Default faces and some confessions of self-indulgent nonsense

Yesterday, while in a total dwam, I was asked why I always look angry. Now, for a change, I wasn’t feeling particularly irate at that moment (any break from the mindless repetition of explaining grammar is an incredibly welcome one), but it reminded me how often my default face is remarked upon. I would have commented on how often it is at odds with what I think, but a derisory snigger from my brother on the subject has opened my eyes to the possibility that I really am always angry/snipey/a freakin’ delight to be around. I might be the worst judge of my own character. This is quite worrying, given how often I like to judge myself!

To return to the idea of a default face – it’s that look folk have when they forget to control their face; your ‘off-time’ from the desperate attempt to communicate any kind of meaning or feeling in a disconnected world (note: sarcastic tone in previous cliche-like sentence). I kind of love sitting in a cafe or something and watching the ‘off’ people trudge down the street before meeting someone they know. Usually, it’s like someone has just turned the power on in the back of their head and they become a person; the blank becomes something. I say usually because some people have faces that don’t move (and I don’t just mean through botox). I am afraid of these people. I don’t trust them. Having a face that is dishonest to your feelings is almost as illuminating as having an authentic one, so please move it!

I went through a phase of trying to eliminate my default face from any kind of public outing (it was a fair while ago). It’s something akin to that dance like nobody’s watching bullshit; act like you’re always on camera. I am a bit in love with a camera shoved in someone’s face when nobody should be watching, like those Andy Warhol films of Edie Sedgewick or like Nana’s tears in a lonely darkened cinema as she watches Joan of Arc…

Anyway, I would do things like cry whenever I goddamned felt like it and start laughing at myself when my stocking fell down as I crossed the street. I would stare at a cup of tea as if it had a Proustian greatness or focus on a sugar cube with a Kieslowskian exactitude. Needless to say this was rather exhausting, pretentious and a little bit strange.

I did, however, catch myself doing it again today in the supermarket. I accidentally knocked over some Jesus candles (yes, I do not exaggerate, there are candles with Jesus’ face on them sold in the supermarket here) and after restoring them to their rightful place I deliberately scrunched up my face in a kind of ‘oops, my bad’ expression. There was nobody else in that aisle (otherwise I would have been less willing to pick up the aforementioned candle to examine it for further mocking potential) and not even a Catholic upbringing can make me believe that Jesus was judging me from his wax prison , so who was I pulling the face for? Maybe I did succeed in getting rid of my default face and I am just an angry bitch all the time …

maybe it’s just that Mexicans are nicer

My leg is sore. There is nothing unusual in this; my leg has been sore everyday since I was 12. I’ve got avascular necrosis of the femural head, which means that the top of my femur is dead and instead of being a lovely round ball shape it is a jaggedy mess. After 14 years you have to learn how to live despite being in some kind of pain all the time. There are, however, some days when it is just too sore to do anything and you can feel perfectly justified in giving in for the day. I have to be honest and say I really quite enjoy these days. I can ignore the washing, cooking and cleaning and not feel guilty about just staying in bed all day. At first these kind of days used to scare the hell out of me – ‘my god I will never walk again and my life will be ruined.’ I now have at least enough faith in my mental capabilities to not really be that bothered. I think being able to disappear into your own wee world is actually quite a useful skill in these kind of instances!

I have a tendency to get very angry at the existence of other people when I’m in a lot of pain (I turn into a self-obsessed emo kid with an ‘omg, noone understands me’ mentality). I do not want to have to explain myself and there is no way to distract me – just leave me alone with a supply of painkillers (and – yes I realise what a bad idea this is – some alcohol) and I may emerge as something akin to a human being in a few hours. Trust me, this is for your own safety.

Mexico City has actually been pretty understanding, surprisingly. I’m already getting stared at for being so pale that it doesn’t really occur to me that they’re looking at the limp or the crutch of whatever. I’m not even sure they are, because I’ve seen a lot of people with mobility problems here without the usual embarrassed look they tend to have in the UK. This is an incredibly strange thing: in the UK we have universal health care, equality laws protecting the disabled and increased access to buildings, transport, etc. Yet I feel an awful lot more comfortable here. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not gonna get much state help, the pavements are godawful to walk on and most disabled parking spaces have cones in front of them and are no bigger than a normal space. People are a hell of a lot nicer though; they don’t ask that extremely patronising question ‘what have you done to yourself then?’ (this question makes me want to punch you in the face till you cry btw). They rarely ask anything at all; they just seem to accept it. When I do struggle with my ‘la cabeza del fémur es muerta’ they don’t stare at me awkwardly and I really like being given the choice whether or not to have to explain myself to people. I fell outside of one of the supermarkets here and five mexicans came to help me up, help put my bags in the car and offered me drinks/painkillers/any help they could give. Now, I fell on ice in the middle of a road in the southside of Glasgow one winter and countless people and cars passed me. When I eventually got to the library I was supposed to be working at and said I needed to go the hospital I was informed about how inconvenient my absence would be for the staffing.

The above is obviously not the worst experience I had with work and AVN; the blessed chair-gate takes that wonderful honour. To explain a bit about the limitations of avn; I can’t walk or stand for very long. When I do either of these things I feel like someone is stabbing me in the hip joint with a rather large kitchen knife and it encourages my anger issues to surface once again. I asked for a chair to help stop me wanting to inflict equal pain on random people and waited over a year for one. Perhaps to justify myself a bit more (yes, things like this make me feel like I need to keep bloody justifying myself) I have never been to a doctor, nurse or any other medical professional who has not done a sympathetic head tilt and offered me any painkiller I so choose. It’s a proper medical condition for the love of God! However, the constant battle for something which would help make everyone’s life easier drained a lot of my faith in humanity. The mistrust from people and the idea that you are out to get some advantage is extremely disturbing. Another example: when I was a teenager I went to Disneyland not long after getting out from one my extended hospital stays. I had to use a wheelchair. In one of the bathrooms a woman starting yelling at me and telling me what a disgrace I was for using a chair when I didn’t need one ‘ain’t noone gonna put me in a chair before they have to’ etc. You get to skip the queues if you use a wheelchair in Disneyland.

I think that the more developed the state help with disability is, the less helpful individual people seem to be (I realise this is a fairly flawed idea – Russia is terrible on all fronts re: disability). Here in Mexico, what would the point of faking it be; you don’t get any obvious advantage. I think folk in the UK are turning on each other in times of recession and cut backs and constantly comparing themselves to others and judging whether or not you are ‘worthy’ of helping. There seems to be an air of mistrust and bizarre jealousy. Or maybe it’s just that Mexicans are nicer …

A Tale of Two Cities

I’m going to be honest, I don’t really understand most technology. The social awkwardness I feel going into a new restaurant where pretentious waiters refuse to explain a strange new way of dining or going to a gig where I am not personal friends with the band and everyone stares at you with that ‘you didn’t go to school/college/university/work with us – who the hell are you’ suspicion extends to cyber etiquette. I feel slightly like I’m taking a shit in someone’s back garden. It’s just that the need to find out if I can still mould ideas into coherent sentences is greater.

As the previous admission of social awkwardness may suggest, I am not always the most adventurous or confident of people and am usually in awe of the new. This has had to change; I upped sticks from Glasgow to Mexico City. Actually, my limited (despite the smugness I feel in class when I understand almost all of what’s going on) spanish has been a great help on this front; I won’t notice when people think I’m being an idiot (also, ‘idiot’ is easily synonymous with ‘foreign’ in this context). Having said that, people tend to smile and be a lot friendlier here. You go into a shop and stumble over your previously prepared statement and the assistants gibber back to you at an incomprehensible speed. ‘Lo siento,   solo hablo un poco español. ¿Puede habla mas despacio, por favor?’ does not slow them down, but it also doesn’t stop the smiling. I have worked with people back home who would be ready to punch someone for tripping over english when there’s a large queue behind them. Thus far I’ve only seen one gloomy bitch (in Superama) and a couple of truly unhelpful folk (at the pharmacy in Mega).

When I was back in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago the grey unfriendliest felt overwhelming. We’re known for being pretty damn friendly in UK terms but it fell so short of here. Folk in my close would desperately scurry up to their door if they heard the sound of another person’s footsteps; in my building here I would surprised if I saw someone and they *didn’t* say buenos días or buenas tardes/noches (there were only 4 floors in my close; 10 floors in the building here).

Now, I am not saying that I can sum up an entire people from the way some folks’ faces are arranged. ‘One may smile and smile and be a villain’ after all. I have seen enough corruption and backstabbing from said smiling villains first hand myself (never mind all the stuff I’ve read, particularly during election time) to have a bit of a growing suspicion. There seems to be a greater emphasis on show here – if you’re in a couple and not groping each other constantly it is assumed you hate each other. I’d like to know what’s under all of that, but I doubt I ever will really.

I doubt I will ever know most of this city and that is something that I love about this place. Having worked in almost every library in Glasgow I feel like I know the place pretty well. I feel like I’ve been to most of the places. I feel like I understand most of the people. Here I don’t have a clue and I constantly feel like there’s so much more to see and experience. A lot of it isn’t good, but as a devotee to the idea that I’m a child of Marx and Coca Cola I love the contrasts.