Friday, 15 January 2010

Relationships part IV

Yes, you read that right, part IV (4, four). I'm omitting part III for now because it's passed in a bit of a flurry and also because I think part IV is more important for my emotinoal well-being right now.

Things went well with the girl I met before christmas. We stayed in contact through December, met up a few times and grew closer. I've convinced myself that being unemployed and living with parents is a good thing as it allows me the geographical freedom to pursue opportunities wherever they pop up so for the last two weeks I've been on work experience as a newspaper sub in Sussex and, following an offer from my beloved, I have been staying with her, as she lives closer to my new temporary office than my parents.

We got off to a good start and were happily co-habiting: sharing the cooking (once her work-mates had convinced her it was the right thing to do) cuddling on the sofa in front of Fred and Ginger films and taking it in turns to make the tea. I left her flat last week on the wings of love and couldn't wait to get back to her on Sunday evening.

The weekend passed with a mixture of tedious chores and numerous back-and-forths via text with the only person I wanted to be with. Sunday rolled around and eagrely I packed my duvet (I've been chivalrous enough to accept a place on the sofa-bed rather than push my luck trying to sleep with her at this early stage), shirts and shoes and set off. On arrival I was, dare I say, lukewarly accepted and took up station on the sofa with some reading I needed to do while she finished the innordinate amount of work she has now that January had started.

Goodness knows what happened but the dynamic of our relationship had changed already. Like a fool, I put it down to anxiety on both our parts and expected it to pass in a couple of days... only it didn't. Late nights working on her behalf all week meant that I was sat at (her) home twiddling my thumbs and making skype calls to the US (more on that in another post). The week went by and we seemed to drift further apart. Physical contact almost ceased and every time I went in to kiss her she'd turn her cheek and settle for a quick embrace before parting again.

The whole week I was doubly anxious about an interview I'd had the week before, which didn't help matters of congnitive clarity or marital bliss.

Last night, before she left work I got a text cancelling our evening cinema plans that I could have read one of two ways: 1) She wanted to spend the evening in and have some quality time to repair our waning relationship, or 2) She was breaking up with me.

It's been a while since I've been on the receiving end of the "It's not you, it's me" spiel and by god does it hurt. She went to great lengths to tell me how 'perfect' I was and how her 'wishes had come true', which, as you can imagine, doesn't make the truth that she's breaking up with me easier to take or, indeed, understand.

Why, then, if I'm so perfect, do you want to end it?

Earlier in the week I may have antagonised the situation by calling on her housemate when I was fed up of watching TV or reading and, in hindsight a stupid idea, asking about my relationship predecessors. The answer I got was a curt "You should be asking her", a logical response but not a helpful one. Needless to say I brought the subject up later in the week and was told "Exes are exes for a reason". Again, logical but not useful.

During our heartbreaking honesty session last night we talked about how little we knew of each other, a fact I was well aware of and one that I reminded her I sought to remedy by asking her about her and wanting to meet her friends etc.. Is it my fault she doesn't want to open up? What more could I have done? I have been courteous and unpressuring the whole time we've known each other yet it seemed that I was to blame for wanting to know the person I now formerly saw as long-term relationship material.

She said the "The zing has zinged", which reminded me of a Tim Minchin Lyric: "I called my girlfriend up on the phone and said 'Hey, g- girlfriend what's g- going wrong?'; She said 'I'm breaking it off with you I feel as if the m- m- magic is gone.'" I resisted to urge to paraphrase Mr Minchin with his lyrical response: "'Hey baby what 'you talkin' about I thought that everything was just fine?'; 'That's exactly the point, I just get so annoyed how you're so happy all the time'".

All this can be summed up in a human trait I've observed so often in failed relationships and one that I swore I would never let happen to me: a breakdown in communication. I can't help feel that If I'd raised my concerns earlier in the week that we could have done something to salvage the relationship and I'd still be flying high, resloved in the knowledge that although I'm still terribly Poor and Unknown, I can sleep soundly at night knowing that someone, somewhere wants me for who I am, not what I do (or don't do).

So it is with a leaden heart, chest pains, weak knees and wet eyes that I try to make sense of it all and hope that I will one day understand why she just wants to be friends. She explained that friends are far more valuable, a sentiment that I wholy endorse, but it doesn't change the fact that I didn't (and still don't) want to be friends with her: I wanted to be her boyfriend and she my girlfriend.

Time, as ever, will be the healer and given enough of it I know I'll pull myself together. She's not the first girl to break my heart, nor, I fear, will she be the last. My greatest hope now is that I learn something from this experience and that we can continue to be friends. On the drive to work I mulled over all the other women I've fallen into the 'friendship group' with and, in hindsight, maybe that's better. Right now though I've got a lot of drinking and crying to do.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Relationships: Part II

For all you Orwellian voyeuristic freaks interested in my date last Saturday it was, all in all, a success. The pessimist in me, however, was sure to make his presence felt.

I awoke on the morning in question with the somatic anxiety that I had hoped would have faded from the day before when I’d had an exam. Evidently I was equally nervous about the date as I was about the exam.

On the bus journey down into town familiar fatalist thoughts crept into my mind: Would I forget her name (it wouldn’t be the first time)? Would I spill hot tea over her (again, going over old ground here)? Would she not even show up (mercifully not based on experience)?

I queued and got a table at the restaurant – a health food restaurant as she’s a self-described ‘hippie-dippie-veggie’– and after a few tense minutes, to my relief and delight, a familiar face appeared in the doorway. Smiles, hugs, kisses on the cheek and fumbled seating etiquette ensued. I managed not to step on her feet but the poor lady standing behind me in the queue was less fortunate. Whoever you are, I apologise.

We ordered drinks – hot cordial for her and, tempting fate, tea for me – and settled into the conversation.

I had a thought, when the food came, that restaurants aren’t the best places to go on dates: Chatting over the (ideally, candle-lit) little table is all very well but as soon as the food arrives conversation either stops or becomes very awkward while you both try to eat and talk at the same time.

We seemed to cope, mainly by me asking questions and her covering her mouth and frantically clearing it of debris before answering. As a result I finished my fish finger sandwich long before her poached eggs were even half devoured.

After the meal I broke a cardinal rule of mine with regard to dating: we went to the cinema. I’ve never really liked going to the cinema on a date as I’ve always been conscious that the other person may not like the film we’d chosen.

As it turned out we both enjoyed it and it was a nice excuse to spend time with each other and not have to worry about conversation… or so I convinced myself later that evening, although I’m still not sold on the idea.

We parted in a bit of a rush. She was going on to meet a friend and I was catching the bus, so any urges to end the encounter with a kiss were hastily abandoned.

We kept each other virtual company by text on Sunday, expressing mutual feelings of wanting to be each other’s hot water bottle – a dead giveaway there’s something more than friendship on the cards.


I’ve moved back to London now (with no job and exams to revise for) and I find myself asking whether it’s all going to be worth it. London to Worthing isn’t exactly ‘long distance’ but we’ve barely scratched the surface of familiarity. She’s promised to visit, which is a comforting sign that she’s as into me as I think, and it’d be silly to abandon something that’s started so promisingly purely because of geography.

I wish we’d had more time as friends before leaping into something more. But, as a friend of mine told me: “You can’t always have it run as you think it should.” Could this be the mystery of love, that comes when you least expect it? If it’s not meant to be then it’ll fizzle out.

I keep asking myself: Why does there have to be such an uncomfortable phase between meeting someone and getting to the stage where you are entirely comfortable with each other’s company?

While we were sitting in the cinema and again walking down the street I found my hand hanging at my side in the vain hope that either she’d take it or I’d summon up the courage to take hers. How can such intimate thoughts of cuddling up on a sofa or meeting each other’s parents be running through my head when I’ve not even held her hand?

I guess it’s all part of the game…

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Relationships: part I

I won’t lie to you, it’s been a while… since I’ve been in a relationship.

I’ve never been one to rely on relationships to define who I am (I’m talking about the romantic kind) which is what I’m guilty of thinking of people who seem to flit from one emotional pillar to another.

I won’t be the first, though, to say that being in a stable relationship rocks and a lot of self-doubting bugbears are banished when you’re in one. All the issues regarding your opinion of yourself – am I too fat/thin/short/tall?; am I cultured enough?; are people put off by my excessive tidiness? – seem to become irrelevant when you find someone who likes you just the way you are.

The reason I bring this up is because I had the most energising night of interrupted sleep the other day. Having had a last minute offer to review a play that evening I hesitantly took up the offer, foregoing a physically and psychologically exhausting session of capoeira which, on reflection, wouldn’t have done my ego any good. What a good decision that turned out to be.

It turns out that the press officer who contacted me for the gig is a sweet, charming, eloquent and beautiful girl who has agreed to let me repay her the favour of offering me the gig with late lunch on Saturday. After staying up ‘til 1am writing the review, when I got into bed I couldn’t settle down with the thought of her running through my mind.

I barely knew her yet already in my mind I could form happy situations involving the two of us: holidaying in a rural cottage in Devon; arriving at a mutual friend’s birthday party as a couple; or curled up on the sofa watching Fred & Ginger films on our sofa in our quiet apartment on the south coast.

Of course, it’s early days and we may yet find that we’re completely incompatible for one reason or another. But for now I’m happy in my imaginary euphoria.

Only time will tell whether these figments of fervour will form through fantastic circumstance. Watch this space…

Art and Science: part I

Earlier this year on a family holiday to France I started to torment myself with the question of whether art or science affected society and, if so, to what extent? 'Did they affect each other', I wondered?

Many a civilised dinner conversation was turned into a debate about the various merits of both and amongst my family there were many opinions. I’d like to share, if I may, one of the conclusions that I’ve come to over the past six or seven months:

Art reflects society

Anyone who’s struggled through On Popular Music by Theodore Adorno will know this principle. He argues that in order to sell music as commodity it must be culturally relevant. Therefore the most successful music – commercially – is that which is most culturally relevant. We sometimes forget that Bach’s music, in its day, was ‘pop’; Bach was the Simon Cowell of the 18th century.

This still holds true: no-one buys music they don’t understand or relate to, unless they’re rather pretentious, and modern art (I’m talking abstract, cubism, post-modernism) only survives because it can be understood and appreciated by a majority of decision makers in the world, and who is a more influential decision maker today than the masses?

Art, therefore, cannot affect society as it is only a reflection of it, no? Wrong, because art is specific to a local society, not a global one. There are ‘uninfluenced’ people across the globe who would be inspired by this art. Even art within the same sphere can affect its kin: African music still inspires western musicians and has affected composition for years.

You’d have to be deaf to ignore the fusion styles that have emerged over the last 50 years. HMV seems to add a new genre of music every time I visit (not that often I must add) and specialist styles litter the internet, the greatest melting pot of creativity today.
As this world gets smaller due to improved communication and transport links the melting pot also gets smaller and art in general will become more homogenous. The crossover in music between the ability to write a symphony and compose a pop song is becoming more broadband: This year at the BBC Proms Goldie premiered his first orchestral composition and Michael Nyman has recently collaborated with soul singer David McAlmont.

I recently reviewed Alan Ayckbourn’s play Absurd Person Singular. In the press release was this quote from the playwrite:

As a nation we show a marked preference for comedy when it comes to play-going, as any theatre manager will tell you. At the same time, over a large area of the stalls one can detect a faint sense of guilt that there is something called enjoyment going on. Should we, people seem to be asked, be sitting here laughing like this? It’s to do with the mistaken belief that because it’s funny, it can’t be serious – which of course isn’t true at all. Heavy, no; serious, yes. In other words, it can be funny, but let’s make it truthful.

It’s this last part that I feel seals the deal for me. Art will not succeed if it’s not recognisably relevant to its audience.

Different societies, however, can and will continue to be affected by the art of other cultures in an ironic bid to become more 'cultured'.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Autumn Rocks!

I've been saving the sentiment of this blog for the perfect occasion. This morning provided such an occasion.

I love autumn. Winter's to cold; summer's too hot; spring's to optimistic. Autumn is, for me, the perfect combination of warm sun, cool air, occasional rain and nostalgia.

The colours in autumn are so much more vivid to me than at any other time of year. This cartoon (from xkcd) sums it up for me:

Autumn is a time when you make the effort to drive to somewhere you've already seen, just to see it at this time of year.

From past experience I always associate autumn with a new start. Almost invariably a new academic year, having worked in the education sector since I left my student role in it.

It is the perfect time to sit down and think about where you're at, what the next step is and how to make it happen. In winter all I'm thinking about is how to make the money last until after Christmas, and spring and summer are too jolly and action packed with holidays to really reflect.

I've always been convinced that the only way to enjoy autumn at it's best was to go for a long walk in the country, far away from traffic and urbanisation. But this morning I was equally happy just to drive from London to Brighton (not the most scenic route, I know) and enjoy the free flowing traffic and the blazing sun that destroys my retinas if I catch even a glimpse of it.

Today will be a good day...

Friday, 30 October 2009

Self improvement

I have a confession to make... I'm not as good as I used to be. "In what way?" I hear you cry. Well, it struck me today that I've not done a serious piece of exercise since I moved to Brighton 7 weeks ago.

It's true, I've brought my bicycle along and I use it to get around every now and then, which does go some way to maintaining some level of fitness, but considering how active I used to be I've reached a new low.

I have, inevitably, come up with a theory (read: excuse) why this has happened. It's because I don't feel threatened. I don't feel like I have any competition, therefore I do not try to match/better another athlete.

For example, when I lived in Somerset I liked to think of myself as rather fit and active, but along came a new member of staff who competed at a national level in cycling, the sport I considered to be my forte. Needless to say I got back on the bike more often once I discovered that I was no longer the queen bee and benefited greatly from it.

A similar situation occurred this summer. It had been a while since I went for a swim (dreadlocks didn't lend themselves to aqua-dynamic performance) but I was a reasonably strong swimmer in my youth so, when asked by a friend if I wanted to join them on a morning session in the pool, I didn't think much of it. How the years have been unkind to me and my lungs! My friend, who I considered an equal back in the day, swam circles around me.

The pattern holds true for my work too. At the start of the course I knew I would be on the back foot having no previous experience on journalism, save this sporadic outpouring into the ether. So I tried my hardest, studied every night and kept on top of the work. However, now I have established myself in the top sector of the class (based entirely on test results) I no longer feel the pressure to perform, ergo I slack off.

This resulted in a rude awakening when I got my dates mixed up and arrived unprepared for a major test earlier this week. Not a surprise, then, that I flunked it and as a result self esteem is back down to early course levels. Needless to say this has restored my energy with regard to work and will hopefully pay dividends in the exams which are less than a month away!

I hope that the bruising of my ego will be a lesson to me and all who follow me (that's you!)

On a positive note this method of motivation has inspired me to play the piano and trombone more and I will give my first public solo trombone performance since my first year at university the day after tomorrow. Every cloud...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Finally, proof!

Thanks to a recent tweet I was linked to this article from the LA Times. I've pasted it below for your benefit:

August 07, 2009

Environmentalists tend to avoid the topic of population control. Too touchy. But the politically incorrect issue is becoming unavoidable as the global population lurches toward a predicted 9 billion people by mid-century. Will there be enough food? Enough water? Will planet-heating carbon dioxide gas become ever more uncontrollable?

Now comes a study by statisticians at Oregon State University focusing on the elephant in the room.

The findings: If you are concerned about your carbon footprint, think birth control.

The greenhouse gas effect of a child is almost 20 times more significant than the amount any American would save by such practices as driving a fuel-efficient car, recycling or using energy-efficient lightbulbs and appliances, according to Paul Murtaugh, an Oregon State professor of statistics. Under current U.S. consumption patterns, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of an average parent -- about 5.7 times a person's lifetime emissions, he calculates.

Given the higher per-capita consumption of developed nations, the study found that the impact of a child born in the U.S., along with all his or her descendants, is more than 160 times that of a Bangladeshi child. And the long-term impact of a Chinese child is less than one-fifth the impact of a U.S.-born child. But as China, India and other developing nations hurtle toward prosperity, that is likely to change.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Study by statisticians at Oregon State University.

I have for a long time thought that we're breeding too much. Overpopulation, although not a sole cause, can be attributed to problems in unemployment and lack of housing, two issues rather close to my heart at the moment.

It doesn't take a genius to realise that with fewer people on the planet the net quality of life for us would improve.

The long term solution is obvious: have fewer children. But a short term solution isn't clear. Mass genocide isn't looked too kindly upon nowadays and far be it for me to wish another World War to happen.

The hippie in me thinks pandemics like bird-flu and swine-flu are natures way of keeping us in check: Survival of the fittest etc. If we keep extending our life expectancy there'll be no room left on this little planet for us to enjoy a quantum of solace every now and then.

Now, I'm not saying that we should just let nature take it's course, but we must realise that we can't have lots of children and live forever.

Balance must reign supreme. Yin and yang; black and white; 0 and 1... life is full of things that work only because there is balance.

To address this balance we can either try to come to a happy medium ourselves as individuals, living truly carbon neutral lifestyles (ha!) and agreeing not having children until we've sorted the problem, or we can work together and agree on certain principles.

However, now we get onto questions of freedom and moral rights: Do we prevent people breeding purely on the basis of their social status, wealth, race or skills? No, we can't. What, then, is the answer?

It's at this stage where I fall short of the mark. Obviously I wouldn't deserve to breed in my twisted Orwellian world. Probably a good thing, then, that I don't want kids for the reasons suggested by the LA Times.