modern dating

I recorded my friends while they were on Tinder. I can honestly say this is the greatest accidental podcast.

Highlights from the first 20 minutes:

‘Good arms…has a puppy…IS A FIREMAN?!?!?!’

‘He has a short face…as though he’s probably short. I don’t know how I can tell he’s short from looking at his face, but I just can’

‘Okay Andrew, which one are you out of this Motley crew?’

‘Mentioning that you don’t have tiger photos is the new tiger photo’

*

‘I’d swipe right on your brother’

‘HEY!’

*

‘This is a step up from the tiger – has a falcon…and a bandana….and a PIRATE SHIP!’

‘Open mouth! That’s a good sign!’

‘Too green!’

‘Oh archery, that’s different, I haven’t seen much archery’

‘Blendr, what even IS a Blendr?!’

‘IN WHAT ALTERNATE UNIVERSE WOULD THAT EVER BE DEEMED ATTRACTIVE?’ *disgruntled groans of pain*

‘Did they recently do a loser outreach program or is it normally this bad?’

*

‘It’s like panning for gold…there’s a tiny speck…oh no, it’s just a bit of glitter’

Everyone yells at once: ‘FOOL’S GOLD!’

*

‘Oh this one works for this cool company, maybe you could get a job out of him’ –

‘Yeah if I could get a job out of it that would be cool’

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU TWO?!’

*

‘Knock on the sky and listen to the sound!’ (reading someone’s bio)

‘Hold onto the potential dream’ – ‘No, he’s wearing a waistcoat’

‘and you know how they all put up a shirtless photo and sometimes you’re like maybe you shouldn’t?’

‘Is that a girl?’

‘It looks like his head has been cut out and put on his body’

(and some rare success)

‘YES, YES, YES!’ … *sing song voice* ‘It’s a Match!’

Tiny’s Handy Guide to Always Loving Someone

Life is tough, you guys.

There’s so much to deal with – other people, animals, food, things to do, people to love, people to lose, food eating, stuffing the face with as much food as possible.

Look it’s mostly just about eating, I’ll be honest with you. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is deluded.

But sometimes people confuse eating feelings for loving romantic feelings. It happens. Don’t be ashamed.

Now, if you have never loved a person before, this is apparently less ideal than the alternative, which is to have:

a)    Loved

And/or

b) Lost

A person (and NOT…just a chicken wing).

That sounds like crazy talk to me. So let me get this straight – it is apparently BETTER to have poured your soul into another person and watch on helplessly as they walk away, never to look back again, leaving you floundering like an abandoned puffer fish.

this is you

this is you

Or so the saying goes…

I’d like to dispense some worldly advice on how to proceed should you find yourself still loving someone uncontrollably.

1. Firstly, accept it. Accept the whole god dam lot of it. Whatever you’re feeling. Just go for it. Pick it up, hold it out in your hands and coo at it like a tiny little bird. That little bird is your broken heart. Hold it tightly.

2. Now throw that bird into the air and WATCH IT FLY!

3. If the bird is not flying, please contact local animal services immediately. I won’t have this bird’s death on my hands.

4. There is no bird.

5. METAPHORS.

6. You should look back on the past when you loved that person and think about everything that happened. Wasn’t it a rare, happy, unforgettable and beautiful time in your life? Think of all those crazy moments.. All the memories? Yep, grab those too. Gather them all. Don’t become embittered through the battle and forget all of a sudden. Don’t let them flutter away like the torn up pages of a love letter or the ashes of the photos you most definitely did not burn because they’re on your hard drive, duh.

Please stop burning your hard drive.

Put. the hard drive. down.

Why do any of this? Because all of this was worth something to you once and it will always be worth something to you. You can’t deny it. You can’t put off any suffering like it’s some kind of ‘lay buy’ item that you can’t afford right now, and will deal with later. You have to deal with it at some point. It will catch up to you. And Suffering has a lay buy policy of 28 days, quite possibly.

And as one very wise housemate recently said: ‘think of everything in your life that was the most worthwhile thing you’ve ever experienced. I guarantee there was some element of suffering involved in getting to that point’.

So feel ALL THE EMOTIONS. Also, try to live with a meditation guru, like me, they’re good value.

cake

7. Don’t feel like taking the one way ticket downtown to memory lane? No worries, I’ll go first and make some memories for you. It’s 3am and you’re sitting in your bathtub, drunk off your face, fully clothed and trying to brush your teeth. He’s also drunk and trying to climb in to the bathtub to brush his teeth. It makes no sense, this is not a place for hygiene-related manoeuvring, please stop that immediately.

You both start laughing hysterically.

‘We’re so crazy in this bathtub!’

Someone mentions the word pizza and you think, shit, we need pizza right now! But you’ll never make it out of that bathtub. You’ll pass out there, intertwined with them because they are all you need in that moment, only you won’t know that until it’s too late.

That’s a memory you’ll keep for future reference.

That’s a feeling you’ll learn to recognise in time when the right person comes along.

Cherish it because when they leave – and they always will – you’ll want to remember every little thing. This will be the first sign of when you come alive once more.

8. Look, I don’t mind if you borrow some of my memories: he’s bleeding from his arm and waving his hands around. ‘You’re bleeding!’ you shout, but he’s not listening. This is the drunkest he’s ever been. He stares at you, his eyes widening. ‘oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’.

‘What, what is it?’, you say, distressed after having to wake him up from off the pavement and then again in the taxi.

‘OH GOD. OH GOD. You’re the most beautiful girl in the entire universe! WOW, I can’t believe it what is this life?!’ he cries out, completely distressed. He passes out, bleeding. He has no recollection of it the next day. You remind him he cut his elbow. He laughs, pulls his shirt up and looks amazed by the bandage there.

You ask him if he remembers flipping out in the elevator over you but he doesn’t remember.

No matter – you will always remember.

How fucking wonderful is that?

(goodbye to 9)

10. ‘It can be like our honeymoon’, you say, sitting in the park for an impromptu picnic after you pretend to fake marry each other in order to placate his mother’s fears of living in sin.

11. You’re reminded that you’re not really married to each other. Mostly at the airport before he goes back to Germany and says he is afraid of settling down too young. You brush this off while eating a chicken wrap and tell him to story worrying. You ignore everything, especially the chasms of doubt in his voice. You only hear the vibrating echoes of loneliness that characterise the next three weeks of his absence, only to be replaced by the calming feeling that comes from his return and how the vintage gold love heart that dangles from your neck seems to remove all traces of doubt.

That love heart is not a real heart. You still have yours in your chest cavity. Let that dangle from inside of you, let that push down any doubt that might surface. Don’t remember how his sister would whatsapp you late at night from Berlin, broken words flashing across your screen cruelly,

but he told he will come with you to Germany

and that he want Marry you

we bought the heart

and he searched for a Marry ring

– did he?

Yes. He asked the man. And we looked.

12. You’ll be sitting in a circle on the rocks, huddled around a bonfire, the crashing ocean to your left, looming cliffs to the right, passing whiskey around and telling ghost stories. He takes your hand and you think, how can this ever come to an end?

And it never does, because here it is, immortalised in words.

12. When you find yourself going over the same things over and over again – the way they walked away, the way they came back, the way you walked out of that diner despite a whole plate of fried chicken and sweet potato fries sitting before you (seriously, why is this the part you can’t get past?!)

Or the way you made coffee for him when he was trying to come back to you. You spilt the coffee in a rush to bring it to him and in return he rushed towards you, grabbing your hands, looking in your eyes. That was how you knew he still loved you and maybe always would; when you knew that people could still do that, even though they’re not with you anymore.

Think about the time they got trapped in your fire escape and you left them there for a little bit too long for a bit of revenge, the way your eyes would travel to that stupid art thing about love that you bought on a whim – how you had your names engraved on it –  okay that was too far why did you do that. Definitely tear that thing down.

But all of that is part of the process of healing. Meditate on it for a little while then cast it aside. Free up some space, make some room in your brain. And for God’s sake, sort out that fire escape issue – your building is a hazard to all people!

13. Give yourself enough distance from them, but once you’re in a better place, rekindle the friendship. Don’t lose people you truly love. Maybe they’ll still be awesome at the end of it.

14. When you do rekindle the friendship and meet up for burgers, and you find yourself starting to well up with tears with every chip you eat, knowing the meal will soon be over and the sweet, sweet burgers will be gone, but also how they too will be gone, don’t hold back. Cry if you want. Cry all the time. I’m all about crying.

Just know that one day you will stop crying.

Or at least, that’s what you’ll tell yourself and it might not be true. But that’s okay too. It’s okay to want to cry for the rest of your life.

Own it.

15. Try not to fall apart completely when your eyes give you away. Yes you still care. Yes they can still tell. Don’t even try to hide it. Instead, start singing, ‘I saw the sign and it OPENED UP MY EYES’, then do a little dance shuffle number. They’ll bloody love it!

16. Lie in the park with them. Go to hold their hand automatically then withdraw it almost immediately, hoping they won’t notice (they will). Definitely hold down the tears when they talk about that new girl they have a crush on, even though they hesitate so much before telling you. Don’t think about being in parks and having picnics and honeymoons.

It was a fake honeymoon.

Be happy for them.

17. Take everything they wrote to you, every single word. Read them all and smile, knowing it was real, it lived and you felt it in every part of you. Take it all in, knowing how it was unique and powerful and that no one on earth will ever truly experience what you did with that person. It was yours, it always will be.

It’s marked down in your soul, don’t you see?

Oh look, you’ve stopped crying.

Walk home now.

Go back to yourself.

Be you again.

Feel better yet?

Musings on Spike Jonze’s Her and how technology can set us free

The credits rolled at the end of Spike Jonze’s latest film ‘Her’, a film I had been waiting to see forever (I saw it the day it came out).

I swiftly felt the ramifications of the film ending, as though someone had punched me in the stomach repeatedly and only paused to see my reaction. It seemed like my head was trailing metres behind my body as I exited the cinema.

‘What the hell just happened?’ I said to my cousin as we walked out.

‘I don’t know…I’m confused and not sure if I liked it’ she replied.

But it wasn’t a question of liking it or not. It was a matter of picking my heart up from the floor, peering inside to see if it was broken and then placing it back in its socket, so it could resume pumping blood to the rest of my body. Only I couldn’t articulate that in so many words.

Torn between not knowing how to feel about the main character who, in the trailer appears to be lonely, forlorn and a bit of a loser, thereby eliciting my sympathy, to suddenly seeing him in the feature length film in a whole new way. He’s just another messed up person — your average, emotionally disconnected male. No sympathy really, just empathy.

He’s a real life human. And so seems she, her, the operating system named Samantha.

***

The setting for Spike Jonze’s film is quite out of this world, but so palpable at the same time. Like you could reach out and grab it by the face. The technology was tangible, possible. You could relate to it but you also couldn’t relate to it. You felt on the cusp of something bigger, brighter, more daring.

I wanted to be there in that place.

The tones were warm, full of rich reds. The colour blue was notably absent from the film, to further accentuate that warmth, a real antidote to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (Sofia is Jonze’s ex-wife).

I know a lot of women who found the whole film slightly jarring. Like my cousin who found the sex scenes weird. And yet most of my male friends seemed to love the film unconditionally, citing it as one of the best they’d ever seen.

My director friend Jeremy Brull wrote:

‘So I think ‘Her’ may be the greatest cinematic love story of all time.’

It’s a weird sort of thing. Does Spike Jonze just get the male concept of a love story. Or does it transcend gender?

At one point Rooney Mara’s character in the film, Theodore’s ex-wife, blurts out sarcastically,

‘You’re dating your computer?’

And later Theodore would say to the voice called Samantha;

‘You’re not a real person’.

I know what it’s like to hear that level of skepticism in someone’s voice. I know what it’s like to love someone who isn’t real, someone who mostly lives within your head. I know what it’s like to become addicted to that fictitious notion, even if it’s in the conventional sense of that person definitely existing in real life, just differently to how you imagined them, and so far removed from you, that the only way you can experience them is through their voice.

It’s a special kind of madness. But I know how powerful that voice can be.

I believe we are capable of understanding and translating these complex human emotions from a distance, from a voice, through words on a screen. And I fear that there are still those who are unable to understand it, or who are afraid of it and how much it makes them feel and it holds us back.

I can’t vouch for the more formalised online dating because I’ve never tried it, but I can tell you that I spent my early teens meeting all kinds of ridiculous crazy characters via the Internet. Most of those resulted in friendships but for many, there was something that transcended friendship. It was a confusing time to be a teenager. We were literally on the cusp of that technological shift.

We knew both worlds. We still do.

A girl I had literally met through the comments on a band’s MySpace page and who I developed a kind of online pen pal friendship with, once flew halfway across the world for me based on that friendship alone. She had no idea if I was even real. She was my modern day internet pen pal. I’ve known her for 8 years and we’re still good friends who hang out (IRL) to this day.

I have other stories too. The photographer we met in New York through Tumblr (still good friends to this day). That guy I met through Twitter who I ended up casually dating for a stint. My most recent boyfriend who I met through Facebook mutual friends. The list goes on.

And of course, my favourite of all the stories — that time my heart leaped into my mouth almost instantaneously for a person who would go on to become one of my closest friends, someone I really did love in the end and all from an accidental, case of mistaken identity on Microsoft’s Messenger. He is like another version of me, my other person, a kind of soul friend, anam cara. Someone I look at and recognise almost instantaneously. That’s a kind of connection that transcends the every day, a kind of lasting rarity you don’t just find or stumble upon in the middle of the street, but one you trip over in a late night chat room.

He was the first person I ran to when I saw the trailer for Her.

‘You’ve gotta see this! It’s like us’.

***

‘But in Her, he’s meant to be all by himself, responding only to a voice, and so the performance is a floating, free form solipsistic dance. It’s not pure solipsism because Samantha exists, but you might be watching a four-year-old talking to an imaginary friend — it’s that inward.’

I had imaginary friends as a child. I was lonely and severely shy to the point of being a mute. I refused to speak to another person I didn’t already know (and even when I knew them I struggled). I couldn’t understand others. I shut myself off from the world and created my own in the forms of characters, stories, scenarios. As an adult, we call this being a ‘writer’, lol.

***

Every now and again a boyfriend will look at me with concern and ask,

‘What’s wrong?’

And I usually respond with a curt ‘nothing’.

‘I can hear it in your voice’ (what can you hear?)

And then they’d ask:

‘Why don’t you love me as much as I love you?’

I’d argue back, somehow trying to make the emotions more apparent. But you can only reproduce so much before you have to admit to yourself that maybe you’re not as capable of showing as much raw, unfiltered emotion as you once believed yourself to be. Or maybe the emotions you used to feel were different, stronger and more powerful.

I wonder if my story is the reverse of Her — if I started off knowing technology’s powerful hold over my emotional landscape and have since struggled with the translation of that to the real world.

I remember as kids how my brother and I used to have profound, existential conversations late at night in our bunk beds. He had wanted so much to teach me. And he used to have these grandiose predictions about future technology that would both scare me and leave me in a state of perpetual awe-filled wonder (some of those predictions have come true but not as fast as he thought they would).

‘When you go to Loreto…’ (I was enrolled from a young age) — ‘…you’ll all have your own computers!’

‘Nooo’ I’d cry out. ‘I want to have typewriters’.

‘Nah Ree, computers are the future! Everyone will have their own laptop one day too! Fuck typewriters’, he’d say.

(We were both right, the hipster version of me eventually got my way with two typewriters that I never use, while the practical, realistic me is typing this on a Mac).

A few people and critics have remarked that Her is a chilling warning about the dangers of technology. That the film is a cautionary tale to put the smartphones down and step away from the computers and connect with people.

And I have to ask – did we watch the same film? And Spike Jonze himself asks that question for real with an irritating interviewer.

Because what if technology quite simply helps us connect with people in a more profound way? Why is that so impossible a thing to believe?

‘The relationship is real enough to make us ask what a relationship is and whether the coming so-called singularity — when artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence while humans’ minds will be broadened by machines — will change the way we relate (or don’t) to one another.’

I don’t see the film as a critique of our dependency on technology. I think our boy Spike used film and technology as the medium through which he has chosen to tell a love story that transcends the human experience. It’s as simple and as powerful as that.

Our fear of technology is a paralytic one. It hinders progress, it shames those who look inward and struggle to interact on a day-to-day basis. Sure, it can have a negative impact when used to the excess or when people become addicted. But truthfully, how often is that the case?

Recently at a family gathering, most of the kids were on their phones or iPads. We staged an intervention, forcing everyone to put their devices on a table in the middle of the room and we each took turns going around the room and answering questions about our interests. The Beatles movie was on in the background and we started singing along to the song. Later on my way home, I used Shazam to tag that song and then I listened to it on Youtube, Instagrammed a photo of our hijacked devices and tweeted about the song on Twitter, humming the song all the way home.

And the outcome? I felt more connected to everyone than ever before, and that one moment of indescribable beauty had a kind of prolonged longevity, recorded for the ages, there for us to look back on. It became permanent.

I’ve had at least four previous boyfriends comment that I was addicted to my phone (so pretty much all of them). I’m one of those rare senior social media managers who has been in this industry for too long. So apart from the fact that I’m paid a lot of money to monitor and be responsible for many high profile online communities (sometimes having a second phone to do just that) that close minded attitude always irritated me and still elicits a very frustrated reaction when those concerns are voiced in a condescending manner.

What are they afraid of? That I would pay less attention to them? That something was more important to me for a nanosecond? That this was what my life had become and they’d just have to accept it? That I had made a choice to step away from the old world and catapult myself directly to the new one, with or without them?

And with every dissent from this old, tired, echoed voice, it sort of cemented my own independence and how much I didn’t want to be dragged down by the closed off archaic world. Maybe the definitions and parameters of love have changed and have already evolved into something more, something you can’t back down from or shut out as easily. Perhaps it’s a very real and tangible thing in our lives, existing in a myriad of ways.

And I can assure you that if you haven’t yet experienced it, technology will help you get there.

windows and mirrors

A few people have joked that I’m the ‘How I Met Your Mother Window Girl’, most notably my best male friend a few Christmases ago, which went a lot like this:

‘I just want to say that you’re the window girl and I need to tell you I love you before you meet your next boyfriend, also, I have drunk a lot of egg nog’, he then proceeded to pass out while still on the phone.

My female best friend called me no less than a week after the break up and said frantically,

‘DO YOU HAVE A NEW BOYFRIEND YET?!?!’

I replied with a firm ‘No way, jose!’ and she breathed an audible sigh of relief.

‘Okay I’ll call in a couple of days in case it changes. Don’t be the window girl this time!’

I don’t know how I got to be that girl, the one who has trouble recognising the infinite amounts of happiness on hand when she’s completely alone and at peace with herself. I’ve been single for seven whole weeks now – count them – seven! And although these weeks have been frought with an endless array of unneccessary drama and OTT ridiculous love declarations from unwanted suitors, the truth is I’ve never been happier, more comfortable or more confident with myself than I am right now.

I have so much clarity all of a sudden. I see people through a translucent window, see right through them in order to see what’s on the other side, waiting for me. I see myself even more resolutely: like a photo that comes with one million pixels.

Speaking of photos and clarity, I found this photo from over a year ago that I had taken one day, bored and miserable at Christmas lunch and pissed off because we were the only family who had shown up for my grandmother. So I went into my old room in her house and I took pictures through a mirror, making an array of ridiculous facial expressions. There was only one serious one I took and I think I liked it the most, but I probably didn’t really care about it and quickly forgot about it. After the break up, I found the photo, stared at it for five minutes and then decided to upload it. People reacted quickly to it, everyone had an opinion about this photo and what was happening, but most interestingly, it seemed they wanted to know who took the photo, which is adorable because, as you now know, it was me who took the photo while looking into a mirror. Don’t question the genius composition of the epic artistic selfie guys; just let it wash over you.

And I think what I have come to love about this photo is that it’s how I truly (quite literally) see myself. It’s the most accurate representation of who I was in that one moment in time and who I still am today, albeit a blurry, slightly out of focus version. What remains is a fiercely strong yet sensitive warrior, someone willing to love despite the hardships. Someone so capable of loving others in all forms but still resolutely determined to love herself above all else.

And on that note, here is something that made me shiver with adrenaline.

What most people call loving consists of picking out a woman and marrying her. They pick her out, I swear, I’ve seen them. As if you could pick in love, as if it were not a lightning bolt that splits your bones and leaves you staked out in the middle of the courtyard. They probably say that they pick her out because-they-love-her, I think it’s just the opposite. Beatrice wasn’t picked out, Juliet wasn’t picked out. You don’t pick out the rain that soaks you to a skin when you come out of a concert.
Julio Cortázar

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‘I am smart’ or how I feigned stupidity in order to read books all day

‘Literally my first memory of you is just of a silent curly haired human’

– my best friend

tiny3

I was five-years-old when I first decided to speak in public. Up until then, I communicated by way of pulling at people’s clothing. This treatment was reserved for everyone outside of my immediate family, including my extended family. I had a lot of cousins to visit back then and they would take my ignoring them personally. They would try everything to coax me out of my hiding spot to go and play, but I refused.

‘Preeeeettty please, come and play! Pretty please with a cherry on top!’ even going so far as to literally drag me to my nightmare.  ‘Unhand me, Yankees!’ I would say in my head, run away and then proceed to stare at them from a safe distance, as though they were lepers.

I had nothing to say to actual humans because they disinterested me and I did not know how to be myself around them. So I made up friends of my own and they lived in my imagination. These friends were based on things I noticed around me, like a bartender named Moe, possibly born from watching too much of The Simpsons. A likely scenario might entail the following, while hanging out on the patio, leaning on the fence.

‘Another round Moe, it’s been a tough day. Yes beer, you fool. I was expected to speak out loud on two occasions! Make it two beers for every time I had to SPEAK pah’ *spits*.

My kindergarten teacher Miss Cordial (her name sounded like cordial) would say,

‘Sheree you can’t keep tugging at my skirt when you want something, you have to speak up and say, ‘Excuse me Miss Cordial’. Do you understand what I’m telling you?’

I stared blankly at this person, talking to me like I was an idiot and tugged at her skirt again. She made me sit in the corner to think about what I had done. Instead I thought about how ugly her brown skirt was and how badly I wanted to communicate using nothing but the power of my mind.

Due to my assumed ‘muteness’ or extreme shyness, I was relegated to special one-on-one ‘reading classes’. This was a compromise. During a parent-teacher interview, my teacher feigned surprise at hearing my mother speak fluent English.

‘Oh, you speak English?!’

‘Yes, I was born in Australia’

‘Oh it’s just…well we thought you didn’t, because Sheree refuses to speak’

‘She’s just very shy’

‘Yes well perhaps we should run some tests?’

(What happened next is a flurry of angry exchanges, before finally agreeing to the reading classes).

It was assumed that the reason for my non-speaking had something to do with having Lebanese ancestry. This puzzled me, as we spoke English at home and still to this day, 20 years later, my main method of communication with my grandmother is to speak in English with a slightly exaggerated Arabic accent, wild hand gestures and the occasional role-play. Good job, School, with your casual racism. The only reason they suspected a different ancestry was due to a high profiled football player’s nephew also going to that school and them being related to us (that cousin was also in the special classes but I suspect it was because of his physical disability rather than any mental one. GOOD JOB, SCHOOL!)

I remember once in kindergarten, we had to present something to the masses for Show and Tell. I had no possessions of any substance, so I opted to speak of my weekend.  I conquered my speaking fears for this one moment, to speak in the tiniest of whispers:

‘So tell us Sheree, what did you do on the weekend?’

‘I went to see my Sita’

‘Your sister?’

‘No, Sita’

‘Yes your sister’

‘I don’t have a sister’

‘Then what are you saying?’

‘My sita, she’s the mother of my mother’.

‘Oh. That would be a grandmother Sheree’

‘No. She’s not a grandmother, she’s a Sita’.

I assumed everyone knew that Sita meant grandmother, like how everyone knows that Nonna is Italian for Grandmother. But this was 1993 and Aladdin hadn’t come out yet and ‘kebab’ was yet to enter the lexicon, so I was the stupid one, yet again. The only other Lebanese girl in the class disassociated herself from me, the peasant village girl, by way of shrugging.  ‘We say Tayta’, she spat out indifferently.  I stared at her stupid snobby face and whispered, city slicker traitor.

***

To my surprise the special English classes were with a lovely older woman with white hair. Let’s call her the Fairy Book Godmother. She was the mother of a student who volunteered to come in once a week. At first I continued with the not speaking thing but she threw a spanner in the works when she started bringing books and asking me to do the same. She would read to me and I would read back. I was six at this stage and already reading more advanced books. This surprised her. She asked me to spell difficult words and I would do it effortlessly. She trained my memory by asking me to recall the most insignificant of details from books she had read to me weeks ago. She stopped with the lessons at some point and we would just read together. That one day was the highlight of my week and I couldn’t wait to leave normal class for it. My teacher suspected this and began plotting how to get me out of the classes to which she had recommended I do in the first place.

I continued to play dumb so I could stay.

One day the old woman whispered to me,  ‘Don’t tell anyone but I think you’re a tiny little genius!’

I smiled and hugged the doll she had asked me to bring in, which was apparently, as I’ve since discovered, a very creepy faceless rag doll named EC who made dreams come true (ABC kids shows were very creepy back in the day).

The Fairy Book Godmother encouraged me to make friends with the new girl in my class. She loved to read like me and we were both little recluses with no friends. We’d write notes to each other and plot ways to secretly read our books when the teacher wasn’t looking. We’d spend lunchtime in the library, exchanging books. Occasionally an English boy named Benjamin would try to tease us, probably because he knew we were secretly awesome and wanted to hang out with us but we shrugged him away. He often chased us through the library and eventually the librarian kicked him out, possibly physically as they were wont to do in that time.

Rachelle was my only friend apart from the made up ones. She even kept all the notes I used to write her back in the day.

Clearly a gifted writer from the beginning.

Clearly a gifted writer from the beginning.

Maybe the reason I chose to move through the world quietly was because I was surrounded by so much loudness. My uncle lived next door to us in a house with my grandparents. He had an uncontrollable rage and a variety of life threatening conditions, which affected him both physically and mentally, leading to frequent violent outbursts. He was a gargantuan man who couldn’t possibly fathom his own strength. They said it was a rare case of Elephant Man’s Disease, but to me he was always the Big Friendly Giant.

His heart was pure and real and big and he would do anything for us. My brother and I were his favourite niece and nephew; he loudly proclaimed this to his siblings whenever he could. We would play cards and watch football and he’d tell us all the little life secrets he had picked up and we would hang on his every word. He was kind and gentle for the most part, but around other adults he would get frustrated, often snapping and exploding into a frightening and dangerous rage. There was always a fear that someone might get seriously hurt, although it was never his intention and he never let himself lose control while we were there.

You’d find him alone, standing outside his sister’s room, guarding it while she was away in Japan, refusing to let anyone go through her things and yelling at anyone who tried. Sometimes you’d find him quietly weeping, self conscious and scared. He was 27 when he died. My estranged aunty returned for the funeral with my little cousin who didn’t know who her uncle was, and couldn’t understand why I was  now, more than ever, adamantly opposed to speaking.

***

Not long after all of this and two years after the reading classes began, I stopped going to the special lady and went back into an elected silent mourning.

Then came the big bang. I attended a ‘Book Fest’ which consisted of a few local authors signing their children’s books. I was awestruck by the whole affair and instantly began plotting my dream of becoming an author, so I too could sign books at a local fair. I knew I had to stop with the no speaking stuff. There was no time for that now. The Fairy Godmother of Books wasn’t coming back. It was all me now and I was determined to fulfill this dream.

(Another note Rachelle kept confirmed this dream, nay nerdom at the age of 8:  I wrote: ‘I got some stationary from book club! Oh and also I’ve started a special thing that will help me with my writing and will publish my books!’ – BOOKS, plural, good God, no wonder I had no friends.)

I started writing in a journal for my teacher, who would stare at me with suspicion, like she couldn’t quite understand how the girl who had trouble spelling ‘the’ (way ahead of my time with ‘da’), could suddenly start producing tiny works of fiction about toy bears who suffered from loneliness. She’d ask me how I learnt to write like that and I would shrug and point at the books on the shelf, stating that I had read them all and would it kill her to order in some new ones? She smiled and sent a brand new book of poetry to my house. The racist teachers had left the building. In came the literary ones, the ones who taught me words and who would spot me reading in class and say nothing.

One day a thought flew into my head, so I wrote it down in my journal.

Three words: ‘I am smart’.

The Fairy Book Godmother had left the building but her impact did not go unnoticed. She helped me discover the one thing I would go on to love more than anything else in the world. Perhaps the saddest thing is that I cannot for the life of me, remember her name. I can only remember that glorious golden feeling of opening the books and reading the words out loud.

here, take it and smash it.

First I thought this is pretty funny, being broken up with on the day the world was meant to end (dec 21) but then I was all like no, nope, this sucks and I sprained my jaw from vomiting rather violently. I then tried to think it wasn’t all bad. After all, haven’t I done this to people before? Ripped their heart directly from its socket and played hacky sack with it? Surely this is all just a cruel bit of irony after this exact guy left his girlfriend of three years for me, I mean isn’t that how it works, they run you over with their karma? And hey, it’s not all bad, I mean it’s only a few days before Christmas, surely all that food’s going to help plus people, alcohol, presents! Apart from an inability to keep food down, the whisky and 80% moonshine-esque alcohol provided by my uncles, definitely helped numb something, so it wasn’t all bad, except that it was bad, all bad with the Christmas and the babies and the happiness and I just wanted to stab it all and can someone please explain how and why uncle Fred and aunty Magdalina are still together even though they hate each other with a venemous, unrivalled hatred that has withstood the test of time?

But then! Alas! Right before New Year’s Eve, he decides it was all just a big mistake, let’s forget it ever happened, here are some male tears (can’t say no to them!) and let’s just move on together shall we and forget this ever happened? Onwards and upwards, together we’ll fly into the sun and we’ll go back to normal and move to Germany and hey ‘wouldn’t it be cool to get married? What? Why are you looking at me like that? Oh because I tried to break up with you two weeks ago, that’s true, sorry’. And I had no say in the matter. I wish I had said no. I wish I had said ‘fuck off’, maybe I did, but did it matter? There is no willpower in this field of dreams, and so I cried and was happy and here we are now, two months later, on Valentine’s Day and I am consoling him on the fact that he is breaking up with me for the second time because he’s confused, even though he loves me and misses me and can’t live without me quote unquote. It’s very tough for him you see, to be the arsehole the second time running. There there. Everything will be okay. In hell.

So here I am, feeling very much like my stomach has been used as a punching bag. I don’t know why I’m writing this, maybe to feel something that isn’t sheer and agonising grief but you know what, it’s not working, not even a little bit, not even at all.

Happy Valentine.

eagle eye

A film magazine editor has taken to calling me ‘Eagle Eye’ for meticulously picking up his typos. This is like that time an entire office nicknamed me Words Joseph. Some random person (not in on the lingo) would be like ‘hey Sheree’, and I wouldn’t answer, too busy writing 50,000 words a minute.

The Creative Director would call out ‘Hey Words, someone is talking to you’.

‘Yeah what, need some copy written, what do you need, no worries I can do that *types really fast* HERE YOU GO, IT’S DONE!’

I miss being a copywriter, back when words were everything.

Love, What Even Is It, Indigestion?

A wise man once said:

‘What is love, baby don’t hurt me? Don’t hurt me. No more’.

Despite not making any sense, one simply cannot deny the genius behind the lyric.

Up until about five months ago, I would have told you love was just this thing people thought they experienced in lieu of what they were actually experiencing, namely indigestion from eating the eggs too fast. The questioning of love and the affirmation that it hurts is one of life’s greatest mysteries, hence why early 90s pop music attempts to evaluate it by way of disco analysis and backing vocals. But in truth, I no longer believe that love is an enigma. Instead, I’m here to tell you that it’s real, it exists and maybe it’s similar to the feeling you get just before you dip real fast down a rollercoaster while holding a burrito.

My epiphany arrived on the wings of a whisky-laden evening and I thought I dreamt the boy into existence. Maybe I did. The jury is still out on that one. Somebody pinch me.

The opening scene starts with me waiting in line for a popular underground bar.

ME: ‘There’s something about tonight. I feel like I am supposed to be here, waiting in line with these peasants!’

(Technically I didn’t *really* say that, but in hindsight I very well could have).

All of a sudden I saw someone I recognised popping out for a cigarette. The very sight of someone familiar validated my decision to wait in line to enter a bar, on my own, on a Friday night. I had recently met this French guy who worked with my friend, meaning the aforementioned friend was also there at the bar. So now we have ourselves a party.

As I greeted the Frenchman, I didn’t have a chance to look too closely at the unexpected yet excruciatingly handsome chap that followed after him but I saw him in my peripheral vision, and gasped slightly, for he was wearing a Bob Dylan t-shirt and my peripheral vision has good taste. We exchanged pleasantries and a few ‘oui oui monsieurs’. The bouncer, Freddie, also of a French-speaking background, spotted me and playfully chastised me for waiting in the line when I could have just sidled up and walked straight in (I’m there so often, they include me in the company’s expense report). As I am swiftly ushered in, I only briefly glanced behind me at the exquisite yet strange male presence that hovered in the alleyway with my French buddy. I quickly glimpsed them both, embraced by the dark shadows and the smoke from the cigarette. Yeah. There’s something about tonight, I thought to myself. And it’s smoking.

I walked down the stairs and even before entering, I could smell the familiar dark wood, the swirling whisky as it hit the hand cut ice, and the burning wax candles hanging ornately on the wall. I spotted my friends with relief and walked confidently to them. Overjoyed to see me, and a little surprised as they did not know I was coming, they quickly plied me with a potent Tomy’s margarita. I regaled them with stories about running in to French people and we laughed jollily, floating and hovering around the bar greeting our good friends, the bartenders. We may have been wearing top hats and monocles, I’m not sure, my memory is hazy about such details that don’t involve ‘The One’. End scene.

Act two, or something.

The mysterious dark figure in a Bob Dylan t-shirt from earlier has appeared from out in the alleyway and into the romantic confines of my favourite place. With my back to the brick wall, the candelabra above my head, and a pile of warm wax pile nudging my skin, I  try to blend into the background somehow, like some kind of lizard doing the ‘brick camouflage’ trick. He walks past and quickly glances at me. My camouflage has failed. The candlelight has betrayed me. My stomach dives behind my liver because it wants no part in any of this and my whole body reacts by way of spasmodic twitching and I might have been sweating too much. So, basically, I was playing it cool.

Not a word was exchanged as he continues past. I look into my glass and the giant ice cube looks back at me rather menacingly, like the iceberg that murdered the Titanic. And when I look up again he’s standing right in front of me, inches from my face, holding his whisky. He looks at me, but not just at me, he looks at something behind me. In my flummoxed state I assume he must be looking at something more interesting, like a fat man in a clown suit, but in hindsight I realise there is a brick wall behind me and not a painted clown face in sight. He must, in actual fact, be looking into my eyes. But why would a person need to do that? They’re just eyes we use to see things! Wait a minute, is this the set of a Nicholas Sparks movie?!?!?! I did not sign a waiver authorising any clichéd filming or generic posters of heterosexual couples madly kissing and embracing in the rain or non-rain! But before I can say ‘unhand me yankee with your intense gaze!’, I realise that I want him to look at me like that.

At that moment he looked so deep into my eyes, I became suspicious about what he might find there. Abandoned toys. A second language. That time I stabbed my brother in the leg with a pencil in a fit of rage. And then he sees beyond even that because he already knows who I am and accepts the angry little 8-year-old girl within, yielding pencils like a crazy person. I don’t mean this in a figurative, meaningful, destiny-filled way. I mean he literally knows who I am because his friends explained who I was and he was intrigued. He introduces himself and we chat.

It’s not long before I realise that that I have met my match. The second thought that crosses my mind is “I think he’s the male version of me.” And the third thought? OH GOD OH GOD, HELP ME, I’M FALLING INTO A PIT OF LOVE. Game over everyone, you can all go home, thanks for your attendance; I must now plan our wedding in my head.

When he looks at me with his large, round, brown eyes, I feel as though he sees something that no one else has seen before this night. He sees me for the first time in a way that stays with me. He sees me as I am, as I want to be, as I should be, as I always have been. I never realised just how intensely you can look into a person’s eyes and know right away that everything is right with the world and maybe, just maybe, they won’t turn out to be a serial killer.

You are where you need to be. You can stop looking now. You’ve found an important piece of yourself in them and now you can lie down and rest because it’s been a long 24 years of searching, you need to freshen up and powder that nose, and while you’re at it could you maybe do 100 sit ups because you let yourself go for a bit there, okay tubby?

Most of all, what I want you to take from all of this love ranting is that you don’t go out searching for love (while eating cheeseburgers). Instead you let it come to you, like a puppy dog or a boomerang gone AWOL (and then you treat yourself to a celebratory cheeseburger).

And it will come to you when you’re ready for it, and possibly a bit drunk on tequila.

It always does.

And it won’t hurt you. No more. (x 2)

And to answer your question Haddaway, well truthfully, you already did, via the female vocal back up lady.

What is love? Love is:
‘Whoa whoa whoa, oooh oooh

Whoa whoa whoa, oooh oooh’.

PS. this is the bar.