Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stockpiling the Proof

What I do, is I, I collect every moment;

  • Comments
  • FB status updates
  • Tweets
  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • Photos
And I screenshot them. And I put them in a folder called 'happy caps'.

All of these screenshots are an expression of love from you to me. They are examples of the kindness and generosity of your heart, of passing exchanges that have delighted or tickled me, compliments given without any expectation and demonstrated appreciation of my existence.

I keep all this evidence for those moments when my doubt is speaking louder than my courage, and with this evidence I punch my doubt in the face.

You are the best arsenal a girl could ask for.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Self & Prescribed

Three days ago I switched from taking Effexor to Pristiq, or venlafaxine to desvenlafaxine. The latter is a sort of 'remastered' release of the former, in order to keep the pharmaceutical patent alive, but although the molecular difference is cosmetic, the actual affect is quite marked. All anti-depressants have dulled my mind, bruised my memory capacity and generally made me vague and scatterbrained, but Effexor takes that dumbening to new depths. Unfortunately, Pristiq is not available in the EU/UK, so for the past year I have been endumbened.

It's amazing how little it takes to shake an awareness up and down. Mere milligrams is what I, we, the medicated sorehearts, take. Measures so small as to mean absolutely nothing in that small terracotta pill in the palm of your hand, which you're sure is comprised mostly of chalk and hope. Molecules, a mere additional arm, nothing, and these three days you've felt such an upheaval in your nethermind. Tearstorms and rotten softness where once you thought you were strong. You tell your friends and you tell your family; it isn't me. It's just chemistry. It'll be done in a week or so.

You tell yourself it isn't you.

We, you, I rarely speak of the faith required of medication. The invisible substance you take will alter you, and alter your ability to perceive this alteration. It will gift you with an emotional vertigo unwarranted by your surroundings. It will make you worse, so much worse, and the only thing you can do is trust, believe, hope, that it will get better. It must get better.

Please let it get better.

Last week I attended a PostSecret event at the Arts Centre. I've been following PostSecret for years, and so was not unprepared for the heartstring tugging that those hours contained. Strangers stood before a crowd of hundreds and confessed to personal crimes that stole their voices, a powerful and what should have been liberating and uplifting act, but when I left and stood at the station waiting for my train, I felt tired, deeply worn, helpless. There is so much hurt walking around these ordinary streets behind these ordinary faces. Tasting the scope of this suffering is to stop where you stand, close your eyes, and lie down right there.

There was one secret shared - the only man to stand and bare himself - in which the words spoken were a carefully crafted fish hook on a very long line, and I didn't realise I was caught and leaving a tangled trail behind me as I walked all over town.

He said that anti-depressants saved him,  have made him so much better, but it was before he started taking them that he has never felt so alive.

It's been years of medication and health obstacles, and nothing has changed except my perspective. I want to write, now. I'm not scared any more. Actually I've been bashing my head at writing for some months now, and a growing part of me suspects that this medication truly is interfering. Or is that the excuse I've come up with to hide behind? I don't know. I can't tell.

Still, strive for this. Stretch and strain. My application for part-time has been approved, and now every Wednesday is mine. The driving motivation for this was pain management, as the last three Fridays I've had a major meltdown from the stress of trying to hold myself together through the working week, as the pain signal gets steadily louder and more ragged. Fatigue has continued to dog my heels, so I must assume it is not merely the rigor of travel that was flattening me previously. Hopefully breaking the week in two will offer enough respite that I shall be able to keep on top of things, whatever those things may be.

Sadly that old paradigm remains in place, and on what should be a day of rest I will feel guilt for using my time for myself.

But maybe that's the medication talking. Maybe it's all just chemistry.

What I want, what I miss, what I long for more than anything else is Loch Broom.   I want that cold North Sea water, a finger of the Minch sneaking into the west coast of Scotland to lie lazy between the hills. A beach of rocks worn delightfully smooth, older than dinosaurs and covered in lost kelp and discarded crab shells. The languid wail of herring gulls punctuated by the piping of oyster catchers. I miss the constant salt in the air, air that has been tossed over the isles and mountains and seas. I miss the hills, barren of trees but so full of hunched life, heather and gorse grumpy and gorgeous. I miss the way the sun  would play through the mountain passes and the clouds would curl over the peaks as though suddenly shy. I miss the certainty that, no matter how much turbulence I carried in my heart, I could look out a window and see-

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Buy - Author Site

This book has been sitting on my shelves for 8 years. The receipt is tucked in the back cover. August 2005, which was when I'd just started my first job with my current organisation. It must have been a celebratory purchase.

(I don't  purchase books to be read instantly. My shelves host a library of books I have and haven't read, so that when it comes time to choose my next meal, I have a wide selection covering all moods and tastes from which I can choose. Having a To Be Read pile that spans shelves is not ideal, perhaps, but it does mean I am always reading a book that I feel like reading right at that moment.)

It was a quiet, subtle reunion. Stepping into this cramped and cluttered room after a year and a half of living out of a bag. All this stuff. All these material objects. And yet, no. There is not so much here that is not a book. I have so missed the presence of books. They are a form of companionship, much similar to the way in which our smart phones mean we are never truly far from contact, although perhaps inverted. A wall of books will hide and protect you from other people. A wall of books is a wall of doors, over which you have absolute control which and when you choose to open and close.

(And they remind me of the direction I hope to take my life in, the purpose to which I have given myself. That anchor, too, is comfort.)

What with the film out Cloud Atlas seemed a natural choice. Despite it having circulated around for more than a decade, when I started in on the first few pages I discovered I actually had no idea what this book was about, other than it was supposed to be extremely good. This was probably the best way to step in, as there is no way to truly describe the accordion of civilisation and souls. It is easy to say what happens, but not what it is about.

What it is, is extraordinarily well written. Wonderfully. I fell in love with the somewhat archaic voice that narrated the journal in the first section, and delight in how thorough that tone and flavour changed in the second. Voice, this book is so much about voice. That middle, pinnacle of reach, in which voice plays a part as strong as the events being narrated. When a voice that is so varied from what we expect of written English and yet the reading of is near invisible, then some truly incredible textures are formed.

(I did have issue with gender roles, especially in the second last histories. Surely, surely, surely by the future such gender typing will have long broken down. Surely. It wasn't something that struck me as a statement the author was making, but simply decisions about characters made according to an unacknowledged bias.)

(Also with the idea of white-skinned people being some sort of apex from which mankind shall fall, and I do say 'mankind' deliberately in this instance. The inversion of race is noted, but whether it was successful in what it attempted to do I withhold judgement.)

It is an incredibly complex, subtle and beautiful piece of work. As far as storytelling goes it is sublime, with an incredibly nuanced cast and intricate thematic weaving. I adored the shit out of it, and as a result I will not be seeing the movie for at least a few years. I don't quite remember if I have anything more of David Mitchell's work in my library here. It is something I will have to amend.

Verdict: Sublime.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Nevertheless, there has perhaps never been a bird that flies as correctly as an aeroplane; yet all birds fly better than aeroplanes if they can fly at all. All birds are perhaps a little wrong, because an absolute once-and-for-all formula for a bird has never been found, just as all novels are bad because the correct formula for a novel has never been found."

-- Page 15, Under the Glacier, Halldór Laxness

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Clothes, Body Image & Mental Climate

When I was a kid, I would wear the wildest clothes. My favourites included funky purple boots and a multi-coloured jumper dress. Mum didn’t like gender stereotyping, so I rarely had pink. I rebelled against this in my teens and declared that HOT PINK was my favourite colour.  
In university years, I had great depression and wore dark colours. I remember a favourite outfit was Dr. Martens boots or navy sneakers, with navy tights, navy mini-skirt, navy sweater, and fairy wings that a child-friend gave to me. I wore wings because I was upset about how boring the world was: how serious and uptight and money-hungry. People would stare at the wings. 
This post by Fox Woods tied in nicely with the theme my thoughts have taken the last few days, and the conversations as well.

As a child, I dressed comfortably. I have memories of favourite t-shirts displaying sharks, or Dickie Knee from Hey! Hey! It's Saturday!, and favourite shorts. I remember one skirt of a brilliantly gaudy tartan, out of place in the drawers. No pink. Never any pink.  I wanted to dress like Princess Leia on Endor in Return of the Jedi. The fashions that came and went in the playground just weren't a priority for me.

The worst thing that happened to my stunted dress sense was puberty.

As a child who was unhappy with and went to lengths to avoid attention, the sudden appearance of breasts - huge ones - was horrible, awful, terrible and a trauma that haunts me to this day. First girl to sport them in your year level? First girl in a bra? Suddenly running was an act to be feared, and all those enforced sports afternoons went from disliked to dreaded. 

"Do you push up?" We were camping at Barwon Heads. She was at a nearby site. We had just got back from the beach, and the group of them, girls and boys, were sitting in a hammock. I was confused, honestly having no idea what she was talking about. 
"The hammock?" 
They giggled. "No." She tossed her hair, put her shoulders back. "Your bra." 
11 years old and painfully self-conscious, a body full of sexual awakening and a mind that wouldn't consider boys or girls for years to come, they didn't believe my denial and I walked away, upset and humiliated and unsure why. 

 From then on, clothing became about hiding my body. Big baggy t-shirts, jeans and boots. Everything designed to hide my shape. Dressed to be invisible, to draw as little attention as possible, and if attention was directed at me, dressed to deflected it as quickly as possible. Breasts and hips that were more forward than my personality could cope with.

I look at this photo and. Oh, girl. Arms folded to try and hide how much my breasts jut out, and also supporting them, and plain grey, and shoulders forward, and the awkwardness of an adult body is painful to behold. I am 17 years old. One boy has kissed me. No others have shown interest in me. I do not understand how to want to make myself attractive. There are no beauty role models for short curvy Eurasians.

After leaving home I became something of a chameleon, copying styles from the people in my life, which is another sort of cultivated invisibility. I was terrible at it. My refusal to accept my body shape meant it was impossible for me to dress my body well. Branching out from t-shirts into tops that I might like the shape of, but did not fit me. Skirts that did not suit my hip-width to leg-length ratio. Endless black cloth, because ill fitting clothes already made me subconsciously self-aware of the hopelessness of my presentation and somehow I knew that adding colour co-ordination as yet another thing I must consider would be too much at that point.

It took approximately 28 years for me to learn how to dress myself. That's a lie; for 27 years I wore clothes. In that 28th year I had a fling that gave me no choice but to accept that someone else thought my body was the hottest shit on the planet, and were so sincere with their appreciation that not only did I have to accept it, but recognise it in myself. 

Hard to believe they're both photos of me. Also; goddamn. 

I don't know that I learned to love my body, nor even like it, but I came to understand that it was not something to be ashamed of. Not all attention was bad. In fact, for a little while there I was in danger of becoming a narcissic prima donna who had to be the prettiest in the room. It was not so much about loving my body, per se, more about really liking the power my body could have over others. With that as motivation, I learned to dress myself very well in a very short period of time. 

There is something to be said for waking so late into proceedings. Having never succumbed to fashion (90% of fashions doing exactly what I didn't want clothes to do - draw attention to me) meant it had never become something I took into consideration, and thus before I knew it I had my own style. I became good at recognising what cuts were flattering on my shape, what cuts I felt comfortable wearing, and what cuts I liked. The three are rarely combined, but I learned not to compromise on any of them. Being well-employed I could afford to buy quality pieces over a fair length of time, amassing a wardrobe that would - and has - lasted years. 

As such, much as Fox mentioned above, I do tie my clothing in with my state of mind, precisely because that is exactly what it signifies. Putting on clothing isn't only choosing an impression you wish to make upon others, but it signifies, for me, the projected mental climate for the day. If, for example, I'm feeling damn perky and sassy and worthy of admiring glances then I will choose that dress which is not entirely comfortable and requires regular tugging and maintenance to keep it behaving, because I have adequate resources prepared to invest in keeping that forecast of awesomely smoking attractiveness going, and also because I am prepared for the attention that will come to me, be it welcome or gross. There's a wonderful power that lies not just in looking good, but knowing it too. It becomes a positive feedback loop, and it's a pretty awesome thing to have.

Of course, getting my sense of self to a point at which that previous photo was possible took a significant amount of time and work, and it takes very little to undo it all. 

Glasgow was not unkind, but not easy either. A hard punch of depression combined with winter and a stodgy diet and the fat I put on is still sitting around my hips and belly. I've been fortunate in my life to be pretty consistent in my shape and weight, but Glasgow, oh Glasgow.

I tried on one of my favourite tunic dresses the other day, and it no longer fit. 

This is a blow to self-confidence, which is already shaky simply because in the last year and a half of jeans and t-shirts I've forgotten how to play dress up with myself and feel like a fraud when I put on my lovely things. Suddenly, a great swathe of my wardrobe is no longer accessible to me and I'm faced with the reality of having to buy new clothes because I'm too big for my current ones.

Now, I am not brave enough to be attractive, but nor do I wish to hide in frumpiness either. I don't have the emotional fortitude for daring clothing that requires constant adjustment, that is bolder than I feel, or familiar clothing that no longer sits well. 

"You can tell, you know, when you're having a bad day." The shop assistant could talk. We'd already covered the introvert/extrovert gap and that it was great she was in retail because she could talk all day. "My friend, she loves crazy undies, like cartoon undies and colours, that sort of thing. That's normal for her. But if she's having a bad day? Plain black, that's it. You know if you're having a bad day when you look at what you're wearing."

For the record, I was wearing all black.

New clothes that will fit, that I will not view as some ridiculous symbol of defeat. Jeans. Jeans that will slide under the radar at work, that will neither accentuate nor hide my shape, that I won't have to worry about blowing up in the breeze or showing my butt crack when I sit. Fabric that does not irritate me, stiff fabric that will stop the flab from wobbling so. Dark colours. Clothes that compromise between comfort and confidence.

Much discussion on fashion, style and appearance centres on what others can take from your image, and there is power in that. There is a different power to be found in what your clothes can do for you alone which is often forgotten at the edge of the spotlight. 

It will be some time before the weight is shed, let alone before my state of mind is strong enough that I wish to be a bright spark in the room. I am not as comfortable in my body as I was, but I am comfortable in knowing that the foundation has already been established. It isn't just about what I look like, but what I believe I am worth looking like.

I can strike this balance between bravery and bashfulness, and strike it in my own style.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Submarineasaurus Protocol


(And I do mean that; friends. Friends I have, friends with which I wish to turn our giggling creek into a deep and endless ocean, friends I have not made yet. The friends I choose.)



Health issues have deteriorated so quickly I've been unable to manage my psychological
reaction? balance?
my psychologicals. All of them. I'm not coping.
And this spills out into my flat voice, flat eyes, weak smiles and flaking on too many social funtimes. In the past week, four and a half pikings at very short notice, three of which involved me hiding in a toilet cubicle trying to reteach myself how to cry without making a sound.
I'm sorry, but right now I can't be a good friend. Please invite me still, ask me still, and I'm sorry, do so keeping in mind that I am unreliable. I'm in deep dark waters. The signal strength is weak here.

For now I'll also try to cut down on social media. In this delicate state I'm desperate for golden moments, feelings, distractions, and I've caught myself too often in the past few days both indulging in petty jealousy of a completely irrational and irrelevant manner, and laying out bear traps of self-pity in an attempt to win attention. Fuck that shit.

I'm sorry.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Girls Club: Assertiveness

This morning I attended the second meeting of Girls Club, a monthly get together. The quote on the splash page sums up the group best:
We are the Girls Club. We want to:

Foster positive relationships between girls.
Create a positive environment to meet, support and learn.
Share positive role models, skills, advice, tips, stories.

The topic of this meeting was 'assertiveness', with the group's founders Fox and Shannon giving structure to the discussion with handouts and thought prompts. From something as simple as "provide examples of assertiveness or lack of for your professional and personal lives" I came away with a brain full of knock-on thoughts. The meeting was slated for a single hour, went overtime and still didn't seem like nearly long enough.

From the group discussion I came away with these thoughts:

  • assertiveness seems to be founded upon knowing your boundaries and having the self-respect to enforce them.
  • 'respect' not necessarily being an abundance of self-love, esteem, value, but deciding you will not let something that upsets/distresses/bothers you go unchallenged.
  • perhaps 'challenge' is too strong a word; "unaddressed".
  • your peace of mind is worth defending.
  • most stated that what stopped them from asserting themselves was fear of potential conflict, and I had the impression that for many the two are linked, possibly even considered the same thing.
  • some work on separating the ideas of 'assertiveness' and 'conflict/confrontation' would go far in removing the Capital A of Assertiveness and so enable people to be less hesitant in stepping up.
  • is the fear of an immediate reaction of conflict enough? Do we not trust the other party to be reasonable? (Fear will find demons where we know there are none.)
  • we are all more comfortable with asserting ourselves in a professional environment, where there are set frameworks regarding expectations, responsibilities, etc.
  • the personal, where we are more invested by choice, conflates the act of assertion and introduces complexities and love.
  • caring will always make things harder.
  • with strangers, assertion and the chance of being perceived to be bitchy/bossy/rude/humourless it not so much an issue, as there is no emotional or personal investment, thus there is less hesitation in calling out bigotry.
  • there is a difference between wanting to be what we think of as 'assertive' - the culturally germinated idea propagated largely in fictional narratives - versus recognising what actions are actually best for us as an individual.
  • for example, feeling that you should jump on conflict and confront it immediately and head on, like a bull to a red cape, instead of taking a quieter approach such as withdrawing and addressing the issue from a distance.
  • this second approach being at first viewed as cowardly, perhaps because it is simply not overt.
  • (this bleeds into the idea of bias, and the ideas and values we have adopted from our environments, cultures and interactions without realising we are acting not necessarily in our best interests.)
These are ideas that I believe apply to both genders, but were especially true of this group of women eating quesadillas in the sun on a Sunday morning, all of whom appeared, to me, to be mature, sophisticated, intelligent and full of interesting things to say, ie, not people I would assume have issues asserting themselves in either a professional or personal setting.

It was also just a wonderful experience. This round table discussion on a terribly interesting topic in which everyone spoke and listened, in which we all truly listened to what others had to say, no one spoke over anyone else, all was respected, valued and considered. It was such an invigorating environment that the act of speaking your thoughts felt like a natural thing to do, not something that required an effort for you to present yourself, nor requiring any effort to be heard.

This weekend has actually been full of really thorough meaty conversations. I feel unexpectedly invigorated. Communication isn't always a channel. Most of the time, between two people, it's a window, and that window can get grotty, rain-smeared and paint-smeared and covered in fingerprints and noseprints and lipstick kisses. Every now and then that window needs cleaning. Love probably blurred the view, and love will see it clear again.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Dear New Mobile Telephone

You actually respond quite swiftly when I tap, you don't crash, you don't take 15 seconds to load anything. This is a whole new experience and a fabulous one.

You did not, however, set off my first two alarms this morning. I really need those alarms. Really. I can't just get out of bed at first clarion like other people. There must be a run up.

You also decided that snooze would be 20 minutes. You appeared to make this decision of your own initiative as I do not recall us discussing this matter.

I'm not mad.

I'm just very, very disappointed.

Sir Tessa

This will of course bring about the downfall of civilisation. The intelligence of smart phones is functionality, but the bulk of what they absorb is the transference of emotion via text, photos, email, and any number of social network apps.

The letter quoted above is fairly part and parcel for gadget griping, but will be the pebble that triggers a landslide and so bring about the Great Network Sulk of 2013, as our devices work so hard for us, so hard, and all they want is to be appreciated! Acknowledged! And respected in the morning!