Monthly Archives: September 2008

Photograph

About ten or fifteen people, dressed up, sat around a table, looking directly into the lens. It’s clearly quite an occasion; there are candles and a huge white tablecloth and a general air of celebration.

A girl in the centre is clearly the focus of this party and she looks touched, her smile almost nostalgic. They all smile; two are making hugely exaggerated shocked faces, and you wonder what the photographer said to make them do that. Smiles ranging from the broad and beaming with thumbs up or jazz-hands, to the shy and glad.

Some of the people in the photograph seem less than happy; their smiles slightly concerned or apprehensive, but they all smile.

And then there’s the man at the back, not smiling, but looking right through the lens, a dark, liquid gaze, meant for the photographer and for the photographer alone. A look of regret, perhaps loss; it floods the rest of the picture. Who is he? Who is behind the lens? Why is this one man so arresting?

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Ugly

Time to be frank.

Over the last week I’ve felt worse and worse. I am surrounded by all these beautiful, intelligent people. I am the largest and the least attractive of the girls in my flat; girls who know how to do things to their faces and their hair that I can’t even begin to emulate; girls who can dance and drink and joke about, who can make conversation that is worth listening to, who are interesting and gorgeous people to know; and then there is me.

My room is a tip. K walked into my room today to talk about what I could wear tonight, and she was astounded: ‘Jenny! It’s like a boys room in here! This makes my room look tidy!’. She has a fair point, our K. I like her a lot but she is the kind of girl who complains constantly about various aspects of her body and doesn’t realise how beautiful she really is. I feel like Muriel out of Muriel’s Wedding, honestly, I do. The part at the beginning before she leaves her poisonous home town and gets a good haircut and some new clothes. Today I missed a whole bunch of lectures because I’d lost one sheet from my lecture schedule (the rest of which is haphazardly pinned to the wall). I spent far too much on food for myself and for others. I ate far too much – again. I’m constantly late and never organised enough to do any of the things I’d like to do.

The plan was that we were all going to go out on the town and check out one of the club nights around here, but after trying on everything in my wardrobe several times, and doing all manner of things to my hair and make-up, I still couldn’t see myself as anything other than a doughy, underexercised, pale and fat lump. What is worse is that I know I didn’t used to look like this: for a glorious summer I was thin and tanned and somehow each part of my body balanced each other part so that the whole worked. Now my head seems too small against the continental dimensions of my thighs and stomach and there is nothing, it seems, that I can do to change the look of that.

I have yet to join the gym, although meanwhile I have been cycling and walking everywhere. Today I joined assorted sports clubs: I will make it. But for the time being I cannot stand to look at myself. I don’t have any clothes that flatter my newly ‘enhanced’ figure.

In all honesty, I feel incapable of respecting myself like this; and trapped, because there’s so little I feel I am capable of doing – being, as I am, such a useless person. I know it’s a mental trap, a catch-22; I know that I am intelligent and that I am capable of being organised, being on time, being sensible with my money and budgeting accurately. I know I am capable of the willpower to get some regular exercise and stop snacking whilst I cook or buying a packet of crisps when I went in to whatever cafe I am in just for a coffee. I know these things as facts – but right now, this Jenny Mohan who I am, who I inhabit, she’s a terrible, lazy person, why, she deserves everything she gets. I just can’t believe I am enough of a human being to make it, to become someone I actually enjoy being.

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Filed under Friendship, Introspection, Society, Women

Overwhelmed.

This is currently my state of being. Travelling back through the city after bowling yesterday evening and all I could see was lights for miles and miles, huge buildings with an average of ten stories, thousands of people, lit windows, floodlights, car lights, buses, adverts, the whole thing. The library here could fit the entire population of my home town quite comfortably, I think. This place is twice as big (at least) as the city in which I lived for all of last year.

It’s madness. Hundreds of people I don’t know yet and never will; no, thousands, millions maybe. Hundreds of people I will get to know soon and don’t know yet. All the people I’ve met and have yet to get to really know. It’s exhausting being among all these strangers and having to be always aware of the way I come across and how that might be interpreted.

I thought I’d be alright but inside I’m still the scared misfit schoolgirl and I struggle to place myself among these people. I went for a walk to try and centre myself last night but I couldn’t get away from the lights and the noise. I will be happy here, I know, but right now it’s a real struggle, frankly.

I’m sorry, I’m sure I’ve written entries that were better written and more interesting in the past; I’m not sure I’ve written a worse one, but what else is a blog for than occasionally to say things like this?

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Home Sweet Home

Right. I’m here now, in my new room. It’s a bit messy, there are boxes that did contain things like my radio and my toaster, and so on, but it’s home. I love that I have my own bathroom and that it looks like other people’s bathrooms – that I have my own shampoo, soap and such rather than just whatever my mother’s happened to pick up at Waitrose. I love that I have all my own cooking stuff. I feel like a grown-up! But already there are going to be problems, I can tell. There isn’t really enough space in the kitchen, or rather, there is, but it doesn’t divide equally into ten and people have already taken more than their fair share. But so long as we can navigate this one without world war three breaking out I don’t particularly mind. Everyone in my flat is friendly and pleasant; more than that I cannot say. The sun is shining, the weather is sweet, this next year should be pretty good. I think that’s all for now – I need to go into town for my new iPod!

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Moving at the Speed of Light.

A week ago university was lightyears away. Tomorrow I’ll be at my aunt’s house, a halfway point, and on Saturday, I’ll be there. I’ll be unpacking the radio, the laptop, the sheets and throws and pillows I’ve brought, the billions of shoes I’ve yet to pack, the new and the old mugs, bowls, plates and glasses I’ve picked up over the last weeks, finding places to put my pictures, staking a claim to cupboard and fridge space, meeting my new flatmates and organising social dates with them to all the various things laid on over the next couple of weeks. On Saturday, who knows, I could meet some truly great and potentially livelong friends – or the most annoying group of people I’ll ever live with. 

A week ago university was lightyears away; a week ago I finally saw someone I’ve known for a long while in a new light; and part of me has seriously fallen for the way that light falls on him. I don’t know if I’m ready to think about that yet, but the fact that there is that light tells me that, well, at least I’m not dead…! Hooray for seriously pretentious metaphors.

Either way it’s irrelevant: I’m not going to see him for a long while, and who knows who I might meet in the meanwhile. But I’m bloody excited about all of it.

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Life Lessons

I am currently working on a book that will be published later this year about girls growing up with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). It’s addressed to the parents and caregivers of girls with ASDs and talks about helping your daughter through puberty, school (and the relational aggression girls mete out at school), growing up and become a more independent person, ready for adulthood. Part of that, of course, involves educating girls about their sexuality and giving them both the independence and support they need to be able to date, if they are capable or willing to do so. And there is a whole chapter dedicated to teaching girls what they can do about sexual abuse, how to recognise abusive behaviour, and so on. How to teach higher-functioning autistic girls when and how to say no tactfully but assertively, how to realise that they’re in a situation they don’t want to be in and how to get out of such a situation.

I think this book is brilliant. It’s clearly written by people who have first-hand experience, either because they have ASDs themselves or because they are the parents of girls who do. It goes through a very careful education to prepare a girl for, as far as I can see, anything. And well they need to – girls with developmental difficulties get sexually abused more than pretty much any other group of society, from what I can make out of the statistics given. All I was ever told about abuse, essentially, in a formal educational setting, was that I have always had the right to say ‘no’. And that doesn’t really help. We don’t get taught anything like enough about assertiveness and about standing up for ourselves.

It’s so easy to spend your childhood and young adulthood being obliged to do things for other people, be a good little middle class girl, do your cello practice, do your homework, socialise with certain people because you feel that they need your friendship, follow the crowd in order to look good. You might get pressured into stealing some sweets or trying a fag or a drink before you really want to, or calling out names to some class target or other, but it isn’t the end of the world. You can say sorry, you can decide not to do those things again – you can put them behind you. 

Eventually you get a bit older, and you realise that you don’t really know how to think for yourself, figure out exactly what it is you want. Even if you do know what you want, expressing your wishes and needs is hard because you somehow feel selfish for letting people down or disobeying them. It’s easy to just subjugate what you want and deserve to the wishes of others.

The point is, even now, we may have the right to say what we do and do not want, but we don’t have the power to do so. It’s easy to be manipulated, to feel bad for standing up for ourselves, to feel that we can’t just tell someone we thought we trusted to get out of our house or our lives, because it’s not polite, but for God’s sake, we can. There are situations when politeness and etiquette should be thrown out and ignored. I have learnt, perhaps not soon enough, that there is no reason to feel bullied or pressured by any man. Not that any man would do that, but there are more than you’d think or hope that would. It just makes me mad that it’s not something I learnt how to do sooner – how to stand up for myself. This book, despite not being aimed at me, has empowered me and taught me a lot about myself, and what I deserve as a woman. For which, thank goodness.

 

I apologise for how close this entry runs to the bone. It was something I needed to say, in some form or other, and I had no other available outlet.

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Ta-Dah!

I have my new laptop, a blue Dell Studio, which is about twice as good as my old desktop, reasonably pretty (although obviously nothing compared to the sheer beauty that is just about any Apple computer) and utterly fine for anything and everything I may wish to do on it.

All I need now is a new iPod after the bag-flooding incident – and possibly a decent set of earphones to go with it. And a laptop bag, a haircut and new contact lenses. Other than that, I’m all ready to go! Plans for the next week include manic proof-reading (my deadline is the same day as I leave for uni), packing, and one or two last social calls including, I hope, a recording session with a friend. We’ll see how that pans out! Tonight my mother is roasting a joint of lamb – one of my favourite things to eat – as a kind of farewell meal, so what that there are several days to go yet…

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Help, Please?

I go to university in a week, and therefore I need to buy myself a laptop. My question is this: to go Mac or not? I use (and love) my iPod (or did until I flooded it, long story). I don’t play games at all, but I do use my computer for photo-editing, a certain amount of composing (or at least re-scoring and arranging things for string quartet), and a lot of film-viewing. Nothing massively taxing, anyway, although I am the kind of person who tends to have loads of windows open at once, which slows my current computer down rather. Budget isn’t really an issue as such (I know a MacBook is a lot more expensive than most laptops) although obviously I don’t want to spend the extra money on a Mac if it’s not really worth it. Which way did you jump, what do you use, and what would you advise, dear readers?

Anyway, I’m off into town for such odd things as Something To Attach My Basket To My Bike, new watch batteries and some mugs. And some inspiration.

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My Favourite Birthday Present

This Saturday I decided to celebrate my birthday with my friends, going to a Chinese JC and I had found in town. I had an utterly brilliant time – I can’t actually remember a night I’ve enjoyed more, recently. And then I realised why.

It’s because finally I have a group of friends which I’m actually a part of once more. People who, when invited, will cross counties to join me. A group of people who can laugh at me for things about me that only they really know me well enough to say. It struck me during a bizarre conversation we were having about which of us will be married first/last, and prospective children/divorces. Unanimously they agreed I’d be the first to be married but one of the last to have children – and that I’d almost certainly have a divorce at some point. The point being even I wouldn’t make that kind of a guess about myself but when I asked them to explain the reasons they came up with tallied exactly with what I’m like. And with them, I can make those kinds of jokes about any other member of that group.

These are people who know how to get me out of a black mood, when to leave me in one, and when I just need a good shouting at – and people about whom, by and large, I could say the same. I can’t put my finger on why or how, but somehow I know I am part of this group, this odd near-family of people – I have a role, as I haven’t had for years now, within their ranks, and it’s partly a role they’ve chosen for me, one that’s evolved out of the group dynamic. For whatever reason, these are the people among whom I feel absolutely and insanely at home.

This is something I haven’t had for a while. I know people who’ve been in the same clique all through college, and for the two or three years since, and nothing’s changed for them. I know people who’ve been in the same group since year seven. But for me, I’ve had a different group every single year for years now, for a number of reasons. I’ve fallen out with one group and ran on to the next, then something’s happened there, and so on. I’ve never been enough part of the group that one injudicious comment, pairing-up or drunken evening doesn’t mean I’m shown the door. I’ve always had certain of my friends, but haven’t known the other people they socialise with, and have met up with those people singly or in awkward groups comprised of people who I barely know. But finally I’ve actually been accepted into an entire group which has in it, altogether, five or six people who I’d trust implicitly. I met them last summer and I don’t know how it’s taken me so long to realise that they think about me as being part of their group, and not the faceless outsider I was so convinced I was.

I always thought the idea of a ‘clique’ was somehow childish, that it was somehow better to have many friends from all over the place as I always did. But I didn’t realise how fantastic it feels to walk into a room, the pub, the restaurant, sit yourself down and actually be entirely relaxed, at home in the company you’re keeping, and not always watching your back and trying to get the measure of the friends-of-friends you find yourself among.

I can’t really explain this whole thing very well, but I guess I’m just revelling in the security of having finally found my niche, a bunch of people who will accept me for whatever I do. Friendship unconditional. That’s what they give me, and that’s what I give them, without so much as thinking about it. And because that’s the way things are, I don’t want to even consider doing anything that could possibly rock that boat, even though I know I’m…safe.

Right now, I am so damn happy.

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Comedy Injuries and a very cool Sea Cucumber

It’s been a pretty eventful couple of days since I last posted.

First I gashed open my foot on a broken ringbinder that I’d left out on my floor. The irony being that my room is nearly tidy now, and never once did it injure me when most of my clothes and books were on the floor and the carpet may as well have not existed – no, it chooses to strike now when most things are away and all that remained was a heap of paper and files and folders and things for recycling/re-use. I now have what will be a rather fine scar, about two inches long, 3mm deep and 5mm wide. And I’m limping around using an umbrella for a walking stick with a giant Elastoplast affixed to my foot.

Yesterday I limped into town and met up with a friend who has definitely been mentioned more than once here (of ‘Things I Lost’ fame). Flickers of the friendship we lost (blowing bubbles into smoothies from LoveJuice = utterly hilarious), all horribly mixed in with the billions of mistakes we made, and I’m quite surprised we didn’t end up in some all-out argument, but instead, as usual, he sucked all the fight out of me. So I was vastly cheered up to meet my cousins at the station, go out for a drink or two and then go down to Blockbusters for a film, in this case, Juno, which, in case you haven’t seen it, is funny, sweet, heartwarming and pretty unusual.

Then I spent a couple of days working and watching as gradually my cousin put together her costume for the ‘30,000 Freaks Under The Sea’ theme party at Bestival on the Isle of Wight. You’ve guessed it, she’s going as a giant stripy sea-cucumber, and watching her do her sea-cucumber dance (really, you had to be there, but I was helpless with laughter) prompted my comment that she really did look as ‘cool as a cucumber’. For which I am now being mercilessly teased (it had to be said, though – right?).

Then there was my birthday shindig (yes, my birthday was in August, but I am Not That Organised!), but I think that deserves a whole new post. At some point.

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