

With lots of love,

Me xx

“And she never gives up…she just changes her mind!”

– Billy Joel

On making things harder for myself

Way back when I lived by myself, I used to cycle quite a lot (to work, into town, through the vineyards, etc). I lived in a very hilly place and I could cycle to work and back without getting off and pushing.

I now live (almost) in Berlin. Berlin is flat. The same way Holland is flat. The only hills that exist are man-made, full of rubble from the war. Because that’s obviously the best thing to do with rubble. Pile it up and cover it with grass. Maybe Silbury Hill is an ancient version of the same idea.

Whatever.

I have started cycling to work here. On the way there’s a bridge with a very long, very gentle incline. Just a couple of metres over quite a long stretch of road. 1-in-100 or even 1-in-50 is not steep by anyone’s reckoning. There have been days when I fought so much I actually contemplated getting off and pushing. There’s nothing like failing to cycle up an almost nonexistent hill to make you feel the need to get fitter..

***

I picked my bike up from the workshop on Wednesday.

They’d had to replace the front wheel and realign the back wheel and adjust the brakes and do something technical with the gears.

I asked them to explain what had broken in the dynamo and how I could avoid breaking it again.

My understanding of the ensuing explanation is as follows. It may or may not be an accurate representation of what they actually said.

The axel was slightly off centre which lead to unequal distribution of pressure/weight/something which lead to the metal walls of the dynamo straining and eventually breaking, which lead to everything coming loose.

It appears that these things just kind of happen…

…but that most people notice earlier.

I thought that was odd, and said so, because I’d brought it in the day after it died…

… except apparently it’s been dying for several hundred km.

He was amazed that I’d cycled it so far without realising that there was a problem. He showed me the pieces of the broken dynamo, and the pieces of a new one. The difference was incredible.

Not as incredible as the difference having a new wheel made to my perceived fitness the next morning tho!

I’d struggled to get to work in under 40 minutes and reach an average speed of anything above 11kph.

On Thursday I was there in 30, with an average of more than 14. And it was windy and snowing.

I was amazed.

***

I was also amazed (and a bit confused) to realise that my rowing machine was no longer set to the easiest setting. I have zero recollection of changing it so I have no idea how long I’ve been using it like that.

It reminds me of mistakenly skiing down a black slope and wondering why I was suddenly so prone to falling over..

On the magic in the middle

It doesn’t appear to make any sense.

None of it.

And yet, afterwards, you can look back and see all the paths and patterns and logical consequences.

And it’s kind of beautiful. And strange. And magical.

***

***

I’m not there yet, not at the patterns and consequences stage, but I am at a place where I can stand and take some breaths without fighting to keep my head above water.

I got a lot done in the last week and a half.

Despite, or possibly because of, all the frustration and rain and aching muscles and late nights and long(ish) journeys and complicated German grammar and broken things.

* I have a new bed (which I carried across town)

* I looked at a new old car and decided it was too broken to buy

* I have a new mattress

* I rearranged my room (to accommodate the bed)

* I’ve got to know a neighbour (a bit)

* I read my water meter and my radiators and handed in the numbers. Before the deadline

* I cycled something like 70km and walked a bit too

* I fought the trains with a bike and won, overall and on balance

* I saw parts of the city I would probably never otherwise have visited

* I met people who made me question my prejudice (sparkly clean floor and still welcoming towards dripping wet and muddy strangers)

* I have new skis

* I talked to the people at the garage about my car. By myself. Without anyone ‘super-knowledgable-about-cars” to talk about the ‘complicated things’ for me

* I spent a couple of hours reading (doesn’t happen nearly regularly enough)

* I sorted out my aquarium (water change, rescued 2 shrimp from the filter and pruned plants), and cleaned xDB’s aquarium filters (my fish..)

* I was contacted by someone who might be the dog’s original owner (yet to find out the exact connection)

* I had some fantastic late night online conversations with a friend I don’t see anywhere near often enough

* I taught myself and my after-school-help kid what adjectival attributes are (and genitive and prepositional ones)

* I started sorting through my enormous postcard-and-magazine-clippings box, ready to start decorating my room

* I rowed every day (on the machine), and got an all time personal best

* I have my old stereo back (almost)

* And the best part: some one really important to me got back in touch after several months – lots of good conversations (had, and hopefully to come)

And all that on top of working and keeping myself alive (washing (myself and my clothes), cooking, eating, washing up, sleeping…all the usual stuff)

***

Later:

I wrote the above yesterday lunchtime. I meant to come home, add the picture and press post.

I didn’t, partly because I got home later than expected – I worked until 6 and walked back with my stereo – and partly because I was so amazed/shocked/speechless about an email I received when I got home that I completely forgot about the post.

I’m not going to say what the email said, yet, except that it has to do with my miniature glass company and it’s very very cool news.

Yesterday was a very good day.

***

I feel like I’m still in the middle, but I can see the vaguest semblance of a path out. And right now, in the middle of all my chaos, I think life is pretty damn great 🙂

Jimmy Eat World – The Middle (screenshot of a YouTube video)

On curious cats

Curiosity probably didn’t directly kill the cat. It probably just kept it up so late it was too tired to avoid the things that could kill it.

Finding things out has to be worth a bit of sleep loss though, right?

🙂

Zzzzzzz