Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Dream of the 'Perfect Home': Stress Relief

So what about Cath Kidston, then?  What about Kirsty Allsop?  What about Anthea Turner and ‘Perfect Housewife’ series of yore (which I loved, and won’t even call it a guilty pleasure).  There is nothing more therapeutic, I have found, than learning to fold a towel so that none of its edges stick out and it looks like a towel folded at a shop – new, pristine, full of possibilities.

What the hell, you say.  What possibilities?  It’s a towel.  It will go beyond the possibility and definitely get wet.  And not be washed when it should, because your partner dropped it on the floor and left it there.  Or your son borrowed it for a pouring station floorcloth and spent all day getting it increasingly more and more soaked, pouring from one small plastic cup to another.  Missing a lot.  He will take off his small socks with the rabbits on them and determinedly dunk them in the cups, helpfully washing them for your delectation.  You will scrunch up your nose and not say anything when he pushes them deep to the bottom of the cup, and the water slops over the sides, again.  The towel is drenched.  The carpet is drenched.  You think about mould, and mildew – and critters!  You cringe.  And smile when he holds up the sopping dripping socks, and just leaves them on the carpet.   He’s a happy chappy.

There.  That’s the possibilities of your towel.  It will fulfil its towel destiny of getting very wet and smelly.  Later, it will no doubt get hair dye all over itself too, and change colour in streaks: either it will bleach out entirely or it’ll have dark brown all over it.  A strange dirty dark brown.

What’s the point of all this?

The point is…the other day, other week; I was feeling all unaccountably tense and uneasy and stressed out.  The usual, worrying about stuff I can’t do much about.  I get like this a lot.

Which makes me want to control such as I CAN control.  Like some aspects of my immediate environment.  My home.  This was way easier before I had Fluffhead of course.  Before Fluffhead, I Anthea Turner-ed the entire bathroom in our old house (because it was the smallest and easiest room to do).  I had hampers for the towels, which were folded PERFECTLY IN ORDER OF SIZE AND COLOUR.  I had a matching bath and toilet mat.  I had a matching loo roll holder and loo roll container/ dispenser thing (what are those called?) that sat beside the toilet, looking all tidy and pleased with its shiny self.  My loo rolls matched the other colours.  Everything was mint green, white or cream.  My eyes felt rested by this.

Looking at that one perfectly ordered room (all its shampoos etc tidily stacked in little baskets on the ledge and dusted for that weird sticky bathroom dust) – I felt my chances of combusting in a fit of apoplexy diminishing exponentially.  Before my eyes.  I used to stand in the doorway to the houses tiniest room and just…not have tense shoulders.  Breathing more slowly.  Relaxing.

Stanley found it most amusing that he always had to elbow me out of the way to get into the room to have a pee.  (After which I would sometimes supervise moppage in a very bossy and unnecessary way, because I am bonkers and men can be messy.)

Anyway.  So when I think of my immediate environment, I think of all those images I have absorbed since I was small.  The idea of a home, the idea of this cool, quiet, calm environment where you can rest (notice I didn’t say warm, noisy and full of children).  It’s full of pretty things.  Useful things.  It’s more or less tidy.  Not like a show house, it’s not pristine and scary; but it’s not a tip.  (There aren’t children’s toys EVERYWHERE…and wet small socks randomly on the carpet where you’d least expect them, going quietly mouldy.  There aren’t boxes in every room, on the floor, on the wardrobe, on every available surface, Amazon boxes, market fruiterer boxes; storing all your boyfriend’s models and computer bits.  There aren’t computer bits – wires, cables, chips, bits of motherboard – everywhere.  Next to the toaster, for gawds sake.)

When stressed I always get to a point where philosophical viewpoints cease to soothe me, ethics and magick seem like the background to someone else’s life…

First I notice I want to read magazines more.  I don’t do Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmo etc.  They seem from my looking, to be full of vacuous looking ultra thin fashion victim ads, and precious little content.  I read (when I do, which is thrice a year-ish now), Prima and Essentials.  I first bought those years ago because they came with free dressmaking patterns.  They aren’t home-making magazines, but they have doable, beautifully photographed craft, cookery and sewing sections.  They count as Aspirational Home Porn fodder.  I swim in the pastel sea of gentle crafts and improvements, and A line skirts cut on the bias you can sew in an evening: ‘little skill needed’.

Then I dive into fiction.  When I get to an even more precise stress point, only utter escapism will do.  The world of grown up chick lit.  Where Jane Green lives.  Where Lisa Jewell lives (though, if you’ve read her last, you may well agree with me that she has gone mainstream and shouldn’t be hindered or limited by the chick lit label anymore).  Where the Queen Marian Keyes lives.  They write about real life issues and dilemmas that women encounter, but with compassion (not treacle) and humour.  Through a veil of friendships, pretty landscapes. Homes.

I’ve given up watching rom-coms in this state.  They are usually U.S. made, and not only do I want something a bit more familiar and close to home to identify with, I also want the bad teeth of the UK people, our speech mannerisms, our diffidence, our national pessimism.  I want less gloss, groomed-ness and perfection from my fictional females.  Less husband hunting.

I never read chick lit where the women are super rich.  I like my women at or close to my own level – i.e. the escapism works best if I can imagine being you or I can imagine getting to where you are.  Its escapism, but only because of the story structure, the happy ending of one sort or other, guaranteed.  And the depictions of solid friendships among women, without competition or back biting.  That’s worth aspiring to.

And sometimes it’s lovely to read the descriptions of the homes.

Which brings me back to Cath Kidston, Kirsty Allsop, and Anthea Turner.

It’s a whole different post to talk about why baking, home-making and Being a HomeMaker, in a 1950s approved perfect hair smiley keep the house nice for your husband kind of way, has become a mini subculture among some women in the last 10-15 years.  Why some feminists are worried by it.  In that: it is a choice among many to choose to be an old style housewife; but some of its manifestations are sexist and retrograde…are some women that subscribe to this new HomeMaker culture simply abandoning their hard won lives outside the home with careers and later or no children; are they simply and deludedly hiding from 21st century life with their floral housedresses and tiered trays of cupcakes?  There's more than one reason for doing this, too.  Do not bother to get mad with me or send me answers on a postcard.  I’m just describing the debate for you.  As I say – not going into the ramifications of that, here.  I’m not a paid up member of either side of that debate.  I see the feminist worry and I share it.  But…

Oh my lord, do I see the lure of the idea of a perfect home.  A ‘Perfect Home’.  A sanctuary.

So: Cath Kidston.  I won’t pretend to know a lot about her.  All I know, is that our shops have been increasingly invaded by overpriced (ok quality) lotions, handcreams, pots, canisters, storage thingies of multiple sizes and patterns, aprons, mini rucksacks – also of all types and patterns, but mostly very very floral.  You name it, it will have her name on it and it will be floral or dotty, very colourfully, yet delicately.  (Think old time Laura Ashley, of the1980s.)  I know there’s lots of craft products, and cooking products.  She seems to be the highly floral backdrop to the crafty/makey things at home element of the homemaker movement.  I don’t own any of her stuff: too pricey.  And it’s become so ubiquitous I rebel.  (Even though there’s a strong part of me that will always be floral, and want to store things in pretty matching tins.)

And Kirsty Allsop.  All those programmes she does about relocating, and making things: another proponent of the perfect, tidy, handcrafted home: smelling always of baking things with cinnamon.  I mention her as she is also something of a phenomenon in the HomeMaker movement.  I don’t go for her at all.  I like the fact she’s a properly decent sized female – no size 0, 8, 10 or even 12 there.  I have no idea what size she is, but she eats that food she makes.  I do like that.  But I dislike the crafty side of things.  All the bits and pieces and ingredients: its all too fiddly, too enormously expensive.  I don’t have the spare money to go and get all these supplies.  I don’t have a car to get me to the craft shop out of town on the motorway.  I don’t have time to go to papier mache and pottery classes.  And that’s a little tiny bit of the point about Kath Kidston and Kirsty Allsop: its all a bit overly upper middle class role playing.  Passionately devotedly real to them…but when I try it, it doesn’t feel real, it feels like role playing.

It’s nothing to do with the real world where I live, where I count the pennies with increasing worry and recently learned to darn socks properly.  My craftyness is mixed with much more of a Wartime Farm feel, its very make do and mend.

I think Anthea Turner will have to be my favourite.  I loved her military control freakery as she tidied other people’s houses, and forced them to store their bits of RANDOM COMPUTER CABLE, STANLEY! in pretty matching storage boxes.  (Some of which were painted shoeboxes.  Easily done.)  I love the way she decluttered.  I love the way in the Christmas episode, she used old crappy jewellery for Christmas Tree ornaments, the way she iced biscuits with a child.  Not expensive biscuits.  Regular biscuits.  Her crafts were doable, quite simple.

She restored order.  She made melba toasts from old bread.  She showed me how to make cheap cocktails.  I can hear reassuring Northern in that voice, much as she seems to have tried to lose it.

Through Anthea and her shiny eyed perky haired obsession, I saw how at some point, an orderly pretty home, with children in it, was a real possibility.  (When they’re a bit older than Fluffhead.)

Seeing through her eyes, I can pare down my space (er, I have books floor to ceiling on 2 walls of my room) and make it more breathable and liveable.  A place I can dream and work towards a dream.  I can be Perky Chicklit Juniper there.

I could sit under the cherry tree, currently still exploding with (wet soggy) blossoms, with my Cornish friend aka Daisy Ginn, and sip at our ice cold cheap Bellinis, as I promised her.  It’s a lot about a sort of simplicity.  About things not being as complicated or hard on the head as they are in real life.

I could have a life I enjoy being in as well as observing for its colour and light, its taste and tactility. 

In this world, I am soothed by the thought that for 15 minutes straight my towel will remain perfectly folded – all will be well with my small corner of the world.  Mmmmm.

I finish reading Rachel Hore’s The Dream House (2012).  I pick up the recently started A Girl’s Guide to Home-making (2011) by Amy Bratley, and sip my camomile tea.  Both these heroines also got caught in the Lure of the Perfect Home.  Different results…it’s a fictional subject that keeps being returned to.  We keep worrying away at it, wondering how achieving it would change things for us; make us feel safer, or more in control, ready to face the world.  It’s a powerful dream.

Back to the real world then…but maybe a bit later.  I can’t have my perfectly folded towels right now; but I can read about other people trying to have them, or whatever it is that signals peace and order to them.  It fascinates me, just as it fascinates so many other women.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Meadow Garden, and Reflections on Beltane

Fluffhead and I are spending whole days outside.  The garden looks amazing.  From a light brown deadness, there is a wildflower meadow.  In the space of a fortnight!  Tiny little violets in a patch under the holly tree.  Beautiful things: you have to get down on your hands and knees to see them properly.  Petals smaller than Fluffhead’s smallest fingernail.  Little clumps of pale blue forget-me-nots in several places in the meadow.

In my usual sudden getting with the swing of things, I have planted many pansies of all colours, and some begonia seedlings in the dug flower bed near the living room window.  It stretches the whole length of the garden, that flowerbed, and I’ve only afforded enough plants so far to progress down a section of about two and a half feet[1].  I put them there so I can see them when I look out, on days where the weather isn’t so good and Fluffhead and I are bouncing off the walls/ pacing like caged leopards, respectively.  So I can see the prettiness outside; and know *I* put it there.  Of course, I haven’t bought any slug pellets (and loads of people have told me to), so the pansies flowers are being decimated with horrible speed.  The begonias with their delicate white heads may not survive the next fortnight.  We’ll have to see.  The violas and saxifrage I planted last year in pots have surprised me by returning – white, yellow and royal purple.  Also getting munched.

But the wildflowers are doing fine, naturally.  The grass moves like water when the wind blows.  Ripples and waves.  It’s got to that perfect meadow height – about the length of my hand from fingertip to wrist.

The cherry blossom tree that dominates the garden (and half of the nice next door neighbour family’s garden too) has finally stopped being half hearted and broken into violent pink blossom in huge tufty handfuls.  It looks gaudy, excessive, and excellent.  When the breeze touches the tree at all, we have pink rain.  The blossoms are always unexpectedly cool to the touch.  Delicious to wipe over your face (as Fluffhead showed me), after a rain shower.

He runs back and forth under the drying clothes on the line, laughing and turning about, pulling at the towels and trousers, much to my annoyance.  Occasionally he gets one item off, and tramples it to the floor in a fit of joy (why?! Tsk!).  He has perpetually muddy wellies because he is determined to water all the wildflowers and the drier patches of earth where the splayed ground hugging weeds grow.  He stomps in great happiness, spraying newly made mud everywhere, necessitating 3 or so changes of trousers a day (and sometimes me too if I don’t step back quick enough).  He tramples little bootprints over any washing he has pulled to the ground (shiny manic eyed grin) and runs away – arms outstretched like an aeroplane’s wings, squealing.

Off under the holly tree, where Stanley has cleared much overgrown and dead hedge from a section underneath the tree at the side.  It’s created a large shady area underneath, tall enough for me to stand up in, that Stanley says is a den for Fluffhead now.  He takes his collections of white feathers, dandelions, and cherry blossoms under the tree and places them all at the foot of the trunk.  There’s a hole there, where Stanley removed an old dead tree trunk.  Fluffhead thinks this hole is his new seat.  I shudder, and wave my arms about, and worry about fox fleas and woodlice and things I don’t know the name of.

But Fluffhead zigzags about regardless, free from the winter living room prison, watering the earth in general, screeching back and forth, trampling through the fresh dug flowerbeds.  He wears Stanley’s leather Australian rain hat – a sort of Stetson, but more CrocodileDundee-ish.  He runs with it till it falls off his head backwards.  Which strikes him as incredibly funny.  He has to go back for it, and throw himself on the ground, face first in the hat.

Sometimes he directs me to sit down too, and plops himself into my lap.  I smell his hair, all warm with sun, and we listen to the birds calling loudly from all sides.  Watch the wind move the leaves and branches.  If we sit long enough, the blue tits and robins and blackbirds will come.  Magpies.  He points his little fingers up at the sky, marking the helicopters and old fashioned looking aeroplanes that go past.

I watch the garden come alive again, and feel the sense of everything pushing through, suddenly in a great hurry, greedy for sun.  I listen to the seagulls, and hug Fluffhead’s small self to my chest as we sit.  He squeezes my arm, and shows me the dinosaurs on his wellies, barely visible through mud.

I see all this, with sun in my eyes.


I’ve never really got into the festival of Beltane.  I don’t know completely why.  I love Imbolc, Ostara, Midsummer, Harvest.  I have a handle on most of the festivals.

Maybe it’s because Beltane feels so chaotic and riotous?  People always bang on about it being a fertility festival, and there’s that sneaky connotation that after Maypoling you’ll be thrown down behind some haywain (observe me confusing my times of the year here!) and there’ll be much SEX.  And straw in hair.  Wenches.  Men in riding boots.  Colin Firth, but not posh, and without noticeable morals.

I think it is that.  It’s the SEX association of Beltane that puts me off.

It’s a strange thing.  One of the things I like best about paganism (as an umbrella term for lots of new and Reconstructionist Earth-based paths), is the comfortableness in your own skin that’s emphasized.  It’s ok to be dressed; it’s ok to be naked.  Love your body, whatever shape, treat it well: it’s the temple, the home, of your essence, your spirit.  Keep it fed and watered, see it moves and stretches enough.  The link between body and mind: care for both and treat with respect.  And you sleep with who you like.  With joyfulness.  You are monogamous; or not.  As long as whoever you are with is on the same page as you, and you hurt no one with lies or evasive misunderstandings.

When I say that – some of my readers will be thinking: Oh!  License to promiscuity!  Disease!  There goes the fabric of society!  Etc!  Fry and Aka Lord Airshaper will be thinking Pornworld made real: everyone up for it all the time: “pizza only ever delivered by handsome teenage delivery boys, to lonely sexy housewives”, as Fry said to me last week in a conversation about this very thing.  That’s a shorthand description.  You see what I mean.

And there’s lots of reasons (which this post isn’t about), why a situation like that, among anyone into it, would be just fine.  Anyone grown up and consenting etc etc etc.  Also, in my experience of people, just as likely to occur among the non-pagan minded.  In my opinion, I applaud Fry and Lord Airshaper’s fevered imaginations, and how for them, Beltane would be a bit of a happy orgy – in their libertarian heads, at any rate.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is only a male dream either – I know at least 3 totally non-pagan women who feel that if Pornworld were real, it would also be brilliant.  Life would be much more honest, less hypocritical, and we’d all have less body hang ups.

This is the festival where non-pagans imagine us all out, bollock naked in the woods or fields, or back gardens even: an infestation of horny ants!  Dancing about and engaging in Sinful Fornication.  For fun!  The shame!  (I am pretty sure there is some envy in with the fear and judgement, of that idea.)

To give my own personal (and obviously limited: I am only one me!) experience of this: I don’t know any orgies at all going on at this time, sorry.  I do know a couple of monogamous couples who will do a ritual of joy for the start of summer that will end up with joyful sex, but that’s not all it’s about, loads of other symbolism too.

For myself, I don’t do promiscuity very well, or even one night stands.  When I get with someone I have the habit of shacking up with them for many years; or having children; or getting married.  I can count my partners with my two hands, less some fingers.  It’s just how I am.  All to do as they wilt.  And harm none, as it goes.

I have a lot of respect, and a bit of fear, for the violence of the growth and fertility energy that starts around Beltane.  It was then in 2009, that Stanley and I decided we would make a Fluffhead (after much prior discussion). I came off 20+ years of the pill.  We had a ritual for blessing and fertility, ending with sex.  On Beltane.

I was absolutely and overwhelmingly knocked up, exactly then, when you count the dates backward from the first scan.  Off the pill for less than a fortnight.  (You should hear Stanley to this day boasting about his SuperSperm. Tsk!)  Considering Stanley is 100% atheist (non-theist, he prefers), anything he does with respect to my personal notions is humouring me.  The point is, he has no investment here – it’s despite him.

So Fluffhead is a Beltane conceived boy.  (And an Imbolc baby, so its Brighid’s job to keep an eye on him, by the by.)  Now, much loved and adored as Fluffhead is, you cannot have failed to notice that I have been informing you since his birth that I haven’t been feeling so very tip-top at all anymore.  (The back, the hormone problems, the IBS, yada yada yada; and Fluffhead has his own health issues too, that have meant endless tiredness for me as he cannot sleep properly at night, though he seems usually fine from it; plus, you know what its like to worry over a child: quite agonizing and shattering for the equilibrium.)

So when Beltane comes now, and I think of all that GROWTH, and PASSION ENERGY sprouting about the place, everyone starting to feel a bit fruity and excited…I always start to feel a bit worried.  I don’t think I’ll ever do a fertility ritual of any kind for anything at Beltane ever again, just in case I don’t phrase it right.  No more pregnancies!  Done now!  Want some SLEEP!

I shall put my slippers on, take up some knitting or somesuch, and leave Beltane and all the happy dancing and leaping to the, er, younger ones.  At least until I’ve had a really good nap.


So this is how I celebrate Beltane now, no ritual: I watch the garden, watch all the flowers springing up.  Count the daisies as they multiply across the grass.  See the sky shine strongly blue, feel the days warm enough to wear a T-shirt for small patches before the shade comes back.

I watch Fluffhead careen up and down, brimming with joy.  Hands to the sky, throwing dandelions over his head.  I catch his eye as they shower down, and he runs over to me and throws me backwards with the force of his hug.  We laugh, and his little body feels so strong and warm.  His top is now too small and the sleeves have crept up his arms.  He grows so strongly.  He picks himself up and runs off again with the outsize green watering can in his hands, slopping with water.

It all grows.  I am with it, helping – I plant seeds of sunflower and sweetpea, tend some small tomato plants. 

I watch the birds and the bees.

[1] It makes you think how much it must have cost people to have their gardens Groundforced – all those ready to be put in plants.  Remember that programme?  I used to love that, watching the gardens come together so harmoniously (well, sometimes harmoniously!).  Send that goddess Charlie Dimmock into my garden anyday.  But no bloody decking!  I always used to think they covered far too much perfectly good green grass with wood.  Anyway.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Perplexity of Insult. Blackberry Juniper gropes toward Right Action...

Is it the fact that I have a massive people pleasing side that makes it such a conundrum for me to deal with insults and conflict, perceived or real?  I dunno.

Have some background to this post’s thrust: I have a friend on facebook that I’ve known a few years. He’s had a hard life.  He has numerous issues.  One of them being an inferiority complex hiding a superiority complex.  I say that with such confidence because I reckon lots of people labour under that one, I recognise it, being one of them myself!

So anyway.  Most of the time, he’s one of those FB friends who posts inspirational memes, and starts stimulating discussions.  And sometimes people are unaccountably rude to him.  I feel his vulnerability, and have stuck up for him in the  past, several times. 

He’s quick to take offence.  And apparently, slow to learn, in the sense that twice in the last month he’s taken to me, snapping like a yappy dog, when I’ve had the slightest disagreement with him.  Being as angry with me as with those who have been nothing but rude to him.  Despite my attempts at calming p-mails, he’s still…bristly.  After the last I sent him, I got a public thread reply, just prickling with contempt (yes, I don’t think that’s too strong a word) for both the English (he’s American), and for the uneducated of his own country.  And there was a nice little insult for me in his paragraph too.  About how ‘very young’ I am. 

It was one of those sly insults.  One that tries to come off as a cool calm comment.  What it was, was a condescending slap.

Now – here’s what I’m going to talk about (finally, I hear you moan): my perplexity in the face of being insulted – how to react for the best??

To be having a conversation with someone who undermines everything you previously said by asserting you are ‘very young’ is frustrating.  So – apart from the fact that I’m nearly 42, and I’m not going to debate my maturity or immaturity (it fluctuates, I’m erratic, I own it freely) – its feeble to assert ‘young’ people have no right to their stance or view simply because of their age.  Or that they cannot disagree with an older person (especially, in this case, an older person who tantrums when you disagree with them, rather than discuss it).

I think it’s funny that I have always put such energy into how I react when I am perplexed by an insult.  No matter how ‘right’ I might feel, or how misguided or misunderstood I might feel myself or the other person is – and no matter how much my kneejerk reaction is always either: want to answer back crossly/ cry/ walk away and never come back…I ALWAYS end up putting much thought into my reaction.  If I have managed to avoid the kneejerk three.  Which occasionally I have.  So far, in this case, I have.

I always want, wish, to react – well.  Proportionally.

I think maybe the jibe about me being ‘very young’ cuts so immediately and annoyingly, because in matters of argument, I always feel I do react exactly like a child.  And I wish I reacted like an adult.

So I go through my range of responses I see in those around me, all of which I feel are better than the ones I usually give in to.

There’s the obvious way of Silent Dignity.  Stanley is in favour of this one (which is amusing, considering how he loves a good argument). I am befuddled by this one.  It turns out I am not even on nodding terms with dignity, so I’m not sure how it is done.  I am told it involves simply IGNORING the offending comment, and letting the snideness of the whole paragraph he wrote speak for itself.  So that anyone else who reads it would think he was being OTT, and there I am being dignified by remaining aloof.

But then: (a) this reminds me of when there are allegations against celebrities in the press.  You read them and think ‘gosh, is that true?’ if it’s someone you like, and then there’s no answer…so you don’t know.  The mud has been slung, and it just sits there, dripping, ruining the view.

I feel the Silent Dignity response lacks…balance.  The other side of the story is not addressed; the responding answer not given.

Also – does it not come off similar to sulking?!

And, (b) ignoring something is hard!  Here I am, itching to reply, to defend myself and strongly.  To up the ante.

This brings me to my next example of a response.  I straw-polled Troubadour.  Now, Troubadour is something of a mini legend in everyone’s lunchtime when it comes to arguments.  Where Stanley is all about logic, logical fallacies and scientific debunking of false ‘facts’, Troubadour is a whole different (and rare) kettle of fish.  He’s the best Character Assassin I’ve ever seen work.  I’ve seen him do a complete Personality Takedown in a couple of sentences.  Its not about facts, or fallacies – it’s about winning.  Destruction of the opponent, not the argument.  However – if your opponent’s self-esteem just puddled on the floor, you pretty much won that argument, didn’t you?  What was it you said?!  I remember evenings in pubs where smoke misted in front of his face, and an amused (and yes, malevolent) look in his eyes, as he shifted position and went for the exact weak spots in a person he had located.  If it was a woman, the assassination would be begun or ended with “darling”, said in a drippingly acidic way that never failed to make my stomach turn over.  Yes.  My exhub was sometimes a not a very nice person at all; but you have to respect the Player at work.  It really was awe inspiring to watch him engaged in psychological massacre with someone (not war; as I never saw him lose, not once in 16 years).

So: I’m expecting Troubadour’s response to be that I should say something massively deadly and sniperish – bang bang you’re dead!  However unlike me that would be.  But…I think he has mellowed.  He surprises me by recommending the Silent Dignity approach.  Or perhaps he feels its better suited to my personality; more doable?  So there will be no murders today then…

The next person to poll would be Fry.  Fry hangs out on a million internet forums.  He is an expert in internet-based, forum-based disagreements.  He has been in many flame wars and lived; been Trolled and been a Troll himself.  Lately he has been gaining a reputation of something of a Troll Tamer.  He has a technique of never rising to anger or insult, and just calmly carrying on talking.  He carries on the conversation quietly, no matter the abuse, no matter the insult.  To him it’s all a game.  Eventually, the Troll calms down and becomes friends with him.  Fry says Trolls are usually very clever people who are bored to death.  Fry is very good at standing back from things, at not taking them either seriously or personally.  What an amazing skill!  This is one I really need to learn.  My own current feeling on that is simply that if someone says something TO ME, how can it be anything other than personal?  They didn’t say it to someone else, after all.  Then again; I agree that people speak out of their own lives and issues, and as I’m not them, how am I to know what they are living through, what may prompt them to overreact to me?  Or me to them, for that matter.)

Fry is all about the standing back.  The next move.  In any conversation, he’s a quiet strategist. Annoyingly he’s out and not answering his phone, so I can’t question him on this.  But knowing him well, I think he would say this: (a) this is the ‘net, it’s not real – people behave on the net as they never would in real life – they let fly with much less inhibition.  Basically they are crazy drunks without a drop of alcohol in them; screeching toddlers in 50 year old bodies.  (b) Its not personal, chill. (c) do you want to snipe back?  In which case, craft it… (d) But then, mum, you’re too soft for these games…ignore it.  It’s just a man, grumbling – you have not begun to see some of the Trolling I have, this is nothing!  Shrug it off!

So I take that as another vote for Silent Dignity, with a side dish of ‘whatever, fuck it!’

But virtuous as Silent Dignity might look, it still feels like I would be acting it if I did it. See how Mature I Am! I Do Not Rise To This!

Would it not be more authentic of me to have a bit of a stomp?!  But then…this is a very my generation thing, isn’t it?  This wanting to let it all hang out this way.  What would a stomp accomplish? Even if I tried to do it calmly?  I would just end up looking as snide as The Insulter.

Hmm.  A quagmire.  So I shall look at some more people, and how they would react.  A role model.

The first one that comes to mind is My Mother.  She is incredibly charitable and very good.  (And she reads this blog!  Oh hush hush, mum, it’s my blog – if I think you are good I can say so!  Goodness is in the eye of the beholder!!  Stop shaking your head now!)  I think she would counsel me to try and understand why he was so vehement and upset.  To try and see his side of things.  And reply quietly and calmly, and short.  Which sounds very sensible.  It fits with my burning need to SAY SOMETHING BACK (‘you hurt my feelings!  I want to beat your head with a shovel!’), but requires me to put a ton of proper empathic brainwork behind it.  As she’s Christian, she would pray over it, if it was her.  We are very alike, she and I, both terrible brooders over incidents that have unsettled us – so I know she would pray both over her own reaction and the anger/hurt, and over the other person, who she would see as also in pain, and would pray for them to be comforted.  Damn good woman, my mum.

There is a further approach to conflict, to any relation with people, that I do try to emulate.  It’s an idea that my good friend Dreamer practices.  He calls it The Line.  (Any errors in describing this are all mine.)  It’s an idea with you all the time, in every dealing with every person.  If done correctly it prevents upset and overreaction.  It begins: There is a Line.  You yourself stand above it, always.  Above the line means approval and good relationship.  The idea is: you are always in good relationship with yourself.  Based on how other people treat you, their words and actions, depends on whether they are above the Line (in good relationship and happy company with you); on the Line (you are behaving dodge-ily and I am frowning a bit, but giving you the benefit of the doubt); or below the Line(you have behaved badly and I am unimpressed).  The merits of this simple system are threefold. 

Firstly, people move up and down based on every encounter – so there’s no typical me behaviour of holding a grudge for 50 years!  If someone has behaved better this time than last time you saw them, they move up.  It’s flexible, and constantly moving, pragmatic.  Secondly, as a system: its cool and cucumbery.  You are always (second nature it becomes, he tells me) reassessing people.  It prevents you from getting all over emotional because there’s no reading between the lines.  There’s assessing, judging people by their actions, in relation to you. 

Lastly, and the greatest joy of the system for someone like me, is what you do mentally with people who have fallen below the Line: you give them absolutely no thought at all.  If they have behaved badly enough to have fallen below the line (and it’s supposed to err on the side of generosity in application), then they are not worthy of you at the moment.  Not worthy of your thoughts, your voice, your actions, nothing.  They become more or less invisible, in terms of importance.  This means that if they are people you see around the place, work or pub, for example, you simply treat them politely as colleagues or as fellow drinkers (etc) when you bother to engage with them at all.  They may take from your distractedness what they will.  (Remembering most people are too self-centred to possibly even notice they are being treated differently!)  Once a person is below the line, they have every chance to come up again, but it’s up to them to prove themselves to you.  If you notice they are making deliberate attempts to get back in your good books, or just generally being much more agreeable and not at all rude, you can assess if you feel its sufficient and acceptable, and alter your behaviour toward them accordingly (having raised them to – ‘on the line, I’m keeping half an eye on you’).

If done wrong, the line could look to outsiders like extensive game playing.  It’s anything but.  Whenever I have tried to implement this system of thought I have found it a great aid to being calmer and less emotional about things that have unsettled me.  However, I often fail at the Line because I fall at the first hurdle: that of You Yourself Are Always Above the Line and in Good Relationship With Yourself.  With my degree of self doubt, and on some days, self-loathing, I find the Line very hard to implement simply because I second guess myself SO MUCH that when I have had a disagreement with someone, I can’t quite tell who is at fault; and have a horrible suspicion it is Always Me.

Dreamer has commented on two things about my attempt to implement The Line.  One, that I need to love myself MUCH more to get it to work best; and Two, that this only what he does, and I can change and alter it to fit myself better.  Trouble is; I feel it’s a perfect system of thought now, just as it is.

And in this case, the purpose of this post, it’s another vote for Silent Dignity, isn’t it?  Because I’ve fallen out with the Insulter before, smoothed it privately, yet here he is, doing it AGAIN, and publicly…I think I would be correct to take him from On the Line, to Below the Line.  By which token he no longer exists till I see him trying to be nice to me.  Actually, I’m feeling pretty good about that analysis.  That’s Silent Dignity with a proper reason behind it.  (And it also kills this post dead, doesn’t it?  What am I doing, bleating on endlessly about someone who isn’t worth a thought at the moment?!!)

There are 2 other perspectives I could reference.  There’s the one I grew up with:  What Would Jesus Do?  The answer there is immediately clear and has been drilled into me: Forgive Him.  It’s not so much the Turn the Other Cheek, as I think unstable people can be enraged if you do that.  But genuinely forgive him.  He knows not what he does, etc.  I save myself all aggro by just…letting go, with goodwill.  I quite like this reaction too.  It’s kindly, and charitable.  If I could do it genuinely, then gosh – wouldn’t I be a better person?  It means also, I could respond if I want to, but calmly.  Trouble is, I have taken offence myself (‘very young’ – humpf, indeed!!).  I find it hard to not be wary.  And – is forgive always linked to forget? I’m not so good at forgetting…

Then there’s a strain of thought in my life that’s a bit difficult to describe.  Its sort of old fashioned.  Related to fairy tales and fiction, and the Knights of the Round Table; to history and Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do.  To the Wiccan writer Kerr Cuhulain and his concept of Modern Knighthood, an ethical system.  To the Nine noble Virtues of Asatru (paying attention to number one of the Nine Charges, in this case).  I can express it best in lists of qualities, the Me I Try To Be: Courage, Honour, Integrity, Industriousness, Courteousness, Duty…you get where I’m going with this sort of list?  I am reading a lot of Cuhulain at the moment, so I’ll wander through some of his knightly precepts for advice:

According to a principle like Know Yourself, I would consider exactly how much I am at fault for this argument; I will take my own qualities and ways of reacting into account.  If I tried to see beyond the obvious, beyond what is usually perceived by the eye – perhaps I wouldn’t view this as a disagreement at all, but simply a learning opportunity.  Observe my reactions, work on them if unsatisfied. 

I would consider a principle like Right Action.  Takedown would not be right action in this case – total overreaction. 

I would Not Engage in Useless Activity: why am I arguing futilely on the ‘net with a damaged person a continent away??  What good does it do either of us?  I have many more profitable things I could be doing…we need plates!  I should be washing up! (Cuhulain’s principle of Do Not Be Negligent Even in Trifling Matters, here!) 

How about the Gods Cannot Help Those Who Do Not Help Themselves?  The Insulter has a pattern of stropping emotionally whenever disagreed with.  Of declaring his trials and misfortunes and woes, like a badge.  It stops people in their tracks, so taken are they with his plight; they stop disagreeing with him.  I did, the first time.  Now I think…you are playing victim to shut people up; maybe you don’t know you are doing it (done it myself in the past; easily done).  I have a problem with losing my temper easily.  How am I to overcome it, if I don’t learn to restrain my temper by shutting up in actual confrontation if my only response is an unconstructive angry rude one?!

There’s You Create Your Own Reality.  (Not in an overbearing Law of Attraction way – some other post I will talk about this idea that’s taken over the New Age booksellers and lots of magickal books; it’s got a very sound basis, BUT has been stretched into some ridiculous and dangerous shapes by some authors).  In this case, that means me acknowledging that I am in this situation partly because I helped make it.  Definitely true: I answered the Insulter back, and twice – I engaged in the conflict without much thought to the outcome.  So now I’m here, I should learn from it.

This is all sounding like another vote for Silent Dignity.  Only it’s starting to seem less and less like an act I would be doing, and more and more like…the right, reasoned thinking thing to do, here.  Maybe I am edging toward a sense of Right Action?

Alright.  Summarise.  Insulted by a semi friend I usually like quite a bit in a forum on the ‘net.  Possible reactions:

Stanley: Silent Dignity.  You have tried reasonable argument, reasoned response.  Next step: ignore, cool down.

Troubadour: Silent Dignity.  Takedown not merited here.  (I don’t think I have that skill, besides; not even in writing, where I’m best.)

Fry: Silent Dignity: Forget about it, unimportant, don’t take it personally – the net is like cars: people don’t behave according to normal rules of engagement.

Mum: Understand, empathise.  Based on that, respond or not.  But be kind, and think long and hard before responding, if there is to be a response.

Dreamer:  Silent Dignity.  He has fallen Below the Line with his behaviour.  Until he shows you by his behaviour that he is worthy of your attention, he doesn’t exist.  Who?!

Jesus: Forgive Him.  Be kind in your evaluation.  Be understanding.  (This isn’t a moneylenders in the temple moment – it’s not that serious – so no righteous anger and action really merited…)

Cuhulain and the idea of Modern Knighthood:  understand the situation as a whole, including your own part in getting yourself here.  Understand your own emotional reaction; assess whether response is necessary.  Perhaps simply to learn is enough, here?  You can’t change the other person’s victimy way of behaving, or the insecurity that caused the jibe to undermine me about my youth.  The goal of modern knighthood is self mastery.  So to respond crossly is stupid, uncontrolled, and unproductive.

Hmm…Also, one of my favourite quotes is: ‘Be the change you want to see’ (regardless of who said it or how accurate that quote is or isn't).  I could be strong but courteous.  Bushido code-ish (rei = courtesy; jin = compassion/mercy/benevolence).  I could be sincere, chivalrous – not kick a man who is definitely already feeling down.  I want to be better than that.


I still have absolutely no idea how to respond, if I chose to.  I don’t think I have the cool head enough to pick the wise words that would be the oil on troubled waters…(never quite understood that expression).  But I AM wise enough to know that means I should probably keep my mouth shut now…I don’t want further conflict.  I should Keep Silent (there’s another old magickal concept for you, applied here).

I am always waffling on about the concept of empathy, here and in other posts.  Could it be I should just choose to let my anger and hurt drain away, to simply understand another’s pain, which causes them to react unreasonably?  And considering I helped the situation arise, I could just let it go, with compassion for us both.  Without attaching undue importance to it…

It is amusing, is it not, that I just spent YEARS of your life here, debating at truly EXCRUCIATING LENGTH, what to do about something and to end up deciding to do nothing elsewhere?  Which I knew at the start was the correct thing to do?!  I just had to thoroughly think it through, with the aid of the cooler heads…That does make me smile.

Oh well, let’s hope my ‘workings out’ here (oh! It’s a maths exam!) help other people think when their heads feel hot.

And to a resounding, Dignified Silence, I go…

…to do the washing up.