Thursday 30 April 2015

Acting normal

We're all so good at acting normal, aren't we? I guess at least 50 per cent of the population are somehow screwed up but you wouldn't know it. We've all perfected the art of putting on an appropriate public persona and keeping whatever is festering away inside very carefully hidden.

Most of us have been messed-up by one unfortunate experience or another - drug abuse, alcoholism, violent partners, childhood bullying, workplace bullying, extreme mental health issues, stalking, strange obsessions and compulsions, you name it.

Yet to most people we seem quite mentally and emotionally healthy, going about our daily lives in an unassuming way, not showing any signs of inner turmoil or distress, apparently well able to cope with whatever life throws at us.

Only occasionally do we let slip some small clue, some oddity, that makes people wonder if we're as normal as we seem to be. Usually it's only our loved ones, or our closest friends, or a therapist, who are privy to some secret agony that's tearing us apart and which we're desperate to end.

Many of these hidden torments are things other people wouldn't understand or sympathise with. Or we're deeply embarrassed and ashamed of them. Or we don't want to expose how much pain and hurt they cause us. So we keep our lips sealed and deal with the anguish as best we can.

As you know, I have plenty of neuroses and hang-ups of my own. Some of them I've revealed but others I seldom confide to anyone. If people were more open-minded, more tolerant, more compassionate, I wouldn't need to be so secretive, but the fact is that prejudice and intolerance are widespread. Anyone revealing something a bit out of the ordinary can be vilified.

So like most people I'm adept at acting normal. Or so I believe. But more than likely my engrained eccentricities are all too obvious to everyone. Just don't probe them too deeply. There might be an alarming shriek of pain.

PS: After Ione Wells wrote about an experience of attempted rape, more than 50 people confessed on her website to similar experiences and said they were previously too afraid or ashamed to speak out. A number of students at her university confided similar experiences to her. And I bet that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday 27 April 2015

Doubting donor

I have very mixed feelings about giving money to charity, and I know some of my blogmates are equally ambivalent.

On the one hand, I want to help people who've gone off the rails in one way or another - jobless, homeless, mentally or physically ill, victims of natural disasters and a hundred other desperate situations. I've had a lot of good luck in my life and I should help those who haven't been so lucky.

But then I read stories about charities that are badly run or waste money and I wonder if my donation will actually be put to good use. I hear about overpaid chief executives, expensive offices, or pointless projects, and I hesitate to hand over some of my hard-earned cash. I've worked for several charities myself, so I know that money isn't always best spent.

On top of that, I think of all the tax I pay to the government and ask why they can't look after people properly instead of expecting charities to fill all the gaps. Are my donations to charity merely encouraging that indifference?

If it's a cause dear to my heart, I'll brush away the doubts and give something anyway, just hoping the money (or the used books or used clothing) will end up helping someone in need.

Nowadays also there are so many charities fighting for attention, it's hard to decide which ones to respond to. New charities are popping up every minute. all making out that their particular cause is more urgent than anyone else's. They play on our emotions, on our sense of guilt and horror, and make us feel that ignoring them is an act of sheer heartlessness.

Who wouldn't want to help the victims of the Nepal earthquake, or a collapsed factory in Bangladesh, or a hurricane in Indonesia? Or for that matter all those in our own country who're sleeping rough or short of food or just finding life unbearable?

But I can't help everyone. Who do I care about the most? And will my donation be used wisely? I write my cheque and hope for the best.

For those of you dying of curiosity about my three week absence, Jenny and I were in Washington DC and Chicago. Nothing much to blog about, but we had a fabulous time.

Monday 6 April 2015

Wot, no tot?

Do some people decide when they're young that they don't want children, and then bitterly regret it when they're older? Not as far as I know. Certainly not in my case (or Jenny's either).

I can't recall any time at all when I've looked at someone else's baby or child and felt a longing for a child of my own. I'm very content being me and I've never had any desire for a miniature me to keep me company.

It's not an aversion to children. Other people's children can be charming and inspiring and great fun to be with. Even when they're being grumpy and stand-offish, since I have no parental responsibility for the grumpiness, I can just be amused by their bad behaviour. Well, for five or ten minutes maybe - my patience isn't infinite.

I guess I never felt that having a child would add something essential to my existence, that it would give me something I didn't have already. I've always had a rich cultural and intellectual life that's more than enough to keep me happy.

I don't think my father ever really wanted children.  He spoke of having children as a "duty" and would get in terrible rages if me or my sister disappointed him in any way. But I don't think that's a significant factor in my own disinclination to have kids.

Even now, as I get older and it's possible I might get frail and needy, I don't regret the lack of children who could help me out when it comes to it. I'll cross that bridge as and when. In any case, I wouldn't want to restrict other people's lives with my own neediness.

So no regrets. I watch all the children trundling into the primary school a few doors away and I just wonder what it feels like to be a child, as I've long since forgotten. But I've no wish to be one of the (slightly anxious looking) parents.

There will now be a short intermission. Back in a couple of weeks or so.