Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Calling Supernanny! 11.08.13

The little dog takes two steps up the path, then stops to sniff at a bush.  “Come on, darling…” the man pleads weakly.  Another step up, then the dog plants itself.  “He doesn’t want to come in!” the man wails.  “He’s never been like this before!”  Then he sighs.  “Thank god he’s with me and not his mother.  She’d be in tears by now!”

This, I kid you not, was a scene that took place last week at my day job.  Our main problem these days is not with dogs who are aggressive, but who have been brought up with the idea that they can throw tantrums to get what they want.  If they object to something they will not have to do it.  If they have a meltdown they can use it to control the people around them.  The owners/parents who create this sort of behaviour are usually incapable of dealing with it; not only they can’t manage it or stop it, but they can’t even stand to witness it.  Do you think this a manifestation of sensitivity, kindness or love?  You might think differently when you have to deal with a dog whose nails have grown so long that they’ve curled over and are now growing into the pads, not because she was neglected but because “she gets so upset” and the owner “couldn’t bear to hear her cry” when she got her nails cut.  So the dog hasn’t been able to walk properly for weeks or months.  Yay caring sensitivity; what a win.

 Now, if this was happening occasionally I could put it down to random stupidity.  However, this is a common and growing trend.  To me most of those “issues” are not issues at all.  They are just no-brainers: the dog needs her nails cut, so you cut them.  The more you do it, the more she’ll get used to it.  The less you fret and fuss, the less she’ll think there’s something to fret and fuss about.  Hey presto, over a short space of time the dog is “cured” of her “phobia”.  It is, however, a problem that encompasses all aspects of behaviour.  We increasingly see dogs who work themselves into screaming frenzies over everything and nothing.  They are not happy with something, so they go from barking to howling to SCREAMING to throwing themselves about in a way that could really hurt them.  This is often the result of something as simple as not getting any attention.

The owners react to it by trying to reassure and calm the dog down.  Hey, fantastic.  So the dog was getting no attention, didn’t like it, started throwing a hissy fit which you now REWARDED by giving the dog attention.  Guess what’s gonna happen next time the dog feels ignored, hey.  You just TAUGHT the dog to have a meltdown.  Brilliant. 

Me, I’m a heartless cow.  If any of my dogs threw a stunt like that…  well, you know, they just wouldn’t.  They aren’t trained in the sense of being able to do tricks[1], but they know how to behave.  I don’t beat them and I don’t shout at them; they are happy, balanced, beautiful animals[2] who know how to negotiate most situations and stay out of trouble.  But, by Jove, they know what NOT to do.

So is this blog about what a superior dog owner I am?  No, not at all.  It’s just that last week, as I was trying to prevent a dog from bashing his own brains into a wall mid-meltdown, I was thinking how he reminded me of half the kids around my town.  The number of times I get told by parents “I can’t do this and that, because Little Johnny won’t let me” and I’m thinking jeez, Little Johnny is not yet three.  If you can’t manage him now, what are you going to do when he’s thirteen?  Now, I’ve never been a mum.  I have, however, been a stepmother twice, and no way in hell I’d ever utter the sentence “we can’t go to the shops because Little Miss won’t get in the car.”  I’m sorry, that gets filed under “things that just don’t happen.”  There isn’t a universe in which I would let a toddler dictate what the rest of the family is doing.  Again, I didn’t beat and I didn’t shout at “my” kids.  I took into consideration their needs and wishes.  I never let them walk all over me, though, and I never let their bad behaviour win a situation.  The first time my stepdaughter threw a tantrum I fireman-carried her kicking, screaming and punching all the way home, whistling to myself[3].  Her second tantrum was a muted, half-baked affair.  There never was a third – why would there be?  She got absolutely nothing out of the first two, and she’s not stupid.  All that hard work and no reward?  Meh.
 Oh, so this is a blog about how superior a parent I am?  Erm, no.  Because, still mid-dog-wrestle, I rearranged my thoughts and realised that no, he was reminding me of half the people around me in general, not just the kids.  And this is when I start ranting, because we have turned into a nation of toddlers – and brattish toddlers, at that.  I constantly see behaviours in fully grown adults that should have been knocked out of them[4] before they ever hit preschool.  But no, not only do we tolerate them, but we seem to have made them socially acceptable.

For instance, when exactly did “I can’t deal with this” became a “get out of jail free” card?  Have I missed a memo?  Are we now excused from grown-up duties because they are difficult?  Now, I understand that some adversities are hard to manage; grief, for instance, turns me into a big puddle of uselessness.  However, as a society we are now using the “can’t deal with” excuse/reason/nonsense to just waltz away from what are OUR responsibilities, OUR duties as adult members of this society.  A classic is the one where someone “just couldn’t bear” to look at their credit card statements, and now they’re in serious debt.  And, somehow, it’s the world’s fault, not theirs, because they “just couldn’t deal with it” and the world didn’t stop around them.

I’m neither completely clueless nor completely heartless.  I know that everyone’s got different talents, strengths and limitations.  However, when our limitations prevent us from leading a normal adult life[5], with all its requirements and expectations, I don’t think we should be able to use them as excuses forever.  We are all capable of growth, after all – even when it’s difficult; even when it requires change.  Alternatively, if we decide to accept and embrace our limitations rather than trying to overcome them, then we should be willing to take their consequences upon ourselves rather than farming them out to the people around us.  But no, you just wave the “just couldn’t” card and the issue goes away.  Your weakness is your strength – we can’t hold you accountable, because you just can’t deal with this sort of thing.  We just have to manoeuvre around you and pick up your slack.

Abdicating responsibility is only one of our culturally accepted juvenile behaviours.  Others are just as pervasive and vexing.  Here are my main bugbears:
  •  We throw tantrums, have meltdowns and express our displeasure liberally through rudeness.  This is apparently ok because it’s “real” and “liberating”, self-control and good manners being evidently repressive and not genuine.
  • We expect unconditional love, wanting people to “love us for ourselves”; this is regardless of whether we act in a lovable manner or not.
  • Like toddlers expecting every squiggle to gain pride of place on the fridge, we demand recognition for our efforts and qualities, not our achievements.
  • We have an overblown sense of entitlement.  Where our ancestors hoped that by hard work they would hopefully achieve a reasonable standard of living, we now expect it just because.
  • We self-certify, living lives of make-believe.  We award ourselves labels based on no actual actions or achievement.  (No, Nigel, you are not a “badass”.  You’re an accountant who trains Krav Maga on Mondays.)
  • We believe in happy endings.  We see anything negative as a shock and a tragedy, rather than as part of the normal course of events.  The truth is that life is a roller coaster ride of good and bad events, many of them only partly under our control. 

Growing up sucks.  I never wanted to do it and I managed to avoid it successfully for decades.  However, I never expected the people around me to act as grown-ups on my behalf.  I never abdicated my duties yet demanded that other people respect my rights.  The way I see it, you either take on the role of adult, with all its rights and duties, or that of a child, which is both freeing and reductive.  It’s your call what you want to do, who you want to be.  However, if you expect me to act in loco parentis because you have decided to channel Calvin & Hobbes, then be prepared to meet the stepmother from hell.

Everybody moans about the “nanny state”, but maybe this is precisely what we need.  Because a GOOD nanny doesn’t stand for meltdowns, doesn’t tolerate emotional blackmail, doesn’t reward bad behaviour and enforces consequences.  A good nanny helps you grow up into the best possible version of yourself.  Maybe it’s about time that, as a society, we started believing ourselves not only capable but obliged to deal with adult life.  Maybe it’s time we all start growing up.

[1] I got as far as “sit-stay-look stupid” with my youngest puppy. 
[2] Yeah, I don’t know who they take after, either.
[3] And it was a LONG way.  In a really posh part of London.  Through a public park.  I have no idea why I did not get arrested. 
[5] And yes, sorry, I unfashionably believe in “normal”, because I’ve seen abnormal, which is waaaaaay out there and really not a good place to be.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Lone Ranger. 18.08.13

"Remember stalkers think of themselves as "laws unto themselves." In order to maintain this delusion they need to operate in isolation. That is to say they need to find people who are too proud to ask for help and will foolishly attempt to handle the problem by themselves. It is the woman's pride, confidence in herself and her abilities -- and her shame for "finding myself in such a stupid situation" that keeps her from immediately seeking outside help."
Marc MacYoung[1]

I read the above paragraph yesterday and for the first time ever in my entire life I thought “hell, that’s harsh”.  I mean, I routinely evaluate statements on the basis of whether they are correct or incorrect, well-meaning or malicious, well-written or clumsy, but never, ever on the basis of their “harshness”.  Thankfully, I remembered another statement I heard recently: “if you’re offended by what I’m saying…. Then I’m talking to YOU.”  Of course that makes a lot of sense.  I have always tried to deal with all sorts of interpersonal hassle, of which I had plenty, without calling in the cavalry.  But, in fairness, it had nothing to do with pride, overconfidence or shame.  My motivations for keeping my trap shut were completely different.

Firstly, if you are swimming in sharks-infested waters you don’t want to go bleeding all over the place.  It just attract them and excites them.  Similarly, if you are surrounded by people who want to hurt or scare you, you can’t go admitting to having been hurt or scared.  This piece of information was brought to me by the Angel of Duh[2] at such an early age that I honestly cannot begin to comprehend how so many of my friends involved in self-defence and/or martial arts seem not to grasp it.  They seem to be able to apply it to actual physical fighting, but not to other forms of interpersonal conflict.  No, you can’t say “but if you do or say that it will hurt me” to those who want to hurt you and expect them to stop.  That’s not how it works.  If hurting you is their goal and you just confirmed to them that they have succeeded, what do you think they are likely to do next?

The bottom line is that, I’m sorry, but I struggle to admit to anyone that something is making me upset, scared, hurt or anything else that could be classed as “vulnerable”.  Raging angry, that’s a different story.  That’s safe, that is, as well as counting as a warning if a greater reaction should become necessary.  But admitting that I’m vulnerable to something?  Hell no.  That’s like handing someone a gun and then asking them not to shoot you.

“What about those people you know and trust, though?” I hear you cry.  Well, there are two issues with that.  Firstly, there are so few of them that they are statistically insignificant, because I’m cagey as hell.  Secondly, and you’re not gonna like this, by and large to most people you are nothing but the sum of your functions.  They may say or genuinely believe that they “like and love you for yourself”, but the truth is that if you stop performing whatever you do that adds to their life they won’t like it one bit. 

Every group or pack has a structure, and within that every member has a role.  It’s not just about leader vs. followers; there are all sorts of roles, all of them important.  You might be the joker, the one with the practical knowledge, the one with the fun ideas, the one who takes cares of people’s feelings, or something more prosaic, like the eternal designated driver.  The list goes on and on.  Me, I’m the person people lean on in times of trouble.  They will share their vulnerabilities and problems and I will guard them and deal with them.  Sometimes the way it works puzzles me exceedingly.  For instance, at four-foot-and-not-a-lot, I am the person who gets called out to act as cavalry when people are having problems with abusive partners, stalkers and general assholes.  I just don my Mighty Mouse costume, pick up my fiery sword, and off I go, protecting the innocents, righting wrongs, smiting the wicked and generally getting shit done.  For reasons way beyond my understanding, this actually generally works.  Most of the time, however, I just have to deal with people’s sore spots, wounds, perceived or real weaknesses and general vulnerabilities.  That’s my thing.  That’s what I do.  That’s my responsibility, and I don’t mind at all.

The problems arise when I’m the one with the issues.  From experience, telling the people I support that I’m the one in need of supporting does not go down well.  Their reaction may go anywhere from mild, temporary disappointment to complete and utter rejection.  Most of the times I can expect some sort of meltdown at the very least[3].  However it goes, the result doesn’t tend to be positive.  If you don’t believe me, try it.  Don’t try it with your nearest and dearest, because a divorce isn’t worth it, but do try stopping performing whatever function you perform for someone you don’t necessarily desperately care for and watch for the reaction[4].  It won’t be pleasant, I’d put money on it.

The moral of the story is that when it comes to admitting weaknesses or asking for assistance, I tend to just not go there.  So, in times when I was struggling to deal with certain people it never occurred to me to ask for support.  Yes, this is UNBELIEVABLY foolish – I own that label.  However, the pride, shame and confidence bits are not mine.  So there.

Maybe, just maybe, this was the real lesson I learnt during my disastrous 2012.  In the middle of a series of cataclysms of an unprecedented scale, I finally learnt to say the magic words:  “help me”.  Help me because I can’t cope with this.  Help me because I am drowning, and I don’t know which way is up anymore.

I didn’t say them to just everybody and they didn’t always work.  Out of three good friends I contacted, the success rate was a neat 66%.  Two people rallied to my support as best as they could, given the limitations posed by distance and other commitments.  It wasn’t how much they were doing that mattered, though; it was just the fact that they cared enough to do something.  The third told me to go away and get help elsewhere.  Literally.  And hey, that’s ok too, because he clearly wasn’t much of a friend to start with.  It hurt like hell at the time, but after all I wouldn’t knowingly make friends with people who, in times of dire need, tell you to go and sling your hook.  We must have been involved in some sort of mutual misunderstanding.

Trying to stand alone unnecessarily truly is bad self-defence.  I am not trying to knock self-reliance, independence, resilience and all those beautiful virtues associated with strength, capability and ultimately survival.  However, we are social animals and we are strongest when we stand together.  Depriving yourself of support, for whatever reason, is neither big nor clever.

All in all, this vulnerability malarkey may actually be a viable option.  Not only it gets you support when necessary, but it also helps cut out the people in your life who really don’t have any business being there.  That’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever seen one.  Does it mean that I find it easy?  No, not at all.  However, it is a useful, healthy skill that I intend to develop.  Watch this space.

[2] A mystical, magical creature who brings forth the bloody obvious to those too obtuse to see it on their own.
[3] I’m guessing the “logic” here is that displaying a greater vulnerability reasserts the natural order of things, but I might be wrong. 
[4] I have seen it work in another way, too.  If you become close to somebody while they are going through a huge personal crisis, once that crisis is resolved or the situation stabilises chances are you will be dropped out of their lives.

Monday, 19 August 2013

“What’s normal, anyway?” 17.08.13

It has become very popular these days in my social circle to hear people say things along the line of “well, what’s normal, anyway!”  The consensus seems to be that as a society we have become so diverse that people are just doing their own thing, and so accepting that we can’t measure people’s choices against any fixed standards.

I have unknowingly embraced that tenet for a long time.  After all, I’m relatively well-travelled, open-minded and non-judgemental, ain’t I?  I have seen people live in all sorts of ways depending on their culture, so I don’t believe there is a “right way”.  Everything is relative, and who am I to judge anyone, anyway?  I mean, I’m both caring and left-wing, so I can’t believe in this “normal” malarkey.  Or can I?

As it turns out, I do.  You see, it may sound reasonable and clever and almost post-modern to say that there is no such thing as normal.  However, I know for a fact that there are things that are ABnormal.  You don’t believe me?  Ok, let me take you through the looking glass:
  •          There isn’t such a thing as the “right” way to be a parent, yes?  Ok, fine.  But I remember when one of my mum’s friends had a nervous breakdown following the death of her husband.  By the time people figured out that something really wasn’t right, her toddler daughter and her German Shepherd had both learnt to eat out of the bin, drink out of the toilet bowl, and do their business on the floor.  Google “coprophagia” if you aren’t worried yet.
  •          I was exchanging stories with my ex-father-in-law while we were scrumping cherries.  He told me about fruit-picking in his uncle’s orchard as a child, and all the lovely associated memories.  I told him how we used to go scrumping in the abandoned villa near my mum’s house, and how we had to watch out for the homeless guy who lived there who used to chase us with an axe.  I was under ten at the time.
  •          During a seminar we were discussing ways to survive in the event of utter catastrophe and the subject of prostitution came up.  After a little while the teacher asked me “are you aware that women in the Western world seriously struggle to see prostitution as an available option?”  And no, I had no idea.  And I remembered when I was fifteen and I used to have to keep watch while my best friend had sex with her pusher in his car for fixes.  This wasn’t a problem at all for me until the day she tried to sell me, too.

Ok, so these are somewhat extreme anecdotes.  However, this does not make them irrelevant or meaningless.  The fact is that we look at them and our Weird Shit-o-meter should start sounding off.  It’s not normal for children to drink from toilets or be chased by wannabe axe murderers or prostitute themselves.  These situations happen, but they are clearly ABnormal – hence, there must be a normal.  The fact that our “normality” has become a far more diverse and flexible concept that it might have been in the past doesn’t invalidate its existence.  It gets a whole load easier to realise that there is such a thing as normal when you find yourself well outside of it, when you look around and realise that somehow you strayed off the path and now normal is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back over there.

The fact is that, over time, pretty much anything can feel normal.  We humans are incredibly adaptable beasties and we can get used to almost everything.  I have seen that particularly with young children.  If you present them with a situation or fact and don’t make a song and dance about it they just seem to absorb it and get on with it.  The thing that seems to phase them the most is not change per se, but the adults’ response to that change.  If you take it in your stride, or at least pretend very convincingly, they are often utterly unbothered.  Older children and adults are often very attached to their particular brand of normality and may be very resistant to change.  However, present them with small, incremental changes and soon enough they may find themselves in situations utterly unlike anything they ever imagined being involved in, let alone be accepting of.

When some sort of tribe is involved in a situation, the abnormal seems to be turned into the norm even faster.  Unspoken rules are established so that everyone knows their role and some stability can be created.  For instance, I know households where “if it happened during a blackout it doesn’t count”.  Now, I am not disputing whether that’s “right or wrong”.  What I am saying is that there are households out there where blackouts are so much the norm that there is an etiquette for how to deal with them.  Similarly, I know children who know that if the curtains are drawn then “an uncle” is visiting mummy and they will be busy upstairs; they are to wait outside until he has finished. 

We are designed to adapt to our circumstances.  It is a key survival skill.  The crucial thing, after all, is not meeting some sort of universal standards; it is to keep on going both as individuals and as a group regardless of what the world throws at us.  In this context, “normal” isn’t nearly as important as “functional” or “stable”.

I am the product of such a process of adaptation.  I was raised by a group of people who could be kindly described as “surreal”; I can’t describe them accurately without resorting to language which would horrify my gentler readers.  Whilst everyone appeared superficially functional and even successful, the way people interacted with each other was, well, just not normal.  The men, when present, were shadowy figures who brought the money home, did the heavier lifting and generally hid in corners.  They did not have a speaking part.  The women ruled the roost by a combination of emotional blackmail, meltdowns, bullying, gaslighting and a number of other unsavoury techniques that could be comfortably classified as psychological abuse.  They all hated each other, yet could not function separately.  No issue was ever addressed directly.  Nobody, ever, told the truth.[1]

I left home at fourteen and never really went back, bar a few forced holidays when I was younger.  I told my grandmother to “fuck off” (literally) when I was sixteen and we never spoke again.  This might sound awful but I still hold that under the circumstances I was fully justified.  The few times I was forced to interact with my aunt and uncle, now deceased, I made sure that I was slightly drunk, because that way I could see them as amusing rather than repellent.  It is likely that I will not go back to my mother’s house until the time has come to clear it out.  However, the more I think about it the more I realise that I have not managed to fully leave home yet.  The problem is that, regardless of all the miles I put between us, I failed to realise that I had carried with me my family’s interpretation of “normal”.

I look back at ways in which I’ve handled close interpersonal relationships and shudder.  The bottom line is that I have never had any idea of how to recognise, create or maintain healthy, non-toxic close relationships, for the simple reason that I’d never seen one up close.  This did not just apply just to partners, but to my closest friends too.  I could be “normal” to acquaintances, but as soon as someone became really important in my life the crazy seemed to come out.  When things went badly I didn’t know how to fix them.  When things went well I probably sabotaged them.  When things went terminally screwy I just did not know how to press the eject button.  I had no role models, no standards and no functional techniques.  I was ill-equipped.  I probably still am.

I am currently trying to develop some criteria for “normality”.  This, at the moment, is requiring quite a bit of conscious effort.  I am working at developing an internal watcher, who keeps emotionally unaffected by events and judges – yes, judges, however un-PC this may be – events based on whether they are “abnormal”.  By identifying abnormalities, I am learning where the boundaries of normality fall.  What I am not willing to do anymore is to pretend that everything goes, that every kind of behaviour is acceptable, that whatever people decide to throw at me is fine because it is “their normal”, and that I can do the same back to them and call it “my normal”.  In time, I am to develop my special brand of normal and a set of techniques to help me maintain it.  It may end up being quite a wide “normal”, with a lot of wiggle room in it, but it will have boundaries, nonetheless.

[1] The truth is, in fact, still safely hid.  My mother, the last surviving member of the family, has been told by her doctor numerous times that she needs psychotherapy, but she is refusing to undergo it because “you can’t speak ill of the dead”.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Do NOT anger the badger. 14.08.13

 "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength." 
Eric Hoffer

Once upon a time, I went into a shoe shop with a friend – don’t worry, we’ll get to the controversial, angst-ridden, violent bit in a moment.  I am hardly fashion conscious but I have to wear decent anti-pronation shoes, so I went to a decent shoe shop.  I was wearing my normal clothes, which were neither posh nor scuzzy.  I politely made my request to one of the ladies serving.  She looked me up and down, pulled a face, crossed her arms and sneered: “I don’t think you are in the right shop.  All the shoes here are EXPENSIVE.”

My friend’s jaw hit the ground.  She turned and looked at me in horror.  I blinked a couple of times, smiled and replied, loudly enough for her nearby boss to hear: “well, if you’re telling me that you overcharge here, I best go elsewhere.  Thank you.”  I walked out while the assistant was still flapping and stuttering apologies.

My friend was shocked, aghast, confounded and near traumatised.  She just couldn’t shake the event off, nor could she stop going on about it.  She was nearly as shocked by my lack of reaction.  Me, I couldn’t care less.  We experienced the same event, but its description in our internal dialogues diverged completely.  She saw me being “humiliated in public”.  I thought ok, so I got snubbed by a snob; big deal.  So a little person needed to make herself feel bigger by trying to insult me; big deal.  So someone got up on the wrong side of the bed, or the wrong day of the month; big deal.  So, someone at least fifteen years older than me who still sold shoes for a living thought she’d let me know that she was better than me; actually, that’s just funny, if I allow myself to be bitchy.

Of course, the event was designed to humiliate me in public.  It didn’t achieve the intended goal and that was the end of it for me.  However, it could have ended much differently, with far worse conclusions.  I will never know what the “lady” was thinking, if she was thinking at all, but she could have found herself seriously unstuck.  People operating in certain cultures and social circles tend to forget that other groups have different criteria for what is acceptable.  For instance, there are people out there who will consider it appropriate and righteous to resort to violence, up to and including murder, in return for “disrespect”[2].  Insulting someone whose background you don’t know and assuming that they will respond in the manner you are accustomed to is a dangerous game to play.  Considering that I have an accent that is clearly foreign but can’t be easily identified, she was being incredibly incautious.

In addition to tribal differences, there are other issues that may make people’s reactions unpredictable.  As it happens I am comfortable with who I am and what I’ve achieved.  I know and like myself.  Her opinion of me, based purely on what I was wearing on that particular day, could not have mattered less to me.  That she chose to be rude to me didn’t dent my ego or self-respect at all.  Her rudeness reflected badly on her as a person and as a professional, and that was all.  When I was younger and far more insecure, on the other hand, her behaviour would have affected me emotionally.  I would have been triggered into an emotional state that would have almost ensured some sort of blow-up.  Again, she was taking a risk if she assumed that the reaction would have been purely verbal.

In addition to our culture and the strength of our ego defences, most of us are also affected by everyday events.  Everyone has a boiling point and everyone has triggers.  It just so happens that the “lady” found me on a good day, when my mood was level.  Had she caught me on a bad day, when I was already wound up, I might have responded in a rather more heated manner. 

All in all, our shoeseller was taking a gamble by assuming that she could cheek me without consequences.  She didn’t know anything about me – my cultural background, my standards of behaviour, my outlook on life and my current mood.  It was by sheer luck that the universe conspired to have me in the right frame of mind to ensure a resolution with a minimum of fuss.

As Marc MacYoung says, “The #1 pre-attack indicator: YOU'RE BEING AN ASSHOLE!”[3]  Personally, I have noticed that this sort of behaviour is far more common in “better” areas.  I have lived in some very rough areas where people were generally very careful about being civil to each other.  My theory is that it was due mostly to two considerations.  Firstly, they were genuinely tough people.  They didn’t have to try and appear tougher by being rude.  Both they and the people around them knew that they were tough, because they had actually proved themselves in the real world.  Secondly, there was a cost to rudeness.  If you insulted someone there would be consequences, so you didn’t do it unless you really had a point to make.

Marc MacYoung stated that “violence is not a place, it is a road.”  It is an unfolding process that can start with very little, a look or a word, and can end in a killing.  Different people are comfortable at different points in the road, which can be hard for us to fathom.  For instance, I am deeply uncomfortable with veiled social violence.  I tend to get so wrapped up in how best to deal with it without ruffling too many feathers that I become extremely ineffectual.  Push me further, though, where the hostility is open and pressing and suddenly I’m happier than a kid at Christmas.  I abhor social awkwardness, but I have no compunction about fighting like a hellcat when required, verbally or physically.  And yes, I might be small and rodent-like but I’m also devious, unfair and stubborn.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I don’t have “DANGER-EXPLOSIVES” tattooed on my forehead.  In fact, I’ve known plenty of other trigger-happy maniacs, and none of them had a warning label.

I sometimes wonder whether violence is more like a playground slide than a road.  It may take a long time and many small, inconsequential-seeming steps to climb up to the top, but once you get there you only need a slight push and down you go, whether you like it or not and at a speed you might struggle to control.  The best way to avoid going down the slide is not to climb up it in the first place.  Yes, this is often more easily said than done, but hey, it’s worth a try.

[2] Check this programme out for an example of how insulting the wrong people can have lethal consequences: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o87gJ5xvULA&list=PL4B81517BAA5FB6AF4
[3] http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/preattack.html

Saturday, 10 August 2013

“A woman?! Doing WORK?!” 10.08.13

OK kids.  I always knew that living on the Sto Plains in Lincolnshire was a bit like time travelling.  However, I didn’t realise that I was travelling to a time when it was so unusual for people of the female persuasion to be carrying out any kind of manual labour that any such event would be treated as a form of street theatre.  I didn’t know that there would be an audience which would feel compelled to not only observe, but also to participate in my carrying-ons.  Clearly, I was wrong, as last week has proven this to be definitely the case.

To cut a long story short, I had a hedge to grub up in preparation for a fencing job.  Now, I have recently acquired an external conscience who is trying to encourage me to swear less, smile more, and avoid ripping people’s heads off and bathing in their still-warm blood.  As a consequence, I kept my inside voice inside.  It wasn’t easy, but I managed it.  However, a body’s gotta vent or burst.  Therefore, dear neighbours and passers-by, this is what I wanted to say about what you had to say:

1.  “Women can’t do that.” Oh, shit.  Oh, dear lord, what have I done!  Lemme rummage in my knickers a second...  NO!  All is safe and normal therein!  Still not grown a pee-pee, thanks be to Darwin, and, look, still doing the work!  Either your assertion is wrong, or I’ve got a surprise coming up.  I’ll keep checking regularly now that you’ve mentioned the issue, fear not.  Thank you for your concern.

2.  “Where is the man of the house?!”  In the dungeon.  With gaffer tape over his mouth.  And, you know what, I got room for two and I bet your eyes look real pretty when you cry.
Variant two: “Is there no man in the house?!”  Well, sir, there was one, but I had to sacrifice him to my god Cthulhu.  No, Kthul-hloo.  You know, Lovecraft?  No, he’s NOT a porn author…  Ok, Justin Bieber, how’s that for a manageable reference.  Yes, I sacrificed him to Justin Bieber.

3.  “Don’t you have a chainsaw/stillsaw/JCB/rocket launcher to do that?”  Well, yes sir, now that you mention it, I’ve got one right here in my back pocket.  The reason I have been busting my ass for the last four hours doing something by hand that I could have done in about five minutes using technology is that I am a complete cretin.  Thank you for pointing that out to me.  I’ll go and kill myself now.
Variant two: “You WANT a chainsaw to do that!”  No, sir, what I want right now is a Glock.  Move along.

4.  “What are you doing here!”  Erm, lemme get my heart rate back to normal, cos this brought back flashbacks of been a kid back in the city… But no, you’re not the police.  You’re not even security.  You’re, actually, absolutely not any sort of authority.  Nor somebody I… have… ever… seen before?  Hey, why we’re exchanging questions, how about you tell me who the hell YOU are, first?  Cos then I might know exactly why I’m supposed to be telling you my business.

5.  “Are you still here?”  No, I’m a figment of your imagination.  You, sir, are a sick man.  SICK!

6.  “Are you winning?”  No, I’m grubbing up a hedge.  I thought that was pretty obvious.

7.  <<Stand.  And stare.  And keep staring.  And keep staring some more.  Continue until no longer funny.>>  Ok now, you might have had a minor stroke and be temporarily incapable of independent movement, in which case I feel sorry for you.  However, if you’re just staring at me cos the sight of me digging a hole is the most riveting thing in your sorry life, please just go away and put yourself out of your misery, because there is no helping you.

8.  Any permutation and commutation of “you’ve missed a bit”, “is that straight?”, “you don’t want to do it like that”, and so on and so forth.  Seriously.  I’ve got responses for you, but they’re so rude I can’t even write them on here.
Why on earth do you feel the need to comment about my work?  What are you seeking?  Is your life entirely bereft of human connection?  Are you craving the excitement of angering a stranger?  Are you just an incredible tool?

9.  “…should have done better in school...”  Well, yeah, I clearly should have done, because I tried showing the hedge my MSc certificate and I got no reaction.  It didn’t spontaneously dematerialise or nothing.  Mother told me to finish my PhD, but did I listen?  And now I’m paying the consequences.  Not even the local vegetation respects me.  I’m such a failure.

10.  “Hmmmm…  You’re all DIRTY.”  In a very suggestive tone[1].  Now, first and foremost, if that line has ever managed to get anyone laid, EVER, in the entire history of humankind, I’m going to apply to change my species by deed poll.  I know I’m wired slightly oddly[2], but I tend to be drawn towards people who are nice to me, pay me compliments for instance, not point out temporary flaws in my hygiene standards.  Secondly, sir, the Good Lord has seen fit to bless you with external genitalia, and me with this here sledgehammer.  Do not make me get up and hurt you.

But the star prize still remains with my all-time favourite:

“This is not a job for little girls.”  Well, that’s alright then, given that I stopped being a little girl about thirty twenty-two years ago.[3]  However, as you are a WOMAN saying this, go and wash your mouth.  While you’re doing that, think really hard about what you’ve just said.  After you’ve done that, go and hand back your right to vote, cos clearly the suffragettes worked in vain to help your sorry ass.

[1] No, I shit you not. 
[2] Ok, completely weirdly.  Trust you to point that one out.
[3] 31’s a good age.  I plan to stick with it until I’m 50 or so.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

My final & ultimate statement on "victim blaming". 06.08.13

Ok, so I've had it up to the gills about those circular discussions on "victim blaming".  This is my final & ultimate statement on the subject.  This is the view I've held since I was old and experienced enough to have a view on the subject.  I've formed it on my own, based on my thoughts and experiences and what passes for "morals" in my warped little brain, with absolutely zero outside influence.  I've not been indoctrinated, brainwashed or even influenced.  So, yeah, it's entirely "my fault".  It's also not likely to change any time soon, so you either like it or lump it.

  1. Victim blaming is an awful, disgusting practice.  I hope that all victim blamers rot in a hell where they can go through the experience the victims in questions have gone through forevermore.
  2. Trying to teach people (men, women, children, leprechauns, I don't care) how to stay safe has got fuck-all to do with victim blaming.
  3. Trying to stop people from teaching people how to stay safe is an awful, disgusting practice.  I don't quite hope that all people who try to stop people from helping people stay safe rot in a hell where they can go through the experience the victims in questions have gone through (yes, there is a symmetry); however, I do wish they would shut up and go away, back to their own private Idaho, because they are doing harm.  They are helping more people to become victims by interfering with the people who are trying to help.  It makes me wanna smack things, or heads.
  4. Teaching people "not to rape" is also an important part of the problem, it having two sides.  However, it completely disregards the fact that there are psychopaths and sociopaths out there who know raping is wrong and harmful, which is why they get a kick out of it.  So, while educating the could-be-rapists (and that includes women, btw, because we're just as likely to find a man drunk enough that his consent isn't worth pish) is important, it's not enough.
  5. Going back over an incident and finding out that you could have done something different and changed the outcome hurts like fuck.  I know this, because I've done it.  However, going through an incident again because you've not learnt how to stop it from taking place hurts a fuckload more.  The biggest problem is that rapes happen. The most important step to take must be to stop them happening.
  6. The crime of "rape" would be a whole load more meaningful, and probably also more easily punishable by law, if we didn't lump completely alien events together. Strangers grabbing strangers and dragging them into hedges to do nasty things to them is one thing.  It is a deliberate act of pure evil.  Two people getting wasted together, having sex together, and then one of them changing their mind in the morning and retroactively withholding consent is a rather different kettle of fish.  In between those two events there is a continuum of crap that just shouldn't happen in an ideal world.
  7. We don't live in an ideal world.  Our world is a lot better than any of our ancestors have ever had it (if you don't believe it, give up all modern mod-cons for a week, move to rural Bolivia maybe, and see how you like it).  Still, we're not in an ideal world and we never will be.  Deal with it.
  8. However much we develop our culture and our society, we will still carry a percentage of people born with the empathy bit missing from their brains.  Evil will forever be with us, until we start culling people on the basis of psychological testing as a form of prevention.  Self-defence will forever be a necessity. Deal with it.
  9. I have never learnt anything useful about men by talking to women.  Men, bizarrely, seem to be the authority on the way they think and operate.  As rape mostly tends to involve at least a person of the male persuasion, men need to be included in the dialogue.  Otherwise all you end up with is at worst a blamefest, at best a conversation where you're trying to guess what the problem is.
  10. We're all in this together.  Most of us, bar those who want to rape, want the same thing. We want an end to rape.  It would be goddamned wise to take all possible steps towards reaching that end, instead of infighting.
And now, by all that is holy (including my ex-stepdaughter's kisses, my dogs running headlong into the sea, sunlight, hugging a really good friend you've not seen for a long time, crying on the shoulder of someone you know really cares, and I could go on almost indefinitely) - I'm DONE with this.