We slough skin from our bodies. Continue reading “Shame”
A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships. — Jorge Luis Borges
Like many people living in the modern era I spend at least 7 hours of my day in front of a screen, whether it’s on my computer at work, or on my phone texting friends or scrolling through social media.
In the endless ocean of content I am overwhelmed by snippets and headlines. I flit between discovering answers to my ceaseless questions, watching a funny YouTube video, finding a new recipe and stalking a mutual friend on holiday in Europe. The information is endless but I am no smarter, no wiser and no more enlightened for having engaged with it.
If our neural pathways form our behaviour, my digital habits are making me stupider. So I’ve decided to have an affair.
It’s not going to be just any affair, I’m taking on a plethora of lovers: male, female, old, gay, straight, young, trans, dead… the first pre-requisite is that they must write. I’m going to take one lover a week, romp with them in my bedsheets, stare into them lovingly on the bus and bury my nose in them as I walk.
The second pre-requisite is that their writing should challenge me. Online I am surrounded by an echo-chamber of my own making. Algorithms that have learned what headlines I’ll click and what images are more likely to end in a purchase. I’m fed content that connects with me and as a result I’m shocked when I come face to face with the truth. That the world is not constructed around my sensibilities.
I’m currently in the throes of my own first novel and as I flow through it’s peaks and troughs (I’m in a ditch at the moment if you are wondering) I’ve come to realise what an intimate thing a book is.
I love Borges’s idea that every book is a relationship, shaped by the stories that proceeded it and the ones you will read afterwards. I’m ready to step away from my endless click-bait and make the time each week to have a real relationship with a novel again and I think you should too.
The first book I ever read was Madeline, I was four years old and I sounded the words out loud, memorised from hearing my mum and dad read it to me every night.
I wept when Aslan’s golden fur was shaved off in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe and his majestic nose bound to the stone table.
The first book that broke my heart was Melinda Marchetta’s Saving Francesca, unleashing a torrent of repressed memories about my mum’s mental illness.
My love of books and of writing has come from these moments, and they were created by people I’ll never meet.
For each book that touched you, or frustrated you or challenged your ideas, there was a writer. Someone who spent hours thinking, writing and editing. Slaving over the sentences you devour and creating an endless chain of words to carry you through your life. To teach you things, to make you laugh or cry.
I want more of that please.
— — —
Have you read something fabulous recently? Want to talk about it?
Starting out life in a new city isn’t easy, especially when your grasp on the native language is slim to none.
In April 2013 I packed up my flat, left my full-time job and went to live in Mexico. I could lie and say I made the choice because I can’t get enough tacos, but who am I kidding. I travelled half way around the world for love. It was not lost on me that I flew out on April Fool’s day.
These are the notable things that I realised in the first month:
1) Drugs are easy to get.
On the flight to LA, the elderly man next to me offered me a sleeping pill.
“If you want a pill love, I bought a few from a doctor I know. Gives me the strong stuff”.
His wife lent over him and said,
“He’s not going to take advantage of you while you’re sleeping, I’m his wife, that’s what I’m here for”.
Touche`elderly couple. Touche`.
2) As much as I care about animals, the assumption that going to Mexico would not contribute to eating my body weight in meat products was unrealistic.
3) People everywhere love farts. Especially old Mexican women on tiny, stinky buses called collectivos.
4) Miscellaneous meat (also known affectionately as ‘misc meat’) is by far the tastiest you will ever eat. I think it’s the fear of parasites that heightens the flavour.
5) Going to a city where you are sure to be shot in some kind of drug/ gang related violence is only likely if you get involved in a Mexican drug cartel. If you are eating churros, being ripped off at fruit and vegetable stalls and visiting the Frida Kahlo museum, you are obviously not bad ass enough.
6) Mexican women wear a disproportionate amount of lyrca.
7) No matter how much of a local you think you are, you will still be known as a pinche gringa or a guerro. Don’t be offended, it’s because you are white, have blonde hair and are trying to speak spanish like a child with a learning disability.
8) Machismo is a “thing”. Machismo means that groups of older men can leer at you from street corners and call out delightful propositions like “I LOVE YOU” or “MARRY ME” or even just “SEXY” . They might also just hiss at you, which I always find quite complimentary.
9) Taco stands bring a whole new meaning to the ‘drunken munchies’. You will be munching like a drunk from dawn to dusk and let me tell you, it’s going straight to your butt. (Which is lucky, because Mexican’s love that).
10) You will start purchasing lyrca outfits and actually wearing them. Because of the enormous amount of tacos you have been eating, your butt will bulge like a tightly wrapped chorizo. You will be deluded into thinking this is the best you have ever looked due to the constant and inappropriate male attention.
Reflecting on my time in Mexico, I not only realised how generally hilarious my life was there and also that I could happily eat endless tacos and wear lyrca on my chorizo butt forever. I guess I found my true calling.
It’s Friday night and I’m standing in the line at the Fish and Chip shop. It feels about 100 degrees and I am sweltering whilst waiting to order. I’m crowded in by families, couples getting up in each other’s personal space and groups of friends gossiping about their week. I have a sweat moustache.
Fish and Chip Lady: “What’ll you have love?”
Me: “Um, do you have a small pack of fish and chips?”
Fish and Chip Lady: “That’ll be the single pack.”
Me: “Yeh, one of those please.”
Fish and Chip Lady:“Are you sure hon, that won’t be enough for you and your boyfriend”.
*winks saucily at the strange man standing behind me*
Me (face turning beetroot): “Erm… he’s not.. I mean, we don’t… I’m by myself”.
Fish and Chip Lady (staring deep into my eyes in pity): “Oh, okay. I’ll put that through”.
As I pushed through the sweaty people waiting for their orders, this is what popped into my head:
As I wiped the sweat off my upper lip, I thought:
‘So what if I’m getting fish and chips on my own on a Friday night? I like fish and chips. Sure, I probably wont finish all the chips. But fuck yeh, I won’t have to share my calamari rings.’
A week later, I ducked into a food court for a quick bite. I grabbed some delightful spring rolls and this napkin –
This is when I realised, society says; ‘it’s weird to be alone’. According to this napkin and the Fish and Chip shop lady, you should be with someone. Hanging out alone in public is a social faux pas.
The fear of being alone is real for many of us. Otherwise why would that meme be so damn popular? It probably stems from the human fear of death and the idea that we face whatever comes after life by ourselves.
And I get it, some people out there are legitimately lonely. They don’t have any friends, some of them need some loving. Perhaps they are even looking for someone to share their lives with. But that’s being LONELY. Not ALONE. And that’s why we have the internet.
The thing that no one talks about is that relationships are fucking hard work. I’m not just talking about your lover or your wrestling partner. I’m talking about spending time with your family, being nice to your average work colleague and dealing with your friends 24/7. That shit is exhausting and if you don’t get a chance to re-charge with some quality alone time, you’ll lose your mind.
Like this guy, who just wanted to eat his freaken ice-cream and didn’t feel like sharing:
The problem is, that so many of us are from the Disney generation where it’s been drummed into our brains that we need someone else to make us happy.
I’m not advocating that you get rid of your friendships, relationships and average colleagues. What I’m saying is, that people who are uncomfortable hanging out by themselves must have really shit personalities. If you can’t stand being around yourself than who the hell else will?
You know what makes me suspicious? Those people who stay in relationships that suck. The whole “I don’t want to be old, alone and get eaten by my cats” mentality.
Are you afraid of ending up alone and being eaten by your cats? Answer these 3 questions to find out:
- 1) Have you ever gone to a restaurant/ cafe or bar by yourself, on purpose?
- 2) Can you spend an entire day by yourself without calling someone to hang out with you?
- 3) Have you ever ditched a social engagement for some alone time? (Sexual and non-sexual, both count as self-love).
If you answered YES to at least one of the three questions above, you are doing alright, will find inner peace and may manage to walk on hot coals without getting burnt.
If you answered NO to any/all it’s time you invest in some one on one loving. Take yourself out for a nice meal and glass of wine. (Don’t get too comfortable drinking alone though, I hear that’s a slippery slope).
So the next time you get stood up, haven’t been invited to a party or your lover is screening your calls, remember kids – being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.
Just for reference – this is what Fish and Chips for one looks like:
Yeh, that’s right. Fucking awesome.