Confidence, the acquiring of. Discuss.

There’s a joke that used to make me laugh –

From birth to eighteen, a girl needs good parents

From eighteen to thirty, she needs good looks

From thirty to fifty, she needs a good personality

After that, she needs good cash.

Huh, not so funny now.

2010-07-03 13.39.08Tick ‘birth to eighteen’ –  lovely nanny, followed by the best schools (which I didn’t appreciate at ALL) and the big house filled with dogs, even the obligatory pony, which I appreciated very much indeed.  (The pony didn’t live in the house, BTW. Note to self, may need to reword.)

 

Tick ‘eighteen to thirty’ – nothing special, but I had bright hair of – for South Africa – a fairly unusual colour, and a fairly sunny temperament, and can’t remember ever languishing over a fellow who wasn’t interested in me, so check that one off the list too. what the hell happened

 

 

goofyThirty came and went and so did forty and nothing changed much on that front. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, I could have said I didn’t have anything I hadn’t had twenty years earlier, just a bit more of it, and a bit lower down.

Then the wheels fell off. I moved to a country which was very cold, and put on weight to keep warm. Well, probably more weight than strictly necessary.  No, total honesty here. Definitely more weight than strictly necessary. And my hair colour was no longer even remotely unusual, half the people I met had variations of the same.  And a few years went by and suddenly I had got older.

Personality, oh yes, still had one, of sorts, but it rather relied on people noticing I was around in the first place so I could then fascinate them.

Stupid joke stopped being funny.

The reality is, and it took me a while to realize this, which is why I am blogging in case there is any other rather dim person who needs the facts highlighted, put in bold and underlined, there comes a time when you no longer make a strong first impression based on your looks. Invisible happens. Suck it up.

Doesn’t mean you’re ugly. Doesn’t make you dull. But at some point the indefinable something that comes across even in a photograph fades.

So, are you going to fade with it? Allow yourself to be put in the corner, slightly grumpy and resentful, and wishing you had that good cash?  I did, and I wasted a couple of years doing it. My Twitter photo is twenty years old, because I like that photo, and I use a caricature on FB, and only reluctantly a current photo on LinkedIn. The world, and the workplace, is filled with people younger than me vigorously getting on with their lives and I sulked, I did. And carped a bit, and was sour about the unfairness of life.  My corner got emptier, I carped a bit more and there was more grumpy. It Wasn’t Fair. And damnit, why weren’t my older friends finding the same? They were going from strength to strength, making more friends than ever and having a whale of a time.

So here’s what I finally grasped and am passing on. The good thing about losing an instant first impression is that you now make your own. The first time I openly fanned myself ruefully and admitted that I’d reached the age of private tropical holidays was a breakthrough – colleagues laughed and teased instead of politely ignoring my pink face. In fact the more confidence I have, the more strongly people respond. Flirting, far from being gone for good, is more fun than ever when it is an end in itself. No one CARES what you look like, you know. Why should they? It only matters to you. As long as you don’t actually frighten the horses, people see the basic canvas, the difference is that you now might need to consciously check your painting.

Someone young and nice-looking with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh, you don’t mind them sitting next to you on the train, am I right? Someone ‘older’ with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh heads towards you and you’ll change seats if you possibly can. Different perception.  Think about it. Those lines round your mouth make you look sullen even when you think you look expressionless. I slowly learned that if I smile (tip: not too goofily) rather than look grumpy, and be alert and open, listen as well as talk, people are more friendly to me now than I think at any stage in my life before. It’s interesting.

I still don’t approve of the way I look. Cameras are not my friends, but everything else, pretty good.  After fifty, you need good confidence. (And some cash would be nice)

You probably knew all that already. But just in case.

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January 2014: Decision

Theme: Distance (physical, temporal, emotional) 
Required Element: A ship (anything from a dugout canoe to a kilometre-long void carrier) 
Required Element: A decision (to be considered, made, or have foisted upon you)

Canoeing

When you know there’s something or someone watching you, but you shoot quick glances out the corners of your eyes and there’s nobody in sight? That.

Dan paddled a little faster, and his dugout shot across the water. His best time for crossing the distance between his home island and the one Mira lived on was forty-seven minutes and nineteen seconds, measured on the watch her family had given him when they accepted his request to court her. A man in love with the pretty daughter of a wealthy family paddles fast, but a man who is being watched by somebody in hiding paddles faster. He was pretty damn definitely going to shave a good few minutes off his best time, presuming he got the chance. He half turned his head again, quickly, but nothing, just his crisp wake in the still water. And then he saw the shadow, immense, drifting up the wake as it blotted out the sun.

Mira’s family hadn’t picked a fool, there was nothing wrong with his reflexes. Even as the shadow closed with his dugout he tipped over and came up gasping inside it, treading water. What what what what—he couldn’t even formulate the questions, the reality was so completely outside anything life had sent his way so far, but at least here he was safe, nobody could see him. Just an upturned canoe. Nobody here but us fishes, fly away monster.

Instead there was a strange singing sound in his ears, an odd feeling of pressure, a moment of weightlessness—and he was standing upright, his canoe sliding off his head to clatter to the steel floor.

*A perfect specimen* a voice purred in his head, sounding deeply satisfied. *Look at the depth of that chest! And those thighs and arms! What age is it?*

*Around twenty, I would say* there was a definite touch of smugness in the voice that responded. *Should live for years, this breed has been known to reach eighty or ninety in captivity*

‘Hey!’ he looked about wildly ‘what you talking about, man? I’m no specimen, I’m Daniel! You put me back right now!’

*Good bark, too, I like that. It’s a male, of course. Do you think we can source some females for it? Ideally at least three, but try to get fatter ones this time. The thin ones don’t last well. Anyway, give it some food, see if we can coax it to eat.*

A shutter in the nearest gleaming wall slid back and Dan stalked across, stiff-legged. Hmm. Roasted meat, cold, but—he took a bite—delicious. And roasted roots, not as delicious, but at least the food would be good. Dan rather liked his food. And three females, all the food he could eat, no more paddling to get everywhere and living twenty years at least longer than anyone on his island, in living memory . . . he chewed thoughtfully.

They didn’t understand his voice, but he understood them. Was there an advantage in staying dumb? Or was it in his interests to think-talk to them, tell them about Mira, how pretty and healthy she was, and her best friend Tali, and even Gina, who had made him a man and then refused to teach him any further? One would need to think REALLY clearly, and REALLY loudly, perhaps. He glanced back at the dugout and saw beyond it a big bed, some sculpted furniture. A viewing screen on the wall.

Well, faint heart never won three fair ladies—*ER, HELLO? CAN YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW?*

(see my SciFi tab for the other monthly entries in the friendly microstory competition on LinkedIn)

Beginnings – a prequel microstory

‘So what’s your news?’ Vivian carefully put coffee down on Edge’s sidetable, and sat with a little ‘oof’ in the opposite chair.  ‘You sounded really excited on the phone.’

‘I am, a bit, I got a fantastic offer for the flat, so that’s it, done and dusted. Selling.’

‘But the flat was beautiful! I thought you loved it!’

Edge shook her head. ‘I rattle around in it, much too big for one. I write and eat and practically sleep in one room and the rest just gathers dust. And no garden, and that hellish couple with the screaming baby as neighbours, and I could never just up and go when I felt like it. I’ve got big plans for the future.’

‘You’re not leaving Scotland?’ Vivian looked alarmed and Edge snorted.

‘No, idiot. But I do want to travel a lot more than I have been. And I’m tired of living on my own.’

‘What, you’ve reconsidered and you’ll come share with me?’

‘God, no. I love you like a sister but share a house with you? Never. I can’t think of a way of ending a friendship faster. I decided I want a nice tiny place to myself, interesting neighbours, good security so I can lock up and go whenever I feel like it, and I still want to be near you and near Kirsty and to be able to put people up when they come to visit. And I’ve found it! Just the place. Have you ever heard of the Grasshopper Lawns retirement village?’

‘You’re too young to go into an old age home. Anyway, why on earth would you want to?’

‘It’s not an old age home. They’ve got totally independent apartments, a fabulous garden, and guest accommodation facilities, and they only take people with interesting pasts, I was interviewed by the bursar, the administrator and the smallest and most perfectly groomed woman I’ve ever seen, who used to be a Cold War spy. Patrick recommended the place. And Vivian, I want you to apply too, we can be neighbours.’

Vivian was already shaking her head. ‘Oh, no, Edge. I have to keep the house so the kids can come visit. And I don’t really like meeting lots of strangers, I like the quiet life, you know that.’

‘I do know that. And I don’t approve, and you know that. The kids visit, what, every other year? Vivian, how long have we been friends?’

‘Every time someone says that, it means they want something.’ Vivian sipped gloomily at her tea. ‘You know how long. Since we were eight.’

friends for beginnings

‘And in all that time, have I led you astray?’

Vivian started to laugh. ‘When have you not! You were the most terrible influence on me!’

‘Nonsense. I got you out of your music room and away from your endless scales, and you hauled me out of reading every play ever written, and the pair of us were very good for each other, we always have been. I have a feeling about Grasshopper Lawns, I think it could be a bit of an adventure, and I have to insist;’ she suddenly faltered, shook her head and sat back. ‘Wow. Flashback. I won’t insist. But I really, really want you to think about it. Come look at the place. Help me move in. Okay? And I’ll tell you what else they have, dogs, in the main house, and they’re divine, they’re Labradors. Any of the residents can take one for a walk whenever they like. In fact the bursar, Hamish, an absolute duck, said there’s such competition sometimes that residents adopt one and then the Lawns gets another from Labrador Rescue.’

Vivian weakened, as Edge knew she would. ‘Oh, I have missed having dogs around. But I don’t have an interesting past, I’d never get in. A Cold War spy, heavens!’

‘And a few writers, and a Russian ballerina, and a mercenary and an actress. Why not an opera singer? I told them about you and they want you to apply. And I want you to apply. And you know me, I always get my way in the end. I’m more stubborn than you are.’

Vivian sipped slowly at her tea while Edge watched her with bright eyes. Finally she said, ‘you really have one of your feelings about this place? That it would suit us?’ Edge nodded and she sighed. ‘Okay. Tell me more about the dogs.’

buster

Endings (microstory)

Every cell in the human body, doctors say, is replaced within a seven year period. This story is about Vivian and Edge, but it is dated over seven years before the Grasshopper Lawns series starts, so it is also about two totally different people.

bench for endings

Gordon Oliver watched his beautiful wife walk slowly up the stairs under the bougainvillea-vivid trellis and rubbed his chest absently with his right hand before taking a gulp of his whisky. Perhaps, to others, she was no longer as beautiful as the girl he’d married nearly thirty years earlier, but her smile still lit the room. Doctors. What did they know? He rubbed his chest again and as Vivian reached the patio doors and vanished from view, switched his attention back to her best friend who still sat hunched and frozen, staring out to sea.  He quickly finished his drink and topped the glass up with orange juice, turning his head to smile as Vivian joined him.

‘Not budging, eh?’

‘I’m worried sick. If she would only cry! She cried after James died, but she hasn’t shed a tear for Alistair. She’s just a polite fading shadow. I’m convinced she’s made her mind up, that the only reason she’s going back to Scotland is so that whatever she’s planning won’t upset her friends here. She can say her mother needs her, and she wants to see more of her niece, but it’s just words to deflect me. I know her.’

‘I’ve never known two people as much in love as they were, but women have been widowed before, darling. They survive.’

‘She’s so intense, though. Usually so vital.’ Vivian sniffed the air, then looked reproachfully at her husband. ‘Oh, Gordon.’

‘Hey, you’re the one with bronchial lungs and don’t tell me you haven’t sneaked a puff or two in the last three years. A wee dram won’t kill me.’

‘I’ll never smoke again, though. And you shouldn’t drink, the doctor said it wasn’t good for you. I couldn’t bear to lose you, not after watching Edge agonizing over Alistair, that’s why I’m so sure she’d going to—well. Could you speak to her?’

 

bench for endings

 

 

Gordon sat down heavily on the bench next at Edge, who didn’t seem to notice. ‘Edge, my love. How long have you and Vivian been friends?’

She stirred, surprised, and finally looked at him sideways through the sweep of her shoulder-length hair. ‘Forever. Since we were eight. You know that.’

‘You’re like sisters, and she knows you better than anyone else on Earth. And she thinks you’re going back to Scotland to kill yourself.’  Edge was shocked into stillness for a moment, then shrugged.

‘You never did flinch at saying what was on your mind. I’m saying goodbye, yes, I doubt I’ll come back to Africa, too many memories. I loved being here, but I love Scotland too. I think it will be easier to live one day at a time there than here, and I’ve family there, real family, not happily-married friends who feel like family but also remind me every day of what I’ve;’ she paused, and finished thinly. ‘What I’ve lost.’

‘Okay, good. One day at a time is fine. You’re a pretty woman, and a strong woman, and in time you’ll realize again that life is sweet, but until then I need you to keep going for Vivian’s sake. Because she’s going to need you.’

She finally turned to look at him, her face pinched and thin with all the weight she’d lost, but a spark of curiosity in her sunken tearless eyes. ‘Why? What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying the doctor said I can smoke and drink as much as I want, now, it can’t make any difference. I’m staying off the fags, for Vivian’s sake, but we’re selling up. Vivian’s always wanted to go back home, and we’ll be following you within the year. She doesn’t know why, and you’re not to even hint at what I just told you. Her parents aren’t in the best health so she’s accepting that as the reason. The kids are staying here, their lives are here, but Vivian and I are returning to Scotland, to spend time with her parents.  When they go, and I go, I’m sorry, Edge my love, but I have to insist you be there for her.’

Vivian, watching anxiously from the window, saw Edge put her hands to her face, then lean her head on Gordon’s shoulder and weep in total abandonment, her shoulders shaking with grief. Vivian’s heart swelled with love as she watched her husband put a comforting arm around her best friend’s shoulders and turn his head to stare out at the endless, ever-changing sea.

NYR. Get a life.

I haven’t done an IWSG post for quite a while but wanted to pass on a bit of gentle advice from my cousin, who said she’d been set a story theme at school which their teacher told them was life advice as well. She’d come to realize it, and she thought it was time to remind me. The theme was ‘The Machine That Ran Away With Its Driver’.

I joked that it was too late for that, but was typing away furiously at 03h00 this morning when it suddenly clicked into focus. Oh. Right. Maybe I was becoming just a little obsessive, yes? Blame the new year, if you kelpies 009will, because I published my first book on January 1st 2013 and wanted to put out a birthday omnibus (which by the way I did, at 02h00, and there’s a clickable link in the side bar), and I also wanted to start pulling all sorts of plans learned from ALLi into place for 2014. So there were more deadlines than there would usually be, on top of finding time for the job that pays the bills, and I’ve been writing until 2 or 3 in the morning for the last couple of weeks. I could have spent Christmas with my family but cried off because of the killer drive, and worked through, only stopping briefly on Boxing Day to see some friends who had flown to Scotland to see the amazing Kelpies.

Was my machine, is my machine, running away with me? The friends were on a tight deadline and hadn’t originally been coming to mine, but we had to come here after all to cut the padlock off their suitcase. It made me realize, as I hadn’t before, how much of a pigsty the house was becoming. Five half-empty coffee cups around the computer, for starters. Thank goodness the unopened Christmas presents weren’t in the lounge—no Christmas decorations up at all, for that matter. Who had time for Christmas decorations? Or opening presents? Or eating? I lost four pounds over the Christmas break (not complaining, you understand. Just saying.)

Yes time is short, and running out at a terrifying rate, and yes I’m happiest when I’m writing. But it’s supposed to be my bliss, not my controller, so my new year resolution is to chill, just a little. Walk the dog more than once a day. Get a life, if I can find time for it between working and writing. Scratch that, make the time.

Happy New Year, and may 2014 find you always in full control of your machine.