Sunday, 28 September 2014

Women and Rage

There is a lot of sh** in the air lately. I mean that seriously. The farmers in our area are fertilising vacant and weedy fields before ploughing and sowing their winter crop. Up and down the poplar-lined roads you smell the cowshit they spray over these fields. Close all windows please. Do not inhale.

You know, the problem with smartphones and the whole system of texting and whatsapping that has been become our staple, is this: we just can't shut up. Screen diarrhoea, I would say. There is always a text to send, or one to reply to, add to, copy to another friend. When your loved ones are far away, it's wonderful to send or receive a warm thought, isn't it? But when it comes to the big emotions - Love, Anger, Sadness, Throbbing Good News - don't you think that texting is the most unreliable way to convey important stuff?

Let's take Anger. Now. Anger is best delivered in the heat of the moment, face to face, hopefully without plates thrown. No? And then once the angry party expels his or her sentiments, the other party responds/justifies/or just yells back. Doors might be slammed. There could be some rash declarations. If all goes well there might be a cooling off period and perhaps - in time - an apology and renewed understanding.

Agreed? Now let's think about what happens when the angry party uses a smartphone message to convey his or her sentiments. What might have been yelled in the heat of the moment is now recorded within a little machine (I realise that sounds a little Fred Flintstone), before it flies out to another little machine, and it texted out further like a virus to the insulted party's friends.

It exists forever, just about.

Over the past few weeks (yes finally I am getting to my point) I have had a couple of seriously angry text messages out of the blue from a couple of seriously angry ladies. At first you think: oh gawd, hormones! (Truly, you could have knocked me down with a feather.) How nasty! How silly! How petty! What Was She Thinking? The thing is, you realise that people who vent their anger in this way usually have other darker issues they can't address, and you end up feeling sorry for their plight. And worst of all, unlike words cast into the air whose edge will fade, these words are able to be reread, shown to others, even laughed at. Out of context, anger becomes pitiable, and an angry faceless message must be the pinnacle of weakness. (Cheeky grin: story material!!!)

Sigh. Get nastiness out of your life. Please. Bad energy is not a trifling thing and it will send colonies all through your body and your life. Ladies, by all means express your anger, spit it out on the plate.

But don't be silly enough to write it down. Or if you do, send it to a trusted friend who squeezes your hand and makes you cancel it!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Love Song with Cello

Faces in places: Marais girl, Paris
I caught a plane home the other day. Just a short, cheap flight. Which means a long wait and a long, unruly queue. As I stuffed and restuffed and pounded and squeezed my bag closed, I realised that my book (Alison MacLeod's 'Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction' which will give you a jolt and a buzz) was deep in the bottomless depths and I would just have to sit down and people-watch. Which I did.

But departures are never as dramatic as the great, stirring fanfare of lovers reunited, or families made whole; young children clinging to fathers or women wrapped in lovers' arms with shaky smitten smiles. The departure lounge is different. Emotions are low-key. People are tired and anxious to be at home. There will always be a chatty Italian who will soon have a crowd of listeners with flying hands. Or kids sticking their heads under tired Dad's T-shirt; African grandmothers who wished they hadn't even come. Or the Hell's Angel guy staring at you. Or the ancient twins from Greece with Nefertiti eyeliner. Or the young things baring just about all as though the airport were an extension of yet another beach party at the ratty end of summer..

I call myself a writer. Many of us do. And as writers supposedly we look for stories everywhere. We see an interesting face and imagine an entire life.We imagine love stories and stories of loss and gain and hope and voyage. (Do we? Hmmm. Well, I must be the laziest writer about because I rarely do this. I mean, I am looking and borrowing - even stealing - but goodness knows where my stories come from!) And then just when I had spent several hours deciding that the whole of Europe (including myself) was hooked on phone screens and iPads and there was not an interesting face or couple or family among them, what do I see?

I saw the most touching scene I think I have seen in ages, maybe years.

Sweet chords and rabbits
Two wheelchairs. Two old folk. One cello in a case. They are taken to the head of the queue by two young men with ID tags who chat above them, these guys are wearing twin navy sweaters.

The old lady's face is gentle. Her lips are full and she has a wide round face and eyes that are deep brown and placed wide apart on her head. She has rings on her fingers that dig into the flesh. A cello rests against her legs and it is clear this shape is a part of her life, her body, her sound, her dreams. It is the oldest part of her. She is still strong, she bears a flashing life force, she has shared this with others; she is generous, when she is alone she is never alone.

Next to her is the man I imagine is her partner, the man she has loved for decades. Perhaps he stood tall once, without the kink in his neck that makes his head droop low, makes his eyelids seem half-open, makes him seem beaten, overcome. He is a large stable man, though he looks around like a small boy; he has an expression of vacant happiness. His eyes are small and rubbed with emotion.

There are two things that I notice. Two things that I take home with me on that cheap flight.

1) The old man's hair has been cropped recently. There is an unwavering line of hair above his ear. He has a pretty good head of hair and somebody has made sure that line was straight. 

2) The old lady leans across her hand which is thick with rings and she grasps his yellowy, finer fingers within hers. He doesn't look at her, he is a bit doddery. But still this lady looks across at him with so much smooth and binding love that I am warmed and astounded.

Travel safe. The voyage is neverending.

* * * *
My short story 'Enfolded' is a shortlisted finalist in the Love on the Road Short Story Competition and will appear in next year's anthology, coming out with feisty independent Malinki Press of Dublin.