Saturday, 12 March 2016

Most people.

Not long ago or far away, someone suggested that I do a thing I had not done. ‘That’s what most people do,’ she said, in laughing reproach.
            She was right. The thing I had not done was what most people would do. She had reason and rationality and common sense and empiricism and correctness on her side. I had nothing. Except that I am not most people.
            It was not said with any rancour or unkindness. It was a mere statement of fact.
            It was a knife to my heart.

A lot of the time, I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that I am not most people. At those times I don’t even know who most people are. Surely each individual human is as idiosyncratic as a snowflake?
            Then there are times when I yearn to join the glorious cohort of the Most People. They do exist. They have conventions and cultures and things in common. They have the steadiness of the majority, because they are the majority. They, without even knowing it, get the blessing of the zeitgeist, because they play by its rules.
            They have sorrows and setbacks and losses, just like everyone else, but they don’t have to paddle madly against the current, because they go where the river goes, gracefully towards the sea. They may take this for granted, because they don’t know what it’s like to be going the wrong way.

When I was much younger, I took what seemed to me a very ordinary and logical and rational choice, but what the wider world considers a radical and even bizarre decision. I knew, deep in my bones, that I did not want to get married and have children. I hate doing things that I am not good at, and I knew that I would be no good at those things. I looked in awe and wonder at the people who were good at them. I look in awe and wonder still. I watch those who make a great family in the way I watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello or I once watched AP McCoy ride a finish. I take off my hat.
            This is not what most people do. It is especially not what most women do. It is taken as read, carved in stone, preached in pulpits, written in newsprint that all females long for marriage and babies. There are quite a lot of people who consider this the grand fulfilment of their life and their biology and their very being. It is really hard for those who naturally follow that river of the majority to understand what it feels like not to paddle down that stream.
            Every atom floating in the culture tells you that you are odd and other. I suspect that married people don’t realise this, because it is so usual to them that it becomes like white noise. But every time you turn on the radio or get a cold caller (‘Is that Mrs Kindersley?) or open a magazine or read a newspaper or have a conversation with a stranger or watch the television, the notion of marriage as normal, wonderful, expected and admired is present. Those who don’t want husbands and wives and children and family life are so beyond the pale that they don’t really feature, except for the occasional article where some poor woman has to explain, at great length, why she refuses to fulfil her biological imperative. She has to twist herself inside out like a pretzel to prove that she is not vain and selfish and weird and cold and generally peculiar. However articulate she is, nobody really believes her.
            Even good friends, with kind hearts and intelligent minds, don’t always get it. ‘You have a womb, surely you must use it?’ (That person had a first in classics.) ‘What is she doing up there in Scotland, all on her own?’ ‘You’ll change your mind when you meet the right man.’ ‘If you refuse to find a husband, why don’t you get a proper job?’ Because I not only won’t get married, I sit at home and write books, a job that comes with no regular salary and means that it is financial feast or famine, so that there are times, like now, when I annoy everyone by having to refuse all invitations until I can get a deal, and I don’t know when that deal will come because it’s not a proper job.
            Nobody throws a party for the stupid single people; there are no white weddings, no gushing speeches, no anniversary celebrations, no greetings cards, no diamond rings. Married people damn well should have a party, in my book, because making a good marriage is incredibly hard work and the ones who make a success of it should get prizes. But it’s a zero sum game. Those on the outside, the ones who are not most people, are invisible, and not to be celebrated, the bolshie buggers. Why can’t they just stop making a fuss and do the decent thing?
            As if my strange decision not to procreate were not enough, I am an introvert. Introverts are about 25% of the population, and, if you are as far along the spectrum as I am, that minority status grows even more acute. Introversion is hard to explain because it is so often misunderstood. It falls constantly into category error. People think that introverts must be shy and silent, when in fact many are garrulous and perfectly composed in company. The difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts are exhausted by people while extroverts take their energy from them. An introvert may be the life and soul of the party, but she will then have to sit quietly in a silent room for three days afterwards to fill up the tank. I often turn down perfectly lovely invitations for this reason, which causes raised eyebrows and wounded incomprehension.
            Solitude, which I love and cherish, is considered another oddity. Most people, perfectly naturally, don’t want to sit in a quiet room. They live in families and work in offices and go to pubs and move in packs. I like eating in restaurants alone; I like going to the races alone; I much prefer going to the cinema alone. Odd, odd, odd.
            Most of the time, none of this matters. If I am robust and at home in my skin and have taken my iron tonic, I can make jokes about it and accept it and even, if the light is coming from the right direction, take a little secret pride in it. When I am a bit bashed and battered, as I am at the moment, I feel wearied and worn down by it.
            I don’t generally complain, as the Dear Readers know, except about dangling modifiers and people spouting jargon on the Today programme (‘What does that mean?’ says poor John Humphreys, driven to distraction by acronyms and management-speak). I am too keenly conscious of my luck. But occasionally I give in to a little wail. Today, I’m having a wail. Today, I’m lacerated and when that happens, I have to write about it.
Nobody reads this blog on a Saturday anyway, so I can shout into an empty room.
Occasionally, my wailing self says, I am sick of having to explain myself, of having my oddities questioned, of being so damn other. Occasionally, I look with envy at Most People, and wish that I could canter along with them. Occasionally, I wish they might understand.

            Perhaps this is part of the reason I love my red mare so, quite aside from all her glorious qualities. She is a horse, and she has no idea what most people do. She does not do the funny laughs or the funny looks or the funny comments. She takes me just as I am. She does not wonder what I am doing, all on my own. As long as I feed her well and work her well and love her well, she does not care about the rest. If I leave my cares at the gate and give her my best self, she thinks I’m pretty damn fine. 


  1. We are legion. We keep brushing off the suggestions and expectations until one day, we hope, they won't be deemed necessary by most people.

  2. Well I certainly read your blog on Saturdays. And as your first responder said - we are legion. I'm married but we never wanted children, which was somehow OK for my husband but considered beyond the pale for me. That was back in the 60's when the Pill made childlessness a possibility even if not quite acceptable. How sad that it is still thought of as "odd". Who care about Most People anyway. I so enjoy your writing and appreciate being in receipt of your thoughts and worries and amazing ideas. And what good news of your beautiful mares, lucky you and lucky them.
    Thank you for sharing with us. Gill

  3. I read on a Saturday. I read every day - I have for years and years. And when you asked yesterday what Londoners thought about reading about birdsong and mud - the answer is that it swells my heart with joy when I read of the remote places and see your pictures. I am so grateful to you for sharing your life in this way.

    Also, I have a very full time job, a husband and a small daughter and people are always behaving as if I was not one of Most People; there are lots of different ways to be Othered as some people always need to feel themselves part of Most People and can achieve it by Othering you.

  4. You are not one of the herd. Hooray.

    Of course it's much easier to be one of the herd,but there are huge pleasures in not belonging;the occasional period of despondency and self-questioning simply highlight the real value of being true to oneself and living the life you choose.

    I love to read about your life and thank you (silently) for every post you write.

  5. I am reading on a Sunday at 1.40 am in terms of not being a pack animal I find sleep when I can and that's that. I'm English but don't look it and when I speak French I don't sound it, I am a city girl living in the country, I like climbing trees and cooking bone broth, can't make small talk..

    Your different seems to me your individuality which whilst we celebrate International Women's Day, Mary Shelley, Suffragettes, Queen Victoria and her children, Victoria Pendelton ...I could go on - seems to be quite 'normal' !

    I'm sure you know The Road Less Travelled - I always read that when I feel know..

    Here's to Sunday wailing. I'm off to Mass shortly in a tiny village Church and I am not Catholic..where was I ?!

  6. Oh, Tania - in being "odd" you are actually just part of a whole other wave of inclusion! By that I mean all of us odd ladies who never wanted to have babies, get married, or do anything that the movies of the 1950s showed us doing. There are LOADS of us - myself included - and we are all doing our own thing, finding our own way, forging our own path, and doing it as unapologetically as possible!

    Whenever I find myself being concerned with what other people think about how I live, I realize it's because I'm actually unhappy with some aspect of my own life. Similarly, when I find myself shouty and angry with someone (happens very rarely, but still) I do a short self-inspection and find out 99% of the time that I'm actually angry with myself over something I know I should or should not have done, and I know better, and am taking it out on someone else.

    I suppose what I'm saying is - if we women are going to be odd and do our own thing, it's not really fair of us to expect the rest of the world not to notice, not to comment, not to wonder why we do what we do. It's human nature to be clannish, to be curious, and to try and find out why certain individuals do or don't do what the rest of the crowd is doing.

    Don't take it as an insult, even if the curiosity is expressed in a rude manner, because the majority of people are very self centered and rudeness is a side effect of that.

    I pride myself in my many oddities, and I take every mention of it by others as a confirmation, an affirmation, and a compliment to my oddity, no matter how it was intended by the speaker, or how poorly they expressed their commentary.

    I used to work in an opthalmology office. One of my tasks was giving a 20 minute eye test to elderly patients. A lady I had never seen before came into the office to take her test, and promptly asked me if I had any children. When I said no, she said it was because I was selfish. I smiled and said that I thought that women who had children when they could not take care of them and did not love them were much more selfish. She ignored that, and proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes telling me about her horrible, selfish children who had ruined her life.

    Basically, she was more about "misery loves company" than wishing I had had a life made more joyful by the inclusion of children. There's always more to the story, if you listen hard enough.

    I've never wanted children, and I did at one time proclaim to the heavens that I would never get married. At the age of 36, Cupid abandoned his tiny bow and arrow and bonked me over the head with a cudgel and I knew that I really did want to get married. Fortunately, my husband had already had children with a previous spouse, and was happy with my decision not to have any myself.

    I have found happiness and pride in my oddness(es), and I hope that you take up the mantle with more of that in coming days!

    Here's a thought: Do you have any idea how many housewives, over-run with nappies and whatever horrible children's television shows are currently popular, dream of living on a farm in Scotland with horses and dogs, and writing books, and being a marvelous, pioneering woman of oddity?

    I'd bet there are LOTS.

    Hip-hip-HOORAY for the Odd Women of the World! (OWW for short)

  7. There are more of us living alone and childless than you think and probably because, thank God, we women now have a real choice. I read you on a Saturday - I look for you every day!

  8. I just want to thank you for a wonderful post.
    Like you I am a happily unmarried introvert, have no children and no "real job" (literary translator). Sometimes it IS hard not being "most people" and I did a lot of explaining when I was younger. I try not to be rude, but I don´t explain anymore.

  9. Indeed. I think you'll find you are not as 'other' as you imagine, whether that is comforting or not. Expectations (and judgements) are mostly generated by media and by perhaps the more conservative of us. I think we could turn the perceptive words of Bowie (RIP) into a clever metaphor here. " It amazes me sometimes, that even intelligent people will analyze a situation or make a judgement after only recognizing that standard or traditional structure of a piece." x Janelle

  10. I tick all those boxes - introvert, living alone, chose not to have children - save that I do have a partner but we don't live together. I think it's so important to have role models and friends who live in a similar way other wise it can feel lonely. I have a wonderful friend who calls women like us Soloists, which I really like. One of the many reasons I love reading you is that you are one of those voices that makes me feel as if I am part of a tribe just as much as 'most people' so thanks, as always, Rachel

  11. I take great delight in being your kind of 'odd' :-) I have never ever wanted marriage or children, I simply cannot think of anything more tiresome and soul destroying than my life not being my own, & my home not being my own little haven of introvert peace where I don't have to deal with any of the people if I don't want to!

  12. I take great delight in being your kind of 'odd' :-) I have never ever wanted marriage or children, I simply cannot think of anything more tiresome and soul destroying than my life not being my own, & my home not being my own little haven of introvert peace where I don't have to deal with any of the people if I don't want to!

  13. I go back and forth, I think. Sometimes I delight in my job and my life, and sometimes I am prone to feeling beaten down by the incessant questions. I'm an interdisciplinary and married-without-children academic who flips from extroversion (which I often find necessary for teaching) to introversion (goodness, I can't go on talking forever). It's steady in some ways, but very ebb-and-flow in others, and many people think that I am very odd indeed. "Why wouldn't you just..." is a sentence beginning that I hear often.

    I also love pets and old friends. The beings (animal and human) who can pull off just being together without asking questions feel like my life's blood so much of the time, and I do adore hearing about how your mares do the same thing for you.


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