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My sleep paralysis isn’t always wholly unpleasant – I’m not lying or ignorant about sleep disorders. 21, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Sleep Paralysis.
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Warning: Some descriptions of sleep paralysis episodes may be triggering. Also may qualify under ‘too much information’

I try not to let patronising anonymous Internet comments get to me. However, I just can’t let this one go. It seemed to imply that I’m stupid because I don’t always experience a common sleep phenomena in exactly the same way as described on Wikipedia. There’s a lot of things where I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. What goes on in my own brain isn’t one of them.

This all came about because I stated that although I get horrible episodes they’re sometimes borderline pleasant, even to the point of fantasy fulfillment. Yes those kinds of fantasies. I don’t really get them anymore but when I was younger they were quite common. This anonymous dickhead decided to reply: “I get sleep paralysis regularly. You obviously have no idea what sleep paralysis is,” IE. my experience invalidates yours – so you’re obviously ignorant.

Excuse me but, does anyone truly one hundred percent understand sleep and dreams? If we had this whole thing wrapped up why would anyone still bother to study it? Maybe my brain just works slightly differently. I don’t know. But the basics are there. I can’t move, I feel like I’m awake, I can see my dreams happening in the room. Sometimes there’s a weight on my chest. Sometimes I struggle to breathe. Just because anything else isn’t textbook doesn’t make me a fantasist. Or an idiot.

My first attack was very much textbook. I was around 17 years old and going through a depressive state. When I wasn’t at college I’d spend a lot of mornings in bed drifting in and out of consciousness. One morning I suddenly felt a presence in my room. I could see the outline of a person but they weren’t completely assembled. I couldn’t see any detail. There was a problem though. I couldn’t move. I tried to speak but even though I imagined my lips moving there was no sound. Then the presence climbed on top of me. The weight on my chest made breathing feel difficult. I tried to gasp but there was the same problem as trying to speak. It felt like the presence tried to nudge my legs apart. I don’t know what it’s like to be raped in reality, I won’t pretend to know. But this felt like how I imagine rape.

When I woke up properly I was confused and scared. I also felt really drained, like all my energy had left me. I knew it was obviously a communication malfunction between my body and my brain. I knew about the Incubus of folklore but I don’t believe in demons, or ghosts, or alien abductions. Having experienced sleep paralysis episodes several times since, I can understand why some people believe they’ve had a ghost in their bed. It’s very vivid and feels very real. I looked up Incubus on the Internet and that eventually led me to pages about sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations. I was relieved there was a scientific explanation and that I didn’t suffer alone.

My attacks over the years have had varying levels of frequency. The only constant is sleeping on my back, or on a few occasions my side, at a time of high stress or exhaustion. I’ve had goblins and witches pop up at the side of my bed, or flying out of my window. I’ve had the sensation of something hitting me or clawing at my throat. Sometimes I only hear someone, like my mum calling for me and when I try to call back it doesn’t happen. Once I was sleeping on my side on the sofa at a friend’s house and someone from her then boyfriend’s social circle who I’d only met a couple of times walked into the room. It wasn’t really him, and I knew it. I felt like I had a long conversation with him until he shoved his hands into my chest. Then I woke up.

Then there are the attacks that at one time were believed to be caused by the demon Incubus. For a man a similar attack was believed to be caused by a Succubus. In both cases it was thought you were die soon after. My Incubus-style episodes seem to have evolved into something slightly different. I sometimes feel as though something is touching me intimately but like a gentle and attentive lover. I’ve felt the sensations of fingers running through my hair, down my throat and along my side. Sometimes I dream I’m able to touch hair or skin even though I know I can’t really move and there is nothing there.

Sometimes all these sensations have an unfortunate and inevitable side effect. Of all the things involved this is the part that still feels like a violation. Waking up to your body reacting so physically without any prompting is a frightening experience. I almost fee like my subconscious didn’t ask for my consent. It’s so spontaneous and unexpected that for a few months it’s like waking up from a nightmare. The kind of nightmare where you gasp for air an hear your heart pounding in your ears.

You probably know more than you wanted to about my sexuality already but I couldn’t leave this detail out. Somehow over the years my subconscious has learned how to turn a horrible experience into one where I’m dreaming I’m at least partially willing. In the strongest hallucinations I can sometimes see another person in detail. It’s never anyone I know in real life. It’s always a musician, actor or even fictional (but human) character. I don’t always have any particularly strong feelings towards them. My brain just seems to conjure whatever has been dominating my consumption of pop-culture at the time.

Even this doesn’t always result in something pleasant. In fact most of the time it is still disorientating and a little bit scary. Not being able to move, even if you sort of like what’s happening, is still not very nice. It’s still borderline Incubus-attack. My second ever episode, for example, was similar to the first. Only this time I could see an entity that resembled a then favoured musician. His features seemed to appear and disappear at will and the body didn’t look complete. It certainly felt complete. This manifestation tried to enter my body wholly. By that I mean I felt as though some ethereal presence was forcing its way into my mouth and nostrils. It was digging at my chest as it pushed down on my body. Saying I was terrified is an understatement. I’ve had similar sensations since but I’ve learned to control the dreams a little better.

And that’s the thing. Someone once said that my more pleasant episodes sounded like lucid dreams. I’m actually not sure how much control I have over my sleep paralysis hallucinations. I have thought that I’d like to to go away, and they do. Eventually I can force myself to wake up. It could be that my brain is attempting to make the hallucinations less traumatic. Maybe that’s why sometimes they’re almost enjoyable? I say almost because I still don’t like the total loss of control over my body.

Another anonymous weighed in on the discussion and said: “my episodes are always horrible. Jealous. Your subconscious must like you” – I don’t understand why the first person couldn’t have done the same and acknowledged that though their experience was different, mine was still valid. The second person was a lot more decent about it. They didn’t imply I’m a total moron for a start. I’m intelligent enough to Google ‘sleep paralysis’ – it isn’t difficult. I know the symptoms and I’ve got some of them. It’s not a competition to see who best matches the common markers. I’m led to believe sleep and dreams don’t work like that.

I don’t fully understand what happens during my sleep paralysis and why but I am certain what isn’t happening. I don’t seem to suffer so much since permanently sharing a bed. Occasionally I will get minor attacks while my boyfriend is lying next to me either asleep or reading. But because I can see that he’s there and I know he’s there, it lessens the severity of the episodes. I had an attack about a week ago but can’t remember anything other than trying to speak and not being able to move. It helps that I was feeling fairly relaxed at the time.

Once I knew what was happening to me I found my episodes less frightening. I am also fascinated by what my brain manages to come up with, especially because hallucinations in this way seem to be such a constant human experience. There’s references to demon visitations across all cultures. A reason why I am interested in history is because I like knowing how people interpreted the world around them.

So unlike anonymous up there, I’m actually interested in different sleep paralysis experiences. I don’t care if yours don’t match mine. Everyone is different.

On going to the cinema alone 18, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Films.

I’ll level with you wordpress blog. I’ve had a lot of issues. For a few years I was referred to various counselling services and even took part in group therapy for social anxiety issues. I was never the worst, I’ve had friends who had a rougher time than I did. However, I did go through phases when whatever was happening in my head almost paralysed me mentally. I was just going through the motions. Existing but not really feeling. All the usual stuff that is ridiculed by people who don’t understand. It’s very real and I won’t delve into it too deeply here.

After my group therapy sessions I continued seeing the therapist on an individual basis as I felt I wasn’t quite done yet. I recall in one of our sessions we got onto a fairly regular topic with me; how much I think everyone in public is looking at me, talking about me and laughing at me. I said I wished I could get to a point where I stopped caring so much. My therapist said that people often overcome such worries by doing something alone, such as going out for a meal. I asked if going to the cinema would count because during the film it’s dark and nobody really talks. I wasn’t sure if this broke the rules a little because nobody else was actively seeing you. He said that yes, of course it counts. Going to the cinema is seen as a social activity even though it’s decidedly anti-social once you’re in there. He told me to set a goal that at some point in the next year I’d go see a film alone. I graduated from university after that session so my contact with my therapist ended.

It took me a little bit longer than a year but I finally did it. I fancied going to see The Dark Knight for a second time (I went with my dad on opening night) and I didn’t know anyone who was available during the afternoon. I was writing up my masters thesis at the time so mornings were library time. I didn’t really have any buddies on my course who were into Batman. So I went alone.

It was fine. There were other people watching it on their own. Even better there were other women on their own!

I felt so liberated. I’d broken a social taboo that some people seem desperate to avoid to the point where they’ll look at you like you’ve sprouted a second head and slowly back away if you mention seeing a film alone. Some seem to break out in a cold sweat at just the thought of it. Just what is the problem? Other people will see you? They’ll make comments? Chances are that if they’re making comments, deep down they know they’re doing it because they’re too insecure to take the plunge themselves. I’m fine with people being insecure, I’m a fleshy bag of insecurity. But the ones who are nasty about it, I think they’re probably jealous they’re not as cool as you. You’ve gone to the cinema alone – you don’t give a shit!

I’ve been to the cinema alone a small handful of times since. I tend to go on my own when I want to watch a film for the second or third time. Yes, I’m one of those strange people who likes to watch a cinema release more than once sometimes. Since moving to Glasgow I got a Cineworld Unlimited card, so going to watch a film multiples of times has certainly become a lot cheaper now. And I know not everyone wants to see a film several times. Or they don’t want to go with someone who has already seen it because then they have to put up with you pulling a knowing “oh boy, THIS PART!” face when you know something good is about to happen. I try not to do that even at home with a DVD – but sorry, sometimes I just want to see how people react and I forget. I promise I won’t do it for every single joke or important plot point. In short, sometimes it really is better for everyone if you don’t bring a friend!

Yesterday I had a few hours to kill so I made good on my threat to go see The Avengers again. I wasn’t really in the mood for having to pay 100% attention so felt that going to see something completely new would be a bad idea. Seeing something I knew I’d enjoy was the sensible choice.

I arrived quite early (about 40 minutes early) so after swiping my card I just went to the level of my screen and waited on the benches outside. I played on my phone, listened to my iPod and read my book. You really don’t need other people so long as you’ve got things to do while you wait for the screen to be cleaned. I also got a chance to engage in a bit of people watching. Most customers ascending the escalator behind me were going to levels higher up. The Dictator is out at the moment so that’s probably the busiest film now. There were a couple of older ladies sitting nearby who I assumed were there to see some film I’ve never heard of but I was surprised to see them walking out of The Avengers at the same time as me. See, even I’m guilty of stereotyping. I hope that when I’m in my twilight years I’ll be cool enough to still go see a comic book film.

The staff let me into the actual screen with about 25 minutes to go. I decided to nip to the loo first. One of the downsides of solo cinema viewing is that there’s nobody to look after your stuff. I wasn’t going to take all my gear with me AFTER securing a seat because someone might steal it. I also didn’t want to leave my possessions unattended. So I made absolutely sure I’d got as much pee out of my system as humanly possible. I have quite an annoying bladder. It can go hours without needing to let go but then will hit phases of making me feel like a water balloon every half hour. It tends to pick these moments when I’ve not got easy access to a toilet, or don’t want to leave. Like at the cinema. I might miss something! So yes, now you know far too much about my bathroom habits…let’s move on.

The wait for the film is definitely the worst part about being on your own. Once the house lights go down you have to take that as a hint to actually switch off your phone, or in this case iPod. I was also trying not to munch on too many of the crispy M&Ms I’d foolishly bought. At the same time I was worrying about my bladder causing an inconvenience. I’d picked the staircase end of a row just in case.

Speaking of seating, for all my past worries about people noticing me I’ve realised that when you’re on your own at the cinema most people treat you like you’re not there. Obviously they won’t sit in your seat with you sitting on it! They know there’s a person present, but you’re just not on their radar otherwise. People chat among themselves, people pick seats from the ever dwindling supply. I ended up with a big group of hooded teenagers sitting next to me. The only thing that was uncomfortable was that one of the guys who was on the heftier side of things picked the seat next to me. It meant I did have to restrict myself to only two thirds of my own seat as his arm was hanging over into my territory. Being so politely English, I didn’t say anything.

I’m always amazed at people who roll up to the cinema and end up arriving into a screening when the trailers have started. The look at confusion on the faces of a group of nine is amazing. What did they expect? The reason the times are given as they are is because the company knows that most people will turn up early. It’s guaranteed a lot of people will be watching the adverts and trailers. I would never leave it later than 15 minutes before the start time because finding a good seat is a nightmare. Yet people still keep doing it. Worse still are the ones who arrive when the film has actually started. So you often suffer the indignity of an usher shining a light in your face while Mr and Mrs Late Arrival shuffle past you with their mountains of popcorn and drinks into the only two seats left that are to their liking. If I was running that late, I wouldn’t have bothered with the snacks.

I get that everyone isn’t as time conscious as me. Personally I’d just wait around for a later showing if I got stuck in traffic or didn’t get out of work on time. But that’s because I value having a good seat. It’s an important part of the viewing experience for me. That’s why I didn’t care about sitting on my own for almost the best part of an hour where everyone could see me. I knew the good seat would be worth it!

I think I notice late arrivals a lot less when I go to the cinema with company. I always notice them, but in this case I was focusing on them more. It might be because I got the exact same adverts and trailers as last time so was looking for something to cure my boredom and frustration. I just wanted the film to start! I guess thinking “well at least I’m not that late,” made me feel a little bit better about being a solo viewer. Any residual social anxiety melted away. They may have two other people with them, but they might all have to split up anyway. I chose to be here on my own! Ha!

The thing is, a few years ago I would’ve been one of those people who judged lone cinema goers as losers with no friends. I also thought that only blokes did it. I think I thought this way because it was the prevailing opinion of my friends. Once I grew up and realised there was nothing wrong with thinking differently, I realised that maybe people go to the cinema alone because they just like watching films. I do still love going to the cinema as an event with friends or my partner. It’s always nice to go out for a meal before or after the film, or discuss what you thought over a pint. But sometimes you just want to watch a film and forget all that fancy social stuff.

I was also terrified of being seen out in public doing something that might be considered unusual. If you had told younger me that I’d one day manage to go to the cinema alone I would’ve laughed in your face. It wouldn’t have been because I thought I was too cool for that. It would’ve been because I was genuinely terrified of being out in public too long. In my mind being without other people gets you noticed more. But it really doesn’t.

When I walk through Glasgow city centre on the way to and from work, I don’t really notice anyone else. Why would they notice me? Chances are that a lot of them don’t. Getting over the fear that everyone was staring was a huge task for me. Sometimes I have relapses but I can fight them. I’ve come a long way. And sometimes I’ll reward myself with a quick trip to the cinema…

When fangirling goes x-rated. 15, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Fandom, Films.
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I said to myself I would try to keep fandom related musings off this blog. For some reason in my mind, fandom doesn’t equal serious. But why ever not? Am I embarrassed? Do I care what other people think? If I search deep within myself I realise, no, no I really don’t.

However, this post isn’t quite going to be along the lines of me telling you about my favourite things. Someone on a forum I visit daily said something today that has just stuck with me and created this post. We were in a thread discussing The Avengers. For fellow Brits, that’s the Marvel film not the British film/show. I don’t know why I refuse to call Marvel’s The Avengers by the release title over here (Avengers Assemble) – I think I might be a bit of a comic snob. But that’s another article…

Back to my forum conversation. One (male) poster expressed exasperation for what women find attractive. This was a response to me stating that I wouldn’t be surprised if in Thor 2, Loki’s involvement is toned down a little. He’s very much a target of misaimed fandom, albeit he’s a lot more sympathetic than characters like The Joker or even Draco Malfoy. Misaimed fandom is when a character who is meant to be a bad guy, even loathed, appears to stir something in the audience that wasn’t meant to be stirred. This can be anything from finding them more interesting than the hero even though the villain is clearly horrible (hello Joker) or it can simply be you sympathise with the villain because they have daddy issues (Loki). But the writers probably didn’t intend for you to sympathise so much you end up feeling sorry for the guy when he loses. Yet it happens time and time again.

However, because fandom at least on the Internet appears to be mostly driven by women, “stirring what wasn’t meant to be stirred” can go beyond simple character interest. It can take on a sexual element. There are women out there on the Internet right now going absolutely gaga over Loki in his Thor 2011/The Avengers form. I think a lot of it is also aimed at the actor, but Loki in particular is getting most of the attention. There’s nothing wrong with this. I always think that as long as you still know the line between reality and fantasy than a little indulgence in what you find attractive is fine. Some women (or inexperienced teenage girls mostly) take this a little too far, but again that’s another article.

Another (male) poster on this forum stated that he simply could not understand why pretty much everything Loki does in The Avengers has been turned into gifs/jpgs/anything else and posted several times all over the Internet. I’ve seen this view before, lamenting that such attention to detail is often accompanied by women straying into the realms of too much information about what said images make them feel. From “I’d hit that” to descriptions of what they want to put where, I’ve seen it all.

I have to say, I don’t really get it anymore. On the same forum I am sick to the back teeth of seeing Eric from True Blood for example because I don’t think he’s hot. He does nothing for me, I think he looks boring. Sorry Eric/Alexander, but you’re not short of a queue of women (and men) who find you attractive. Me bailing on you is no loss. Anyway, I don’t feel the need to look at endless photos of my famous crushes anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe it’s because I’m in a relationship so felt I needed to put a lid on it…I don’t know.

But I haven’t exactly put a lid on it. I still look at other men and appreciate them, shall we say. I know my boyfriend does the same about other women. We’ve discussed it. We’ve both said we know we’re both human and our sexual desires can’t be redefined just because we found one another. We’re in a monogamous relationship but we’re not so clueless that we think monogamy should extend to our brains because even if you try not to, your brain will think it anyway. I said to him just the other night; I can look in the shop window but it doesn’t mean I want to touch. I’m happy with just the one man in reality but you can’t shut off the part of your mind that made you attracted to anyone who matches your preferences. Part of being in an adult relationship is accepting this and deciding where to go with it. We’ve picked monogamy, plenty of others don’t. That’s fine.

I feel like I’m straying off my point here. When I was younger I did obsessively consume images of my crush of the moment. By that I mean famous men. Real life crushes had the added bonus that you could probably look at them in reality quite regularly. Then again, my hormones were raging before Facebook existed so I imagine it’s different for teenage girls these days.

For whatever reason, I have less time for going overkill on the google search. But I do think the Loki fangirls have worn me down. Okay girls, I get it. There’s a vulnerability to that portrayal of him that seems to tap into something that some of us like. I think it’s the eyes. Definitely the eyes. They’re very expressive. I also think that because people keep posting photos of him where I can see them a part of my brain has been unlocked that hasn’t been opened since I was a teenage goth wannabe. 16-year-old me LOVED pale guys with dark hair and blue eyes. Loki’s actor doesn’t really seem to do anything for me when his hair is short blond and curly (sorry Tom) so yes, somewhere in there I am indulging my inner teenage goth who never really left. I just quietened her down a bit.

It’s a good thing too. Teenage to early twenties me could get quite explicit about what I wanted to do to fantasy guys and what I wanted them to do to me. It was a surprise to me at the time that I could feel that way. I’d basically grown up getting messages through school sex education that boys were the ones with the uncontrollable desire and I had to control it by not allowing them access to my sexuality. There’s a lot sex education gets right in spite of what people say. I do think it’s right to tell kids sex feels good and as long as all parties agree and it’s safe, then fill your boots. However, I don’t really remember anyone, even my really liberal mother, preparing me for the strength of my own sex drive and how to handle it. Even masturbation was a taboo activity if you were female. Boys were pretty open with the fact they did it and watched porn. I didn’t even think I could watch porn. So all that was available to me was the fantasies in my head…and if anyone asked if I touched myself, I denied it. I was lying of course.

All this has got me thinking that maybe all these young women who go crazy over the latest heart-throb (conventional or not) are just expressing their sexuality in the only way they know how. They might not even realise that’s what they’re doing. I’m a little upset when I see people calling all the women who do this obsessive and sad and pathetic. How is it any different to the men who no doubt are going on about Black Widow’s arse? I’ve heard plenty of men say some really explicit stuff about actresses and models and singers over the years but they seem to get a free pass. It’s acceptable because sexual banter is seen as blokey. It’s what men do. But if a woman does it, obviously she’s a stalker.

When I was little and first got into comic books and action films, I didn’t realise that they weren’t traditionally meant to be aimed at me. These were things that I watched and read with my dad. It was our daddy daughter bonding and that was it. As I got older I became aware that often female characters are very passive and seem to only be there for a few titty shots. Of course, this has been addressed and you do get female characters like Black Widow who actually contribute something to the plot with minimal arse shots. But I can remember people dismissing comic book films as something for teenage male virgins even less than a decade ago. I think the past decade or so has done a lot to market these films to women as well.

I think it started with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Personally I think the former is acceptable but flawed and the latter was terrible. Let’s just forget about the plot. One thing that always stands out when I watch those films is how much Batman’s casting was obviously influenced by the decision to choose an actor who got women all hot and bothered at the time. There’s even a few lingering bum/crotch shots when Batman is suiting up in those films. So on a very base level, that camera work was acknowledging that there might be women in the audience who want to look at sculptured bums. I was only around ten when Batman Forever was released so not quite old enough to notice this, or if I did I probably still thought men smell and are icky. And Batsuit nipples will always be stupid.

So then we get to The Avengers. I went to see it with my boyfriend last week and a couple of days ago I realised he had maybe only two attractive women to look at through the whole thing. I had almost the entire main cast. I don’t fancy all of them and obviously drooling over the cast wasn’t our main motivation for watching the film. We both like comic book films because we like comic books. But it was interesting for me to realise that there were certain things that the male cast did where it felt like they had women (and gay or bisexual men, let’s not forget them) in mind. Having grown up feeling like I was a weirdo for wanting to look at attractive men, it was a little strange if not welcome to see a film openly flaunting it. A film in a genre that wasn’t traditionally aimed at women as well! Naturally Black Widow in her tight catsuit was courting a certain section of the audience but it didn’t feel like she was the only one on show. It didn’t feel like she was just for show either! In fact, she was probably one of my favourite characters.

So let the women have their fun. Our sexuality can be as visual and as physical as a mans. I’m not saying that our sexualities are exactly the same but a woman, like a man, doesn’t have one setting. I know everyone likes to pretend that we do (and it’s “I need to feel loved before I feel sexual, can’t we just cuddle instead?”) but it’s bullshit. If women on the Internet want to post about how much gagged Loki made them tingle, or how fantastic was Captain America’s arse, or how hot Bruce Banner was in his human form – actually, I wouldn’t care if there’s a lady out there who likes his Hulk form – then just let them. Most of them know where the line is and won’t cross it. They’re not any more or less pathetic than you for saying “did you see the tits on THAT” And if you’re still uncomfortable being in the cinema with a bunch of women indulging their sexual fantasies, well then, unless they’re actually masturbating in there…get over it.

The difference an hour makes. 10, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Glasgow.
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The hours I work and the length of my commute (it’s short) means I can afford what most can’t; a few extra minutes in bed on a morning. I’m usually wandering through the city centre at half past nine and although it’s still fairly busy, everyone else is obviously at work already. It’s also too early for tourists or people who have the day off.

Sometimes I’ll need to be at work earlier than usual. Today was one of those days. I got an earlier train from my little part of Glasgow and that alone was noticeably busier. It might be something to do with the rain. A lot of people who might normally walk part of the way to work probably decided to sack that idea off this morning. I was on a train that doesn’t call at very many places so isn’t normally the busiest. As I walked onto the train I immediately clattered my leg against a workman’s bucket full of plaster related wonders. It hurt but I composed myself and sat down in the only seat I could find.

Things got worse when I arrived at Queen Street station. For a start my normally cheap ticket broke the five-pound mark. What I rip-off I thought! Then I remembered that if I regularly travelled at this time I’d probably get a zonecard. I’m still (just) young enough for a young persons railcard but I can’t use that before 10. Even worse I was travelling before 9 so I didn’t get the off-peak fare.

As soon as I walked out onto Buchanan Street I was met by a sea of people heading towards me with few gaps. It was worse than I’ve ever experienced – and I have survived Christmas and several Old Firm days since I moved here. In those situations I have to become something I don’t like – you’ve got to start being rude. People won’t move out of your way so you have to dodge around them and if they’re not watching where they’re going well, tough luck. It’s half past eight in the morning. Stop texting, start walking!

When I got closer to the other main station the crowd only thickened. It became so thick that I was in danger of having to duck between legs – I was definitely in danger of being hit by a brolly or two. Apparently being dark haired and only just average height for a woman renders me invisible. I feel lucky to still have both eyes.

Inside the station I felt like I must be the only person in Scotland who lives in Glasgow but works elsewhere. It was like the entire population of the central belt was storming towards me. No chance of employing rude tactics here, there was just too many of them. I had to skirt around the edges of the suited and booted masses and hope I didn’t walk into a wall. I managed to grab a Metro at least. That always wastes a bit of time on the train. If nothing else it makes me think “at least I didn’t pay for this,” – you can take the girl out of Yorkshire…

This might all read like a boring observation to some but it has a point. I think I’ve found something I actually don’t like about Glasgow. It’s half past eight in the morning on a week day.

A visit to Stirling Castle. 9, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Historical Attractions.
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As part of my training at work my boss kindly arrange for me and a couple of other staff to visit Stirling castle today. The idea was that we’d chat to a couple of the Historic Scotland stewards and experience a guided tour. We do give guided tours at my work but we’re a much smaller operation. It’s rare that we have to go to the lengths of planning that must be required to keep a Historic Scotland attraction ticking over. They schedule 40 minute tours every hour on the hour. That’s 40 minutes to cover the entire history of the castle, which spans a handful of centuries. It’s quite a daunting prospect having to deliver such a lengthy time span in a concise yet still informative way.

For the first part of our visit we chatted to a steward called Gary. Even though we didn’t experience a full tour I could tell that his tours were probably good fun. He did mention that sometimes he has to edit his tours if groups don’t respond to humour or don’t have English as a first language but in the main I felt like he strikes the right balance between facts and being light hearted.He explained each step of his tour to us and how to tackle common problems, namely visitors distracting other patrons by talking or messing about.

Afterwards we attached ourselves to a tour by a steward who I think was called Michael. It was quite a big group and Michael was softly spoken so it was difficult to hear him sometimes. However, he knew his stuff and it was interesting to see there’s an obvious contrast between how different stewards take a tour. I’ve always known that reciting facts you learned from a sheet isn’t going to turn into a good tour. It was nice to have it confirmed that you just need to do what feels natural. Personally I preferred Gary’s style because I aspire to give tours that are funny and almost casual enough to feel like I’m having a conversation with visitors. Obviously in bigger groups this isn’t always possible so I appreciate the more heavily fact based style of tours by people like Michael.

When I was little I always dreamed of working in a place run by organisations like English Heritage. Since moving to Scotland my inner child set her sights on Historic Scotland. I know I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll hit the standard they require. Whenever I visit places like Stirling castle I am always struck by the age of the frontline staff. They’re not ancient but they’ve obviously got a decade or two on 20something me. It seems like working for Historic Scotland, at least front of house, is one of those careers that you remain in for years, even decades. And I’m not surprised. The amount of people they deal with daily, the amount of tours they need to give and the amount of information they need to learn – it’s all well above what I need in my current job. That’s no disrespect to my job at all. It’s just a different visitor base and has a different level of demands. But in a bigger tourist attraction you probably have to spend a lot more time preparing yourself, training yourself. Of course you’re not going to be there for a short time.

I used to work in York which of course is a busy tourist city. We did get busy on occasion but I didn’t have the added pressure of giving guided tours. I had to be available to answer questions of course but a lot of the time people just wanted to quietly browse. It’s a similar environment in my current job although I will always talk to visitors if they are open to it. I’ve had some great conversations with people from all over the world during the past couple of years. If there’s one good reason to work front of house in a museum it’s the fact you’ll meet so many different people. You also get a lot of amusing questions from children. I’ve learned that to keep children happy there’s a handful of topics they’ll love. Dinosaurs seem to get a reaction, so do the stars and planets. Then there’s the more visceral stuff like poo and blood.

Anyway, I digress.

After finishing our tour we wandered around the refurbished royal palace. I last visited Stirling castle in December 2008 when I hadn’t been with my boyfriend very long. At that time the palace was closed. It opened again last summer. Can it really be three and a half years since I was last there? I think I need to go back and get another look at the palace and indeed the rest of the castle. By the time we’d wandered around for another hour we were all ready for lunch. I get to a point where I’m so hungry that I can’t think about anything else. Unfortunately, that point had been reached!

So I probably go back to the castle some day soon. I still enjoyed my time there today but as with a lot of things…one day often isn’t enough to see it all.

To have or not to have. 8, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Thoughts.
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I wish I didn’t feel like I will be defined by whether or not I have children.

What has brought this on? I’ve noticed a trend when reading news or gossip pieces about a person of note who happens to be a woman. No matter what their achievements, many articles are at great pains to mention the number of children born to that woman. I often feel a woman could cure all disease, end poverty and stop all wars and she’d still simply be “the mum of three” I don’t think I’d even know her name until a good sentence or two in, something like“A woman has cured all the ills in society. The mum of three credits hard work and determination as the reason for her success. Jane Smith, 32…” etc.

Now don’t take this to mean I think no woman should pick her family as her main purpose. I know some women feel born to be mothers and see their kids as their best achievement. I’m happy for you to feel that way – it’s your choice after all. I just feel it’s a bit off when a woman achieves highly elsewhere that the number of times she happens to have given birth will be wedged in there. It’s often not relevant and it’s done in a way that I think is rarely done to men. I can’t remember the last time I saw a famous man who happened to be a dad referred to as “the dad of two”  in an article that wasn’t about his kids.

I feel I could be Jane Smith. I couldn’t be because I’m not a scientist so am in no position to cure disease but imagine I’m Jane Smith. At the moment I would be known as the woman who cured everything. I have no children you see. But I fear the moment I had one, I’d forever be “mum of one, Ms B” before anything else. I don’t really like that idea.

I have a confession to make that sometimes makes people look at me like I’m an alien species. I’ve never felt like I want children. Even when I was a child, other kids generally annoyed me. I can’t find babies cute, I just can’t. As a little girl I thought those toy dolls that defecate were revolting. Actually, I still do. Who wants to play with excrement even if it is pretend? Parents deal with dirty nappies because they have to but in my mind a toy that poos is one step too far up the realism ladder. I wanted my toys to be fun. I didn’t want them to shit on me.

I don’t hate children. Too many people go on the defensive and mistake “I don’t want kids” for “I want to eat your child for breakfast because his existence offends me” – I know the world needs the next generation and I know for most people the urge to reproduce is strong. Apparently I’m not most people.

I know I’m not the only one who gets a hard time over my child status. However, I don’t think some mothers realise how hurtful their language is – even when they mean well. I’ve been told I won’t ever know real love. Thank you for invalidating my feelings for my boyfriend. I’ve been told I won’t feel like a proper woman if I don’t give birth. I wonder if people would say this if I turned out to be infertile? Doubtful.

Then there’s the downright nasty. Calling me a genetic dead end and saying my life will have no meaning. Calling me unnatural and a selfish bitch. Humans do a lot of things now that aren’t natural and yes if I don’t reproduce then I am somewhat of a dead end. But there’s no need to say it with such smug superiority. Most of us, kids or not, will be a footnote in history at best. And that’s if we’re lucky. I doubt most of us will be remembered in a century apart from by future generations who will be researching their family tree. I don’t know why some people with kids feel like their immortality is assured whereas mine isn’t and that makes them better than me. It doesn’t. Genetically, ok you can have that one, your genes will live on for at least a generation. But I don’t need kids to do something memorable. I probably won’t, but you probably won’t either.

Again, I am not against the choice to have kids. In fact I get just as angry when I see women who decide to go back to work described as unfit selfish mothers. I am full of rage when a stay at home mum is referred to as obviously stupid and unambitious. Why can’t we respect all the choices women make?

But there’s the rub. It really is a case of women can’t do right for doing wrong. Someone, somewhere will criticise you for your choice and unfortunately it feel like women are our own worst enemies here. They’re usually the ones pouring scorn on another woman’s decision. However, I am enough of a pro at this Internet thing to have encountered male trolls with a particular ire reserved for western women who shun traditional gender roles. Even the ones that DO fit traditional gender roles are treated with suspicion at best and pure hatred at worst, you know…just in case she wants a divorce and gets the house and kids. Lucky for me I’m involved with a man who knows that the 1950s ideal didn’t exist for most people, especially in the working class. So he doesn’t care if I don’t fit the mould. He’s also not particularly bothered about children.

I think it’s very likely I won’t have children. As well as not particularly liking the idea I’m now 26. My fertile window is ever diminishing. Even if I wanted kids I am in no position at the moment to have them. I’m ok with my choice but yes, sometimes I have intrusive thoughts to the contrary. Am I going to regret not taking part in what “almost everyone does”? It’s how life goes isn’t it? You’re born, you grow, you have your own kids and you might live long enough to see them have kids.

My parents are in their 50s now and I’m becoming increasingly aware of their ageing. I have to face the reality that some day they will die. They’re almost certainly going to die before I do, unless disease or an accident intervenes. My parents say they’re not bothered about grandchildren but I still wonder – am I denying them? I only have one sister, no brothers. What if I could give my dad a grandson to make up for not having a son? He says he didn’t mind but there does seem to be a social expectation that all men want a son really, so I can’t help thinking this. At the same time I feel it would be quite callous of me to basically say “sucks you’re going to die one day. BUT behold! Your genetic legacy continues!” as I hand over what looks like a screaming prune swaddled in a blanket.

I think the above is me admitting something that the childfree feel they can’t say without conceding defeat. It isn’t a competition and it’s ok to have doubts. We do often think about our decision. We probably think about it a lot more on average than people who want or have children. Having children seems so automatic, most people do it. But deciding not to – it’s a big deal. You’re rejecting a social norm and as a result become the target of anything ranging from surprise to contempt. And yes you’re missing out on something. But missing out doesn’t mean lesser experience. I hope I can find meaning in other ways. I hope I can inspire the children of others. I work in a museum and seeing kids with a thirst for learning always makes my day.

When I state the above I often get asked “well why not have your own?” Occasionally I’m positively guilted into it with quite prejudiced language “it’d be a shame if a highly educated lady like you didn’t have kids. Too many morons breeding” – I don’t like that. For one thing it’s more mummy-judging (“ha! mothers are sooo stupid!”) and it also implies that I’ll have sole control over the adult personalities of my offspring. I don’t know if my imaginary kids would follow me to Cambridge for example. I haven’t exactly done anything spectacular with my degree from there. Also I could raise my kids as best as I can but they’ll still interact with others and form their own worldview. They might even go off the rails. Children aren’t clones.

I have the best level of respect for women, and men, who choose to be parents. I know most of you are just trying your best to raise the next generation. And you’re only human so it isn’t always easy and often doesn’t go to plan. I’m annoyed by ill-disciplined children but I don’t see a mother and automatically think “stupid breeding moo” as some of the more hostile childfree appear to do. Kids can be unruly, I get that. As long as you’re trying you’re alright in my book.

I’ve thought about this a lot because having children is a big decision. I’m not sure if I could do it. My only hope is that if in the unlikely event I become famous for something people don’t state “yes what she did was brilliant…but did she have any kids?”

The “friendzone” and why the whole concept annoys me. 7, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Personal memories, Thoughts.
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There’s a certain website that I browse more or less every day where a heavily used term is beginning to outstay its welcome. The concept of a “friendzone” has always existed, I can remember people complaining about it when I was a teenager. However, I feel that recently in cyberspace there’s this attitude that a man and a woman can’t interact on any level without someone insinuating there’s an ulterior motive. It’s also becoming increasingly likely that someone will make a joke about this so called friendzone.  Every time someone posts a nice item involving a man and a woman, probably doing something as pals, out come the guffaws about how badly one of them is obviously in the zone. As though just being friends isn’t enough.

For the uninitiated, friendzone is apparently what happens when you’ve got two people, usually of the opposite sex, and one of them harbours romantic feelings for the other. Those feelings are not returned. Unfortunately the friendzone seems highly gendered. It’s believed that it’s usually the man who has the feelings and the woman who rejects them. Often the woman is shocked because she didn’t see her male friend as anything else. It can be quite traumatic for both parties involved.

Nobody likes being rejected but equally no genuine friend wants to hurt someone’s feelings. Yet on this website I see it all the time that because the man was nice to the woman, she at the very least owes him sex. It really devalues the idea of friendship and also relationships. I like the physical side of my relationship very much but I have to say if that’s all I wanted, I just wouldn’t bother with the relationship. My boyfriend offers me so much more and I’m very glad to have him in my life. So it annoys me when I see people reducing all male and female interactions to just being about sex. Excluding situations where sex is all you’re after (nothing wrong with that) we’re worth so much more to one another, surely?

But there’s something that annoys me a little more. There’s this idea that the friendzone very rarely happens the other way around because men will accept sex from anything that offers and if you’re a woman who finds yourself friendzoned well, it’s your own fault. You’re obviously ugly. 2 out of 10. Would not bang.

Why does this get under my skin? Well you see, I’m a woman. And I was friendzoned.

It’s been about six years now and I think I’m more or less over the bitterness. Maybe it’s because I’m in a long term relationship with someone else now or maybe time is a healer. Still, when I see the friendzone conversation a little part of me reverts back to being the 20 year old who believed the only reason this happened to me is because I wasn’t attractive enough to fuck. Even I wrongly associated all male to female friendships as having a sexual element. Of course, I wasn’t long out of my teens and my hormones were still raging. I wanted sex…but I also wanted a relationship too. In my mind we were perfect for one another.

Unfortunately this guy had other ideas. He, I think, took on the role that is traditionally assigned to the woman. He thought we were just friends. I don’t know why but in my mind the fact that we hung out with each other more than anyone else, seemed so similar and were pretty much best friends for a few short months made me think that the only logical conclusion was a relationship. I tried to make the friendship work but after feeling rejected so many times (I couldn’t get over my feelings) I basically ended it. And yes, I was bitter. For years. Every attempt made to contact me over the next couple of years was cruelly rejected. Was it revenge? Probably. Do I regret it? Maybe a little bit. But emotionally I was no way stable enough to keep him in my life. As long as he was around I had hope. Having your hopes and dreams dashed is ok the first couple of times but after the fifth or sixth attempt to move things along I started feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall until nothing but a bloody pulp of skin and bone remained.

As for “men will always accept a free shag” – not this guy. I was very much offering it on a platter. Now here’s the part where people will go on about how sexually unappealing I obviously was/am – well why don’t you say this when the friendzone happens the other way around? I have rejected advances from men (what a bitch!) because I just wasn’t attracted to them and couldn’t imagine having sex with that person. But apparently because I’m a woman I’m not meant to have sexual desire and am meant to “give him a chance” and maybe his sparkling personality might make me ignore the fact that the thought of sex with him leaves me cold.

My boyfriend’s personality is what made me stay but when we first met there was something about his mannerisms and the way he looked that I found attractive. I met him around three and a half years ago and back then I thought I had a type. The type didn’t match my boyfriend’s description. But there was a spark between us and lucky for us it led to something more. I also realised having types is a bit silly.

If there’s no spark I can’t help that. Personally I have never been able to get over the “no spark” – I know some women (and even men) say they can and good luck to them. So when I allegedly friendzoned guys I wasn’t trying to be a bitch. I thought very highly of them. As friends. I just couldn’t see anything romantic happening between us.

That’s probably how the guy who friendzoned me felt. Yet even at the time my female friends of all people said variations of the phrase “you can’t make him attracted to you” – what happened to “oh give her a chance, you might grow to like her!” – does that only apply to men who are hopelessly in love with a friend? I know I couldn’t make someone attracted to me but the difference in language used did wonders for my confidence. Not.

Right from high school until my early 20s I believed I was only worth something if men found me attractive. I was bullied at school, mostly about my academic performance (I did very well – other kids didn’t like this) but occasionally there’d be an insult about my looks thrown in there. The guy who friendzoned me was really unlucky. He was the latest in a long line of men I had feelings for who had then seemingly rejected me. He wasn’t rejecting me as a friend but as far as I was concerned rejecting me as a lover was the worst thing he could’ve done.

Really I think people are doing men a disservice when they say that men will accept sex from anything. He could’ve used me, but he didn’t. Still, in my love sick mind that was very much craving physical contact as well I hated him. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t willing to give me a chance. I was using exactly the same kind of throught process behind women being pressured into giving men they don’t fancy “a chance.”

So I have great sympathy for people who feel like they’re in the friendzone. You start thinking things like “what more do I need to do for you to make you see?” and when they show interest in other people you graduate to “why? I spend more time with you than she does!” and “what’s she got that I don’t have? She looks like a rodent” – yes these are actual things I thought, and I’m not ashamed to admit that because we’ve ALL done it at some point. It’s not right but it seems it is perfectly normal to be angry and try to find something at which to channel that anger. There are other circumstances in my case where the anger was justified but for the sake of my point, I don’t need to get into those. My point is: you have to try and accept things the way they are and it IS difficult but eventually you’ll come to a point some years down the line and wonder what all the fuss was about.

And before anyone says of course I thought bitchy thoughts. I’m a woman. Well all those guys complaining that “she dates jerks and then comes crying to me” YOU are being bitchy. Very rarely is there a nice sentiment behind calling someone a jerk. I’ve also heard men call love rivals much worse things than that. In matters of the heart, we’re all capable of being nasty towards rivals – and again, it’s understandable because rejection HURTS.

I can understand both points of view, having lived both points of view. I don’t think being just friends is a bad thing, even though I was terrible at it. I admire people who can make friendships work in spite of an unrequited attraction. I just couldn’t get past my issues. I also feel that if all you wanted out of a friendship was sex then you probably don’t value that friendship as much as you think. If you wanted a relationship you probably value that friendship a little bit but it’s still not nice to pressurise someone into something they don’t want under the pretense of friendship. Trust me, I feel a little bit awful about how I must’ve acted when I did this myself.

I don’t think I’ll ever successfully campaign to rid our language of the word friendzone. I just wish people didn’t use it to mean “that bitch, I did all this lovely stuff for her and she won’t even give me a blowjob!” I see what roughly equates to that sentiment all the time and all I can think is: poor girl. She thinks she has a really good friend there.