Week TWO: 19th-22nd July - Eating with strangers, bothering moles, psycho areobics …
Tuesday 19th July
Arrive at breakfast to find a woman sitting at the little table I’ve been assigned. Background: all guests are assigned a specific eating spot in the restaurant. and they are not to move from it. That’s fine for couples and groups. Singletons however are forced to sit at a tiny table-for-two, intimately facing each other. For a solitary misanthrope this is torture. It’s like being forced on a Tinder date with a middle-aged Swedish mental health worker - as was the case this morning. In a panic I began acting. Acting cheerful and chirpy. Babbling away and encouraging her to think I was that friendly and outgoing. My inner child was screaming.
All in all, an awful day, in my head. The sun had come out, and it was 27 degrees. I watch women struggling with bikini tops trying to pull the straps down to get a little more sun on their bodies - but not so much that anyone would notice. I made the mistake of quietly sunbathing topless. I was dozing in the sun and then jerked awake - that timeless women’s radar, when you know a man is watching you and masturbating in his head. An obese fellow in turquoise blue speedos on the other side of the deck was creeping. I hate men. Not on an individual basis - love them on an individual basis - but as a sex, rubbish. I read an article in VG (Norwegian red top newspaper) a couple of days ago: Last weekend in Sarpsporg there were three stabbings, two murders and an attempted murder. “We cannot see that any of the cases are connected,” said the police. I see a connection. They’re all men. Men, a blight of Stabby Joes on our society. What’s wrong with you? Why do you masturbate when a hardworking woman is resting for a moment in the sun trying to be a better person? Why on earth would you think that stabbing someone was a solution to anything? I am beginning to suspect you are stupid. Or just a bunch of monumental cunts.
Anyhoo. I went for a sauna.
Saw K the Swedish Mental Health Worker at the samovar where we get teas for ourselves. Poor woman. She cringed when I came up to her. I acted again, acted it up right good, to make her feel better. Acting. At its best is a white lie - morally speaking. I’d wrestled with myself because I was so uncomfortable making small talk twenty cms away from a stranger. K is one of those mental health workers who is very sweet but so incompetent she really should be disbarred. Yesterday at dinner she asked me very loudly: “Do you LIKE food?” I was taken aback. I suppose she meant are you a ‘foodie’ - do you like cooking and going to restaurants. But that’s still a fucking weird question to ask a total stranger. I mean the answer is either ‘yes’ and then an interminable chat about cheeses, or the answer is ‘no’ - as in ‘no I don’t like food’, which makes you a diagnosis - and she would’ve pounced on that. I was trapped. So I did the worst thing I could, which was to be honest. I said, “Well, you know it’s complicated with food - ” at which point she cut me off and even more loudly, with that muppet Swedish accent, pounced: “OH, you have eatink disorder, yes??”
I’ve met too many mental health workers who are low on the empathy spectrum. I met a woman shrink once who said she could empathise with bulimics because although SHE had no problem with food, she consumed BOOKS! She read books as ferociously as bulimics binge, she said. She didn’t seem troubled by this. Why would she? Her teeth weren’t going to fall out. That was in 1986. To this day I think of her as one of the most deluded and privileged cunts I’ve ever met.
K the Mental Health Worker wasn’t that bad, by any stretch. But she was blinkered and rude and shouldn’t be let loose in the mental health system. I dunno. Upshot was that I told her quietly, “I don’t know you well enough to share that kind of information with you.” She looked horrified and back-peddled furiously, “Oh, I sorry we were talking so nicely and we have so much to share and it is natural for me as mental health worker to ask - ” I cut her off and said, “Please. Just leave it at that.” And suddenly she stood up, grabbed her bag and with her face in a rictus said - have a good dinner - and fled.
I was very troubled by this. I just wanted to come to a fat farm, read myself up right good, do work (much to write, translate, prepare), swim, exercise, quietly focus on food. I tend to idealise things, so I tried to be realistic, knowing it wouldn’t all be bliss and massage. But this place … I dunno. It’s loud. Doors slam. The room next to mine (we have a small, shared vestibule) seems to be for the trainers who take us through calisthenics. They are men with ‘personal trainer’ energy (although they are quite flabby, as it happens). I can hear him piss. Like a fucking racehorse. And the motherfucker never washes his hands. Another whistled at me as I walked past. The Instachicks on reception play shit techno through the tinny wall mounted speakers. As if no other music had ever, ever been created. At seven in the morning, going down for morning lake swim, you have to traverse the brain numbing stress of 160bpm. This is spa 101, surely? New age plink-plonk or jazz, never, never techno.
At the weekend a lot of guests invited their families. It was like a holiday camp. Pedalos and children. The children aren’t as unruly and Lord of the Flies as Norwegian kids tend to be, but they are all fat, and talk with their mouths full.
Someone said to me, look at the cars. Only the rich Poles can come here. And I thought, this isn’t posh. This isn’t nice. Is this what they think is upscale? There’s nowhere to sit quietly and read.
I’m not even hungry, so can’t put my malaise down to that.
Summa sumarum: little care is taken here. It is a thoughtless institution. Not sensitive in terms of space, and light and colour and sound. They waited until the farm was at full capacity and then started doing woodwork with drills and planes outside. I can hear him now. The creepy grounds man (who the other day threw my bathing towel to the ground in a fit of rage because I had left it near his work tools). I’ve tried smiling at him, because that is what women do when they are around possibly violent men, no? But smiling seems to enrage him even more.
So. My traumatised self is very alert these last few days. I have been here for ten days and have not done any work. I can’t put my guard down.
After the incident with K the Swedish Mental Health Worker I went to the reception and asked them to let me eat alone please. And surprisingly they said no problem and informed the kitchen staff.
When I met her at the samovar, I just tried to be open and honest. I said I preferred to eat alone and she said (almost crying with relief) - so do I! She was very grateful that I’d fixed it for us to be separated. We were both acting. We were both nervous. That’s why it went tits up. Sweet lady, really.
Went for a Nordic walk and was thinking about noise. How much it has harmed me and my mental state. As I was strolling along, using my Nordic Walking sticks along the pathway between glorious wheat fields and emerald forests, it occurred to me that human tramping, the thudding along summer cracked dirt pathways - especially with Nordic Walking sticks - must be hell for underground animals? Their little clay labyrinths must be shaking. I tried to walk carefully. I didn’t want to upset the moles. I know what it feels like.
It was 32 degrees today. I found a spot on the roof of the outdoor sauna where I can sunbathe topless with impunity. I thought about how sickening it is that humans have so sexualised and shamed the body that we must go to these lengths to cover up. I hate it. It wasn’t so bad 25 years ago - certainly not in Scandinavia. You could sunbathe topless without being alert. Now it is not possible. You get photographed or worse. As an old and overweight woman you get shamed. I was jogging by a fjord near Tønsberg once, and passed a group of teenagers. They started to piss themselves laughing and filmed me. I don’t know what they were going to do with the film. YouTube with caption: “Old fat woman jogging” perhaps? This was 5 years ago. I assume they are all alcoholic and unhappy now.
Listening to a ‘quality true crime’ podcast about Kaczynski (Ted - Unabomber). His technophobia was eloquent and there’s much I agree with, as do many people. He is the only convicted murderer whose collected writings are conserved by the Library of Congress, believe it or no. So, he wasn’t just a ranter - he predicted much of what has happened with tech and what it is doing to our attention, our capacity to love, absorb, be at ease. I can’t remember who it was that wrote recently: If we are constantly having to learn new things, how can we ever keep the Dunning-Kruger effect in check?
I was thinking that in one of the psycho aerobics classes yesterday. A, the fit and screechy chick who runs them is very eager that we old ladies should learn, and be pushed, so she will not shut her fucking yap throughout the 55 minutes. Explaining, correcting, correcting more, explaining, never taking a breath. We have no time to embody the bullshit 80’s aerobics moves she’s doing. She also seems to think we must not get ‘bored’ so changes moves every 20 seconds or so. This is how a meth freak would do aerobics. Everyone, and by that, I mean everyone struggles to keep up, and everyone looks confused and ashamed. There is no joy in the room. I feel my cortisol levels rising, and know I must balance the physical activity and it’s benefits with what mental stress does to me, and how quickly things can get dark if I’m exposed to a lot of drips of stress over a long period.
Ted Kaczynski was a woman-hating incel, of course. Amazing how often women are thrown into the mix when mass murderers write manifestos. I don’t think we’re an afterthought. I think we’re the basis for their malignancy. Breivik was the same. His manifesto was more virulently directed against women than Muslims. He mentioned several times at his trial that he had great respect for Muslim men. With regard to women he said: “A lot has been said about how I hate women. I don’t hate women. I hate feminists.” You could spend a season unpacking that sentence. That was 11 years ago. His views are not uncommon these days. The phrase “Die TERF, die” being as tasty a bit of misogyny as you will ever find.
The saunas by the lake, the aerobics, the walking. I’m trying so hard to distract myself from … something. Usually, I would eat comfort food. But I do not have that here, so I am basically in some form of rehab. I didn’t come here for rehab. I just wanted to shed a few kilos so I could lose some of the shame and fit into a costume I must wear for a show in November.
Weight is now 76kg. I’ve lost 3.5kgs (half a stone) in 10 days. I still look and feel grotesque though. Damn this plague of thought. This … possession. What is it that wants to get out? Me, I guess.
Friday 22nd July
I am trying hard not to leave. I have checked flights so that I can get out at short notice. I think of Withnail: We’ve gone on holiday by mistake.
I came to a fat farm by mistake.
Lunch was weird and unidentifiable. Tasted good though. I only every get frightened by crypto-foodstuff that is of animal origin. Brains, or offal - that kind of thing. So long as I know it’s vegetable, I’m all right with it. A vegetable will rarely turn on you. This one was weird tho. Overcooked something.
Still the burgeoning question of why?
Why have I come here? - To lose weight.
Why lose weight? - Because I am overweight.
So are a lot of people, so what? - I’m uncomfortable in my body.
Will losing weight solve that? - Yes.
Has it worked before? - Yes.
But you always put the weight back on eventually? - Yes.
So what’s different this time? - I’ve had therapy.
Have you had enough therapy? - er …
Has the therapy worked? - er ..
What if none of the therapy has worked, you’re just as mad as when you were in the psyche ward, and there is no meaning to anything? - I …
I always thought being a successful actress would be the crucible in which my fucked mental state would scour, be cleaned by fire. My idea of being a successful actress was mainstream of course: RADA, the RSC, The National Theatre, quality TV series ala Prime Suspect or Fleabag - eventually film. Then be just quietly respected and not have to worry about money all the live long day.
As it happened I went to a second grade drama school, got an audition at the RSC after I graduated but - oh the irony - they thought I was a fat actress when they called me - the part was for a fat actress - and I’d done gone and lost weight. I did the audition (and was even told it was an exceptional audition) - but didn’t get the part because the part was for a fat chick. After that no work and no money. In England in the 90’s you couldn’t get work unless you had an agent, and you couldn’t get an agent unless you had work. Wikipedia entries for successful actors make it look so easy. “After attending Eton, he trained at the Royal Academy,” Like saying after going to to the cinema, he picked up a pizza. It is so difficult to get into these drama schools. And so dependent on the whims of an audition panel. What they are ‘looking for’. It’s a lap dance. From the get go. (And if you’ve educated at Eton, the fucking SWAGGER that gives you, the confidence. So Tom Hiddlestone may be a nice guy, but he’s had it as easy as it comes compared to some.)
So I ran away. Moved to another country. Had to make my own work. I was forced into becoming a creative artist. I still worry every day about money, and the future. And the sickening sense of failure, that I never worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is so fucking random. The acting profession. There should be no prizes for just acting, because it’s just about being at the right place at the right time - but more importantly having the right personality. So many stars have to align. It’s a crock the whole thing. But it was my church. And it’s disintegrated now.
That said, if I had access to cake and ice cream I wouldn’t be this morose. They say you should lean into your anger. Not avoid it by outing it. I am very confused.
All the things I find fault with here are tolerable. For normals. Tiny irritations, magnified by the magical thinking of frailty. But it’s eating away at me and my brain is whirring all the time. I will have to make a decision soon. Should I stay or should I go. Therapy teaches us to lean into stress, to desensitise. And I’m trying. But there is a limit. The atmosphere and rhythms of the day remind of me of the psyche ward. But at least in the nuthouse I didn’t have shaven headed Polish men pissing like racehorses a meter from my bed, separated only by a wall apparently made of tissue and spit. Is this brain whirr becoming so detrimental that it defeats the object?
On the upside, Chris Pratt has arrived at the farm. To be precise, two Chris Pratts: a father and son. I have flirted with both of them and it brings me some solace. They are very handsome and chubby, like Chris Pratt was in Parks and Recreation, before he got buff and became A list.