28 September 2008

Real families and imaginary futures

Watching Supernanny this weekend, it occurs to me once more why having children always struck me as so distasteful. Influenced mainly by documentary programmes, I’ve been under the impression that 99.9% of parents become, through their trade, overweight, ineloquent buffoons who do nothing but struggle to buckle their children into car seats, enforce the eating of soggy vegetables and mechanically read sticky-covered books to sweaty-haired offspring so that they can turn out the light and possibly enjoy a quiet half hour of Seinfeld together.

Worse, their houses are an environmental manifestation of this nightmarish depravity: fluorescent-lit living-rooms of unimaginative d├ęcor (the mile-long, paid-by-instalment sectional sofa piece upholstered with Cheetos and colouring books, on Ribena-patterned industrial carpeting); a back garden that sprouts broken toys, saggy washing lines and (if very lucky) a trampoline enshrouded in collapsed safety netting; a bedroom whose only possible merit is that the duvet set matches the curtains.

If this is not the way of the average, Westerly-civilized family, there certainly do seem to be a propensity of them willing to have their troubles splashed all over the airwaves for the rest of us to contemplate chillingly.

But the small part of me that always wanted to be a mum still remembers how, at eighteen, I sat paralysed with shyness in the atmospheric character house of an ex-boyfriend’s employers, accepting glass after glass of orange creamsicle because that was what we’d brought with us to drink, and dizzily watching one of two enchanting little girls do back-flips up the legs of her long-haired father who, though in his forties, was wearing a band t-shirt, torn jeans and no socks.

Holly and Ivy shared the same tangle of hair and wide-set blue eyes, qualities that rendered four-year-old Holly impish while lending her taller, ganglier older sister a kind of moody elfin charm. Both were sharp as tacks, and whereas I grew more uncomfortable (and inebriated) by the second among these well-adjusted people and knew that soon they would be avoiding me for quite the opposite reason, Holly’s own shyness translated to a socially acceptable air of self-possessed reserve that made guests want to engage her in the hopes of becoming her one ally at the barbeque. Ivy was already everyone’s best friend.

Too, there was the time I babysat for a couple who lived in a small village high in the Rocky Mountains. Their A-frame home had the quality of a tree-house, or that cabin belonging to the three little bears, with its dark, knotty-wood round dining table, pine chests filled with handmade quilts, webby, looming shelves of mismatched china and old fashioned tins and a television set hidden away inside a great oak cabinet.

Their girls, Meghan and Sarah, were close in age, and had identical bobs (one blonde, one brunette), matching woollen jumpers (one green and one red, with reindeers) over corduroy dungarees, and drank fruity teas sweetened with liquid honey stored in bear-shaped bottles. Extremely well-behaved, the girls donated many smiles and unexpected moments of unselfconscious intimacy (sitting on my lap, asking for their hair to be brushed) while they talked me through their gentle routine of now we colour, now we watch our VHS tape, now we have a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with apple slices and whatever else happy, cold-cheeked mountain children do with their established, well-ordered days.

In retrospect, did the part of me that could imagine motherhood wish to raise a small extension of myself who could somehow adopt the mannerisms of a child with a happy upbringing, even if I wasn’t sure I had the wherewithal to provide one? Probably.

But one thing I’ve learned about life is that you can only build it with whatever materials you have at your disposal, and it’s those materials that will finally determine the outcome of your home, your children and the ensuing atmosphere. There is no way I could have done this five years ago. There is every chance I can do this now. And that’s good enough for me.

26 September 2008

Covering the mirror

Bad writing is almost always bad for the same reason: the writer believes that staying true to their own unique perception will lend a piece enough authenticity that a reader will be able to overcome the hurdles of clumsy prose, the poor handling of dialogue and bad pacing. (I use the term ‘writer’ quite loosely, in the context of a verb, as writing does not a Writer make.)

Most of us experience the world in ways that are similar enough that when someone makes an astute observation, it can give you the impression that this person somehow ‘read your mind.’ If they are very clever, they will put a unique spin on things, thereby making us all feel like dimwits who should just cap our pens now because we will never achieve this level of lucidity.

On the other hand, if a writer interjects too many of their own quirks, the piece risks devolving into an alien text that, while being utterly relatable as far as it may refer to something of a shared experience at times, more often than not fractures our sense of unity and dislodges us from the fantasy. In this instance, even when they believe that they are tapping into the life-force of the universe, these writers are still mainly writing about themselves.

And this is where I get stuck. The navel can be a beautiful thing to gaze on (just lift up your shirt and see) but I want to escape the restrictive playpen of my own ego and immerse myself in fiction for once.

I think I need to detoxify and take a complete holiday from the internet. It frightens me a little bit to contemplate, but on the other hand, this fear only strengthens my resolve.

19 September 2008

Miser

Sooner or later, you have to stop counting your pennies, or you’ll never be surprised by the sum total of what you’ve acquired.

18 September 2008

Fait accomplis

My favourite hours of the day, and they are all of them taken up by things I don’t particularly enjoy. I do not measure my self-worth in clicks, but I am encouraged to.

I get through this by imagining what I’ll do after work, even though I’ll be too tired to do much of anything, and know this already, even as I’m inventing my after-hours liberation.

It’s relentless, but the mind lets you down gently by sweeping away these filaments each night as you sleep.

I know it’s really fruit that I’m craving, but psychological deprivation demands a stronger fix than apples, or peaches, or even cherries. Incarcerate my will but my palate is born away on a cloud of spun sugar.

In my mind’s eye, I watch the final word appear on the final page, the last leaf fall from autumn’s unclenched fist, and this is why I do nothing. Imagination leaves the cage door open, and in this way creates a prison stronger than any earthly material.

17 September 2008

And the awards goes to

There’s a festive mood at work, given that everyone in our group is out of town at an event save for me and the designers. I’m not really feeling it, though. Mostly I feel pregnant, tired and frustrated by one of the content management systems I’m working on. The chitty chat is starting to interfere with my ability to concentrate on not stressing out about it, which means I’m going to give up at any moment. Though I guess I already have.

We’re going to take a field trip after lunch, to a photography exhibit, which has about as much to do with my job as a trip to the London Dungeons, if I’m being honest, but I was asked in front of at least one editor so I figure I’m covered.

While I’m here, I’m handing out an Arte Y Pico award to Shhh, who is somewhere in the air by now, and also to Wit of the Staircase, who won’t be around to accept.

In the first instance, the website is a testament to photography, poetry and the nature of existance I'm guessing. She likes to switch it up, so I go there every so often to see how she’s getting on.

Wit of the Staircase is a website created by Theresa Duncan, a woman who took her own life after some fairly shady dealings with an unknown aggressor, which she writes about briefly. Fascinated and fascinating in equal measures, this website is immensely hard to put down once you tunnel in.

I’m also giving one to Mil Millington, for Things My Girlfriend and I have Argued About. This is the first blog I probably ever read, having had no idea what a blog even was at the time. It made me laugh (out loud!) and wish that I had a boyfriend who found me half as compelling as Mil found his partner. And then I did, and I married 'im.

Congratulations, you three. At least two of you won’t ever discover this prestigious honour, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it! That's all the time I have for today.

16 September 2008

I am not my mother

Following personal tragedy, our dear friend Shannon is moving back to the States tomorrow. She will be sorely missed by everyone, no less by me, as she was the first of Bruce’s friends to welcome me over when I arrived in London and has been an integral part of my socialisation here, such as it is. It’s understandable though, and we’ll be keeping in touch (and possibly even holidaying together next year) so I’ll try not to be too sad.

I’ve been in London nearly two years now, and can honestly say that I’m happy with my somewhat reclusive pattern of work and home life; to a degree I would have thought impossible back home. What I once considered a social life I now see as a kind of forced construct, invented to make things seem as though they were moving forward, even though I was in an unhappy relationship, hadn’t been in school for a few years and had no future plans to do anything other than subsist on beer, cigarettes and the internet.

Even without a steady diet of bars and restaurants, movies and festivals, classes and exams, my life today is far more fulfilling than any other time I can point to. I suppose you could call that success, as fulfilment is all anyone can ever aspire to. The rest is just trimmings.

As for those trimmings, I guess that’s TBD. I have no idea what’s in store for me once I finish out the year, aside from the obvious. At Shannon’s leaving do, Mel squealed and shook her head at some of the things I was describing about my body in its relentless march towards motherhood, claiming “I don’t have a maternal bone in my body!” My impulse was to squeal back, “Me neither!” but then I realised that probably wouldn’t go down too well with the group and so didn’t.

This morning, Bruce pointed out a mum and her two kids, arms slung chummily about one another’s shoulders, comfortably waiting for a bus, and I said, “I really hope I have that sort of confidence with my kids,” to which Bruce said, “Uh, me too!” Though what I meant, I guess, is that part of me worries that some latent paradigm of motherhood will somehow interfere with all the hard work I have put into unlearning the defensive behaviour resulting from my own upbringing, to the detriment of whoever I'm bringing into this world. I want to be a real person for my kid – not someone who has to feign love and concern because I’m far too busy tending the wicked, noxious garden of a wild ego.

I am not my mother, but I am certainly elements of her, and I think I will probably always struggle to remain firmly entrenched in the pale, restrictive embrace of reality: where I am at once more and less special than I believe, the events of my life are both more and less determined, and the apparent discontinuity between this stuttering zoetrope of object- and subjectivity can blur steadily as one complete picture inside some unwavering persistence of vision. I just want to find a natural flow, and stay with it somehow.

15 September 2008

Arte Y Pico, anyone?


My gratitude to Lass: for surprising me with an Arte Y Pico award and thus shaming me for falling behind on my online reads. I appear to be around because I post every day or every other day, but mostly this is to keep my writing habitual when the demands on my time are such that I can’t manage much else. The luxury of snooping through the self-published thoughts of others is no longer mine.

I’m fairly confident that if I were to miss something vitally important on your blog though, I would receive an email or phone call, or at the very least a note saying: "I got married to the King of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and you STILL haven’t contacted me to offer congratulations? What kind of a friend are you?!" And then I would know to snap back to attention.

I have been crawling through some fantastic works of fiction, but I don’t suppose published authors are in need of a blog award. Maybe if someone had given Mr. Foster Wallace an Arte Y Pico, he would have been less sad in his life. Probably not though.

So long story short: I am horribly out of the blog loop and don’t quite know what to do with my allotment of award donations. It should come as no surprise to those of you in my notes page that I am an avid appreciator of Mrs Slocombe and The Lass herself (though I don’t know if you can do backsies).

Mrs Slocombe: would you like an Arte Y Pico? Because I’d very much like to give you one (that is an AWARD for those of you who’ve only been skimming and don’t read Spanish).

Let me get back to you on the other four, because I’m at work right now. And in Londontown, we do work at work. I know! It’s so totally incomprehensible to my small-town, grain-fed prairie brain at times, but it’s the truth.

M’kay, that’s enough now – here are the rules of the award, which I’m not actually sure I’ve earned:

Post the award pic on your page, pass the award along to five others, link to the original prize site (s/he should get some sort of SEO award for that one) and the sites of your winners.

Check, check and check-ish.

14 September 2008

Six unspectacular things (or why I may need therapy)

Tagged by Mrs Slocombe for this meme about what makes us dull as dishwater.

Here are six unspectacular things about me:

1. I'm terrible at making friends and consequently have none in London (of my own, anyway).

2. For about a week in 1994, whilst in Amsterdam, my favourite meal of the day was breakfast, even though it was just ham and cheese sandwiches, manky hostel tea and chocolate sprinkles on bread.

3. I only ever like one outfit in my wardrobe at a time. The rest I force myself to wear for the sake of variety.

4. I don't know how to behave normally in front of a camera and so just pull faces or look away (like most people).

5. The only person I feel comfortable having any sort of physical contact with is Bruce. If I have to touch or be touched by others (as in friendly hugs, contact sports or team-building exercises involving hand-holding), I either feel repulsed or unworthy, depending on who it is.

6. My hair is too fine for the shape of my face.

You gotsta:

1. link the person who tagged you
2. mention the rules on your blog
3. list 6 unspectacular things about you
4. tag 6 other bloggers by linking them

Did you not read my first unspectacular thing? Oh let's see then. Lass, lynn, Lacking, thebeesknees, Emmms and dominguez.

12 September 2008

I hope you don't mind

I met Bruce under very unusual circumstances, to say the least. We only spent a week or so together before deciding, independently of one another, that we’d finally found our match.

Of course, I only knew this intrinsically, and was pretty oblivious to the fact that Bruce was several steps ahead of me in acknowledging the reality of our situation outright. He’d even made this plain in an email he sent a few days after I left London to attend a wedding in Poland, when I was still feeling unsure of whether or not I’d ever see him again - such was my faith in both love and people.

But my feelings were stronger than any doubts I harboured about his sincerity, and whereas this would have caused me a great deal of trouble in the past, I’d somehow blundered into the most appropriate avenue for this vulnerability, thank god. I loved him more than anything or anyone, and part of me – well, all of me - didn’t want to know if it wasn’t reciprocated.

I still feel that way. I don’t mean that I doubt his feelings for me, but one thing I do know is that love is a complete contradiction: the more you love, the better you feel, which renders the act of giving more selfish than generous. I will always believe that I get more out of loving Bruce than the reverse, but I’m okay with that, so long as he is. Call me selfish.

Anyway, I came across this song again on my iPod, which I first heard on Bruce’s now defunct MySpace page. I was still stupidly unsure about how he perceived the situation, because we hadn’t been any more explicit than two people living halfway around the world from one another can manage without irony in an email or a phone call. But I flicked onto his page, and there was the song, and it was like an atomic bomb went off in my chest. He hadn’t put it there to be interpreted by anyone, obviously, and yet from that moment on, all the beautiful music in the world started to sound like something he’d created just for me. It still does.



Discover Spiritualized®!


11 September 2008

First clothes, new cabinet

A few of my favourite things

One of my colleagues is being sexually harassed on our site by someone she used to work with; the fallout from this has pretty much taken up my entire lunch hour. As such, all I have time for is a list of five things I love but rarely acknowledge, even to myself. Just thought it was about time I gave them props!

In no particular order:

Canned pop from a hotel vending machine – I don’t know why, but these seem to be so much colder than canned drinks from any other machine. I don’t normally get wound up about canned pop, but given the shipwrecked nature of hotel rooms, a very cold drink can feel almost luxurious in that particular setting.

The smell of gum, newsprint and tobacco – making gift shops and newsagent stands one of my all time favourite places to loiter, when I have the time (which is never).

Floating on my back in the ocean, or the sea, or even a pool – the most liberating feeling I know. That’s above flying, which fills me with terror, even though I’m mostly over the phobia now.

Hotels in general – I’ve stayed in countless hotels but I still get excited about it every single time. Typically, I have the best sleep of my life, provided the pillows aren’t too hard or lumpy. And regardless of quality, I like the idea of going downstairs to have a meal, especially if it's breakfast. I even like having a drink in the skeezy hotel bar, right before going up to the room for bed. I suppose it feels like living in a very big house, where all your needs are met but nobody expects anything in return (except £100 a night) and nobody keeps tabs on you either. It's an agoraphobic's paradise really, and having once had agoraphobic tendencies, I can still appreciate this.

Planning vacations – taking holidays is nice, but thinking about a holiday and trying to envision what it will be like is 80% of the enjoyment for me.

You know, I didn’t realise the common link between these items until I’d written them down. I guess I must subconsciously love holidays as much as I do consciously.

09 September 2008

Long since spoiled, but: SPOILER

Bruce and I are probably the last people on earth to have seen The Happening (well, of anyone who’d planned to see it I guess). Similarly, we were determined to be the only people on earth who did not hate it entirely.

We were doing a rather good job of it too: humming and hawing about how it was a little cheesy but not so terrible, and wasn’t he sort of trying to emulate Hitchcock? (my ingenious love spotted this), however unsuccessfully, and the premise was good, it’s only unfortunate that the writing had to be so terrible. And the acting. And the plot. And that’s when it all started to fall apart.

There were even some unforgivably stupid moments, such as when the train stopped in the small town and refused to take them any further, so they all congregated in the diner. After hearing a news report about how they were smack in the middle of all the trouble, a disembodied voice cried out: “This isn’t happening 90 miles from here, c’mon let’s go!” and everyone sped off in their cars except for the leads. Marky Mark was uselessly trying to hitch a ride for himself and his bug-eyed girlfriend and their surrogate child, crying desperately as the last car raced away, “We haven’t got a vehicle!”

And I turned to Bruce and asked, Should any of them have vehicles? They all arrived on the same train!

Absent too was the famous M Night Shyamalan twist, and if there was one, he gave it away straight off (I realise a twist can’t be given away straight off, but in the absence of anything else, I imagine he’d counted on us forgetting the important little aside about nature’s inexplicable…well, nature). I mean, at the very least, the guy who had a good relationship with plants should have met a better end than an off-camera gun-shot to the head. The famous twist was also absent from Lady in the Water, though, which makes me think M Night has finally made enough money to shed the restrictive conventions of mainstream cinema to pursue his real passion: bad student art films.

So even with the negative press in mind, I was still quite disappointed with the experience and can only imagine how people who paid to see it in theatres must have felt. Actually, I do know how they felt. One of the posters in the underground on the Northern Line was scratched out and defaced so that the letters in the title following the director’s name read:

DICK

Creative solutions, I know.

Still, you have to admire the guy. Most people find success with a book or a film and then spend the rest of their lives struggling with their egos in order to produce a handful more that might live up to the first.

Mr. Shyamalan is obviously fearless about trying things out and potentially failing, which should give all of us courage to keep doing what we love, brambles and berries and nuts and bird droppings in and amongst the laurels we try on and toss away.

08 September 2008

Progress

My tumultuous love-hate relationship with London has swung back to love again, and last night was the first time I was properly able to enjoy the city minus the sensation of full-on nausea. It made me realise, too, that the little things which seemed to make all the difference when I was sick (poor customer service, crowded transport, a bit of extra smog) are, in the happy glow of my second trimester, just that: little things.

Hold these up to the elements of my former life (uninspired cultural environment; death-defying winter temperatures; self-important, small-minded neighbours), and that’s practically like snubbing paradise because you saw a spider.

Work, personal accomplishment and family will always be major undertakings, no matter where you live, and I’m just thankful to have anchored myself in one of the most exciting, dynamic places on earth while I sort through these.

That’s if you asked me today, anyway.

Returning to Canada has also led to a more acute appreciation of the independence I’ve finally achieved here. When things got tough with the pregnancy, I rued the loss of former parental resources that once included rides to work, free meals and occasional help around the house. But these fringe benefits of living close to family come with their own price, and I’d have been handing back the keys to adulthood for the privilege of a few creature comforts – an uneven exchange by anyone’s standards.

I doubt I’ll ever go into detail here about what took place during our two week stay with my folks, but were it not for Bruce, rest assured I would soon be sending them the divorce papers with visiting rights on the unlikely proviso that they seek professional help and keep their sticky issues away from my psyche. I love them dearly, though I’ve had to concede that a distantly fostered ideal is much better for my sanity than getting up-close-and-personal with the reality.

Anyway, cue final credits for Doogie Howser M.D., Sex and the City, The Wonder Years, whatever. I’m finished reflecting on this now. What I really wanted to say was that last night at dinner, our friend Matt said that he couldn’t imagine not having children, but he couldn’t really imagine having children either, and hence didn’t know whether he’d ever be ready to make a decision, either way. And it made me think about my own attitude towards readiness for parenthood, which seems to change with each hospital visit, abdominal twinge and new bit of information gleaned from newsletters, friends and family.

What I ended up telling him seemed to solve the dilemma Bruce and I were having ourselves, which is that parenthood is not something you can imagine doing until you're in the midst of it, so there’s no point in trying. All you can do is go with the experience at every stage and wonder at the miracle of getting through it intact and even happier than you were before.

Whether you’re thrown for a loop, or whether being a mum or dad is something you’ve been getting ready for your whole life, nobody has the upper hand on preparedness. But hopefully everyone is pleasantly surprised by what happens next.

07 September 2008

Rhetorical maybe


I sometimes wonder if the things you loved about me at first are still apparent to you. Or whether they amount to a most fortunate misconception we shed like a wrapper off a bar of chocolate after purchase. Or, worse, if they fell into place like a single puzzle piece, its outline fading into the background of a mundane landscape.

Not as often, mind you.

04 September 2008

Snips and snails, sugar and spice

Yesterday I was offered a seat on the underground for the first time. Bruce often wondered aloud who would be the first person to spot my condition without having been told, and now we know. Her blue eyes bulged with concern and she scolded: “You should’ve said something!” I’m not quite sure what I would say though, in this case. I’ve got a loaded womb – give me the seat or I’ll puke in your lap! There’s no easy way to ask.

Our second, mid-pregnancy scan was much gentler overall than our first. The ultrasound technician was Jeremy – a kindly, broad-featured South African in his late forties, with tousselled hair and fine, wire-frame specs; he looked like he must spend his free days chopping wood for the fireplace, playing Handel in the kitchen while making soup and then applying paint to model trains with a tiny brush in a dimly lit basement.

He squinted amicably at the information on his screen, turning the wet wand this way and that to get a better look at all the parts. “Do you want to know the sex, if I can spot it,” he asked before he began, and we said yes. After what felt like several agonising minutes where I couldn’t read Bruce’s expression and had given up on Jeremy’s altogether, he said that everything looked normal. He showed us the arms, the hands and fingers, the long narrow bones of the legs ending in feet, and the details of the face and spine. And then he asked again if we wanted to know what it was.

Do you?

Probing for a good look at the genitalia, Jeremy laughed kindly and said, “Well, it’s not 100% accurate, but in my opinion, it looks like you’re going to have a little boy.” He said this with a warm, low smile in his voice. And he twisted the wand until the tiny little scrotum came into focus.

And then I basically ruined the moment by looking woundedly at my very excited husband and asking him if he’d have been as happy with a girl. Because I am an over-analytical, emotionally-retarded idiot at times (always then), and for a second believed that what I was seeing wasn’t rejoicing at the news of a healthy baby but relief that it wasn’t the girl every person in our family save for my sister had predicted.

Even if there had been some relief mixed in with his reaction though, it’s completely understandable, as Bruce has spent his entire life in the exclusive company of girls and women. It’s about time we upped the testosterone levels around here, and even though I don’t know a thing about little boys or how their brains and bodies work, I still have a hard time not crying when I think of how lovely our lives are going to be from this point onwards.

My own reactions to news always come much, much later, when things begin to sink in finally, like they’re doing now.

02 September 2008

Ocean time

There are, there really are, worse things in life than being at work on the Thames during a rain storm on 1.5 hours of sleep. Remind me to tell you about those things sometime; at the moment I’m preoccupied with keeping my eye trained on the inching clock and desperately trying not to do what I did earlier on the underground (a feeling of passing-out-meets-vomiting-meets-coronary-meets me slumped over for a short while).

This afternoon we’re going for our second and final ultrasound before being left to our own imperfect divination with regards to the health of this growing potential. It’s right here, beneath my fingers at times, and yet it all seems to be happening on some distant planet, news reaching us by way of sonar reverberations light years away, as yet indecipherable.

So we’ll know how many appendages and if a brain or heart or how shapely a spine, and if conversation could progress beyond these essentials, these very essential essentials, then possibly a sex. Inquiring minds would like to know just which imaginary who we could be dealing with.

In any case, I’ve had no sleep and don’t think I could manage bad news. Wish me a baby.