I wish I was the kind of person who knew how to correctly apportion food. Tonight, I swore I only wanted a snack, a nibble, just a few bird-like mouthfuls of Sunday’s roast skewered together in perfect symphonic harmony and somehow I ended up with a plate the size of a small child. I said I wouldn’t eat it all – that would atone for the misjudged heaviness of hand – but of course it was reheated and so would therefore be dangerous to risk the food poisoning and so, well, I ate it all. As we all knew I would. And the wine was lovely too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. There is not one blocked artery of regret in my body despite the prolific abundance of cauliflower cheese but still, it would really be quite nice to know how it is my sisters’ manage to keep the rim of their plates from overflowing with gravy and rogue mushy peas and just one more teeny tiny microscopic scoop of mash. Too often, my plate is often the same heft as my father’s and I cannot stress to you enough how much my father LOVES. HIS. DINNER. He often has three. Not three courses; three different and distinct cuisines in portion sizes that constitute definite stand-alone meal status.
And it’s not like I haven’t tried, researched, studied. My efforts at calculation and readjustment are rivalled only by Beth Harmon’s in The Queen’s Gambit (this gag really only works if you’ve seen it. And you should definitely see it.) I’ve approached it from every angle: carbs first as the rightful centerpiece followed by a fanned sprawl of veggies in ascending order of nutrition; greens first to avoid frontloading potatoes; carrots as the frontrunners because I hate carrots and for frugality to be effective, loathing must be involved; even – sacrilegiously – gravy first to give the illusion of the plate already being fully and amply stocked. This isn’t an important thing to ask you to read. I’m just very bloated and a little irked with myself and these are the kinds of thoughts I have now: just how many spoons of stuffing does it take to tip a plate from ‘small’ and acceptable to the sprawling, multi-layered mass I inevitably find myself tucking into. Perhaps the hint there is in my employment of the plural, ‘spoons’. I suppose less is more has never really been a concept I’ve been able to get on board with.
Rocky Took a Lover came on in the car today. I was driving around on my own, starved in the twilight as I careered through my trinket town, dispatched into the wind with messages begging answers. It was 4.30pm and I had a kerchief tied around the collar of my poloneck. I felt wrapped like a present in the bright-patterned cloth. I wore bright lipstick that I thought was optimistic, only. But then, as the pharmacist printed my passport photos and I saw the taunt of red-orange, I realised it was garish and my face too fat for it.
It was beginning to get dark: that bruised and broody knuckling into night that only winter can achieve in its grim perseverance. It is like the sky is grinding its teeth. The clash of blue and purple, orange and pink, the crushed enamel diffused into the air like dust, enveloping us all in this heady vacuum, this timeless interlude that could belong to any year or any era and yet feels so deeply specific, so wholly personal that it is as if, trundling through the mist, we are creating and shaping the very world to emerge from it. The footpath our path, the shops blooming for and from our imagination, passers-by summoned by our subconscious into being – do you ever feel this way?
Christmas lights slung low and dainty over awnings and shop fronts were golden eyes twinkling; Paul Noonan sang about the eye of Orion. I would shine for you. And well, it was a perfect moment. I guess that’s what I’m saying. The twinkling town, the bubbled armour of the car, the quiet, the crooning of a complicated love my body remembers even if my brain is feigning forgetfulness.
It is 21:17 and my sister is sitting on the floor behind me once again hunkering into our 3,000 piece puzzle. She drinks a corona, I a Stella. It occurs to me we’re basic. I am sitting at my desk refreshing my newsletter mailing list again and again to scour, eagerly, the names of the people signing up. Reader, she’s starting a newsletter, I declared to Instagram. Why I am creating another obligation, another project to embroil myself in and then inevitably feel guilty about when enthusiasm wanes, why I am finding yet another medium through which to feel the pinch of a stranger’s censure is beyond me. Here now, though, in this moment, it feels glorious and wonderful. I am craving closeness to the point where even the passive contact of an email will do.
Every signee feels like a victory, a delicious, dangerous rush of validation. The desire to be liked will one day destroy me. Wanting to be liked as a woman is inevitable, I feel. But wanting your writing to be liked, to be validated with a ‘Subscribe’, an ‘Open’, a ‘Read’ is untenable. That is not how creativity should work, the gaze of the beholder does not beauty make but right now I am too buzzed and too self-conscious, in the immediate flush of the shame spiral that always awaits every new push of myself into the world, to self-correct. I click refresh. Two new names. There are 26 now and each one a precious pearl. I hope I won’t ever let them down.
My sister has just asked why there are so many hairs in the puzzle and is trying – God bless her – to ascertain if they belong to our alopecic Labrador. I’m forced to remind her of my moulty disposition. The hairs – FROM MY HEAD, TO BE CLEAR – are mine.
I am writing less because I am puzzling more. I spend hours lying on the floor of my bedroom, the jigsaw spread sprawling across a sheet of pyrex my father, ever-invested in the puzzle’s progress, sourced to further its completion. I light candles, put my small speaker beside my right elbow and binge listen to The C-Word learning about history’s “crazy” women while slowly, steadily, painstakingly conjuring kaleidoscopic mountains and murky navy oceans from the pyre of jagged anomalies waiting to be pushed into pliant conformity.
I let the days pass me by like this. Just me, Lena Dunham and an endless rotation of coffee cups. The room is held by the slow snarl of my competitive spirit intent on mastering the mystery taking over the distressed wooden floorboards. In the evenings, I cycle to the cove and throw myself into the water. I deep cackle in the evening silence with skin red and invincible, dress clumsily, stare around at the crashing waves and speckled rocks and thank it for its salvation. And then I stagger up the cliff, propelled home by the thought of the leftovers awaiting me and the promise that tonight, maybe tonight, I will master the art of portion size.
Then, I will eat three roast potatoes and twenty minutes later demand sympathy for my indigestion.
- Chamomile tea. I cannot and will not get enough of it.
- The Bell X1 Field Recordings album which, given that its live, feeds my soul and wanton lust for live music and close-knitted crowds as well as offering some sumptuous acoustic versions. ‘Amsterdam Says’ I particularly adore. And I don’t even really like Bell X1 THAT much?
- My white, 100% cotton COS pyjama suit that I got as a birthday present several years ago. Putting them on after a hot shower, I have never felt so pure and clean and angelic: all of the things I’m really not in any kind of way – literal, metaphorical or otherwise.