I’m surprised at how many children are here already. Its 8.02 a.m., and the coffeehouse is half filled already. It’s the school holidays. Were the children driving the parents insane from 4 this morning (much like mine)? Parents, children, toddlers, babies. Thankfully, not yet too loud.
The man closest to me has a small girl on his lap. Dressed in pink, mouse brown hair in bunches. He’s one of those parents who becomes a cartoon, much the way some teachers do. He is reading Where the Wild Things Are to his daughter, in a deep expressive voice. His wife, and what looks like her friend (a woman with an angry jerky demeanour – the world owes her and isn’t yet paying, I can see) keep interrupting him, talking to him. He replies to them in the same voice of indulgence and pantomime bonhomie he is using on the child. He ordered the families coffee and juice this way too. He can’t turn off bluff, humourous, capable parent. Still. Worse ways to be.
The baristas are voluble this morning too. Chatting away loud and almost shrill. The older manageress is a lot more talky lately. She’s a large and strong woman. Considering how much I see her lift and carry of the deliveries that come, I am surprised she still has size.
A toddler boy wanders past my table in that absent way tiny children do. He glances at me, not really seeing, one hand on the chest of his blue dolphin embossed T-shirt.
I’m distracted too.
I have a friend in trouble.
There lived, a very long time ago, and yet very much also in the distant future, a woman with many names. Many names as we all have for our many selves. This one name I will give her is Jane, for I think perhaps she saw herself as plain. She had no idea. She was a dragon slayer, as are we all. She embarked upon a quest to live a happy and reasonable life, and was beset by many travails. Some followed thick and fast upon the others, and were cruel and longlasting so that she eventually felt herself in a forest surrounded by thorns, darkness and a path ever narrower.
There I was, watching Criminal Minds last night.
I’m addicted to that at the moment. It feeds my screaming need for orderliness. A crime occurs. We don’t really know why or how or if there will be more. As the episode unravels, we do know. Gradually, all the threads are pulled loose, and the seams of the suspect (they call them an ‘unsub’ = ‘unknown subject’) become clearer and clearer. They profile the crime to profile the perpetrator. They get to know the enemy. They stand outside of themselves so that they can get the big picture of the interior of another, through the details of their actions. They use past experience, statistics, models of behaviour, to make likely composites of who, and eventually, why. And at the same time, in the way of the best US crime dramas, they give us snippets of the investigators themselves. So as the profilers profile the unsubs, we profile the profilers.
It started off being interesting and has graduated to unmissably watchable. As usual, when I watch anything, I am liking the 2 most extreme characters the best. I am loving Dr. Reid, the almost autistic statistics genius, with the eidetic memory and rather lacking social skills. Adoring him. And I am loving Hotchner, who grew up from a childhood of abuse to try and understand and catch twisted minds instead of becoming one in his turn. He is perfectly neat, perfectly tidy, perfectly controlled, perfectly professional, almost cold. (Think early Scully demeanour in the X-Files.) I love the way he barely smiles, carries the darkness inside, always thinking, trying to outwit it. Trying to hold the line between work and family life by compartmentalizing. Reid appears to have no family life. Yet. But I know my US dramas. This will change.
So I am finding the unfolding of reasons, the understanding, the tidiness of the stories incredibly satisfying (this despite some loose ends left flying each episode which I also notice).
I go through life needing my stories badly. The ones told by me and the ones told by others. I think I subscribe to a version of chaos theory; that even beneath what appears to be the total mess of everything and everyone, there is also, there, patterns and order, could I but draw back far enough to see it. I become increasingly aware of the necessity for the edit of the stories. Of being careful which ones we tell ourselves at any given time.
In watching Criminal Minds I tell myself I can understand the hearts of dark. Mine and others. That it can sometimes, and in some ways, be tidied enough to live with. To accept, to work with.
And then, my friend. At the moment caught in darkness she is surprised by, maybe. One of those of us who tries to be ok as long as possible before admitting there is a clutch in her chest that tells her she is in trouble.
I couldn’t tidy my imaginary criminal facts anymore last night after I contacted her. (And how could I not? I saw her call out. I am a crap friend in a thousand ways and constantly let down myself and others, but I try to be there when I can. Sometimes I can.)
As we wrote, I could feel her telling herself the wrong story, as we all do when fearful upset. The story where she was all to blame and her head was boiling away at it.
It’s weird how it’s so plain to see when it isn’t yourself, that the friend is not to blame in the upset. A sequence of horribly stressful events both major and minor. That went on and on for ages. That she held up really well through, despite a position of responsibility within them that was girded round with not being allowed to intervene. A messenger unable to act, only to watch and feel. How unsurprising it is to me that a sensitive person would be having a bit of meltdown now it’s sort of over? It’s just natural.
And yet, for some reason, when we’re in our own heads – and I am a prime example of this – we imagine we should be able to cope like a General of an Army, or the Leader of a Country. Just to accept, do with compassion for others, yet oddly not for ourselves. When its over, we seem supposed to be able to just file it away and on to the next episode of life, as if its that neat, that tidy, that SIMPLE. That orderly.
On all sides of Jane, the forest pressed. The leaves were dry, the leaves crackled, they were old, yet strong, wound round with vines of an unpleasant ivy. Jane sat down with difficulty and regarded her situation. Somehow, she felt, this loss of direction, this pressing in could have been avoided. She could see no wider forest; the trees themselves pressed in against her. Through their branches she saw glints of scale, golden and mean. She heard the hiss of a dragon’s breath. Now, when she was without her weapons, for earlier they had been discarded as further into the forest she wandered, she was expected to fight.
I know what I crave is a fantasy mindset. That real life is filled with so many people, so many stories they tell themselves and each other for oh so very many different reasons (life experiences, brain chemicals, a million passing moods, the economy, the childhood, the present situation, the person who snubbed you in the office or the stranger who smiled at you in the street)…what hope do I have of anything but the most provisional and superficial understanding of anyone (including me), or of any event (even ones I am present at)?!
As long as I understand my quest’s results will always be nothing more than provisional. There will not be a tidy ending to each episode and on to the next one apparently untouched and unscathed by memory: life is not a jigsaw with each piece fitting in and making sense. There will always be info I missed or to which there is an alternative interpretation, or an extra one.
I might love Sherlock Holmes (another very orderly thinking creation), but when he says a man is guilty based on his crossed arms body language, I always want to say – but was the room he was in cold? Give me all the info. Or at least more of it.
Bluff male parent and entourage are gone. Schubert tinkles on the speakers.
A man with an old stripy purple polo shirt sits diagonally opposite from me. He taps away on a laptop. He has an ‘I’m working from home’ look. He’s got shortish messyish black hair with mutton chops. It needs a wash. He’s wearing those thick rimmed black 1950s glasses. I hate those. They only look halfway good on men with large boned faces that keep them in proportion (someone like the yummy film critic Mark Kermode). This man is small, and has a downturned mouth, a 5 O’clock shadow. He looks not finished yet. I wonder why he rushed out of the house looking all unwashed? I wonder also, why he hasn’t realized the extremely loud jingle buzz noise his phone makes when it receives texts is extremely annoying? Why do we all have to hear that?
(I’m painting a picture in my head that he’s going through a divorce, hence his roughed up and generally miserable look. Maybe he had to leave the house and flee to the coffeeshop because he thought he could have a think and make sense of things, sit about in your pants mental health day at home – but his becoming ex-partner announced she was staying at home today. There was a bit of a stand off. Did they actually argue? Can’t see this one yelling or raising a hand to anyone, unless drinking maybe. But he couldn’t take the flow of her words – is she a ranter like I can be? – and so he quickly gathered his stuff, not even shaving or washing his face; he may even have slept in that polo top, and he just gets the hell out of the house. Comes to the neutral ground, for peace.)
Just then, his phone rings. His face changes, loses its sad sulky half awakeness. In a voice I didn’t expect, a calm and happy chirpy chappy cockney voice, he takes a work call. He deals with it peacefully, while stacking up his croissant crumbed plate and cappuccino froth rimmed cup neatly onto a tray.
He seems genuinely completely fine. He’s just a slob. A happy slob, in fact.
See. I’m no profiler.
I’m that dangerous specimen. A person with an overactive imagination, who sees patterns both real and imagined and sometimes cannot see the difference between them. I’m not Sherlock Holmes, or Hotchner or Reid.
I’m just a teller of stories, not a purveyor of facts.
That’s what I need my friend to understand. We are all spin merchants to a degree. She is spinning herself into a corner at the moment. But she, and I, and anyone else who knows her and loves her can at least partially help to spin her out again, with a story slanted differently.
Jane remembered previous times she had met herself in this forest. Other times she had seen the dry crackling leaves, the old strong ivy vines. Those bitter thorns. She remembered other dragons. She took out her pen, and cleared the earth immediately before her, just enough so she had space to write. The dragon pressed inward, bowing the trees closest to her. Uneasily.
“I, Jane, Slayer of Dragons, here remember the dragons I have slain before. I wielded sword in the name of the knight I respect so much and who inspires me so. I wielded sword in the name of my daughter, a princess of great intelligence who even now awaits me at home. I wielded sword in the name of myself, in the name of a path to a good and reasonable life. Who are you, Dragon, to stand before me now, and try to threaten me? Did I not kill all your brothers before you? So that I am here still and they are not?”
All this and more she scratched out upon the forest floor, as though scratching on a cell’s floor. At each brush of the pen over the Earth, the dragon shook and hissed. Branches began to flame around Jane.
But she wrote on.
Chirpy chappy has taken his messy unwashed self away; looking peaceful and fine. I thank him in my head for his imaginary character he gave me, that clearly wasn’t him (and obviously said loads more about me).
Bespectacled woman with side parted hair and crossed legs sits opposite, reading one of those sagas about Liverpool in WW2. She’s in her late 30s, coral T-shirt, white cardigan, denim skirt. Her face is clear, unlined, really almost blank. She has remained unmoved by both chirpy chappy’s phone beeping debacle and the increasingly loud children. Strangely, she is also impenetrable to me. I can’t do her: she suggests nothing to me. The blandness of her clothes, the fact she’s reading the sort of emotional potboiler I can’t read (too much suffering often in those, relentless)…the fact her black sandals are flat and incredibly simple, her legs completely shiny and smooth (has she had electrolysis to get legs that smooth and hair free; or was she waxed within the last week, but not the last couple of days or she’d still be a touch red…?). It all tells me no story.
Her uprightness, her unwavering concentration on her open book. She’s a closed one to me.
Because she hasn’t looked up once I can’t even get a feel for any character in her eyes, or change of expression on her face. In fact, she has not moved. At all, except to turn pages and recross her legs. I wish the author of that book were here to see this woman’s dedication to the reading. That would be very nice for her.
What would Reid say? What statistics would he come out with to explain her stillness, her strange emotionless manner? His character makes more sense to me than this brilliantly opaque woman. But of course he does. I’ve had tidbits fed to me over a whole season arc so far, many episodes. His behaviour remains consistent, for the most part.
Ouch. A barista breaks a plate.
Life just does not make any real, consistent sense. I don’t care which philosophy system you have read, studied, or follow: it’s just an eye. The eye you have chosen to see with, closing the other. Denying everyone else’s eyes and their vision of what is real, or true. There is no one consistent all-time truth; at best it is temporary and provisional, and it moves. We cannot even truly know those we know. Let alone snap judgements we make about people we merely see around the place or hear about on the news (and mistake our opinions for solid facts).
Kate has gone into labour today. She has gone off into hospital to produce a news event we’ll not hear the last of for ages. I feel a bit sorry for Kate (she’ll just need a rest when she’s done), and for the baby (who just needs ‘mum’, not all this other crap). It’ll be a circus, eclipsing other things we might do just as well to know. What a world. That's just today.
The new Pope is selling indulgences. If you like him on Twitter and follow and retweet, you get ‘time off’ from Purgatory. Hmm. What a world. That's just today.
Time periods clash. Medieval practices surround us in the 21st century. Far from everything having gone all technical, scientific, mentally evolved and silvery in this future made present, we instead have a world where science fiction really does rule. I think we live in a multiverse within this one universe, and we can see different dimensions and sectors everywhere we look, increasingly polarized and separate from each other, and yet bumping up together. Enlightenment reason rules some sectors, a sort of secularism. And in others, organized religion of some kinds sends whole other sectors of the world further and further backwards…And of course, I live here in my own little almost anything goes mental sector.
I watch the reasoning in Criminal Minds while down the road somewhere, a man or woman beats their partner (because they love them of course) behind closed doors. People cut and hurt themselves feeling a pain in their heads so bad that only actual physical pain can blank it out for a moment, make it even bearable and almost explicable. Today I live in peacefulness; next door is pain. I have spoken to people going through pain, and all they ever want is to be where I am today, just this one day, in a headspace of peace. So I cannot allow my knowledge of their pain to ruin my day, though I find the knowledge corrosive and undermining. I must live the peace I have for now.
Next door again to the pain is another house, where there is safety. Children feel safe as their parents scoop them up for a hug. Those little legs curl about your waist, the head lays trustfully on your shoulder, hands pressing your back, pulling them closer. And just for a second: there is some form of sense. You understand how important, truly important it is, that you provide safe haven for this tiny person who understands both so much and so little of the rest of the world. In some ways, they still feel you ARE them. In hugging you, the bigger part of themselves, you know and they know, that all will be and is, ok.
For however long a hug lasts.
Or a text from a friend to hold your hand in cyber in the dark one night.
Or whilst I sit rapt before the profilers, and continue to seek.
Or sit here in the coffeehouse and watch, and spin my little tales. Which make my world go round. And round.
Jane feels in her head a slight lessening of the pressure. Around her the trees seem to flinch. She writes:
“I bind you, Dragon. You may not bar my way. You may not slow me down. You may not threaten me here.”
She takes the sash from her waist and in the new space created infront of her, she has room enough to raise it before her eyes. She sees the dragon behind the trees watching, his eyes angry, wide, murderous.
She does not blink. She takes the sash and ties a knot inside it, and the dragon howls, branches and whole trees breaking into a flame deep and blue with its heat.
“I will go on, Dragon. You will stop. Here, now.” She hisses louder than it does, tying another knot, and another. There are nine when she is done and she lays it out before her, before the trees, smoking and burning, before the dragon’s malevolent eyes.
“I need no sword to stop you, Dragon.
I write you to stillness.
I tie you to this place
You will move within me no more.”
You will move within me no more.”
There is a terrible cry, a roar of fear, and the vines fall from around Jane, and coil around the dragon, holding him still, holding him fast.
“Fiat.” She says quietly, lowering her head.
She leaves the sash where it is, before the tied dragon, who struggles but cannot break free.
She picks her way around him, bending to take her pen. She steps onward, onward into the forest. She continues on. Soon we cannot see her anymore.
 The only sense I bank on is that I observe in nature, and how we all flow within it. It’s surprising and changing; changing and yet samey. But that’s just me.
 The only reason the dragon is not slain is that this is not my story to complete. I can only suggest. Jane must slay. But I can remind her she is a Dragonslayer. I have to thank Tylluan Penry for the Dragonslaying idea. I just finished reading her very interesting and helpful book, Staying on the Old Track (2013, Wolfenhowle Press, Amazon has it). She has a whole chapter about using stories to mythologize and tell your way out of troubles; and remind yourself of those you conquered already. I haven’t done it exactly as she recommended, I haven’t used the very formal style or the repetitions that I see are a powerful part of the story telling process, as I had a bit of a different aim.