Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Daughter's Pride

For the past 2 days Meg had been watching me struggle with a particularly fiendish Sudoku puzzle.

I have to admit with a certain overbearing smugness that I’m usually pretty good with these things. In fact I’ve even taken to completing them without making any notes in the margins.

But this one was defeating me.

Each time Meg saw me staring intently into the Sudoku book, chewing the top of my pen, she kept asking if I’d solved it yet.

With visions of a heartbroken daughter discovering her father is fallible after all, I humbled myself enough to start making notes in pencil, but even then it was slow progress.

Finally, just after breakfast this morning I scribbled in the final number and, with a light skip in my step, I disappeared to clean my teeth.

When I later reopened my puzzle book I found Meg had left a note for me (see photo below). It looks like the demolition of a daughter’s pride in her father has been given a stay of execution.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Man in Black (ish)

Today I'm wearing a black shirt, black jeans, black socks and a black t-shirt.

My underpants are dark blue.

Somehow I feel incomplete.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Guest Post from Restaurant Gal

A couple of months ago I was given the opportunity to guest blog on Restaurant Gal’s site (see Spreading My Seed).

At first it seemed like quite an odd idea. Blogs are such personal places the thought posting on someone else’s was like being asked to share their toothbrush and dressing gown when you’d just popped round for a coffee. Still, once I got past over my initial British reserve, I felt quite honoured, like I’d been trusted with a sacred space.

Today I feel equally honoured that Restaurant Gal has responded to my request for a reciprocal post. Not only does this give my regular readers a chance to experience her warm, engaging and absorbing writing style first hand, but it lets me off the hook of thinking about another post for the weekend.

Outwith the boundary of her own site, Restaurant Gal has moved away from eateries to recalling a formative experience in her early writing years. It was clear from the outset that she was destined for great things and I’m sure in years to come she will look back fondly on this post and see that blogging here was one of the major steps towards fame and fortune…

Read, enjoy, and add her to your favourites if you haven’t done so already


FIRST WRITES

The first time I saw my name in print, I was eight years old, and it was attached to a poem I had written. My brilliant piece of writing had been selected to represent a third grade writing project. I was quite astounded by this, actually, and read and re-read my printed piece that had been mimeographed in lots of a hundred for all the parents and teachers to read.

Today, I only remember the punch line of the poem about a volcano, which is what I am sure won me the honor of being published in the "Babbling Brook" literary journal: "Lava, spilling over, like red hots." That's right, red hots--my preferred candy of the day, the tiny pebbles of cinnamon candies packaged in tiny boxes. Even then, I was a candy freak.

Truth be told, I liked seeing my name in print far more than the poem I had written to get it there. And, more importantly, from that moment on, I fancied myself a "real" writer. Not because I had been published, but because writing was so easy for me, so effortless for me to produce. I lived for the writing assignments in school, because I sure as hell wasn't getting the "new" math or whatever barbaric science they were teaching us at the time.

Throughout fourth and fifth grades, I discovered that I could write about ANY subject and get away with seeming like I knew something about it. It was heady and scary at the same time. By age 10, I felt like I might be living a lie because I convinced my teacher that my extraordinary short story about rocks should count toward the earth science block I was failing. Turns out, I was just that good at two things--writing and sales.

By sixth grade, I had an honest-to-God great teacher--the teacher who changes your life and who I will name if I ever become famous. I had the teacher we are all lucky to have once in our school lifetimes, and we know them when we are with them. And this beautiful young teacher, fresh out of teacher school, loved reading and writing projects. I am quite sure we did a minimal amount of math that year, and absolutely no science, but we read and read and read, and then she inspired us to write every single day in our stapled-together journals.

What we really learned from her was how to write from our hearts. And I have never forgotten that lesson.

By the end of the year, this incredible teacher challenged us all to enter a national writing contest. The national contest gave a prompt for a short story, which we would then complete. Classes would vote for winners, schools would send those winners on to regional contests, and regional winners would go on to finals. Which was all an unimaginable reality away from the Tuesday assignment that our teacher handed out and told us we had to complete by Friday.

I dove right into it, of course. I got two things about this--I would be judged by my peers, which meant I had to write for my audience; and my teacher had the ultimate vote, which meant whatever I wrote for my peers had to be damn good. This was a lot for a skinny, pre-hormonal, 11-year-old girl wearing braces before anyone else had them to get. But I absolutely got it.

The prompt had some kid driving in a car with his family, and he is snoozing in the back seat, when suddenly, a flash of yellow jolts him awake. "Hey, boys and girls, what happens next?"

I wrote what I knew was drivel, but what I also knew would garner me the most votes from my classmates. I had this poor kid from the prompt trapped in cartoon-land with the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound (I know, this kind of dates me)--the superstars of my era and the pre-cable, four-TV-stations-and-that's-it networks.

The field was narrowed to two stories--one by me and one by a too mature, very beautiful girl named Lisa. Lisa was also a writer beyond anyone's ken, and about 20 years beyond her time. Lisa was, in fact, the real deal that I hoped I might someday be, but that I was faking for now. Yeah, I knew that, even at age 11.

Our teacher read our stories aloud to the class that Monday. Laughter, pounding on desks, a standing ovation was the reaction to my story. Silence, puzzlement, and a few yawns met Lisa's. Except that I was astounded by Lisa's story, mesmerized and completely taken in by the description of broken bits of yellow glass on a beach and a young boy's struggle to fit the pieces together as he mended the broken parts his life. My throat literally ached by the end of Lisa's tale.

And in the end, when the votes were counted, my story garnered 24 votes, and Lisa's got one--from me. This did not make me some kind of great selfless kid. I simply voted for the best story.

I don't know that she ever knew I voted for her. I don't think she ever knew that I knew what a talented writer she was. I don't know what she does with her life, or if it involves this incredible writing talent she had when she was 11-years-old.

I do know that my crazy-cartoon-capers piece never made it beyond the regional contest. I have no idea what story ultimately won the national award.

Here's what I do know: Every now and then, when one of my blog stories seems to write itself, when I have mined an honest chamber of my heart to tell it, I know I am getting close to the talent that Lisa had, so many decades before.

I hope Lisa is still writing. I hope I can continue to try to catch up with her.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Demons Within

On the outside, at least, most of us would like to think that we are good people, kind people, people who would do the right thing if we were ever put in a position where such a decision needed to be made.

At the same time we all have demons inside: aspects of our personality that we despise, that we fear, that we are deeply ashamed of. We try to push these demons away, suppress them, force them into the background and hope they never rear their ugly heads.

But as long as we refuse to acknowledge their presence, as long as we pretend they don’t exist, they have control over us. They will manipulate our subconscious urges and desires, while all the time filling us with guilt and self-loathing.

Many therapies and support groups recognise and understand how denial only ensures the stranglehold of shame continues to dominate our lives. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, require attendees to state their name and admit their addiction. Unless the alcoholism is stated out loud, acknowledged and owned, the addict can continue to believe it isn’t a problem and so do nothing about it.

So in the spirit of exorcising my demon in a public arena, in the hope of freeing myself from the grip of a deep shame I have been denying to myself so strongly that I hadn’t even realised it existed until yesterday, I, here and now, in full view of the rest of the world do admit…

My name is Kim, and I’m a Competitive Dad.

There. I’ve said it out loud, and there’s no doubt I feel extremely vulnerable and guilt-ridden.

Oh, I wish it wasn’t so. This demon has been so carefully hidden from me I had no idea it was there, cloaked as it was behind my loathing for school sporting events (see Sports Day, Sports Day: the Rerun, PE Teachers are Demons from Hell, Rugby and An Enthusiasm for Rugby). But sometimes, something happens to make you realise your attitudes are not as clear cut as you believed.

My usual complaints of other children’s incorrect use of the skipping rope, or holding their thumbs over the eggs on spoons at yesterday’s School Sports Day seemed straightforward enough – it was all about a sense of fair play and an empathised disappointment for the kids who did everything by the book and consequently came in last.

My first clue that all was not as it seemed, however, came when Meg entered the obstacle race. Our hearts sank as we looked at the netting that needed to be scrambled under, the high-visibility vest and washing up gloves to be donned halfway up the track, the egg and spoon, and the final 50 yard dash after discarding all the accumulated accoutrements. Visions of Meg still struggling with the washing up gloves while everyone else was heading for home 3 hours later, dominated our thoughts.

To our great relief, Meg’s classroom support assistant was on hand to lift the net slightly on entry and untangle her on the way out. She also helped Meg slip on the gloves and vest and for a brief moment, Meg was actually in the lead!

Oh wow! Would she, could she, should she keep this up?

Unfortunately the egg and spoon proved too much and, along with a confusion about where to drop everything before the final sprint, she finished in the second half of the pack.

But in that brief moment when I thought she could actually win, all sense of “it’s the taking part that counts” went out the window and I began frothing slightly at the mouth, yelling uncontrollable words of encouragement and victory.

Slightly shaken at this feverish outburst, even then I might have dismissed my behaviour as an aberration rather than a cleverly disguised demon revealing itself.

But final, irrefutable proof comes in the shape of the sole winning certificate of yesterday’s school sports day that now graces our kitchen wall.

It does not come from either of the children.

Oh no.

It is mine from my participation in, and contribution to, the winning team of the Parents Tug-O-War Championship.

There is now no denying that I am in full possession of a Competitive Dad personality disorder.

Mind you, even more startling revelations have since followed.

The photo below was taken by Rogan because Maggie couldn’t bear to watch in case (oh she of little faith) I didn’t win, or I injured myself.

It turns out she is a Competitive Wife!


(In it to win it)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chapelcross Demolition

Chapelcross Cooling Towers Demolition
(Chapelcross Cooling Towers Demolition - click for larger image)

Rogan and I were up at 6am to have breakfast, check maps and road reports, then head out to Chapelcross - the site of one of Britain’s oldest nuclear power plants, decommissioned three years ago.

The reason for this excursion at such an ungodly hour of a Sunday morning was to witness the demolition of the four cooling towers, which dominate the landscape for about 30 miles in every direction.

The roads that run closest to the plant were closed off, so all the back roads were chock-a-block with people trying to find a good view. Eventually we discovered a place close enough to get out the car and walk a few hundred yards to a spot where all four towers were in sight.

The next decision was whether to try and video the event or take photos instead. Rogan opted to film it on his camera while I took a rapid succession of shots, hoping that at least one of them would come out.

Of course I was so busy clicking away I essentially missed the event: the whole thing was over in a matter of 10 seconds. However I have been able to relive it through the photos.

Suitably cropped and desaturated I was rather pleased to end up with the photo above (worth clicking on for a larger version). I also discovered that putting together the rest of the photos in sequence made a rather nifty photomontage of the event (see below).

And I’m pleased to report that Rogan felt that in the end it had been worth the early start and hour’s drive each way.

I think it might just have ended up as one of those father-son bonding things you hear about.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Dreams

When you leave school and spend several years unemployed or on government training schemes; when you return to education as a mature student; when you spend four years gaining an honours degree in philosophy: the dream of a well paid job grows ever larger.

When your boss fails to notice your talents but is quick to point out the smallest of mistakes; when you find yourself constantly thinking of ways the organisation could be run better but none of your suggestions will bring a pay rise or bonus; when you’re convinced you could do a better job yourself: the dream of independence grows ever larger.

With every condescending look you receive from those who believe the unemployed are scum of the earth; with every form you have to fill in to claim benefits to survive; with every rejection letter from your job applications: the dream of self employment grows ever larger.

When the bills are piling ever higher; when the orders are failing to materialise; when the idea of going to the office fills you with dread: the dream of a different business grows ever larger.

When you build a more successful business on the rubble of the first; when you become a respected figure in the business community; when you realise that you hate wearing a suit, handing out business cards with a firm handshake and missing your children growing up: the dream of selling up, moving house and writing the great novel grows ever larger.

When the savings you’ve been living on have all but disappeared; when the greatest novel never written lies abandoned in assorted files on the laptop; when your energy levels are drained by an unknown illness; the dream of finding success through a collection of blog posts grows ever larger.

Today is the 9th anniversary of becoming self employed, convinced I would be a millionaire within three years, and the 2nd anniversary of moving to this corner of Scotland, convinced I would be a best selling author with two.

Where would we be without our dreams?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Proud Father Alert

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Meg won a silver medal at a swimming gala today!

I was about to launch into a rant about filling in forms just to be able to take a photo of my own daughter in the swimming pool, but then remembered I did all that last year.

In fact I could repeat last year’s post almost word for word, so for anyone interested, click here to read it (Medal Won at the Swimming Gala) and I’ll just stick up a photo of my wee lass and her extremely proud father.


Monday, May 14, 2007

When Lust entered the room

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When Lust entered the room, Modesty averted her gaze, Hope looked up, but Faith walked confidently up to greet him.*



*Personally I envisage all this happening in the rich costumes & wigs of a Georgian Royal Court.
.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bollocks

Either the last B12 injection was a dud, or whatever’s wrong with me has taken a turn for the worse.

Not only have the bouts of tiredness not lifted to the extent they usually do in the first month following the injection (I have a jab every three months), but several times recently it’s like I’ve been hit in the chest with a bucket load of grief and sadness and despair. And it hurts.

It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.

It can last from a few hours to a few days and leaves me feeling fragile for quite some time afterwards.

There’s a great gaping hole in my chest, which needs to be filled. If I was an alcoholic it would be with alcohol, but my drug of choice was always food. I’ve been controlling that form of self-medication for a while now and know that if I give in, the 100lbs I’ve lost over the past 2 years will pile back on within a matter of months.

Scary as that is, what is even scarier is that I have no idea how much longer I’m going to have to endure this. I’m seeing the doctor again next week, but everything seems to be moving at a painfully slow pace and I don’t know that we’re really much further forward that we were a year ago, when Maggie first pointed out that the levels of tiredness I was experiencing weren’t normal.

I’m in no doubt that the B12 deficiency is a symptom of something else, as are the bouts of depression, but I have no idea what. This isn’t depression like I’ve had in the past, which has been attached to deeper psychological issues. I can be sitting there, minding my own business when wallop, out of the blue I could weep with the pain and hollowness. It doesn’t appear to be attached to anything. It’s not that my life is bad, or I’ve recently lost a loved one - I’ve been there; I know what that’s like and I know there’s a difference with this. This is something physically wrong which is affecting my emotions and mental state, not the other way round.

But unless or until the cause can be found, I will have to keep experiencing these crippling bouts of bleak despair and I don’t know how much of it I can take.

In the end I will have to take whatever I will have to take for the sake of Maggie and the children, but with the physical tiredness too it is so draining.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Don't even think it...

“I won’t call you stupid. No.”

“What was that, sweetie?”

“I won’t call you stupid.”

Meg’s in the process of learning that you shouldn’t always say something about someone, just because you think it. But she’s yet to develop the finer details of tact.

“But nobody mentioned being stupid. It’s not a nice thing to call someone, is it?”

“No. I won’t call you stupid. No.”

“Ok, good. Don’t call anyone stupid.”

“I won’t.”

“Good girl.”

“I won’t call you stupid. No.”

“Enough! Just stop talking about calling people stupid, ok?”

“Ok.”

“Good.”

“I won’t call you fat…”

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Do you still love me despite my...?

“Do you still love me despite my […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]?”

“What’s that, oh love of my life?”

“How can you still love me with my […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]?”

Actually I heard her the first time, but was attempting to give myself time to think. An array of possible strategies need to be formulated, considered, worked through and accepted or rejected before replying. And all within a fraction of a second.

Any delay in answering is going to be taken to confirm that the […insert body part(s)…] is/are* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…] and therefore you no longer love her, indeed have probably never loved her and your entire 16½ years of relationship have been nothing more than an empty sham.

Of course a straightforward answer is completely out of the question. Consider:

“No, I…” You won’t get any further with this line of thought because your genitals will have been removed in a sudden and violent reaction.

Alternatively:

“Yes, I still love you…” will only elicit the response:

“Oh, so my […insert body part(s)…] is/are* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…]!” resulting in an angry and/or* insecure partner on your hands.

“What’s wrong with your […insert body part(s)…]?” might give you a few moments extra thinking time, but is a delaying tactic only. After the […insert body part(s)…] has/have* had its/their* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…] reiterated and exaggerated further, you will still be expected to announce your verdict.

“I love you BECAUSE of your […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]” is a dangerous route to take unless you are particularly adept at verbal gymnastics. It is not recommended for the amateur, or for certain times of the month.

Feigning a sudden migraine/cramps/heart attack* is an emergency response and can only ever be used once in your relationship. If you used it up in your first year together, any attempt to repeat the tactic, even if it is 16½ years later, will be met with cold suspicion, even if you are genuinely suffering a sudden migraine/cramps/heart attack*.

“Oh for goodness sake, woman. Haven’t you realised yet that after 16½ years together I love you for being you? Your body is a part of who you are, no matter what size, shape or quality it has.” On the face of it, this appears to be quite a good answer, but don’t be fooled: your astute partner will still pick up on the fact that you didn’t actually deny that her […insert body part(s)…] does/do* have […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…].

So what possible answer can you give to such a question other than diving out of the nearest window and running up the road as fast as you can, making sure you never look back?

My tried, tested and patent pending response to this most destructive of apparently casual questions, is “Do you know why your […insert body part(s)…] is/are* so special to me?” and then proceed to relate a memory of a shared event or experience, where the […insert body part(s)…] took centre stage. Then again, this should probably only be attempted after at least 10 years of being together, by which time you should have built up a backlog of such incidences.

This morning, however, I discovered one more answer, which seemed to get me off the hook:

“Ha! That gives me an idea for an excellent blog entry!”


*delete as appropriate

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Conversation with an eleven year old

“MUM, DAD!”

“What is it Rogan?”

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

“We didn’t say anything!”

“WHAT?”

“I said, we didn’t say anything!”

“WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

“But we didn’t say anything!”

“I CAN’T HEAR WHAT YOU’RE SAYING!”

“THEN STOP BLOODY SHOUTING AT US FROM AWAY OVER THERE AND COME HERE THEN!”

“WHAT?”