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Dear Death, we need to talk

Just to let you know: You did a fine job last year! Really. Very fine work – souls harvested with precision and skill – just like you do every year! Well done! But. I would like to make one request for this year.

Now, don’t take this as criticism. It’s only meant as a small request from one concerned World Citizen. Could you, perhaps, shift your focus a little? Please don’t be offended, but I really am worried about the state of our planet. And your focus seems to have been particularly set on artists. Though admittedly this group of people are by no means harmless, they actually make the world a better place.

Now, I understand that you are a busy man with a lot on your bony hands. Perhaps you even have a quota to fill and not quite enough time to get your targets sorted out in the process. So if you need a little hint as to the area where your special talents might be better employed, please feel free to PM me. I’d be honoured to lend a hand. In the meantime I’ll provide you with a few hints:

People who encourage misogyny, xenophobia and racism; religious fanatics (this would also likely help cut down on your workload in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the US) – oh, and orange is the new black.

Let me know if you get that last one! I thought it was pretty clever myself!

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Paul Kidby’s Death for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld-series

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Changes

This blog has gone from being quite a fun, silly blog about this and that and nothing special, to one long moan. Since that happened, I’m sad to say I’ve been struggling to apply my usual sarcasm and sense of irony to what I write. It seems that with my divorce, my sense of humour took a nosedive too.

I can’t promise to rectify that. I am presently searching for a new perspective for my writing, perhaps even a new style. In the meantime there is a lot of soulsearching going on here, horrified observations of a press-image of a world gone crazy: war and torture and refugees reaching a new level of horrible; feminism and equal rights reaching another low; the people of USA allowing the lowest of the low to be their new leader.

If it wasn’t so awful, it would be perfect material for a Monthy Pyton sketch.

So bear with me while I rediscover my writing skills and find myself again. In the meantime I can report that Vienna is beautiful, the Christmas markets are putting in their last desperate bids to get people to spend money they don’t have, I have wonderful friends, and I can hardly wait for spring to come and warm my bones again!

Happy Christmas to all!

Overload

Thomas is the one person in my life who personifies the term “extrovert” in its most extreme form. It’s a small wonder that he is also my soulmate… We’re so different in this sense we almost come full circle.

It has its challenges. For one: when I am down that road of needing alone time, I find it impossible to communicate it and set the terms. Thus, Thomas has no idea what’s going on until all hell breaks loose. He has got better at reading the signs, but it still takes a while before he realised that I don’t just need space, I also need silence – and the freedom NOT to respond to things.

Just minutes ago he tried to play me a version of a song we both really like. It was a live version, and I thought for a moment I might scream with the effort of listening to the heavy beat at the base of the song. I had to ask him to stop it, whimpering “Right now, it’s just too much for me!”

I feel pathetic when it happens. And I feel as if I need to reassure him and apologise to him and – all the things I can’t cope with doing just to make him feel better (at the cost of my own sanity). Can’t wait for the day I don’t need THAT anymore. Sanity is definitely overrated.

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Oh, to hell with religion

Over the past few years I have read all sorts of articles on Islam and its different manifestations (I even read one of the translations of the Quran). I have also devoured countless writs on the various forms of Christianity and Judaism, to the point of being a regular visitor to the website askmoses.com.

Today, after yet another attempt at opening up to the blessings of religion, I have made the decision that enough is enough. There really is no point to this quest for understanding. Because – I do not and never will understand.

I still totally fail to see why it is important to believe in an all-powerful and totally invisible being. Why is that important? And even if you choose to believe in it – why is it necessary for you to be so damned public about it, build huge and expensive edifices to the worship of your invisible deity, flock to huge ceremonies conducted and dictated by a few (self-)important (mostly) men and then proceed to abuse all those – of whom there will always be millions – who do not do the same?

Now, I will always have empathy for the ‘quiet worshipper’. The person who heads into nature and goes ‘Ahhhhhhh! This is just greater than me!’ – and then sort of leaves it at that. The one who is astounded by the beauty of all that mankind has not yet ruined and feels that there just has to be a greater being behind it all. The person who lets Nature be the temple to the creative force and doesn’t insist on stealing from the poor to build for the rich (see: Catholic church over the years, followed by most other forms of organised religions – sure, there were religions before this that were used in the same way – but I have been blessed with not having to try to understand those).

I will also have a slightly misunderstood empathy with those who join in the odd religious ritual just because it is pretty and everything feels better with a little midnight mass thrown in for good measure on the 24th December. And I listen eagerly to my Muslim and Jewish students when they tell me about their own favourite rituals. I even sang in a church choir for two years and loved every minute of it, but I think that had more to do with the beautiful music we got to sing.

I understand beauty. I even see the beauty of the many places of worship that have been built to invisible gods over the millennia. I live close to one of the most stunning churches in Vienna (Votivkirche) and no, I would not want to see it torn down.

The part I fail completely to understand, though, is organised religion where the participants accept having words and actions dictated to them, unquestioningly. I don’t understand blind followers. Wrong. I don’t ACCEPT blind followers. I refuse to accept those who kill on behalf of a religion. My refusal to accept goes along the entire scale of actions seemingly dictated by a religion, be it the wearing of a headscarf, slapping a naughty child, ostracising women who’ve had an abortion or beheading an ‘infidel’ – I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS WILLINGNESS TO HIDE BEHIND RELIGION. It’s weak.

YOU are the one who chooses to kill. The one who chooses to hit a child. The one who chooses to hurl abuse at another being. Those are YOUR actions. And when you decide to put the blame for your despicable actions on an invisible deity, I have nothing but contempt left for you. You are a weak person, and you have chosen that path yourself.

So no, there is no more room in me for understanding. If you feel an intense need to go to church regularly, do so. If you feel that praying x number of times per day while facing Mecca makes you a better person, do so. If you want to wear religious underwear or a hijab, go right ahead. But don’t ever tell me it is your religion that actually demands it. Or that anyone else is less worthy because their choices are different to yours. YOU are the one who chooses to wear certain things or perform specific rituals and your choices are yours alone. I am willing to respect you, but I will never again respect your religion over you – or over myself.

Uterus

Now, isn’t that just a snappy title?

I just had mine removed. At bloody (sic) last.

For years, my uterus has been little more than a nuisance. I’ve been briefly pregnant a few times, rapidly resulting in painful miscarriages at home – too early to represent more than pain. Then, after we moved to Austria, my periods got longer and more painful, about half of my time went into dealing with blood and pain and the other half into dreading its onset.

And this is where I have to admit I am a wimp. I don’t like going to doctors, and more than that, I don’t like being intimately touched by anyone other than my husband. You can only imagine how long it took me before I dug up a gynaecologist to see if there was anything one could do about all this pain and blood.

He (why on earth are there so few women in this profession?) discovered that I had myomas and instantly told me I needed a hysterectomy. And that’s when I realised that I would have liked to be a mum first. So I got a second opinion (another male with at least slightly less resemblance to a plumber, rather more a Humpty Dumpty) and the option to have the crap removed, leaving me “intact”.

And that was it for a while. My periods were tiny after that, and there was almost no pain! Apart from the emotional pain of divorcing my then husband who wanted nothing to do with the “women trouble” as I’ve heard a few people of the male persuasion call it in their pusillanimous state of being where most things female are concerned. So time went by and it took a while before it became really clear to me that I was not going to get pregnant without external interference from more than my new partner. Not ideal for the wimp in me but needs must and so on.

I was given the final devastating blow at the AKH (Allgemeines Krankenhouse – Vienna’s central hospital) where I was told in no uncertain terms by a large, bitter, hard-voiced woman that my eggs were crap and that the likelihood of me conceiving with my own eggs would amount to no less than a medical sensation.

Then the myomas came back with a vengeance. I trotted off to Humpty Dumpty and demanded a hysterectomy. However, I was this time sent to a Catholic hospital where they went against our joint decision without even consulting me and only removed the growths. Gotta love the Catholics. They really do think they represent god on earth.

Went through another period of acceptable and predictable pain cycles before I once more came to realise that I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about having tampons and painkillers with me at all times. And also planning my life around easy access to toilets. How on earth do women in India cope??

My squeamishness about doctors had not abated, though, in spite of me surely being more used to it by now? No, some things are not easily ousted from one’s life. Imagine my pleasure when I discovered a female gynaecologist just two minutes’ walk away. It still took me more than a month to actually contact her for an appointment, and then I nearly gave up when the answering machine was in a male voice revealing that it was a practice with several doctors – I immediately imagined being slotted in with whoever was available and it being yet another male.

Now, here is one thing I don’t get. When I asked around a little among my female friends, several had the rather odd idea that female gynaecologists are, for no apparent reason, “worse” than male. That they are supposed to be rougher during the examination and have less empathy. When asked what they based this on, they were only able to say it was what they had heard, and this was enough for all of them to not put effort into finding a woman. No first-hand experience, just blatant willingness to accept rumour.

I can now, with first-hand experience, refute this rumour. My new gynaecologist is the best I have ever had, and it was the least painful exam I have ever had. She even made sure to assess my smallness and find the smallest speculum to cause as little discomfort as possible. That was a first. Men seem to think “if a penis fits, anything fits” – they must have watched too much porn.

Dr. A. could confirm my suspicions and though she was a little taken aback by my instant request for a hysterectomy, she was also in total agreement. AND – she was able to perform the procedure herself at the aforementioned AKH.

This is where things went a bit nuts.

Within a few days she had an appointment for the op which then had to be prepared for in haste with a number of tests (blood-count, mammography, x-ray etc.) during which time I had the dubious pleasure of meeting all sorts of confused and ill people trying to cope with the Austrian medical system, and then I was sucked into the general hospital that is the AKH. Bed allocated with stunning views of Vienna, two room-mates who were both in the early stages of pregnancy. I somehow wish hysterectomies could be kept separate from pregnancies in the hospitals, but who am I to complain.

I was operated on a Thursday. On Friday I rolled out of bed and started walking. The AKH is a deadly dull and large hospital with endless corridors and nowhere to go for patients. I was instructed to walk as much as possible, drink lots, eat regular meals and all that jazz – but where to go? And I had to let the head nurse know if I wanted to leave the ward, and the end of the ward was all of 30 metres away. In the end they were wailing, “just go!” when I waddled up to the door to report that I was going for a walk.

In my wanderings around the hospital I must have visited most of the other wards (it’s amazing where they will let you go if you wear a hospital bracelet) and when Thomas came to see me insisted on going to the restaurant on the ground floor for a much needed glass of wine. Which I got in spite of the sign that clearly stated they would not serve alcohol to underaged and patients. Gotta love this country!

I was out again in record time and back home with my babies. Mischa had gone into a depression (again) while I was away, but on  my return he picked up considerably. We got five days together, five days of slow walks and careful cuddles. For the past few months, he had shied away from close hugs as it seemed to hurt him. But these few days he went back to his old habit of leaning his head against my chest in greeting. And I was in a position to devote myself to him as the instructions were clear: no excessive exercise for the next couple of weeks. His slow walks were just right.

Saturday 12 September, at 4am I woke up from Mischa retching. Nothing came up but he looked thoroughly miserable. I brought him and his bed to the kitchen and lay next to him on the floor holding his paw to calm him. From time to time he would try to vomit again.

At dawn we went to the “Hof” (a sort of inside yard in a Viennese tenement building). There, the pain he was experiencing caused him to have a seizure, after which I stood just holding him for 20 minutes while he got his breath back, then slowly led him to his mattress where I helped him lie down. I sat with his head in my lap for the next hours, watching the sun come up, watching a woodpecker have his breakfast, and watching Mischa doze a little while breathing shallowly. I was debating with myself the whole time – is this the end?

Thomas brought me a cup of tea and a blanket for Mischa. I finally called the vet.

20150912_100933At 10:30 we helped Mischa into our bike-trailer and wheeled him to the vet where he scrambled painfully and fearfully to his paws – he knew where he was. Inside the practice, he just wanted to get out. But her check-up confirmed one thing only – he was in irreversible pain, already the maximum pain treatment he could have, and anything we could do would only give him days. Or perhaps that should read “would only give me days” – because at this stage, keeping Mischa alive would have been a completely selfish thing to do.

I gently patted his bum, and he slid down on the floor. The vet set a needle in the artery on his left front paw, and at 10:45 the overdose was administered. With my cheek against his, he leant into my arms, the pain creases in his face smoothed and his breathing slowed. Then he took two short breaths, exhaled and went limp. I listened carefully as his breath slowed and stopped, as his heartbeat got weaker and disappeared all together. And I cried.

I have not felt lonelier than I do now in more than seven years.

Mischa sleeps a lot these days. He sleeps more and more. But his heart still beats, and he still loves his food – and his cuddles. In that order.

DSC_3912copyrightI just hope I know it when he is ready to go.

Our House

The first time I saw the flat I live in now I thought “thank fuck I don’t live in this hell-hole”. What met me was a dark, dank (if large) flat, filled with what to me amounted to no more than junk, and it was dirty. The first time mum saw the flat she pulled me aside and said in shocked tones: “Don’t ever move in here!” But I did.

The rooms have been “reassigned” since then, and some of the hoard has been shifted, but it is essentially the same overcrowded, dirty, ugly space it was. I have failed in my efforts to turn it into a home after my standards. It’s sad. And it makes me sad. And it is a huge contributing factor to my depression.

Mum was an architect. She loved design furniture, and of course she leaned towards airy Scandinavian designs, Bauhaus and modernism. Though our home was by no means pristine – how could it, with two kids, a dog and both parents working? – it had a clear and logical layout and the entire framework was good, as in, the house itself was nicely decorated, painted, the floors were nice, the ceilings, the walls… and the furniture was collected according to mum’s very high standards. Mostly.

There was that one time when dad had spent days clearing out the basement and got rid of stuff mum considered junk (perhaps because it was mostly dad’s junk and included old shoes he’d grown out of during the war but held on to for sentimental reasons, or perhaps it was in case they proved useful, you know, broken old shoes no-one could wear). Then he went to work. At the same time the two little old ladies next door cleared out THEIR basement and threw out several old pieces of furniture. Mum spent the entire afternoon trudging between their heap of junk and our basement, rescuing what she considered gems that she could restore and that would prove oh-so-great, quickly filling up the space dad had worked so hard to clear. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen dad reduced to tears.

So. I come from a line of hoarders. The ability to dump stuff that is of no use, or not acquire new stuff that one really doesn’t need, is not something that was instilled in me as a child. That ability came much later, when Kevin and I had an accident while moving from Edinburgh to London and a lot of our stuff got ruined in the crash. The fact that we walked away with only minor bruises put things into perspective.

Before I moved in with Thomas, however, I lived in a large flat with almost no furniture. The layout was wonderful – you could walk from the hallway to the bedroom to the living room to the office/dining room to the kitchen and get back to the hallway, all in a big circle, and every room had at least one window. There was so much light, and so little furniture, and every morning I would roll out of bed, make a cup of tea and then do my round through the flat with Mischa in tow just enjoying the SPACE and the LIGHT – and the fact that it was so easy to clean and keep neat.

Then mum and dad came to visit. First I had that “touché” moment where mum in awe asked how I kept the place so clean and tidy, then a few weeks later came that other moment when a large lorry arrived with a load of furniture from mum. My grandparents’ sofa, a dining table, six dining chairs, a beautiful, handmade, mahogany sideboard (also from my Danish grandparents), dad’s old mahogany veneer office desk (HUGE!), an old waiting room bench mum had restored herself, the old chest my Norwegian grandfather had used when he went to America to try his luck (I seem to remember dad telling me he even tried his hand as a cowboy in Arizona). The place was suddenly less empty, but as it was so big it easily accommodated all of it and still looked neat and tidy – and cosier.

Then Thomas and I married. I held on to my flat to the end of the contract, half-way dreading the challenge of joining our two households. I knew it would be a nightmare to try to add my old period furniture to the overcrowded mishmash in Thomas’ flat.

And it was.

And it is.

And every day I have moments where I metaphorically bang my head against the wall in despair wondering what I can get rid of to give myself some breathing space. And each time I find something to dump, Thomas fills the freshly liberated spot with empty cardboard boxes, or tools, or motorcycle parts or… Is this some sort of Karma visited upon me because mum got dad to dump his stuff so she could fill it with her kind of stuff?