babies do bring out the sheldon cooper in me.
i go through my facebook newsfeed and i’m reminded of the other weekend when my very good friend points at her very good friend, babe in arm, and says: ‘isn’t he cute?’
too long, i later realise.
then, having looked at the babe - too long - i say: ‘yes?’ with a slightly upward inflexion, not because i’m a kiwi, but because my brain goes: ‘i suppose he is, in a generic baby sort of way that babies have of being cute, as long as they’re quiet? that’s more or less stating the obvious though, is there any further analysis required of me now? if so, can you specify?’
as the weekend progresses, i play the scene through in my head a number of times and as i do so i gradually sense - perhaps assisted by the quizzical look the proud and not in her own right unadorable mother gives me now each time she sees me - that social protocol demands an altogether different reaction when confronted with a babe in arm and the question ‘isn’t he cute?’:
'oh, isn’t he JUST!!’ then, addressing the infant, who doesn’t comprehend: ‘aren’t you? - YES!!! goochigoochigoochigoochigoo. yeeeaaaas. hnnnn you little [something] you.’
that, it dawns on me over time, is what had been expected.
and that, it now dawns on me as i look at babies lying on the grass, babies propped up in daddies’ arms, babies blankly staring into space and babies crawling around on the floor wearing altogether too much nappy and not enough jumpsuit or whatever it is that babies are supposed to wear to not make one squirm just a little, is what each of the pictures in my facebook feed seeks to elicit from me. virtually.
i continue to fail.
i can like almost anything on facebook: cleverness, satire, wit, beauty, entertaining randomness, wisdom, silliness that makes you laugh. but my brain has no wire to babies. cats it can find borderline cute, or at least comical. (though rarely comical enough to ‘like’ them). but babies: they just don’t connect.
my mind says: ‘yes, you’re cute.’ but it also says: ‘and that isn’t enough. once you start being interesting, we’ll be able to build a rapport, no problem. stand up, learn how to use the loo, eat from a plate, formulate sentences, ask me any question, all day long: we can be perfect friends.’ and we can: i get on swimmingly with children aged communication operational upwards.
i think i may have offended the mum. i try, over the weekend, to make amends by emphasising: ‘he is a beautiful child.’ and he is: he’s got blond hair, blue eyes and he smiles a lot. what’s not to like. then again: that’s the long and the short of it, isn’t it, so, in all honesty: big deal?
at one point i see his doting dad on the floor with him, hunched over some type of xylophone. my friend’s much more interesting, because four years older, boy wants baby’s dad to play with him, but baby’s dad explains: ‘i’m having some music time’ with the baby. it doesn’t last very long. the baby bangs the instrument that may or may not be a xylophone three or four times and then crawls off into the general direction of food.
later i find myself in the kitchen, watching the kids have their supper (the baby’s since been fed and is, going by the silence that emanates from a white plastic monitor thing that sits on the kitchen side board, asleep) and reflect that i really enjoy being an ‘uncle’ and godfather. it’s a role that suits me perfectly. because they’re great, kids, and the older they get, the greater they become. before you know it they turn into proper persons that you can actually have a conversation with. or play a real game with that actually makes sense. sort of.
but i don’t have the baby button. so it cannot be pressed. then again, they’re only babies for about two or three years, aren’t they, so chances are next time i see this mum with her golden boy, he’ll be running around with the others and nobody will ask me ‘isn’t he cute’, because he won’t be, he’ll be a little monster full of fabulous ideas and stories and stuff he needs to do. and even if he is cute, nobody will want to embarrass him in front of his friends by pointing it out any more.
that’ll be me off the hook then.
random london (nevern square, earl’s court) july 2013
Shaped like a pear, she sits on the bed, doing make-up. Her skin is coffee-coloured soft, her eyes smile with secret knowledge, ancient and wise. She is twenty. Unrushed and unhurried she dabs the powder brush to her cheek; her legs folded. Her voluptuousness is contagious. In her lower lip a golden ring. She looks like a goddess and when she gets up her vast midriff and buttocks bounce to the stoic rhythm of her stately gait. Gracious and large, she beams life into whatever sphere encompasses her. Gorgeous is she.
I remember the Sultaness, looking up at the waitress who is taking my order who by contrast is gamine and lean and angular too. I appreciate her angularity more than I like it but then angular, so am I. Assembled in the right way we would make quite a pattern.
I am seated at a table on my own, still puzzled as to why I am here, and she with her dark brown eyes and dark brown hair makes me feel I belong here. I order a Turkish coffee and fresh lemon juice and I’m given a moment to look at the menu to decide what to eat. I am ravenous with hunger which makes me think I maybe haven’t eaten in a while. How long does it take to get from Clapham Junction to Beyoğlu? I suppose it depends on the route.
My rational mind tells me there can be no Sultaness. Then again, my rational mind tells me I am in Kingston-upon-Thames. My rational mind is being irrelevant, I decide, and order a hamburger with chips, because I don’t remember being a vegetarian, though it wouldn’t surprise me to find that I was. The Sultaness speaks to me now in perfectly formed elliptical syllables, and she says: ‘Nearly time to make our grand entrance.’ I understand her not.
I’m trying to remember the night before. The night before is a blur. I’d come back from Ibiza. I’d been playing water polo at three in the morning with some hearty Scandinavians in the pool. That much is certain. From then on in, nothing much is. I wonder where I’ll be staying tonight but my burger arrives and puts on hold questions and queries alike.
“Our grand entrance,” she’d said. Are we in this together? I wonder have I still got my phone and I feel for it in my pocket and there it is, no missed calls. No voicemail. No text. None new, that is, I’m not friendless. Friends! I could phone up a friend, I could call Michael or Richard or David or Sam and say: hey how is it going, what are you up to and have you any idea what I might be doing in Istanbul? My rational mind says that’s a way forward but having relegated my rational mind just a moment ago I feel sheepish putting it back in charge so soon and I ask for some mustard instead.
[Excerpt from ‘Eden’ - a Concept Narrative in progress. First published in LASSO No 5 - The Blackout Issue. As always © Sebastian Michael (2013)]
i’m a great fan of the colon.
it’s friendlier than the full stop because it doesn’t say stop. wait here. i have something else to say in a moment. but right now i need you to halt. it says: hang on in there, the thought isn’t quite finished: it continues, but remember to breathe. the colon is beautiful: small enough to not really obstruct the page, but noticeable enough to register. it doesn’t drop below the baseline. i like that.
the comma, by comparison, is always a bit clumsy. it keeps dangling its tail, which is not elegant. i personally don’t like the comma very much. if it were down to me we would use far less of it and simply allow ourselves to be carried along by the sentence for a while but most people find that exhausting and a little frightening because they feel they have nothing to hold on to then.
and the full stop is so very heavy. although it’s small, it has this density. it weighs in. it says you must. i don’t like punctuation that says you must. i like punctuation that says you can; so if it weren’t for the fact that like the comma the semi-colon dangles its inelegant tail below the baseline, i would also very possibly be able to be a fan of the semi-colon.
the semi-colon has a bit of an idiosyncrasy about it. it’s not quite one thing and not quite another. it’s half comma and half colon. which is why it’s called the half-colon. it could also be called half-comma, it wouldn’t make any difference. i think that’s almost a little endearing. it’s like a mongrel. it wants to be loved, but it knows it can’t quite be. it can be loved in an ‘all right then’ kind of way. that is in itself a little endearing. but i can’t quite fall in love with it, not the way i can fall in love with the colon.
of course there is always the dash – but the dash loosens up the sentence so much. also it doesn’t really know what it is. but it doesn’t not know what it is in a charming way (the way the semi-colon doesn’t know what it is, for example) it does so in a lazy way. it lies there, right in the middle of the sentence saying ‘i’m here now, i can’t be bothered to move’. but that isn’t really a very attractive thing to do. also, is it a hyphen or is it a thought? is it a typographical element or a grammatical one? i have nothing in itself against things that don’t know what they are because in not knowing what you are there is an element of potential: of finding out what you can be. but the dash hasn’t convinced me yet of its potential. it needs to do more than just lie there. so if ever possible i only use it to – a bit reluctantly – wedge something into a thought that otherwise would just be lost. for that, for holding up something that otherwise would just be lost two lazy dashes come in handy. without really noticing it they suddenly do something that they can do better than any other punctuation mark, and so they can be both at the same time, lazy and helpful. that’s in many ways ideal.
normally, though not always, and not just then, a bit earlier on, i avoid as much as i can the question mark and the exclamation mark too. they are both too much, really. how often do you really need to highlight the fact that you’re asking a question. and if you have a point to make just make it, there’s no need to signpost it. so to my mind these two too are almost superfluous. only sometimes it helps a little to emphasise that what you’ve just put down is actually a question, especially if it’s a rhetorical question, since rhetorical questions aren’t questions at all, so it sometimes helps to dress them up as questions. that’s really almost the only good reason to use a question mark, and even then it isn’t always, is it…
i do like the ellipsis though i use it sparingly because not many people know what to make of it and i don’t want to expose it to their fury because it’s quite a gentle, unassuming, open-minded punctuation mark that gets a little insecure when questioned too forcefully. it needs looking after a bit. (and i quite like brackets, but these you have to use sparingly because, though useful, they are a bit ungainly. that doesn’t make them bad, or give us reason to cast them out into the wilderness, of course, but i think it means that for aesthetic reasons we need to treat them with a degree of caution.)
i do like paragraphs!
(and that was a rare instance of an exclamation mark perhaps being justified. because i really like them, paragraphs. more and more. i never used to when i was very young, i almost eschewed them completely, but these days i really, really like them.)
as it happens
in my plays
i’ve now done away with
and work with
they create a whole
on the page and they allow
a little bit
when used in this way
they are really
you could say, they are not
which makes them even more interesting because they are
and something else
at the same time and the
than what they
before they became
what they are now
i like that
what i have a slight over-fondness for i think are maybe adverted commas. i may want to rein them in a bit. though they are useful, because they make things more relative. is a truth really a truth or is it a ‘truth’ they say. they say you know what a word means but allow for the possibility that you only ‘know’ what it means and that there is another way of ‘knowing’ what it ‘means’ too. but i realise they can become a bit annoying. so i may want to exercise, practise, some discipline when it comes to adverted commas. because like commas they also are a bit inelegant. they keep poking their tails above the topline and that is no more agreeable to the eye than what the commas do with theirs, and if it isn’t their tails that they poke then it’s their heads. and that doesn’t make things any better.
but at least in english we don’t have to, as they mostly do in german, use double adverted commas unless you’re actually quoting someone or something. because they are really ugly. they take up space on the line without doing anything more useful than single adverted commas and think they’re doing you a favour. they say “let me be ugly right here right now for you.” it’s the “for you” that irks me most. and they make other punctuation marks behave erratically. like the full stop. suddenly it doesn’t know should it go inside, where it strictly doesn’t belong, or should it go outside where it looks like it’s been locked out. so it suddenly feels out of place. what kind of treatment is that anyway, of your fellow punctuation marks, to just lock them out, and make them look like it too. that’s rude and unnecessary. no, i’m glad we don’t have to use them much. i think we do just fine with our single adverted commas. but i know i have to watch them a bit in my writing…
i think that more or less sums up my stance on punctuation.