Yesterday, I spent 20 minutes clicking my way deeper and deeper into a company’s website, looking for someone's email address. Unless you’re looking for an incredibly specific, possibly illegal item that’s only sold by a tiny curio shop in the Ukraine, that’s a stupid amount of time to spend looking for anything online. I was determined to find the address or die trying, though, because my only other option was calling her.
This pagan threshold of the living and the dead is my marker of a New Year begun.
It is also the date that marks the very first vows my wife and I exchanged. The words of our handfasting were for a year and a day to give ourselves time to reconsider – but I knew as clearly then (11 years ago) as I do now that they are for the remainder of our lives.
I don’t earn as much money as I should, I don’t keep the house as clean and tidy as I could, I recklessly fell in love with someone else, I often cry for no good reason, regularly eat all the cheese and rarely cook but still she loves me.
She spends on fripperies for others and skimps on her own needs, is always losing something about the house, is hopelessly forgiving of her demanding family, has dreadful PMT and steals my chocolate but still I love her.
And so I say again:
I promise to take you as my best friend, and as my lover; to be yours and to keep you in my heart and soul through whatever we may yet live through; to support you, and to protect you – since we are one. I promise to learn to have faith in myself and to not falter in my trust of you and I promise to listen, and to give, so that together we can be strong. Lastly, I vow to live every day in consciousness of this gift and to remember and thank-you for our love.
everyday I choose you, choose to spend the rest of my life with you. I take you as my wife, my friend and my lover, through the bad times and the good- through every twist of our lives. I promise you my respect and my trust, I promise to share my hopes and my dreams and to offer you my strength and my care.
Darling wife, you have ridden with me through the storms of our depressions and put aside your fear to live with my polyamory and I feel so privileged and so humbled by your love – tell me how to show you my joy and trust in you, how to demonstrate my love and trust in you. Together we are stronger than any storms, together we can face the unknown and build our dreams, even if we have to leap into the unknown. I will always be yours. Ta ghra agam duit my wolf
Outside the sanctuary I would pray for her, and to the last I shall continue to seek her.
From her blossoming to the ripening of her grape my heart has taken its delight in her. My foot has pursued a straight path, I have sought her ever since my youth.
By bowing my ear a little, I have received her, and have found much instruction.
Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me wisdom!
For I was determined to put her into practice, have earnestly pursued the good, and shall not be put to shame.
My soul has fought to possess her, I have been scrupulous in keeping the Law; I have stretched out my hands to heaven and bewailed how little I knew of her;
I have directed my soul towards her, and in purity I have found her; having my heart fixed on her from the outset, I shall never be deserted;
my very core having yearned to discover her, I have now acquired a good possession.
I read a very perceptive blog post recently in which the author commented:
“Wanting something, getting my hopes up, expressing a preference, letting desire creep in–that makes me vulnerable. To deprivation, to loss, to mockery, to pain. Not wanting feels safe. Ultimately, though, all it gets me is preemptive deprivation. There’s a lot of emptiness in not wanting.”
It would be fair to say that I am not very good about wanting stuff for precisely the reasons outlined above and because there is a little bit of my depressive brain that tells me that I do not deserve to want. I have not trained myself into the habit of creating a series of goals from the mundane to the fantastical and I am even more terrified of asking for things. In general I have got away with faking these things for most of my life – pick something that sounds a bit like what everyone else wants and amble towards it without commitment and/or work your life around aiming for the things that those nearest and dearest to you want.
It all falls apart somewhat when the expectations of normal life fall away (in my case through lifestyle and relationship choices) and those nearest and dearest to you are even worse than you are at picking things that they want.
B is actually a little more open about what he desires unless his mood has dipped significantly but whilst he does talk about dreams he is a little more conservative and often unclear about his plans. On the other hand, my dearly beloved wife, W, couldn’t admit to herself wanting even so much as a steak dinner for fear of imploding (and believe me she nearly always wants a steak dinner). Wanting is anathema to her being; it involves a consideration of the self (where only others are acceptable), it suggests a striving against the status quo (which might be non-catholic), it potentially involves conflict with those she has been taught to defer to such as her parents and the social order. In short getting her to admit to wanting to be my wife was a miracle & wanting a lifestyle or even a holiday is beyond impossible.
I believe there are secret fantasies lurking there in her sub-conscious surrounding grandchildren and cake and deer-stalking but I can’t begin to coax something out of her that I can use to create a life-plan and this means I have to try and work on my own desires.
And what do I want?
A family, a little small-holding and a steady source of income.
I want my family to be happy and I want to help make it that way
So apparently depression has properly been biting my backside the last month or so.
Best laid plans have not come to fruition and I haven’t really been able to see where I am going or why. Mostly I have slept, felt tired and complained about how much shoulder hurts (apparently the new physio exercises are very uncomfortable and not making the days easier), and all i have wanted to do is sleep and curl up in the dark.
So.. um. Sorry
I pretty much like getting older.
Its kind of comforting, freeing, hopeful and exciting but milestones are pretty scary.
When I was about 15 I had a list of things to achieve before I was 21 (which gradually became 30) – at 15 the list had things like have sex with a man, have sex with a woman, get a degree, take certain drugs, own my own throwing knives, travel to every continent, skydive etc… I did a lot of those things but there were always more experiences and more targets to reach.
I want to tell you that I am proud of what I have done with my life and sometimes I am.. my relationships, my marriage, my doctorate. – all not inconsiderable and all pale gently beside actually living day-to-day
I really am consistently amazed by those strange people who get up every morning like its no big deal – getting out of bed like it doesn’t hurt, like you don’t want to curl up and cry. How do people do jobs and housework without collapsing? What is with leaving the house *every* day?
Nothing makes you feel like a failure like looking at the careers and families of your peers… Knowing the reasons that I don’t have a full-time permanent job and 3 kids (depression, anxiety, chronic pain, relationship choices & financial planning a.k.a. laziness, cowardliness, deviance & lack of ambition) doesn’t make me feel less like I should be coping better.
Every time I hit a “life event” I start to miss my mother. Its a silly thing, on the basis I no longer have any idea about how she would react to my life now, how she’d feel about modern life like the internet and mobile phones, I can’t imagine what the arguments of my teenage life would have been like, or the discussions about my partners, what her opinions on my wedding might have been or her recommendations about my career. I can’t imagine what my relationship with her would be like and I have no understanding of other people’s relationships with their mothers at all. It seems almost ridiculous to guess and even more daft to still crave her approval and yet I still get blindsided by her loss at inopportune moments.
I guess the point is, if I ever thought I would get to 30 this isn’t what I expected. I am kinda disheartened by the whole process in that I am not all grown-up and barrelling along with my glorious life. In fact I kinda don’t know what next…
- I did the doctorate (which I might add in no way makes up for secondary school & undergrad, sorry) but don’t want to be a lecturer – I think in terms of continuing research its got to be publications
- I found my special someone… and someone… – the next obvious step must be kids which I think I (we?) want but what about the: money, organising, prejudice, fear.
- I have *a* job – I don’t have a real income generator, or even a full time position and I really want to feel like I am contributing financially – next step is erm decide what I can actually do? Could I run a pub? Work in a museum? Even actually manage 9-5?
I don’t feel old, I feel young. But I am jaded, bitter and scared and I only see an economy and a political system that doesn’t want me.
So what now?
Yesterday marked 5 years with B.
(Happy Anniversary my Love)
Soon it will be 12 years since I left home for university and a little later in the year 11 since I made my commitment to W.
It seems almost unimaginable how much my life has developed and changed in those 5 years and in the 7 before that.
A civil-partnership, a house, a doctorate. 2 strong, committed and positive relationships.
What did I do right?
First apologies for my neglect of this blog in favour of other writing engagements.
The Classically-minded or masochistic can read my gradually growing report on the Swords, Sorcery, Sandals, and Space: Fantastika and the Classical World Conference here. I am also still writing that godsforsaken article and trying to prep a business plan.
What I want to write about today however is the weirdness of being a woman. Not just that inevitable gripe about female hormonal shifts or a pseudo-feminist rant (which isn’t really my forte) – though both of those will turn up. Rather, what I want to try and express is the sense of disconnection I feel from my gender.
To forestall any questions.. I am perfectly content with the genitalia I was born with and at peace with the physical shape of my body. I have thought long and hard about whether or not I want male parts and male hormones (and yes if you gave me the opportunity I’d love to know what it feels like to have and use a penis) but whilst I’d comfortably give up menstruation I’m not sure I’m ready to give up a clitoris and womb. I think that now the conscious decision I made aged 9 that I want to act/dress/be treated as a man but have no actual desire to change my shape holds even more strongly (I’ve learnt to use my body for fun and quite frankly don’t want to re-learn that stuff).
I also want to point out that my problem is more fundamental than a desire not to be stereotypically ‘feminine’ – Its not just about not wearing make-up very often or the fact I don’t like shoe-shopping or gossiping and waxing or whatever girly girls do with their time. Though let’s be honest that type of femininity is a complete mystery to me. [I'd love to tell you I totally respect women for whom that works but whilst I defend their right to do it, I struggle to have any understanding of it.. sorry].
On the other hand I would be lying if I said it wasn’t, to a certain extent, about all the things that inaccessible to me as a woman.. certain monastic libraries and gentlemen’s clubs are pretty high on my lists of cool places to go.
Really though, I struggle with being female because I feel like someone made up a set of rules about how to do it but didn’t give them to me. Some of that I can recognise as social conditioning - though knowing it to be true does not automatically lessen the sense that one should conform – but some of it feels like being wired differently (even when it might also be social conditioning).
The social and cultural role of a woman isn’t just about material expressions of femininity (like looks and the way you dress) but shows up in the expectation that you are more empathetic and emotional and less aggressive and competitive than men, that you are shy/reserved but form large strong friendship groups amongst your peers, that you will have an instinctive skill with children but that your brain is less analytical… There are even social rules about how to be a lesbian and the way relationships should work. More capable people than me have drawn huge lists of traits, behaviour patterns and pathologies – some patently ridiculous and some undeniably statistically evident.
It feels weird and insidious. Research into how men and women’s brains differ creeps me out, advertising sucks and role models are hard to come by.
The good news is of course that I am personally lucky enough not only to choose to ignore most expectations thrust upon me but also to recognise them as unnecessary. What that doesn’t help with is the process of decoding the behaviour of other women. I can read body language on a basic level (Thankyou Desmond Morris’ Manwatching & Drama lessons) but there seem to be more subtle aspects of people’s behaviour that are based on social understanding of gender roles and I don’t get it.
So where is the manual girls? Is it because I didn’t read Cosmo or watch enough chick flicks? Or does everyone feel like this and not mention it because they are too busy acting out the roles they heard about?
I recently gave a talk to a conference for archivists on my perceptions as a disabled user of archives. I have a progressive neurological disease, and sometimes use a wheelchair. More significantly I am very knocked out for a lot of the time, due to brain damage, unable any more to spend long periods working in an archival environment. This is despite me having used archives extensively since the mid 1980s, including a very intensive period a decade ago, when I worked half-time as a Research Assistant for a university project, and my job was just to go to archives and spend long periods there.
Sounds like the start of a comedy skit?
Ha bloody Ha
Lets be clear this is massive simplification of my own experiences not a psych study..
Firstly, since I currently leave the house most days of the week and work in a people facing job I would say I mostly have the agoraphobia and social phobia under control but, like all the clichés about the lifelong struggles of addicts, every time I step out the door I have to battle the fear. Some days I can’t fight it and the more often I do put the effort into going out the more I need time to recover from that effort.
Secondly, driving fills me with all kinds of dread related to my perfectionism and pressure from my family which rather complicate my progress.
Nonetheless.. when panic is induced by the swirling movements of people and the way crowds trap you and by being in unfamiliar places there is something particularly odd about forcing yourself out to a position where judging group reactions and making quick decisions in unfamiliar settings are what keep you alive.
When driving there is an illusion of isolation and protection of the car which is contrasted with the reliance on the behaviour of other road users and their judgements. As I manoeuvre the vehicle I am excruciatingly aware that other people are basing their actions and reactions on what I do, judging me in a very real sense – to other drivers I am not an individual, I am a driver already marked out as to be cautious of by the driving-school board on the top of the car.
The number of things to remember, to pay attention to, and to deal with seem to turn into a blur as I struggle to contain my anxiety, exacerbated as it is by the sheer mass of stimuli. Simply breathing and not tensing all of my muscles become tasks in their own right. My instructor commented recently on how long it seems to take me to settle into managing simple sequences of action such as gear-changing and I wanted to tell her that its because I am fighting the tears and waves of panic at every new scenario, at every moment that she needs to correct me, wanted to but couldn’t find the words.
It wasn’t this hard before. When I first learnt to drive at 18, I was deeply depressed but oddly hopeful about starting a new life at university, I didn’t know that those unexpected breakdowns were called panic attacks and I’d never actually failed to walk outside my own door. I didn’t think I would be good at driving but nor did I think the whole world would think me a failure for not learning it then and there. I failed my test (mostly by being hungover and a bit nervous) and didn’t see the point in trying again in the middle of a town, no point worrying about that kind of thing – then I didn’t go out and people who don’t go out don’t need to drive and then I was busy and broke and struggling academics don’t think about driving. But the years crept by and the depression didn’t lift and the anxiety got worse and I still know that its a skill I need, so now I try to drive and it is new and harder.
Of course – maybe I just imagine that this is different for me. Adrenaline can help your reactions and surely everyone is made nervous by the power of life and death that a speeding hunk of metal puts at their fingertips – the ability to kill someone with simple inattention, the ease with which you could kill yourself…
But that doesn’t mean I’m not having to fight myself every step of the way