Alphabetics

September 30, 2007

My bookshelves are a mess. Underneath everything else going on through my brain, it is this thought that keeps rising to the surface. So, buy more, I tell myself: they are only IKEA ones, they didn’t cost that much. Move the dining table forward, and put some on the wall behind it. But that will crowd the room, I tell myself sternly. All my pretensions towards minimalism (cunningly hidden under layers of boho-chic (well, that’s what we call it)) will be offended, and I won’t want to sit in the living room. But I don’t sit in the living room, because the bookshelves are a mess. Tidy. Up. The. Sodding. Bookshelves. I tell myself, through gritted teeth. There is a slight pause while my brow furrows and I wonder if I don’t have people to do these menial tasks for me. It unfurrows when I remember that no, I don’t, and this is no doubt why my home is so full of menial tasks undone.

Let me back up. I am a Librarian’s Daughter. OK, strictly speaking, I’m not, but the point is that during my formative years, my father was a librarian, and I spent many a formative year sitting on the floor behind the stacks reading Jane Austen and Anais Nin (and a few others). I never got to grips with the dewey decimal system, I have no compulsion to stamp my books or do exciting things with ISBN codes, but they MUST be in alphabetical order. And they must all be visible, and not in double rows, or piled on top of each other. And poetry and fiction and plays and non-fiction must not mingle. Apart from that, I’m not rigid about it at all.

I’ve tried to break free from the tyranny of alphabeticism. I’ve tried to group them under similar genres. I’ve attempted to insouciantly lob them on a shelf irrespective of any criteria at all. Ten minutes later, in both cases, I was sobbing wildly and snatching books from the shelves. I have over the years, managed to gradually wean myself into a state of faux-casualness regarding the alphabetics of book-filing. I can now manage to cope with a shelf full of Bs, without needing the Bs themselves to be in alphabetical order. I know – I’m just one of those free-and-easy, don’t-give-a-shit, take-life-as-it-comes compulsive alphabeticisers.

There is no room in my bookshelves to have everything in proper alphabetical order (oh yes, I forgot to mention, there has to be a logical visual sequence, too. It’s no good having A- L over here, and M– Z over there. That just makes my head hurt). I’m caught between a rock and a hard place right now. More bookcases means overcrowded furniture, which makes me hyperventilate. Less bookshelves means messy books, which makes me want to cry. It’s a dilemma which can probably only be overcome with a severe overhaul of my pet neuroses. In the meantime, I shall avoid the living room, and just lie on my bed and read.

Getting It

September 29, 2007

He doesn’t get it.

They sit close together in the back seat, so close that the seat belts strain as the two of them endeavour to overcome the unbearable millimetres of separation. In the rear view mirror, where my eyes are drawn only occasionally by a twist or turn in the conversation, I see only a few stray blond locks of his hair, but I see part of her face, continually turned and tipped up to his. The babble is continual, interrupted only by occasional liquid-sounding snogging breaks.

Today is her birthday, a seemingly significant number to other adolescents, an age that he has reached several months before.

“Cindy, decorated my locker at school. It was the ultimate locker decoration. Everyone kept taking pictures with their phones.”

“Cool.”

“People kept calling me all day long. They wanted me to party tonight, but I said I was seeing you.”

“Nice.”

“Oh! I brought something to show you. Maybe I shouldn’t show you. Oh, I’m going to read it to you. It’s so vile. I am just so angry. I hate it.”

“Ok.”

She proceeds to read it. I am either trusted, or a non-entity, or perhaps she believes I can’t hear, way up here in my chauffeur’s position. She reads from a birthday card… one received from another boy. The other boy presumably has a crush on her, or perhaps he is a previous boyfriend. The message on the card is affectionate, wishing her all the best on her special day, telling her that he wants her to be happy more than anything, referring to the existence of a boyfriend whom he hopes is truly good enough for her.

“And he sent me a rose! It was awful. I was so upset. I gave it to Cindy right away. I wanted to burn it! He just doesn’t get it.”

“Oh. Well, he shouldn’t give you roses if you don’t like roses.”

That other “he” isn’t the only one who doesn’t get it. Clearly.

This man-child, my grown-up baby… I want to protect him from the complications and machinations of women (oh, we are so talented, are we not?), and at the same time, I want him to be the one man who does “get it”. Let him love and lust and lose and learn. If only I could always be the driver, distant but aware, a kindly observer, alternately witnessing, and guiding, and occasionally protecting. My time to do that is almost done, though. Next step… the frozen smile and nod as he runs in and out of my life, bringing me ever more reasons to worry, and grieve, and exult, and be so very proud.

Parenthesis

September 27, 2007

A girl insinuates her way between us while our saucers wait on the counter side by side. She doesn’t look, doesn’t acknowledge, in any way that she has isolated him in a corner with her forward facing clear-cut profile which will become sharper as she ages. He has to reach across her for the sugar, I have to pass him the spoon in front of her. She doesn’t notice, apparently that she has forced herself across his line of vision, so that he must notice her. She probably doesn’t see the look he gives me above her head. I had forgotten how women look at pretty young men, even when their faces are stunned with lack of sleep and anxiety.

(“Did you walk with him?” “What do you mean? We went out for coffee.” “Yes, but did you manage to WALK WITH him? He’s so SLOW!”) My legs ache from holding back my stride, and I can see he is trying to hurry up his lazy uncoordinated athlete’s wander, but we somehow manage to keep pace. (“She made me walk,” he told her. “We parked the car miles away, and she made me walk all over town. And she kept announcing where we were going. It was like being with you. But even faster”). Back at the hospital he collapses on a chair while I hurry in to see her wheeled past (so much my daughter – her face tense, not wanting to be touched), and take up my vigil on a cold hard chair.

This is the hospital where she was born. I had the room three doors down on the left, the one the doctors use now, the only one now with a private bathroom. There were so many babies born that week that they had to give that room to me and the girl who had the baby who looked like a pig (she wouldn’t speak to me after they brought her back, because they kept telling her to stop screaming and be more like me – too bloody stoical and Scottish to bellow for God and my mother). it was a mixed blessing, that room. I could have done with other people to dilute the number of country aunts in print dresses and sensible handbags who stood around her bed shouting over each other.

The doctor passing by (“This is your mother? I thought she was your sister!” – the sort of remark that just makes you want to slap someone: I’ve been doing this for 20 years, give me my due, you fucker) (and anyway, it’s not as though I haven’t seen my face in the mirror today, looking as though the director had been standing behind the scenes: “Everybody ready? OK, give us your Anxious Mommy face. That’s it: lots of stress with a bit of reassurance pasted on top. Perfect – work those facial lines, honey!”) – before he passes by he pats my cheek and says it’s over. When they bring her back in I sit beside her and stroke her hair (just sometimes, I am so her mother), and she moans and shifts irritably every time I stop, until she falls into a proper sleep.

Going down the back stairs, I pass three nurses smoking outside the open window. I need to go down to the bottom, where I can pace and smoke, but I can hear their voices. The voice of a booming throaty man well past middle-age belongs to a tall blonde, looking somewhat battered by life, but probably only in her early thirties. Back upstairs again, a doctor is talking to a new father with the high light voice and intonation of a woman. Maybe it’s just me, today.

I leave the ward to look for him, and he’s outside, looking up at the window with his Anxious Boyfriend face, reminding me to change my expression to something that won’t make him hurry towards me so nearly-fast. I send him home with the house keys and tell him to sleep: he can’t see her yet. He could if he was a new father, but only mothers get in out of hours for women’s troubles.

When you live in a small town for all this time, everyone’s familiar. The man in the suit getting into the lift, didn’t I used to get the train with him? But I’ve seen him here before: either he works here or he must have a lot of sick relatives. The young guy polishing the floors, where do I know him from? He’s serious and absorbed in his task, but I know his face smiling (he’s a waiter at the weekends, I remember later). The woman leaning against the door, did our children go to school together? And the people that I know I know: the emergency room nurse, the woman from the fruit shop.

I’m tired. This hospital chair is hard and uncomfortable, and my book is full of two many words in too many sentences, crammed into a relentless onslaught of chapters. There are still empty pages in my notebook, but my pen has run out of ink. When she wakes up I go home with instructions to deliver, but when I get there he’s on the phone to her, mainly saying yes. “She’s bossing me around”, I say. “Me too”, he says, and gives me a smile of blinding happiness, “she’s back to normal now, isn’t she?”

Three

September 26, 2007

I wear the rings on a gold chain around my neck, dangling into the recess between my breasts, so that they remain hidden most of the time. Not always — they frequently are pulled out at moments of concentration, or complete lack of concentration. I pause here, stop typing… and they are at the tip of my fingers, moved back and forth along the chain. The metallic zipping noise draws my attention to the action, and I drop them back, hidden again beneath my blouse.

I pause again. I recall the first time I noticed the rings. She was wearing two. The setting on the one seemed huge to me. Such sparkle, such lustre. She seemed so elegant to me then, all flashing light as her hand moved through the minutiae of her day. The suds dripped from her fingers, gradually revealing the glint of clean gold as the dishes were passed to me for drying and polishing. My admiration was boundless. I knew that such luxury could only have been the result and gift of great love. Her happiness must be complete. I would sit sighing at her feet as she told of the soldier who carried her name next to his heart throughout the years of war. I was enthralled by the romance of the dances on the beach, the hurried engagement, the years of penury and making do, one baby after another bringing joy and …

Well, the stories ended there. They ended long before my own birth. Long before the number of children far outstripped the resources of the family. Long before the hand was no long held even in companionship, let alone in solidarity or love. Long before the knuckles were too swollen by work and arthritis to ever permit the removal of the rings. Long before the day she announced to all and sundry that her next Christmas gift would be a replacement of the one that had become too thin, almost razor sharp as it swung around the finger now slightly shriveled by age. She went to the store herself, chose the new, slightly gaudy replacement herself, paid for it herself.

So there are three. The one a promise, the second an oath, the third a vanity. To me they are a connection to some past in which I had little part, but which ultimately brought me here. When I touch them, I think of that past, but I think of an individual, not a couple. I think of the rings as my physical connection, the last remaining one, to her. I really don’t consider the stories. They were dust for me long ago, when my maturity, my observation, and my experience brought me knowledge of how such stories end.

Stick this up your meta

September 22, 2007

Oi! Boh! Stop contemplating your navel for a minute and come and talk to me about mine (it’s not as deep, but it’s not as linty, either).

Hold on, Mel. Be right there. Have you put the kettle on? You know I only discuss your deplorable lack of lint over tea.

Of course I have. Now listen, did you get my list of topics for discussion today? I wanted to start with Writing, the Meaning Of, as related to me, and possibly you if I allow you to get a word in edgeways, and follow up with People’s Perceptions Of Us (with particular relevance to me), and then perhaps we could go on to Complete Inanities That Are Amusing To Only Us That We Feel Compelled To Share, and then touch on kinky sex, if neither of us feels a pressing need to commit our thoughts to blog before that.

Fine, but have you ever noticed, Mel, that you always get to choose the topics? Once, just for once, I’d like to talk about the phenomenon of cute kittens with misspelled captions on the Internet. But no, we’ll talk about Audience and Perception in Transient Forms of Contemporary Writing, again. Pour me a cuppa.

Well, actually, Boh, what I notice is that it’s always me who has to put the kettle on, and it’s always me who is left to wash the cups up, and vacuum up the crumbs that escaped falling into your navel. So the least you could do is let me compile the discussion list. Bitch.

Hmmm. You may have a point. God knows I don’t want kettle responsibilities. Can we at least get to the kinky sex, or at least discussing it, a little more quickly this time?

You know I don’t really like doing that. I have to work up to it gradually so I don’t get all insecure about you being kinkier than me. And while we’re on insecurities, can we discuss Drodbar’s Perceptions Of Us?

Ah yes, I wanted to talk about that, actually, Mel. I was so shocked when he picked up on the fact that we’re next-door neighbours! How did he know? I wonder if he has guessed….. the rest.

Well, I’m a little upset by him thinking I’m interesting and have insecurities, whereas you are great, and he thinks about you all the time… Oh, Boh! The rest… surely not…

I thought we had done such a good job of covering it up. Perhaps he doesn’t know. And darling, listen, let’s not harp on this whole “Everyone likes Boh better” theme yet again. It’s nothing that I do. It’s just how I am. Irresistible. I thought you were okay with being…. ‘interesting’.

No, OK. I know they all like me better in secret. Would you like a piece of ginger cake? Or a cucumber sandwich? No, I’m not sulking. And I didn’t mean to slop your tea down your front. Which I can’t help noticing is bigger than my front. You don’t ever think that the “Everyone likes Boh a tiny bit better than Mel” thing could be a little… shallow?

Shallow? Not possible. I’m counting calories, but thanks. And you know I don’t like ginger. Do you have anything with chocolate? No? Okay, back to Perceptions of Intriguing Commenters.

Well, the way I see it, Boh, is that we are just so complex, multi-faceted and well-rounded, that people can’t really grasp the Wholeness Of Us (I told you we should cut back on the chocolate).

I agree. Now, we just need a way to express that with as many obscure references and analogies as possible. It doesn’t much matter what, really, since our very Depth and Complexity can never fully be understood by Them (I know… I think my arse is beginning to get too big for this kitchen chair).

I think you’re right. Are our Superiority Levels filled right up to the top again? No little insecurities leaking out the bottom? (No, I’m not talking about your bottom).

I don’t know. I think we’ve been awfully candid and unassuming lately. It is probably time for an extreme dose of Pretension and general High-Falutin’ Wordiness.

Oh, God, yes! Actually I was just thinking that I’ve kind of done the Writing about Writing thing to death a bit, lately. I think I’m going to post on Writing about Writing about Writing.

Or…. and it’s just a thought…. or, we could just post this conversation, and then get back to speculating about whether Drodbar and the others think that we’re the Ultimate Sex Goddesses…

Did we want to be Sex Goddesses again this week? Didn’t we want to be Literary Geniuses for a while? Introspective Queens of the Universe with added sex-appeal?

… … … Er. We can’t be both? I can be both, Mel.

You always have to win, don’t you, Boh?

Yes, darling. May I have another cucumber sandwich?

Of course, sweetie. Where exactly would you like me to put it?

I Can’t Stop You

September 21, 2007

You walk around with this image of me in your head.

(No, let me stop and try that again. It’s not that I’m in your head all the time. It’s not that you’re constantly conscious of me. Right?)

You have an image of me in your head. Let’s say that. It’s there. It’s maybe not at the forefront all the time, but it’s there. Good. Now I can continue without worrying about accusations (justified) of conceit.

The image of me in your head… does it resemble me at all? Well, clearly it does, in your opinion. There’s the conundrum. I know what I am (don’t I?). You think you know, too. Where’s the point where we meet and compare notes? Do we? Do I ever stop you and point out that you have neglected to notice the warts and scars? Do you tell me that the disfiguring blemishes only exist in my imagination?  What do you see? Is the image airbrushed? Are the edges artistically blurred? Is the background the flattering sepia of nostalgia and sentiment? Have you, in fact, photoshopped my image?

What happens when the occasion arises for you to take the idea of me, and put it into words? Do you pass along what has been present to your eyes, ready to be modified, gentrified just a little more in the next incarnation? Or do the words hit the air and smack hard against the wall of reality, allowing the image the chance to approach the less attractive truth again before modifying once more as it enters his or her imagination, yet another version of me?

With all these versions, these models of me, at various stages, of varying levels of honesty, there is no reason for me to preserve my own image. The ugly bits can remain locked away, or perhaps revealed in our most recent encounter. There’s no reason for me to say, “Look. This is what I am.” You already have it, the idea of me. Take it out, take a look, put it back, add, subtract, multiply, divide, play, deny, embrace, love, despise. It’s yours.  Do with it what you will.

I can’t stop myself

September 18, 2007

What compels us? Why do I walk around all day with a vision in my head (of the littlest princess in her long pink dress dancing when her hands are held aloft, her (grubby) fat little feet flexing across the tablecloth) and need to find the words for it, and float that vision across another one (of the oldest princess, who was once a table-top dancing baby herself, crying with emotion, wrapped in black gauze and tied behind with a ribbon – as beautiful as a party favour, says her prince), while I’m walking home with the toilet rolls under my arm, trying to work out what words need to go in between them?

I wonder why I think of them in their party dresses and feel the need to metaphorically take off mine. Why does everything need to be wrapped in words? Isn’t it enough to live it without having to agonise over the words to express it?

Half the battle goes on in my head, but the other half is on the page. If the whole battle was in my head, nothing would get written, because is most of it really worth expressing? That’s the bit I leave out and ignore, because then I wouldn’t be able to spend hours thinking about words, and measuring the rhythm of a sentence. On the page it’s another story, because once the metaphorical party dress is off I don’t know if I should exhort my audience sternly to look (also sternly) upon my ugly bits or indulgently applaud my beautiful parts (which rather indulges the not so lovely characteristics, which think they should be admired for their raw ugliness).

Everything in me says I’m really too tired to post this. I’ve left out vital bits, and meant to say other things (I’m sure I had quite a lot to say about reading meanings into things when sometimes there are none – and yet how annoying it is when it’s marinaded in meaning and significance and no one gets it). Everything except the bit that says “But you thought it, then you wrote it, now you’ll post it. And you were getting nowhere with the princess thing anyway (but why does it matter? Wouldn’t it be better just to do the dishes rather than sulk about the post that wasn’t?)”

So I will.