catcalls spark deep rage in me and make me scared to walk home at 4pm.

Today, the guy who catcalls me almost every day on my way home from work was there on my way to work. And I got a ‘hey, baby’ that (although I was wearing headphones) I could clearly lip-read and put me in a bad mood at 8:40 when I was already running late.

I want to know where this man gets off. I glare at him every fucking day, have told him to fuck off a couple of times and been asked ‘what your problem is’ accusatorily. No woman ever turned around and said in their best Southern Belle accent “why sir, are you talking to little old me? I would love for you to take my arm and wheel me to work! I do declare, what manners you have!”. Especially not when you are holding a can of Strongbow whilst loitering at 8:40 in the morning or 4 in the afternoon*. Today, I am wearing a nice dress, and a couple of people at work have commented on it, but it is knee-length and high-necked and I was wearing a coat and flats and no makeup and god dammit it does not matter what I am wearing. The man who works opposite me complimented it – he said, ‘that’s a very nice dress today, miss’**, and I said ‘thank-you! what are you doing for the easter holidays?” because – and listen to this – I can take a compliment, I am polite, I am friendly and caring, and I want to have a conversation. I am everything that I, as a woman, have been socialised to be, but I do not owe these to all people in all situations, and I will not be shamed for being them.

This is important for me, because I have incredibly violent fantasies about Catcall Man specifically and, sometimes, about the world more generally. I fantasise about beating him to a bloody pulp, turning around and delivering a punch that will knock him to the floor and kicking him until he looks like the survivor in a Quentin Tarantino movie; about screaming as I lunge at him and somehow there is a heavy object in my hands; about smashing his fucking can into his fucking face so hard that it crumples and leaves an imprint and then hitting him around the head with it until he bleeds. I hate that corner – I anticipate it, feeling fear and rage before I get there, scared when I walk around it at night, scared of any other innocent man who happens to be walking by or standing on the corner. Sometimes he stands with his friends and all they have to do is laugh for me to feel fear – fear, mixed with barely manageable rage, and those tend to be the days when I snap ‘fuck off’ to a hyena chorus. Sometimes I run up the street home. Most days I am panicked as I fumble with the lock on my door, afraid of anyone – man, woman, or child – within a 300-yard radius, until I am inside. Today, I fantasised about calling him out, turning around and asking him “what your problem is” (with a lot more expletives), about other women stopping their journeys to work to stand by and support me as I reclaimed my own fucking street that I live on as somewhere that I feel safe walking. This fantasy is potentially even less realistic than the one where I deck him, because one day I might snap and react wrong. Confronting him fairly and justifiably? Would require bravery and calm in measures I don’t have, and he fucking knows it. That’s the power play: I will never have the support network I need to confront him, because he won’t comment when I walk by with friends or my boyfriend or my parents. I won’t be vulnerable in that moment; he (and other men) won’t see the chance to belittle me. But a lone woman is vulnerable, and crimes by men against women – even small ones, like a two-word catcall – are a chance to put women below. A chance to right the social structures that have disenfranchised you by not being at the bottom of the pile anymore, at the expense of a woman walking to work. Walking anywhere, any time of the day. Sitting anywhere. On the internet or as a public figure. Existing. A lone woman has the potential to be less than you, no matter how low you are in that moment.

I will not be shamed into wearing drab clothes, because it will make no difference. I will not be intimidated into taking my headphones off, because I don’t owe you that. I will not stop being polite to men I want to talk to, or rude to men who won’t accept I don’t want to talk to them (I’ve politely told you to go away. There is no hint to take). I will not stop existing as a woman because you are too inadequate to handle me being over here, living my life, not acknowledging you. I will not accept that I am wrong in this.

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*I acknowledge that this is a sign that he needs help, and that he is self-evidently responding to his own lack of power by belittling me. That doesn’t make it OK. I am not a vessel for anybody’s inadequacies, I am an autonomous human just trying to get on with my own life.

**I am ‘miss’ because I work in a school. Everybody is referred to as by what the kids call them. 

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The day I conquered Bloomsbury.

This is a short story resurrected from my first year of uni. It ought to work as a map of Bloomsbury.


 

It’s a warren up that side of town. I felt like Sherlock Holmes, sat looking at a map and learning the main arteries and funny little capillaries that had troubled me so long; like Dick Whittington, an alien in a city I’ve known all my life.

 

The squares – Tavistock goes down to Gordon, which across-ways leads to Torrington and if you go up, past the Faber buildings through the gap I often forget coming the other way, Russell Square. To walk the wrong way from Russell Square past the Brunswick Centre and end up in Bloomsbury Square. There’s a beautiful cinema near there, and I once discovered a delightful small bookshop on Lamb’s Conduit Street after getting hideously lost by the hospitals quarter. Reaping the rewards of time wasted.

 

There is a vague and ever-present sense around Bloomsbury that if I could only walk through, over, under the grandiose houses I could get to where I need to be. I often stand, waving my left arm to the front, knowing I need to be over there… and going the wrong way or down a side-street that leads to somewhere not-quite-right. And the tall, tall buildings with their crowning balustrades wink down at me whilst I walk in their ever present, lofty taunt. Just sometimes I cheat and get the tube from King’s Cross to Russell Square, though now I know I could walk down the Euston Road which runs down the edge of Bloomsbury Village and simply intersect where I need to be, at Gordon Road or Tavistock Place. Helpful names point me in the right direction. I often found myself at a street when I wanted to be at a square and knew I was near.

 

Today I walked with no purpose through Bloomsbury: I had nothing to be late for and enjoyed it all the more. I found that I knew the ways I often go better than I ever thought I’d know, further down through the Brunswick Centre, across Theobalds Road, into snickets and along all pavements. I was rewarded with streets where Boswell lived, Coram’s Fields, and plaques to George Orwell. The beauty of time has changed the streets from where orphans played or worked at Coram’s to where sick children heal at Great Ormond. I find a busy fish & chip shop and walk to a quiet statue, back up to Coram’s Fields and Russell Square, I sit, I eat.

 

Sometimes, I wander further afield with the purpose of getting lost. Holborn, Lincolns Inn; the pleasure of finding a nice restaurant on Goodge Street or across in Soho are promises that lure me to walk with my head held high – not to the sky but to the architecture. To walk all the way to Oxford Street and enter again a different, more populous world. But Bloomsbury – the confusing looking-glass world of literature and culture, where every house seems to have a blue plaque and every corner turned is a garden – Bloomsbury will always be the place to get lost. No matter how easily I think my destination can be found.

 

 

Pascal’s Wager and panic attacks.

I’m falling back into the list. I can’t help it! After a bit of analysis last week with my therapist about what the list and my obsession with ‘actions’ in general means, I’m coming to understand my relationship with anxiety a bit better. That doesn’t mean I’m capable of dismissing my life outlook and my habits, though, and I’m finding it especially hard to dismiss my reasoned inability to veg out. Item six on the list: read some philosophy that engenders joy or happiness or purpose*.

I’ve never heard of Pascal’s Wager before. As a committed agnostic, it’s never been important to me who believes in what god/s or why as long as they act in a way that I can condone. Pascal has not challenged my agnosticism in the slightest HOWEVER his use of decision mathematics was new to me (having studied neither maths nor philosophy formally) and truly fascinating: it made me think of predestination as a mathematical probability rather than (an impossible) certainty, which is radically liberating when applied to everyday life (and deeply depressing when applied to profound global events, but I am here to work out my own problems, not America’s).

I’m really fighting with futility for now. Resigning my job was bad enough but then jeesh I got some bad news about a friend (it’s her bad news but we’ve been by her side for two years and I can’t understand how somebody would do that to her) and I have a four-week hiatus from uni and two weeks where I’m supposed to be in work and nobody else is (I have to work through the Easter holidays and most school staff get it off). I’m struggling to care about everything, struggling to see consequence as anything other than predetermined and struggling with the burden of an uncaring universe in an unfair system.

A great part of my belief in existentialism is grounded in absurdity and the chaotic indifference of the world. Assuming that the world is indifferent works in favour of decision mathematics as the results cannot be skewed by godlike force. If this is error, and a conscious force does hold ultimate power, its benevolence or malevolence are equally likely and therefore neutrally possible; we thus discount it from the calculations regardless of our own belief and follow the form of Pascal’s Wager. Assuming our situation is one where “reason can decide nothing”, or, for some reason (such as anxiety) our reason is impaired. Pascal’s reasoning focusses on god, and focusses on belief in god or gods, not as an empirical truth but as a logical prospect to hedge your bets regarding heaven or hell.

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Pascal’s Wager as a decision matrix; citation as a hyperlink

The ‘infinite chaos’ Pascal describes could be god or any unknown interchangeably. The unknown future can be analysed in a wager much as the same way if we reduce our own ideas to binary decisions. Thus:

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Made in MS Word because this is a WordPress blog not a bloody Vice article

Assuming that circumstances can be taken out of the equation: I cannot change actions I have already committed, I cannot change the amount of work required, I cannot establish outcomes that have not yet been presented (eg social events that I have not yet been invited to, poor health which has not yet been manifested) and I cannot change whether I will be accepted onto an MA with either grade, I am using Pascal’s complex arguments and the decision matrix to ascertain what is most fruitful for me to believe: the most unique aspect of Pascal’s original wager is the focus on religion, which moves our wager’s focus from what will be to what I think will be. By removing probabilities and focussing on certainties, I can discover which binary holds superdominance and I can override the anxiety of failure and the crippling inertia it causes me by knowing for certain that the assumption I take holds the better outcome, even if it is wrong. I can act for my own best interest, even if the ‘best’ is unlikely.

In conclusion, the world remains a dark and terrible place and logically I am condemned to mediocrity as a purposeless drifter, but mathematically a so-called ‘destiny’ is manipulatable and, therefore, purpose can override the meaningless existence we snatched from the void. The genius of using Pascal’s Wager as opposed to other mathematical philosophies is that it shifts the focus of whether something is or is not to whether it is prudent to believe that it is or is not. This ought to help in alleviating anxieties and pushing the unproductive painful thoughts to the back of our minds.

TO-DO:

  • Go to the swimming pool twice this week.
  • Go to the library thrice this week.
  • Phone insurance company.
  • Buy groceries.
  • See your friends!! You cancelled on two sets of people last week and are ignoring an invite from another and your facebook messages.
  • Don’t look at the facebook messages. There are like 150, it’s not worth it. You have 68 unread texts. Maybe see the friends NEXT week?

*Full disclosure: I read about Pascal’s theories, not original source material. Thanks to Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy, Jostein Gaarder’s introductions to philosophy and religion and the NHS.

A Short Journal Entry

Last week, full of hope and promise, I made a list. I made a list of all of the small things I could do which might improve my mental health. There were 10 points (there are always 10 points on my lists): eat healthier, buy a radio so I can listen to music without shutting the world out, go swimming, get help. Nothing groundbreaking. I took it to my therapist, and she listened.

Then she told me everything on that list is an ‘action’, and I cried.

It transpires that I am having an existential crisis. Because I am pathetic and childish? No, because the world is a dark and terrible place with no meaning, there is no reason to live, capitalism is working against us all (unless you are Beyonce), and meaning can only be ascribed to anything by your relationship to it. God was invented by man. You are not important. Your very existence is at best futile. Mine too. So I am defining my own meaning by grasping for control of the forces of chaos that brought me here, in this society, at this time, attempting to understand and force my way through – and all of the time the abyss is watching me, waiting for me to fall backwards. I can’t go to work five days a week; I have panic attacks; I sleep for fourteen hours or three; my wonts are irrational; my ambitions are crumbling around my feet whilst I play useless party games and laugh about things I want to change. I can’t go on this way.

Here is my new list. It is not numbered, there are not a round number of points. They are achievable goals, they will help my mind grow healthy but will not impede its activity in other directions.

  • stop drinking. this is also to save my relationship, which is suffering under the strain of my pent up rage and overwhelming sadness, something no amount of nice, guilty breakfasts can apologise for.
  • finish one project. just one. there is one that has been there for years, as yet unfinished, that would be an achievement to myself.
  • prioritise my degree over everything. seeing friends, boyfriend, work, hobbies, fitness, reading for pleasure. it’s what makes me happy and what i want to spend my life doing.
  • buy a radio. did this one already – i was actually working on the last list!

I don’t want to die or I would have done by now. I want to live the best life, but ‘best’ is linear, is conformist, is self-serving. I am certain that it is impossible to be the ‘best’ and to be happy. Is that not the closest thing we can do to give meaning to the damnation that is our existence?

“Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.”

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