Old Friends

My birthday is coming up soon and while cleaning my room today I came across my pile of last years birthday cards. Cards from my parents, my sister, my flatmate, my flatmate’s parents (bizarrely) and one from my best friend.

Best friend was, at the time, the best way I had to describe my relationship with S. We’d been friends since high school when I dated a good friend of his for three years. When we graduated we started meeting up for coffee occasionally while giggling about how grown up we were being, and texting and, by the time I got into college we were firm friends in out own right, outside of my ex’s influence.

And we were friends. We cared about each other, communicated constantly, met up for events, talked, hugged and relied upon each other for support. I used the term “best friend” because that was the best way I had to describe a relationship with a person I trust entirely. Not only with my body, but also my emotions, my fears and my hopes. I am not one to trust easily and my unceasing paranoia means that I tend to trust in increments. My current flatmate was dismayed to discover I trusted him…but only to a certain extent. I trust him enough to share a home with him, but not with the rest of me. Not with what is really important.

So there was S, a key part of my life. We “dated”, if you can really call it that, twice.

The first time, I knew he’d been working his way up to kissing me for weeks. I could just see it on his face. And I wasn’t averse to the idea, I loved this guy after all, so I went along with it. And it…it…

It was a mistake.

I walked out of his flat that evening and texted my flatmate because I literally didn’t have anyone else to talk to. I said, “I think I just made a really big mistake“.

There is a big difference between loving someone and being in love with them.

We broke up after a few weeks and it was an awkward for a while. But I persisted in maintaining our friendship and he got a girlfriend so eventually, the awkwardness just burned itself out. We were as close as we had ever been, he lost the girlfriend and my touch starved soul got all the cuddling it could possibly hope to have.

And then I worked out my asexuality. I realised that my ambivalence to sex or kissing wasn’t because I was broken but because that was the way it just was for me. I told S and he was amazing about it. Educated himself and we continued on as always.

And then we started dating for the second time. I don’t know what it was about us if it was just we both got really really lonely around Christmas but we repeated almost the exact same pattern of behavour…except, I didn’t.

I began to think that maybe I could be in love with him. He was clearly attracted to me and cared about me a great deal and, I faked attraction on and off for three years, I know how to look at a man and make him think I want him.

I sound like a mercenary.

There was some conflict, some strife and eventually one long excruciatingly awkward conversation that resulted in the conclusion that we liked each other a lot, we wanted to be together but I wouldn’t sleep with him so he would be okay to see other girls on the side. An Open Relationship, we called it.

The thing is I went into that conversation knowing that this was it. This was the moment that would make or break things. Either everything would work or it wouldn’t and I’d lose him from my life completely.

I really, really, wish I hadn’t been right about that one. We broke up after Christmas mostly because of my ace-ness, and following that I watched our friendship decline. I did try and save it, but that requires two people and now I haven’t heard from him in months.

Infuriatingly now I have the vocabulary to deal with the relationship I was having. Queer Platonic Relationship or QPR is an intense, emotional relationship that is not familial or romantic in nature. Within the ace community, they are often committed relationships and it was only after struggling with my romantic identity (still struggling with that one tbh) that I discovered exactly what I had been feeling and dealing with.

Perhaps it was always doomed to failure. Perhaps it is impossible to form a QPR with someone who feels sexual attraction regularly. I don’t know.

All I know is that now, my birthday is rolling around again and I’m alone. No boyfriend, no QPR, no best friend…and no one I trust enough to let in.

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Vengeful Cooking

I got into a fairly massive argument with my sister today in which she kindly insinuated that I was overweight (which meant a lot coming from her 8 stone self) and that if/when I had children it would be akin to child abuse to feed them my cooking because of how unhealthy and disgusting it is.

Firstly, my cooking is not unhealthy. I’m vegetarian and eat a lot of vegetables. Okay, it’s not that unhealthy. Also I am a good cook. I have hosted dinner parties!

Secondly, my sister really, genuinely does not grasp why someone would want to live on food that makes them happy rather than just existing on lettuce.

So I made dinner for the pair of us in the most passive-aggressive manner possible because I am a mature adult who doesn’t resort to pouring glasses of water of people’s heads. (That being my mother’s speciality bizarrely.)

Fuck-You-I’m-Happy Pastabake

Ingredients:  Some Pasta (you can pick which shape you like), vegetarian hot dogs (I used Sainsbury’s but any supermarket brand will do. Just don’t use the Quorn ones, they’ve got a really weird skin on them), tomatoes (tinned or fresh), thyme, soy sauce, pepper, onion, garlic (I used puree, but if you’ve got fresh go for it), tomato puree, sugar,  olives, cheese (liberal).

  1. Set a pan of water on the stove to boil. Turn on stove. Add frozen hot dogs to cold water, thus cooking the weird wobbly sausages whilst heating the pasta water.
  2. Add garlic, tomato puree and onion to a frying pan with some olive oil. Heat slowly so that the onion goes translucent rather than crispy. Wonder when you started describing onion as translucent.
  3. Once onion has achieved a state which could reasonably be used for some kind of window, add your tomatoes, chopped. Or in today’s case add a tin of plum tomatoes whilst cursing the unpreparedness of your own larder. Jab at angrily with a spoon.
  4. Add sugar and thyme.
  5. Leave to simmer. Like your temper you should try not to let it boil over.
  6. By this point, your water should be boiling and your hot dogs floating, signalling that they’re done. Remove hot dogs with spoon and exchange for dried pasta.
  7. Chop hot dogs into pieces. Chop olives into pieces.
  8. Resist the urge to fly off the handle as your sister cleans passive aggressively around you and makes snippy comments.
  9. Do not lose your temper. The last time you did that you broke a spatula.
  10. By the time you’ve finished repressing your emotions the sauce should have thickened. Add a dash of soy sauce, chopped olives and the hot dog pieces. Turn heat down low.
  11. When pasta is cooked add it to an oven dish thing. Casserole dish? Truth be told I don’t know what a casserole is, it’s just something American’s seem to have a lot on television.
  12. Grate cheese and stir into pasta. Stir in red sauce.
  13. Add more grated cheese on top. Ignore judgemental glaring from sister.
  14. Put in heated oven until crispy.

Serve with garlic bread and eat whilst watching Ant Man at the kitchen table and deliberately ignoring your sister who had elected to eat dinner sitting on the counter top directly in your blind spot, because she knows it drives you insane.

Keep ignoring her as she makes a show of flicking bits into the food recycling despite the long, pious and ultimately hypocritical lecture she gave you on food wastage.

 

 

Do I know you?

I met with an old friend today. We started meeting up every so often to catch up and subject each other to a glorious two-hour session of awkwardness.

It shouldn’t be awkward. We grew up together, we were friends for years until we grew apart as teenagers. We have a great deal in common, or at least we used to. Years of sleepovers and camping trips and shared experiences.

And there we sat, two women, one slightly older than the other. She was as pretty and composed as she’d always been and I sat there feeling nervous and on edge and wishing I could think of something more interesting to talk about that my university.

The thing is….

The thing is that she knows me. Not in the way that she knows what I’ve been up to recently or the issues I’m having with personal relationships at the moment. No, she knows the bits of me that are a little more constant. She knows the screw-up, the ditz, the girl who specialises in being unreliable. The friend who forgets birthdays, gives rubbish presents and isn’t capable of focusing on more than one person in her life at a time. She knows the girl I was before I learned to start hiding things properly.

You know, deeply internalising emotions like a proper adult.

So sitting there in front of her sipping a hot chocolate I am acutely aware of the fact that I am the screw-up friend. I went to college not university. I’m still single, my academic record is…spotty and I sit there babbling on about the first things that come into my head, fully aware that she’s looking, slightly unfocused, over my shoulder.

I wondered to myself why we bothered with these meetings, even as I promised to contact her in a few months. Why do I desperately cling to a relationship that’s long dead? Do we gather in Memorium? Am I looking for the ghost of the love I once felt for her?

Who am I kidding? I’m still going to dress up to meet her. Still going to gloss over as many of my screw-ups as possible. And I’ll stare her down across a cafe table and wonder if this is really the only friend I have that I actually trust completely.

Maybe we could just have cake?

I like cake. My sister would tell you imperiously that I like cake a bit too much but what does she know. I’m Episcopalian, cake is essentially part of my identity.

However, there is a section of the internet, a glorious, soul-affirming section of the internet, which views cake slightly differently.

The Asexual community is famously invisible. Or not famously…you know what I mean. They occupy that wonderful spot outside of Kinsey’s spectrum of sexuality, the X designation. Which is cool, kinda like a superhero almost. But ace’s tend to be a bit misunderstood and a bit swept under the carpet.

Two Kinds of Love

One of the things that astounds me the most is that the majority of people don’t consider that romantic love and sexual attraction are two different things. This was never mentioned to me as a child or even as a teenager. As far as I knew you fell in love with someone and, somewhere along the line, squishy stuff happened. I dunno. My point is that it was expected. You may feel sexual attraction before romantic attraction but the two go hand in hand.

But I come from the Tindr, hook-up generation and I quite quickly realised that sexual attraction has almost nothing to do with romantic attraction. Lust drives people to do insane things, even with people they can’t actually stand.

So it follows logically that romantic love is entirely separate from sexual attraction.

A Spectrum

If there are two kinds of attraction there must be, as Kinsey correctly identified, outliers on both spectrums. Those who don’t feel romantic or sexual attraction: Asexual and Aromantic.

Asexuals are those who don’t feel sexual attraction to other people.

Aromantics are those who don’t feel romantic attraction to other people.

The two are not synonymous and it is possible to be one without the other or to be both.

And, as with everything in this area of the human mystique, this follows a spectrum. There are those who only occasionally feel attraction (of either sort) and they have a whole range of prefixes depending on their personal identity: Gray, demi, bi, homo.

The latter two are examples of how sexuality also comes into play here. You can have biromantics asexuals, who fall in love with a variety of genders but experience no sexual attraction to them, or pansexual aromantics to whom gender doesn’t feature in their sexual attraction, but don’t experience romantic attraction to anyone.

It’s A Spectrum.

(that was a pun)

But Back to Cake

Remember that soul-affirming part of the internet I mentioned? Asexuals have a whole range of networks and forums (AVEN, demisexuality.org, etc.) with which to communicate. There are even asexual dating apps for your smartphone. They have their own pride flags, asexuals have specific jewellery for identifying each other in public and their own memes.

(Asexual and Aromantic Flags)

And this is where the cake comes in. (I said I’d get back to it) Because for an estimated a 1% of the UK cake is better than sex. Biscuits are better than sex. Even the really stale jaffa cakes you find at the bottom of the church tin that you could use to knock in nails…are better than sex.

You get my point.

 

NPC’s

NPC stands for Non-Player Character

When running a DnD campaign as Dungeon Master, NPC’s are a vital part of the storytelling. They are required to interact with the players, to flesh out the story and to populate the world. In my current campaign Aramil, Mirabell, Ser Robin and Serbian have run into two repeating characters who’ve accompanied them on their adventures.

Corporal Amaranthe Nobody: Leader of the local militia, the Black Brigade, Nobody runs her military outfit with the sort of long-suffering sigh normally found in nursery teachers. This isn’t surprising, her men comprise mostly of conscripts whose crime hadn’t been severe enough to warrant hanging. The band of thieves, cattle wranglers and swindlers are fiercely loyal to the diminutive woman. This is probably because despite arriving in town only four years ago, Nobody has stuck up for her men time and again and, on the rare occasion that they are drafted into being cannon fodder by the local lord, she has fought bravely at the very front of the skirmish.

Her past, however, is a mystery to her men and there is a running bet to discover what crime she committed to being assigned the penance of running the brigade.

When she’s not extricating her brigade from the pub, Nobody, longsword leaning against the wall behind her, spends her time in more ladylike pursuits. Gifted with embroidery and knitting the soldier produces clothes and toys for the children of the village for whom she had infinite patience.

She’s only been known to lose her temper once. Nobody has no time for husbands who mistreat their wives and has run more than one abusive man out of town.

Skullkicker Murbol

A bard by trade, this half-orc female is at odds with the majority of her race. Good tempered and friendly she is most often found either leading a pub in song or giving a performance at one of her many gigs.

She was abandoned by her family as a child and was taken in by a wandering troop of musicians who shortened her name to Kicks and taught her the art of music and storytelling. When she was old enough she set out on her own with nothing but her instruments, her disguise and a pony called Nettles.

She settled in the town of Kettering and quickly built a reputation for herself as a talented bard and a formidable drinking buddy. Intensely aware of her pale grey skin and tusks, Kicks only gives performances in disguise using a magical scarf which glosses over her more orcish features. This has led to slightly conflicting reports as the disguise changes each time. The running theory is that Kicks is a stage name used by a whole school of large female bards each of whom is six foot six inches tall. Kicks thinks this is hilarious.

She’s a loyal friend to those who earn it but refuses to stand with villains and murderers.

 

Dungeons and Dragons

I only started playing DnD within the last year. My flatmate hosted a campaign to which myself and a friend of mine were invited. My friend, S, played regularly and promised me I would enjoy it. He was right. I completely adore the open realm available to me, how choices made in their game could completely warp the story and how the ending really was in the hands of the players.

Not content with this one off chance to play, I started to write my own campaigns with the intention of finding a group of people who would be interested in playing as I ran the story.

Eventually, I managed to find several students at my college. A, an environment student who shared my love of Interpretation and storytelling, his girlfriend M a Czech activity student,. D, an environment student from the year below me and R, another environment student and my flatmate. A and M were completely new to the game, whereas D and R had both played extensively before.

R became Aramil a half-elven ranger who lurked in dark woods and spent his time liberating careless travellers of their belongings. He speaks little and tends to act without consulting others, dedicated to forging his own path. Abrasive and cold towards people, Aramil has a deep love of animals and carries a tiny kitten in his pocket.

A became Ser Robin, a half-elven spy from a far-off court who had followed his girlfriend on her travels. A predominantly good fellow, Ser Robin often finds himself at odds with the party’s slightly amoral plans. He goes along with them anyway, his loyalty to his princess taking precedence over his morals.

M became Bohemian Princess Mirabell (don’t ask), a member of tiefling royalty who was on an endless quest for unicorns (really don’t ask). As a tiefling she stands out in any crowd with her dark petrol coloured skin and her large horns that betray her demonic ancestry. Dragging her long-suffering paramour behind her, Mirabell often steps blindly into situations without finesse trusting in her magic to protect her.

D became Serbian, a forest gnome who had left his monastery in disgrace. Often mistaken for a tree stump, he stands at a bare two feet tall, with brown dreadlocks and a permanent scowl. Grumpy and irritable Serbian has taken an instant dislike to Aramil who tends to be deliberately antagonistic.

Now, logically, there is absolutely no reason for such a group to even go to the shops together, let alone adventuring but off they trotted into the first campaign where they faced bandits, castle guards, curses and giant chickens.

And some very hasty storytelling where the party went in a direction I really wasn’t expecting. Sigh.

On being a 21 year old Episcopalian

I wrote the following after attending a service in a church that I wasn’t used to. It was originally intended to be published in the church magazine at my own church, but following some heavy opposition from my parents, I refrained.  But here it is below, in full.

A guide to visiting strange Episcopal Churches for young people

(Annotations based on personal experience.)

 

When entering a church with which you are unfamiliar there will be two reactions you will receive. Firstly, the look of disbelief from those that greet you. The ‘Are you lost?’ goes unspoken, but is obvious in their faces anyway.

Well, no. I am not lost. I know exactly where I am. What’s more I know when to stand up, when to sit down, which books to use and I can recite most of the service. Which is the joy of being in a church that hasn’t changed its order of service during my lifetime.

The second reaction you will receive is the look over your shoulder. Do not be alarmed, they have not simply decided you don’t exist. They are merely looking for the parent or grandparent who has dragged you along in an attempt to encourage you to join an organised religion.

I haven’t been dragged to church in a long time, but I can understand this reaction. Of all of my friends my own age, I am the only practising Christian. It occurs to me I need more friends.

When your expected guardian does not appear, smile and introduce yourself. Explain that you are here for the service. Try to do it without mentioning the truth.

The truth is that I happened to wake up early enough for once to actually make it to church. Yes, I am usually still asleep on a Sunday morning at ten o clock. I’m a student, I need a lot of sleep. If it wasn’t for my parents waking me up, I’d miss Sunday School. Which would be awkward considering I teach it. 

Find yourself a seat in the church. Try not to sit too near to the front, you will look over eager. Similarly, try not to seat to close to the back as you will look as though you are hiding. Find an empty pew in the middle of the congregation. Unfortunately, this is usually not hard to do, due to a severe decline in church attendees over the last fifty years. Try not to feel morose about this. It is likely no one will sit next to you, although several people will come over to welcome you to the service ❲and check you’re not an errant grandchild❳. Do not be alarmed by this, much like on public transportation, your age serves as an intimidation factor.

This is particularly true if you’re wearing a leather jacket. I’ve no idea why.

If someone does sit next to you, it is likely because they didn’t check to see if the pew was empty when they sat down. Smile at them as well and busy yourself reading the notices.

Try not to compare their notices to the ones your own church provides. I find myself doing this and mentally keeping score of which church seems the more successful. This week I was amazed to find that they have a rota for who produces the pew leaflets. Fascinating.

You will often be the youngest person in the congregation. The majority of the congregation will be over fifty. There will be no one there of your age to talk to. Whilst this may also be the norm at your usual church, the congregation there have likely watched you grow up and are much easier to talk to as a result.

I find this to be almost always the case. Today’s church had no youth population, a fact that was later apologised over to me by one of the congregation during coffee.

You will be cold. Bring a coat. Yes, it is summer outside and yes, you look a little ridiculous bundled up in your scarf. You will look more ridiculous with hypothermia.

It is a truth universally accepted that Episcopal Churches are cold. I don’t know why this is, whether it’s due to high ceilings and stone walls, or simply because no one can remember how the boiler works. It was to my great amusement today that I noted that many of the congregation members had brought blankets.

You may be taken by surprise by the service order. This is because although the words are almost always the same, some churches like to vary the orders in which they are said just to keep people on their toes.

I always find this very suspicious, but that is because I am the sort of Episcopalian who finds anything new or different suspicious. This includes new hymns, new rectors, the use of projectors or electronic keyboards in church and even new altar cloths. We are a traditional lot.

You will be taken by surprise by the mass setting. No one uses the same setting as you do. Follow along as best you can, it will not be easy for the uninitiated.

Or at least if another church does, I’ve yet to visit them.

Pretend to read the order of service. Just because you can recite it doesn’t mean you should. People will look at you strangely.

I do this frequently. Mostly just to see if anyone will notice that my order of service is sitting unopened in the pew next to me.

Listen to the sermon. You may learn something. Or you may not. It varies greatly. If you do find yourself disagreeing strongly with the rector try to not let it show on your face. Avoid the temptation to look around the church to see if the rest of the congregation is on your side. You may have just caught the rector on a bad Sunday.

I hope it was a bad Sunday. I really do.

Sing the hymns. If you are lucky the church you are visiting is using a hymn book you are familiar with and have provided you with a copy to use. If you are unlucky the church will use a variety of hymn books and move liberally between them. Watch the rest of the congregation and attempt to mimic them. If the worst comes to it, hum.

Admittedly my own church has been guilty of this, but we do at least warn people before hand.

Add to the collection plate and go up for communion. If the Lord’s Prayer is a different version than you are used to, follow the rest of the congregation. Do not stubbornly mutter your preferred version under your breath.

I am also highly suspicious of modern versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

When the service ends wait for people to begin dispersing before you get up. They may have processions you are not used to or notices or extra hymns or any number of things. Getting up in the middle of these would be embarrassing.

Try not to shift restlessly either, which I am abominably bad at. I have a short attention span.

Return your books. Smile at people. Hope they invite you for coffee afterwards. If they do, go for coffee.

If they don’t it is because you failed to not seem intimidating. It is not because they aren’t having coffee. We’re Episcopalians, we always have coffee.

Shake the rector’s hand, even if you disagreed with them.

Don’t roll your eyes.

Drink your coffee or tea. Eat a biscuit, no matter how stale it is. Donate to their coffee tin. Answer the same question seventeen times.

Yes, I’m local. No, I don’t normally go here. Christ Church, Falkirk. No, I don’t know your friend from Falkirk.

Attempt to make conversation with people a great many years your senior. This will be hard. You have no shared life experiences and almost nothing in common beyond the church. Nod sympathetically when they tell you that the congregation used to be much bigger. Agree that it’s a shame. Tell them how many you have in your own congregation. This will inevitably come up. When they ask if you have a Sunday School, try to not sound proud when you tell them you do.

Unfortunately, I usually fail in this endeavour. Six children may not seem like many, but in the modern Episcopal Church, six is a blessing six times over. I am very proud.

Get up to leave. Thank them for their company and say that you hope to visit again when time allows.

Lie, if you have to. Be non-committal at least.

Leave. Feel homesick for the way things are done at your own church.

The great advantage of the Episcopal Church in Scotland is that we are varied in our solidarity. You can walk into any church and find that there are certain constants: the words in the service, the colour of the altar cloths, the availability of tea and biscuits and the way that young people are viewed. Each church is uniquely different and often the one that suits you best is the one you grew up in. But our variety allows to reach a wide range of people, our variety is what keeps us going.

Accept the empty spaces in pews. It is not what it used to be. That is okay. But also accept that the empty spaces are quickly becoming your responsibility. When asked, talk openly about your church and your religion. Do your best to rise up to the challenging looks and the derisive comments. Reach out to your brothers and sisters in faith. Not just to those in the Anglican Communion, but to all be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. It is a hard world to have a faith of any kind in, so band together with those who do. No matter how suspicious you may regard them, try to embrace new ideas. Pray, if you feel you can. Hope, if you think you have the heart for it. Shy away from teachings of hate, your life isn’t long enough for the effort hate requires. Love freely, love honestly and love openly. Do not be ashamed of who you are.

And remember that the most important part of visiting a different Episcopal Church, no matter how strange it may turn out to be, is the feeling of familiarity and community when you step in the door. Despite your age, you do belong here.”