Love Letters #43

What is love?

A question, I am sure, that has been asked throughout countless generations. From the beginning of time, perhaps.

Is it a cloak? Is it a feeling? Is it a state of being?

Does it mask the world, or reveal it?

Is it solace, comfort? Or is it bitter, bitter pain?

What is this love? This sought-after drug, this thorn in the side of many a philanderer, this ultimate goal of a youthful dreamer.

Is it fleeting? For some, sure.

Does it end? For most, yes.

Sometimes it is a long, slow, bright burning flame. And other times the flame is lit in a sudden spark, and the flares rise and roar, spitting and heaving with life and danger and terrible, terrible menace, and then with a flash the flames are out, leaving the bitter ashes of something tremendous behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Uncomfortable Man

I warn you dear reader this post is a little sordid.

The earth is crawling with life. Simply heaving with it. Crawling to microcellular level. Even life is crawling with life. Our very infrastructure is bacteria.

If you get a telescope out and skim the surface of Mars, you would see no life. Remnants of what scientists say might have been, could have been life, but never life itself.

The Mars rover leads a lonely, long existence.

And in this life, we are often lonely. Some of us are. We seek connections with other people.

Some connections are entirely benign, and enrich our lives.

Others, not so.

There is a man at work. A tall man. And he makes me feel vastly uncomfortable.

I noticed it first one day when I was talking to him, and I saw his eyes meander down to my chest. Ok. That was weird. But ok. What made it more uncomfortable was that his eyes stayed there, glancing upwards into my own once or twice, but lingering there.

I brushed that encounter away. After all, it could have been anything. Maybe he didn’t realise what he was doing.

I hugged myself, crossing my arms over my chest.

I was making coffee, downstairs in the business centre news anchor on the flat screen TV hooked up to the wall droning away about something or other. I leafed through the newspaper on the countertop, the coffee machine gurgling as my coffee splattered into my cup. Then there was his voice next to me. So close it made me take a step back and clutch my neck in fright. There he was, standing so close to me I could feel his body heat radiating off him.

‘Alright?’ he said, as though nothing was wrong.

There were some Americans filing into one of the meeting rooms; they had flown over for some big event, and they were part of his agency.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, glancing at them, ‘aren’t you part of the meeting?’ I gestured. So uncomfortable, battling with my distaste.

‘It takes the piss,’ he murmured, ‘but yeah.’

Ok. So go then. And leave me alone.

When I looked at him, I was shocked at how close he was to me.

Then I began to notice it more and more. He was moved to the seat next to mine, and every so often he would lean over, too close for comfort, and whisper something conspiratorial. As though we were in this pessimism towards the company together. Something derogatory about someone or other. Some ridiculous complaint about the weather, because yes, we always talk of the weather, or some moan about the horrible traffic into work. Such normal conversations, so what is the problem?

I tried to be nice. I tried so hard, but I just didn’t want to.

It would have been easy, if I didn’t notice how he looked up every time I stood up. And he would think I couldn’t see but I could feel his eyes on me. And when I looked at him they would snap away, from my chest, from somewhere else.

I began to cross my arms when I stood up, and to scarper as quickly as I could, round the corner. When I saw him walking towards me I would pretend I hadn’t seen him, and turn the other way. Every time he caught me though, he would stand way too close. When he showed me something on my computer, I could feel his breath on my neck.

Once I went downstairs to the receptionist; we have a little repertoire, and I put my hands on the counter and leaned forward. Her eyes met mine.

‘What’s up?’

‘I really hate this man,’ I told her.

Her eyes melted a bit, they cleared as though some clouds shifted to show a sky of understanding within.

‘Go on,’ she said, grimly. And I knew she knew.

When I told her, she immediately understood. I felt validated, somehow, as though I wasn’t just imagining things. She nodded firmly at me, and then when I told her who it was she said she felt the same vibes from him. She told me to request to move desks, which I did. I only moved one seat away but it was much better.

A week later, his agency moved him to another building. I heaved a sigh of relief. I felt free again. I almost danced when I left my desk. The air in the office was cleaner, lighter. I no longer looked over my shoulder.

Another week passed, and I get an email. To my work email. Addressed to me only.

Hi Len!

What lovely weather we’ve been having! I hope you’re enjoying the sun, I certainly am!

Hope you’re doing well!

Cheers,

Name

Now, you might think I am crazy. That’s a perfectly normal email, right? Right?

And he never did anything physically inappropriate, right?

He didn’t touch me. He didn’t say anything. In fact, on the surface of it all, he was always rather nice. His email was rather nice too. So you could say I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

And I do think I might have overreacted in my mind sometimes. I have to email him back, because he is in my company, and as my colleague put it, what say he is moved back, and then he asks why I never replied to any of his emails? His new office is literally four minutes away, I can see it from my window.

But I know how I felt. I know how relieved I was when he left. I know how my guts twisted whenever he came in. I know how close he stood to me, how his hands would accidentally brush me, where his eyes would wander. That was real.

I am not complaining at all. I am just stating the fact. He was an uncomfortable man.

 

 

Ergophobia

What do you suppose we call laziness, when it is diagnosed by a skilled physician?

What, do you suppose, we call the consistent, affluent pouring of money into a trough, from which we cherry-pick luxury?

What do we call it when a young man idles under a tree, hour to day to week to month to year? A book hangs lifelessly from his soft hands, and the humming tick of his mind slows to a mere clatter, every few hours or so.

What do we call it when the sunrise is missed, for years on end, in favour of a warm bed, the result of long nights of amusement and carousing?

Well, Adrian Dermody certainly didn’t know. He didn’t stop for a moment to think anything of it. It was nothingness to him.

Nothingness decorated with soft scent and gilded most marvellously.

And yet, there was a perpetual cloud around his vision. He was listless. He was calmly suffocating. There was no mirth in anything.

‘What is the matter with you?’ his mother said, crossly, when he picked at his supper, sliding the food around his gleaming plate like a petulant child.

‘Why mother, I tire of life,’ he said drearily, and leant on his in-turned wrist to stare glumly out of long, rain-lashed windows, which reflected the marvellous dining room in which they sat.

His mother, who had been ergophobiac all her life, merely tutted and rang the bell for the servants to clear the dishes away. She would then rumble off to recline on a chair, while she talked idly of nothing with her son and her husband, the latter of whom would murmur absently that he was ‘listening, dear’, whilst he laboured away at the week’s newspaper puzzle.

For he, too, was an ergophobiac.

And ergophobics will never be happy, and mark my words.

 

The Thorn Birds

A peado priest falls in love with a little girl.

No, I am joking. He doesn’t. He only ‘falls in love’ with her when she develops a pair of … I can’t think of a dignified name for those things.

No that is too vulgar. Anyway that really isn’t the entirety of the story, but I think it caused sensation when it was published because that is what stood out the most.

That isn’t what this book was about. I read the last sentence today.

And we still do it. Still we do it.

Do what?

Put thorns in our breasts, that’s what.

This book touched me beyond my brain cells. It touched somewhere deep inside my cranium, some would call it a soul. It prodded it and then it simpered like an evil waif, and vanished, leaving me looking down at a new hole. A bit surprised, actually. I didn’t think it would affect me this way.

Somebody once told me that once you have read or seen something, it is a thought in your brain. It belongs to you. You cannot un-think it.

When a writer writes so well that you feel like you are one with the characters, feeling things they feel, even though you have never felt these things… you have bent to the will of the pen. You have never felt those things? Oh, but you have. You’ve felt an echo of them. And now, you know.

I didn’t like all of the characters, but I liked them immensely.

This book didn’t sear me because of its plot, or its characters. Its plot was devastating, to be sure, and its characters deeply twisted and vastly, enormously human. But this book had a soul of its own. It is life, itself.

Sure, it was life from the perspective of one individual brain, but it seethed into being, it spluttered, it gasped, it breathed.

I really wish I didn’t read it, because I can’t un-think it.

But I am glad I did.

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Those Eyes

I was reading a news article this morning, about a woman who supposedly used a stun gun on her son to wake him up for the Easter service.

She said she didn’t actually use it, but the investigators found some telling bumps on the boy’s legs.

Now, I know that sometimes kids can be frustrating. I know this because I was a frustrating kid at times. I clashed horrendously with my mother, it was a mixture of difficult personalities and constant misunderstandings. I was also smacked sometimes. -shrug-

But the point of this post is not to berate this woman’s parenting skills. The fact that she was hauled up in front of a court room for her actions is telling.

I am writing this post because the news website posted a photograph of this woman.

A colour photograph, taken with a sharp-eyed camera. It was otherwise an insignificant story. Scant, lacking detail, except for that photograph.

Her hair was in neat dreadlocks, gleaming maroon strands intertwined with black. Voluminous, lustrous.

Her face, defiant.

At first glance she looked angry, distasteful, the face of a criminal woman seeking to abuse her child.

But I wanted to look more closely.

Her face seemed resigned, the more I stared at it.

There were hollow dark circles beneath her eyes and her colour ashen. Her mouth curved slightly to the left, in a way that signified determination, and a little anxiety.

But her eyes stood out to me the most.

Slightly yellowed, they gazed out at the camera. Tired, telling eyes. The more I stared, the more I felt drawn to them.

There was pain in her eyes. A pain I didn’t know, and couldn’t touch.

Something hard in those dark, dull orbs, born of time and consistent disappointment.

My eyes bored into hers; mine alive as each minute passed, and hers dead, frozen in time, encapsulated in a moment only she would ever understand.

What was she thinking?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The March Hare

This is a re-post of a post I posted in March 2013. March is special to me, for a very self centred reason.

alice in wonderlandYes there does seem to be rather an obsession with the creations of Lewis Carroll. Can’t you find any characters of your own, Lenora, rather than plagiarise everybody else’s!? Good grief.

Well yes, but I haven’t quite invented anything to do with March, and March happens to be a very important matter in my life. For example, at some point in my life, I shall demand to visit the town of March. Given than my husband to be is also born in March, this does not seem like such a concerning possibility. The March Hare, now, is a very celebrated character and I feel as though he deserves a very special dedication.

So, here’s to the March Hare, the subtle creature whose madness is rather equal and just as potent as that of the Mad Hatter, whose loyalty to his opinion is disdainfully grandiose, and whose ability to be demeaningly gracious is marvellous to behold, and quite candidly I tell you this, but it is also terribly enviable.

Here’s to his dubiousness on whether liking what one gets is the same as getting what one likes.

Here’s to his distinctly severe attitude to uninvited sitters at his table, and here, finally, is to his ability to be rather less grumbly than the Mad Hatter, and to possess a likeable amount of gloom and absurdity.

Here is, in short, to him who stands below:

Image

You have decided to leave some birds in the bushes. You used to want them all.

Originally, I wanted to use this quote for a piece of fiction, but then I thought, who am I kidding? What piece of fiction would do the real-world relevance of this quote any justice?

For a bit of background, this quote comes from an uncomfortable novella called ‘Alexander’s Bridge’, written by Willa Cather. I thought it was uncomfortable because it was a little clunky and slightly underdeveloped. Also it left a morbid terror in my heart. It is short, and a good read, if anybody is interested. You can even read it for free online on this website, if you desire.

You have decided to leave some birds in the bushes. You used to want them all.

I want all the birds in the bushes. I want to be the nicest, kindest, prettiest, most skilled, most revered person about. It is a secret, but I do. I want my husband to think I am the most beautiful woman he ever saw, the most interesting, funny, intelligent, valuable. I want myself to think it, and be it, and not care so much if he or anybody else thinks it either. I want to be relevant, but indifferent to my relevance. Ugh, that sounds whiny.

I want to be the most successful, do the best, speak the most interesting and outrageous words, make an impact that will make people look up and pay attention. Maybe even influence their thought processes. Maybe create a ripple through time, affecting future generations.

But I also realise this about myself; I am lazy, I don’t think hard enough, I don’t apply my thoughts, I waste a ridiculous amount of time, I procrastinate and lie about, I don’t tie ends together, I trail thoughts in the sand until they are unrecognisable mounds to be discarded.

In short, I am not a ‘great’.

I stumble, mumble, and am naive.

It is the truth.

I have a myriad of interests, but hone none of my skills. I am only slightly good at multiple things.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

I want everything. And because I want everything, I have nothing.

There.

I need to pick a skill, see, or a couple of skills (hah, doing it again), and master it. Then I will achieve what I want to. There is not enough time in life to master everything. And if you want to master something, like I do, then you have to make a decision.

My mother says it’s our generation. Apparently we all want to be famous and rich and successful. But that isn’t what I want. I don’t want to be famous, or even rich. I just want to know I have mastered something, that I have something to offer, that I have something I can say I worked hard for and achieved, that I made a difference that is positive. That I was intelligent and applied my intelligence correctly, that people learned something important from me.

Do you want all the birds in the bushes? Or have you plucked a couple and left the rest for other people?

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Rosemary Millette artwork. Rosemary paints pictures around her hometown of South Dakota. Rosemary’s artwork has been featured on numerous state conservation stamps and she partners with many groups working to preserve wildlife and the natural world.

 

Power

As a relatively powerless person in the grand scheme of things, I have had very little experience with the phenomenon of power.

Not many people have access to it, mostly due to a lack of desire on their part to be anything in particular. Which is a good thing, maybe.

Also, there is that saying, with power comes responsibility.

I omitted the ‘great’, because ‘great’ power only applies to a minuscule fraction of humanity. Not everyone is born to be an oligarchical king. And country leaders oftentimes don’t hold full power (like Donald Trump, thank God), unless they are Kim Jong-un. They have massive responsibility, but they shirk it, to their moral detriment.

My interactions with power are few and far between. There was that teaching stint I had for three odd years. I felt mighty then. I managed many classes of 30 children, at all age levels, and I controlled them very well. I was in charge, I was looked-up-to. I had authority.

I was also responsible for anything that might go wrong. But I enjoyed that responsibility.

I wouldn’t class myself as ‘power-hungry’, but sometimes, just sometimes, I like to feel impressive.

Even if it is for a very short amount of time.

Like cruising down a highway, the beast beneath me building momentum slowly in that German way it has (no acceleration, but excellent speed maintenance), the budding strength of the car creeping up on me until I’m doing 90mph and ripping past everybody else, engine growling, wind screaming, countryside scaping.

It is the most terrifying, exhilarating feeling.

Snaking from lane to lane, outdoing other cars, hands tight on the steering wheel, sharp bend approaching, swaying with the car as it grips, oh so beautifully, to the tarmac, and round we swing.

I feel electric, powerful, mighty, fast, euphoric.

For a brief few moments, I am the queen of the roads, the devil behind wheels, the racing champion, sailing in a beast with the wind currents. The car bends to my will, and lends its strength to my desires. We become one terrible entity.

I could fly off the tarmac and tear through the atmosphere.

I could do anything.

For a brief few moments.

And then, great responsibility crashes through my power-high, and I remember the tarmac, and the speed, and pain of impact, and I reluctantly take my foot off the accelerator, and slow down, and match the humdrum pace of other commuters.

Sometimes I am forced to because humdrum commuters create obscene traffic, and how very dare they.

I guess you could say I, too, am a humdrum commuter. But I don’t see myself that way.

I am the queen of these roads. Move aside for my majestic power.

 

A Woman I Don’t Like

She is a tall woman. With sleek shiny brown hair, shoulder length. Her eyebrows are thick and sharp and give her the appearance of a forceful character. She is quite tall, well-built, and I think she has passed the age of 40.

She likes to wear tweed, waistcoats, crisp white shirts, jeans and tall black boots, almost like wellies, that reach just below her knee.

She always walks in with some kind of blazer on.

Her cheeks are ruddy, her eyes bright and black and sparkling, and she is the epitome of health and moral judgement.

And I just don’t like her.

I don’t even know her. She has a distinct Northern accent, which takes away from her outwardly ‘charm’, somewhat. Hah. What charm?

Laugh like a cackling witch; abrasive to the ears. Like a hacking saw, pierced with her slightly shrill voice. Not shrill, entirely, no.

It’s a concave voice. It has sharp edges and a sickly centre. It’s loud and a little abrasive, and, coupled with her accent, entirely distasteful. In fact, I despise it. It rings out through our large office floor periodically, and you can always hear every single thing she has to say.

Why do I hate her?

When she smiles, you see, she smiles right through me. I catch her looking darkly at me in the mirror sometimes, in the bathroom, and it is not a pleasant look. She is cheerful enough and talkative with plenty of other people, but I feel an icy blast when she looks in my direction. And after she has smiled at me, for a second or two, her eyes move on and her smile vanishes, because it never quite reached her eyes.

She is monotonous and boring. I have no desire to find out anything more about her. I think she is cold and cruel and judgemental. I have sat through a few of her presentations and almost fallen asleep. She is like metal, with no centre. She spends her lunch breaks sitting with this balding man with white hair, and they sit and share their food and talk in low voices. He certainly isn’t her husband because he is a Smith and she is a Furrow-Womble, meaning she has merged her name with a Womble. She has kids, I know, and oughtn’t that to mellow somebody out?

And why is she nice to everybody else, except me? Everybody is nice to me. I always smile at people and make them laugh. What’s not to like? She dismisses me in the rudest way.

She is just cruel. Cruel and wears boots and tweed, and laughs like a honking goose.

I just don’t like that woman.

Is there anybody you don’t like, without any particular reason?

Roadkill

Nothing motivates me. Not the knobbly edge of a cucumber, not the smooth roundness of a fresh tomato, not the creamy ripeness of a fresh avocado. I just chop all the ingredients up and throw them in and…

I don’t even wash my dishes afterwards.

Yes, they are piled up in the sink at home, as I speak. The washing has been in the machine, washed, since Saturday morning. I know it. I see it daily. But I don’t spin it for another wash, nor do I hang it out.

I am, quite simply, drained of energy.

I still get up quite early to go to the gym. I attend every spin class, but avoid eye contact. I push and push and push until the sweat runs rivers down my back and my muscles shriek in anguish. My fat jiggles with every push and my sports bra struggles to maintain a stationary chest. I need to get tighter sports bras else I will become saggy.

I lift weights after the classes. I can lift about 89 kilos in my glutes now, and 20 with my chest. For squats I can only do about 35, but I can see myself becoming more shapely and smooth. Lines and curves where they were always meant to be. Is it bad to enjoy the look of your own body?

Lately I have been noticing a lot of roadkill.

Yesterday it was a badger, lying warped on the verge of a tidy little country lane. The black stripe running through the middle of its little head was muddy and bloody.

Today it was a partridge, the bright green and brown of its coat brilliant in the shine of the morning sun. Last week a rat, on the pavement. Before that a crow, dead and limp and lifeless. A squirrel, a chick (where did you come from, little yellow soft baby?), a shrew (inhibit gardens, not roads, sweet misunderstood creature).

Today also it was a pigeon, lying smack bang on the corner of the space I park in daily at work. As I swung my legs out of the car (literally, I swing them out, and swing around the car to grab my bag from the passenger seat – lots of swinging) I thought to myself, ‘what if I killed it yesterday?’

In moments, the pigeon was forgotten.

What is roadkill, anyway, in the grand scheme of things? What is a dead cat in the face of a murdered Russian asylum seeker? What is a bloody and muddy badger in the face of the death and decay of minds and bodies that thought and did and said.

Don’t animals think, too? Won’t they be mourned by other animals? Ought we not to be kind to them?

You see, I say all these things, in a way that appeals to your pathos, but I feel no emotion. I don’t care for roadkill.

I feel a pang of sadness, but then it is quickly forgotten. It makes me think of rotting bodies and graves and sleep and heaviness and the physical vessel holding life – heartbeats in a chest that could stop and with them all sense of hope and happiness and dependency…

On Friday the friend of a close friend was on her way home from the park with her husband and child, when she collapsed and fainted. Moments later she died. She was fit as a fiddle, completely healthy, happy, laughing, smiling, planning, doing.

Today was her daughter’s first birthday.

I don’t know this girl. But her death has shaken me to my core.

See, she wasn’t a pigeon or a badger or a cat or a shrew. She was a mother and a wife and a daughter and a … a person. Thirty minutes before her death she sent a video of herself and her daughter on a swing, laughing and happy, to a group chat consisting of her closest friends.

Thirty minutes.

And thirty minutes before the death of the badger, did it leave its sett, say goodbye to its wife, and plunge through the undergrowth in heedless joy?

We are all meant to die. Human or animal. Some deaths mean more than others. But at the heart of it, it is the same thing. A heart stops beating, life lifts away from a body.

That is what I take from this.

I want to be loved. Not romantically, not just by my mother. I want to be loved by my Creator. I want my death to be a ‘return’, not a departure. Do you know what I mean? I want goodness and kindness and comfort and peace to fill the space I will inevitably leave behind.

We are not roadkill.

Touch some hearts, maybe?

Be kind? Smile? Help people? Make a good impact on the world?

Be ‘loved’?

What do you think?