Me Versus Me

My pandemic has so far been low key and solitary. Which is the right way to do it, by the way.

22 September 2020 | 7 Minutes

I am locked up in a house with two small children who are obviously genetic composites of myself, so every day I feel like I’m being specifically mocked by Nature.

They’re not clones of me, of course, though I regret to say that they act like they’re my clones from time to time.

When I’m with them, I feel myself transformed into a fanatical proponent of the virtues of green vegetables, caution, and quiet living. Alone, on the other hand, I am practically throwing potatoes out the window at neighbours (they don’t wear masks, thus they must learn to fear me). I have lately acquired a BB gun, for the purpose of enjoying a bit of harmless rooftop sniping while my daughters take naps.

I don’t know why everything is still such a joke to my girls. I think this must be why people believe in gods. Some days you can just tell that the universe is laughing at you. I can easily understand how people might find it comforting to have a deity in the sky to blaspheme against.

One time when I was ranting about something, and sounding a bit like, ‘you can’t do this particular thing because it’s rash and dangerous and if you do it, you could potentially give me an actual heart attack, and then who are you going to wake up at 3am when you have urgent questions about unicorns, hmm? Who?’, and in the midst of my speech, Boudicca, who was gazing at me fondly as usual and not listening to a word I was saying, raised her finger, pressed it gently to my nose and said, ‘boop!’

She ran out of the room giggling. And yet, for hours afterwards, I sat in a chair, gazing through a misty window pane into the rain, reflecting on her audacity and dark genius. After all, I too exist on this planet with pathological problems with authority – but how was it that I had managed to work for eight years at Harvard University without once considering the possibility of pressing my finger to the nose of some ranting middle-manager, and saying ‘boop’?

This is, I think, the sort of crushing self-disappointment that prematurely ages a man, so I best be careful.

It used to be that I was the most impish person in the room. Not any more. I am outclassed, outdone. Believe me, there are a lot of ‘what hath I wrought’-type sentiments floating around my mind these days

And as I say, it often seems to me that evolutionary biology has singled me out as some sort of object of satire.

“Tell me a story, Dadda.”

“No, no stories, your father is tired. He needs you to pass out so he can go up to the roof – I mean, read an improving book.”

“No. Tell me a story, or I’ll stay up and annoy you.”

“Alright then, just one story. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess, and she had a very, very, very, very, very handsome Daddy.”

“So this story isn’t about me, then,” says my four year old. Deadpan, head tilted slightly, eyes sparkling. I hear a voice inside my mind announce, ‘Fifteen love’.

In my imagination, I am standing on a tennis court and glaring at the umpire, the ball rolling near my foot. I’ve played a flawless game for fifteen years – but on the other side of the net is my genetic data, thank you very much. So if we want to get technical about it, I still won that round – at least, as far as I’m concerned.

This reminds me that I have learned many valuable life skills as the pater familias – most notably the ability to swear in silence. If once I swore like a pirate, I swear now like a pirate in a silent film.

Example. We are going out the door, we’re taking a walk, no – no! Why are we taking off our shoes, put them back on – wait, what? No – we are not taking Punta the toy elephant.

“Yes we are!”

“No we’re not.”

“Yes we are!”

I can do this all day. “No. We’re not. Come on!”

My four year old has had enough. “But Dadda, Punta needs to come with us on the walk. Because she’s sad because she doesn’t have a daddy. Her daddy was mean to her and yelled at her so Punta killed him. Now she’s sad.”

Here – right here – is the moment I turn my back and start swearing away in silence. Not in anger, but alarm – she’s impersonating a side to her father that’s she’s never even met. Which isn’t fair, when you think about it.

I’ve assumed all these years that I was tormenting petty authority figures for Very Solid And Obvious Reasons. Turns out, my general attitude is congenital.

Still, it’s gratifying to know that one day my future grandchildren will be playing mind games with Nazi police robots in the 22nd Century. I’d hate to think I was sending them into the looming dystopian future sans talent or sense of purpose.

Furthermore, to address these allegations of yelling, I don’t yell at anybody. From time to time I might raise my voice over the cacophony, but only when sadly necessary. And usually during arguments over whose dress is whose, because there seems to be many, many wardrobe changes happening in my house nowadays. It’s disorientingly like living back stage of a Broadway musical.

But returning to my original point – through some cruel twist of fate, my four-year-old has revealed herself to be – almost precisely – a small, female version of myself. Right down to the menacing sense of humour. And this, I feel, is unfair.

I will continue, nonetheless, to play the straight man when I’m around them both. I will not school them in the finer points of dark chicanery. If they wish to win arguments, outwit foes, vex opponents, or hoodwink adversaries, they’re going to have to figure it all out on their own. Because I’ve seen the Star Wars movies. I know what happens to the Sith when they take on apprentices.

One thing I found myself saying today was this, “Girls, please – please leave me alone. I am trying to write books here, and I also haven’t sent out a newsletter for two months! People are wondering where I am!”

My eldest approached on tiptoes and whispered in my ear, “Dadda, you can always just blame Punta.”

The novel writing aspect of my life is going fairly well. It’s not ideal that I’m writing a few books at once, but I always finish what I start, and I am at least productive. One of the novels happens to be Book Three of the Blue Bandicoot Saga, in which, we find Shea and Wendell carrying out a heist in the South of Spain. Try to imagine…

I’m writing another novel featuring a darkly comedic pandimensional bobcat. And also another book series, science fiction, light on the comedy, which (frustratingly!) is going to be reviewed by countless people, one day, like this, ‘Not as funny as his other books.’ Do I publish these under a pen name? How do I circumvent this sort of nonsense? I don’t know, but the answer to these questions and more lie in future installments of This Same Newsletter. So stay subscribed, I suppose.

And now, I’m afraid I must leave you and ascend to the roof of my house, for I hear my neighbour trying to sneak out for a walk, and knowing him, he’s forgotten his mask again. Oh, and by the way, if any of you are feeling a bit cheerless and despondent In These Trying Times, then all I will say is this: ‘BB guns’.

Keep up with my nonsense

and get my stories sent to your inbox

No spam, just good nonsense.