something stupid

I did something stupid last night.

That’s what I told them at work today. I did something stupid.

This is what I did.

I got in a taxi cab. It was nearly midnight. I had just gotten off the plane and I hurried out of the terminal with my cabin-bag and no checked baggage because I’d travelled light. As you do on flights of a certain nature. The taxi rank was clear and the man in the fluro vest radioed for a taxi and joked about the cold weather and held the door open for me so I could get in.

None of this was stupid. This was okay.

I told the taxi driver my address and asked him to take a certain route because I’d been tricked into going the long way once or twice before and was determined it would not happen again. I was tired. I had limited funds. I wanted to get home to my bed.

This is reasonable.

The taxi driver said okay okay yes yes sure but you’ll have to direct me. I was tired. I said I can try but don’t you have a … and he said yes yes okay okay sure I do, I can do that. And plugged my address into the maps app whilst we drove out of the airport, his mobile phone glowing from his lap.

This was the beginning of the stupid thing.

He wanted to know who I lived with and did I have a boyfriend? I said yes, I have a partner and a cat because I thought the cat consolidated it. The cat created an image of familiar, long-term relationship and he should just back off and stop talking. But he didn’t. He said, am I too late then? Too late for you? Have a missed my chance? You are a pretty girl. And I said, yes, you are too late and I should have said more but I was sitting in the back of his cab and it was midnight and I was tired.

That was stupid.

This was even more stupid.

He asked if I used taxis much. I don’t. But the last time I told a taxi driver I used Uber I feared for my life so I said, I suppose, sometimes. He said, okay okay, great great – I’ll give you my number so you can just call me direct. You can just text me, he said, and I’ll get you. Any time. Anywhere. Even if I’m not working, I have my own car, I have a Ford Falcon and I can drive you anywhere. You and your friends. If you’re at a party you call me.

And I took the number because it was easier. I thought. Until he wanted me to text him so he had my number. He said he wanted to make sure I had the right number. He said he wanted my number so he knew who needed the taxi. I was sitting in the back of his taxi at midnight and I should have said no way, you’re not getting my number. But I didn’t. I sent the text.

He said we were friends.

I should have said no, we’re not.

But I didn’t say anything.

That was stupid.

Then he wanted to know if girls like men who sing and dance and I said I suppose when, really, I should have said I am tired, please just drive me home. He then sang which I thought was funny and something I could write into a short story or book and I clapped a little to make him stop for it was really quite terrible but he kept going even when he couldn’t remember the words. He didn’t know when to stop. It went on and he kept checking my reaction in his rear-view mirror.

Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel you, that is how I know you … go on … 

There was a story about a couple kissing in the back of his cab and his high school crush and what is the definition of crush and perhaps he should go to university to meet girls.

I listened and smiled and laughed in the right places. But I didn’t want to.

When we finally arrived I paid him and got out as quickly as I could. He got out too. He demanded we get a selfie. We have to get a selfie he kept saying and ran around from his side of the cab to mine, blocking my path. I said no, I am tired. I said no, I’ve just got off a plane. I said no, I don’t want to. But he put his arm around me and pulled me in and held his phone up high and took a photo but he didn’t like that one and he shoved the phone in my hand and said you do it and he tried to position himself behind me, as if we were a couple standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or something. I said no, I don’t know how and he did it himself. I saw the photo. I am smiling. That is stupid. Then he hugged me and kissed me on the cheek and I scrambled up to my front door without looking back and felt so very stupid.

 

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Otto: A soppy story

A lot of writers have cats. That wasn’t my reason. I’d always wanted one, you see. Or, maybe, I’d wanted the idea of one. Anyway …

Like they say, the cat chose me. I’d been set on getting a Ragdoll or Scottish Fold or Russian Blue or something. A cat with title. Instead, I got Otto.

We hadn’t expected to get a cat that day. At least, I hadn’t. Visiting the shelter had been a surprise but I was very aware of the current inmates they were housing as I was in the habit of liking the many photos they shared on their social media pages. I was also in the habit of tagging my boyfriend in aforementioned photos. He got the hint. I had talked, liked photos and generally been a pain in the ass about a sweet, pretty, delicate, princess of a cat called Delia and I was finally going to meet her. We met. I felt nothing. Delia felt nothing. I thought that was that. Until we almost walked right past Ulysses. Like his namesake, he had clearly been on quite a journey. Ulysses had an injured ear; someone or something had taken a good chunk out of the top of it. Ulysses was huge. Ulysses filled his little cage. Ulysses had a cool name. He was proud and made eye contact and never felt the need to perform.

He kept on staring. So, I gave in and met him and that was it. We knew. He knew. I knew. The moment he stepped out of his cage. The moment the shelter volunteer picked him so easily despite his hefty size. He was huge, even bigger outside the cage.

We went away to think about it but not really think about and came back and said yes. Sign us up.

He came home.

We called him Otto because Ulysses didn’t have the greatest ending, really. And we wanted him to realise his travelling days were done; no more epic journeys, no more ear-biting-crusades, no more Helens to save. He had retired to a life as an indoor cat because he had to. They said that would be fine. But nobody asked Otto.

When I was teenager I wanted a kitten. Desperately. I was anxious and miserable at high school. I had this dream that a kitten could help all that. A cat would understand. Just as Mum finally gave in to the idea, I backed off. The idea, the dream, of a kitten was easier than reality – maybe? Or maybe I just got scared. What if it didn’t work out? What if I wasn’t quite ready, quite yet, to be a cat owner? What if it didn’t like me? What if … So, it just didn’t happen.

I tried the cat thing again, in my late 20s; supposedly happily married and ready to take the plunge into pet ownership with my supposedly solid relationship as a foundation. It had been eight years, three nearly four of marriage, of course we were ready. We named her Scout because of the book and hipsters weren’t naming their kids that yet. But he discovered a cat was too much commitment too soon and found someone else. They now have a baby with an incredibly hipster name and undeniably big expectations to fulfil – clearly, this child must grow up to front an alternative/indie/pop/rock band with such a name. Somehow, he left me but I moved out and Scout stayed. There was no talk of custody. I didn’t fight the decision.

So. Cat Attempt Number Three. Here I am. A woman on the wrong side of thirty, as I have been so delicately told, once again wondering … is this the right time for a cat? If I don’t do this now, will I ever do it? Will my lifestyle change too much? I mean, no more jumping on a plane for a spontaneous weekend in Sydney. Not like that ever happened. Not once. Although it could. As non-cat owners it could happen. We had that option, that choice. Is our relationship stable enough yet, it has only been three years (zero of that marriage): To share the responsibility of cat could be, I don’t know, a big step. It could change so much …

And yet …

There we were. Bringing Ulysses-now-Otto home. To our home. We hid the delicate artworks that adorned the mantle. We paid far too much for a bit of carpet stuck on a wooden post which doesn’t much our furniture whatsoever. We bought toys which scatter over the floor and trip us up.

We don’t get a good night’s sleep.

We don’t stay out too late.

We clean up poop and furballs and pick cat fur from our black pants and sweaters and sweep and vacuum like we have OCD.

We consider how we could go away and where we could leave him overnight or for a few days and we read blogs and forums about other cat owners.

We learn what his different meows mean and what he is communicating by the shape his tail makes or the position of his ears.

We say how cute, whilst he is sleeping.

And still, I wonder, have I done the right thing? Is this the right decision? It’s too late to change my mind now. When I attempt to get him to stop scratching at the mirror (why the goddamn mirror?) at 3am or crying incessantly at 4.30am or leaping on my pillow only ten minutes before my alarm goes off … But it is too late now. We love him. The commitment has been made. And our lives are, probably, better for it.

Otto.

Otto.

Reasons to Stay Inside

Reasons to Stay Inside - Artwork by Clinton Cherry

Reasons to Stay Inside – Artwork by Clinton Cherry

The year I turned 13 was the year I started high school and the year anxiety moved on in.

We didn’t know it was anxiety. Mum and I. We had no idea what it was or even that it could, possibly, have a name. All we knew was that school drop-off became hell. For her and for me.

I couldn’t leave the car.

I really couldn’t.

It was like I was too heavy for my body and everything was in slow motion and I felt sick and exhausted and my heart was pounding– boom, boom, boom, boom – and I was hot and cold and empty and sweaty and red faced and cracked lipped and I was going to be sick or faint …

I couldn’t join that group of girls who met under the veranda by the library and greeted everyone with a hug as if they hadn’t seen each other for years. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I didn’t know how to arrange my face.

Of course, they wouldn’t know this. I would get there, eventually, or not. Some days, Mum would say let’s go home but not always, not everyday and on those days I would get there because I had to. I would join in. None of them would have known. None of them would have noticed the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat and the tremble in my hands.

I wasn’t good at the things you are meant to be good at high school; parties, talking on the phone, hanging out, sleepovers. That sort of thing. I think I may have been good at it, once, but something happened inside me and I would overthink it and worry and talk myself into not going. So I wouldn’t go. Unless I had to. And when I did, because I had to, I was fine, of course. I had the funny dance moves and the long hair and the silly accents and I could handle this and, most of the time, I did. No one noticed.

They didn’t notice and could not be expected to notice. Why would they? By the time I was in my final year of high school I was school captain and played Juliet in an angst-ridden performance of Romeo and Juliet and I was on the debating team and the school ball committee and the year book committee and carried a clipboard for you to please sign this petition against this and I was in the local newspaper and was probably going to be, like, an actor or something, you know …

But I was struggling. With anxiety.

I could get out of the car and I had figured out how to arrange myself and what to say but I still hadn’t mastered that other stuff. That important stuff. I made myself sick over having to call a friend after school because I didn’t think I would know what to say. I didn’t turn up to parties or just go and hang out on the weekends because I didn’t think I would know how to act. I played versions of these events in my mind, over and over again, until I felt sick and had a stomach ache and thank god I can’t go now.

Friends get annoyed at that sort of thing. Of course they do. You find yourself not invited. You find yourself waiting for them to pick you up for the Year 12 graduation dinner only to discover they’re not coming via your house now because this is payback high school style and of course they cannot understand. How could they?

Anxiety feels like such an issue of privilege … Part of you thinks, how dare I be anxious? It is really, quite ridiculous. But it is true. And it is there. And, my friends, it is the reason I sometimes stay inside and miss your party or the opening of your play or your phone call … and for that I am sorry. I hope you know that. I hope you notice.

***

I have written a play for young people, Reasons to Stay Inside, about a boy who becomes so anxious he builds a giant pillow fort and refuses to leave it. His best friend does all she can to get him out. Nothing works … But she doesn’t leave him. She stays. She waits.

Anxiety is awful. Having a friend with anxiety is awful. I have written the play I wish I had seen when I was 12 going on 13. I have written the best friend I wish I had had. I have written something I hope will get the conversation started and make it easier for young people to talk about anxiety. 

 

In Praise of Love

 

Love Locks Paris

This is a true story.

I was in hiding. Or trying to disappear. Or both. Something like that. You get the idea.

I was eating 500 to 800 calories a day because that happens sometimes and I was running a lot and living alone and binging of Six Feet Under and I had given up on the idea of love. Romantic love. The kind of love people write about and sing about and commit crimes about.

There was one, once, that had been love until, I discovered, he loved a lot of women … at the same time … without them knowing. That could be love – it’s just not my kind of love. The one I thought might have been love wasn’t love. Not even close. He belittled my music choices and stole my washing machine and forgot my birthday. That isn’t love. I was done.

That was that.

I was staying in my mould-ridden studio apartment, doors locked and blinds closed because of the strange man who camped out on the balcony opposite and would look directly into my bedroom slash lounge room slash kitchen. He argued with his wife and liked to sing the national anthem. She would kick him out and he would create a tent, string up sheets and towels across the balcony and sit underneath it, crossed legged on a little cushion and shout “my life, my life” over and over like some sort of mantra. Some days I felt like doing the exact same thing.

I was OK.

And she said, as mothers do, someone will come along when you least expect it and it sounded like something she had heard in a rom-com starring Meg Ryan and I said I don’t need anyone –

I am totally fine with this –

I am a strong, independent woman –

I’m OK –

and I was offended even though I knew she meant well because she is my mother and she loves me and I love her. I know she loves me because she tells me. Growing up, she told all of us numerous times a day – I love you – just in case we died, tragically, bam, gone, just like that. She never would have forgiven herself if she hadn’t said it; if she didn’t know that we knew she loved us.

My family were across the desert and sent their love in pixelated Skype calls once every couple of weeks.

Love you, they would say at the end of the call because what can you say after that?

It was OK.

It really was …

I was writing and I loved writing. I was in Melbourne and I loved Melbourne. I was eating tomatoes and I loved tomatoes. I was performing and I loved performing and I was hanging out with the cast and I loved the cast and I loved the theatre and I loved running and I loved Sundays and loved Six Feet Under and I loved living alone and I loved being thirty two and I loved living so close to the tram line and I loved –

Not much, actually.

Not anything, really.

It was becoming difficult to leave the house. I turned up when I had to turn up. And I smiled and laughed and drank too much wine and would go home in taxis and tell the drivers my boyfriend was waiting for me at home because you have to do that sort of thing sometimes.

Here’s where I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I wasn’t sad because I didn’t have a boyfriend. I wasn’t lonely because I was divorced. I wasn’t empty because I hadn’t eaten.

This was just me back then. Disappearing.

Until someone saw me.

It was unexpected.

Like something my mother would say.

He had nice shoulders and wore great shirts and had a whole face smile and easy laugh and he was taking me on a date and I had no idea what that meant, not really, but I turned up late and we took it from there.

And then I started to fall in love with him and could only hope he was falling in love with me. Even though I knew I wasn’t meant to. Even though I knew the “timing was bad” and I should be “keeping my options open” and “seeing other people” and just being “chill”. Whatever that means. Falling in love makes you vulnerable and stupid and happy and distracted and it is awful and wonderful all at the same time.

I tried to hide the real me as I fell in love with him but I would trip upstairs and lock myself out of restaurants and collapse as elegantly as possible into the gutter and I was always late or changing my mind and he wondered why I wasn’t hungry again and he just kept on looking and watching and seeing me.

But I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Instead, I tried to make myself as small as I could. Just small enough, you see, nothing crazy – I would know when it was getting crazy. I had this under control.

Except I didn’t.

There I was, watching myself from afar, being in love and going through all the crazy-crazy whirlwind romance stuff and feeling elated and hungry and fat and ugly and gross and anxious and miserable.

I wasn’t eating enough.

I was living alone.

I was turning up when I had to.

I was smiling too much and drinking too much and staying over at his place way too much.

I was holding my breath and waiting for him to run.

But he didn’t. He started cooking dinners. And put avocado on English muffins for breakfast. And made protein filled lunches.

Then he said he loved me … even though he could see me. The real me. I could no longer hide. He wouldn’t let me disappear. He wouldn’t let me become invisible.

Love found me. It noticed.

Love became doctor appointments and specialists and therapists and waiting rooms and The Age quiz and driving and feeding the parking metre and celebrating small victories with champagne and eating and swimming and saying you’re beautiful even if its not quite true and an old camera and space and time and listening, really listening.

It was being seen.

I got better, so much better and I’m always getting better because of him and that love. I would have disappeared without it.

As George Elliot wrote “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another” – love deserves its praise because that one true, loving soul can encourage us to grow and heal and get better – maybe even save us. Isn’t that what love is about? Maybe?

 

***

This monologue was presented at The School of Life’s Symposium: In Praise of Love. I spoke in praise of love and then posed my question to create conversation amongst the audience. It was exhilarating and terrifying – a bit like falling in love … 

A Thank You Note or: Happy Mother’s Day

It’s raining here but not there where you are – at home. I checked. I always check. It will be sunny with an expected maximum of 25 degrees and clear blue skies. OK. I don’t know about the clear blue skies. I’m assuming that. It’s probably a fair assumption, right?

It’s raining here and it’s sunny there. The rain made me remember a day, many, many years ago. I’m not sure you remember it. I’m not sure it’s even true. But it’s a memory, a moment, that often comes to me on rainy, miserable days like today. We were in primary school, us four girls, and getting ready for it when you said, “let’s not go to school today”. Just like that. Unexpected. Unprecedented. Magical. The rain was heavy, at least in my memory, and the lights were on even though it was morning. You thought it would be a perfect day to sit in front of the heater and drink hot Milo. And so we did. On that rainy, miserable day, much like the day I’m having here, now, without you.

My memory has added a soft filter to the image of us sitting by the heater with our mugs of Milo. In my memory, we echo the illustrated cover of our battered copy of Little Women. That’s all I remember about that day. I push my memory to squeeze out a little more and all I can conjure up is that old heater. Maybe. Or maybe I am just able to remember the heater because we had it for such a long time. A dark brown, heavy thing; you had to hold down one button and click the other to get it going and it took longer and longer to start as it got older and older. Like we all do, I suppose.

I am sure there is more to that day than Milo and a heater and no school.

I can’t remember the details.

But I can remember the feeling. The feeling of possibility and safety and warmth and love. And that is worth so much. What a gift! How lucky am I, to have a mother who gave us that? And you have continued, always, to give us those gifts; possibility, safety, warmth and love.

I hope you know how much that means to me. I hope you know how much that day meant: No school, hot Milo and a heater.

Thank you, Mum.

 

Mum, Me and the very early 80s.

Mum, Me and the very early 80s.

 

Things I nearly wrote

You fail only if you stop writing.

Ray Bradbury

It’s been about 70 days since my last post.

These are things I have been writing and deleting:

1. Changing the dream.

2. Selling out: The reality of “changing the dream”.

3. Why am I here or: Casting directors who flirt with your audition partner.

4. Anxious Sunday nights.

5. Coconut flour.

6. The death penalty.

7. Andrew and Myuran.

8. Mercy.

9. Rehabilitation.

10. Is this really the world we live in?

11. Nauru.

12. Children in detention.

13. Australia needs more lectures from the UN, please.

14. Real Australians Say Welcome.

15. Is this really the world we live in? (part two)

16. 90s Hip Hop is the greatest Hip Hop.

17. Fake it till you make it.

18. Thoughts on being a 34 year old babysitter or: $20 an hour just doesn’t cut it anymore.

19. Walking home, alone.

20. Cats.

21. Itchy feet.

22. School Assemblies.

23. To the person who tried to steal our car.

24. How many cups of tea are too many cups of tea?

25. Writers Block – The Return.

26. What is the point of this blog anyway?

27. Finish something goddamn it.

28. Hit the publish button.

29. Something is better than nothing.

30. that’s what my psychologist said when I told her I was concerned about doing enough exercise in a day, you know, sometimes you just can’t fit it all in and she said, don’t be so hard on yourself, just think something is better than nothing so even if you just a walk around the block that’s great because that’s something but now I find it hard to even fit in a little something every single day and I worry because if something is better than nothing then what is nothing … nothing is … nothing is nothing and I need to worry about that … surely …

31. Nothing

32. my grandad said nothing is at the end and he seemed OK with all that until nanna died but you can’t truly change your mind when you’re an atheist unless, you know, someone from the “other side” comes over and tells you “hey, there is something” which then completely undoes all that need for faith upon which all this is (conveniently) built and you wouldn’t believe it anyway because you’re an atheist and you can’t truly change your mind on that sort of thing, can you? Besides, we have all seen City of Angels and know the awful consequences of those sort of “visits”.

32. City of Angels.

33. Where are you, Meg Ryan?

34. I’d rather be in New York.

35. I’m doing this wrong: 30 minutes and 20 drafts to create one tweet.

36. Being quiet.

37. Anxiety.

38. Nothing. Again.

39. …

A boring story we have all heard before.

walking home by katy warner

A male passenger in a white van stuck his head out of the window and yelled. At me. I was walking down the street, nearly home after a long day at work when they drove by. A quiet street. My quiet street.

I couldn’t hear the words exactly but I could hear the sound. Like when someone speaks in a foreign language and even though you don’t know what they’re saying, you know what they’re saying. Know what I’m saying? Something in that tone, that leering face, jolted me. He made that certain kind of sound you will sometimes hear certain groups of certain kinds of men make at certain establishments when they have reached a certain level of a certain thing I shall call “jerk-ness”.

I stopped. I turned around, flung my arms in the air, in that Tom Hanks I’m-acting-like-I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that fashion (which I always thought was kind of unrealistic until I found myself doing it) and watched the van continue on its way. Come back, I thought, come back and have a conversation with me. Get out of the car, look me in the eye, and repeat what you said.

He didn’t. Of course. Even though I knew they could see me, standing there all Tom-Hanks-esque and angry. No, of course they didn’t come back…

This happens from time to time. Most of the time. Because, to some men, when women walk down the street they are not people. Not fellow human beings. We are objects to be objectified. Of course. Yell, whistle, beep the horn.

It is not flattering. It is not funny. It is not harmless.

It is intimidating and pathetic. It is vile.

These are not sincere, heartfelt compliments given from one human to another. These men don’t look you in the eye. They couldn’t.

You never see these cowards again. You never know who they are.

However …

This van was marked with a company name.

I tweeted them.

They got back to me. Quickly. That sort of thing doesn’t look so great on social media.

They were sorry. They wanted more details. They would follow-up. They took this seriously.

Good, I thought.

Then –

The managing director, who was shocked and wanted to call me right away, called me right away.

She had been given a different story.

She thought I should be told the Different Story.

Here it is: A couple of young guys driving to football training with the radio up, singing loudly, having a good time. The passenger is not an employee. The driver is. And he is a great guy. Polite. Hardworking. Finishing his masters degree at a top university. From a good family. He doesn’t remember any incident … But he remembers singing, having a laugh with his friend.

The story ends.

Silence.

And I wait.

Silence.

The managing director takes my complaint seriously. She told me so. Many times. 

And because she Takes This Sort Of Thing Seriously she would have to fire him. He would have to go. Her hands were tied on this one. The company takes a strong stance on this type of thing.

Unless ….

Is there any doubt in your mind? she asked.

Doubt?

Could it have been a couple of guys singing and having harmless fun? she wanted to make sure. 

I heard no music. I heard no singing. I heard a man yell. At me. I saw his face. Hanging out the window. At me. It made me stop. It made me fling my arms in the air. It made me red, it made me shake … 

It made me change the route I walk home. 

If that is this case, she told me, then he would be fired. Will be fired. The company takes a strong stance on this type of thing. Her hands were tied on this one.

But … If there is any chance I was mistaken … well … then she wouldn’t have to fire him. He would get a warning but he wouldn’t be fired. 

I told her again – I didn’t hear what was said even though I knew what was said, you know? (I don’t think she did.) But, yes, I suppose … Doubt.

And that was that.

She thanked me for my considerate handling of the situation.

Considerate.

He would get a warning: A Serious Warning. 

He would write me an apology letter.

I got the letter. I don’t know if he got the warning. 

In the apology letter he wanted me to know he was polite and responsible and goes to a top university and comes from a good family. He wanted me to know he had learnt from the actions he said he had no recollection of.

I didn’t get to tell him I am polite and responsible and went to a top university and come from a good family.

I read his email, keep my head down and my iPod on. Loud.

And that was that.  

Except it isn’t.

It’s not.

Is it?

(PS: I have had this post written for some time but never wanted to publish it until I read Girl in the Hat’s excellent post If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist). My story ain’t all that important. It doesn’t even matter in the scheme of things. It doesn’t even register when we consider what other women (and men) deal with on a daily basis. I have dealt with a lot worse but I know I have it a lot better than many, many women (and men) on this planet. This didn’t hurt me. This just made me think; what the hell? But I think what is interesting is my reluctance to post it … Are there any posts you have been reluctant to publish?)