Being overtaken

women-cyclist

This edition of Would Jess Like It will focus on the process of being overtaken by human beings who are (apparently) in more of an important rush than you are.

As I enter my third decade of life, I have come to realise that being overtaken by People More Important Than Me is a given fact of the world, a bit like tax, cat hair allergies, and B.O. I’m not talking about being overtaken professionally or financially – that is a different post of its own, and one that requires more research than my personal base maximum.

I will be writing more broadly about being overtaken as a pedestrian, driver, cyclist, or queue-r in the world. Herewith, a series of portraits, followed by a reflection.

 

1.

I ride my bike down Royal Parade. I stay to the left of my lane, because I know there will be people overtaking me. I have got much better at cycling, lately. I now cycle 20km per day, and I find myself being overtaken less frequently. Being overtaken is not the worst thing in the world, in principle. It reminds me that we all commute differently. Some of us stop to smell the exhaust, others speed through it to get on with the nicer parts of our day. I don’t mind being overtaken when a cyclist warns me of their intention. They will chime out, “passing” as they glide past. Other times they will ding their bell merrily, and overtake. Other times, there will be no voice or bell, just a rush of wind past you, a grunt, and a sweaty musk in some tailwind. I now associate the “passing” and ding-a-ling as a feminine act, because the majority of those sounds, those courtesies, have come from women.

Often I am overtaken as I sit waiting at a traffic light. A rider stops behind me, assesses me, and then darts off as the light changes, to be in front of me. I wonder what sort of internal logic leads to this decision. “She’ll be slower than me. I just know it.”

I wonder what these overtakers do with these saved seconds of courtesy. Perhaps this sort of courtesy slows down your torque, or leads to an extra drag on the saddlebag that waves like lazy testicles under your own flesh-and-blood balls.

 

2.

I am waiting for the train, standing behind the yellow line. I tend to stand close to the yellow line, a level of proximity that all the Russians in my blood-line would call “anxiety-provoking” and “JESSITCHKA, NO”. I queue close to the line because I want to keep my place in the line, because I got here early for this specific reason, curtailing any potential chats about harmonicas with the staff at Eastern Bloc cafe.

The train pulls into the station, and suddenly, I am not first in line anymore. There is someone who has slipped in front of me, who will get on first, because perhaps getting on first will get them to the city quicker than everyone else in the same carriage.

 

3.

I am waiting at an airport luggage carousel. I have just finished a holiday. I am relaxed. I stand near the carousel, but I leave a little room between myself and the conveyor belt, because I know that other people need visual access to this carousel, and will not appreciate being blocked by Semitic hair that has just spent 12 days in Queensland humidity.

A man slips in front of me, blocks my viewing, and stands there. He is either unaware of the fact I am trying to see the belt, or he doesn’t care. An expensive bag slides around to us, marked with luggage tags from the Sofitel. He grabs the bag and plonks it on the ground. He calls out to his partner, “our bag was the first one off!”

He then stays put. My bag approaches, and I lunge for it, across him. He does not move back or make room.

I am angry. I am sick of this sort of shit. I grab my bag and I slam it on the floor, close to his feet. He mildly moves his foot backwards, won’t look into my eyes.

I see blood. I see red. The red is coming out of my ring finger nail. I have bent it back in the microsecond of slamming, of “I’ll show you who also deserves to be here”. Blood trickles from under my nail, down my finger. I grab my bag and I hold my finger in my fist. I will not let him see me bleeding.

 

*

I could tell you about the motorbike rider in the bike lane. About the older man in the coffee line. But I don’t want to talk about them anymore. I want to talk about what this moment feels like, how it lingers, how it shifts us.

As I write this post, I look down at my typing fingers. I have 9 good un-bitten holiday nails, and 1 very bad memory nail, jagged and ripped like the entrance to a scary cave. My nail is broken because of my attempt to Make a Point, a point which only injured me and barely registered with the recipient in mind.

There are things I want to say to the people who move in front of us, who slip in casually to space we’re standing in, gliding in like a magnet. I want to say: excuse me. To say: I was waiting here. This is a small thing for you, but a deeper thing for me. Your action is a habit to you, but to me, it reverberates across so many other incidents of being made to feel too small, or too big, ginormous, invisible, or overall just wrong-sized in an amorphous and never winnable way.

This behaviour makes me feel that I will never be fast enough for you. I will never be respected enough by you. My needs don’t matter as much as yours. I am expendable and ignore-able, in the pursuit of the things you believe you deserve.

I wonder if you mean for me to feel this way. I wonder if you have any idea of what happens to people who find these daily micro-aggressions stacked up, one on top of each other, across a lifetime. People who might have less privileges as me, who are also ignored, overtaken, undermined or disrespected in relation to their race, religion, gender identity, size, sexuality, chosen work industry, and more. People who might already question what sort of claim any of us can make over space in a colonised country, but particularly at the way in which some people stride through this space, like a birthright?

These moments erode us. They wear us down. They are exhausting.

 

*

I wish I had the right words, the right package of concepts, that can make how I feel make sense to you, overtaker, in the few seconds you might allot me before turning away and dismissing me, abusing me, or ignoring me.

I wish I could school you in the way of a blooming Chinese tea flower: a small little package of a lesson, one which begins an intoxicating, deliberate dance of unfurling, one so beautiful, methodical, logical, that you have no choice but to gaze, enraptured. To take in every word. To really listen. To not look away.

All I can do is write these feelings, and share them, and hope that I am not alone in feeling it. That enough of us might recognise this exhaustion in each other and say, “I understand.”

Perhaps, this is enough.

Crying

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Everybody who really knows me knows that I am a crier. I’m not so much a sad-crier as I am a happy-crier.

 

Sure, I’ll indulge in the occasional sad-crying at things that are awful or Liberal party related, but I usually reserve my open-mouth guttural sobs for things that remind me of love, beauty, connection and community.

 

For example, a dog crying with happiness and fainting with joy after her owner returns from a long time away.

 

For example, a photo album my family made me for my 21st birthday with a complete chronology of every year of my life painstakingly arranged in a fetching shabby chic cardboard album.

 

For example, the time my partner organised a huge vegan birthday cake with rainbow icing, emblazoned with “Happy Birthday Jessitchka” and then bought me a moist lemon scroll to eat on the way to my birthday party in case I couldn’t wait long enough for my actual cake.

 

It is moments like these – the ones that remind you that love is fierce, and stronger than many less lovely things – that make me cry the most.

 

I feel like the last 24 hours has been a new type of public horrible. We’ve seen politicians kowtow to industry in ways that hurt small voiceless creatures. We’ve seen equal rights advocates put their own needs last in order to protect the little ones who need protecting. We then watched a vampire call them vampires for this selflessness. I had a ten-minute conversation with my colleagues yesterday afternoon about sweet self-defence moves we’ve learnt in various women’s safety classes before a sick feeling descended on us and we realised “we are all experts in something like this, because we have to be.”

 

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. It’s meant to be a sombre day, of reflection, forward planning, and apologies for wrongdoing or cruelty you might have caused.

 

I don’t remember a Yom Kippur when it hasn’t rained. I don’t believe in a god, but I do feel like there’s something quite ceremoniously apt here: the skies open at the moment that a large group of people become reflective, introspective, and strive to do better. The weeping of the sky takes place when the pursuit of good is crystallised; made intentional.

 

For Yom Kippur, I facilitated a session with a group of teenagers where they met a Holocaust survivor and heard his story of fleeing the Nazis, being hidden and protected by non-Jews, and miraculously surviving to tell his story. He told us of new chances in many different parts of France, and then in Australia. I watched the 12-year-old boys of the group slink away from childish in-jokes into territory quite different. Mouths drooping open, like the sky above them.

 

I decided, afterwards, to go for a walk in the biting wind, to process this heavy day of stories, and remind myself of how free I am, even under a big grey sky.

 

As I headed home, up the stairs to my apartment, I saw a young woman in a sari holding a tiny baby. We smiled at each other, and I walked on. As I rounded the corner, something clicked. The taxi out the front, the luggage on the curb wrapped in long-haul glad wrap. Further down the corridor, I bumped into my new neighbour, a man in his thirties, whom I had met only briefly once before. We said hello, and he grinned a sweet, almost guilty grin, his face bubbling so hot with joy that one could do nothing but grin back.

 

He gestured to the woman with the baby behind me.

 

“My wife and my kid just arrived.”

 

I welcomed them. Embarrassingly excitedly. And then I went inside, and I wept a little bit at the challenges that are ahead of them, at the Australia they are entering, at the world this baby will inhabit.

 

But then I wept hardest at the beauty behind all of this: at my neighbour’s grin of joy, of having his family in one spot, of the three of them snuggled up together in a warm room, on a cold night, for a new and unknowable beginning.

 

These are the things that keep us going.

The Kyneton Dog Dash

Some of you may know that I like dogs.

Occasionally I write about dog-related events.

Or the intricacies of dog training.

Or dog-centric venues.

Last week, I continued in my quest to be the most well-travelled dog-enthusiast-cum-feminist-Jewish-playwright the world has ever seen. And I did good.

Once a year, the small Victorian town of Kyneton hosts a Daffodil Arts Festival. This is a joyous spring event where people from all over congregate in Kyneton to look at flowers, race ferrets, get spooked by artisanal scarecrows, and justify having devonshire tea for lunch because “the proceeds go to some sort of charity.”

I hopped in the car with my partner whose blog you should read, and we drove a pleasant hour on the highway to Kyneton. As we neared the outskirts of the city, I found my breathing grow more shallow and hysterical because I noticed that EVERY GARDEN and EVERY SHOPFRONT boasted a wheelbarrow of daffodils.

(Regular readers may also know how I feel about all members of the narcissus family.)

We had a wonderful time at the flower show where I managed my breathing and visualised the word ‘CALM.” even when viewing floral arrangements titled “GOLD GOLD GOLD” and “LONG AND LOW.”

daffodil

We choked down our requisite charity scones. (Ugh, I haaaate delicious fluffy scones and piping hot cups of tea served by friendly country ladies.) And then we power-walked to the Dog Dash.

The Dog Dash wasn’t due to kick off for a while, but I could feel in my waters that things were starting to begin. We walked down Main Street, rejecting all “please sniff me” overtures from neighbouring flowers, because we could sense a big congress of easily grabbable dogs in close proximity.

And we were right. The Dog Dash organisers had commandeered the town velodrome and set it up as a doggie heaven. The velodrome was PACKED with dogs, owners, and lurkers like our good selves. We counted close to 100 dogs, all of whom were friendly and very excited about this social event.

This is what happens at a Dog Dash:

  1. 80 dogs line up in a row in front of a 40 metre strip of turf and try to sniff each others’ butts.
  2. Each dog’s owner walks to the end of the strip of turf and gestures wildly to their dog, who is being held by his or her collar at the opposite side of the track.
  3. The owner gets more animated at the end of the turf, screaming “CHICKEN! Come to Mumma! I love you!!!!!”
  4. The dog is released from its grip at the same time as the official race-master drops a white flag (sadly devoid of any paw-print imaging) and the dog bounds towards its owner, hopefully in under 5 seconds, if it hopes to get anywhere close to winning the title of Fastest Dog in Town.

The thing about point 4 on this list is that maybe only 5 dogs got anywhere near mastering the under-5-seconds time. Most dogs sauntered coolly down the race track, stopping to say hi to people and dogs alike, as if some really chill celebrity on a red carpet. Sometimes the dogs would get partway down the line and decide they didn’t really feel like racing any more, so they would just turn around and walk  back to the mass of butt-sniffing happening at the start line.

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The best part was seeing greyhounds doing what they’re meant to do: being lazy little babies who had absolutely no interest in running fast whatsoever, but doing the bare minimum so that they could get back to their favourite hobby: having their butt sniffed by smaller dogs while wearing leopard print.

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The Dog Dash was easily a normal-life-highlight, and even a dog-enthusiast life-highlight. I highly recommend you go in 2017.

 

Getting old and grey and full of sleep

Hey oldie! Yeah, you! You’re officially invited to a seminar on Entering Your Thirties, situated in a nicely ventilated room with easily accessible bathrooms and protein-based snacks. The event is meant to start on the hour, but we’re aware you might be a bit late, because leaving the house now involves something of a circuit course of “check the heater, check the stove, check the lights, check you’ve locked the front door, did you really check the stove, what about the oven, better double-check the door’s really locked, and maybe check the heater once more on your way out.”

So we can assume you’ll all be a little bit late from your circuit training. Let’s not forget the fact that the walk from tram stop to conference centre will take a bit longer this evening because you’ve forgotten to do your double leg calf raises, which are a necessity handed down to you by your venerated Physiotherapist, ever since you injured your overly mobile ankles during a particularly energetic bout of Jewish folk dancing.

We also welcome those of you who might want to Skype into this meeting, and we thank you for your searingly honest RSVPs explaining this choice. Some of our favourite responses were, “I work 9-5, in order to spent 5-9 away from humanity” and “if a bold and risky entrepreneur suggested installing a toilet and fridge inside the structure of a bed, I would singlehandedly make that entrepreneur a millionaire.”

Other regrets coming in are from the perkier and fitter members of our over-30s who tell us that they must exercise without pause between the hours of 5pm and 10pm in order to stave off the inevitable descent into decrepitude and calf-weakness that yawns and flashes ever-temptingly before them.

We hope those of you who are left – you, who missed her train on the Upfield line, and you, who wants to avoid his housemates’ marathon viewing of Four Weddings – find this seminar helpful. We will be covering such topics as:

“I didn’t know I even had that muscle until it started hurting”

“Why can’t I eat with the gusto I used to?”

“I need to tell more strangers more often what they’re doing incorrectly”

and our most popular topic, “No more caffeine after 4pm: a night-terrors and micturition tale”

We look forward to seeing you at this exciting event, and hearing your many interminable anecdotes. 

Sunshine

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Sunshine is a controversial thing. Many people love it. Many people avoid it at all costs. Many celebrities have opinions on it, treating it like a too-smart antagonist in a David Mamet play. They shield themselves from it desperately, with creams and hats and glasses.

 

Sunshine causes burning and drying and crinkling, but it also provides energy (in literal and metaphorical ways), and little sprouts curling out of the ground ever-skywards, and it is also a useful signifier when trying to explain the sight, smell and (assumed, never tested) taste of jonquils.

 

Sunshine is something I have tended to avoid. I am sensitive to sunshine due to my pale Eastern European skin. Russian Jews are sensitive to sunlight the way in the same way we are sensitive to changes in people’s mood, feedback that is not couched in a compliment sandwich, and trace amounts of gluten.

 

As a result, I tend to enjoy the look of sunshine, and the jonquils it allows to pop defiantly out of the earth during the depths of winter, but I do not enjoy too much of an exposure to sunshine. For me, sunshine on skin is a sometimes-treat. Too much of it, and you’re spraying anaesthetic cream on your butt in a badly ventilated bathroom that night.

 

However, sunlight is something you really miss when you spend a winter in Melbourne. Melbourne has very very little sunlight during the winter months. You might find you’ve got through a whole week of grey days without once feeling a brush of its hot fingers on your vulnerable neck skin.

 

As a result, a lot of Melbournites find themselves progressively folding into themselves over the course of a long winter. After all, what are we but delicate little jonquils ourselves, trying desperately to pop our bright heads out of the soil and stay alive?

 

It’s easy to forget that sunshine ever existed, that it was part of your day-to-day, that hot rays once smiled down on you, sizzling your monobrow hairs and making your stockings give you sweat-itch on the back of your thighs.

 

Melbourne winter has warmth, like the sardine-packed South Morang line after peak hour, or a state theatre company filled with a mass of old people’s sleep-farts, but Melbourne does not give sun easily.

 

This is where Vitamin D comes in. A few months ago I was in my friend’s bathroom and noticed he had a bottle with 1,000 Vitamin D tablets. The little transparent bubbles clinked alluringly in their plastic tub. He told me, “they’re essential. You must.”

 

And can I just say: Vitamin D is a game-changer. You’ll notice the difference next time you do your sanity-power-walk in your lunch break, and you welcome the cloud-lined sky with a wink and a grin, instead of just another weary sigh.

 

Vitamin D is so much more than a funny euphemism for dicks regularly used by members of the gay and hag community. Vitamin D is what will get you through a Victorian winter.

 

Now you go out and get that D, baby girl.