Real life got in the way somewhat over these past few months, but look! Once more, I exist on the internet! Hooray!
Since May, a few things have happened.
- I graduated with a 2:1 in mathematics; I ‘m now the proud owner of a slightly curry-stained degree certificate.
- Three days in to my planned week of idleness, I emailed my boss to ask whether I could just start working for her full time now, please? Much to my delight, she not only agreed, but managed to consistently find enough money to pay me each month.
- Three months after my graduation, I finally moved out of the tiniest flat in the world, and away from Flatmate.
I’ve had all sorts of plans for my evenings since I started working full-time – I flirted briefly with the idea of researching knitting in late Medieval England, for instance, and of course, I never forgot that I technically still have this blog – but mostly I’ve just been… living. My work is now mostly computer based (we’re an internet-based company, and I do an awful lot of admin), which means that I tend to avoid screens like the plague once I get home. But I recently discovered that my eyes have deteriorated again – it shouldn’t be such a surprise; I’m short-sighted and it’s been at least 6 years since I’ve had them tested. If I can get a decent pair of glasses (perhaps even a pair that isn’t all wonky from all the times I’ve wrenched them off my face), I suspect my tolerance for screens might improve. And clearly the internet has missed my ramblings, so I might start off by telling the tale of the house-move.
One of the many reasons I love my mum is that when I talk to her, I don’t need to modify the language I use in order to be understood. There are very few people in my life that that’s true of – Kirsten is one, but even J isn’t – so I value it.
This weekend, I did something that on the face of it looked incredibly stupid. In the middle of my exams, I effectively took 4 days out in order to have a long weekend at my parents’ house, where I drank many cups of tea, took my brother to see the new Pirates of the Carribean film and did an awful lot of washing up, because other people were cooking my meals.
So, why did I do that? It wasn’t just because my brother had insisted that I (and only I) should be the person to laugh over the exploits of (Captain!) Jack Sparrow with him, though that was important. In fact, it was mainly because I desperately needed some space. Recently, Flatmate’s behaviour has become… erratic. I’ve had people I don’t know calling my home phone, frantically asking whether Flatmate has got back yet, because they’ve unexpectedly lost contact. Because the person who called was genuinely worried, and because the situation was not of her making, I spent some time tracking Flatmate down, making sure nothing really bad had happened (it hadn’t) before getting hold of her again to let her know. When this happens on the one day off you’ve given yourself in a week full of revision, at a time when all you really want to do is go and swing a sword around with friendly people who won’t make any demands of you, this kind of thing is deeply infuriating. The last thing I want at this point in time is to have to be the person who knows where Flatmate is. (You see, even though I’m sometimes crap at calling my parents, they won’t worry that I’m dead, because I live with J. If anything had happened to me, he’d find a way to let them know. And vice-versa. But I don’ t want to be that person for Flatmate. I don’t want to have to be the person who calls the police, or the parents.)
Even worse, in my mind, is this: Flatmate is a friend, or I would never have suggested we get a flat together. But these last few weeks, I’ve been almost entirely uncontactable – I’m not contacting anybody myself, and my London friends know I’m in the middle of my exams and, if they try to get hold of me at all, will text me to check whether they can call. Quite often, I don’t call them back. Of course, I’ll make it up to them after these exams are finished – they know that. What this means, though, is that if Flatmate does something that means I need to take time out of revising (or relaxing, which is equally important, as far as I’m concerned) to deal with it, I’m not only angry at the intrusion, I’m also resentful, because if I knew I’d be using that time for friend-related activities, I could have called one of my long-suffering London friends.
I explained some of this to my mum when I saw her this weekend. She understood immediately, and said that it reminded her of the decision that she and my dad had made when J and I were first going out. They effectively banned him from my bedroom, not because they didn’t want us sleeping with each other (“you could do that at any time, and as long as you keep yourself safe, it’s none of our business”), but because they thought that I should have one space that was entirely mine, that nobody, not even J, had a right to be in.
In the flat, I share a bedroom with J. My desk is in the living room, which is also the kitchen. I simply don’t have enough space. So I went to my parents’ for the weekend, partly to see my brother, but mostly because it was the only place that I could have a room of my own.
I have high writing standards. So does my lecturer for my practical statistics course, which is fine – we are, after all, being judged on our writing.
So when I take the time to carefully compose an email to said lecturer to explain that my group has somehow managed to submit the same file twice online, rather than two different files once each, and her response in its entirity is:
It is somewhat infuriating.
Apart from anything else, it takes, what, twenty seconds to write:
“Dear Rachel, thank you for letting me know. This should be fine. Dr. XYZ.”
It seems students aren’t the only people who could benefit from reading this unprofessional emails post.
- Woke at 9, had a shower, got dressed
- Put on a load of washing
- Had breakfast
- Answered my work emails, wrote some university emails
- Went to the market for fresh fruit and veg
- Cleared the table, cleaned the table, swept the floor, cleared the desk, cleaned the desk
- Stacked the dishwasher and got it running
- Wrote up some lecture notes
- Hung out the washing, put another load on
- Cooked lunch
- Wrote up some more lecture notes and did all the research for a History of Maths assignment
- Hung out the second load of washing, emptied the dishwasher
- Wrote up more lecture notes
- Stopped for toast at 6.
Still stubbornly attempting to get a first in your degree, even though you know you have to get an average grade of 90% in all of the modules you’re currently taking: it turns out this is not good for free time.
This year, I’m taking one year-long module called Practical and Applied Statistics. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin – the aim is to turn the students into people who can actually write a report, rather than just being able to crunch the numbers. One of the projects is a group project. There’s five people per group, all randomly assigned (as far as I know, anyway). Together we have to design an (extremely simple) experiment, write a protocol, conduct the experiment and write up a report. It’s frustrating, because the experiment is so simple – we’re growing plants – but it’s a good experience.
But we don’t know each other well, my group. Sometimes that’s good – it means there’s no friendships to be ruined! – and sometimes… it’s not so good. I made it clear that I’m not straight last Tuesday, in an episode that involved one of the guys in the group grumbling about having to grow plants, and then talking about how none of us were “lesbian tree-huggers”. I’m not explaining it very well, but it didn’t seem to be intended maliciously, just thoughtlessly, so I cheerfully came out and left it at that. Sometimes, a little embarressment is all that clueless guys need to stop them saying inappropriate things. Sometimes.
Tomorrow was the deadline for the protocol, and we pretty much did all the work for it over the last three days. So, by today, tempers were fraying somewhat. Which is probably why he repeatedly called the computer “gay”. And it’s entirely why I, after the third or fourth time, turned round and snapped, “you need to stop that. Just stop.” He looked a little scared, it stopped the conversation momentarily, and we carried on, minus the “gay” slurs.
The good news is that, after we’d finished the work and submitted it electronically, he asked to speak to me privately, and apologised for not thinking that I might not like him saying those things.
The sad thing is, I don’t think he realises that he ought to modify his language no matter who he’s talking to.
Last night, I was chatting to Flatmate about life. Work, routine, boredom – you know the drill. He’s got a job that he can do, and do well, without actually ever needing to think. So he’s got a hell of a lot of untapped brain-space, and is in consequence going out of his tiny little mind with boredom.
Because I’m helpful that way, I decided unsolicited suggestions were the order of the day. Plus, you know, I like to think that if I had the balance of money/free time that he does, I’d be doing So! Much! Stuff!! Really, this is probably a lie, like the way new mothers think that they’re totally going to be able to do everything perfectly, and also their new offspring will only shit rainbows. And then they discover what infant poo smells and feels like. The equivalent of this will be me starting to work full time again around this time next year, and then going “I am a work zombie. Aaaaaaaaaah. No art galleries for me until I find an antidote, or possibly gnaw somebody’s head off!”
Anyway, anyway. So we were looking through the helpful leaflets I keep getting (this is a character trait of my mother. It’s only a matter of time before we become one being) and guess what? I’ve found sod all that Flatmate is interested in, which is a shame, but what I have found is… something that I want to do! For free! Hooray!
So today (and every Friday until 27 August) I can walk 15 minutes up the road, learn how to paint with watercolours, be sociable for 3 hours, and not pay anything for the privilege! If I remember, I shall blog again to tell the internet just how well I’ve done at pretending to be a sociable person!
Who would’ve thought it would be so difficult?
Not me, that’s for sure.
It’ll be fine, I thought. J and Flatmate know I’m doing exams; they’ll cut me some slack, I reckoned. I’ve told them that I’m not doing housework, so someone else will do it, I assumed.
The washing built up. And built up some more. And some more. Flatmate went and bought new underwear, but didn’t think to wash the dirty underwear in the basket. J got down to his manky, I-need-to-do-my-washing underwear. I didn’t care. I always have at least two weeks’ worth of clothes. The floor remained grimy. I didn’t care. I walk around barefoot, but I just wiped my dirty feet on the huge pile of dirty washing accumulating on the floor of our bedroom.
J tried to cook new and exciting dinners. Even more excitingly, he tried to make up his own recipes. Those conversations went like this:
J: Can I talk to you about dinner?
Me: [pausing my revision] Sure. What were you thinking of making?
J: Roasted vegetables!
Me: What are you going to serve them with? You can’t have a whole meal made entirely of roasted veg.
J: Um. I don’t know. Paninis?
Me: Ok. Well, you’ll need to go and buy them, then.
J: Should I do something else?
Me: If you don’t want to go to the shops, yes. Why don’t you have a look in these cookery books?
…[some time passes]
J: What about rice?
Me: You could do. There’s some in the cupboard. What are you going to do for protein?
Me: Protein. You know – meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans… protein.
J: Oh. I don’t know. Do you have to have it?
Me: [deciding that the nuances of this argument can wait] Yes. You have to have some protein. I know we don’t have any meat in, so how about you use a tin of kidney beans? You could cook them and mix them in with the rice.
I started to care. I had an exam that afternoon. The discussion about food, and what components you need to make a meal, took up a good couple of hours. True story. J had the right idea – that cooking dinner for me after my stressful exam would be a nice thing to do – but went about it badly; and, to be honest, the thought that I might come home to be presented with a plate full of roasted vegetables, and nothing else, was far more stressful than any exam. Actually, the really stressful bit was the thought that I’d have to appear grateful for it.
I mentioned this conversation to A, a female friend of mine who was also taking the exam that day. She looked at me in horror. “Didn’t anybody ever teach him basic nutrition?”, she responded, shocked.
“No,” I replied bitterly. “Why would anybody think he needed to know? He’s a man.”
These past weeks, I’ve been trying hard to set boundaries, to retain the vestiges of my sanity, or at least to save my emotional energy for fretting that I’ll never get that first that I want so badly. And yet – it feels like squishing a balloon. You can try to make a dent in one place, but all that seems to happen is that the problem pops up somewhere else.
I set a clear boundary that says “I refuse to come home and have to plan and make dinner for all three of us after an entire day of studying and sitting an exam. If you want to eat together, you’ll have to cook for all of us. If not, you’ll have to cook for yourself. And I’ll have a sandwich.” And I end up giving an improptu lesson on the different elements that make up a meal. I might not have done the cooking, but I’ve sure as hell done the thinking. I would’ve thought less if I’d just cooked the damned thing myself, in fact.
Yesterday, J had a day off. I did not, because revision is relentless. J had chosen to clean the floors as his big chore for the week. And he chose to do this in the middle of the day, which made sense, but while I was trying to revise at the kitchen table, which did not make sense. He hoovered around me, and I ignored that, although it isn’t a very sensible way to get the dirt up. But then he tried to mop around me as well. And around every other object in the room – guitar, chair, amp, tea chest – that he hadn’t bothered to move.
I cared. Oh, how I cared. But I had almost no emotional energy left to give. For the first time since he’d arrived five weeks ago, I shouted at him. I felt myself losing my temper. I saw him pouting. Taking it personally. I started losing it faster. When I felt tears of rage in the corners of my eyes, I tried to stop. Turned away. Took deep breaths. Tried to make my body language less aggressive. He didn’t stop being defensive. Didn’t try to listen. I tried to stomp on the rage, but only compounded it.
You’re the one who keeps talking about how high his standards are, I snarled. You’re the one who wanted to mop the floors every week. But you don’t know how to do it properly, do you? No wonder you keep talking about how easy it all is! You only do the easy bits! You’ve lived in a house with carpet your whole life. I’ve had a bedroom with wooden floors since I was ten. And my parents didn’t clean it for me! If you’re going to interrupt MY studying to clean the floors that YOU spilt compost over yesterday, then you will listen to me when I tell you that what you’re doing IS NOT MAKING THE FLOOR ANY FUCKING CLEANER!
In the end, I “helped” him. I refused to let him mop until we’d moved all the moveable furniture out of the room. I showed him how to mop effectively. I refused to move the furniture back in until the floor was clean. Start to finish, it was an hour and a half of prime revision time, gone. I point blank refused to eat dinner with J or Flatmate, even though Flatmate hadn’t done anything wrong, and made myself noodle soup, which took me ten minutes to cook and used only one pan and a wok. And I calmed down by reading the archives of Blue Milk, because there’s something very comforting about knowing that other people have these kinds of arguments too, albeit about different problems. And after they’d eaten and cleared the table, I caught up my lost hour and a half of revision. I stopped at 9 in the evening, when my brain turned to mush.
Now I’ve got nothing left. I’m more emotionally drained than I’ve been for weeks. The straw that broke the camel’s back turned out to be an argument about mopping the floors, of all things. Tonight I’m going to make sure I eat before J and Flatmate get home. I don’t care if I have to eat four meals today, just so long as none of those meals is for anybody except me. I’m home alone today, and even though I’ll do a solid day’s revision, it feels like a holiday. I’ll even commandeer my desk back. J’s been sprawled out there playing on his computer, but today he can’t get there before me. Where negotiation fails, unilateral decisions win. And today, I unilaterally decide that I am the most important person in the house, and this means that everybody else will just have to work around me. J and Flatmate can come home to a dirty kitchen, which I won’t have noticed because I’ll be at the desk, having moved J’s keyboard and mouse to the floor, playing angry girl music, singing to myself and revising.
This is the point at which I stop trying to negotiate for my sanity and start demanding it.