I need to do some crowd-sourcing for one of the secret projects. Even though they have both now been read and green-lit by the agent, they still feel like secret projects to me. I rather enjoy this small absurdity, as if, in the mazy corridors of my own mind, I am an International Woman of Mystery.
The crowd-sourcing is because I have read the experts, wrangled my own brain, mined close, observed experience, and now I want the view from the internet. This is where the internet is brilliant. In my own tiny corner of it, I find people I should never, ever meet in real life. There is the intensely kind lady in Sri Lanka, who is one of the original readers of the blog, and the brave woman who went through the Christ Church earthquake. There is the Dear Reader in Canada, who also loves horses. There is the number one Stanley the Dog fan, and the lady who adores chickens. There is my friend in the north, who knows all about animals breaking your heart, and missing departed fathers. (I say friend, because she feels like a friend. I don’t expect we shall ever see each other, face to face, but that is how this odd intimacy works.) There are my blogging sister-in-arms, some of whom I have actually met, but whose support comes most keenly through the ether, which is our place of mutual connection.
I feel that connection, with everyone who comes here, and one of the things I think over and over again is what a great leveller the internet is. We may have very different life experiences, but it comes back to that meme which did the rounds a while ago: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. I feel that everyone here is fighting their battles. There is death and divorce, professional set-backs, illness and physical pain, aging parents and the daily frets of bringing up children. Everyone, it strikes me, is really trying their best, sometimes against long odds. There is a lot of quiet courage, and a lot of stoical grace.
Because of this, I sense there is a wisdom in this crowd, and that is what I want to tap.
My subject today is irritation. I was thinking about the things that drive me nuts in the head. I was thinking about the human things which are the most annoying. I don’t mean the big catastrophic faults, like war crimes and corruption and corporate greed. (Although, this morning, I felt a twisting spasm of rage at the man in charge of Nestlé, who has said that water is not a human right.) Those are horrors, and deserve a stronger emotion. I don’t even mean things like unkindness, which is a serious ill and should be regarded with gravity. I mean the small things which don’t really matter, but which produce a disproportionate response. I mean the things which make you want to throw heavy objects, and then, afterwards, you say to yourself in puzzlement: what button did that press?
On my own list would be: people who do not listen, people who are rude generally, but in particular to waiters, people who look over your shoulder at parties to see if there is someone more interesting or important to talk to. Also: personal remarks, bad-timekeeping, dangling modifiers, jargon, condescension, smugness, and being cheap. I get the nails on the blackboard feeling from people who say one thing and do another, who never listen to the other side of the argument, and who jump on bandwagons, particularly those that involve conspiracy theories or intellectually lazy received wisdom.
But at the moment, my number one, five star, ocean-going, fur-lined bête noire is: people who offer unsolicited advice.
Why should this drive me so demented? It really does not matter, in the wider scheme, not when Israel and Palestine are going up in smoke, and the refugee camps spread on the Syrian border, and Mr Putin grows daily more unpredictable. It produces a visceral reaction, a desire for violence, when I am by nature a pacific person.
I can perfectly well listen to it and let it go. I do not have to follow it. I can politely nod and smile and ignore it. But oh, oh, it makes me want to scream and shout.
I think: why would anyone tell another human what they should be doing when they have not asked? Why should someone think that other people are such idiots that they cannot manage their own life or make their own decisions or know their own minds? To me, it is the height of bad manners. The implication is that they are such fools that they need a dose of superior wisdom in order to straighten themselves out. It is, psychologically, an act of aggression. It is an invasion of personal space. It is a denial of autonomy and agency. It is a way of saying: I am brilliant and you are stupid. It is almost a negation of self.
I need to go back and have a hard search in the darker regions of my soul, in order to work out why this small irritation makes me go bat-shit crazy. Almost certainly it is some kind of failing in my own self. I have many failings. But one thing I can say with certainty is that I have never, ever told another person what to do unless they have requested the advice. I think it is an affront.
The line that comes to me now is – I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. I smile as I write it. No busybody, however well-meaning, can take that away from me.
I want your own irritations. Will you tell me? I am consumed with anticipation and curiosity to know what they are.
No time for pictures now, just this one of my best beloved:
We did our big practice run into the heart of the village, to get ready for the old people tomorrow. There were huge hissing buses, rattling dustbin trucks, squealing schoolchildren in high-visibility vests, men hurling building waste into industrial skips, and all sorts. The red mare spent her competitive life on quiet grass, working always with other horses, away from the hurly-burly of humans. Until she came to me, she had never been out on her own or seen anything busier than a tiny country lane. This was a lot of stimuli for a sensitive thoroughbred.
All the hard graft I have been putting in paid off. She was a little more reactive than I would like, which means I need to go back and check my working. She had a damn good snort and a look around. But the lovely fact remains that I took a fine thoroughbred into a completely new environment, riding only in a rope halter, and for all that she was sometimes uncertain and alarmed, she listened to me. I was very, very proud of her.
In a most touching moment, she stopped kindly and made friends with the small children, and she stood graciously and sweetly as they gazed up at her and stroked her nose. ‘She is very big,’ said one. ‘And very beautiful,’ said another.
Then we met a smiling old lady. Again, we stopped to talk. The lady told me that she had been in signals, in the army, in 1946. ‘With Louis Mountbatten in South-East Asia Command,’ she said, beaming. ‘It gave me a taste for travel. I’m off to Africa next week.’ I was so awe-struck by this extraordinary piece of information that I reverted to the language of my teen years. ‘That is so cool,’ I exclaimed.
She smiled up at Red, and gave her a gentle stroke down the neck. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘I’m afraid of horses. So that’s something.’
That is something. I rode home grinning all over my face.