Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Acceptance? Tell THAT to Inigo Montoya!

I am not religious.  I think we have covered that, right?  But I hear this Serenity prayer a lot:
"God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference."
Acceptance.  It stares up at me from the engraved stone paperweight upon the desk from which I type.  It is not my desk, but the live-in, non-lesbian gal-pal, "Monica’s."  She’s very zen and gets a lot of satisfaction from life-affirming mottos.  I, do not.  I rather want to take that paper weight and lob it into Lake Scranton. 
Why should we accept things we can’t change? 
Why should we give up?
Inigo Montoya never accepted that he would fail to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. The odds were against him, but he never stopped trying, and is, for that reason, one of my most beloved film characters. Let's have a gratuitous clip! 

I don’t think it’s serene to be a quitter and throw in the towel.  I mean, most writers didn’t accept the fact that the majority of agents rejected them; most inventors don’t just throw their prototype away; so how do we know what to strive to save, and what we should watch tornado down the U-bend?
There are several times in my life where I have given up.  I’m not saying I’m proud of them, I'm not.  I am also pretty sure there are more examples than these, but these are the ones that race to the finish line first:

1)     Sports Day 400 m sprint.

2)     Relationship #2 #10 #14
Now, I was never all that athletic.  Sure, I’d cheer—being vocal was never a problem—but actually moving my body with the speed, strength and skill that my brain had so purely conceived, was never my forte. 

School Sports Day and Swimming Sports Day were, therefore, always a wee bit of a trial.  Okay, so we got an afternoon off class, but Sod’s Law was that it was always a class I enjoyed, and would much rather have been doing, than Humiliation 1-0-1.   But there it came around again, Sports Day.  *Grrr! Gnash teeth*.  And there was I, in scratchy, synthetic green athletics pants and second-hand air-tex, proving once again to all my class mates that I was, in fact, the only 15 year old who was so flat-chested she was practically concave.  (Oh, the cache of having boobs then would have made life so much easier!)  I digress.  

Seriously, these were mean-ugly uniforms that were, frankly, emotionally scarring.  Girls aged 11 to 18 should not be made to wear ugly green granny pants.  Full-stop.  I mean, really?  What is the pube-skimming point?  Oh, because an inch more fabric that might make the less-than-hot pants more luke-warm shorts, and would cut down on aerodynamism?  Please.  They were ugly, they were scratchy, they were wrong.  Never do this to your children, Parents.  Never do this to the World, Fashion People.

I was lucky to go to this girls school, because it was far more than my parents could really afford. Most of my items of uniform were from my 5ft 8 neighbour--I was struggling to make 5ft at the time--so I always looked somewhat comical. I even had my brother’s old hand-me-down Dunlop Green Flash trainers. Nike Air they were not. I can still picture their chewing gum white canvas uppers, the thick white rubber sole, the linguine-like laces, the tattoos of my brothers initials, covered over with my own in black marker. Far from ghetto, it just looked like I couldn't spell my own name, so not only was I gawky, unfashionable and sport-spastic, but apparently I also suffered from severe dyslexia.
Ah! Probably the cheapest shoe you can buy for your first child, then give to your second, stained and tangy.  Ta, Mum!
It is one thing sporting such a look, paired with uncoordinated inability, but it’s quite another proving your spasticality in front of the entire school and their parents, siblings and family friends, most hoisting camcorders just to make sure that your complete humiliation is captured forever more.
And so it was that my teacher decided, in the absence of anyone else volunteering, that I--Ennie-Oh-14-minute-mile--should take on the reigning county athletics runner in the 400m.  If I had the bolshy nerve my friends had, I would have nonchalantly proffered the monthly excuse they seemed—poor wretches—to be tormented by EVERY WEEK—Jesus, I must have been in the most menstrual class known to man—but I didn’t.  She had picked me and so, call to arms, I must do my class duty. 
*Sound the bugles!*

When the fateful day arrived, I actually imagined I might win—amazing the tricks your psyche can play on you! I envisaged that white ticker tape snapping as I ran through it, the cheers, the sound of  Chariots of Fire ringing in my ears, the trophy and maybe even the school record! Where I imagined I had conjured this sudden ability is beyond me, but I could see it on the backs of my eyelids, and I could smell victory in the fresh cut grass and the cloying stench of the latest highly perfumed deodorant my friends deemed it “cool” to be using.  (Something begining with a 'K' that smelled of toilet cleaner and Christmas trees.)

I took my marks, as directed, in the inner lane.  My opponent, templed her fingers to the ground, haunches skywards, focused for the pistol.  Oh, thought I, we are doing this proper Olympian-stylee--what a hoot--and I took some seconds to arrange self in what I suppose I would now refer to as, downward dog.  I probably spent far too much time getting comfy and not summoning my running muscles, because the expected “bang!” of the starter’s pistol caught me quite unaware.  What?   Fuck!  Ah!  Where?  Oh shit, she’s running! Goooooo legs, go! And as the Nike Air of my opponent ripped into the turf and away, my Dunlop Green flash squeaked retardedly into action.
I wish I could give you a good account of myself.  That, as I had envisioned, I had suddenly become possessed by Flo Jo; that the banana I had secretly wolfed down, because Linford Christie had a campaign on the telly about banana-gy, had fired my muscles with its potassium and magnesium goodness.  Alas, I can only report this: I was crap.

For the first lap I tried.  I beat my non-running limbs like little whisks; I thumped my arms as if I were having a sparring match with the Invisible Man; she only got further and further away. 
I remember the cheers from my class.  Oxymoronic encouragement—we were quite the snide achievers—“Come on Smell-eanor!”  “Run, Boobless! Run!”  Their enthusiasm only made me want to cry.  I gritted my teeth and pounded hard, but my legs were burning, the lactic acid gnawing at every sinew. 
I turned into the home straight and she was there, flying into the white ticker tape, feeling it snap against her impressive chest.  The cheers were for her.  The applause, for her.  The trophy that would be engraved, for her.

And I stopped running.

I gave up.
I believe—although this bit is a tad foggy—I pretended I’d pulled a muscle.  I yelped, limped, felt somewhere on my leg and stumbled off the track, without ever crossing the finish line.
That was seventeen years ago, and something that has never sat comfortably with me.  I accepted that I was beaten and I just gave up! 

Did I ever stand a hope of winning?  Hell No!  I was crap!  I think I've made this clear.  But I wish I had carried on, even though there was not a darn thing I could do to change the outcome.  Especially, since for me, this pathetic ending reeked of dishonor.  Shit, I don't think it was even a very convincing injury performance!
I am not saying that one incident taught me a life lesson, but I tasted the bitterness of giving up, and I didn’t like it.
Life has thrown a few sHituations since, mainly relationship-orientated ones, where I have shrugged my shoulders and let go, even though every fibre of my being has yelled “Come back!”  Mum had schooled me in the merits of retaining one’s dignity over actually exposing Self to hurt and saying what you really feel.  I thought this “acceptance” the classier thing to do.  Acceptance and denial that it was ever of any importance or worth anyway.  But, you know what?  That's bullshit.  The classier thing, surely, is not to pretend, but to fight for what you really want, or at least tell someone how you feel, rather than pretending.

I was never going to win that race, but I should have trotted on and taken a bow, proud of my true-blue-crap-at-sport-Brit heritage.  
If you are staring at defeat, what have you got to lose?  Pride isn’t so important when you’ve been unemployed for six months; when you feel a lump or see a mole that wasn’t there yesterday; when you are watching the love of your life slip away. 

Would you remain stiff and inert, paralyzed by pride; would you put up your dukes, but pretend to pull a muscle and limp out to lick your wounds when the going got too tough; or, if this is it, really and truly, what the fuck!  Wouldn’t you run?  Fuck the pretence, blow the stiff-lip, but with thighs burning and arms boxing, looking like a fool, wouldn't you at least bloody well give it a try?

So, I suppose what I am saying is, who is to say that a situation is hopeless or impossible?  If you don’t fight to change it, you’ll never know.  And even if it is irredeemable, wouldn’t you rather be the person who can say, “I gave it my all,” rather than, “Oh, I just half-arsed it, saw I couldn’t win, so gave up”? 

Whether fighting to win for fun, for sport, for work, for survival, for love, don’t be a Half-Arse.  Royally fuck it up with both cheeks exposed, because that will give real serenity.  You can rest your little over-thinking brain, because, props to you Lovey, you gave it your best!

I love this scene from Love Actually.  Andrew Lincoln's character has fallen in love with his best friend's fiance.  He is tortured.  Whilst he would not act dishonourably to his friend, for his own sanity and serenity, he has to tell the fiance he loves her, "without hope or agenda" and once he has, finally, told her then, then, he can let go.

Like Lincoln's character, only when I know I have done or said everything I can; when I have swallowed the lump of fear amassing in my throat--cunningly lodged to smother what I really want to say; when I have ignored the attack in my colon; spoken through the shallow snatches of breath and the yelling in my head that MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  THIS COULD HURT!  BRACE YOURSELF!  INCOMING!; only then, when I have stripped Self of every defence mechanism I've hidden behind, can I be serene.  So I have rewritten the serenity prayer.  Blasphemous, probably, but …

Grant me the courage to fight for what I want,
Never to accept mediocre, half-arsedness,

(Even when others tell me I should give up and limp off)
But to give my all and know that opening Self to vulnerability and loss,
Takes more courage than hiding behind any protective façade.
Oh, yeah, and grant me wisdom too.  That's never a bad thing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Everyone's a Little Bit Schadenfreude... la la

This Christmas Holiday, I sent a message to the Mothership.  "Please advise all that I will not really be doing Christmas this year.  I don't want to be embarrassed should folks from Blighty want to send me something, so please ask them not to.  Thanks, Mummita. Love me."

It's not that I am a Scrooge--although I am wearing legwarmers and gloves right now.  No, please don't buy me a Snuggie--I'd just don't want stuff that I will then have to accommodate in the Brooklyn Shoebox and--Heaven Forfend--dust!  I'd rather hibernate, write, read, listen to Adele, with a cannister of chocolate and a vat of wine.  (With a bendy straw.) This is far from an alternative Christmas; in fact, I am holding the very bastion of British Christmas dear: misery and chocolate.

Let me explain my choices:
Adele has the wisdom beyond her 23 years.  She writes lyrics that gut me like a freshly caught jail island salmon.  Shit, she is one heartsick chick.  My non-lesbian, live-in gal pal, let's call her *Monica,* has commented, after having to listen to the same agonized tune play from my computer over and over,
“Adele seriously needs to have a successful relationship.  Or lashings of good, hot sex.”  But, I disagree.  Sorry, Adele.  If I wanted to listen to Mariah Carey's Jingle-fucking-Bells, I would.  I want misery, goddammit!  Pure, unadulterated, gouge my eyes out with  a rusty trowel, pain. So Adele’s angelic voice, bemoaning her stressed and collapsing pulmonary, will be the soundtrack to my Christmas.  Her unhappiness is quite the comfort.  Why is that?  I am no sadist.  I don’t want others suffering, and yet my own puffy-faced, pre-Christmas-Mis is loving her great Cockney choral complaining.  I’m not even German, but I’m reveling in Schadenfreude, right now. 
"What's that?  Some kind of Nazi word?"
Well, click on and listen for the full explanation:

Maybe it is because the holidays are coming, and Adele reminds me of home: of being apart from Mum and Dad and Oliver, as they three sit at the table made for eight, pulling crackers, wearing paper crowns, talking about the gravy and the roasties not being as good as last year’s organic offering from Sainsburys; of settling down for the turkey coma to set in whilst watching the EastEnders Christmas special, in which someone will undoubtedly die, eating a glass bauble--yes, it happens; or in a house fire, because Ethel fell asleep after her annual sherry, her lit cigarette smouldering up the synthetic, brown 1968 sofa;  or because there was a particularly heated argument in which Alfie discovered Kat was sleeping with Matt, Martin, Pete, Phil, Rickeeeeey and Uncle Tom Cobbly, and now half the Square is dead, dead, dead and floating in the Thames. Ah yes!  I could write the script!  Downton Abbey, it ain't.
If 2011 has left you hemorrhaging from the eyes with disappointment, it is such a comfort to see, hear and sing about others less fortunate.  Tidings of comfort and joy?  Fuck that!  We Brits like a dollop of misery to make us feel better about our own shit-uations, then we pass around the Quality Street tin full of chocolate jewels, and allow the chocolate opiate to dull our senses.

Oh, you think I’m joking?  No, really.  Chocolate.  It is a traditional part of a British Christmas: teasing kidlets with the mouthful of chocolate behind their advent calendar door, and then, WHOA, WHEY HEY!  It’s the 25th Choc-fest! While Americans sit back and watch the marathon brain-melt of American Football, munching Christmas cookies and chugging the eggnog, we Brits watch a marathon of low-income misery-drama and have a high ol’ time on chocolate.  As we age, we also add wine which aids chocolate consumption.  (No, am not being so cultured as to say we pair our vino with dark chocolate to bring out certain notes.  We just drink beyond our dietary inhibitions and stuff our faces.  It is Christmas, after all.)

Chocolate actually releases certain neurotransmitters, which signal between neurons.  Impulses shuttle along our neurons to illicit movement or sensation, so the more particular neurotransmitters we have, greatly impacts on our mood.  I’ll spare you the science, but basically chocolate-produced-neurotransmitters can cross the synapse from one neuron to another, and trigger the receptors to fire off different responses in other neurons.  It’s Chocolate Domino Rally. 

You’ve probably heard of three of the main happy neurotransmitters: endorphins, which reduce pain and stress; serotonins, which are anti-depressants; and phenylethylamine, or “chocolate amphetamine,” which causes changes in blood pressure, can quicken your heart rate and thusly, illicits that heart-pumping feeling of being in love.

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid we ingest, is a pre-cursor of serotonin, and guess what is tryptophan-rich?  Uh huh, turkey!  So really Christmas Choc-Fest and Turkey-Gorging is just one big Serotonin Orgy.

Really, with all this going for it, chocolate should be a major food group.  Does Anthony Bourdain know this?  He’s all about the meat.  The more “unctuous” the better, but he used to be about the drugs.  If only he knew that chocolate was a legal drug.  But then, his story would be much different and not half as scandalous or entertaining.

So, if you should see me over the next week, without my family, not wearing a paper crown, or telling a crappy joke and lighting my Wolverine eyebrows on fire when flambeing the Christmas pud; but instead, bundled somewhere in New York or Pennsylvania, wailing Adele, watching miserable TV, and eating vast amounts of chocolate, know that I am merely celebrating in a very British way.  And if this rather alien description paints a sad picture to you, then maybe I am giving you the gift of Schadenfreude this Christmas,
"we provide a vital service
to society, You and me,
Schadenfreude, making the World a better place to be!"

God Save the Queen.  And Chocolate.  And Wine.

"Yes, we know we are alive when it hurts."  Don Lafferty.

*Please note, the Monica of my blogette does not smoke or play with cigars.  Or Politicans.  She just likes the name.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Times flies. Are you having fun?

I remember a book I read summers and summers ago.  Actually, remember is a bit of a stretch, because I don’t, but ingrained indeliably through the fog of time is a particular quote.  It has stuck with me for over a decade.  I found it so profound I stopped reading, reached from my bunk in a caravan somewhere in a field in Southwold, where I was performing that summer, grabbed my purple inked pen and wrote it down on the front page of my turquoise leather-bound diary (I have always had a penchant for turquoise, and leather, and luxurious stationery.)

Organic pathways. This contains ethanol. How do I not remember it?
I’m glad I did write it down, for otherwise, it would be lost, swirling within the dark coils of the forgotten, along with organic pathways, how to ask for help to change a tyre en francais, and how to disassemble a SA80 rifle; things that only a French-accented hypnotist with a big pocket watch could help me access now.

My eyes snapped magnetically to the quote like an iron filing.  I suppose I liked it so much, because I am, at the core, a romantic, and long, run-on sentences bursting and crumpling like a soufflé of desperate emotion, just GET me.  They stab me in the heart and twist the knife like a Calabrese, they churn my intestines as if through a meat grinder, they suck the air from my alveoli and leave me breathless.  They strike me like a bowling ball, straight and true, and leave me scattered.

Par example mes petits lapins, in Dirty Dancing, when Baby confides to Johnny, in a helpless, heart-pouring way, “Me? I’m scared of everything!  I’m scared of who I saw, what I did, who I am.  But most of all, I am scared of walking out of this room and never feeling my whole life, the way I feel when I am with you.”  Surely, surely, one of THE most stomach-flipping lines in modern cinema.  (And I could type it without even looking it up.)  (Should I admit to that?)

Here is the clip, in it's I-recorded-this-on-my-camcorder-in-the-basement-of-my-parent's-home-where-I-never-leave-and-I-wear-a-snuggie glory.  Apologies for the quality of this, the better ones were all protected, this one wasn't.  And it shows.  But, pah!  At least those of you who read that quote and wondered what I was gibbering on about, will now know.

Now, don’t get your hopes up.  This is not a line of such erupting emotion, but as quotes go, it is one that resonates with me as strongly now as it did over a decade ago in a caravan in Southwold. 

“Time.  I’m so scared of time.  That suddenly the portion in front of me will be smaller than the one behind me.”

I am terrified of wasting time.  I type this blog after over five hours waiting  for my flight in Fort Lauderdale airport courtesy of Jet Blue—oh, I had the Jet Blues alright—so it’s on my mind.  You know I don’t like my time to be wasted.  And, if you don’t know how much this offends me, I refer you to TIME WANKERS: I'm Waitinggggggg!  I suppose time is even more of a kick in the arse as I am paralysed, like actually deer-in-the-headlights-frozen that, at 32, the majority of my eggs have been cooked. Poached? Scrambled? Fried? Fertilized? So, you know, I am just a lil' bit ancy pantsy about time.
My zen friends tell me to live in the moment.  Ah.  Sweet.  That’s just peachy.  Sure, I’ll go with the flow!  Look Ma, this is me, going-with-the-flow, no hands, unplanned, I’m just letting it be. 

Phooey.  If I don’t have a plan with a deadline, however am I ever going to have something to aim for, something to achieve?
I had goals this year.  I sincerely thought that two years since signing my retainer, this would be the year.  The magic P. year.  (And no, I don’t mean pregnancy, I mean the book baby, the book baby!)  But here we are.  It’s December.  How the fuck did that happen?  Was I sleep-living through the last eleven months?  Did aliens kidnap me, probe me (we are talking Aliens here, and I have just watched Paul) and did these little green men steal my time from me?  (And my eggs?)

Why is it that we all say, “OH! December! The years go faster every year!”  No they fucking don’t.  I’m a scientist, and I know I have the same 365 days to use or waste as everyone else, but yet, IT’S DECEMBER, HOW. CAN. THIS. BE?  (No, am not forgetting Leap Years.  Don’t be pedantic.)

Ennie-ana Jones, bringing it back.
It’s not just me, right?  Tell me that I am not the only one who has been alien-ated by the space-time continuum?   Why is it that the sands of time are running out before my eyes?  It can’t be that I’m busier than ever, because retirees who mark their days by seasons of what shows are on, say it: “Oh, the year’s just flown by!”  Where?  Where has it flown?  I want to go to there and rescue it back.  I’ll throw my Indiana Jones hat on, my new trusty brown leather riding boots, my rope and my rifle (which I’ll try to remember how to assemble) and I’ll rescue it all back!  I’ll lasso it and bring it home, along with my thyroid, my cocker spaniel, my grandparents, the man I love so much I can hardly breathe.  All the things I have lost and so desperately want back.
Just give me the address.
Or failing that, answer me this: why does time fly faster?  How can I slow it down?  Not death, obviously.  That’s not all that appealing right now, thanks.  But why does my life flash before my eyes?  How do I live "in the moment," when so much is swirling around like a tornado and slurping down the friggin' pipe like a thirsty, deprived Catholic on spring break?  
And why are tears so, so salty?  I want it back.  I want it all back.