One Week

Overheard on the radio: manipulate the brain and one’s experience changes. It’s the most obvious statement in the world, but how to pull it off? I refuse to become toxically positive and shut out all negativities. Is there an acceptable ratio of optimism versus pessimism to aim for? Perhaps a 10% pessimism weighting might be about right.

Scraps of lingering tiredness cling to me all day, despite a ten-hour sleep. I forget to monitor my optimism/pessimism ratio. I am how I am.

Ice-cream and Thelma and Louise tonight. Had forgotten how sad this film is. It has the same nihilistic energy as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, another pair whose anarchic happiness ends in a still screen, frozen in time having run into the square in which guns are trained at them from every angle. Game over. How easily we buy into the glory of the last-ditch, no-hope attempt, the idea that it’s better to drive off a cliff than fade away slowly, the notion that some people are so vital with life that they are destined never to grow old. I know it’s fiction, but wouldn’t they all have been better going to prison and staying alive? It puts me in bad form. Pessimistic quotient rises.

Sunday morning sounds: wind and church bells. I sit up in bed reading The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim, about four women who rent a medieval castle on the Italian Riviera for a month. I’m at the early stages and already I am enchanted. I have been introduced to two of the four who have just met one another and are slowly recognising the emptiness of their lives. Mrs Arbuthnot is the more outwardly assured and inwardly uncertain of the two, and so has most unravelling to do, a bigger sledgehammer needed to take down the false walls of her life. Her optimism/pessimism balance is out of whack. “For years she had been able to be happy only by forgetting happiness. She wanted to stay like that. She wanted to shut out everything that would remind her of beautiful things, that might set her off again longing, desiring…” The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Armin

Kate here, Sunday evening, taking selfies, pouting into the camera, holding her head at a certain tilt, bubbling gladness and joy. ‘Do this.’ She makes an over-the-top shocked face and puts her hand over an open mouth, then clicks. ‘This is the Oh my God, I’ve just run over my neighbour’s dog face.’ I ask when one could possibly need such a face, ‘When your friend texts you a piece of hot gossip.’ ‘But what’s that got to do with reversing over a dog?’ ‘It’s not actually about a dog. I’m just giving you an example to get you into the zone.’ She tinkles laughter and throws a grape at me. I don’t know what zone I’m supposed to be in. We watch the second episode of Mayflies together. I know what zone I’m in after that: the broken zone.

Monday morning walk around Arthur’s Seat. Cold wind, muddy underfoot. With every step I watch the ground, mindful not to slip. Jackdaws and swans and planes dropping in altitude as they approach the airport. Don’t see much else.

Fill in a gap in a story I’m writing. Feels like grouting. The story is a wall of tiles, and this one didn’t hold together, was going to fall out had I not fixed it with a few key paragraphs. I suspect there are many more wonky tiles, some not flush to the wall, others placed crooked to one another, many in want of grout to keep them in place.

Elm Row, on my way to Valvona & Crolla for olive oil. A crow chases and lunges at a leaf that’s blowing along the pavement. After a few paces, I see the leaf has a tail. It’s a baby rat, or a mouse. It is running towards me. The crow has a final go, but now I am too close for the murder to be enacted. The crow flies off, defeated. The mousey-rat takes shelter in the nook of Ladbrokes’ doorway. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet its days are numbered (too pessimistic?). I add an inch to my step and hurry on to the deli. The drama of nature playing out a few paces from me in the heart of the city has been an unedifying intermission. I think of Iolo, broadcasting Winterwatch from Edinburgh these last few weeks, showing us the badgers outside Edinburgh Zoo, filming by the Water of Leith, in Warriston Cemetery, up Salisbury Crags, pointing out the heron, goosander, peregrine, sparrowhawk, waxwings, blackcap, goldcrest. Decamp to Elm Row, Iolo, and I’ll show you the gritty drama of urban nature playing out at street level. (No olive oil purchased, too expensive.)

Nightime walk to Jenners to remember the firefighter who died there last week. Had passed earlier in the day when a quiet crowd was gathered, amongst them, sombre young men in black bomber jackets. ‘Are you a fireman?’ He says yes. I put my arm on his shoulder and tell him I’m sorry, then I begin to cry, then I hurry on afraid I have stolen his grief. The moment has been left incomplete, hence my impulse to return this evening. Cried again as Sorley and I read the tributes. I hear a sniffle from him too. We walk home discussing how not to repel sadness when it comes, accepting the sandwich of feelings that can make up a day, how to make the most of the moment, agreeing that this dark Monday evening walk down London Road to collect takeaway pizza might be the best of times. We read random graffiti and discuss its social message.

I write to Australia. She and I have selected a word for the year. Hers is not for me to share; mine isauthenticity. A hard thing to nail down. We are not just one thing, and maybe being authentic is being true to our feelings in the moment. But then, constantly expressing one’s feelings in the moment would be exhausting for all concerned, say, being authentically pessimistic. Where’s the balance?

The first day of the new month looks and feels like it ought to: all cold and bright and briskly announcing itself. Here I am, a new chunk of time to be carved, spent, squandered; it’s up to you, do with me as you wish. The most neatly packaged of months: four weeks lined up like a double KitKat – snap, snap, snap, snap.

Late night John Lewis, my guilt-free winter pleasure. Open until 8pm, almost completely empty for the last hour of trading. Warm and quiet, I roam the dregs of the sale rails, ear buds in, talking to Mum. Hate to admit it, but she’s right about black, does nothing for me. Green and white bed linen catches my eye as I’m leaving, shamrockesque pattern, but for the little flower. Turns out to be wood sorrel, sometimes called false shamrock. It being St Brigid’s Day, I must buy this cloak of green. The only thing better than climbing into a bed of freshly laundered linen (and there is little to top it) is climbing into a bed made up with linen just out of the packet. Encased in delicate green creeper, I fall asleep, 100% optimistic.

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