I’m attracted to active, cerebral women with good careers and a determined sense of probity, rectitude and moral duty: the modern version of what used to be called “Blue-stockings”. I suspect they’ll be excellent shags, in the right mood: uninhibited and appreciative, having been sensible when picking previous partners, who and how many, and thus without hang ups and willing to direct you to what they want. (I aim to serve.) Clever people often have a good sense of humour, too.
More importantly, I know I’m highly corruptible. Moral decisions are usually hard brain work. You’ve got to use your noggin to be good and I’m not up to it. I’m weak and indecisive and prone to moral confusion, but, once I’ve adopted a position, I’m dogmatic and unable to change. I feel I can trust these women’s wise choices. It makes me feel secure: if I follow their lead, I’ll be doing the right thing. And I admire their ability to concentrate on tasks and goals, their industry and ambition, which are ethical issues.
Jo, for example, is incredibly hard-working, dynamic and resourceful. She has an amazing ability to focus on a task and, blocking out all extraneous data, concentrate on it until it is completed. She does these tasks as they arrive and need to be done. She has no truck with my nonsense about “being a morning person” or “being too tired” or “finishing it tomorrow”. She keeps going until it’s finished, whatever the time of day or night.
What’s astonishing is that she finds it just as hard and as odious as the rest of us. It is an act of will-power to keep soldiering on. That’s why she doesn’t see the time of day, or whether you’re “in the Mood”, as relevant. Sitting at the table opposite me, typing, I can hear her holding her breath, then letting it out in little gasps, at the sheer physical effort of keeping going, as if she was lifting massive rocks.
Her energy is unflagging. Once she’s completed a task, she’ll move on to the next without pause. She’ll do this for days and days, working from before 8 in the morning and coming home at 6.30pm at the absolute earliest.
She’ll immediately switch into intensive parenting mode: supervising, discussing and encouraging homework and music practice; comforting and cajoling; disciplining when necessary. If they’re troubled, she’ll sweep the kids off to the sofa for a warm cuddle, a discussion and some advice. The children refuse to do any of this with me, because I was too fierce about it when I was ill. They are punishing me but it’s a relief – it’s exhausting!
All the while Jo will be snatching the odd hour to complete spreadsheets, send emails, make phone calls, read, annotate and write reports, until she turns the light off some time past 11pm. Even then, there’s a square blue light floating in the darkness, as she checks and replies to emails.
This work rate can be demanded of her for weeks and weeks, in which case she becomes more and more emotionally and psychologically frayed. She starts suffering from insomnia, becoming volatile, unfairly irritable, randomly weepy and needy, worryingly forgetful; losing her keys, her shoes, her name badge. Not only are the wheels coming off, but also the bodywork and the chassis, yet her work-rate never flags. All that is left of her is pure spirit and determination.
Strangely, Jo doesn’t have much personal ambition. What is important to her is doing worthwhile work to the best of her ability. It’s one of the many great things about her. She applies for promotions, and gets them, because she knows she can do the jobs bloody well, and wants to, but not because she wants to “progress her career”.
Something has to give, though, in these work bouts, and it can’t be her relationship with the children. They are her real priority. On the day she got a positive result on a pregnancy test, she reminded me that the children must always come first; that everything else was secondary to their needs.
Inevitably, it’s poor old me who has to bite the bullet and his tongue, and wait until the holidays to be heard, when Jo is communicative again. I’ve got used to starting on some inane anecdote about my day, “Have you noticed that…”, to be confronted by The Hand.
The Hand is held up, palm towards me, in that universal “Halt” sign used by traffic policemen, officers on horseback, and soldiers manning checkpoints. Along with The Hand, Jo says, “I’m really, genuinely interested but I’ve got to concentrate on this or I’ll die. Tell me later.”
I get it: dragging her out of the zone seems to cause her physical pain, when she’s tired. She keeps going by getting into a sort of rhythm. Continuing to concentrate becomes so, so difficult, that the slightest distraction, having to break off even just for a moment to listen to some brief silliness from me, might cause her to have hysterics and a complete collapse.
Actually, I think this is probably good for me. As a young man, I desperately needed to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be recognised. Torrents of words forced themselves up from an almost agonising need in my chest, and enveloped all interlocutors in a spray of verbiage. My words alone were dominant, not my personality. They were experiments with language and its effects on others, not expressions of conviction. Still, other people couldn’t get their words in edgeways, and could never hold forth as I did. There wasn’t time.
Now I’ve learnt, by necessity, that if I swallow the urge, the spasm will pass almost immediately. I’ll have demonstrated self-control, I’ll feel good about myself because I’ve allowed people the space they need, and, most importantly, I’ll have been supportive of Jo. As I’ve said before, she’s our prizewinning race-horse. In her resides the family’s fortune, hopes and pride. She needs to be nursed and comforted, curry combs and hot bran mash (possibly with a dash of brandy), because if she has a nervous breakdown, we’re fucked.
Some urge to say my piece remains, of course. Sometimes I’ll write this blog. Sometimes I’ll just put my head down and plough desperately on, despite her howls of rage, just to get to the end, to have said my piece. I’ll be feeling rebellious, saying “…and when I got there, they’d already run out of sushi! Can you credit it?…”, knowing it’s trivial, but thinking I’m a trivial person. Jo will be snarling, “I’ve NO idea what you’re even SAYING, you know. I’m TRYING to deal with a VERY SERIOUS MATTER, here.” I’ll just shrug, defiantly, hopelessly, as if I don’t care, but, secretly, blighted by guilt, by doleful self-hatred.