Thursday, 30 January 2014

Beating the blues with green.

Everyone has mood swings. Everyone has days when they feel awful, and getting out of bed takes as much effort and willpower as running a marathon. But these mostly only last a day or two, and then life goes back to normal.

Over the past three or four years, I've noticed a persistent change in my moods around December through to March. I feel much less ebullient, more reserved and cranky. I crave isolation, and company, but want to withdraw from social interaction. The last time I asked a doctor about it, I got told to fill in a questionnaire and come back in six weeks - by which time, it was the spring. Therefore, although it is not confirmed - and honestly, there are very few ways to treat it - the working hypothesis between me and my ex-nurse mother is that might I have some mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. (The best thing about SAD is its highly appropriate acronym.)

Anyway, that is the backstory. Take it with all the salt you want, but take away from it the fact that I was feeling fairly down today. Spending time outside is supposed to help, even on miserable overcast days when the whole sky is the same shade of pigeon grey: and so, I was outside, walking home from coffee, when I came across The Tree.

The Tree is opposite the Philosophy department on a fairly busy commuter stretch of the York University campus. There are other trees of a similar height around it, but this one is my favourite. Some way up there is a conglomeration of flat branches which look perfect to sit on; around the tree as a whole, the branches are close together and roughly form a spiral, so by moving clockwise around the main trunk of the tree it's possible to get thirty, maybe thirty-five feet up. The only way up for someone of my height is to grasp a branch about six feet off the ground, and jump your legs in a most inelegant fashion onto a second, slightly lower branch a few feet away. It's the same way I got up my favourite climbing tree as a kid.

So there I was, tote bag slung over one shoulder, making my way up this tree. I stopped to read some philosophy at a nice little flat branch maybe twelve feet up, the same place where I'd watched the sun rise from one day last term. It was peaceful, and easy to people-watch.

You never realise how much people miss until you're in a position to notice for them.

I got bored and numb after a while, and climbed higher to warm up. I tied my bag to a branch and scrabbled haphazardly up the tree, precariously balancing my feet in weird crevices and wondering why I'd never taken my grandad up on his offer of tree-climbing lessons as a child. I stood still for a while; I turned up my iPod and climbed higher; eventually I reached the perfectly horizontal branches I saw from the ground.

From them, I could see the lake in the centre of campus, and the Eric Milner buildings across it; I could make out buses cresting the hill of University Road, and hear hurried snatches of conversation as students and staff rushed past, caught up in their little worlds. In ancient Japan, ninjas were taught to hide in plain sight, which they often did by clinging to the ceiling: it's easy to see why they never got spotted. Nobody looks up.

I'd been sat up the tree for maybe an hour and a bit when the Security Services arrived. Some of the passers-by had reported me, clearly unnerved by my presence. Because if I wanted to commit suicide, apparently a moderately-high tree on a busy part of campus is a far better bet than throwing myself into Ouse or jumping off the top of the Physics building. Either way, the authorities were here: while they had no problem with me being up a tree, they politely implied that people would keep reporting me if I stayed, and really I had better come down.

I did so, slowly, collecting my bag on the way - because like hell was I going to rush and fall out a tree while being watched by two middle-aged, faintly bored security guards. I got back to base level and presented my Student ID for scrutiny, and wondered why it made so much difference.

Up the tree, reading my dry-as-pirates'-tack Philosophy notes on Natural Law, I had been... not happy, but certainly less down. Maybe it was just prolonged exposure to the cold, but my mind felt clearer. With my feet firmly on solid ground, instead of awkwardly wedged against twigs or dangling into oblivion, my mood had plummeted again.

It was only a couple of hours ago, but it sort of feels like it never happened. Only the photos and the green powder on my coat exist as proof. I'm not sure what helped more: the change in perspective, or the low-level rebellion and the evident nervousness it instilled in the general public. Either way, for at least a little while today, I got the winter blues to go away.

Friday, 17 January 2014

I am not your manic pixie dream girl.

Nobody wants to date me.

Yes, I say this, despite having turned down the painfully sweet advances of a guy I love as a friend but do not want to date. Despite the few-month relationships that characterised my 2013. Nobody wants to date me, as an actual living breathing crying bodily-function-having person. People want to date the person they think I am: a manic pixie dream girl.

I kind of can't blame them, to be honest. I have inadvertently stumbled into MPDG territory. I have short, brightly coloured hair. I'm a creative sort. I'm spontaneous and scatter-brained and clumsy and have a habit of grabbing people and dragging them with me on madcap adventures (or, more likely, to pub quizzes and Willow).

But the manic pixie dream girl trope reduces women down into merely these cartoon versions of themselves, who laugh and smile and exist to help direct the eternally-puzzled man puzzle out his eternally directionless life. I've been guilty of it, too (for a boy); thought how nice it would be to date the Welsh guy who I had a crush on for two years based purely on our mutual love for Fire Emblem games. What did I know about him? Not much. But he was attractive, and he represented a break from the ordinary.

And that's the problem. When someone dates you under MPDG assumptions, they are with you because they feel you will bring sparkle and impulse into their otherwise-lacking world. Like you will turn up and suddenly paint the trees a brighter shade of green, and open their eyes to the hitherto unnoticed beauty of Milan Kundera novels and fake glasses. Obviously, people can't do that: we're not magic, not one of us. We cannot force you to alter perceptions unless that capacity to change exists within yourself already.

Once people realise you exist as more than this human-shaped life-brightener, that is when I find the attraction wanes. I am not a manic pixie dream girl. I am not going to support you through every facet of your life. I have my own emotions to chart, my own existential crises to ponder. I get moody and vent about my feelings at inappropriate times; I talk about myself a lot, and I talk far too much when I'm nervous. I can be manic to the point of reckless, and I don't think about consequences enough, unless I'm thinking about them too much. I'm a perfectionist and spend tens of minutes wondering whether I can start this many sentences with "I" (answer: yes, because it's anaphora for rhetorical effect). I do things purely for the stories they will create, and steadfastly stand by principles even when my opponent is a friend.

I will not make your life better.

This is something my dear friend does not understand. Since I've turned down his advances - gently, and then more firmly to drive the message home - he has turned into the person I vent my woes to. He makes sure I know he's never more than a text away and knows just how to make me smile. It's sort of brilliant. He has manic pixie dream boyed himself. (But I'm still not going to date him.)

The thing is, you do not want to date me, V. S. Wells, semi-professional self-pitier and chronic complainer. You want to date Vee, the Facebook profile I present as my best version of me, the girl who dyes her hair monthly and bakes cookies in her knickers at 2am.

I'm not waiting for The One who loves me just as I am - because, honestly, I am a terrible girlfriend and do not want to inflict that upon anyone. This is not a plea for love. It is a request for the stereotyping to end. Just because Nicholas Sparks and Stephen Moffat can reduce women to personality quirks and value-added tits doesn't mean it works in real life.

I might be shiny on the surface, but - to quote the inimitable Andrea Gibson - "I know all of us are scratched, even if you can't hear it when we speak". I'm scratched. Stop thinking the record's perfect, and don't be disappointed when it starts to skip.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

"Good enough" is good enough for me.

When I say "that's good enough", it implies I have reached one of two stages.

The first is the point of frustration. When I have been toiling away at something for hours, or sometimes just minutes. This is often something I don't care about as much as I ought to, be it a blogpost or an essay or icing a cake. This is the version where I throw in the towel and accept that I cannot be bothered to work any more: it is the "fuck it, that's good enough" mentality.

The other arises more rarely. It applies to the things I really care about, more often the things I write out of an obligation to my own sense of artistry than the things I write out of academic necessity. It's an acceptance that I will never be as good as I want to be, unless I work hard. And that's okay: I can't just jump into being perfect. I have to work. For now, this is good enough.

Good enough.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that we are our own person, isn't it? It seems like we're surrounded by people telling us we are not pretty enough, our skin not smooth enough, our conversation not sparkling enough, our rooms not tidy enough. Admittedly yes, my room isn't tidy, but it's tidy enough for me! I can find anything I want on this desk, if I spend some time wading through the salmagundi of papers on it and remember to move my biscuit tins.

"Fuck it, that's good enough" is what I say after ten minutes of half-hearted tidying up, or two days of staring blankly at the third chapter of Plato's Republic. It's also what I'll say about the prologues I draft and re-draft. And it's the fear of it - of not being good enough - which means those prologues are left as forewords to stories that never get written. 

I am tired of not thinking myself good enough, and I am tired of my own lazy standards.

So that is my new year's resolution, in the broadest possible sense: to never settle for being less than enough. And to remind myself that things do not need to be perfect. Strive for better, but recognise when "good" means "good enough".

This blog post isn't great, but it's something - and something that has provided a temporary portal away from the stress of my exam revision. It'll do. Fuck it. For now, it's good enough.