Toads and Witches and Childhood Angst

When I was a child I had 3 or 4 quite prominent warts on the side of my little finger on my left hand. They disappeared as I grew older, but I can feel them now as I think of it. It was something I was terribly ashamed of, and I despised anyone holding my hand for fear – entirely warranted – they would shrink away, or ask if I’d been touching toads, or scream that I would give them warts. All of those things happened at one time or another, until I was so paranoid that I felt the ‘horror’ of the warts was the only thing anyone could see on my whole hand.

I used to rub them with the thumb of my other hand: not sure why – checking to see if they had gotten smaller, to see if I could rub them away, to focus on my ‘flaws’ because that’s all I could think of – all those things I suppose. I just found myself  rubbing that finger now, unconsciously, even though they have been gone for years.

I tried all kinds of remedies, over the years, to remove them; banana peels, bandaids (to keep out the oxygen), various creams and ointments from the chemist, cutting them out with scissors…nothing worked, and the remedies were frequently painful. The memories of the very specific pain from the cutting, the sight of the blood, the pale, washed-out look of them after removing another bandaid, are very clear, but I can’t remember what ultimately caused them to go. I have a vague memory of a doctor’s implement embedding itself again and again into them, so I suppose they were frozen, but it seems odd that I can remember having them so clearly, but the memory of the removal of them is so fuzzy.

I even hated the word, and I still don’t use it very often (like I’m avoiding it right now). I felt stigmatised, and every time there was a conversation about witches, or toads, or anything else that could be associated, I shrank a little, hoping that no-one would look at me. It seems very silly and overblown now, but I was deeply self-conscious about it then.

Just recently, a close friend and I happened to get to talking about warts and she mentioned that she had had warts in exactly the same place, as a child, and that they, also, had gone away. I was amazed, but even more so when we compared our hands as they currently are, and found a couple of tiny, barely noticeable, warts in, again, exactly the same places as each other.

I have one wart on a finger joint on the palm side of my right hand, that appeared just a few years ago. I often find myself unconsciously rubbing this one in the same way I did as a child, but, this time, strangely, I like it. It’s a quirk that reminds me I’m me.

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Christmas – bah humbug?

Christmas is coming.

Around this time last year I didn’t really want Christmas to come. Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year; the high point of the year’s arc. But, at this time last year, my life felt a bit crappy, and Christmas – the hoopla of it all – seemed so overwhelming.

I’d been working for the previous 3 years at a local software company, and, I say this with no exaggeration, it was the most demoralising, draining, hurtful, undermining, confidence-stealing, soul-destroying employment I have ever had. At the end of the 3 years I didn’t feel like myself; I wasn’t even sure of what my skills and gifts and abilities were anymore. My manager would tell me I ‘wasn’t as talented as I thought I was’, blame me for mistakes he made, set up staff against each other, play favourites, treat many hard-working, honest, loyal, clever, mature, wise, trustworthy, responsible, long-term employees as naughty, deceitful children – worst job I’d ever had.

I lost myself. Depression was always lurking, and frequently close to the surface. The problem was that I was so beaten down that I couldn’t see a way out, couldn’t believe that I would be able to find another job because, apparently, my skill set was so low (read: under-appreciated) that I should just be grateful to have a job.

Inertia was my enemy. I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for anything, particularly not finding a new job, and, Christmas? Who could be bothered to prepare anything? It was just all too much work. So, I didn’t. I just sat at my desk every day, sinking, and came home at the end of each day and sank into both my couch, and a depressive coma. I couldn’t be bothered to prepare meals, let alone write the annual Caradoc Christmas letter. Any Christmas planning was forced and joyless.

This from a freak who so completely ‘discovered’ her childlike Christmas glee while living in beautiful and Christmas-crazy Seattle, that she shipped back to Australia 4 huge boxes of affectionately-named ‘Christmas crap’, can’t walk past a store with ‘Christmas crap’ in the window without pressing her nose up to the window and sighing wistfully that she can’t own it all, and who normally begins planning ‘Christmas crap’ decorating sometime in October. So, I was dreading Christmas.

And then, a miracle. I was fired. There was a ‘restructuring of the business’ and almost my entire department (a dozen or so) were, ‘regrettably’, no longer required. It was a shock…but it wasn’t. It was scary…but it wasn’t. It was a ‘sucker punch’ to the gut…but it wasn’t. It was a relief…yep, pure relief. My situation had been changed for me, when I no longer had the capacity to change it for myself.

And, at that point, HL didn’t have a job either. So, there we were, heading to Christmas, neither of us working, and I was just so grateful. Christmas was a bit lean last year, but so much more joyful than I had expected it to be.

Both of us, also miraculously, ended up falling into work that is right and appropriate for each of us at this present moment (HL driving cabs, and me working at a school, which I love) and I’m planning for Christmas, joyfully.

Dorkiness Will Out

I was kinda a moderately dorky kid; different enough to be on the dorky side, but perceptive enough to be aware I had dorky tendencies, which, surprisingly, dials down dorkitude.

When I was in primary school there was already clique-iness stirring, even though our class, school and town were all so small that we’d grown up with each other. I was well aware of my social standing – amongst the ‘smart’, middle-classy kids – so when a ‘cool’, rebel girl, from well outside that group, made friends with me, I was pretty stoked (well, I wouldn’t have used the term ‘stoked’, being only 8 or 9, which would have made it about 25 years ago, and ‘stoked’ wasn’t so big then, but you get the emotion). Let’s call her Kelly.

So, when Kelly invited me to her birthday party I understood that she’d gone outside the ‘norm’ to do so, and I felt like my whole social status was on the cusp of morphing into something more interesting.

The day of the party I spent time getting ready, wrapped a carefully-chosen present, and made certain that my mum drove me to the caravan park where Kelly lived, right on time. After Mum parked, she and I walked to Kelly’s caravan and tentatively knocked on the zip-up awning. There didn’t seem to be a lot of activity, which was a bit worrisome, but I figured that maybe I was just the first to arrive.

After a couple of knocks, Kelly’s mum came out to see us, with a question in her voice and a quizzical eyebrow raise. I, haltingly, stumbled out that I was here for Kelly’s birthday, had I got the time wrong?, was I too early?

There was a little laugh from her mum, ‘It’s not till next Saturday.’

‘Oh. I’m sure the invitation had today’s date, I’m sorry to bother you. See you next week.’ And then I hurried my mum back to the car, shamefaced, red-faced, and having lost face. I was hugely relieved that Kelly hadn’t been there – apparently she was at the pool – but also aware that there was no way that her mum would keep to herself what had transpired.

I can still feel the burning, roiling humiliation in my stomach as we drove home, knowing I would have to go to school on Monday and hear about it. I looked at the invitation when I got home and realised that I must have just been excited about going, and not checked too closely, because the date, very clearly, said next Saturday’s date.

When Monday rolled around there wasn’t a lot of joking at my expense, just a bit of teasing, but it was obvious to me that any burgeoning social status change had been shelved, probably due to my clear (to fellow primary-schoolers) display of dorkiness. I don’t recall a lot about the actual party the next Saturday, just a vague feeling of awkwardness, as the reality of spending a few hours with a party’s-worth of ‘cool’ acquaintances manifested itself.

Kelly and I were polite, even occasionally friendly, with each other through the rest of our concurrent schooling, but we never really got past the awkwardness.

Childhood was a long time ago, and far away

Yesterday I was playing around on Google maps, street level, and I had a sudden inclination to ‘wander’ ’round the small town I grew up in. I ‘walked’ past my high school, down to the corner where I used to linger with the boy I liked, along the main street, looking in shop windows, past my church, from my house to the pool… The internal reaction was surprisingly visceral.

I was physically back there a year ago, just driving around with HL and a friend, and it was nice, and a bit nostalgic, but not a particularly deep response. This ‘visit’ was different. I felt almost physically ill from the assault of a million, million early memories. The smell of the chlorine, the pebbly feel of the post office foyer, the coffee shop where I had my first ‘grown-up’ birthday party, the crunch of the gravel under my feet as I walked past the 3rd last house before home, the steepness of the hill that I rode my bike up, the tall gateposts at school I would sit on and swing my legs…

I don’t, in any way, want to move back there, or ‘go back to childhood’ in any way, but the gut-wrenching realisation that all of that is past, gone, not even ‘visitable’, was affecting. The linear nature of living is hard.

Knit One, Purl Two…

I’ve taken up knitting. It seemed like a good skill to have and a productive thing to do over winter. I learnt to knit one other time in my life, back in 1985, when I was 10. My school ran a program in our little town called ‘Granny Teaching’. All of Year 5 would troop down to the local retirement home once a week and the residents would teach us various ‘old skills’ that people rarely learn anymore: knitting, crochet, cross-stitch…

I was particularly excited to learn to knit as it had always seemed to be a mysterious thing, unknowable. I chose my wool very careful (a fuzzy periwinkle blue) and picked the right kind of knitting needles, and stored it all, including the growing scarf, in a little basket. Even after ‘Granny Teaching’ finished and the knitting energy had died off a bit I still kept all my knitting stuff for many years – just in case I decided to take it back up again.

I never did finish my simple (and very ugly and messy) scarf. But, I’ve started a new one. Nothin’ fancy, just a plain black, long, narrow rectangle, with no ‘purl’, ‘double basket weave’ or ‘garter rib’, and lots of dropped stitches, but satisfying, none the less. The wool (well, acrylic, really) is feathery and fuzzy enough, and the knitting needles large enough, that the dropped stitches/holes look like they’re s’posed to be there, and it’s been a good lesson that sometimes even simple and far from perfect attempts can be truly satisfying.

The Joy of Silence

I’ve always been kind of a ‘wordy’ person, trying to understand things and how I felt about them through language. Sometimes just finding words can crystallise and clarify an emotion or thought. Sometimes, though, words can be clumsy and inadequate and awkward, and get in the way, rather than be helpful. Sometimes silence is the right and appropriate thing, allowing the situation to be fully experienced in and of itself.

Some years ago, when HL and I were getting ready to leave the US and come to Australia, there were things about my life that felt very overwhelming and difficult and unmanageable. I ran out of words. I would often hear this song on the radio when I was driving on I5, and it made me weep, and I felt the grace of God, right there in my little red Ford Probe.

The Elaboration Pt 2

This is the continuation of this post, and then this post.

I developed a deep and pure love for The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a child and my mum read the whole series to my brother Lucien and me. Lewis created a world that was more than captivating, that felt real. The stories felt deep and true, like real mythology.

I have a sense of something that I’ve never been fully able to grasp/explain/understand. I can see it in the distance but can’t get close enough to focus on the detail. It’s a sense of majesty and honour and depth and righteousness and beauty and rightness and glory and harmony and perfection… A sense of reality that is deeper than we can see, but that is implanted in us. It’s why we respond to to stirring scenes in movies, to stories about honour and sacrifice, to beauty in people and things. My understanding of all these concepts, and even the bigger thing behind them is due, in a large part, to the stories and world woven by Lewis. He seemed able to not only sense these ‘big’ things, but to show us glimpses of them.

There was a BBC version of four of the Narnia chronicles many years ago. It was lovely, and truly brought some of the most fun aspects of the series alive (in particular Tom Baker as Puddleglum) but it, quite naturally, could only work within a BBC budget and the technology constraints of its time, so, while it provided a taste, a visually-realised Narnia was not possible.

The current series is actually doing a remarkable job of presenting a beautiful and rich Narnian world that draws you in, and I have truly enjoyed the first two movies. HL and I went to see Prince Caspian a few days ago. It had been a long day at work for both of us and neither of us were really overly enthusiastic, but it was the final showing at the local cinema so…well, we dragged ourselves there.

The movie was as heart-lightening and engaging as I had hoped it would be, and we both were pleased that we’d gone. And this story could easily end there, but it doesn’t.

I have always found the concept of Jesus, being both fully man and fully God, difficult to grasp. I cope quite well with the the thought of a huge and mind-boggling Father God, but the complex interaction between the perfection of God and the humanness of Jesus I can’t quite fathom. It has always made me uncomfortable. I love Jesus deeply for his sacrificial love for me, and am so grateful, but I’ve always felt a bit distant. Songs and talk about our ‘friend’ Jesus have always left me a bit cold. And this has made me incredibly sad for many years, feeling such distance.

While I was watching Prince Caspian, however, Jesus tapped me on the shoulder. The depth and purity and complexity and joy of the relationship between Lucy and Aslan has always stirred such delight in me, and there was a scene in the movie where Lucy meets Aslan in a wooded glen that is alive with…I don’t know…’rightness’. Everything is working as it should be: trees step aside to let Lucy through; leaves dance in joy; sunlight dapples perfectly; the wood is one flawlessly interacting creation. And into Lucy’s experience with the wood steps Aslan.

She is beside herself with gladness to see him because he is her beloved friend. She has so much history with him, both joyful and dark, and that has made them very close. When he comes he brings righteousness and light and perspective and clarity and love. And it’s obviously apparent that he takes an equal delight in his friendship with her.

I felt my heart leap watching the two so happy to see each other, and at that moment Jesus told me that I didn’t have to grapple with the man-Godness of him, but that he would be Aslan to me. He would be was/is the being that I already understand through my long-term interaction with the kingdom of Narnia. Being able to recognise Jesus as ‘my own Aslan’ was a relief to my soul. If I can grasp the lion who ‘isn’t tame, but he’s good’, then I’ve already grasped the person of Jesus. Instead of feeling very distant he feels as though he’s never been far away. And I’m so grateful.

The Elaboration Pt 1

So…yesterday…to elaborate:

I went to bed the night previously feeling not great, with a lot of pain in my neck and shoulder that painkillers just didn’t seem to be having any effect on. I did manage to get to sleep, and slept soundly till 5 minutes past midnight, at which point I woke, fairly abruptly, to a horrible and pressing and tight pain in my chest.

After walking around the house for 5 minutes and feeling like I wanted to pass out, and as though I could barely take a breath, it occurred to me that perhaps there might be something seriously wrong. The pain didn’t feel like anything I’d felt before; it was a very high, flat and horizontal pain up under the ribcage.

I went back into the bedroom, and said to a now very awake HL, “I feel wrong…I’m not right…there’s something not right. I think I need to go to the hospital.” I took some aspirin and we threw on some clothes and jumped in the car. Once we were driving I felt like I might faint from the pain and the shortness of breath before we even got to the hospital. 

On the way I wasn’t able to decide if I would prefer it if the doctor told me I was fine and that there was nothing really wrong, or if I really was having a heart attack, or something similar (which seems ridiculous, in hindsight). We drove towards the hospital and I tried to direct HL to the Emergency entrance – which is silly, as he’s a taxi-driver and they know everything, and he told me as much: “I know where Emergency is…”.

We pulled in and I got out at the front entrance, while he went to park. Fortunately, there was nobody else in the Emergency waiting room so I went straight up to the window and, breathlessly, tried to explain that “I’m sure I’m fine, but I’m having chest pains, and I can’t breathe, and I just want to make sure that I’m fine.” She then asked me to fill out a form… Well, I could barely pull the Medicare card out of my wallet, let alone figure out what the form was asking me, so I struggled for a second and then she took it from me and indicated that HL could fill it out.

Someone (not sure who, it was a bit blurry) ushered me in to the ER and directed me to a bed. I lay down and then there were two people bustling around, putting a gown on me, wheeling in an ECG machine, sticking monitors all over my chest and on both ankles and wrists. I remember apologising and saying that I knew it was nothing, but it felt different than any other pain and I wanted to be careful, and, sorry for bothering them.

The machine was doin’ its thing for a few minutes and then they unplugged me and the nurse said that the heart functions seemed normal, but she would get the doctor to come and see me. The pain hadn’t subsided at all by this time; it was still very heavy and pushing on my chest, and I still was finding it very hard to breathe, but it was a relief that death didn’t seem to be imminent.

The doctor came in a few minutes later and asked lots of questions about what the pain felt like, what my lifestyle was like, and etc., and confirmed that the results indicated that it wasn’t a heart attack, but they would take another reading in 10 minutes just to be sure.

The 2nd reading was the same as the first, and so they let me go. They offered pain medication, which I declined. They said that they weren’t sure what was wrong with me, but that it definitely wasn’t a heart attack. Towards the end of my visit a man came in who actually did seem to be having a heart attack so it was all very quiet at the front desk as we left, with all the staff focused on the very unwell man.

It was an odd drive home. I was very relieved to be fine, but feeling a bit silly and tired and guilty for dragging HL out in the middle of the night, especially knowing that he had to get up at 6.15 the next morning. I was still very much in pain and breathing was still difficult, but it started to subside on the drive home.

I threw up a few times when we got home, probably more from nervousness than anything, and then fell into bed and had a fitful sleep. I felt much better when I got up in the morning, and haven’t felt that pain since, so the mystery remains. It wasn’t anything like indigestion (I’ve had that, so I know what it feels like), so, who knows?

In the bright sunshinieness of the next day it all seemed/seems faintly foolish and surreal and dream-like. It was a very odd experience. I’m not usually a rush-to-the-hospital-in-the-middle-of-the-night type of person, and I cope with pain pretty stoically, so I know that the pain and the breathlessness and the feeling of ‘not-rightness’ was very real. Even though I felt/feel embarrassed I was/am very grateful that it wasn’t serious.

I’m certainly not afraid of dying but I am afraid of not only feeling grief, but of causing it. I remember standing in the loungeroom feeling awful, and thinking that it would be ridiculous if I died purely because I felt too silly to go to the hospital. I had a vision of HL coming home from the hospital and realising that he was alone and that he would have to pack up our lives and probably move home to the US. It was not a good feeling.

I know that, as Christians, we are not alone, and that, ultimately, eternally, it will ‘be ok’, but sometimes God feels very far away, and our fear and grief and pain feel like the only real thing. Last night though (the night after the early morning/middle of the night ride to the emergency room) God used this to tap me on the shoulder. But more about that soon.

The Night Watch

As a child we lived in a big old brick house with a verandah. My bedroom had a window which looked directly out onto the verandah, and I would sometimes lie in bed with the lights out and the curtains open, and watch the night before falling asleep. One night the outside dark was so compelling I had to sneak out the front door to sit on the verandah and watch.

The pageantry in the sky became so beautiful I wanted to seize and remember it, but, being only 12, I had no camera or video to record it. I crept inside, trying desperately not to alert my parents that I was up and about; I didn’t want to share my night, I felt it would have been ruined. I found a pen and paper and went back out to perch on the edge of the verandah.

It was too dark to actually see what I was writing, but I scrawled down what was happening in the sky as I watched. Once the night sky closed in with the rolling clouds I went back to my room and tried to decipher what I had written. This is it, and, while the writing’s obviously naïve and somewhat contrived, it evocatively transports me to that night, and I am that 12 year old again, in my nightie, sitting on the wooden boards of our verandah, with my feet on the cement path, my body huddling against the wind, and my soul trying to soak up the eternal moment before my parents discover me and damage my connection to it.

Dark clouds almost entirely cloak the endless sky. The moon’s not visible except by the glowing illumination of his clouds. He, shyly, reluctantly, makes an entrance, confidence expanding by the second. He shifts the clouds, gaily dancing as the star of his realm.

Suddenly, confidence wanes for, apparently, no reason, and he abruptly slips behind a cloud. Quickly and defiantly they seem to take over the sky, governing on their own. Swallowing the moon, they seem to dominate.

The wind acquires speed and intensity, ignoring polite conventionalities, as though in league with the evil, scheming clouds. Unrest consumes the sky kingdom, the wind at his most forceful. An unwitting victim of his own subjects, the moon king is captured.

I can still sense the gusts of wind, and see the muted glow of the king shaded by his subject captors, and feel the joy of the bond with the night spectacle.

 

Suffocation

I feel smothered and I can feel the hysterical scream in my throat that I have to swallow and I have to grit my teeth so I don’t spit tension and I need space to fail out of eyesight so I can fall apart without overwhelming concern that will make me feel as though I have to scratch eyes out so they don’t look with pity and I need silence so I can drown the chaotic noise that makes my eyes dull and distance to regain equilibrium and wisdom to dominate so I can think and restore perspective and closeness to stop the feeling of disconnection and I feel a tight chest and a resentful heart and a cynical and mistrustful head that are drained: of humour; of good judgment; of confidence; of hopefulness…

Maybe I’m just overtired

Grand-orphans

When HL and I first met we had 5 grandparents between us. He had a Grandma and Grandpa, and I had a Granny and Poppy and a Meerischen.

My Pop died of lung cancer just before I moved to America, Grandma died of lung cancer about 5 years later, Meerischen of heart issues shortly after, Grandpa of complications after a fall a couple of years ago and Granny a few months ago, when her body just got too old. HL and I have talked about how ‘orphan’ is the term for a person who has no parents left, but what is the term for those who have no grandparents? HL has suggested Grand-orphan.

Sometimes it will strike me out of nowhere that neither HL or I have any grandparents left alive and I will be reminded that we have been together since before all of those deaths. We were having lunch today and I said to HL “We have no grandparents left. They all died.”

I don’t know why I feel the need to point out when people are dead. I do it a lot. Almost any time we talk about someone who used to be alive and now is not, I am compelled to say “They’re dead now.” I think maybe it’s something to do with needing to be reminded that all is ephemeral, even people and things that seem to be steadfast.

We live on the edge of death, with it ineveitably looming, sometimes near, sometimes far, but always looming. I’m not afraid of death, as such. In fact, I’m not afraid of dying at all. I am afraid of grief. Especially sudden grief. Especially waking up the morning after, and the ‘thwack’ of sudden grief memory.

Death feels like a mistake. Like it can’t possibly be the case. Like there was life and then…not. Like this wasn’t the original plan. Some deaths feel better than others. Grandparent deaths at least often feel as though the timing was right, they were tired, sick, ready. But parent deaths and spouse deaths and children deaths… I s’pose as HL and I get older these some of these will seem more natural, but death will always feel, to me, like a mistake has been made.

Web 2.huh?

There was a course run at work recently which was designed to introduce people to the Web 2.0 concept. I was having lunch near where the session was taking place and it was a fascinating thing to watch 20 or so middle-aged plus (mostly) women struggle with internet networking, blogs, youtube, wikis and the like. I spoke to a friend who was at the course about how she thought it was going, and whether she was learning anything, and she said that she still didn’t really know what the session was about.

Web 2.0 in a nutshell, to me, means connection, communication, co-operation, and so we talked a bit about how the internet used to be seen primarily as merely a tool for recording and passing on information, but how it’s now seen as much more of a people-linking interactive ‘new way of doing things’. It was a real insight into how difficult and alien the grapple with technology can be for a generation who were adults before home computers were commonplace, ubiquitous.

I was a very small child when we first had a computer in our home in ’79 or so. It was one of the very first ‘regular’ computers in our town, probably one of the earliest in the country. Lots of families had Ataris and Commodore 64s but my dad was one of the first to jump on board with the new technology coming out of a small American company called Apple that would evolve into the multi-billion dollar Mac brand.

We had an Apple II+ if I recall correctly, and I recall, with delight, the utter joy given by hour after hour playing Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess (the first 2 hi-res adventures), Turtle and later, the original Print Shop. It felt as though a door was opened, through which an ever-expanding and complexifying landscaping could be viewed, and, ultimately, romped in.

My dad was able to see the amazing potential of these machines as being far beyond the ‘super calculator’, and has instilled in me, from a time almost before I can remember, my connection with technology that feels normal and natural. I am utterly grateful to my dad and so, so proud of his enthusiastic ‘jumping aboard’, which pushed him far ahead of many of his contemporaries in the area of personal computing.

Part of the reason that I am grateful to my dad is that computers were so much a part of my growing-up that the internet just seemed like the next door, which then opened onto an even bigger, and more amazing and bewildering and exciting landscape. And then, in 1997, I met HL online.

Web 2.0, schmoo point oh… The computer was ALWAYS about connection and communication and co-operation for my dad.

Oh! So that’s what one of those is like…

A lot of my childhood memories are a bit blurry. I do have quite a few specific memories of incidents, but mostly the memories are generic: my pink and green bedroom; walking to the pool in summer; playing the flute in the school band; swinging in the hammock under the mulberry tree with a stack of comic books.

My first memory, though, is quite specific and vivid. Train of thought follows:

“Well, here we are, in the loungeroom with Mum and Dad and those nice people who come to visit sometimes. They’re paying lots of attention to me and laughing and happy, which is good. Wait, Mum seems to have gone…Where is she? I’ll just reach around and look behind my back here…oh, there she is, in the kitchen. Mum? Mum? What ya doing? That looks interesting, I think I’ll come and join you. Hey! Stop! Lemme go! I’m a kid, you can’t stop me from going to see my mum. She’s my mum, I’m a kid, I have a right to be with my mummy ANY TIME I WANT. You’re making me feel sad and mad, stop stopping me. I need to go into the kitchen, I need my mummy now…now. MUMMY! MUMMY! They’re stopping me crawling into the kitchen where you are. I need you, why are they stopping me? I’m going to cry, really, really loud because I’m a bit scared and angry. Huh? What? What are you singing? What’s that thing you’re carrying? It’s pretty, and it’s got a flickery thing on it, and you’re singing something like ‘…happy…day…you…dear Aili’… Hang on, this feels familiar. This feels like that thing…what is it? Oh yeah! A birthday! That’s that thing that I heard about and wished I’d had one so I knew what it was like! A birthday! Now I can say I’ve had a birthday! Yay! Oh yeah, so that’s why they wouldn’t let me into the kitchen…birthdays are about surprises!”

So, yep…that was my first birthday. I wasn’t so eloquent as a one year old, but that’s a pretty fair rendering of my first concrete memory.

Kitten and Other Kitten

We have two cats. They’re sisters. When we got them as kittens we wanted to pick names that matched each other, fitted their personalities, contracted easily and were a little unique. It took us prob’ly a fortnight or so to come up with their monikers and in the meantime we called them ‘Kitten’ and ‘Other Kitten’. They still get that occasionally (along with much crazier nicknames) and so, pseudononymously, these names seem to belong as their notperfection blogged-about identities.

They have incredibly different personalities. The one who shall be referred to as Kitten is a medium-haired tabby who looks like a bobcat. She’s terribly affectionate, terribly highly-strung, terribly curious, terribly jealous, terribly self-aware and thinks she’s a peepul.

Other Kitten, on the other hand, is a long-haired Calico who’s squishy and floppy. She’s knows for certain that she NOT a peepul and is happy about it. She’s easygoing, placid, selfish, hedonistic and entirely unselfconscious.

The joy they both bring is immeasurable. They were totally worth spending thousands of dollars to fly them to Australia.

Confession

‘Stuff’ and ‘things’ haven’t been that simple or easy for a while – too much thinking/worrying about health things and family things and work things and finance things…you know how it is. So, today, at lunchtime, I’m sitting, reading, feeling a bit ‘weighted’. I come across a passage in my book that is rife with the mention of colours: green leaf; yellow sun; orange persimmon. My heart feels a physical ‘leap of joy’ (cheesy, huh? but true) and I realise that colour, even just thinking about it, even just reading about it (‘a riot of colour’) physically brings me – greater than pleasure – joy, bliss, delight, elation…

I’ve always loved colour, but never quite enunciated to myself that colour can change things, fix things, entrance and capture me. It feels like a big (though so simple) discovery and life feels more manageable again. But this isn’t the confession.

This is it. I was thinking about whether to mention this experience here and I started putting a theoretical post together in my head and it felt a bit empty. Empty because the physical ‘leap of joy’ had felt like a gift from God – an insight into how God sees me, sees the world, sees my future – and I had started editing that aspect out.

See, here’s the thing…I’m a Christian. I haven’t wanted to mention it till now. It’s something that labels me, stereotypes me. A lot of that stereotyping is due to how Christians act, foolish things we do in public, ridiculous things we say, rickety platforms we set ourselves on, arrogant and hurtful actions we take. Some of it is due to a pigeonholing by people who aren’t Christians.

I was reading through some of Mighty Girl‘s archives earlier this evening and I came across this quote that she’d overheard on a bus once : “Bring out the religious stuff and the crowd goes dead.”. And this is totally how I felt…feel I guess. It’s used as a pejorative – ‘Christian blogger’ (kinda like ‘Mommy blogger’ I s’pose). As though once that piece of information is known then there’s no point in reading any further. As though someone is defined by one fact about them.

But, while my faith in Jesus is the most defining thing about me – it colours every interaction, influences every thought – it isn’t the only thing. I live in the real world, not some ‘tele-evangelist’ or ‘martyr’ or ‘saint’ or ‘holier-than-thou’ self-created, self-deluded world. I like stuff that ‘normal people’ like (coffee, youtube, ‘alternate reality’ movies, mango lassis, lolcats, gin-and-tonics, Lost). And my faith is changing, growing, evolving, more grey than it’s ever been. It doesn’t look like it used to from the outside, and it doesn’t feel like it used to on the inside, but it’s not something that I can ignore when blogging.

Creepies

I have a bit of a thing about bugs around my head. I’m not quite sure how it began, possibly because of the following…

Buggy Story #1

I used to have very long hair as a child and I would have nightmares about grasshoppers and praying mantises (manti?) getting tangled irretrievably in my hair, and of being unable to remove them without squishing them into a tangle of carapace, guts and hair. This never actually eventuated (yay!) but I did have a boy once put a grasshopper on my head when I was about 11.

We’d just come back into the classroom after lunchtime and he had a lovely green surprise waiting. Fortunately, the bug disentangled itself quite easily when I flicked it off and it went on its merry way, while I was in a state of shuddery shock for the rest of the afternoon, hardly believing that my nightmare had almost come true. (In hindsight, I perhaps shouldn’t have mentioned my nightmares to schoolfriends as this was prob’ly the instigation of the ‘lovely green surprise’…)

Buggy Story #2 

We lived in a very old house in a very small country town, growing up, and one of the things common to both old houses and the country is the huge amount of bugs living in them, so, combine the two, and there is more insect life than you can poke a stick at (or point the Mortein at). Couple this with the fact that both my parents are of the hippie-ish, ‘No,-don’t-kill-that-nasty-thing-with-the-huge-fangs-that-could-very-conceivably-kill-you,-it’s-got-a-right-to-live’ variety, and spiders were certainly a very common element of life in my house.

Consequently, I would often have a ‘happy little spider’ living in a ceiling corner of my bedroom, directly where I could glance up from my book that I was reading in bed at night. Occasionally I would look up and notice that, in a remarkably short time, the spider had scuttled many metres closer to my bed. This led to all kinds of panicky thoughts about spiders creeping down from the ceiling in the middle of the night and meandering across my face.

Even after I turned the light off and tried to sleep the thoughts would frequently become too much and I would have to turn the light back on just to check that the spider was still there and hadn’t made a mad dash for my bed under cover of darkness. (Why it would want to do this I have no idea, the thoughts were hardly logical.) I never did find a spider creeping across my cheek in the middle of the night, but I’m still a little wary.

Buggy Story #3

The third in the trilogy of ‘bad bug experiences as a child’ happened when I was 5. I had just been sitting, eating my ‘play lunch’ (Whoever came up with this name that meant both the small school break mid-morning and the food that was eaten at said break should be embarrassed.) when I felt a horrible and forceful ‘bzz’ shoot into my ear. At first I thought there was just a fly buzzing VERY close to my ear, but when I couldn’t make it go away by waving around my ear I figured maybe my ear-drum had burst or something (I was 5, kai?).

At this point the bell rang and I had to head back to class with a persistent ‘zzz’ reverberating. The realisation horrifyingly stole over me that this was something that wouldn’t ‘fix itself’ and was most likely an actual fly in my ear. Obviously I couldn’t settle in class, and kept pressing my hand against my ear, feeling a disturbing vibration far enough in that it felt like it was my brain buzzing.

Finally I had to tell the teacher that there was something wrong. She didn’t believe me at first – s’pose she thought I had an over-active imagination – but when I wouldn’t stop fidgeting and looking anxious she sent me to the principal so she could deal with it.

Well, the principal was teaching her own class (it was a small school 🙂 ) and so she sat me in the ‘Book Corner’ to see if it would ‘go away’. This normally would have been a very pleasant and privileged treat, being able to be in with the ‘big kids’ and read book after book, but I could not shake the feeling of a sinister presence in my head.

After an hour or so the buzzing became fainter and less frequent but I still was aware that the problem hadn’t ‘gone away’. The school eventually called my mum, who picked me up and took me to the hospital. After a short ear inspection the nurse confirmed that no, I wasn’t making it up, I did, indeed, have an insect in my ear – a flying ant.

The removal process was unpleasant. The nurse had to fill my ear with liquid (warm water?) and suck it all out with a big bulb syringe. It didn’t feel good, but I did feel relieved that I had been vindicated. *smile* I think the nurse even let me keep the bug in a specimen jar so I had proof.

Hence, I don’t think my ‘no bugs around my head’ rule is overreacting. 

 

A man by any other name

So, I was talking to the husband yesterday about his presence here. I asked him if he had any ideas about what he might like to be called so I can be respectful of his privacy, but still provide some insight into who he is.

Me: So, this blog-thingy that I started…?

Husband: Yeah…

M: What would you like to be called? I want a name or title that I can refer to you as, but not something that would identify you as such… Any ideas?

H: James Bond

M: No

H: B-Man

M: Nope

H: Golden Man Hunk?

M: No

H: Stud Monkey

M: Ah…no

H: Doc Holliday

M: No

H: Doctor Delicious?

M: No… What about just a name that you pick that might be a bit like your name?

H: meh…What about Giant Penis Man?

M: I’m not putting that on the blog.

H: Come up with your own then.

M: *sigh* Alright.

Fine, Handsome Lad it is then, HL for short.

I can call you Teh Internets…

and Teh Internets, when you call me, you can call me…well…Aili (pretty close, huh? Pronounce it A-li.)

(I never really got the whole ‘Betty’ and ‘Al’ and ‘bodyguard’ thing, but this gives some insight…I guess. Not sure how good teh internets are at being anybody’s bodyguard, and dunno if I’m anybody’s long-lost pal…let’s just see how it goes, huh? *grin*)

Stats and Facts
*Australian
*Married to an American
*Lived in the US for 7 years, from about age 23 to 30-ish (and will move back one day)
*Currently living back in Australia
*1975 is my birth year
*errrmm…we have 2 cats, no kids. That may change at some point in the future (the kid bit, not the cat bit…though, conceivably, cats could die I s’pose…they were very expensive to ship to Australia from the US though, so I hope we get our money’s worth)
*And, that’ll do. It’s always nice to have some concept in one’s head about the owner and updater of a blog, but I don’t need to overshare this early in the peace.

🙂

Not a grape

Long time ago, when I was ’bout 9, my family and I went on an extended vacation around Europe and Asia. We needed to take quite a few flights to get from place to place and I (even though I’d never flown before this trip) was starting to think of myself as a ‘jet-setter’; a ‘woman of the world’; a ‘burgeoning sophisticate’, if you will.

The routine and rhythm of flying was something that I found both comforting and exciting, and I especially looked forward to mealtimes – the whole ‘sssh’ of the cart down the skinny aisles; the hoping they hadn’t run out of chicken by the time they got to me; the quick bathroom break before the stewardess reached my seat; the clearing off of one’s miniscule table; and, most specially, the perfectly-packaged, neatly-designed, compartmentalised meal-tray.

The whole meal-delivery process just filled me with joy. It was so efficient and wrapped and little – all specially purposed for lots of people in a tiny space. Each time a meal arrived (which is VERY often on a long flight) I would carefully and gently unwrap the cutlery and the food packets, and eat every morsel, even if the food was not something I would usually be that fond of. It was all about the experience. Somehow it tasted more interesting, more grown-up, more … just more.

Two particular meal incidents stand out from that overseas trip as a child. Unfortunately, they stand out because they both introduced a fly into the delightful aeroplane-meal-ointment.

The first meal-time that I recall so clearly proceeded uneventfully until the point when I decided that I was finished…  I must introduce an aside here: One of the things that I loved/love about flying was the fact that I had a large chuck of time that I could use however I wanted. I could get up and go to the bathroom, I could watch the movie, I could listen to the looped music channels, I could wander down the aisle, I could have a snooze – all when I chose (pretty exciting for a 9 year old).

After my meal was finished I thought about what I might like to do next in my grown-up flying journey. I didn’t have to ask my parents if I could leave the table, I didn’t have to clear said table of dirty dishes, I didn’t have to wait till my little brother was finished eating… On the other hand, it wasn’t that convenient to get up and go for a wander either, as the stewardess hadn’t yet cleared away the meal-tray, but I could stretch out and read and have a bit of a nap. I extricated my book, leaned back and reclined my seat.

There was a yelp from the seat behind me. As I’d pushed my seat back I hadn’t quite thought through the fact that there would be another passenger who was eating his own meal, which was balanced on HIS miniscule tray table, which, unfortunately, was attached to the back of my seat… The first course of this meal had been soup, which, needless to say, had ended up all over this poor gentleman, along with the remains of his second course.

I was, of course, hideously embarrassed as my, also mortified, parents tried to help the stewardess clean this man up. The rest of the flight was quite spoilt really, what with the not feeling game to recline my seat again, the shame every time I went for a walk and had to glance at the man, and the feeling very much like a child again.

When I went on another flight some years later I noted, with satisfaction (mingled with some righteous indignation), that, these days, the tray tables seemed to be attached to a common swivel point below the row of chairs, not directly to the back of the seats. I’m still nervous every time I recline though… 

The second of these stand-out meals was, if I recall correctly, on a flight into Greece. To prepare us for the spring weather – it was May – we were served a meal soon before descending which mostly consisted of a large salad. This was one of those menu items that I wasn’t normally keen on, but, when served it on a plane, I ate with gusto.

I’m usually an ‘eat-what-I-least-enjoy-first-and-save-the-yumminess-till-the-end’ kinda person. The yummiest part of this salad, I had decided, was the delicious black grape garnishing the top of the green salad. It was plump and dewy, indicating how recently it had come from the fridge. I ate my way through the lettuce and cucumber and tomato and cheese, looking forward to the lovely burst of crisp sweetness at the end.

I finally had nothing left on my plate but the grape, and so I popped it into my mouth and bit down, expecting the flavour of perhaps a muscat or seedless flame. The next thing I was aware of was that I was, involuntarily, spitting up/vomiting all over the gentleman in the seat in front of me. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what had happened until my, again mortified, parents shot out of their chair and tried to clean up, while questioning me as to what had made me do it.

I, at that point, realised that what had previously been in my mouth was not, in fact, a lovely grape, but a disgusting black olive. My very-first olive. On the way to Greece. All over another passenger – along with the rest of my lunch. How sophisticated was I?

I’ve never really been able to appreciate olives, as an adult…