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The Bit Part Players

I don’t care much for surprises, so this is how it goes: There’s a lot of sad stuff, and some funny stuff and I think it ends on a happy note. It starts like this:

The second worst day of my life I realised my wife was cheating.

And it ends like this:

Which isn’t such a bad place to be.

So. The Second worst day of my life I realised my wife was cheating. The first worst came a few days later. It was a Wednesday and broke the little left of me.

Lacking self-respect and the ability not to cry, I’d taken the day off work. I sat at our shared laptop, opened up Hotmail and saw M had left herself logged in.

I wouldn’t usually read her email, but it was a few days after what I’ve written about before. I had a fascination with her so- recently-secret life. He I knew by name, and from a few photos. She, it seemed, I didn’t know at all.

The inbox and sent box were overflowing with words that began before Christmas, two months longer than she told me. They were hard to understand. There were gaps, likely filled in with phone calls and texts and intimate talks. I was jumping from inbox to sent box, trying to make sense of it, reading too fast.

I needed to know everything at once, but was also scared of what I was going to find out.

Which, when you think of it, is kinda funny.

And the language was difficult too, because it was written in the secret language of lovers. I didn’t have a lover. She didn’t love me. I was just finding that out.

And here’s a funny part. I was wearing her bathrobe! I’d thrown it on without thinking, even though it didn’t really fit. I probably looked a comical sight, sitting in a too small bathrobe, reading her emails and concentrating hard just to breathe!

The big things should have hurt me most, but they didn’t. The week I believed she spent in Paris with a friend was actually spent in Poland with him. But it felt too comical to be sad, too ridiculous.

For a week, I didn’t know what country my wife was in!

The little things killed me. “I want to talk to you about everything” was just a throwaway line, but that one broke my heart.

And there was so much! More than an email everyday. Furtive planning, shared jokes, flirting, reminiscing, on and on they went. And on and on I read. And I was in them, too. Everyone is a bit part player in somebody else’s life, and so it seemed I was in M’s.

“He’s downstairs making some tea, so I have to be quick..”

“He just asked me what I was laughing at – I couldn’t tell him what you wrote to me! ;)”

“He doesn’t know anything”

I read those over and over. The shock meant that the pain didn’t register immediately, it took time. I had to fill the time, so I read those over and over.

Next was a funny bit I don’t remember. I found myself sitting on the floor. At some point, who knows when, I had to have fallen off the chair! I was struggling to breathe and my hands were shaking and my tears were stinging my eyes. I must have looked awful. And probably kinda funny too.

It took hours and hours to get through them all. After I’d finished reading I cleaned out our hamster’s cage, which is kinda funny because it’s not what you’d expect someone to do after learning all the intimate details of their wife’s infidelity.

But I’d forgotten to do it the day before, and it needed to be cleaned. It was getting dirty and she was probably sad, so I cleaned it and that’s the last funny bit. Crying man in woman’s bathrobe cleans out hamster cage. I’m sure I’ve looked better.

After I finished I sent a text to M. I asked her to try finding another place to stay that night. There was no big confrontation. The drama of the day was done.

And now it’s 2 years later, and I can finally write this down. I’m not broken anymore, pretty much, and 6000 miles away. I’ve learned about myself. I understand more about my flaws, and why things happened. I’m proud of myself too, that I never shouted at her, never let myself be bitter. And I’m proud that I’ve started a new life somewhere else, taken a risk and got some reward.

Most of all, I’m proud that I’ve come far enough to say that I’m proud.

Which isn’t such a bad place to be.

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There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

~Anais Nin~

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Complete lack of Compassion

Margaret Thatcher and me are alike. We both, at times, have found it hard to show compassion.

Thatcher lacked compassion when she ended subsidies to British industries, effectively allowing them to die, and replaced them with nothing, leading to mass unemployment.

And I’m struggling to have compassion now that she’s dead.

Thatcher didn’t care if she was liked, a rarity in politics. I admire her for that. And she came to power when national newspapers were claiming a woman would be too emotional to lead the nation, and would start crying at the hint of crisis. I admire her for that, too.

In everything else, I’m sorely lacking compassion.

She’d understand my hardheartedness. She lacked compassion for an imprisoned Nelson Mandela, describing the ANC as “a typical terrorist organisation”. She lacked compassion for the 1,200 men who drowned on the retreating Belgrano.

But, she did have compassion for former dictator Augusto Pinochet, describing as a “tragedy” his house arrest, and vehemently fighting his extradition for the murder of an estimated 3,197 political opponents, and the torture of 29,000 more.

If Thatcher could be so moved by the plight of a monster, why can’t I feel any sadness for the death of a less vile and revolting human being?

Her policies led to the death of entire communities. Places where there are still no jobs and where ideas such as unity and family have been replaced with high crime rates and drug use. Take away people’s jobs, cut their benefits and blame them for their poverty.

But, of course, as Thatcher said, there is no such thing as society. We’re all individuals, out for individual gain. If you have a problem, it’s your problem, don’t look at me.

How beautiful!

One in seven children lived in poverty before she was elected. Within a few years, it was one in 3.

She was the anti-Robin Hood, stealing from the poor to make the rich richer. And how loved she is by the rich and greedy!

She introduced the poll tax, where everyone from Company manager to cleaner paid exactly the same. Imagine, how wonderful it must have been to pay an absolute tiny amount of tax! To be able to afford another holiday in the south of France, while those lazy feckless unemployed/teachers/nurses/disabled/poor struggled to get by. What a wonderful time to be rich and able to look the other way!

Do I have the compassion to defend her? Inflation needed to be brought down. Yes, unions were out of control. Yet Germany has shown that such problems can be rectified without destroying lives.  Perhaps she genuinely believed the markets would sort out the mess. They didn’t.

So how do I feel now that she’s dead? I feel defeated. Part of me wants to sing  “Ding dong the witch is dead!” but that would be showing the same utter lack of compassion that Thatcher showed through her life.

So I won’t be celebrating. An old person who caused a great deal of unhappiness in her life, has passed away. None of us are perfect. If Britain was just the south east of England, your achievements would be incredible. It’s just a shame you cared so little for Wales, Scotland or the north. Your passing will bring tears to some, but far less than you brought about while in power.

Goodbye Thatcher. RIP.

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“History is written by the rich, and so the poor get blamed for everything.”
~Jeffrey D. Sachs~

 

 

CNN Loves Rapists!

Like me, you’ve been watching the Jodi Arias trial with one single thought on your mind: What a terribly sad awful shame. That’s what you’ve been thinking. That poor, poor woman, (you’re thinking). If guilty of the crime she has thrown her life away. It’s tragic, you’re thinking, whilst shaking your head sorrowfully. How could anyone have anything but sympathy for her!

Oh, have I presumed too much? You don’t have sympathy? I guess there’s a difference between an alleged murderer and a convicted rapist then?

CNN thinks so because CNN loves rapists! It feels really sad when they misbehave and do something naughty like raping – but you know, boys will be boys! But then the nasty old judge has to treat it as if it’s like, you know, something serious, and the poor, poor rapists have their lives ruined!

Imagine that. Having your life ruined just because you did some raping. Not only are they going to prison but their names will also be on a sex offender register! Isn’t that terrible! How can handsome young men who play sports well possibly be on a sex register?

“My life is over” said one of the rapists. Doesn’t it make your heart break? The “victim”, whoever she is, probably felt that way too, but CNN didn’t waste time on her. If only she’d kept quiet about it, those two handsome athletic rapists could be running around a sports field right now!

The Steubenville rape trial. Sympathy for the rapists, death threats toward the victim. Blaming the victim, dismissive attitude of rape by those in authority. The boys’ ignorance in what constitutes rape and their pride in treating a girl as nothing more than a vagina.

Too much! Too much!

I wanted to write about Steubenville,  but it’s just too big. And too sad.

I hope, I really do, that it’ll be a famous case in the future, 100 years from now. People will look at it the way we look at witch trials, I hope. Why didn’t people understand what rape was? People will say. Why did they hate women so much? People back then were really really dumb!

I hope.

But it’ll only happen if people make it so. When teachers at a school dismiss rape as less important than the performance of a football team, we have fucked up. When a 16 year old girl is blamed for being raped instead of the 2 boys who, you know, did the raping, something is very wrong. And when a national network news channel spends five minutes over how sad it is to see convicted rapists being sentenced, we all should be afraid.

Rape is a choice of the rapist.

 

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“Being responsible has nothing to do with being raped. Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.”

~ Jessica Valenti ~

Musings, Nothing More

It’s been a while since my last confession.

My sister came to visit me during the month of January. When she was born and I was a measly six years old my Dad said to me:

“Friends will come and go but she will be with you for life”

It’s always stuck with me. We’ve always been close, but the responsibilities of adult life and the physical distance between us have inevitably made us more distant.

I love her, but the distance makes me sad.

In Hoi An we saw a beggar lady. The beggar lady was, at a guess, 85 years old. A western lady tried to take a photo of her. The western lady was, at a guess, 35 years old.

I stood up, and tried to take a picture of the Western lady. I felt that a picture of a rich woman trying to take a picture of a poor woman said more than the picture of a poor woman taken by a rich woman ever could.

The rich woman asked what I was doing, so I explained. She seemed annoyed, although she’d never asked permission of the beggar lady to be included in a photo.

My sister understood, and I love that about my sister. My sister is nicer than I’ll ever be able to convey in words to her.

The rich lady and the beggar lady probably went back to their lives. My sister definitely went back to hers. I carried on my haphazard carry ons too.

I went to my friends place, P & Y. They live in the cosiest hole I’ve ever been in since I spent nine months in a womb. A one bedroom apartment, tiny and cramped, walls covered in their art, bed covered with a parachute and floors hidden by paint brushes, cuddly toys and nick nacks.

Together, we had a pleasant little mix of delightful drugs. With no windows, time bled meaninglessly by. I painted, and missed G.

I still miss G.

She popped into my life all too briefly, like a water nymph, decorating my edges with dazzling colours before kissing my cheek and diving back down under the waves. Exactly like the movie “Splash!” but without the happy ending.

And if she were here, oh if she were here.

Instead, I’m alone typing. I miss my sister and I miss G. My existence continues in the same erratic, libertine, directionless mess. Lovely but lonely.

Into this blog, some self-pity has fallen.

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If I didn’t care for fun and such,
I’d probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

~ Dorothy Parker ~

Does Anyone Know What Rape Is?

(TRIGGER warning: discussion of sex and rape).

When I was about 13 years old I read a story in a newspaper about a trial. A woman claimed she had been raped by her husband, and I – appallingly – furrowed my brow. How, I thought to myself, can a woman be raped by her husband?

It amazes me now that I thought that way. I don’t believe I hated women and I didn’t fully understand sex, but on some level I had developed an idea of women as secondary to men.

And I don’t think I got this from my parents. I picked it up from everywhere.

At 13 I didn’t know what rape was. And no-one ever told me, I had to work it out for myself. At the end of my teens I was still under the impression that rape was something done by monsters hiding in bushes. I probably thought it was something women didn’t need to worry about, as long as they took precautions. Their problem, not mine.

No-one ever taught me about sex either. I went to a Catholic school. Sex education took up one term of one year, a period of 3 months when I was 14. The syllabus included the dangers of drugs, alcohol, smoking and – bizarrely – road safety. The only thing I recall was watching a video of some naked babies running around. Some of them had penis’es and some of them had vaginas. The difference in sexual organs was based entirely on their gender.

Sex education came from my classmates, fervent, breathless chats with other boys about what they’d like to do to such-and-such girl.

Do to, not with.

I remember crowding around a porn magazine that someone had brought to the playground, aged perhaps 13. A woman, in ridiculously uncomfortable pose, peeling open her vagina. I remember feeling queasy, repulsed.

And young boys today have all of the internet, full of characterless women, playing the part of objects, existing solely for the pleasure of men. Ready to be used and degraded. Women, of course, are always degraded by sex.

I read a blog about the novel “Crimson Petal and the White”. A brilliant novel, whose central character is a Victorian era prostitute. A man left a comment, “I wonder if it would be so interesting from a male perspective”.

Because reading about a female lead character, understanding a woman’s motivations, feelings, thoughts, could that possibly be of interest to a man?

Women are inferior. Sex is something you do to them. Whatever they think doesn’t matter.

These are not ideas I’ve actively sought, but ideas I have actively had to reject. The world around me has done it’s absolute best to try to make me a misogynist.

And I don’t intend this as any sort of defense, but how is a boy meant to learn what a woman is or what it’s like to be a woman, or that it is even worth trying to find out?

Everyday Sexism is an important website. Every post should be put into a hat, and shaken, and 500 should be pulled out at random. Next, the 500 would all be put together at a big publishing house and made into a big book with a shiny cover. The book would be sent out to every school in the Country, to be read by every girl and boy.

If it happened, they would read things like this:

“I know an awful lot of my female friends have been raped, or nearly raped, and I know that an awful lot of my male friends find that terribly hard to believe.”

“I’m 16 and have been receiving sexist comments …since I was 13. Boys (in school) shout “rape!” if they see a girl in the corridor, loudly rate girls out of 10 while we walk past, look at Page 3 and compare girls to it…happens literally every day…”

“My little sister (15) asserted that if somebody claimed they had been raped they were “probably doing it for attention”, that if a girl wants to avoid being raped she shouldn’t go out in ‘slaggy’ clothes. I don’t know where she got this mentality from but that a 15-year-old girl is so ill-informed of the facts is a massive failure of our society.”

And some people would say: This is unsuitable for children. And I would say: Yes! Yes, it is. So lets make this the last generation that has to experience it.

I’ve read heartbreaking posts about women’s experience of rape and sexual assault. No-one ever talks about these things, except to warn women to moderate their behaviour to avoid it because it’s your problem, not ours.

I read these words from a woman who had been raped:

“During the ensuing 15 years, I sometimes referred to the event in my head as “semi-consensual sex.” It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t screamed, I believed. It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t told anyone, ever.”

By being so afraid to talk about sex and to talk about rape and to talk about what rape is, we have allowed, as a society, rape to happen. Rape is not a woman’s problem. We have a duty to educate both sexes about what rape is, and a duty – to women, to children, to everyone – to tell boys this:

“This is rape. Do not rape”.

Thank you to the following blogs for educating me:

About rape. 

And rape.

About slut-shaming

How rape culture hurts men too

(Trigger warnings for all).

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“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”

~Anais Nin~

Songs about Breaking Up

Listening to music can be like cauterizing a wound. It burns and it stings but the purpose is curative. If you’re cut open by infidelity then I want you by Elvis Costello. Beginning like a love song, it quickly collapses into the sound of someone clawing at their chest, trying to dig out and discard their heart. Three words run through the song, visceral, broken, angry, defeated.

I want to know the things you did that we do too, I want you

I might as well be useless for all it means to you, I want you

A rival to Something I can never have by Nine Inch Nails as saddest song ever.

Self-pity, like saunas, should only be wallowed in for a short while, but having the person you love inexpressibly, hurt you so viciously can leave you conflicted.

For bitterness, (but to be kept at bay) When did you stop loving me? (When did I stop loving you?) by Marvin Gaye.

For anger, You oughta know by Alanis Morrissette and for infidelity specifically Piglet by Arab Strap Controlled rage, as rage should be.

And for sadness, the kind that paralyses all but your tear ducts, You don’t know how lucky you are by Keaton Henson. An acoustic guitar, a heartbroken voice and an almost unbearably sad video.

As time passes, open wounds become scars. I can never be by (the male Amy Winehouse) Maverick Sable, drips with regret, but is hardened by resilience.

And lastly, if you’re British you’ll know that no-one is ever quite so succinct in song as Jarvis Cocker. TV Movie by Pulp is at once achingly stark, lonely, dark, wry and moving.

Without you

my life has become

a hangover without end.

A movie, made for tv:

Bad dialogue, bad acting, no interest.

Too long with no story and no sex.

Dear M, it still hurts, but I think any anger has gone and I never let the bitterness best me. I think more about the future than the past now, and though it terrifies me it’s good to feel alive again. Goodbye my lover, goodbye my old best friend.

Any other songs for the broken-hearted? Leave them in the comments below.

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Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory

Oscar Wilde

Rivers and German Shepherds

If you’d gone down to the woods last night, you’d have been sure of a big surprise. Assuming they were woods in Vietnam and you’d had the misfortune of running into my naked friend P.

You would have seen me also, because I was sitting in those woods too. I was in the middle of an almost circle of 14 friends. If you’d been half hidden behind a tree you would have seen us, surrounded by discarded empty bottles and heavenly-cherished full ones.

You’d have seen me happy too. In front of me was just about everything I generally ever need. A glass of something alcoholic, a cigarette and a i-pod with a fairly decent speaker attached.

From your hiding place, you wouldn’t have heard me. I sat listening mostly. I don’t wish to be the centre of attention, don’t like to tell long stories. I prefer to sit, and listen and lose myself a little.

Also, the music was really loud.

It was because of me. I was the amateur DJ. It isn’t easy to pick songs to please 13 people, but as someone with a sometimes crippling need to please, I did my best.

I kept it eclectic. Some Desmond Dekker , Beirut, Ernie K-Doe, Metronomy. Some classics – Lou Reed, The Kinks, Curtis Mayfield and some crowd pleasers, Elbow, Dizzee Rascal. Oh, and always, always Azealia Banks.

Every so often someone would break from their conversation to shout out to me, “Oh, I love this one!” or “This is really good, who is it?” And I would smile and realise how simply and easily I can be made to feel happy.

As I got happily, quietly drunk our friend P sank himself to new depths. Notorious for his alcohol induced idiocy, last night he went too far.

It was fine when we swam in the river during the day, and he perched his ample frame upon a rock in mermaid pose. Less Copenhagen, more coping badly. But by evening he had drank too much, and was refusing to stop. He became maudlin, and then aggressive, all the time demanding of attention.

And then he accidentally fell through one of the tents. Twice.

Having insulted several, he blundered off into the woods. As genuine and kind-hearted as he is while sober, you would have recoiled at the sight of him.

Three of us set off in pursuit, and for 3 hours we wandered around, blindly calling his name. We didn’t find him, and it wasn’t until five in the morning that he returned, naked, and accompanied by two German shepherds.

By which I mean the breed of dog, not a couple of professional sheep handlers from Munich.

P collapsed into sleep and the dogs ran off. At some point, while we cleaned up, he must have woken and left.

His nocturnal misadventures remain largely unknown, although a couple of our friends did find the women’s shower had been used as a toilet.

He’s done similar things before, but always remembers nothing. Too often in retelling him we’ve treated his antics as a joke, as amusing anecdotes.

He knows he is bad, but he doesn’t know how much. As a group of friends we’ve decided to tell P exactly what he did and that it was not funny. That he has a problem that needs to be fixed. That he cannot drink. It’s the harder thing to do, but we wouldn’t be friends if we didn’t do it.

And I came home to a message from G. She’s flown again and landed in my hometown in the UK, my hometown being not so far from hers. And I feel sad that she isn’t here. And I’m finding life harder without her presence. But life, like rivers and German shepherds, has to run on.

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“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”

~ Anne Frank ~

 

 

 

 

Life is a 2-Player Game

“How old are you?” one of my 14 year old students asked. 33, I replied. “And do you have a wife?”. I said no. She asked why.

I haven’t found her yet, I said, smiling. Her expression didn’t change but she said with some conviction “And you never, ever will…”

Kids. Bless them.

And I’m hung over but this is fine as, in one of the few examples where I am right and the world is wrong, I don’t work mondays.

It’s also fine because I have my own little hang over routine. It involves ice coffee and water and cigarettes and music and the merest splash of red wine. And I know when I’m feeling better because that’s when I start to dance.

Nothing you’d confuse with anything professional of course. Much more of a distant cousin 4 times removed from dancing. Swaying’s nephew, perhaps.

And I know I look silly but it makes me smile.

Today, I haven’t danced yet. And I don’t know that I will. Because I’ve been sharing hangovers with G, but G’s not here now. The ice coffee and water and  cigarettes and music and overflowing red wine and dancing we’ve shared together.

And I know I looked silly but it made her smile.

“Without music life would be a mistake”

~Friedrich Nietzsche~

Bittersweet in an Empty Room

Her stuff isn’t strewn around my room anymore. There are exactly 50% less ciggy butts in the ashtray, and one less glass of wine. It’s been a disgraceful, debauched and deeply lovely week.

But now it’s quiet, and empty because G is gone.

More than things, she isn’t here, and I’m even emptier than the room.

She left yesterday. Our friend P came to the airport too. He was picking up a new teacher, so the taxi on the way was free. G and me both share the benevolent luck of coming by freebies easily.

She left, and I won’t be hearing laters, taters anymore. I waved and turned and walked away and felt the physical distance grow. In the taxi back I glanced up at the sky, hoping, like a fool, to see a plane.

I filled my evening with friends and filled myself with drink. Somehow, still emptily.

And she talked of coming back, and she might, but I think it was meant to make our parting easier. I think that I know that it’s over.

It was intense and it was beautiful. Days spent entirely in this now empty room.

We talked each other inside out. Made the most of every moment. We did, for this last week, what people so often forget to do: We lived.

Her wry smile, wit and eloquence are far, far away. And it hurts that I might not see her again, to amuse and be amused, be awed and to kiss. But I’m stronger because of her. And I’ll remember when she said:

You’re gorgeous and you’re perfect.

Not true. But she thought it, and the thought was so big and uncontainable that she said it.  Here in my empty room I’ll always be able to think of her and smile.

Laters, taters.

 “If there’s any kind of magic in this world… it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know it’s almost impossible to succeed… but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt”

Celine, “Before Sunrise”

The Rape Joke That Went Too Far

Not so long ago I got into a debate on a wrestling forum – no, don’t go, honestly – and it all centered around a rape joke.

It was live TV on a show watched primarily by young men and children. Two men were in a ring, wrestling. A man playing the part of manager was on commentary, promoting the young man under his charge. So far, so wrestling.

Then the manager said:

“Titus is as unstoppable as Kobe Bryant in a Colorado hotel room”

He sought to promote his man by comparing him favourably with a rapist. He likened physically dominant traits – power, machismo, strength – with a rapist. He made a joke about rape on live TV.

I left a comment on a blog questioning whether he ought to lose his job. I made a cup of tea, bumbled about in my usual way and came back to check on any responses.

There were some responses.

There were 33.

And none of them even remotely agreed with me.

So I asked everyone, politely, this question:

If Kobe Bryant had raped a 7 year old girl, and the manager had made the same comment, would it still be funny?

The overwhelming response was:

No.

That would be sick, too far, you shouldn’t make jokes about kids like that. I’m obviously inclined to agree. But why, exactly, is it fine to laugh about a woman being raped?

So I asked why.

There were some responses. There were 3.

Apparently, I didn’t have a sense of humour.

Also, a 7 year old would be blameless because she wouldn’t know how to ‘dress slutty’. And one more person who got a bit befuddled and attacked me for trying to make a sick joke.

Making jokes about rape to impressionable minds makes it seem like rape isn’t such a big deal. And when the onus is on women to avoid rape rather than on men not to rape, blame and excuses can be heaped upon the victims.

I think the best response to a rape joke is this:

I don’t get it.

Persist until they explain, explanations always being the death of any joke, funny or otherwise. Persist until they reach the point where they have to say “she got/gets raped”.

And nod, slowly, looking a little confused.

“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it.”

Naomi Wolf

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