What not to watch before falling asleep

Last night, I watched a hallucinatory documentary, of perhaps questionable accuracy, on Mikhail Bulgakov and the circumstances that fed the writing of The Master and Margarita: oh, you know, just Koba the Dread purging everyone while occasionally calling a comrade at home and granting some weird bit of mercy, atop terrible wartime experiences and a morphine addiction, nothing to see here … watching that while sitting up in bed might earn one a very poor sleep. The fever and sweats: autoimmune. The dreams: Stalinist purges and Azazel. Yeah, Azazel. On a train platform at one point. Smug bastard he was, too. Feathers beneath his clothes. I expected goat hair. No: feathers.

Filthy feathers.

And two plus two equalled five.

Dreams of the dead

Dreams last night of pursuing, and catching up with, a dead friend. I expected, as a I dreamt, a denied-quest narrative. Instead, last night I got the prize. Several times. I got to talk to Tom, see how he’s getting on. He’s fine, if a little lonely and concerned for his daughter. He was trying to organize a concert. I got to hear his laugh.

I dream this sort of thing a fair bit. It’s emotionally charged. It’s also reassuring. Even as the dead friend explains I have to leave (it’s never the friend who has to leave; I’m the interloper, the trespasser), even as the friend points to a clock or pushes me away (Michael either ducks out of sight or gives me a hard shove on the shoulders so I fall backwards, and he seems to do so with regret), even as the friend gives advice on how I must travel “back” — even as separation happens again and again, the dreams, the contacts are reassuring.

Tears in the morning, though. Tears in the morning.

My obituary (for Colleen McCullough)

Colleen McCullough has died. She had a devoted audience and sold loads of books. She worked hard at her craft and was lucky enough to make some money doing what she loved. And she got an obit that led with an opinion of her appearance, because, as we all know, that’s what matters most with a woman: how her looks measure up against someone else’s ideal. 

So I figured the least I can do is help out some obit writer who might be struggling beneath a blinding cloak of sexism and stupidity — you know, be a sweet and quiet assistant, behind the scenes — and write my own obituary. I hope you like it. Oh, don’t worry: I got my husbands permission.

Golly, do all these words make me look fat?


An overweight woman who had trouble keeping her opinions to herself, Michelle Butler Hallett somehow managed to help raise two children. Her husband, Dr David Hallett, who teaches English at Memorial University of Newfoundland and who specializes in Canadian historical drama, Shakespeare, twentieth century British fiction, and the novels of David Adams Richards, insists his wife could cook a decent meal when she felt so inclined and points out that no one starved to death. Gifted with a large nose, Hallett’s wife collected and curated a wide collection of internet-based slow cooker recipes and liked to debate the use of something called the Oxford comma. She complained a great deal about her minor aches and pains, despite repeated advice to “Suck it up, Princess, you don’t look sick,” and it seems she enjoyed writing little stories on evenings and weekends. Sources close to the family note do admit that Mrs Dr David Hallett suffered from problematic hair and a regrettable tattoo habit, though she did sometimes wear makeup and always looked better for taking the time to make the effort.

“Queen bitch! I hope your voice gives out!”

(Triggers: physical and mental abuse)

A favourite song and video: “Would I Lie to You,” by Eurythmics. I watched it this evening after responding to a friend’s Facebook call for songs by or about badass women.

The video starts with the band waiting on Annie, who’s really late for the concert they’re giving. She arrives, driven by her lout of a boyfriend, who’s been at her all evening, it seems. As she tells him she may not come home to him tonight and walks away from his abuse, towards the stage entrance, he calls her a “Queen bitch” and adds “I hope your voice gives out”! Annie gets inside, sits before a mirror …

DAVE: Hey, you’re really late. What’s the matter?
ANNIE: Everything’s the matter, that’s all.
DAVE: Don’t worry. Just be yourself tonight.

This video, and especially that little exchange at the start, helped me break up with a guy who’d hit me. We were teenagers. He hit me during a minor dispute — not even a dispute, but a discussion — over what we might do that evening. I declined a suggestion. He punched me on the upper arm, hard enough to make me stagger, then seized my forearm and twisted it behind my back. I had no idea this attack was coming. I was so furious that the second he let me go I belted him one back.

This happened in public, in broad daylight.

He told me to calm down, as if it was my fault.

We were just teenagers, and I had a safe place to go: home. But even as a teenager, this guy tried mind-games on me, tried to convince me that if I somehow hurt or rejected him — he was sensitive and creative, after all, so I had to be careful, ya know — bad shit might happen. Nothing happened afterwards. I lived in dread of him for weeks. He didn’t come near me. We crossed paths a few times later, and I was civil, too polite, really — because I didn’t want anyone to know he’d hit me, and because, I think, I was afraid he’d do it again if I said the wrong thing.

The wrong thing — as if it was my fault.

We were both just teenagers, and he’d got no way to control other parts of my life, like my finances or, as happens now, my phone. So, yes, I could just walk away.

I couldn’t speak of it, though. And I’m pretty damn mouthy. I’ve no doubt there are people out there who hope my voice gives out some day. But I couldn’t speak of this. For years. Because I felt so ashamed of it. And I’d done nothing wrong. One smack and one arm-twist, from one teenage boy, and I couldn’t speak of it.

What does serial abuse do? Hey? An abusive partner who lives with you, has a finger in your bank account, puts surveillance shit on your cell phone: what toll does that take?

I think about him sometimes, wondering if he ever learned to deal with his anger.

I think about battered partners and the smug shit they have to hear from other people, shit like “Just leave,” as though it’s the battered partner’s fault somehow.

It’s never that easy.

Plague doctor

I have a recurring nightmare about a plague doctor, one wearing the mask and the long coat. I am lying prostate on a low bed, fevered and still, naked beneath a sheet. I am in a big tent, the light like bronze. Outside: spears, swords, arrows, screams, cries of men and horses. The plague doctor, ducking his head, opens the tent, and, through his dark mask looks down at me. I used to wake up there in sweaty fright; now I recognize the dream when I’m having it, and I try to let it progress, try to coax it. It’s progressed a little further. The plague doctor is trying to tell me something, and I lose his words when I look away.

Here, Dr Lindsey Fitzharris talks about the mask, and the plague, as part of her series Under the Knife. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Per1onjC1ug

The lunchtime walk

On my lunch break, after a long crutched walk, I sat on a bench beneath a blossoming tree. The blossoms were falling down — pelting, pelting. I shook off blossoms as I stood up. I felt rereshed, blessed. Then I nearly stepped on the dessicated corpse of a rat, likely poisoned (I was near a residential area) and now a feast for flying insects and subject to the heat of the sun.