Leave Means Leave

No, don’t worry, this post is not about Brexit. In my recent short story collection every title is related to Brexit, but the stories are about relationships, and so is this post. I recently decided to seek some online support for my situation as a straight woman being married to someone with gender dysphoria. Support’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Don’t you just love having someone on your side? In a culture where trans rights are celebrated and their spouses forgotten, where even to question the right of people to identify as whatever they want and however they want is to risk being branded a hate-filled TERF, you really need someone in your corner, right? Someone who gets it?

Well, you’d think so. And with that in mind I fired off a query to a support group for straight people living with gay or trans partners. Great, I thought, finally I’ll be around people who know what it’s about. And so they do, but it turns out support is a double-edged sword. The problem is that everyone knows – or thinks they know – how the story goes. You’re happily married for a time, sometimes a long time, then the partner comes out as gay or trans – it’s a horrible bombshell – you are devastated – you have a time of adjustment and negotiation and finally – and this is the inevitable part – you split up. If you don’t – and here’s the rub – you’re basically putting up with things. Subjecting yourself to unhappiness. Being unfulfilled. Not putting yourself first. And so along with all the supportive and encouraging comments there has been a persistent thread running through, along the lines of: Please put yourself first. What’s in this for you? And you may come to the conclusion that, painful though it is, you have to choose between staying in a relationship and finding happiness. Thirty years ago the perceived wisdom would have been he’ll get over it, just stick at it and you’ll come through, or it’s just a phase, or whatever. Now, the perceived wisdom is that the change is permanent and that in order to find happiness, you must put yourself first and that means leaving.

But not all stories are the same. They don’t all have the same narrative arc and they don’t all end the same way. I don’t know how this one ends but neither does anyone else. And at the age of 62 I think I know my own mind about this.

What is it again?

Here‘s the group if you’re interested.We’re all struggling with something and we’re all on a journey so let’s be kind to each other and not assume we know the answer.

Kirk out

And on That Note… Thoughts on Editing

It was last thing at night. I was sitting up in bed reading and OH was drifting off to sleep when suddenly I heard a voice say urgently: ‘Tenrecs have 29 nipples!’ Now I happen to know that a tenrec is a hedgehoggy sort of thing so thankfully I didn’t have to ask, and I suppose the fact of it having 29 nipples is sort of surprising but I couldn’t really get worked up about it. So I did what I always do and made a note with the aim of either putting it on Facebook or blogging about it. So there we are and now you know; tenrecs have 29 nipples – presumably because they may have up to 29 offspring to suckle, I wouldn’t know.

Making a note of things is a practise I got into a long time ago; I keep a book by my bed for anything that occurs to me during the night and wherever I am in the day a pen and paper will not be far away. Professor Branestawm used to make notes on his cuffs (those were the days of detachable cuffs which were regularly laundered, which meant that he lost a lot of great ideas in the wash) and I used to make notes on my hand but I don’t do that any more because my hands aren’t big enough and besides it’s probably not good for you. But discrimination must be exercised in the writing of notes, otherwise you can end up with far too much material, so I’ve adopted the practise of waiting and assessing: if an idea doesn’t immediately demand to be written down, I wait a moment and see if it becomes insistent. If it doesn’t, I let it go; if it does, I write it down. As time goes by I’ve become more confident in the ability of my mind to remember things as it needs to. Some thoughts need to lie fallow and mature before they can be worked.

So as the editing season begins for Nanowrimers (I shan’t begin till the New Year and maybe not even then) here are my thoughts on editing:

First, editing begins in the mind. Even as you write, the mind is sifting and selecting ideas, words and phrases, even if you’re writing quite quickly. This process is largely unconscious but it’s interesting to watch: just try standing back and observing what happens as you write.

Second, there is no hard divide between writing and editing. You do not ‘write’ first and then ‘edit’; editing is writing (though sometimes it’s un-writing) and writing is editing. However between the first and second (and subsequent) drafts of a work there is likely to be a difference in emphasis between getting things down on paper and improving the expression of those things.

My main problem is that whilst I’m able to subdue the critical mind during the first draft, it necessarily comes to the fore during editing. But unfortunately, mine doesn’t know when to stop: as soon as it’s let out it rushes at the words like a guard dog at a burglar, chases them up a tree and keeps barking until the police arrive – by which time they’ve lost the will to create. I’ve managed to write a first draft without self-criticism, now I have to find a way of editing without being super-critical.

Kirk out

Six Incomprehensible Things Before Breakfast?

Some mornings I get six incomprehensible things shoved at me before I’ve even finished my first cuppa, and this morning was one of those.  First, OH was talking about the Half-Bakery, a repository for weird or half-baked ideas (hence the name).  It’s quite a waste of time, though as OH heatedly informs me, some of the ideas have gone on to be produced in what we are pleased to call the real world.

So this morning, before my bleary eyes had even fully-opened, a load of stuff is coming my way:

OH: I’ve had an idea for the Half Bakery

Me: Oh? What’s that?

OH: It’s a Brexit Advent calendar.

Me:  Sounds like as much fun as Dismaland.  Monday, Gloom, Tuesday, Hard Border, Wednesday, Food Shortages, Thursday, Labour Shortages…

OH:  Yes, but it wouldn’t work because of Call for List

Me:  What?

OH:  You’re not allowed to make a list of things

Me:  Oh

There’s a pause and I go back to doing the crossword. But no, it’s not over; there’s more.

OH:  When’s Listopad?

Me:  What?

OH:  Listopad! When is it?

Me:  What the hell is Listopad? 

OH: Don’t you know?

Me: Sounds like a brand name for post-it notes

OH:  Ha ha. It’s a month.  In the Slavic calendar.

Me:  Oh my god.  You actually think I know this.

This is just some of what I have to deal with in the mornings. And I hadn’t even had a cup of tea yet. It’s not fair.

Kirk out

It Doesn’t Comfrey, You Know

I learned yesterday about a saying in German where if something goes wrong someone will say ‘That wouldn’t have happened if you’d put your glasses on.’ I don’t know what it is in German but it’s good to have a phrase like this which smooths away conflict, a joke which everyone recognises as such and which creates common ground where there might have been argument. This happens in families too: like most families I suspect, we have catch-phrases that have to be said in a given set of circumstances. When coffee grounds spill somebody will always say ‘that’s grounds for divorce!’ and when things go wrong on a Thursday it is compulsory to comment ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’ And on The Simpsons, Homer comes up with the phrase ‘it’s my first day’ which people start using all over the world to justify the most horrendous cock-ups.

So it is inevitable when I tell OH that I’ve spent the afternoon gathering comfrey that I will hear the phrase ‘it doesn’t come free, you know.’ Which is funny but entirely untrue because it is free and it grows all over the place. I now have a bag-full of the stuff which will be melted down – well, left to liquefy anyway – and then added to water to fertilise our plants. Comfrey leaves are high in nitrogen and make an excellent plant food. You can place the leaves round the base of a plant as well if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the liquid.

And that was Monday. It’s bloody wet here, what’s it like where you are?

Kirk out

Excuse Me While I Colour the Sky

Just when you think it’s safe to wake up in the morning, this happens:

OH: I have serious problems understanding why the sky is blue.

Me: Oh?

OH: Don’t you?

Me: I hate to break this to you, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it

OH: In fact I don’t believe it is blue. I think it’s actually purple.

Me: Oh, right

OH: Don’t you think so?

Me: I don’t know really. I don’t think about it much

OH: I have serious problems understanding why the sky is purple.

Silence

OH: do you know what I mean?

Me: I really think you should stop asking that question

Last night I went to see Rocketman. I first came across Elton in the early seventies (I still have Honky Chateau) and have always considered him a total one-off. There’s a sort of rocket theme going on at the moment with the oddly-titled Stephen Poliakoff Summer of Rockets (I’ll probably get to that later) but the biopic was stupendous. It was stirring, stonking, stupefying and contained stupid amounts of alcohol and drugs.

The story begins with Elton in a red and gold outfit with wings – like a cross between a superhero and a carnival queen – walking off stage and into rehab from where he tells the rest of the story in flashback. The narrative focusses on the early to middle years: Reggie’s childhood with an emotionally absent father and a self-indulgent mother – his Gran the only person who takes an interest – his scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, his interview with a record company and subsequent meeting with Bernie Taupin and then the rocket-like trajectory of his success. And here the film really goes to town with the songs, the outfits, the glasses, the concerts, the parties, the coming-out as gay, the fake marriage to Renata, the success and the excess and the final crash.

What made the film so great and so un-cliched was the naturalistic acting of Taron Egerton (he also played Eddie the Eagle) and his singing! I was astonished to discover that he actually sang the songs, as he managed to sound so like Elton and yet without parody.

The film was made in collaboration with the singer himself and it finishes with a short update and some pictures of him with David Furnish. It was a shame the film didn’t get as far as his friendship with Diana but then that’s a whole nother story.

So there it is. Now showing at a cinema near you.

Kirk out

The Taming of the Shrewd

When OH was little they visualised a shrew being like a mouse with its nose sharpened: I like that idea as it sounds like a good Just So story.  I could even write it: ‘Once upon a time there was a mouse who stuck its nose into a pencil sharpener…’ I won’t go into the misogynistic symbolism of the shrew, but it’s interesting to reflect on the history of the human nose.  Why, when someone is inquisitive, do we call them nosy?  It surely can’t be coincidence that every inquisitive person I’ve ever known (when I’ve remembered to check) has a large or very pointy nose.  I guess it figures that if you’re curious about the world and not afraid to – well, poke your nose in – you’d have a large or pointy thing keeping your eyes apart.  (My nose, in case you’re interested, is not large or pointy but it is hard; a fact OH never fails to point out when assessing my character.)

A propos of this it occurred to me, watching last night’s Louis Theroux  investigation into sexual abuse on American campuses, that he has a very large nose – and there’s no denying that Theroux is an inquisitive person who has made a career out of poking his nose into other people’s business.  He goes to places and asks questions most of us would feel very uncomfortable asking.  In this programme he follows a couple of cases where men accused of sexual assault on campus were acquitted by the courts but found guilty by the university and suspended from study.

The programme puts us the position of a jury hearing from witnesses, Theroux acting as both defence and prosecution.  He is an expert on getting people to talk and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions.  Of course this is not a trial and what we see is only what the programme chooses to tell us; we have to remember that.

SPOILER ALERT

The first guy, an Afghan man who came from a refugee camp to America and made it to Yale, initially appeared quiet and unassuming but later on, doubt was thrown on his story by someone who had previously been an advocate for him.  The truth of these stories is very hard to piece together for the simple reason that only the two people present in the room actually know what happened.  So you have to fall back on who you think is the more credible witness.

I ended up completely changing my mind about the Afghan guy and seeing him as smooth and manipulative; but there’s a wider point here about how you deal with situations where the law cannot satisfactorily establish innocence or guilt.  Rape and sexual assault are horrible things and you can’t help wondering whether the ponderous and long-drawn-out procedures of a courtroom are the best place to establish the truth and dispense justice.  Perhaps for more minor offences we need a different environment, something akin to family courts, perhaps – an environment that’s less hostile and adversarial.  There’s just something a little bizarre on finding a shelf full of files detailing court procedures on whether a man did or did not hold a woman’s hands above her head and stick his mitt down her pants.  It’s not that it’s out of proportion; it’s somehow alien to the original situation.  I don’t mean to trivialise such events which are horrid; I just wonder.

Kirk out

Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Since OH makes the tea in the morning and not only doesn’t understand tea but has difficulty with half-measures, I never quite know what I’m going to get.  Sometimes my morning cuppa is in the Goldilocks zone but more often there’s either too much water or too little, resulting in a watery mud-colour or else tea the shade of oak stained by decades of nicotine.  I can usually tell just by lifting the pot whether it’s right or not, and thereafter approach the act of pouring either with glee or with a due sense of trepidation.

OH is tempted to wonder whether the British have evolved to detect a greater spectrum of brown in order to discern whether our tea is of the correct strength.  It’s an appealing idea but as we’ve only been drinking tea for a couple of hundred years (and taking it black in the beginning) I think we wouldn’t have had time.  But who knows?  Maybe even as we speak I am part of that very process of evolution?

It’s been quite cold here in the mornings but by midday it’s warmed up to an unfeasible extent, resulting in a temperature hike of about fifteen degrees centigrade.  I’ve been taking advantage of this to dig the garden, turning soil while the sun shines (and boy does it shine!  Twenty degrees on Monday; I’m torn between enjoying it and being terrified by climate change) and so enhancing my ability to appreciate different shades of brown.  Spike Milligan certainly could, drowning in mud in Italy:

There’ll be brown birds over

the brown cliffs of Dover…

So who knows?  Maybe by a combination of gardening and tea-drinking we will have evolved to see fifty shades of brown by the end of the century.  If we survive that long…

Kirk out