Connection

It’s easy to be anonymous in London. It’s one of the things I like about large cities. I  gravitate towards places where I can hide in plain sight. It creates the illusion of belonging without actually having to interact. The tube is an extension of this anonymity.

People cram into carriages, eyes straight ahead, glued onto the paper or their phone. The only goal is to make it to the final destination without hearing the words, incident on the tracks or signal failure. Commuters don’t really pay much attention to each other, unless it’s to deliver a withering look to someone who stole the seat they had their eye on.

So it shouldn’t have been surprising to me that no one had noticed the woman in front of me was crying. I’d had to double-take to be sure. Her mascara was running, she sniffed and shook emotionally. I felt a twinge in my chest and it grew when I realised the rest of the carriage was oblivious to her.

Most people are generally too busy with their own drama to notice anyone else’s. I don’t think it’s a London thing, just a human thing. I guess getting involved in someone’s sadness is messier than jumping onto the happy bandwagon. Sadness is awkward.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for nine months and am currently weaning myself off them. Having suffered from chronic depression as long as I can remember, I’ve always been strangely proud of the fact I’ve avoided medication for decades. But there comes a point when you can’t get out of bed, or get a job and you decide to take the help. It’s an act of kindness. Maybe that’s why I offered the woman the tissues.

I didn’t want to pry or give her a pep talk. I just wanted to be nice to her. To empathise. I’d been in tears on the tube days before and managed to pass under everyone’s radar, much to my own relief. We’re not meant to be unhappy in public. It’s something kept behind closed doors and smiling faces.

There’s a shame in being sad for some reason. I saw it when she took the tissues and tried to compose herself. I felt it every time I turned down medication. It’s like an admission of failure: I just couldn’t stay happy.

People distance themselves from sadness like it’s contagious. I’ve noticed it with my own depression. It’s feels like I have a shitty superpower that makes me invisible when I’m down. People want to laugh and get their endorphin high. I spent years hiding it and trying to fit in with the rest of the tube.

I told the woman to keep the tissues. This led to a random stranger offering me several packs of Kleenex. It felt like a thank you for my intervention, and a little like handing over a joint to the nearest person in the circle when you can see the 4 0 coming. He didn’t want to be caught holding in the face of a crying woman.

Yeah, sadness is awkward.

 

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Waking Sleep

I’ve started sleeping where and when I can.
I sleep with my keys between my knuckles, jaw clenched. My dentist says I’m grinding my teeth. He gave me a retainer. Putting in a retainer on public transport and passing out like a narcoleptic is not a wise move at the best of times. It’s not going to end well where I live. Gurning, on the other hand, implies instability. It wards off potential perverts, thieves and weirdos. But it concerns my dentist.
You can’t keep everyone happy.
I’ve started sleeping on TfL. Unreliable, but I’m an insomniac so I’m used to unreliable. I plan my journeys as I lie awake in bed. Acton to Clapham. Willesden to Camden. Ealing to Mile End. Leave an hour earlier. Find a seat in the middle so I don’t feel bad when I open my eyes to a pregnant lady being ignored by the entire carriage. Clutch my bag, take my keys out, and breathe deeply. Metal groans and gasps lure me to sleep. I can the feel eyes every time the doors kiss their teeth at me. I rest my head on a stranger. They recoil and I jerk awake to see a Greek chorus of sombre faces floating in front of me like defective holograms, flickering in and out of the light.
I’m staring with my mouth open.
I let the creaks and whines pull me back to sleep as we go underground.

Light hits my face and I immediately wake, check my phone. I’ve got 20 minutes to kill. There’s a park near the next stop. Sleeping in public places provokes the unnecessary concern of mums, fearful pensioners and the unwanted attention of the police. I think I was once moved along by an officer on horseback. But it may have been a dream. I can still hear the hoof beats trailing me as I walked away.

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Shit. I zoned out and missed my stop.

I check my watch: five minutes. I get off at the next stop and cross the platform to get the next train back. ‘Parallel Jalebi’ plays in my head as brightly coloured saris, excited children and annoyed commuters move along in synch with the music. An impromptu MTV moment brought to me by chance. I move through the crowd like water, slowly, clumsily, eager to get out.

I’m late. They haven’t arrived yet. I watch couples wander off hand in hand down Roman Road. Tourists stand in front of me like I was a lamppost and work out how to walk to Shorditch. Uni students marvel at the man in Hammer pants and a gold flat cap pushing a scooter past the pub where they are drinking. A hand rests on my shoulder.

I talk too much. It has been a while since I had a face-to-face conversation with someone. A real conversation, not an argument, or a sales call. I remind myself to shut up. Silence often scares me. I enjoy moments of quiet, but then I feel afloat in space and I worry I’ll disconnect from reality completely. Tom blames social media.

I blame social awkwardness.

Easier to work out what Disney character I am than contemplate the fact that I’ve been alone for over 5 days, and haven’t spoken to a person IRL for weeks. A huge chunk of my life is virtual.

I’m seeing friends, something that’s become harder and harder to want to do. Being around people. Seeing people, physically seeing people, messes with the illusion I’m asleep. I can trick myself into thinking it’s all a dream. Just bursts of noise, or colour, weaving in and out of silence that I can watch like a painting or ‘Gogglebox.’ But right now I’m confused. I don’t know if it’s real or not real. I zone out, smile, look vacant. I drift in and out of conversations that I’m certain I’ve already had with people who felt the same but dressed differently. Indifferent. I’m bored. It feels like I’m trapped inside my body and someone is punching me repeatedly. I excuse myself to hyperventilate in the bathroom. I fall asleep.
I sleep soundly on the tube. I think in part it’s because I’m surrounded by people. I’ve never liked sleeping alone.
The banging wakes me up. I exit the bathroom ignoring the pissed, pissed off overweight woman dying for a slash. Everyone’s left. The tightness in my chest disappears.

Adrenaline stops me from sleeping on the journey home. I feel awake. Everyone on the tube has a greenish hue. The lighting on the tube does that. I catch the person in front of me staring and I stare back. Embarrassed, he plays with his phone. He glances to see if I’ve stopped looking. I’m still staring. He gets off at the next stop.

I like watching people. Looking at their faces as they read the paper, hold their children, hold hands, doze off drunkenly. The sun is setting. As we leave the tunnel, faces go from green to gold. Eyes squint. The train feels silent as I get off at my stop.

When I get home I lie on the wooden floor in the living room and stare at the strange shapes on the ceiling. The wallpaper is peeling. I drift off to a conversation I’d had with a man I’d loved, in a place I’d seen in a painting once. The intimacy makes me sob myself awake.

It’s 4.06.

I plan my journey into work.

Pretty is as Pretty Does

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for pretty. Ever since I fell in love with Morten Harket at the tender age of 7 because of his velociraptor like cheekbones and piercing eyes (sigh), I have battled becoming an idiot every time an attractive person said hello to me.

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Somebody loves themselves…
Thankfully for me this wasn’t often.
My adolescent years were spent in hoodies, playing Sega and training for that inevitable moment when a cyborg incapacitated me and I’d need to use all my upper body strength to escape. I was the go-to-girl for other nerds who wanted to find out about my attractive and more female looking friends.
The most attention I got was being stalked from the library a few times and a couple of weird calls from an asthmatic who couldn’t even bring himself to say anything. That’ll teach me to be vocal on the yearbook committee.

I levelled up my dating game in Mexico, a place where most women are dolled up to the nines, caked in makeup and curling their eyelashes with a spoon the second a traffic light goes red. The minute I succumbed to some of those beauty standards, handsome men dropped their cloaking devices and I was dating a much more objectively attractive category of man.

I’m cute, but I also come covered in food and with a finger puppet obsession. Not really the girlfriend of choice for underwear models. But in the disguise of a dress and some lipstick, said models were piggybacking me home at the end of the night.

For a while I was living the ‘date sexy’ dream. The thing is more often than not these guys were nothing special. They were painfully average. Sometimes even below average. I once dated a guy who thought the expression was ‘escape goats’. The same guy thought he was entitled to preferential treatment everywhere he went because, you know, his face. I guess when you’re treated like royalty because you lucked out in the gene pool stakes you start believing the hype.

The thing about the handsome bubble is that it couldn’t exist if it wasn’t facilitated and enabled by people outside the bubble. It’s a wonder these already inflated egos haven’t exploded with all the ego pumping going on. Mediocre writers being encouraged to start lifestyle blogs, monosyllabic banter boys being encouraged to become motivational speakers.

Why are we enabling these people? My friend Diana (gorgeous both inside and out) once said to me that she didn’t really give attractive people much time, they had to prove there was more to them than genetics. I’m inclined to agree.

The halo effect has us giving kudos, opportunity and even money to people with no real skill other than the fact their chromosomes lined up real nice. On the flip side, less attractive people are actually more likely to be attributed negative qualities, and considered to be ‘inherently bad‘. It’s a crazy world.

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A few years back an older, cooler and stunning friend told me she’d met Morten Harket at the height of his fame (and hotness). She’d approached him for an autograph and without even looking at her he scribbled his name on a napkin and handed it over without pausing his conversation. She took one look at it and dropped it on the floor before heading over to talk to Simon le Bon. He was really lovely apparently.

Pretty is as pretty does I guess.

The Trust Paradox

It’s recently dawned on me that I can’t get that trust balance right. I want to be trusting, but I think the worst. I can ask a stranger to watch my things while I go to the bathroom, but I guarantee that seconds later I’m envisioning my identity being stolen, my laptop being trashed and someone trying to insert their genitals into the USB port in some bizarre sex hate crime. It’s an emotional razor edge.

Apparently, the people closest to you set the benchmark when it comes to our ability to trust. My family were the litmus test for the rest of society. Unfortunately for me, they were also people who lied for sport and couldn’t be trusted as far as you could collectively throw them.

My dad used my trust as the set up to his jokes. Like the time he bought me a bucket and spade before taking me to a pebble beach. Or the time he made us watch Aliens promising us that a clown was about to pop out of  John Hurt’s stomach. Our tears gave him more than our trust ever could. In return we got nightmares.

My sister learnt from the best and continued my dad’s experiments. Each lie was a toe in the pool of my credulity to see how deep it went. Could she convince me to slide down a bannister to jab me in the arse with a pin? Could she hang me from a curtain rail by telling me she wanted to see how long my hair was? Yes, yes she could. I deserved to lose that hair.

Even my mum had her moments. She wasn’t mean, just out of her depth and filled with wives tales. My favourite being that I needed to cover myself in turmeric if I wanted to get rid of unwanted hair. Some fun facts about turmeric: it has no depilatory qualities and stains skin bright yellow. It was like highlighting the hair.  

Trust works paradoxically. You only figure out that you can’t trust someone by trusting them. By then you’re locked under the stairs, looking like a hairy Lego and clutching a bucket and spade.

Even so, I continue to put my faith in people. It’s easier than burying my stuff in the sand like a Samiad, or having a catheter put in. Most of the time I’m pleasantly surprised. When you were imagining someone spitting in your coffee, the only way to go is up.

 

Herd Mentality

I’ve been binge watching Planet Earth. So far I’ve seen a wolf kill an ox, a shark kill a seal, a seal kill a penguin and global warming kill a polar bear. With the exception of the polar bear all the other animals were picked off from their herd, which got me thinking about our herds.

As much as we try to separate ourselves from animals, we have a lot in common. Being part of a group is one of them. We may no longer need a tribe to hunt, or protect ourselves from wild animals, but having a tribe makes an uncertain world seem less scary. It’s also a seal of approval on who we are and how we live our lives.

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Remember High School?

Even though we don’t depend on the squad for survival in the same way musk ox might, our herd is important to us. Penguins work as a team to survive harsh weather. Lions hunt in prides to take down bigger prey. We lean on our inner circle for support, advice and companionship. But where animals are unified by species and survival, our groups are selected from who’s closest.

Though our main social groups are comprised of whomever we interact with most frequently, there are people that we pick out and maintain friendships with over distance and time. We like to think it’s because there’s something special about them. The reality is a tad more narcissistic. Studies show that friends who support our sense of identity are more likely to be kept around. If you see yourself as a high school prom queen, chances are you’ve surrounded yourself with people who see you the same way.

Our herd reflects who we are, or at least the version of you that you identify most with. If you’ve changed and evolved as a person, it stands to reason that your herd has too. One way or another.

It’s because your herd matters. The right friends can help you to  grow as a person and achieve your potential. Similarly, hanging out with the wrong crowd can limiting. The need for approval and fear of being cast out is powerful. You can get stuck in old patterns and trapped in a version of yourself that isn’t true to who you are. If you’ve ever tried to break up with a friend, you’ll know it can be just as hard as a romantic break up.

If you’re in the right herd you all grow and evolve together. If not then it can be bittersweet. It’s all part of being human. It beats being taken out by a shark, I suppose.

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It’s Everyone’s Problem

 

I’m a people person. Everyone knows this. There’s nothing that warms my heart more than meeting a kindred spirit.  There’s something reassuring about finding another person whom you have something in common with. All it takes are two little words of solidarity to make a large and anonymous world less lonely: Me too.

But when that common ground is a collective experience of harassment and abuse we all need to pay attention. Men and women. This isn’t a random phenomenon like the sky turning yellow. This is an indicator of the extent of harassment, aggression and assault within our society. And it needs to change.

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We’re no longer living in an age where a man can drag his chosen woman back to the cave. But it’s an age where a guy can show you his dick, make you feel unsafe on your journey home and violate your personal space with little or no fear of retribution.

Harvey Weinstein’s outing as a sexual predator has reignited a polemical outpouring in the media on an age old issue. But whether this will lead to any real change in male attitudes and society’s treatment of women is yet to be seen. Let’s not forget that only a year ago the pussy grabbing President of the USA  was caught on camera bragging about his ‘conquests’. That bombshell didn’t stop him getting elected. What was also troubling was it didn’t stop women from voting for him.

Who’s responsible?

It angers me that a discussion on harassment and assault is inevitably dragged back to the role the victims have to play in the situation. Let’s be clear, there’s one problem here and that’s the predatory males victimising and manipulating women. However, every time something like this comes out women are asked to reassess what it is we’re doing that’s driving the boys crazy.

Donna Karan’s mindless rhetoric in the wake of the Weinstein allegations raised more than an eyebrow. Was a woman whose fortune had been made selling sexy clothes and perfume to women really implying that women were asking for it? Ok, she took it back. She was jet lagged. Some of her best friends are women. We get it. But why does this argument always come back to how women act?

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Mayim Bialik’s op-ed in The New York Times is also problematic. A well educated actress and feminist, familiar with Hollywood, Bialik’s editorial reads like the cautionary tale of how awkward looks and demure dress sense steered her safe of sexual predators. Though she takes care not to do a Donna, and tell women they’re dressing too sexually, I wonder why she feels the need to highlight her opinion (after all it’s only an opinion) that her own looks had spared her the horrors of harassment. I always thought she was pretty.

Bialik’s insinuation that the pretty ones are the one’s getting harassed and assaulted is reductive. It’s why the Me Too status started. To show this a problem that happens to women. Period. Bialik’s focus on women building their esteem away from their appearance overlooks the way girls are sexualised by strange men every day. Whether they want to be or not. And in doing so it implies it’s the job of women to control men’s behaviour.

I won’t disagree that there is more to a woman than her looks. Indeed, a woman’s worth doesn’t lie in her push up bra and contour kit. But I don’t understand how a sexual predator’s actions have brought us to an after school special on female self esteem and worth. There is something patronising about the idea that a plainer gal, who models herself on Eleanor Roosevelt, would never be subjected to such misfortunes. It’s simply untrue.

People need to stop thinking this is the curse of the beautiful or provocative. This is a problem endemic to our society.  This doesn’t just happen to certain women. And it’s not a woman’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem and staying silent on the matter, ignoring it or trying to cover it up won’t get rid of it. The onus to change things isn’t only on women, it’s on men too.

#MeToo #HimThough #HowIWillChange

Life as we know it

The future looks more like the past than the past did.

When I was a kid, I thought that in 2005 I would have those self lacing hi-tops from Back to the Future and be living in a Jetsons style apartment in space.

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The future

The technological advancements have been amazing. Even if I do seem remarkably underwhelmed a lot of the time.

Why can’t I Whatsapp underground? Why won’t my internet work faster if I click a thousand times every 5 seconds?

I suppose there’s a disappointed child in me that wanted the future where pizza rehydrators existed.

Despite technological advancement and surface improvements, we continue to live on shaky foundations. As an animal we’re a real show off. Look at how clever we are, we can fit a camera on a phone. But we’ll continue to perpetrate ideas of race superiority, act violently and bomb the brains out of each other, because we’re retro like that.

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Maybe that’s why Lavish Reynolds chose to stream the moments following her boyfriend’s shooting. Use our technological advancements to showcase our failures as a society. We’ve failed to progress if even one person is being treated this way, let alone thousands. It’s even worse that others make excuses for it, or try to downplay serious social injustice.

Killing people is wrong. Acting out of hate and prejudice is wrong. Controlling people through fear is wrong.

It’s like that film California Man. Yes, they dressed him up so he could fit into Encino life, but he was a caveman and continued to behave that way. That’s how humanity has started looking to me; like a PG Tips advert where the chimps have gone feral.

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Let’s have a cuppa. We’re not animals.

We’ve all got a brain. We can all think. Reflect. Take responsibility for our own lives. Our own actions. Yet so many people would much rather make excuses for their behaviour. He scared me. She was provoking me. So and so says we should be wary of those people. Why don’t we just think for ourselves? Why do so many people think they are exempt from basic human decency? Why do so many people buy into the crap spouted by hateful people, blindly assuming they have our best interests at heart?

Why abdicate your own reason in favour of someone else’s?

Erich Fromm called it The Fear of Freedom. It was too much to be responsible for our own decisions and use our free will responsibly. What if we made a mistake? The majority would rather be told what to do. How to think. Where to shop. Who to blame. Then it wasn’t their fault. It was what they had been taught/told/shown.

But the ‘He told me to do it’ defence doesn’t hold up.

We advanced too fast and weren’t mentally prepared for it. But a handful of opportunists were. Peter Parker got the “With great power comes great responsibility’ talk. What did we get? Pictures of my dinner, smartphones and Kris Kardashian’s pasta primavera recipe.

Distractions.

They released the self lacing hi-tops a few months back.

Oh, how far we’ve come.