Monday, October 12, 2015

The Ultimate Tamagotchi Quest

I had bad luck with pets. They were always eloping or getting flattened by traffic.
I cursed those that eloped and shrugged at the road splat. You get used to dead pets when you live in the countryside. You get a pet, it dies, end of fascination. That was until the Tamagotchi, the pet that was reborn every time it died.
The Tamagotchi might have been a small digital toy to anyone else, but to me it represented immortality. I wanted one, I would do anything to get one. My mother wasn't so keen on the little gadget, she maintained (as she did with all technology) that it would transform us into couch potatoes with square eyes.
I had accepted that I would never have a Tamagotchi to call my own, when I spotted the key-ring edition. I was obsessed with key-rings. My backpack sported whatever key-ring I'd spent all my pocket money on during the last school tour.
In an effort to stop our minds and eyes becoming two dimensional shapes. My mum was always banishing us to gardens. The worst of these gardens was at my Granddad's house. We would sit in the small box garden sulking about the life we weren't allowed to have. 
Often, to stave off boredom, we would spy on the adults. 
One day, during the garden ritual another child popped her head above the garden wall. Granddad lived in the city and so had the luxury of neighbours.
This particular child seemed to know my deepest darkest longings. She held in her small devil-like paw a Tamagotchi. She invited me over the wall to make a trade. I wasn't the sort of child that usually ran away to make black-market deals with suspicious children, but that day I became one.

I left my sister with clear instructions to tell nobody where I had gone. I would be back with a Tamagotchi, that was all that mattered. The garden on the other side of the wall was the exact same as my granddad's. I stood in it, holding up my pocket money for inspection.
The devil child tried to haggle. She soon realised that it really was all the money I had and invited me into her kitchen. 
 As we entered her dimly lit house, I thought briefly of my sister - alone in the small box garden. 
And though I wondered how she would cope under the pressure, I was sick with a feverish want. The Tamagotchi was almost mine. 

I can still remember how thump-y my thoughts felt. They were thudding about in my head going TAMA TAMA TAMA GOTCHI. They were not capable of sound reasoning.
I can still remember the feel of the Tamagotchi in my hand. The plastic was a bit warm from the other girl's hand, the egg was not yet hatched. It was small, round and ready to be loved. We would never part, this immortal pet and I. 
In my hand I held everything I had ever wanted. Better still, this pet would last forever. It wasn't going to be taken away by careless drivers or get caught in the tide. I had approximately five minutes to enjoy the momentum of this endless relationship...and then my mother arrived. She was saving me from a life of square-eyes and a potato brain, but what she really taught me was that love, however perfect, is always fleeting. And that my sister, however willing, was not a sufficient partner in crime.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Truth About Online Dating

Dating has always been a horror for the terminally anxious, but then someone added the internet to the equation and things turned into the kind of horror that turns up in your kitchen at 4am with a meat cleaver and a menacing grin. Or at least that’s how I thought of online dating. I was somewhere between drowning in tiramisu and talking to my inner spirit guide (some description of cat) about where it all went wrong, when I decided to give in and  put my "love life" in the hands of the internet.
I guess I got propositioned by enough people my mother’s age to think - You know what… NO. I am a mentally stable-ish young woman I can find someone my own age. I will find a man on the websites like a modern person. Unlike a real modern person I had no idea about Tinder. My friends tried to convince me that the internet was meant for other people, people with life skills and good judgement. I was going to prove them wrong, I stayed up till 5am making the ultimate man catching profile.
After uploading a version of myself that my mother wouldn’t even recognise, I decided to have a gander through my options.
And man, oh man, was I impressed.
 I logged off and slept soundly in the knowledge that my future had abs. I woke to ALL THE MESSAGES.
But Mr Abs was not the sort of person who had decided to message me …oh no….
Worse than the profiles of the various paedophiles who wanted to marry me, was the attempted conversations by 90% of the people who liked my profile. 

Some brief examples of the scintillating conversations I had on the internet:

Person: How R U?
Me: Disillusioned by your flippancy with basic literacy
Person 2: Sexy pic gurl, I like your smile, smile at me?
Me: Just no.
Person 3: Want to eat duck and watch Sylvia Plath?
Me: You realise she’s dead and that would make this both creepy and illegal.
Person 4: Hi!
Me: Bye
Person 5: Have you got any more pics?
Me: Yes, please find attached a close-up of my left eyebrow.

In the end,  I would have gone on a date with anyone who could write a paragraph and  in that paragraph displayed any basic reference to the content I’d written on my profile i.e. I felt like someone correcting the Irish comprehension paper in the leaving cert- Oh look, they’ve copied an entire sentence I wrote and spewed it back at me, at least they tried, attempt marks! This is an okay way to mark a comprehension paper, because otherwise we’d have to admit that about 5% of our students can actually speak the damn language. But it is not a good way to decide who to date. It results in a lot of pre-date anxiety.
Which is followed by on the date anxiety.
Which is followed by how do we end the date anxiety.
Which is followed by why do we bother trying anxiety.
Which is followed by talking things through with your inner-cat lady.
Once I'd gone through this twenty or so times (never let it be said that I'm a quitter) I deleted everything. I'm sure I'll have a spoon too much of tiramisu and end up on the rollercoaster again some day, because that's what tiramisu or online dating or our stupid brains convince us of. They say - This time could be different, this time you might actually find someone vaguely compatible and hold hands for a few weeks.
But even then, even if you find your happy-for-a-while person, we all know how the story ends.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Binge Dieting and Becoming a Sugar-Free Prat

It's probably a little scary the way women, or at least many of the women I know, are programmed to beat themselves up over their weight. Not obviously, because that would be embarrassing now that we’re all self-aware and informed. But even the smallest women I've met (and they are teeny tiny runners that look like they should be drip-fed sandwiches) seem to count calories and consider any food that tastes better than lettuce to be some sort of luscious treat. A treat to be earned by squatting till their thighs bleed.
I, like many women, grew up watching my mother diet. She was never particularly heavy, but even at her lightest - she saw room to get leaner. I would consider my mum to be the kind of strong, quietly bull-headed woman that very few people could stand in the way of. But like many forward thinking women she had this crazy body hang-up.
My mum isn't the reason I have body hang-ups, neither are the slew of women I know on various diets. Gluten free, Paleo, sugarless or OH I JUST DON'T EAT FOOD ON MONDAYS. I can see how silly it is and I struggle with it as much as the next woman. But I also pretend, for the most part, that I'm not susceptible to this kind of pressure. I do the whole - I am chewing lentils because I want to be healthier and I like the taste. I'm running around in circles because I'm challenging and strengthening myself. On many levels this is all true. But on a deeper level, I know that I am driven by a need to be small, a feeling that thinner/stronger/fitter/better me is just a few mile repeats away. I even do the malignly evil thing of pretending I eat more than I do, or convincing myself that I eat healthy. There was even a stint where I was throwing back junk food in a sort of stick it to the man, I can eat what I want regime.
And I’ve never really lost or gained weight in a dramatic sense. Like most women I sort of fluctuate mildly. So therefore I must be healthy. Yeah right. I have a fast metabolism, I am naturally on the smaller side of things, but I don't feel that way. The summer I ran 60 miles a week - is the summer I beat myself up over everything I ate, but pretended to be a burger shovelling enigma in public. There's this romantic notion of thin girls that eat loads. They're the cool girl, the not worried about weight girl. Very often they're also going to ridiculous measures to remain that way behind closed doors. I've seen women run half-marathons and then eat half a sandwich as a reward. I know athletes that trained constantly and still threw up every second meal. At my thinnest, I used to drink 7-up to substitute meals. Which is all awful. Which is all more common than any of us allow ourselves to believe. Given how common it all is, I try to consciously steer clear of the debacle. I try not to weigh myself, because that’s not how I should create self-value. I’d managed, more or less, to kill a lot of the bad habits when I stumbled upon the idea of sugarfree living.
Cult is a strong word. But that's what the book feels like now. It gave me enough facts to be able to support the new diet with buzzwords like healthier, energised and less sluggish. But I wasn't really motivated by much of that, it was there, on some level. On a more obvious level there was the picture of the sugarfree girl on the front, there was the promise of not being hungry while nibbling kale and the idea that I would have cute colourful lunches in Tupperware. A svelter version of myself would frolic into the world. Svelter, would also somehow mean I became more emotionally balanced, happier and full of joie de vivre. I'd be picking flowers to place artistically on top of my homemade salads. I'd be doing Yoga on cliff sides in under a year. I'd be worthy of an instagram account to detail my morning jogs. I'd be the kind of super woman that stands on her head while making sugar free brownies for the homeless at 6am in the morning.
I'd like to point out that the book isn't to blame either. Nobody is. This is just how diets work. Or how a lot of us do. We try to better ourselves and go for the most obvious and external thing. I did the fridge purge. Muttering to myself in the kitchen as I cast aside all the devil food I had been living off. Asking myself how I hadn't become a coconut-butter loon sooner.
As with lots of diets, the easiest way to make yourself do it is to tell a load of people. So, spiel in hand, I offloaded my sugarfree plot on anyone that would listen. People look baffled when a thin person goes on a diet, as they should. But I peppered the conversation with buzz words, I was going to be healthier and happier this way. THEY WOULD SEE. My future fitness Instagram-ing wonder self would show them.
I don't know if you've ever tried to shop sugarfree, but don't believe the hype. It's all painful. It's painfully expensive, unless you go for the -tinned tuna, cucumbers and rice cakes- end of the scale. Which let’s face it, is actual torture. And with the exception of rice cakes (aka Styrofoam) I like those things. Not only this but reading food packaging that closely makes you feel bad about yourself. The sugarfree diet does a lot of things, one of them is to manipulate you into thinking former life choices were stupid and that somehow a custard cream will probably kill you.
What's worse is that all your insecurities manifest themselves in long speeches to friends on the benefits of sugarfree living that are more for you than them. Nobody needs to know how delicious each item of food you eat is or that you now feel like you can conquer the world. You crave other converts and judge other people for their sugary purchases. You become a horror.
The kind of horror that laughs about withdrawals. But really feels like death when she's face-planting the local park, instead of running. I know, I spent a good ten minutes crying into some daisies in Bushy Park, while my stomach tried to murder me.
Even then, with knives riddling my insides, with my body almost convulsing from the diet, I convinced myself that it was withdrawal symptoms. I’m not the kind of woman that gives up, I am stronger than that. And there lies the issue. We’re all struggling so hard to be this independent, thin, brilliant, together woman and I’m not sure she exists. Why death crawl around your kitchen to find some cucumber to gnaw on, when you could sit down and have a biscuit? Would the brilliant woman not do that? I really hope she would.
Or would she, like me, keep going. Talk about vegetables incessantly and become the sort of person that has to write an article to realise she’s being an idiot. Or worse, only realise the error of your ways when you’ve lost all your friends. There’s only so much carrot-championing that a person can realistically condone, no matter how much fun you used to be in your pre-sugarfree days.
Would she lie awake at night having monumental nightmares about eating M&M’s? Sure that sounds hilarious. But the actuality of waking up in a cold sweat over a dream about ingesting one heavily coloured piece of sugar is a little disturbing? Isn’t it?
I like to think the brilliant woman wouldn’t just substitute sugar with cheese. She’d understand that you can’t just trade in one food crutch for another. She actually really does like spinach smoothies. The brilliant woman wouldn’t ever give up on being sugarfree, she’s too busy writing a book about it and changing the world through the unprecedented flexibility of her yoga moves. The brilliant woman, the one just over there, around the corner or up the next hill - isn’t feeling guilt about looking at cakes or eating enough cheese to clog all her arteries. But then again, that brilliant woman doesn’t really exist. Does she?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chemical Warfare: My Battle Against Leaving Cert Chemistry

After I finished my Junior Cert I celebrated for a few reasons. But mainly, because I never had to sit in another Chemistry class. Don’t get me wrong – I liked science, but the idea of dedicating hours to dripping one liquid into another and watching colours change did not appeal to me. Also there were numbers involved. I wasn’t a fan of maths in any of its many guises.
I knew what subjects I was doing for the Leaving Cert – or at least the ones I hoped to take. None of them were Chemistry. I wasn’t doing transition year. I was in a rush to get out and experience life. I might not have been in such a rush had I known that real life entails filling in paperwork, trying not to grow horizontally, and spending large chunks of my week in vegetable aisles wishing I could chop open the avocados to make sure they’re in decent condition before committing to buying them.

But I didn’t get to study what I wanted for the Leaving Cert. It turned out, that in the fourth stream of choice subjects, there was literally no class I wanted to do or, correction, was allowed to do.

The choices were:

a) History – with a man who also taught religion and therefore, I assumed was a pervert. This was confirmed, in religion class, when he executed a disturbing hips don’t lie dance routine to Pon De Replay by Rihanna, to a room of terrorised sixteen year olds.
b) Home Economics – A class in which I would have got an A1 with my eyes closed, but my Mum had banned me on the grounds that she couldn’t face two more years of fighting with that woman at parent teacher meetings. I was everything a Home Ec. teacher hates i.e. I did not respect the power of bleach and had a devil may care attitude towards sweeping the floor.
c) Geography – With a teacher who I made cry in 3rd year. I’d asked quite innocently what a dildo was. Several of the lads were trying to sell me one and pissing themselves laughing in the back of class. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I began to understand why she was so upset with me. I stumbled upon giant dildos in a tourist shop in New Orleans that also sold Mardi Gras beads, wigs and voodoo dolls. Before that I'd thought dildos were a type of sweet as the lads claimed they came in different flavours.
d) Chemistry
Faced with the wrath of my mother/the reign of a pervert/the emotionally unstable – I was forced to take Chemistry. One might say that I started Chemistry with a bad attitude and one would be right. If I was going to have to become acquainted with the finer points of the periodic table of elements, then my teacher was going to become acquainted with how I felt about that. The injustice of having to sit in Chemistry class, 3 times a week, was intensified by my sixteen year old hormones.

The injustice continued when taking Chemistry did not just mean Chemistry. It meant I now had two science subjects and therefore, according to the Irish Education System, a vocation. Yep, I was being called forth by the world of science, and as they do, to students suffering the affliction of complimentary subjects they shoved me into LCVP. Leaving Cert Vocational Program. A terrifying class with students I hadn’t even know were in my year. Prior to this I had been streamed into classes where people pared their pencils, instead of gnawing them. This class was full of kids best known for drug dealing, sticking their heads through windows and sneering. One girl wore doc martens and skeleton earrings out of season.
LCVP was worse than Chemistry. We spent an entire year learning how to write a business plan for t-shirts. What this had to do with a vocation for science – I don’t know. What I do know – is that they spent a disproportionate amount of time advising us to dress like nuns for job interviews. One memorable moment was a long lecture on the merits of pantyhose delivered by a woman with a run in her tights. She also had a knock-off snake skin briefcase, and a faux fur coat – the height of professionalism in Co. Clare. Our teacher walked us through the many skills needed to obtain a job in our given vocations. Which is to say, she taught us the equivalent of the Irish Oral in our mother tongue. A worthy lesson, just in case we forgot how to form Basic English Sentences such as “My name is Alvy, I have been forced to suffer through Chemistry and LCVP for two years now,” when wearing formal attire.

But this isn’t about LCVP, this is about Chemistry. Which I waged warfare on for two long years. My first form of attack was a lack of adherence to safety procedures. I was amused by the heightened alarm other students seemed to display when pouring chemicals from one vessel to another. In a fit of teen angst, I plunged my hand into a beaker of Hydrochloric Acid. My teacher was less than impressed, but couldn’t really argue when I triumphantly let everyone know the molarity was too low for it to do any harm to anyone. As was the case with all the chemicals we so cautiously handled. I continued with my tirade against what was basically water with trace elements and refused to wear safety goggles. I’d balance precariously on chairs while pouring things into wonkily arranged science apparatus. All this might have been fine, if I didn’t do it with a glint of merriment, my teacher wasn’t stupid. He knew.
My main issue with Chemistry was the calibre of people it attracted. The people hell bent on high points, that wanted to understand it – but really didn’t. They were those kids that did grinds for 50% of their subjects, because their teachers/brains had failed them. In Chemistry, they asked questions that had already been covered. Our teacher would spend hours re-explaining basic information with patience. I did not share his patience. I took great joy in learning off a ridiculous number of organic compounds and referring to them in an offhand manner just to cause mass panic. Sticking to the syllabus might have been a more strategic approach to my Leaving Cert, but I was bitter.
There was more trouble caused by my habit of drawing little aliens that marched through my text book and said blasphemous things. These things were often semi-relevant and I felt gravely misunderstood when they got me condemned to the back of the class.
Not that Chemistry was all bad. Our teacher did try to make things a little lively. We once got to make a bomb, but it was anticlimactic. It smoked pathetically and made a weird fizzing noise. I’d wanted to at least burn a hole in the tarmac of the school’s basketball court – it didn’t even tarnish a pebble. There were high-fives and Ooohs, but Chemistry was dead to me. I looked at the smouldering NescafĂ© cylinder and felt misled.
After that, things got worse. Chemistry had ruined something as exciting as bomb building. I heightened my bad behaviour. I filled out the exam papers in advance, yawned loudly when people asked stupid questions, finished my Irish homework, read novels that I placed inside my Chemistry book, and texted my friend who’d ended up in History with the pervert.
I was a menace to Chemistry. We had one double class that was at the end of school. The Science teacher knew that I had a bus that wouldn’t wait for me if I was late. He would often assign me chores as a punishment. Chores – was called charges – and was supposed to be random, except that disruptive children always got landed with doing them as a punishment. I spent most evenings of my Leaving Cert year sweeping the floor, of one class or another, and being chastised for my apathy.
My mother would come back from parent teacher meetings and ask me to try to be nicer in Chemistry. She never said any of this with much conviction knowing that most of the issues directly correlated to:

a) Her bringing me up to be stubbornly independent

b) Genetics – her Leaving Cert went similarly.
Charges – put me in danger. The bus I caught home, wasn’t really a bus. It was more of a glorified van. Sometimes it contained seats and other times there would be pallets in the back and upturned boxes. We would reluctantly perch on them as we clutched each other and our school bags for balance. The bus was full of an assortment of country children, most of whom didn’t speak. The star of the bus was a deranged eight year old (a leftover from the National School bus run), who mooed at the smokers. This kid would moo insistently at skeleton earring lady. By the time I would race out from school, Skeleton Earrings would have retaliated by rallying her troops to fling pebbles at my head. I would throw myself into the bus trying to avoid the pebbles coming from the smokers.
The smoker situation escalated in LCVP class. I sat in the wrong seat. Skeleton earrings approached, stood over me and pointed to the top of the class and said "smart people sit up there." I felt like she was doing her intellect a disservice and asked "you do realise what you’re implying right?" But seeing the look on her face, I decided not to further question a person that determined to harness the spirit of Doc Martens. I slid from the desk and retreated to the top of the class. That week, I wrote a business report about t-shirts that was so thorough it got read aloud. I participated in chemistry and didn’t once get charges.
It didn’t last, I got bored of being good. The smile on my Chemistry teacher’s face when I decided to engage in a pop quiz on titrations wasn’t enough for me. And soon I was back on charges. I started taking short cuts. I’d sweep the floor and push the dirt under cupboards. In hindsight, this saved about 10 seconds but, when my teacher discovered the mounting pile of dust, caused a monumental shift in the level of hatred he felt towards me.
Which, in turn, caused an escalation in my attitude problem. Our Chemistry teacher left the class unmonitored one day. I convinced another student to jump out the window. I was small and light and slipped out easily. He was not small or light, so when we stood outside the window and I realised there was less to do outside the school, than in, I jumped back in. Then, thinking it would be funny to see my classmate panic, I shut the window. He didn’t have the speed or agility to stop me. Seeing his momentary panic, I rallied my other classmates – and we barricaded the two doors into the chemistry class. This ended with the door being forced open and the brush I’d stuck through the handle being snapped in two. I stuffed it in a store cupboard. The teacher, did not know what had happened. We were all sitting neatly in place on his return, but the missing brush was noted, and I was blamed. Months later, the teacher would pull the snapped brush from the closet and shake his head at me sadly. The worst thing about my Chemistry teacher was when he was disappointed in me, which was most days.
Then, came the day I had to draw a picture for another class. My Chemistry teacher was not a fan of my art. He didn’t like that I came into Chemistry with charcoal smeared across my face, or that reports from the art classroom would suggest I was nothing short of an angel. In art, I simply went in, picked up a pencil and drew. Something that did not come naturally to me in Chemistry. It was easy to be passionate in art – there was always room for improvement. Balancing equations with passion was impossible. The equations never got any harder than the first few we were shown – I quickly became bored and lost the will to move electrons anywhere.
There I was drawing Gandhi, for some religious project. I don’t know the context, it’s hard to remember that far back. But it was clearly a sketch of Gandhi in a sheet. Except, when my teacher slid it out from under my grasp and held it up, it became clear I’d suffered a major oversight. My teacher was a small bald man, not dissimilar to Gandhi. It looked like I’d decided to draw him in a towel.
I don’t know if it was the drawing, or the fact that he thought I was fantasizing about him in a towel, but I was removed from Chemistry. I was sent to sit in the back of Geography- where I was greeted with “It’s you,” by the teacher (who was still suffering the aftermath of my dildo enquiry). After a double class, listening to Geography – I decided that the periodic table at least had some element of mystery to it. Geography did not, if I thought Chemistry was painfully obvious, then Geography was another level of mind number-y. I tried not to listen to their map coordinates as I reread passages of my Chemistry book in desperation.
The rest of my classmates, must have found Chemistry incredibly boring without me. The boredom culminated in a protest. They sat outside the door, wielding little picket signs and refused to return until I could too. They were basically heroes – and didn’t seem to care that I had already sabotaged a year and a half which could have been spent learning. There was a treaty drawn up by the Chemistry teacher, some tears on my end (the fear of geography was immense) and I was readmitted to Chemistry.
For several weeks I was the ideal student. Then one day, my pasta salad spilled on my Chemistry book. The oil from the dressing turned a good chunk of the book’s pages transparent. Given our history – my teacher thought this was a further sign of my lack of respect for chemicals! He did not appreciate that the pages that were transparent just happened to be the one section of Chemistry I really didn’t like – pressure.
After that, he didn’t help me with anything, and rather than grovel for some kind of photocopy of those pages – I just left that section out. It was one of those questions I assumed you could avoid if you wanted. I scanned old leaving cert papers and convinced myself I would get an A without that section.
Except on the day of my Leaving Cert, pressure had been incorporated into many of my favourite sections. I thought about my transparent textbook, and all that preceded it. I knew I deserved it.

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