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.

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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.