Strange blessings

My neighbours are kind of shitty neighbours. They’re loud and dirty and often behave in ways I find inconsiderate. They’re low to medium grade annoying a lot of the time. When other people experience them they tend to comment things like they don’t know how I put up with it, it would drive them mad, they’d be raging at them after a few days. I, on the other hand, don’t really mind.

I like living in my flat. And yes, I even quite like living next to my shitty neighbours. Because underneath the crude, obnoxious, substance-loving exterior, they’re just…good enough people. They’re trying their best. They very truly mean no harm. They’re good enough.

At first, their shittiness itself was a relief to me, because I’ve spent so much of my life feeling like a burden, an inconvenience and a liability that I always enjoy being unequivocally not the worst. But then, as I learned to accept and appreciate them as people, they taught me to accept and appreciate parts of myself that I’d still up to that point been keeping estranged.

So I’m actually very grateful for my shitty neighbours, because their shittiness was exactly what I needed.

White hot intensity

I have a tendency to hyperfixate on people. Mostly, these people are not people I know. This is lucky. It means they are buffered from the white hot intensity of my enthusiasm for their existence. I once wrote that I burn through things; I am always worried I will burn through people. At least if I never meet them, I can’t burn through them.

Sometimes, the hyperfixation runs its course and dies a natural death, leaving in its place a simple warm fondness. Like my childhood fixations on H from Steps and Pierce Brosnan. Other times it goes dormant only to resurface at moments of repeat exposure, like my fixation on Hugh Laurie as House. Other times, it is a commitment I must simply accommodate indefinitely. But, let me tell you, the accommodation is fucking worth it. Not only is the dopamine payoff for this extracurricular activity astronomical, but additionally, in my humble opinion, I have the best fucking taste in long term hyperfixations. These people go the fucking distance. They are just stellar human beings. They constantly teach me how to be a better one myself and inspire me with their all round spectacularity.

One person on my list of long term favourites is Guy Martin. I first encountered him on TV covering the World Sheepdog Trials in 2011 and was sort of uncomfortably attracted to him, because I couldn’t quite figure out what to make of him and thus couldn’t decide if being attracted to him was an acceptable course of action. Over the years I would come to understand; it very much was.

Cut to a few days ago; my son finding his autobiography and asking who he was, and me telling him with just fucking unreserved exuberance. Words of aclamation just streaming from my lips in a plain yet pointedly sincere soliloquy of veneration. And then I saw the way he was looking at me, and looking at the portrait of Guy Martin, and I thought oops, I’ve done something here.

So now my son wants to go to Guy Martin’s house so he can teach him how to build vehicles, and he keeps climbing on the arcade motorbikes because he really likes motorbikes now, and I’m a little bit worried I’ve set into motion a chain of events that causes him to follow in Guy Martin’s footsteps, which, as a mother, is a terrifying prospect.

Truth tellers

I’ve been watching a lot of stand up comedy lately; mostly to pacify my building anxiety about the masters thesis I’m procrastinating, and maybe a little bit so I didn’t just get my 3 year old a Netflix subscription. If I cancelled his subscription and spent that time working instead I’d probably be a much more functional human being right now, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Maybe I should have been a comedian. I like attention, I’m pretty good at regurgitating my own words a hundred times over and not really getting bored of the sound of it, and I’m even pretty funny provided you give me a few months to prepare.

I’ve never actually even remotely considered the possibility of a career in comedy (if we discount this right now), primarily because I’m so terrible at improv. I often come up with hilarious ideas during conversation and proceed to convey them in the most bland, tone deaf way one could possibly imagine. And everyone falls silent, looking a bit perplexed. And then, three days later, while sitting on the toilet, I finally craft them into the masterpiece they were always destined to be. And the only one to witness it is the baby slug that has emerged from a crevice near my shower screen to be today’s sacrifice to the toilet gods. Because yes, barring written testimony, I will still be flushing it.

…Not because I care about the testimony, that would just probably demonstrate a level of consciousness I wouldn’t feel comfortable flushing down the toilet.

Maybe I should be conducting more thorough testing of the gastropods that find their way into my bathroom. Just what is the level of consciousness that I do feel comfortable flushing down the toilet?

There’s an idea of comedians as society’s truth-tellers. Because comedy allows us to broach difficult subjects in an accessible way, by relieving the tension of taboo with a punchline. It breaks our defenses so we can let new ideas in. Sometimes. Maybe. Or maybe not. Sometimes, maybe, the tension is relieved too quickly and we get to skirt around the discomfort entirely. Maybe the art of comedy is holding just enough tension to change you, without you actually thinking you’ve been changed. Transformation disguised as entertainment. What delicious subterfuge.

I’m crap at holding tension. I’m an all or nothing kinda gal. I’m either flirting with you with no intent to follow through, or I’m conceding wholeheartedly to make us all feel better. Maybe the art of comedy would be a useful hobby for me.

Impossible possibilities

One day, in the autumn of 2017, I was sitting in the cafe of the local library with my boyfriend and our few month old son. My coffee was too hot, we didn’t have much to say to each other, and I was scrolling through Facebook.

The world around me went quiet as I lighted upon a post from someone I’d stayed with in Texas, back in another life. I went still and silent for long enough that my boyfriend asked me what was up.

“Adam died.” I said, quietly confused and surprised by the words coming out of my mouth.

“Who’s Adam?”

Who’s Adam? Who is Adam? Who is Adam to me? Who am I to Adam? How do I categorise Adam? How do I answer this truthfully? How do I answer this accurately?

“You know, the guy I was…kind of…seeing for a bit in Austin.” I came up with.

“Well you weren’t really seeing him, were you?” he scoffed with a note of condescension and maybe defensiveness. He was right, though. I was not seeing him. That wasn’t remotely the right word. In reality I had probably spent less than a week staying with Adam and his housemates. Was I supposed to say the guy I had a fling with? The fucking holiday romance? Was I supposed to bypass that entirely and just say one of the people I stayed with? Someone I used to know? That all felt ridiculous. I needed something to portray the level of intimacy we’d shared; the multi-layered nature of our connection; the importance of our encounters on the trajectory of my life. And, honestly, in that moment, now that he was gone, I needed to feel like I had, in some way, at some time, mattered to him as much as he mattered to me. There wasn’t an adequate explanation for who Adam was.

Adam was the person I stayed up watching documentaries with until 5am the first night we met. Who I wordlessly exchanged dirty foot massages with long past 2am the night after that. Whose bedroom felt like the safest place I’d ever been. Who surprised, disarmed and utterly baffled me with the understated sincerity of his kindness toward me. Who shone a light on the absurd depths of my sense of unworthiness, and simultaneously made me feel worthy by association. Who pushed my boundaries in really uncomfortable, wholesome ways, with such expert grace and gentleness that the experience was enchanting. Who showed me what love could really be like, even though we were both in love with other people at the time. Adam was probably the best person I’d ever met. Adam was the person I most wanted to be like.

Over the next few days I quietly pondered how the news impacted my life in no tangible way whatsoever, yet gently rocked me at my core. How, if I ever returned to Austin, it would now be distinctly lacking. How there was no longer any place in the world I could go to find him. How his absence made the world worse, not just for me, but for so many people who knew and loved him. How, of all the people I knew, in a very objective sense, he was very close to the top of the list of people I would least want to die. How it didn’t change any of the memories I’d made with him. How, in many ways, he didn’t feel any more gone to me than he had been for the past two years, and that had never really bothered me. How, actually, I felt free to feel closer to him now. How, actually, he didn’t feel gone at all.

I also battled with my ‘right’ to grieve for him. And, even moreso, my ‘right’ to feel close to him. My ‘right’ to talk to the air around me as if he was there. My ‘right’ to feel guided by his non-corporeal energy.

And then I wandered through thoughts of destiny and fate. What if I hadn’t left Austin? What if I’d gone back? We wouldn’t have had a successful long term relationship, I was pretty sure of that, but what if I could have altered events just enough that he wouldn’t end up on that road in that car at the exact moment a drunk driver came along? Is that how much of a knife-edge we all live on? Or did all roads lead there for him?

Adam was an extraordinary human and, for that, he was blessed with the love and admiration of many people. To me, he was a full-spectral oasis of radiance in a desolate wasteland of disconnection and missed opportunity. To him, I have no doubt, I was just another person he chose to share some time with. It didn’t mean I didn’t matter to him, but the relative importance of me to his full, open-hearted life could never match his impact on my own.

For years now, I’ve sat with that understanding, and I’ve continued to feel close to him, and guided by him, and I’ve made sure to consciously allow that for myself despite the ever-creeping guilt when I think about the people who really lost him.

And he’s made my life better. Sometimes he plain made it bearable. Remembering him, and imagining him with me, imagining what he might say to me, drew me forward through a lot of tumult. And I doubt I would have given myself permission to do that if he’d been alive. And so the world’s loss has, in some ways, been my gain, which feels perverse. Then again, had he been alive, perhaps I could have heard what he’d actually say to me, and that would have been better. Perhaps this is just a story I tell myself to make it okay.

Last night, for the first time in a very long time, I felt drawn to find the video of a song he recorded the week I arrived in Austin. And, as I watched it, I sobbed. And I let myself feel true fucking brutal loss. Because I’d been there, with him, in that room, and he’d pulled that mattress down from the wall while I stood in the doorway. And he played me that song, and I was relieved to honestly say that I liked it. That was the version of him I knew. That was the version of him I touched. That was the version of him I kissed. That physical body, those exact human cells, immortalised in moving pixels. But he’s gone, and I miss him, and how can someone like that just be gone?

And, even more selfishly, I sobbed because I’m at a place in my life now where I’m so much more ready for a man like Adam to grace me with his presence. I couldn’t make the most of the time I had with him when I had it. If he were alive, at least I could fantasise about the possibility of reconnecting.

Maybe that was always the heart of it. I always knew what he was, and I knew I was on the way to it. And, regardless of what form it took, I wanted to be able to stand face to face with him when I got there. But he doesn’t have a face anymore. He’s not a man anymore. So I can’t.

Becoming better than fine

I wasn’t raised to be a particularly good person. I was raised to be fine, I guess; I was polite, I minded my own business, I kept out of trouble. Even if the trouble was where the virtue was at. And especially if the trouble was actually just getting caught. But the focus was more on looking after oneself than anyone else, and I grew up believing essentially that I was living in a relatively unsafe and scarce world, where a step out of bounds to aid another was probably a risk not worth taking if you didn’t really have to.

I didn’t give it much thought. We don’t normally give our childhood programming much thought.

An example of a really mundane, vaguely lazy, vaguely selfish, fine-I-guess thing I never questioned was when I collected a shopping trolley and it had rubbish in – receipts, empty bags, wrappers, whatever. It was a very routine occurrence, and I would very routinely transfer the debris from my trolley to the next trolley and move on.

Then one day I went shopping with my boyfriend of the time, at the age of 26, and he watched me do this and said why wouldn’t you just put it in the bin? And I didn’t know. I just thought that’s what you did. And I think it is, largely, what you do, if you’re a fine-I-guess sort of person, which I think most of us are. Hence the receipts and wrappers and bags being there in the first place. But I’d never thought about it.

I have spent quite a lot of time, by this point, studying good people, and the decisions they make. I’ve learned a lot about being better than fine, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. A good deed actually requires me to override my programming most of the time, and that’s if I even notice the opportunity. I probably still miss a lot.

Wouldn’t it be nicer if being good was just instinctive? If that’s just what i thought living was?

I bought my son some litter picking gloves. He was very excited. I think we’ll make it a thing.