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I’d awoken with a headache and horrible, foggy eyes from sleeping with my contacts in after I don’t know how many hours sleep, but not many.  The flat was silent and stale smoke pervaded, but there had clearly been an effective pre-bed tidy-up, so I didn’t feel too bad about heading home. It would be about a 25 minute walk back to my place. For once I was glad to see a grey sky, since I’d neglected to bring walk-of-shame sunglasses. I’d anticipated making the walk through the Alameda and into the centre as quickly as possible, to breakfast and my bed at the other end, but there was something so satisfying about those streets this morning…

Calle Miguel de Carvajal, one of many interesting street names in Seville which I must investigate.

Calle Miguel de Carvajal, one of many interesting street names in Seville to investigate.

In contrast to New Year’s Day at home, which has something of the post-apocalypse about it – desolate street scenes with occasional bands of refugees, fleeing, bedraggled from a night of kamikaze boozing, or family units wrapped up to the hilt against a bitter northerly wind, journeying to share sustenance with elders; barely a vehicle on the road and absolutely no public transport – the streets were full of people. Walking dogs, jogging, or dressed in smart coat, umbrella in gloved hand, as if out for a Sunday stroll. And there were buses running. Given the Spanish fondness for holidays and – dare I say it – not working, I was a little surprised. All of the shops and most of the bars and cafes, however, remained closed. It was a great opportunity to feel Sevilla differently, without the distractions and the bustle of commerce, of shoppers, of the crowds taking tapas. The dull light added an unexpected, soft peace, and right away I made the decision not to take the quickest route home, but to turn in another direction and find a path previously unknown.

Vespa under orange trees.

Vespa under orange trees, que Sevillano.

Rain on Plaza del Museo,  a marble, hedged patio endowed with two huge, ancient fig trees, outside the Museo de Bellas Artes and five minutes from my flat.

Rain on Plaza del Museo, a marble, hedged patio endowed with two huge, ancient fig trees, outside the Museo de Bellas Artes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned midday and the bells on all the multitude of churches clanged.  Along with the Chino bazaars, they were the only thing open. Seville is a city of twisty-turny streets and alleys, without hills, and so churches come upon you unexpectedly – a high, flat stucco wall suddenly merging out of a block of apartments. Through one great, studded wooden door, I saw a set of Franciscan sisters in white habits. Through another, I heard Gregorian chant benedictions. I walked on but the sound echoed in my head, and the tinny pop music from a café a few streets on seemed unbearably empty. I tried to find my way back, not sure that I would – the streets here are tricksy like that – but then the church came out of nowhere again and I heard the monks. I lingered in the small plaza outside, under the ubiquitous orange trees (they have fruits, even at this time of year) where someone had parked their Vespa, and listened, trying to pretend I wasn’t. I’m not religious and I always feel a bit awkward and embarrassed to show interest in it. There are moments sometimes though, like that one, where I understand it…

Door to the church of the Gregorian chanters.

Door to the church of the Gregorian chanters.

The unusual motif outside the church of the chanters. The saint is Guadalupe, but I'm not sure of the significance of the turbaned men who flank her.

The unusual motif outside. The saint is Guadalupe, but I don’t know about the turbaned men who flank her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I walked on, and around the corner this time (I chose a different one) I could hear above me a continuing party with a soundtrack of funk. I smiled, felt a little envious, and carried on into a shabbier area, with broken bottles, swept piles of revelry rubbish, and homeless sleeping behind cardboard ramparts.

Walking the damp streets of my new city this morning, I really felt that I was starting this new year in the best possible way. I’d celebrated the previous evening with my fabulous new colleagues in my new job. Here I was, exactly one month into my stay in Seville, first wages in the bank, a spacious place to live, and no longer a waif. A whole year ahead of me to explore and love and hate this country that’s been on my mind so many years. I can relax! For a bit, anyway…

A man out for a New Year's Day stroll.

A local flaneur, out for a New Year’s Day stroll.

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I left Facebook last week.

It was something I’d been mulling over for a long time. I realised long ago that the thing was a total time succubus, and with my inclinations for procrastination it was quite a hindrance to productivity. But I’m a sentimental devil, and I couldn’t bring myself to part with my hard-earned friends, many in far places, with whom this was my sole connection. I also hoped that I could show some strength of will and be more disciplined about the time I spent gawping at it…

Alas, the gawping continued. And other, more pressing things began to niggle at me. The insidious advertising: sometimes blatantly there in the newsfeed, completely uninvited; but more often through ‘sponsored links’, things that friends ‘like’ showing up. (Note, the first thing on the drop-down menu at the top right-hand corner, before account or privacy settings, is ‘advertise’).

This was only an aspect of a newsfeed that was becoming ever more disinteresting, or rage-inducing, due to a growing accumulation of meaningless ‘friends’, some of whom were turning out to be racists, fascists, or just total blockheads (no Tories though, thank goodness). Even if they weren’t themselves posting racist/fascist/blockhead material, posts that they ‘liked’ would appear: “Dear British Goverment, i think our country z shite becuz u hav let in all the forein immigrint scum n they hav takin all tha houses and tha jobz and the money n they r the reason that i am a fat twat with no grammar or other skillz.”, “Dear Tayside Police, why were yooz out pure catchin me speedin when i seen on the news their wiz old ladies bein mugged n that?”…

Get your ignoramus beliefs and piss poor grammar out of my eyes.

Nonsense like that contributed to a growing unease about the way that Facebook leads you to accumulate people. I have no interest whatsoever in sharing my life with fascists, et al, and yet here they were, in my face every day. Not to mention countless posts about children I’ve never met, dogs whose existence I care nothing for, what people eat for all meals of the day, what time they go to bed, what time they get up, whether they took a shit that morning, what car they have, what phone they have, what fecking handbag they desire, when they’re drunk/hungover/high/bleeding/vomming/dying – oh wait, they’re not dying, just hungover, bleeding and vomming. (And I can’t deny having made such posts myself). But an irritating etiquette has emerged whereby you’re obliged to be ‘friends’ with co-workers, ex-classmates, ex-lovers, wives of distant cousins, friends of parents – a whole array of people you would never normally have communicated details of your personal life to. And people never move into the past… That’s a bit creepy…

A friend of a friend used an analogy I liked – normally in life you have a jar, and there’s a little hole in the bottom of that jar, and as people become less important to you they get smaller and shuffle down and eventually fall out the bottom of your jar. But with Facebook – there’s no hole in the jar! People just collect and collect until you’re drowning in amongst them.

I’m also, I think, augmenting the ‘grumpy old Scotswoman’ aspect of my personality. Conversely to communicating with people you wouldn’t normally communicate with, you also end up not communicating with the people you would want to communicate with. Increasingly, people can’t be bothered to call, or to write an email, or (proper old school, I know) to send anything in the post. ‘Liking’ a friend’s new profile picture has become all that’s needed to let people know you’re thinking of them, and that’s rubbish. I took the time a couple of weeks ago to write some proper emails, and it was wonderful. Wastebook-based communication, in contrast, is SO superficial, and vacuous, and narcissistic. Well, I unsubscribe from the enforced Facebook ephemera!

Just this week, reading about status anxiety in ‘The Spirit Level’ has confirmed to me that I’ve made the right decision. Worry about social status is something that has become a huge burden to people in economically rich countries, and Pusbook* totally exasperates this, plays and even depends upon it.  Whether you are willing to admit it or not, anyone that uses it regularly gets drawn into waiting for friends to like or comment on their posts. For some people, especially teenagers now, their social status truly lives and dies by the sword of Pusbook. So, I thought, why add to all the other anxieties already assaulting me in this post-modern century? Since deleting only days ago, I’ve felt a notable decline in anxiety, like I’ve been unburdened from a pernicious responsibility. I feel almost emancipated!

There are things I will miss. It is undeniably useful for organising events and keeping up with developments in my spheres of interest. I had a variety of pages I followed for aesthetic or literary fixes (Magnum Photos, Rumi, Beware of Images, for example), and for quality or leftfield news (Al Jazeera English, BBC World Service, Jezebel). I will miss having a network of knowledge and advice at my fingertips. And I will miss spying on people who I perhaps haven’t spoken to in a long time but like to check in on. Equally, perhaps, there are people who liked to spy on me from time to time and will miss me too…

But deleting my Facebook will be a pretty good indication of which friends are important to me: they are the ones that already have my email or phone number, or I have theirs. They are the ones that, when I posted that I would be leaving, got in touch. They are the ones that I made sure to let know, because I want to keep them… As for the others, it’s once more up to serendipity to bring us back together…

*Local slang name, from the Scots vulgar vernacular for ‘face’.

I’ve been to the cinema twice in the last couple of weeks, and in both films I felt I’d seen the supporting actresses in something else, that I had known and liked their characters in something else. But I hadn’t. They had reminded me of good friends, far away, and once I realised this the nostalgia was intense.

This happens to me often now. I started a new job a few months ago, and really warmed to one of my new co-workers even though we didn’t speak at length or have anything hugely in common. Every time she spoke I felt happy to hear her voice, and I soon realised it was because she spoke at the same pitch and tone as a friend who’d moved away to London not long before.

I’m in an odd place, friendship-wise at the moment. Living and working in my hometown for the first time in a decade, I’m no longer connected to anybody here. I never was of course, that’s why I left. Though I met my best friend ever at university – truly the other half of me – I’d only ever made a couple of genuinely good friends until I went travelling, when suddenly I discovered there are a whole plethora of misfits out there, all with one core virtue in common – our oddness.

Since then, I’ve largely chosen the people that I spend time around – leftfield, open-minded types for the most part – or been fortunate enough to move in circles where those sorts abound anyway. But now I’m back on the outside. Not that the people I work with aren’t great, they actually are! But we lead parallel lives, parallel thoughts… And so I miss those far-away friends all the more intensely. I’m not sure if the people I see on the screen or in the street really are like the people I know, or if its just wishful thinking, my brain in its sentimentality transposing what it wants to see…

There are two things I miss about life on the Island. One is without a shadow of a doubt the anarchy, but that’s a whole other thing. The other is having friends so close by. No matter what nonsense was going on, there was never a fellow misfit more than five minutes away with whom to unburden your woes, and indeed share some of those anarchic delights…

An article on The Guardian this week imparts The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, as described by a nurse who spent several years working in palliative care. Among them was not staying in touch with friends: “Everyone misses their friends when they are dying”. This statement grabbed me. Although I wasn’t dying, when I got shot and was lying in the clinic I found (to my guilt) that it wasn’t my family I wanted to see but certain friends that I wished, so bad, could be there…

I am so relieved to see the back of this year. It felt for a time like it would never come. This has been straight up one of the most difficult years of my life, if not thee most. Not the worst, mind, but the most difficult. Financially, emotionally, physically. Mostly emotionally.

We moved into the House of Doom right at the beginning of the year – that certainly got us off on the wrong footing. Senile barking dogs, mosquito infestations, unbearable breezeless heat, builders with man-sized speakers belting Jesus-themed country and western, the Loudest Van in the World that roared up the hill every a.m., the loopy man-obsessed drug-addicted Quebecois drama queens next door, insomnia, scheming sociopathic flatmates, inadvertently becoming the ‘party house’, the falling apart of friendships and relationships…

All that before we even got to the shooting incident, the ruination of my ankle (still quite ruined), further disintegration of House of Doom-based relationships, dwindling funds, and a whole swilling island full of crazed and broken souls, some of them my dear, dear friends and indeed an inadvertent boyfriend who I did my best to look after.

A broken heart (the most acutely painful to date), a deportation, the death of my grandmother, a sorry retreat to my sorry hometown, another half-broken heart, the death of a once-vivacious aunt, a forced return to retail (oh woe!), a royal fucking-over from Canadian Immigration, and yet another bit of heartache later, I thought 2011 had finally spat all it could at me. Until this week. A final twist of the knife had to be had…

It’s not just me though. This year has been a motherfucker for numerous friends. And people seem to have been dying off all over the place, almost as if they are getting out while they can; they sense the change coming… The world is revolving – revolution in the Arab world, the killing of Gaddafi, Bin Laden,  the death of Kim Jong Il; the continued economic decay of the United States and the European Union; the rebirth of powerful public dissent in the West as well – both civilised (the Occupy movement, especially in the States), and feral (the UK riots – see my earlier article); not to mention an onslaught of destructive climatic events – earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding…

It would be nice to think that this was just a blip, but I have the foreboding feeling that in 2012 it’s about to intensify… I don’t believe that the world is going to end on 21st December 2012, or that the aliens are going to come, and I certainly hope that the planets aren’t going to align and cause a freak gravitational event whereby we will all float up off the earth and explode (as Dado, my old boss, is expecting to happen)… I’m not prone to airy-fairy notions but I do think there may be something in this Mayan shit. Not that we are facing the End of Days, but an End of Days. Things are afoot. Things feel different. Change be a-coming…

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In terms of the world order we’re about due a change, and if that makes our lives in the West more difficult, so be it. We reap what we sow. Hopefully our new condition will jolt our society out of its stupor (I like to think the signs are already showing).

On a personal level, I did say that though 2011 has been exceptionally difficult, it has been far from the worst year of my life. So many lessons learned and new things experienced and things figured out and falling into place and FUN had and god damn me for being sentimental but so many good good friends and, for the first time in my life, I have found myself looking to the future with something that is not fear.

Hello 2012…

The darkness tonight was black and thick, tinged red like heavy velvet by the streetlamps; impenetrable. It reminded me that as the weeks ebb on, the evening light will wane and the hours of UV will wither into that frightful northern day of barely six hours. A creeping twinge of dread…

As torturous as I find the winter months for this very reason, I have a different relationship with the darkness itself, with the night-time. Never a morning fairy, always a sympathiser with owls and a reluctant sleeper (I once threw a horrendous tantrum at the age of three or so because my Mum and Dad wouldn’t let me stay in the plum tree all night like an owl), the night-time has always pulled me in. My dreams are more often than not set at night, and the strange and shiny things it offers forth – the moon and the stars – I’ve gazed at in wonder for as long as I can remember.

I may have to be up at 6am, or have been awake for two days and utterly exhausted, but the darkness still lures me in and I will linger on, pottering into the night. It possesses some indescribable peace, a calm unattainable at any other time, a release from the pressures of day. You come to feel special; you are one of a few, a society of strange ones privy to this hour of quiet, and crime; the witching hour…

Driving home in the dark on recent evenings, seeing the lights of lone cottages against silhouetted hillsides, crescent of a moon above, stirs some nostalgia in me. This image holds some sort of perfection for me, something I long for but recognise as unattainable – an existence contained entirely in the small stone walls of a rural abode, darkness outside, safety within… I assume this harks from my early childhood when we stayed out in the country, and I would stare out the window at the night as my Dad drove us home, content in the absence of knowledge of anything morally dark in the world…

The image of a cityscape at night is also one that’s stuck with me since I was small. We didn’t live near a big city so for a long time it must only have been in my fiction-inspired dreams, and again I remember being in the car at night as we drove somewhere, again gazing out into the dark, when I got to see such a sight for the first time. It’s still one I find thrilling, all of those lights against the black. In this case I welcome the moral darkness into my heart, for that is where the thrill lies: to look out on those lights in the night, exclusively human, a blanket of fascinating vice…

 

On a personal level, writing has traditionally been a source of catharsis for me, allowing me to take all the things out of my head and lay them before me for examination, clarification. Like Dumbledore’s ‘pensieve’ in Harry Potter, as a friend once pointed out.

On a practical level, I was skilled at the academic-style writing required at university, and at the journalistic writing I did at Honduras This week. But that impersonal style is not what the blog calls for; it asks for something a little more intimate, something from the pensieve, taking me into an uncomfortable arena…

playfire.com

Blogging is inherently personal, but I am not inclined to sharing information from the inside – not even with close friends, unless provoked. Since my current audience is likely only people I know, how much should I let you in?

The narcissism of it bothers me as well. How arrogant to think that anyone should care to know me or what I have to say? But then, that surely has to be an accepted truth of any writing. Blogging is merely an amplification of this in the post-modern culture of ephemera and individualism (are we still in the post-modern era? Have we moved on? I’m not sure).

Being given to perfectionism, in other spheres of writing spending days on a paragraph alone, or weeks editing a piece (there is always swathes of gumph to be deleted), the blog is again anathema, it’s ephemeral, unperfected nature like some over-confident teenager. But I must remember it is just that – ephemera, and whatever imperfections I post will soon be lost and forgotten…

If I am to improve and explore as a writer, I must overcome these anxieties. If I am to temper my tendency for introspection, my over-enthusiasm for the comma, my often unnecessary wordiness, I have to put things out there, test them.

Welcome to my pensieve…

After writing the last entry, I began wondering exactly what I meant by ‘innocence’. Although it feels like the right word, I’m not sure that it is. The obvious definition would be ‘lack of worldly experience’, or ‘freedom from sin’. I don’t believe either of those things applied to me at that time. Nor can you come back once those lines have been crossed. So what do I mean by having felt ‘innocent’?

I think what I meant is innocence not as the things you have or haven’t done, places not seen or sins not committed; but the things that have happened to you and around you and how those things affect you. The more difficult things are, for you or those around you, the more you become sensitive to this and this becomes your perspective. The struggle permeates you, any vestige of the childhood feeling of blissful ignorance worn away and you are left with a weariness.

But if circumstances change and positivity abounds in your surroundings, those feelings can be washed away, perspective swung back around and something of that childish innocence given back to you. Time as healer. It’s like being in a submarine, looking through the periscope, and although it can turn 360° you can only take in a snapshot of that at any one time. Swivel your chair around and the picture might change completely.

Innocence is probably the right word after all.

glassian.org