Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Facebook Book Cover Challenge - Day 1 - Spirit Walk by Richie Tankersley Cusick

For the Facebook Book Cover Challenge, the rules were given as follows: post one book cover a day, of a book that impacted your life greatly, with no accompanying explanation. Tag one friend each day to begin their own challenge.

Nuts to that, I said. I love to talk about myself. Posting an image without an explanation would be pointless for me. So here, on my long-forgotten Blogger blog, I’m posting explanations for each book choice, which I’ll link to my Facebook posts for anyone interested.


Note: Spirit Walk is the publishing title for a 2-in-1 edition of two books: Walk of the Spirits and Shadow Mirror.

I fell in love to this book.

Jeezthat’s a weird thing to saySati.

I know, right? It’s a (slightly) weird story.

I first read this in summer 2015, the same week I encountered a guy online who happened to share a first name with one of the characters in this book. I barely knew the guy online - he was just an interesting fellow on Quora who wrote cool  answers about food - but I had a bit of a crush on him, even while finding him intimidating. When I picked up this book a few days later, and saw that one of the side characters shared his name, it gave me a little thrill. I’m strange about names.

And then the character died, and I was absolutely gutted. Not because I loved the character - he wasn’t in the book much, and I felt more or less neutral towards him - but because of the shared name. For a short time, I felt grief, like the real person had died.

What? I did tell you I’m strange about names.

The two books in Spirit Walk are two of my favourites for a number of reasons, but the book also had a big impact on me because it forced me to realise how crazy I was about this guy.

Six months later, we started dating. And a year after that, it ended terribly. Two years  post-breakup, I’m not quite over it. Still, I can’t regret the relationship. He was the first person in my whole life to really make me feel loved. He was the first person who taught me to enjoy food, and the main reason I got over a 27-year eating disorder. He was the first person I ever loved enough to go all-in with, and truly consider changing my life for. I learned so much from him: about the world, and about myself.

JML: I thank you for all that. Even while I sometimes want to throw frying pans at you.

And Ms Cusick: I thank you for your glorious stories.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Phosphorus Burn

Years ago, I wrote you a poem. This is unusual for me. I'm not given to writing poetry. But I had too many feelings for you, and I was afraid to let them out, knowing that they would come as a tsunami that scared the bejeezus out of you and left a soggy, wrecked landscape in its wake. I am an intense creature, and I scare people. So instead, I doled them out in little bites.

nine words

nine words
can break a heart
or make one whole.
they can creep down inside
and claw at you
or they can fill you
with such
that your heart
wants to explode.

nine words
can fill my veins with crimson snow
or act
like a
phosphorus burn.
once spoken
they cannot be unspoken
but will consume me
until all their fuel is gone.

months later
i stare at
nine words
i do not understand them.
they could be greek
of course
i understand greek
better than i understand

nine words
can confound
or make things simple.
nine words
make problems irrelevant
as all the issues
that came before
that came between
no longer matter.


nine words
say more to me
than all the others
you ever spoke.

nine words
can show me you
and can show me me.
because of those nine words
the path is clear
there is no other
possible way
for this to play out
and stay true.
to me.
to you.
and so
i pick up my suitcase
and i pick up my passport
and i pick up the phone.

Despite friends and family thinking of me as creative, I can't create. I can only imitate. On this day, I think I was channeling e e cummings, with limited success. Still, I liked the poem. The fracturedness of it captured the way I felt.

With your nine words, you asked me a question that haunted me for years after. It grabbed at my heart the day you asked - the one and only day I was unreachable, and the one and only day you ever let your guard down and showed me that you needed me. I both loved and loathed that day, for the next however many years. It was the day you called me for help, and the day I wasn't there to hear you, and the last day you ever asked. And I spent the next half-decade hanging around in case you ever asked again, both out of love and out of guilt. Offering friendship, offering help, offering an ear to listen without judgement, offering money, offering sex. Offering absolution, the few times you seemed to need it. Offering love, unconditionally, in any shape or form that you wanted it.

I did love you. I considered you a dear friend, as well as someone that I happened to be attracted to. For your part, you always appeared to consider me one too, though perhaps that was my imagination.

There aren't too many people that I would spend three months' salary to go visit, but you were right at the top of that list.

I told myself I was visiting with no expectations. I lied to myself. I had no expectations about love or romance or sex, that much is true, but I certainly expected to find a friend. I didn't expect to find a stranger who, after literally years of invites, after begging and cajoling me to visit, after making plans to spend Christmas with me in my country, treated me like my presence was an ordeal to be endured.

The late Red, who we all miss, used to say, "Nothing is real until you meet." If there's one sentence that always reminds me of her, it's that one. I argued that idea with her a lot, in blogs and comments. Both of us interested in each other's positions, both of us defending our own. Having met you, I can say Red was right and I was wrong. Everything that I thought I knew about our friendship evaporated the moment you picked me up in the airport and said your first two sentences: "My girlfriend really wants to meet you," followed by, "I'm afraid I won't be able to come for Christmas." I hated you for that, hated you for withholding need-to-know information that, had you told me even a week ago, before I booked my ticket, would have saved me thousands of dollars and a painful, exhausting journey for a girl who had been in surgery two days before she flew across the ocean. And I hated you even more three days later, when we finally managed to get together to hang out, and I asked you what you wanted to do, and you said that you didn't want to be here at all, you'd rather be with your girlfriend and you resented having to show me around.

And yet, I was also right and Red was also wrong. Our friendship evaporated, but that doesn't mean it didn't exist, any more than water droplets don't exist because they dry up. What we had before we met - it was real. I felt it. Feelings exist. They are real things, regardless of their intangibility or their impermanence. That's a lesson that took me my whole adult life - so far - to learn, and I thank you for it.

A few days before I left, my ex - one of the ones I'm on friendly terms with - sent me a bag of onions. Cam is a man with a brilliant, odd mind that sometimes requires a bit of lateral thinking to understand, but when I got the message, I laughed. He was telling me I should sleep with you if I had the chance. Onions are not shallots - something that Cameron, amateur cook and eternal perfectionist, was always nagging me about - and I am no Lady of Shalott, doomed to live my days out in a tower and experience life through the reflections in a mirror lest something dreadful happen when I step into the real world. With the onions, Cam was telling me to step away from the mirror and take a chance on something I wanted; to throw myself into life. Cam gave me the kick, but you provided the opportunity. Had I not come to visit you, I would probably still be living in my tower; instead I have a new job and a new cat and a new life and I thank you for that as well.

Life moves on. Sometimes it laps itself. I sit here now, mere hours away from taking another trip to meet another man who I have very possibly fallen for in a remarkably short space of time - and I am half-convinced that this trip will be as much of a disaster as the last. That worry, that wariness, is without a doubt a result of our emotionally crushing meeting. Yet I am not indecisive or frozen with fear the way I used to be, and that, too, is down to you. Meeting you taught me that whatever happens, I can not only survive, but thrive. Even sick and utterly alone in a foreign country, I thrive. Lost love will always hurt, but I will always pick myself up again, and I will be just fine. And it's you who showed me that I have that resilience.

Phosphorus is a strange material. White phosphorus, in particular, is exceedingly dangerous. A burn from it cannot be stopped - it will burn literally down to the bone. You were my phosphorus burn. I fell for you so suddenly, so much to my surprise and shock, that I imbued my feelings for you with a sort of supernatural strength. I always felt like I loved you against my will. Like I had no control over the way I felt about you; like it couldn't be stopped until I was utterly consumed.

Visiting you put that fire out. The fuel is gone now, and for that, too, I am thankful.

Chances are, I won't see you again. I occasionally miss the person you were online, but I don't miss the person you were face to face, despite the fact that parts of our afternoon together were pleasant. Still, now that I no longer burn with love or anger, I can wish good things for you; wish that you live a happy life doing the things (and people) that give you joy. And for that reason, I will always be glad I came.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Hana Yori Dango

People are ignorant. Half the time we seem to have no idea how our words hurt each other.

The guy I loved most in the whole world, the guy who was my best friend for fourteen years, told me last year that he couldn't be with me because I wrecked his relationship with God. Not other women, just me. I felt like that was an indictment against my character by the one person who should have known me better than that. I'm still not over it. Maybe I never will be "over" it.

But you know, part of that is on me. If there's blame to be had, it's not all of the side of the people who say this sort of shit. Because they don't know. People - men and women - have been socialised for centuries into believing that women who enjoy sex or enjoy nudity are unholy, unworthy, dirty and wrong. Sometimes humans don't even realise how much we've bought into these beliefs until something unexpected comes out of our mouths - or until someone gets hurt when we didn't mean to hurt them.

Change happens when we communicate. And that means part of the responsibility is on those of us who get hurt by such comments to say so. To say to our friends, partners, loved ones: that hurts me. I don't feel that's a fair comment. That remark makes me feel dirty / unloved / ashamed / judged unfairly / etc.

Lest anyone read this post as victim-blaming, I apologise. That's not how I intend it to read. I am not saying that victims have a ethical responsibility to stand up to abusers, or that they deserve what they get if they don't speak up. I don't think that, not at all. But I DO think that in the cases of friends and family members, and particularly lovers, it can be more productive - not a question of morally right or wrong, but *productive* - to tell our loved ones that their words hurt us, rather than letting them fester.

You know me. I'm far more interested in what's productive, what's practical, what's possible, than what's beautiful and ideal.

My relationship might have survived if I'd had the confidence to tell him: that's not an okay thing to say to me. And I wanted it to survive, because despite that one crummy thing, he was a good man. This is something I've learned in the last few years. Good people say and do shitty things. Quite often, in fact. They have bad moods where they snap. They have days where they're just not with it and say something thoughtless. And sometimes, they just don't *realise* something is hurtful...because nobody has ever pointed it out to them.

I wish I'd called out my friend for his God comment. I wish I'd called out my ex for the time he told me I'm not marriage material. I wish I'd called out the guy in D.C. for the time he told me he resented having to spend the day with me instead of his girlfriend (after flying 8 hours to see him). I wish I'd called out my brother every time he called me diabetes waiting to happen (because he judged my everyday eating habits by what I eat on Christmas and Thanksgiving!), and the teacher who made me wear a T-shirt in gym class because my body developed earlier than the rest of the leotard-clad 12-year-olds, and the coworkers who make Mrs Robinson jokes year after year, and the sister of my foster kid who insinuated that my hugging him (and him hugging me) was inappropriate.

My biggest problem has always been taking whatever people throw at me. Insults appear to roll off me like water off the back of a duck. Very few people have ever been able to dent my composure, because I've always felt like I have a responsibility to maintain the smooth, unruffled façade, so as not to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But I am starting to wonder if this doesn't do more harm than good. Is a relationship really healthy if you can't call the other person out on their bullshit at times? If you go on absorbing what's said and done to you, and never let your loved ones see the scars they've wrought?

I don't think it is.

This post originally appeared as a comment on a Facebook link.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Last Message Received

I don't often talk about memes and viral internet stuff here, because - well, I'm usually woefully behind the times. Plus, it tends not to interest me much. I'd much rather talk about love, or Pokemon, or medicine, or cooking, or any one of a hundred things that interest me more than social media.

However, there's one site that's gone viral recently that's really captured me. It's called The Last Message Received, and it's a Tumblr page created by a 15-year-old named Emily Trunko, with a simple but captivating premise: people send in the last conversations, or last messages, with lost loved ones. Some have been lost to death, others to anger, or simply to the sands of time. Some of the messages are sweet, some are funny, some are angry - and some shatter your heart into little pieces.

I've had a lot of last messages in the last year. Four friends and a family member gone in the space of fourteen months. Perhaps that's why I find the page so spellbinding. Humans are incredibly complex creatures who exhibit almost unlimited variation...and yet in grief, as in love, we sing the same tune.

Sati's Message:

A couple weeks after this, I heard from his sister that they were trying to raise $80,000 to send him to the U.S. for treatment for an aggressive brain tumour. He got to the States, but they stopped treatment less than a week after they started - it was growing too quickly. All in all, it was around six weeks from diagnosis - or from hearing about his diagnosis - to death. And I knew, even before anyone told me, that something was wrong and I was going to lose him soon. It wasn't rational to think that. Eighteen years I'd known him and I'd never even known him to have a cold. He was a professional dancer, a nutritionist, and the healthiest person I'd ever met. I had no reason to think he could ever get sick. But I knew.

Love you, J. Every day for the last nineteen years, and every day for the next sixty-one.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Nothing Comes Easy But A Broken Will

I am still here, I'm just a bit tired and preoccupied.

Work is going well, though it's more exhausting than I expected. It's been quite a few years since I had a job that requires me to report in every day at a certain hour. I was unemployed from January 2015 until September 2015 (and had been mostly on sick leave since September 2014), and before that I had a year or two where I taught a few classes a week and marked homework and spent several hours preparing debate topics and essay questions and classwork, but that still probably only took 20-25 hours a week, and hours were flexible. And before THAT, I ran the helpline four nights a week. Which, fair enough, was longish hours - 48 hours a week, split into four 12-hour shifts - but didn't seem like so much time, because I did it from my bed and could lie down and read.

I think the last time I had a 9-5 job was some time around 2008.

The funny thing is that it's not the work that wears me out, it's the idleness. At home, looking after mom and the house, there's always something to keep me occupied. When I'm working on a project (clearing the hoards from one room, or stripping the paint in the bathroom, or clearing out the garage, etc) I might work 8, 10, 12, even 14 hours at a time - and that's manual labour. And I can handle that. Yet going in to work and spending so much time sitting in a chair listening, thinking and talking, absolutely wears me out.

On a typical day, I get up at 6.45 (5.45 if I'm running, but I haven't been lately because of all the slugs on the paths), bathe and dress, leave the house at 8, get to work around 8.30, busily set up the classroom while eating breakfast, and we're ready for students at 9.30. Then I have very little to do from 9.30 until 2.30 - mostly I hand out papers, write stuff on the whiteboard during class discussions, and occasionally help with spelling and stuff. (I did more the first week, but got reprimanded - gently, but still reprimanded - for overstepping my bounds.) At 2.30, I clear up the classroom and do paperwork, which takes me until 3.30 or 4. Then I go home, take a bath and go to bed around 6pm, only getting up to use the bathroom, and sleep until 6.45 the next morning. I had strep throat two months ago, and while it wasn't a bad strep (not like the one that nearly killed me in 2010 or 2011), it's changed me from being someone who sleeps 3-4 hours a night comfortably to being someone who can sleep 12 hours every night and still wake up groggy and tired. If I don't obey the call of sleep when it comes on, I literally fall asleep in the middle of what I'm doing. My body keeps moving for a few minutes after my brain turns off, so if I'm walking my feet will keep moving until I face-plant into the floor, or if I'm typing my fingers will keep going, even if they're typing crap. I've found a few status updates of mine that start out totally fine and then descend into gibberish because I fell asleep halfway through writing them.

(I'm actually falling asleep while trying to edit this post. I just have fallen asleep five or six times in the last quarter hour. Please excuse any typos that have occurred from my hand dropping into the keyboard.)

It's sort of a strange job. It's a frantic rush at the beginning of the day - an hour isn't really enough time to set up, but the security guards won't let us in earlier - and fairly busy at the end, with a lot of idleness inbetween. Idleness tires me. It always has. It's why I could never handle going on a show like Big Brother.

I've started taking my Japanese textbook to work with me, and working on lessons whenever I'm not needed.

I don't mean to sound like I'm not enjoying it, or that I'm not grateful for it. I am grateful, so much so. Whether or not it leads to permanent employment, the company took a chance on me when nobody else would, and I can't even begin to say how much that means. Yet I do feel like I'm not being fully utilised; like I could be doing so much more, giving so much more back to them. I find myself volunteering for things like coffee-making duties, things that aren't really in my job description, just because I need something to do and because I want to take some of the work off my mentor. He has so much on his shoulders, so much that I can't help him with because I'm not qualified. All I can do is make coffee and set things out and make sure the paperwork is up to date. I feel - not useless, exactly, but a bit superfluous at times. I suppose this is something I'll get used to. Over my lifetime, I've gone from being the only competent adult at home (even when I was a child) to being one of two (at any given time) who took responsibility for a centre and 25+ teenagers, simply because there was nobody else around to do it. I've never sought out responsibility; rather I've had it thrust upon me over and over, and I've always shouldered it because if I don't, nobody will. I'm a bit of a control-freak. I've had to be. So it's hard to adjust to being not only part of a team of responsible, qualified, experienced adults who don't need me to look after them, but also the FNG, the one who has to learn from everyone else. It's disorienting. I'll adjust, in time, but for now it makes my head whirl and I have to keep catching myself whenever I try to take over.

Hard work is sort of a compulsion for me. I spent so many years feeling like a parasite because I was lying around, sick and disabled while my friends were going to school, and then sixth form, university, working. I understand intellectually that disabled people are not parasites, and I'd certainly never judge anyone else for being unable to work or support their family, so I don't really know why I judge myself so harshly. It might be something to do with the years of being told (by teachers, parents, doctors) that I'm not really sick; that fibro is not a legitimate condition. Nowadays we know enough to understand that it's an autoimmune disease and a neurological disease - though we still have a dearth of knowledge on it in general - but England is still far behind America in acceptance of the condition, and in the early 1990s it was almost unheard of to find a doctor, let alone a layman, who would accept that it is a legitimate illness. For years I was told that I was attention-seeking, and then that I had school phobia, and then that I had Munchausens. I often feel like I internalised all the things that people (even my mom!) said about me during my teen years, and even though my head understands that I'm not lazy or unmotivated or selfish, my gut doesn't really grok it.

 Since I've learned to manage the fibromyalgia in the last ten years or so - it's still a painful and exhausting illness, but I've learned the tricks for handling it and pushing through it - I've been forcing myself to work almost nonstop. Since the brain damage I've been almost compelled to work myself to the point of exhaustion. For ten years I've basically worked, slept and read. My social life and love life have suffered for the last decade, and in the last few years they've been almost nonexistent. I've neglected my bio father's side of the family. All because I have this need, this urge to...I don't know. Prove some point, I guess. Maybe to prove that I can be a functional member of society, rather than a parasite. Whether I'm trying to prove that to others or to myself is unclear.

I will not break, dammit.

I could take time off if I wanted. I don't have to go in that early, or go every day, if I don't want to. My mentor keeps telling me to take it easy, but I can't. My brain won't let me.

My mentor - who I shall hereafter refer to as EG, since he reminds me of an El Greco painting - is one of the nicest people I've ever met. I really struck gold with that one. He was my teacher before he was my mentor - I took courses with him last summer and this summer just past - and I adored him from day one, but my respect and admiration for him grows by the week. My only concern is that he's so nice, he finds it hard to criticise anyone, and frankly, I need criticism. I'm going to screw up in this job, probably a lot, and I'm worried that he isn't going to pull me up on things and give me a kick up the ass when / if necessary. He's so gentle with his criticism (and effusive with his praise) that I have to read between the lines to see what he's actually saying, quite s lot of the time. And I don't always do well with subtleties.

I'm learning. Hopefully he's learning. I'm damn sure the students are learning. With luck, we'll adjust.

I have no idea how EG feels about me. With someone that nice, they could well hate you and just never show it. I like to think that he likes me, and that I make his job easier, but...time will tell.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Question: What do you think of men who cook?

I like men who can cook. I'd even say I have a definite preference for men who can cook. Cooking itself doesn't matter to me so much, since I'm not really into eating* (yes, yes, I know I'm weird), but I like what it says about the man:

- It says he's not caught up in old-fashioned gender roles
- It says he takes pride in creating something and in being self-sufficient
- It says he has the patience to learn a skill and refine it over time
- It says he's interested in the details

These are all good things, IMO. It doesn't have to be cooking - I also like men who sew, or knit, or garden, or fix cars, or refurbish their house, or a bunch of other things.

Attraction is a complex event that occurs when a lot of factors line up, but if I had to pick one single characteristic that I find most attractive in potential partners, it would be a can-do attitude. Not the cockiness of youth that screams "I'm awesome at everything, but don't you dare make me prove it!" but a quiet confidence, because you know you're a competent adult who can do a lot of things and can learn anything that you can't already do. I like people who say yes to things. Can you go buy me some tampons? Sure I can. Can you raise a child? If the situation comes up. Can you make a soufflé? Never done it before, but I'll give it a shot. Can you learn to speak Vietnamese? I don't see why not. Can we hike Mongolia on our next vacation? Sure, that sounds like fun.

I love men who can. And a man who can't cook (or clean, or sew on a button, or change a tire, or diaper a baby) is most likely not a man-who-can. Nothing wrong with that, you are what you are, but I probably won't be interested.

* I'm not saying I'd turn it down if someone offered to cook for me, mind you. I eat. I even enjoy it. I just don't adore food, the way most people I know do. I'd be happy eating the same thing every day as long as it tasted good.

This post originally appeared on www.quora.com .

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Once More, Unto the Breach

I am starting a new job tomorrow.

This makes me nervous. I've had precisely one new job in the last thirteen years, which was organising and cataloging a private library. After doing that for a few months, drawing a fortnightly paycheck and wondering why my employers didn't provide me with the necessary equipment and told me to take the day off more often than not, I found out that the whole thing had been set up by an ex-boyfriend who was worried about my finances and living situation, but who knew I wouldn't take money from him. Several times over the course of our relationship, he proposed that we get married, more for the sake of mutual convenience than anything, and several times I turned him down because we weren't in love, so he found a new way to try to take care of me.

He meant well, and I can understand what he was doing - he's the type of guy who looks after his friends, and supports his girlfriends. But it crushed any belief I had in my own abilities. It was only the second job offer I'd had in my adult life. The first came from a man I did a great favour for a long time ago. On my thirtieth birthday, this man called and offered me the job of most writers' dreams - researching and writing articles for a magazine in Milan, with a generous salary and an excellent relocation package. Plus, y'know, Milan. But I knew it was to return the favour I did him rather than because he thought I could do the job, and I couldn't handle the thought of being the deadweight, the one unqualified employee who was hired out of nepotism and who everyone else had to work extra hard to compensate for. So after a few months of vacillating (because Milan!) I turned it down.

Plus, my brother's family had just moved away, and my father was dying, and I couldn't leave Mom.

So here I am, with only the third job offer in my adult life - because I'd been working at the youth centre since I was 17 - and all those feelings of inadequacy are flooding back.

I was recommended for this job by a former teacher of mine. I took an I.T. course this summer - offered for free through the Job Centre, to people who are out of work (including carers like me) - and I did so well on it that a few weeks ago, my teacher asked me to come back and be a TA for him when his coworker went on maternity leave. That wasn't supposed to be until November, but on Friday I got a call asking me to come for an interview with his boss today, and today they hired me, starting tomorrow.

Intellectually I understand that I got the job because I did well on the course. Not only did I manage to do three two-week modules during the two weeks I was there (so six weeks' worth of learning), I got 100% on both my exams. Yet there is always this little voice inside that says you can't do it, you're not qualified, you're biting off more than you can chew healthwise, you were only hired because he liked you and felt sorry for you. You're a fragile princess who can barely look after herself, and has no hope of ever being a functioning member of society.

People outside of my blog(s) rarely see my feelings of inadequacy. In person, I appear to be supremely confident, to the point that several bloggers here have been surprised - and a few have been quite put off - when they meet me. The cool, competent façade is almost always how I present in person. I wouldn't even call it a façade, truly, because it's something that I've worn for long enough that it's become a part of me. And the funny thing is, it's not a lie - when I'm in motion, I have every confidence in my abilities. I've always functioned best during a crisis, but any time that I'm actually acting, moving, I don't falter. I know that I'll get to work tomorrow, on time, well-organised, dressed appropriately, and do the job with no hesitations. I'll do it well, the way I do everything, from paid employment, to navigating a foreign country, to planning a funeral, to coping with the aftermath of an attack.

It's just when I stop that I get overwhelmed with the sense that I can't do it.

It's strange that I have these two sides to me, and that they're both so dominant. You'd think that the confidence and the inadequacy would neutralise each other, and I'd simply have an average amount of confidence with occasional bursts of anxiety. But no, I swing between the two extremes. As in just about every area of my life.

Sometimes I wonder if I am two people trapped in one body.

My tits and ass are certainly large enough for two. :)