Alone in a crowd

I like being on my own, I’m never bored. There’s always something I can do to entertain myself whether that by being creative or enjoying others creativity or learning something new or simply being alone with my thoughts.

I find it difficult to connect with other people – particularly if they’re in a group. Breaking into an established clique is not something I’m good at. Trying to be normal under their terms is something I struggle with. I want to be myself, I don’t particularly care if they don’t like me, but I don’t like the whispers and the feeling of being judged because I’m not like them.

It’s something I’ve encountered many times in life – at school, work, social activities. It’s something I’m experiencing now in a shared dorm in Buenos Aires. I don’t think anyone here dislikes me, they all seem OK individually, but I don’t fit with the established clique. I’m feeling very lonely. Much more lonely than when I’m in my own little world in my own house with no-one else around. Feeling lonely in a group somehow really hurts. I don’t want to get up, I want to lay here in the dark on my bed listening to music. I know I must get up and do something and not waste any opportunity to explore this city but being curled up in a ball is much more appealing than trying to find a clean knife and plate to make breakfast and sitting alone with a cup of tea with everyone else laughing and joking.

Feeling alone in a crowd is horrible.

Song for whoever

Recently a friend of mine wrote a song for a girl he likes. He recorded it and posted a video of him performing it online. It had been up a few days before I asked him what she’d thought of it. He replied that he’d told her about it and he’d no response from her.

I thought this was very rude of her. OK, she might not have liked it, and maybe she did reciprocate his feelings for her, but to just not acknowledge it, that’s rough.

I’ve written things for people before and not shared them – they would be songs if I had an ounce of musical talent in me, but I haven’t, so I guess they could been seen as lyrics or poems. Unlike my friend, I’ve never been brave enough to share anything I’ve written for someone. The fear of that special someone thinking badly of what I’ve written for them / about them is just too great. Though maybe that rejection is sometimes what I need to move on to someone new!

Has anyone ever written a song about me? Yes, they have. It was years ago when I was 18, and although he taped himself playing it, he never let me hear it so I don’t know what his feelings were in his lyrics, or the style of tune it was.

I’ll carry on writing lyrics to encapsulate my feelings, but I am much more likely to keep them to myself. In the meantime, I hope my friend’s object of desire has the decency to at least respond to him.

Is it possible for someone you’ve never met to be your soulmate?

On a long distance flight, I’ve just watched a Chinese film called Book of Love. It’s a tribute to the novel 84 Charing Cross Road. It’s the centenary year of the birth of American playwright Helene Hanff who exchanged letters with London bookstore owner Frank Doel. She died before ever meeting this person she considered her soulmate. The Book of Love tells the story of two troubled people who fall in love thanks to exchanging letters as a result of 84 Charing Cross Road. It’s a good film and well worth a watch so I won’t spoil things by giving away what happens!

It got me thinking about people I’ve considered soulmates and how I ‘met’ them through written correspondence. Most I have now met in real life, one I haven’t.

I remember when I first read 84 Charing Cross Road 30 years ago I was exchanging letters with someone who I felt incredibly close to. I had to send him a copy of the book. He wasn’t a great reader, but he read it and understood where I was coming from. We knew we couldn’t be like Helene and Frank and not go through life not meeting. We did meet and it was romantic, although for various reasons we weren’t able to develop a relationship beyond a very close friendship. We’re still in touch, and we still have a close bond but he has his life and emails and texts with very occasional meet-ups is all it can be.

This is pretty much a recurring theme in my life. I get very close to people by getting to know them by exchanging messages over a period of time. There was no intention of romance, the theme was always friendship. Sometimes I have gotten too emotionally close and it’s frustrating that the guys on the other end of the exchange either don’t want to, or can’t take it further. There is one person I’ve messaged quite regularly for 15 years but despite me requesting to meet, he’s happy to keep things as they are. There’s no promises, or leading on. It’s not a Catfish situation, it’s simply two people with shared likes and shared sense of humour exchanging messages.

Of the ones I have met, I’ve not been disappointed by meeting them in real life. Our friendships have grown as a result and they are the people I feel closest to, the people I can tell anything to and know I won’t be judged. People I would consider soulmates. People I couldn’t imagine not having in my life in some form or another no matter how many miles there were between us. Of course, message exchange is mostly done electronically now, and the immediacy of that causes its own problems. Waiting for letters in the mail, it wasn’t unusual to wait a week. Now if I don’t get a response in a couple of days I feel I must have done something wrong, that they’re bored of me, that they’ve realised they’re better off without my correspondence in their lives. This is rarely the case, it’s just the hustle and bustle of everyday life and they wanted to wait for time to respond in a considered way rather than a rushed response between meetings at work.

Some people I know don’t think it’s possible to be that close to someone you’ve never met, but just as Helene and Frank’s friendship grew thanks to correspondence, many others experience the same thing every day.

When should sexual harassment be reported?

This afternoon I was on a train and a man asked if he could sit next to me. I said “yes” and moved my bag. As he sat down I could smell that he smelt of alcohol. He spread his legs so his leg was pressed against mine and put his hand down and placed it on my leg. Seeing that he was obviously drunk, I pushed back against his leg to shove it back and then moved my legs closer together so that he had no reason to invade my space. He immediately moved his leg against mine again and put his hand down on my leg. He didn’t move it as if it fondle it, but it made me feel uncomfortable and I shuffled in my seat to move my leg as far as I could – which wasn’t far as I was already as close to the window as possible. He took the hint and said “I better move”. And off he went.

A couple of women across the train aisle asked what had happened and I said quietly “he touched my leg”. They pulled faces in disgust and asked if I was OK. The man opposite me said “he was just drunk”.

I was OK but a bit deflated by the event. Before that I was in a good mood and excited for the trip I was on, and this event took the edge off how I’d been feeling. Also, as mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve got quite low self-esteem and am not confident about my body. The event today made me feel ugly and wishing I had a huge baggy jumper on me to hide under. I’d had a few compliments on my appearance this past week, and although I struggled to accept them, I was feeling happier in myself about myself. Almost instantly I felt I had taken 20 steps backwards again and wondered what I’d done to receive this attention. Was my top too low-cut?, was the bra I’m wearing making me look too large-chested? Had I looked too smiley and happy? What had I done wrong? Was I just making too much of what happened?

I put a status on Facebook. Mainly to document what had happened. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but it helped that others stated that what the man had done was wrong and that I should have punched him in the balls or made a scene or something. I had advice from a friend who works for the railway that I should report it.

As the man had been drunk I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t an accident. I didn’t want to cause a scene if it was just an accident, but at the same time it had spoilt my journey.

I didn’t report it. But this in itself made me think back to other instances in my life when I’d been made to feel uncomfortable by the actions of men and I did nothing.

I should make it clear that I’ve suffered nothing compared to other women and men I know, but it’s the subtle things that people get away with that possibly lead the perpetrators to go on and push things further and further until they do something which is very, very wrong.

I’ve tolerated loads of sexual comments on football terraces – chants about my tits, chants asking me to show where I piss from, etc. All banter I’ve tried to take in good humour. But that doesn’t make it right or acceptable as others may not laugh it off as easily as I have.

My first examples of sexual wrongness come from junior school where I was a pupil in a year which only had 3 girls in my year. The boys would pay us girls 10p to show us what was under our knickers. It was the late 70s, that was a lot of money to me and another girl did it so it felt normal. They didn’t touch, it was just a quick flash. I didn’t even realise it was wrong.

I don’t remember anything else til I was at uni. I was so naïve that I thought when a lad asked to walk you home from a nightclub it would be like in the movies. A kiss at the door and then arrange a date. I didn’t realise it meant a grope or more and if you didn’t allow that you’d be called a tease, frigid or whatever. Anything to make me feel I’d done wrong, that I’d led them on. I remember being forced to hold a guy’s dick because I felt I had no way out of the situation. Another time I wanked a guy off because I felt I had no choice as I was made to feel I was a horrible person for not wanting to do more. I felt ashamed of myself and I didn’t report it.

I had a relationship with someone. He made me feel worthless as he ditched me for someone who he said was prettier and more feminine as she wore dresses and high heels. He said he’d stay with me if I stopped wearing plimsolls and fringed skirts and wore ‘grown-up’ clothes and high heels. I decided I was better off being me than being the person a guy wanted me to be, even if that meant I dressed unattractively.

Another memory was once on Skegness beach, my best friend and I were walking down to the sea when a man walked out from the sea totally naked. He walked up to us and held his dick and said “look how floppy and small this is from swimming in the sea”. We ignored him and he ran off. Again, I didn’t report it.

After all that. I met someone who worshipped me. I thought that was great to start with, I was happy that someone appeared to like me for me, we had a great relationship and married. Then a few years in things turned horrible and then horrific. His obsessive, possessive and addictive personality became impossible to live with. I didn’t stop loving him, but I couldn’t be the wife he wanted. I was becoming more independent and he hated that. He’d lock me in the house to stop me visiting friends, and he got violent and worse. I loved him even though I no longer liked him. I didn’t report what he did.

A few years later, a boyfriend was away for the weekend in Poland with his mates. I watched an England football game on TV. England won. I wanted to be amongst people celebrating so I got a bus into town. I was walking to a pub where I thought some people I knew might be when I was pushed up into a dark corner by some lads. One of them held my arms and stifled my mouth whilst another undid and pulled down my jeans and knickers. He only managed to touch me forcefully before someone else saw what was going on and shouted at them and they ran off. This time I did report it. I was inspected and swabbed and gave statements but I couldn’t give very good descriptions and I heard nothing more.

Years later I was at a work Christmas do and was told by a colleague that we could have free drinks all night if I slept with the waiter at the end of the night. I was disgusted with this offer and couldn’t wait to leave. I stuck to water the rest of the night. I avoided my colleague as much as I could and I didn’t report the waiter.

I messaged someone on an online dating site a couple of years ago. We got on great and we were both keen to meet. I suggested a venue a few miles between where we both lived. He said that was no good as “where would we go for sex?” I assured him we wouldn’t be doing that on a first date. He assured me we would. I stopped messaging him as no way was I getting myself in a situation where I might be pressurised to do something I didn’t want to do or be subjected to verbal abuse when I said “no”.

More recently someone took his humour too far and made me feel uncomfortable. He thought he was God’s gift and couldn’t grasp that I wasn’t desperate enough to take him up on his offers. I didn’t think I was dressed provocatively, but he seemed to think so and called me a tease and groped a breast. He was drunk. It’s no excuse. I knew him so had words the next day. He apologised.

A couple of months ago I was photographing a gig and a stranger came up to me and told me that a guy had been acting out thrusting sexual gestures behind me as I worked. I’d done nothing to lead him on, I was working. It sickened me and made me feel very self conscious for the rest of the evening. I asked a female friend if she’d seen it happen. She hadn’t. I thought about mentioning it to the person running the gig, but the guy who’d been making the gestures was a friend of his so I didn’t.

There’s probably loads of other instances where I’ve been made to feel inferior or a piece of meat because it suited the person and they got away with it. Each time I wondered what I’d done wrong, whether things would have been different if I’d dressed differently or been a different person.

I’m sure there’s many readers who identify with what I’ve said, and many who wonder what the fuss is about as nothing really bad has happened to me.

However, Just because nothing really bad has happened to me doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected me. I’m often conscious wof how I dress and what signal it might give off. I’m always cautious meeting new people. I’m scared of flirting and don’t even really know how to flirt as I worry that I might be leading someone on. I still get called frigid on dating sites when I’m adamant that I won’t sleep with someone on a first date. I don’t trust people who tell me I’m beautiful- partly because I feel I’m ugly, partly because I think they’re saying it because they want more than I’m prepared to give straight away. I need to feel that I’m more than just a piece of meat. Likewise, I’m scared of telling people I find them attractive, I’m scared of making a move when I want to in case my advances are as unwanted as some of the creeps that have made a move on me. I’m not frigid as I’ve been called over and over, but I am careful. I prefer to get to know a would-be lover first as a friend, and then I’m happy for them to make the first move.

I’m still wondering if I should have reported the man today. I wonder whether me not reporting him has led him to subject another woman to the same thing or worse. Looking back at some of the instances in the past that I’ve mentioned, I know I’d encourage others to report rather than give the offender the benefit of the doubt. That’s got to be a better course of action than to think of all the reasons why I’d possibly been the one to cause the situation to happen.

I’ll be OK. I’ve done up my jacket to make myself look flatter-chested and changed my Facebook profile picture to one showing less cleavage. I need to feel I’m dressed more conservatively for a while…

Big decision

I’ve had a difficult couple of years balancing all I love doing in my spare time (studying, volunteering for my football club, photographing sport and gigs, knitting, crocheting, painting, jewellery making, watching films, reading, writing, playing music, etc, etc) with a full-time job. All of this hasn’t been helped by my struggling with inner ear problems which cause me to suffer dizziness and vertigo.

For most of this year, work has had to come first. I’ve had to cut down on my creative pursuits and my love of live music to make sure I was fit for work. It’s been a depressing time. I felt I was letting people down. I struggled with the idea of work being the thing I had to be well for.  I’ve always felt that I work to live, not live to work. Having to turn down offers of gigs, having to go to bed at 10pm, getting increasingly anxious when I couldn’t sleep, knowing that if I didn’t sleep I wouldn’t be able to do a good job at work the next day. I was getting more and more anxious about being anxious. I was struggling to see a way out. I tried to take attention away from my worries about myself by being supportive to friends. I desperately wanted to meet up with friends to share my problems and talk, but my problems felt inconsequential. After all, loads of people have problems sleeping – what was so special about me?

I was making (minor) mistake after mistake at work and ended up being micro-managed. This additional level of scrutiny made me more anxious. I’d wake in the night and have panic attacks about what I could possibly have done wrong the previous day (even though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong). I knew I had to do something.

So, I remembered what I enjoyed doing – teaching English to speakers of other languages. I applied for jobs in Nicaragua and Argentina. Had a couple of interviews over Skype and got offered jobs. I could see a way out. A way to do something I enjoy and travel and meet new people.

I looked at my options and after a particularly stressful day in the office I decided to hand my notice in at work.

I wasn’t sure how people would react. It seems a bit crazy to be resigning from a 28-year career to a life of uncertainty – especially in this age of austerity. However, everyone has been extremely supportive and pleased for me, and some are even envious of me having the bottle to do something different, some even see me as an inspiration and they’re now re-thinking what they want to do with their lives.

This Friday will be my last working day. I then have a few months to have a holiday, get a new bathroom fitted, do all my creative stuff and be myself for a while.  Come January I hope to be working overseas. There’s lots of things to sort before then, but one things for sure – it’s an exciting time I’ve got ahead of me!

Fulfilling an ambition

It’s been a while since I posted something. There’s been a lot going on in my life both health and career-wise. I’m not going to write about that now. I’m going to write about something else.

I’ve wanted to make my own film for as long as I can remember. I’ve so many half-written scripts, so many ideas. I have soundtracks all mapped out in my head, the images, the stories. But actually doing it and making one, that part has eluded me for a long while.

A few weeks ago i was talking to a filmmaker online about how I’d still not made any of my films a reality and he told me to just do it.  So, I played around with a script, I decided on a festival I wanted to enter the short film in and visualised it in my head.

But, then I faltered again. I felt it wasn’t a good enough idea. That someone else had probably done it before. I was full of doubt yet again. I tried to make it a reality by telling friends I was making it. I couldn’t back out then – I had to do it. So, I set my tripod up and recorded it on my DSLR. It didn’t work right. Under artificial light it seemed wrong. I did a bit of research and changed the camera settings and tried again.  It took lots of takes. Then the deadline got close. I regretted all my earlier indecision and decided to just go for it. There was still too much glare, the whole shot wasn’t in focus, but I was determined to finish it so I went with it.

Then came the voice-over narrative. I had only an hour to record it, and lay it one the movie itself.  I tried recording on my phone, but then panicked as I couldn’t figure out how to convert to mp3 to load into Windows Movie Maker. In the end, I did it in one take straight onto the film.  I saved it as HD, and went to submit.

At this point, I had about half an hour left before midnight. Problem – a 1GB files takes 2.5 hours to upload! I left it running and went to bed setting my alarm for stupid o’clock to finish the submission and pay the nominal entry fee.

I have no idea when the actual deadline was. I guess it was midnight US West Coast time as my entry finally went in well after midnight UK time.

So I’m not happy with the final product, I forgot to put an important sound effect on it, and I need to fix the glare. But, I did it. I entered a short film of mine into a festival. Ambition achieved!

How young is too young?

I’ll happily admit that I’m general attracted to people younger than myself. It’s not a conscious thing, it’s just the way it seems to go. Maybe because I still see myself as 20 years younger than I actually am!

However, at 49, I was recently approached by someone half my age for a date. The guy is attractive, we have similar tastes in music, and we seem to get on OK just chatting. Yes, I’m flattered (as I am whenever anyone finds me attractive), but is 25 too young?

I’ve chatted to a couple of people and the general feeling is that age is just a number, and I’ve been encouraged to ‘have some fun’. However, what if it turns out to be more than fun? OK, he doesn’t want a family at the moment, but what if he does in a few years’ time – there’s no way I’d be able to give him that.  And, when he approaches my current age, I’ll be nearing 75! I know I wouldn’t want to with an old lady at my age – so why would he?

His age isn’t a problem as friends – when he mentions bands from the 80s and I talk about seeing them live and then I realise he wasn’t even born, we can joke about it. But as more than friends, would it be an issue? When I retire, he’ll still have years of work to go.

OK, this is all getting ahead of time – we might not even get serious, we might just have that ‘bit of fun’ and then it come to a natural end. But then, as they say – life’s too short – especially at my age!

Dead bird

Today I saw a bird hit by a lorry.  I’d had the morning booked off work as I thought I’d need to sleep in. I was driving down the M1 when I saw a large brown bird fly oddly upwards over the back of the lorry in front of me. Its wings strangely outstretched as if it was flailing around. I like to think it was already dead from the initial impact. If it wasn’t, it must have been dead by the time by the time it thudded to the ground, or, worse, when the car in the lane to the right of me ran over it.

I was distressing to see. An innocent creature hit by a machine and killed. Not a peaceful death, not a dignified death, and the M1 is certainly not the best place to die.

As soon as I left the M1 I pulled over into a layby. I was shocked and in tears. Witnessing the death of that bird hit me in a way I didn’t expect. I didn’t know what to do. I see loads of dead animals by the roadside, but rarely witness the actual death. I didn’t know who to tell who’d understand how sad I was about that bird. I wanted to do something. I didn’t know what. All I knew was that in that moment I’d realised how precious life is. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life driving up and down the M1 to work. I wanted to do something to make a difference. Something to make my life worthwhile. I didn’t know what though. I wanted to talk to someone but I didn’t know who to tell, who would be interested to hear how something so minor to so many people had had an impact on me?

So, I did the only thing I knew what to do. I posted a tweet on Twitter. No-one reacted to it. I still feel alone in my thoughts. I still don’t know what to do, I just know there must be something.

Unrequited love

Earlier today I started to write a bit into a screenplay that centres around unrequited love. Something very familiar to me during my life.

Whilst I’ve had three long-term relationships to speak of, the boys and men I’ve had deep feelings for where those feelings weren’t reciprocated are the ones that are fondest in my mind. They’re the ones I still adore.

Why is this? A friend once said to me that I fall in love with people who are unobtainable because the relationship can’t actually go wrong because it’s not possible to have a relationship with them, and therefore they can’t hurt me. If I just stay friends with them and keep those feelings private, I might hurt myself when I hear them speak about the successful relationships they have, but that’s not their fault. It’s mine for having those feelings in the first place.

Often I don’t even realise the people are unobtainable until I’ve fallen for them. Yeah, sure, ones that are in actual relationships with others are obviously un-pursuable, but the ones that are single, attractive, I have lots in common with and they make me laugh – they should be obtainable. But, no, they’re either commitment-phobes, or have their own unrequited love for unobtainable women, or both!  Or they’re just too damned gorgeous or talented that they can have their pick of women and wouldn’t look twice at me.

I’m not even looking for a relationship at the moment, but trying to write about unrequited love in my screenplay is bringing to the fore feelings that I have had and,  in one case, currently have for people – and that covers crushes from schooldays right through to now.

People say “write about what you know”, but sometimes digging up those feelings just makes me wallow in self-pity rather than conjuring up the creativity I need for my writing. It’s a challenge to separate my feelings from the feelings I’m giving my characters. That won’t stop me though, I’ll re-visit this section another day and maybe, just maybe, I can draw on that hurt and frustration to write something good.

What’s the right level of enthusiasm?

Following on from my last post, I’ve been thinking about how I am, or how I might come across, to people who might feel like they don’t know much compared to me on certain topics.

As readers of my blog know, I’m quite self-deprecating when it comes to talking about things to do with me.  I love doing loads of things – but I don’t feel I’m particularly talented (not when compared to others in the field), or particularly experienced in anything, and when I started enthusing about things I love, I feel like I’m showing off, so I often, I just shut up. This is true of friends or strangers.

For example, the other day on the train, the people at my table were talking about potentially visiting Cambodia – one of my favourite countries.  I couldn’t help but butt in and starting telling them of places they had to visit, things to experience etc. I told them they should also visit Laos as Luang Prabang is somewhere I have very fond memories. I’d been enthusing about my trip there for a few minutes when I realised they’d stopped looking at me in an interested way and were looking at me in a way as if to say “who is she taking part in our conversation?”. I shut up.

There’s bands who I’ve seen multiple times, whose discography I own most of, whose band members I’ve met. I wonder when I talk of them to fellow fans whether my enthusiasm comes across as showing off. I wonder if my knowledge puts other people off talking about their experiences and what they like.  I hope not.

I wonder if when friends show me their photos and ask my opinion, whether they appreciate the advice I give in terms of editing the shot, and pointers for future live shoots, or whether they think I’m being overly critical and a know-it-all. Then, of course, there’s the why do I even worry about what they think? – if they ask my opinion, I should give constructive feedback, right?

So, in short, I’m overthinking what people think of me at both ends of my knowledge spectrum. Of course, my friends are probably completely oblivious to me thinking like this – or maybe they think I’ve either no opinion or too much of an opinion!