Annie Rhiannon

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Please stop confusing love
with praise and attention

Rita's turning 80 this week and I want to know what she'd do differently with her life if she was starting all over again. I find myself doing this a lot lately: pressing people for more stories and wisdom than they were expecting to have to share.

“Body lotion,” says Rita, lighting a Silk Cut like a full stop. This conversation is over, my friend.

Body lotion! I don't believe her. She just doesn't want to spend another afternoon discussing love and ambition and personal failure.

“Okay, fine,” I say, leaving it alone.

Rita calls me Annie Get Your Gun, and so does the caretaker at work. I tell her that now – how I turned up for my first day too early, and the caretaker had to let me in and he said what's your name and I said Annie and he said oh yeah, Annie get your gun, is it?

“Yeah,” I said. "You got it.”

I like it when older people reference Annie Oakley when I meet them. It makes me feel like a cowboy. Then they wink at me and I wink back and nobody knows what just happened – but it has something to do with riding a horse through a canyon when really it's my first day at work and I'm here too early, nervously looking for the bathroom.

“Down the hall and to the left,” said the caretaker, and I'd walked off down the corridor where he was pointing.

The building was quiet and dank and felt more like an old cigarette factory than a film studio. But that's because that's what it is. I walked past the empty costume hall with all the empty costume racks and into the bathroom; then I went and found the empty art department and claimed a desk and a pile of scripts and started reading. People assume that being a graphic artist on a TV show means you work on the opening titles or something – but that's a whole other department. My job is to make the graphics that the actors actually use in the set: old treasure maps and period newspapers and boxes of vintage cigarettes. Isn't that a great job? To be put in charge of making old love letters for the actors to pass between them on set?

I am making all this sound way more romantic than it is.

Rita is falling asleep. I remember her once telling me I should stop confusing love with praise and attention. My scalp is itching. Sometimes I wonder if I have skin cancer — is an itching scalp a symptom? Also, when people say “I've nearly finished my book” are they talking about reading a book or writing one? It's hard to tell sometimes and it makes me feel anxious. I tried to read/write something last night but I got distracted and ended up drawing a picture of an owl instead.

I tear the owl out of my notebook now and leave it on Rita's dresser. Stop confusing love with praise and attention, she said. I think I'm trying to impress her.