Tilt/shift

Nothing very bad has ever happened to me.

I have never been raped or suffered a serious sexual assault. I’ve never been with a guy who didn’t stop when I indicated that we’d reached the point of no passing. I have had two small experiences – once a guy jumped up behind me and copped a feel over my shoulder; another time a man put his hand on my thigh in the bus, one finger edging weirdly close to my crotch.

I was 20 for the first one, in my late 20s for the second. I acted as you might expect – the first time I was scared, I yelled and proceeded quickly to a more populous area, spoke to a supermarket’s security guard, went straight home; the second time, I shifted uncomfortably, not sure if he realised what he was doing, afraid to embarrass him if it was an accident (of course it wasn’t an accident) until finally I shifted drastically enough in my seat that his hand removed itself. I blamed myself the first time: for listening to my walkman, for taking the quieter route, for wearing leggings, for being oblivious. The second time I knew better. I was just a female on a bus. No more, no less.

When something like that – or something else un-good – happens, I have noticed that my worldview tilts. For a while, I see things from the dark side. I expect everything to end badly: every trip to be a harbinger of disaster, every stranger to be a dangerous foe, every phone call to herald terrible news. I cannot see the way out of this tunnel, because it doesn’t feel like a tunnel, it feels like a heavy blanket laid over me. It’s the way I feel if I think too hard about climate change.

Usually, this rights itself after a few days, a week. My world pops back to where it usually is, buoyant, upright. People are mostly good, things mostly turn out ok, I am usually lucky. I am in control of my destiny again.

And then I think how long it would take for my worldview to shift back if something really bad happened to me, and I wonder if it ever would. I think that’s probably, maybe, how depression feels. I think it wouldn’t take much to nudge me over there.

I have immense admiration for survivors. #Ibelieveher

 

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A short history of me and the Internet, with digressions

In my postgrad year, when I did a fairly pointless business course mostly because my best friend suggested it, I got my first email account. My friend and I would sit two chairs apart in the library and send each other emails addressed to Gorilla Features and Borscht-for-Brains and giggle at our wit. I took an Information Studies elective in which I did a project on newspapers on the Internet. The papers were just starting to get an internet presence, generally by having a PDF of their pages online. It was all very basic, is what I’m saying. I think we used Word 2.0 back then.

About a year later I got my proper job, with computers and internet access. There was no such thing as a firewall, but then there was no such thing as Facebook either. You could still waste plenty of company time faffing about on the web. A helpful co-worker put together an intranet site for our department that contained a few fun outside links: one was to a thing called a forum. I took a look and was hooked by all these smart people talking about things I didn’t understand and/or was fascinated by, in ways that were witty and clever and new to me.

I lurked on forums and discussion boards with funny names that had nothing to do with their content. I read Wing Chun and Glark and Damn Hell Ass Kings and Tomato Nation. I watched Buffy and Angel and read the recaps the next day at Television Without Pity. I vaguely thought about starting a blog, because it sounded exciting, like a very small and private sort of exhibitionism, like when I’d do cartwheels in the deserted streets at night.

I learned how to be civil on the Internet from the older and wiser posters on those forums. I learned how to be a feminist and how to apologise and just listen when I’d said something stupid. I mostly just watched and learned. I discovered a whole new dialect of Internet-speak, full of memes before we knew what memes were, and running jokes and inside references and blah blah blah fishcakes.

I was reading when one of the people on the boards couldn’t find her boyfriend because he’d been in one of the twin towers on 9/11/2001. This was real life, real people, thousands of miles away, connecting to each other with words on all our screens, sending love, and tears, and an odd, new sort of truth.

I moved to America. The urge to write down all the strangeness of emigrating to a life that’s simultaneously like and not like my old life got the better of me and I started a blog at Diaryland. It had a green background and no photos. It was anonymous, of course.

I read fitness blogs, though I was not fit. I read weightloss blogs, though I wasn’t losing weight. I read baby blogs though I wasn’t pregnant. They all had a good story arc, they kept me coming back. I read Amy‘s blog and Linda‘s blog and Heather‘s blog and others that I haven’t kept up with. I came back again and again to the writers whose words drew me in, who made me laugh and cry with their honesty and their bravery and their lives full of drama. I found Jessica and Leah and Kristin and their lives and their loves and their pregnancies and their cute, cute babies kept me coming back for more because they put their words together so well.

I blogged, in fits and starts. I moved to Blogger and eventually to WordPress. I blogged about the strangeness of living somewhere new. I blogged about being pregnant, having a newborn, breastfeeding, sleepless nights, babies who don’t like food, getting pregnant again, all of it again and again and again. People read my words. I found a community. I even went to BlogHer one year and met a whole lot of people in real life. Facebook happened and the lines between friends I’ve met and friends I haven’t met yet became more blurred.

I found a community of bloggers at home in Ireland, where blogging seemed to be just taking off, though it was changing too, with sponsored posts and competitions and freebies and a whole industry. A few of us ran a site called Parent.ie for a while and I wrote furiously there until it came to an end. The Irish bloggers connected me to home in a new way – now I didn’t just have old friends in Ireland, I had new friends in Ireland too.

But my children persisted in growing. The sleepless nights and the breastfeeding posts went on for a long time, replaced eventually by posts about selective eaters, vision therapy, dyslexia, defiance, birthday cakes, muffins, snow days, homework, baseball, cats, the seasons one after another and over again … you name it, I’ve blogged it. More than once. I started writing other things, in other places, with my real name on them. I started looking beyond what was right in front of me.

I think it’s coming time to call a halt. I think the urge to overshare is finally leaving me. I don’t need to win another Finalist badge. I think I could mothball the blog without regret. I could bundle it up, like a debs dress I might take out and try on from time to time, not to get rid of it but just to put it away as part of my past, because it’s done its job and it’s time to move on. My children’s stories are not mine to tell any more, the Internet is a different place, a little less safe, a little darker now; and my own story… well, I’ll do something else with that, turn it into something more interesting instead. It’s still a work in progress.

I’m not saying this is the end. I’m just saying it might be on the way. A change might be coming.

Frankenstein

I’m cradling a cup of tea in my hands (in between typing) but I’m afraid to drink it. I think I have to wait until it’s lukewarm, and I hate lukewarm tea. I’m looking at a sheet of instructions that tell me “do NOT spit, floss, rinse, chew hard food, sticky food, consume hot food or drink, drink through a straw…” and wondering how this is meant to work.

I’ve taken a sip. It’s not too hot but it’s a little warmer than lukewarm. I think it’ll be okay.

The inside of my mouth looks like Frankenstein’s monster. I got home at 11:00 but it took me two hours to look in the mirror because I didn’t want to see it. I had a periodontal procedure. If you don’t want to know any more, skip the next paragraph, where I will describe it at your peril.

I had a gum graft, which means they take some tissue from the roof of your mouth and sew it on to the bottom of your teeth where you should have gum but you don’t because your gums and or teeth are stupid and useless. They did it on four bottom teeth in a row, because for some reason that may or may not be related to my orthodontic work as a teenager, the gum there was eroding badly.

It was a “simple” procedure that took an hour in the chair and only a few more injections than your basic filling. It didn’t hurt, really, but it was awkward and uncomfortable and icky and I’m glad it’s over. Now I have three different sets of pills (anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and antibiotics) and a follow-up for next week, and I’ll be getting a fancy night guard so that I don’t push my teeth out of alignment again. I’m hoping this lasts until I’m 90 so I don’t have to worry about it again. Maybe 100.

Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t want to know that, but that’s what’s on my mind so that’s what you got.

Another thing on my mind is Saturday’s march. I really don’t give a crap about Friday’s inauguration, since it’s happening and I can’t stop it so I’m just going to ignore it. La la laaaaa. Don’t feed the troll by paying attention to him. That’s what he thrives on. But the next day there’s this big march you may have heard of planned for downtown DC. A lot of people are planning to go. Even people who don’t live here are moving heaven and earth to be there.

I’m a woman. I live within spitting distance of Washington DC. I certainly disagree with Trump’s presidency and all he stands for. But I don’t want to go.

That’s my gut reaction. I’m not usually overly crowd-phobic, but the idea of all those throngs of people just sets off my internal alarm bells. And someone on the radio this morning helped me figure out why else it is that I have the don’ wannas about this: it’s not the end. It’s as if many people have focused on this march as an end in itself: but for one thing, its aims are sort of fuzzy and nonspecific – to show Donald just how many people will show up to let him know they don’t like him; way more than will have shown up the day before to say they do – and for another, January 21st is not the end. It’s the beginning. Maybe I think I should save my energy for the four years to come. Maybe I think I should do something more concrete than going out and walking around to show my displeasure.

Maybe I’m just lazy; that’s always an option. Since I’m right here beside DC, I practically feel like I’m as good as there whether I go or not. I feel guilty about not wanting to go, but I’m not going to go just to stop myself feeling guilty.

Anyway, that’s where I am. And where I’m not. Pass the ice cream.

Just another day

Today is my birthday. Forty-three is okay, I’m here to tell you. It’s not significant – it’s neither a new decade nor a new demographic bracket. It’s practically the same as 42, but with fewer Douglas Adams quotes. I feel about 37, which is a nice age to feel, and I look… oh, I have no idea what age I look. Let’s not worry about that. It’s irrelevant, because I’m on the inside, not the outside.

Anyway, right now I don’t have any deep thoughts about another passage around the earth. I feel like I should just enjoy what I’ve got because this is the youngest I’m going to be, and anyway, age is meaningless, it’s what you do, and who you do it with, that matters.

That said, right now I’m on my laptop writing a blog post while each of my children stare at another device and I slowly try to convince them that we should go for a picnic in the park. The weather’s beautiful after a very hot, humid, day yesterday and big thunderstorms last night.

….

Wildflowers in yellow, blue, and some red

Enthusiasm for the picnic has dwindled to an all-time low (that is, the one child who was vaguely up for it is no longer) but now one of them is making things with sticks (and magnets and batteries, causing me to mutter things like “Don’t electrocute yourself” and “Don’t short out the house”) so that’s a step forward. I suppose.

I always feel compelled if not to have my best possible day on my birthday – because that’s beyond my control – to at least be my best possible self. Even if I’m doing the laundry and making my own cake, there’s a spring in my step and I’m all whatserface Amy Adams in Enchanted, flitting around domestically and imagining woodland animals (less of the vermin, thank you) helping me with my work.

….

That was then. Now my kids are fighting, I have nothing nice for lunch, I can’t get a babysitter for the weekend, Wednesday’s the worst day for a birthday (well, Tuesday isn’t great either), and apparently if I ever want fresh air and exercise for myself this summer I’ll have to to outside and walk up and down our street because nobody’s leaving the house ever. Even to please me on my birthday. Maybe I have to bribe them with ice cream but to be honest I’m not sure if even that’ll work.

I have a cake to make, because if not me, who; and this evening is Dash’s baseball playoff which willen haven been the final if they win, or the penultimate game of the championship if they lose, because it’s the best of three and they won the first.

Mabel sitting on a rock looking at the water

…..

In conclusion, it being my birthday doesn’t stop it from being a perfectly ordinary day. It never really does.

Children on a wooded trail

Postscript:
We went for the walk. It was lovely. I bribed them with ice cream.

Mabel with her ice cream

That was lovely too.

Dash enjoying a cone

Only slightly bonkers

Most of the time I do a pretty good job of looking like a sane, fairly well-balanced individual. But every now and then something happens upon which I look back a few weeks later and think “Well, clearly, I was not entirely mentally stable just then.” It would be nice if I could recognize that I’m being a little bonkers at the time, but at least noticing it later is a start, right?

So it appears that every time I go to Ireland I fixate on something that I need, because that thing will
(a) make me look like a normal Irish person, not an American
(b) make me look really great, because when you see people you haven’t seen in ages you want them to think you’re looking fabulous
(c) signal that I have a good life and am happy even though I live far away
(d) magically make me look ten years younger, to prove that parenting hasn’t made me middle-aged and frumpy

(Stop the presses: It’s time that’s made me middle-aged. Parenting was just along for the ride.)

Sometimes I obsess over having the right jeans, sometimes I need new shoes, and sometimes, in a move that’s particularly bad for my bank balance, I just have to get a new pair of glasses because the old ones are horrible and the perfect frames will make me look so much better and then everyone will say “Didn’t Maud look great?” and “I liked her glasses” and “Yes, very on fleek” and … right? That’s my life, right? I say “on fleek” non-ironically and so do my friends.

This time it was glasses. Two weeks before I left I found myself in the glasses store, practically on impulse, browsing the frames. I wasn’t exactly due a new pair, but one arm kept coming off the ones I had, and had been glued three times now. (Three is the magic number, right?) I had planned ahead enough to call my previous optician and find that it was a little less than two years since my last test, so my prescription was still valid, and I had a copy of it with me. I had experienced buyer’s remorse with those glasses almost as soon as I had them: I felt they were too heavy-looking and too dark and generally just not nice enough. I vowed to fix that this time.

I found a pair of frames that were everything I wanted. The saleslady agreed that they were the perfect choice, gave me a big discount, and didn’t even try to upsell me on anything. I had to ask for the thinner lenses and the transitions coating.

I spent an impatient ten days convinced that my life would be perfect as soon as my new glasses arrived. I would look in the mirror at the face of a modern, savvy, attractive, grown-up woman; neither sad fashion victim nor tragically trapped in the last decade. I would probably look exactly like Kate Winslet when she put her glasses on at the Oscars. Only not blonde.

Then my glasses arrived, just a couple of days before I flew to Ireland. The nick of time, I thought. I couldn’t possibly go to Ireland in the same old glasses I had last summer: everyone would notice. I picked them up with Mabel in tow. Mabel was not impressed with my new look. I told her she could look somewhere else, then. She demanded that I put my old glasses back on. I put my old glasses in the case and walked out with my shiny new glasses on my nose, dragging a recalcitrant Mabel before she did something terrible, having had barely a chance to see what I looked like.

When I got home I looked in the mirror. Where was the elegant modern woman I had seen when I selected the frames? This was just my same old (and getting older) face again, behind a different pair of glasses.

It’s always going to be my face. It’s always going to be me inside. Nobody else actually notices the extraneous details much, they just see me, and they’re happy to see me because they’re my family and my friends.

Remind me of this next time, okay?

Colourful Maud with new glasses
Everything looks better in thermal-camera mode, right?

 

Good for nothing

With the new year comes the existential angst, apparently. And after that, the smaller-picture, what-am-I-doing, am-I-getting-anywhere angst. So now I’m both worrying about how we’ll sustain our entirely modern-life dependent lifestyle when the apocalypse comes and also what I’ll do when the agent turns me down (or just never comes back to me) and I have to get a real job.

And I have many criteria for a job, at this advanced stage in my life. No Doublemeat Palace for me. (Sorry; we’re re-watching Buffy.) For instance, my requirements include but are not limited to the following:

  • I only want to work when the kids are at school so I don’t have to arrange complicated and expensive childcare.
  • I also have to have enough time and flexibility to do the shopping, bring children to dentist appointments, attend parent-teacher conferences, be able to drop everything if one of them is sick, and not work school holidays because my poor snowflakes can’t be banished to camp all summer.
  • I would like to work from home, because commuting is just wasted time and I am busy and important and need to maximize my synergies. And also leverage them. Going forward.
  • Or I could work very locally, I suppose, if some sort of job would just come and plant itself on my doorstep, figuratively speaking. Somewhere in the radius of between my house and the kids’ schools.
  • I want to use my talents, not just do any old thing. I have many talents: I’m good at baking muffins. I can alphabetize things. I know all the words to many songs and can sing in tune if I’m in the middle of a lot of other people singing the same thing. I can be polite and friendly (if I feel like it) and also write things down clearly. I type fsat and spell good. Also, I am hardworking and efficient, just not at housework.
  • I’m very lazy, so it can’t be too hard. Or too busy. Or at all pressured.
  • But I hate being bored at work because that’s a waste of time. So just busy enough would be ideal. Deadlines stress me out unless I have everything well in hand a good week in advance.
  • A former boss told me never to undervalue myself. So it has to be well paid. More than I’m earning right now, at least. More than I could hypothetically earn working at Starbucks or Target or somewhere. Because hypothetically I could work there any time I wanted.

You get the idea. Part of it is terror at the idea of jumping back into the workforce, part of it is the idea that I’m not qualified for any jobs in the greater Washington DC area, much of it is ennui at the notion of all the arranging that would have to happen in order for me to have a real job, and a whole lot of it is just fear of leaping.

It may be time to leap.

Telephonically

I never ever phone someone for a chat any more. Is that weird? That’s probably deeply weird. It’s possible that I’ve turned into the Sandra Bullock character from The Net, if anyone else even remembers that film. She hid away in her room and even ordered her pizza online, so she didn’t have to talk to people.

I order my pizza online too, but it’s a nice friendly website and I’m not sitting alone in a room lit only by computer screens when I do it, so I think that part’s okay. Also, I go out and pick up the pizza, so I do interact with the people at the pizza place.

But I don’t ring anyone up just to talk to them; except my parents, because they’re not so au fait with the internet and I do admit that there’s a certain level of intimacy that hearing someone’s voice achieves that seeing their words appear on a screen doesn’t. And my husband, I ring him up at work, but not so much for chats as for those “Please buy milk/beer/wine/biscuits” conversations that have to happen to prevent me needing to make a last minute dash to the shops with two children in the worst part of the day.

I could just ask him by e-mail or chat. Sometimes I do. But I don’t avoid ringing him up.

I do avoid ringing other people up. I’m okay with business calls, like scheduling a dentist’s appointment or something. I’ll put it off for a few days, but then I’ll just do it. But the idea of ringing a friend, randomly, at any time of day, seems uncivilized now. It feels very self-centred of me to assume that they want to talk to me, and that they can just drop everything and do that, whenever I choose to ring them. And if I leave a message and they ring me back, then they’re doing the same to me, and we could play phone tag for ever. So much more considerate to send an e-mail that they can read and respond to whenever it’s convenient for them. Also, then I don’t have to ring them.

My father never liked being at the beck and call of the telephone. This seemed to me a ridiculously old-fashioned objection back in the day – sure, wouldn’t you always be only delighted to chat to someone if they rang up wanting to talk to you. I wasn’t one of those teenagers who was always hogging the line, but I did ring friends for chats back then. Apparently since then, I’ve come full circle back to my dad’s point-of-view for a more modern reason – I prefer the convenience of the Internet for my interactions with friends.

Maybe it was because I moved to America that I stopped making phone calls. I called my parents, but I had nobody else to call, really. I could keep in touch with Irish friends by e-mail. With the time difference, it made more sense. Those who weren’t into e-mail, well, our friendships languished, sometimes. Some of them were easily picked up every time we went home; some weren’t. I didn’t have new American friends to call on the phone yet. I didn’t need to ring my boyfriend every night because I lived with him now. His friends and their girlfriends became my friends, but I didn’t ring them and they didn’t ring me. Then we moved, then we moved again. We had a baby. Somebody said we should join Facebook because that was how people kept in touch these days. I joined Facebook.

It was a bit of a momentous thing, now I think about it. I have more friends now than I ever did before, if by friends you mean anything from “people I have encountered on the Internet and seem cool” to “bloke I am married to”. I can hide the depths of my weirdness behind my quick quips on Facebook and nobody will ever know.

But if you’re my friend, don’t be offended if I never ring you for a chat, okay? I’m just bad that way.