Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snow Fairy

The heaviest snowfalls southern England has seen in the past 10 years have been when I've been here. It is currently both the first time I've been in London for Christmas and the first time it has snowed at Christmas in over 25 years. This past January I visited London for a week and, lo and behold, there was snow. Canterbury was mounded in over a foot of snow during my erasmus year there. More to the point, there has not been significant snowfall recently in this area without me.

For a while I thought this phenomenon was somehow linked to my curse from Ralph, the God of Plumbing, but I'm willing to concede that this is just global warming and good timing as I have not, to my knowledge, affected snowfall in the US. Dieties of Disasters, Drainage, and Ductwork are not beholden to mankind's political boundaries.


I haven't updated much lately because I've been very busy and very happy. I tend to not feel moved to blog when I'm in a good mood, which I may have mentioned before probably gives an unfair impression of me to the unassuming reader.

Today I'm content but idle as I'm unwilling to brave the riot that is Christmas shopping again if I can help it. Yesterday I started at noon, when the mummies of fussy children were smiling and indulging their spawn's screeched demands for cake and entertainment. I eventually ran for home at 5, by which time the unrelenting screams had passed through the 'ignore the brat' phase and had finally caused even the sweetest of mummies to start shouting and throwing things. I hid my wallet in a high inner pocket and more than once had need to shoo little sticky probing hands away from my bags. I'm learning restraint though, I think--I merely murmured "smack your offspring unless you'd like me to do it for you" rather than grabbing the face of the breeder who's sprog I had just prised off of my purchases and shouting it at her. It wasn't easy, though.


Kristen's News of the Asinine: I won the video game Portal recently on Ben's x-box. It was difficult because i'm awful with buttons and joysticks--my character spent most of her time slamming headlong into walls and tended to crouch when I needed her to run, so she got vaporized and drowned a lot. I like the way the game saves though--no matter how many times you get killed, you can just go back to the most recent autosave and try again, no harm done. If it weren't for this feature I'd still be on level 4. Also fun with this game is the player's ability to go into disused spaces unworried about being pursued or running out of time, most of the time, so you can pick things up and toss them around and look at the details of the graphics. The last time I played a video game before this one it was Super Mario Brothers on a black and green game boy--I lost level 1 until the batteries died--so I'd kinda missed out on developing the hand/eye coordination needed to play these things with the finesse required to win. Thanks, Valve, for making a game for me to enjoy.

And the cake isn't really a lie.


Friday I get to be appraised and re-appraised by even more members of the Boy's extensive kinship group. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Home Again

Our books are loaded into the shelves.

The plumbing is a mess.

We've washed the dishes and learned that the dryer does not get warm, so clothesline it is.

We've installed our computers into their semi-permanent homes and funneled the potful of deep-frying oil into a disposable container. We've removed the mothballs and air-stinkers. We're trying to figure out what is emitting the smell in the refrigerator.

I've tripped over the weird threshold into the kitchen twice and now have a home-shaped bruise.

We've eaten home-cooked meals at our real dining room table and listened to the Guy Garvey show on the sofa in our real living room. We've stood and looked out at late night London with our heads peeking out of the study's skylights.

We have yet to spend much time in the garden as it's been raining, but I did move a potted plant about 4 feet to open up the space a bit. (I then proceeded to dart back inside to dry off. Was it necessary to move the plant? Jeez yes.)

I've organized the toolbox and put the cds into alphabetical order. I've folded all the towels and sheets and put them in neat stacks according to what they are. I've claimed a desk and tidied the spice rack. I'm going to clean the grease off the stove vent soon and mop the kitchen. I cleaned the U-bend from the bathroom sink and Dad of Boy troubleshot the problems with the shower (i.e. it don't work, get a plumber.) In short, I'm working to make the space into something that functions with the inclinations of my brain.

I'm going to the doctor on Thursday to see about my face, which is a red-and-beige model of the night sky. Oh look, Mars is in retrograde.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Last night we moved into our new house.


The entire place is in disarray and our stuff is still mostly in suitcases. It feels very alien.

The place is furnished. I've barely looked at most of the furniture, let alone sat on it.

I still feel like I'm in someone else's home, and they'll be back in just a minute.

All the shelves are empty aside from a few knicknacks and matchbooks that clearly weren't worth transporting. The owners didn't quite finish clearing out before they left so we came in to sheets and towels still in their places from the morning of their flight. Teacups still in the drying rack. Fridge full of food. I don't want to touch anything in case I put it back in the wrong place.

They're in Mexico. They'll be there at least a year. They want us to move in and take over the place. It's our home. We're renting, not house-sitting.

We have an office at the top of the stairs. We have a guest room. We're not guests. We're not guests. We need a rug in the living room. It echos.

We're going to go back for Boy's guitars and books on Saturday. There's heaps of both. I should empty out the suitcases so we can refill them with the acres of pages. I'm chicken. The books may help with the echo. And the sparse look of the place. Empty bookshelves are creepy.

I got to school today. I'm not entirely sure how to get back. I have a map.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Croatan Ridge

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Currently stateside. North Carolina. Cape Hatteras. The lighthouse's historic beam swings through our northern window every seven seconds throughout the night. Blink. Whoosh. Blink. I'm sipping a cold Fat Tire and tuning in and out of my extended family's conversations in the rental palace's olympic-sized kitchen. Blink. Whoosh. Blink. The sun has set and the 5-story tennis court on stilts is emitting a warm, cozy glow. The mother of the bride is panicking in a good-natured way. Blink. Whoosh. ... ...

Well, it does when the island has power.

It tends to lose this luxury when it's swept with gale-force winds for two days straight, accompanied by driving rain that pelts your windscreen with hailstone-like force. As burial of electric mains in flood-prone sand would result in little other than an established regimen of time-wasting for digging crews, the pole-strung power lines get a little wiggly and unreliable during hurricane season.

It would appear that we chose an inopportune moment to brave the barren, dune-covered emptiness of Highway 12, the sole route through the Outer Banks, as Hurricane Ida had decided to vent the last of her remaining fury somewhere between Kitty Hawk and Ocracoke. Pea Island, an untouched nature preserve, was a particularly hairy area to motor through at a crawl--I'm not sure if the head-on sideways rain, the headlight-deep puddles, the utter lack of visibility, the waves crashing over the dunes and onto the car, or the giant heaps of relocated sand dunes were the scariest bit. The roads and bridges were studded with the remains of shorebirds flung into traffic and trees by the relentless wind. For a while I thought it was snowing, but upon closer inspection--while fording a particularly deep road-river--I realized it was very fine, very rapidly moving white sand. Those lovely white-sand beaches. My shaking white-knuckled hands.

Friday, 13 November 2009

We really should have taken today's significant date into consideration when making plans for such an emotionally, spiritually charged event as a wedding. Today the bridge is closed and the rest of the road is periodically filled with crushing waves. The dunes, plasmodic and mobile while I was driving in two nights ago, completely broke, and the ocean is now hogging all lanes of traffic. The only route into and out of Cape Hatteras is under two feet of water, and the road surface itself is destroyed. The Chesapeake Bridge/Tunnel is closed, and all ferry service to the outer banks has been suspended until the storm surge subsides. We've been asked to sit tight, and that's precisely all we can do. My sister is remarkably calm.

Road crews can't get out to the missing areas to begin rebuilding--apparently work vehicles have been washed away and sunk into the sand. The wind is a sustained 50mph gust, coming from the west. All docks are underwater. The second guest house, Sushi, is standing in about 6" of seawater. The front yard has choppy waves.

Family and friends are doing amazing things in spite of or perhaps because of this. The food has been amazing and has come in copious quantities. Everyone is so helpful and selfless. The wedding has been officially moved to the pool house--the upstairs of which is a large, empty hall. We filled it with chairs--originally intended to go around tables outside just for the reception, as the wedding was supposed to be all-standing on the lawn. Instead it has an aisle--something my sister never really wanted to do--and we will have a processional. The bride and groom's friends couldn't have been better suited to make these changes--all the electricians, lighting designers, stage managers, and carpenters pulled out their skills and artistic eyes and made the space beautiful. The seating chart was re-drawn in VectorWorks to fit the dimensions of the hall.

We got our nails done--I have a French manicure. It's lovely.

50 guests, caterers, the musician, the photographer, the hairdresser, and the officiant are stranded on another island. There's no way in hell they're going to get here. Another guest, purely out of a sense of necessity, went and got himself ordained online this morning and can perform the ceremony if it comes to it. The guests are mostly family. We're seeing if we can set up video Skype and have that in a separate party location. The bride is holding it together, but tensions are high. The mother of the bride is starting to crack. The father of the bride is trying to pull a kite off the roof with a fishing pole. It's the most appropriate thing to do, really. My date for the wedding is dismantling my banjo to fit it in the suitcase.

The wedding rehearsal has been postponed until we have a better idea of which ceremony participants will be able to get here. The food for the rehearsal dinner is stuck with the caterers. The fresh fish was going to spoil even in the fridges that the hotel was kind enough to share, so they gave the ingredients to whichever hotel staff could use it. The North Carolina Department of Transportation is on a first-name basis with many of the bridal party and guests. All of the locals know about the wedding and have been hugely accommodating. Dad has the only truck with a high enough chassis to make it down the driveway--the water is 2' deep in places--so when we realized that there was no dinner he went to pick it up from a nice restaurant a few miles away. They're not really a take-out sort of place, but they'd heard about our crisis and made several of each main course on their menu for dad and my uncle to take back, as we couldn't get everyone to the restaurant. The owner gave them some beers and chatted with them while they waited. Happy campers.

I wore a pretty dress! My sister's was much prettier, but it was really fun to smarten up for a few hours after being damp and cold all day. The food was amazing and the mother of the groom made a beautiful toast--to the bride and groom, to our efforts, and even to Ida for bringing out the best in all of us. Then we all got good and drunk.

Throughout the evening phone photos filtered in of the other wedding guests having drinks and toasting the bride and groom from wherever they were--many of whom who had managed to bump into our other stranded friends and relatives and start getting to know one another.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

I'm still confused and jet lagged. I spent some time today stringing lights and lanterns outside while the wind attempted to upend the swimming pool on me. Then Ben and I put on neoprene sandals and shorts and walked around in the drive and road outside the house to see if we couldn't chart a course through the water that was less than a foot deep all the way along. We managed 14" if you hugged one side, then cut quickly to the other, and returned with this information to the drivers of SUVs. They were in the process of orchestrating a fleet of small boats to bring wedding guests from Manteo Island to the house for the ceremony. After several hours of discussion they managed to secure 3 boats with sufficient seats for 57 people and got all of the guests from 4 hotels and several rental properties to the dock and in the water. After that we fussed and futzed and got my sister all decorated--her hair was amazing!--until the first guests (and last bridesmaids and the minister and the caterers) began to arrive from the pier by uncle-powered shuttle. The groom's sister's car flooded and began misbehaving during this time, which left the best man stranded with it near the ferry terminal. An emergency uncle was called upon to collect him and throw him in a shower and a suit as quickly as possible.

We rehearsed the ceremony at 6pm and decided to hold the real thing at 8. After a few missteps when the non-theatre folk were confused by references to stage right and cue standbys, we managed a simple, no-frills procession. My sister and her then-fiance decided to walk down the aisle together after the moms and dads.

The ceremony was beautiful and brief. The musician played and sang some very pretty songs for the processional and seating. We all had some good laughs--particularly when the minister announced "We made it!" The bridal party all carried candles. The best man carried the vows, and I was hands-free to receive the bouquet of lavender. My teenage cousin and the groom's half-brother were on hand with rings--my new brother also wore an engagement ring--and in the time it took us to say "we recognize and bless your union" they were hitched.

Then dinner and drinks and a variety of toasts. The best man's was genuine--a well-prepared speech on the meaning of love that became more true and more relevant as the week went on. Then mine: "May the wind be always at your backs, but may it not blow a gale!" And thoughtful and grateful words from my father and the groom. The cupcakes--made onsite by a team of friends and cousins--were amazing. Salted caramel recessed in chocolate. Pumpkin and cinnamon. Sweet Revenge's Pure recipe. Chocolate raspberry. And the centerpiece--a really, really big cupcake--red velvet with cream cheese frosting. OMG. I kinda passed out shortly after all this. As I slept the uncle-shuttle zoomed back into action and got the guests back onto boats and back toward their cars before the break of day.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

We woke up this morning to find that the water has begun to recede and the wind has abated. Sushi house--with its glass block castle door and pagoda-style rear tower--lost its moat overnight. We found bits of dad's kite, which had been flying unmanned for three days off the upper deck of the house, in the road and up a tree. Dad climbed after it and scraped his leg.

The road was still closed--well, gone--and the first ferry didn't go out until after it was too late to make our flight. (The 2 ferries--one to Ocracoke, the other from there to Swan Quarter on the mainland, add at least 4 hours to the trip.) I called the airline and got redirected to Montréal where an AirFrance representative flatly failed to rebook my ticket, resulting in headaches and arguments later in the day.

As calls filtered in of missed and canceled flights from friends and family we pulled chairs out of the pool house and stacked and prepared rented dishes for pickup. We started coming across all the neat things we were going to use and do for the ceremony and reception--all the cute bar tables and stools that were going to go out around the pool. All the bamboo poles that were strung with fairy lights to go outside. All the beautiful driftwood that dad had carefully selected and mom had dried and decorated for centerpieces. All the green beans that went uneaten because a quarter of the guests couldn't make it onto the island. All the dancing we were going to do. All the playlists that had been compiled to create different soundscapes for each floor of the house. All the plans. All the arrangements. All the lightbulbs. All the beer. People were worried about waking up early so it was unintentionally one of the driest weddings I'd ever encountered. Dozens of wine bottles were packed into cars and 6 kegs of local beer are being returned to the brewery untapped. All the well-thought through plan A's, plan B's, plan R's...but when it came down to it, plan play-it-by-ear went pretty well too. And the end result is the same. They're married.

Monday-Tuesday, 16-17 November, 2009

Transit day. Woke up at 4am for 5:00 ferry. Missed 5:00 because of insufficient room as the city has demanded that the fleet of stinky garbage trucks which have been stranded here since Wednesday take priority on the outbound runs. Got the 6:00 in a convoy with dad, the short-notice bridesmaid, and the backup minister. Watched the sun rise while the iconic lighthouse did its last pass of the morning. Blink. Whoosh. Got to Ocracoke at 6:45. Missed the 7:00 ferry as it too was full. Got coffee and the 8:00 to the mainland. Phone died--the power cable didn't work with the adapter at the house so the calls to airlines and car rental agencies drained the battery. Lost track of dad and rest of convoy. Got lost because North Carolina doesn't seem to have laws preventing two roads of the same name from intersecting. Got to airport with a few hours to spare. Returned rental car only to discover that the natural disaster note that had been put on the account had been ignored. Charged late fee and for extra day. Rental desk less than useless. Checked in successfully for flight 1 of 2. Told to check in for flight 2 in Atlanta because it's technically a bulk Air France ticket and we can't process it here, but they'll take care of it there no problem. Smooth flight south. Try to check in for flight 2 to Heathrow. Wind up spending an hour waiting while bitchy service desk person tries and fails to transfer ticket, which was issued, in spite of everything, for the previous day's flight. She tries to blame it on us, but we flatly point out to her that it was botched by a representative of her company, and as she works for them too, it's her job to fix it. She mumbled about it being Air France's fault, but as Delta is in bed with them, and the flight is operated by Delta, she can kiss my lilywhite ass. She winds up printing us boarding passes--which had been reserved, but not tickets--and stapling them to the previous day's tickets. We board, we sleep fitfully. We get through customs and are astonished to find that our luggage came home too. Thank you, Atlanta Baggage Handlers--that was amazing.

We told joy and horror stories when the rest of the family got in. Their terror when it came to the driving conditions was mitigated by the fact that we were telling it, in one piece, in the kitchen. Their oohs and aahs at the suitcase-rumpled formal clothing, the reassembled party lanterns, and pretty mom-made silk stoles sounded slightly sad that they'd missed it, though slightly relieved too. We did some laundry. We fell aslee

Thursday, October 01, 2009

schoolmates, drinking mates

I've registered for classes. The registration process was a little strange, and as with everything I've done lately, what I was told to have was not what was required, but thankfully I had what they wanted anyway.

"I need to see your qualifications."
"What qualifications?"
"The ones we required for your acceptance."
"Er...I was accepted based on my performance at interview. Do you need to see my portfolio?"
"No, your qualifications from other schools."
"Like the original copy of my university transcript that I submitted with my application packet? The piece of paper you already have?"
"Yes, we need to see that again."
"So take it out. You have it."
"I need to see another original."

I punched him in the ear.

Actually, luck would have it that when I purchased--yes, purchased, they're $10 a copy--official copies of my transcript from USC back in December I sprung for 5 and only wound up using 4. So I had a spare, and was miraculously able to pull it out of my notebook. But seriously? That's retarded. Especially figuring I didn't have to submit that for my visa application--you have to send the border agency all your supporting documents that the school said your acceptance was based on in the official letter they write for you. Mine said "Code 014X: Student was accepted based upon performance at audition or interview." No documents required.

Other registrants encountered similar confusions and problems. Most did not have official copies of their undergraduate records tucked away in their asses so they received a tongue lashing. In that "how dare you not have something we didn't ask for!" way.

It was wonderful to talk to other students and hear just how shitty their processes were in getting over here. Some students' visa applications were rejected due to internal errors in the border agency. Others discovered, much like I did, that FAFSA and their loan agencies lied to them repeatedly, nearly ruining everything on numerous occasions. "I thought Central had my FAFSA until July, when I discovered that they'd never sent it because I asked the finance department what the hold-up was." "I was told my official financial aid letter was fraudulent because the letterhead was in black and white." "My daddy just has a lot of money--I didn't have to take out a loan so I've had a visa since June." "My school couldn't find a copy of my transcript because of a massive computer crash in 2007." "My visa was delivered in a timely fashion, but the FedEx employee was contractually obligated to step on my foot before he left."

We had a quick tour of the library from the cheery and funny head librarian who started her presentation with "I'm certain you'll all forget everything I said by the end of the day, but let me at least show you around. As students in the past have pointed out, "Central's library is exclusively my favorite section." We hope it also turns out to be useful to you."

The head of the IT department was equally bright and funny and got us logged into the intranet--which is available off campus! Holla!

And then it was off to the pub. For the rest of the day. Yes. Ms. Kristen was pleased. Most of my new classmates are hella interesting and smart, and I only say most because I didn't meet everyone. We're a diverse group of internationals and locals, and by my reckoning we number about 35. We all have different ideas of how the course is going to run, so hopefully on Monday we'll set the record firmly crooked. But I've really liked the people I've met.

There were 3 people including me from my interview group. A local girl said 8 people from hers registered. The school has apparently told last year's students that we're a smaller group than theirs, but a girl from the 09 class isn't really sure that's true.

I may have picked up the nickname "apple-tizer" but I'm not entirely sure how. We'll see how that plays out.

Anyway, the pub was fun, and everyone's excited to get started. I think I'm in good company.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Welcome to England. Here's your fee.

I've made it to London safely, and have been settling in for about a week in my temporary residence in Greenwich. The Boy and I visited Cambridge over the weekend and found it lovely, if a bit too familiar--neither of us had been there before, but thanks to its age and geographical similarity to Canterbury we both felt automatically as though we knew our way around.

The Cam narrows to a stream around the city and over the weekend it is completely rammed with puntfuls of happy tourists being shoved along by ropey-muscled puntsmen, which was quite pleasant to watch from the apexes of Cambridge's many bridges. We thought it likely that the puntsmen are on the school rowing teams during term-time and probably just do this for extra cash in the summer. The more experienced punters went unshod and wore thin, lightweight, and quite obviously old clothing in the style of a man who is quite confident that he'll fall in at least once today. Several had dapper, buoyant straw hats that they clearly wore in preparation for a comic plunge. While we never felt the urge to take a ride on the river, the boats, surrounded by massive weeping willows, ancient halls of academia, and acres of neatly trimmed lawn made for two beautiful days of relaxed sightseeing.

And then...tragedy struck in the form of a bank card. Visa, in a disgusting foray into additional extortion, has found a new way to painfully fuck every young person who crosses the Atlantic. It's called a transaction percentage fee, and it hurts.

Back in the US I went down to my local Wachovia branch and asked what the word was on international transactions. I was told, and I quote, "if you withdraw cash, you'll get a $5 loyalty fee from Wachovia, and an additional charge of 2% of every withdrawal from Visa. Your best bet is to use your card, which has no fee, and take out as much cash as you can from the outset in order to avoid paying out too much."

What that actually meant when I got here was, "yes, there's a $5 loyalty fee for using other banks' ATMs even though we're positive there's no Wachovias within 5,000 miles of you, and on top of that, Visa charges 3% on every transaction INCLUDING withdrawals. No matter what, every time I spend a cent, Visa takes a nibble. By the time I'd figured that out (because the fees didn't show up on my statement until about four days after the transactions) I'd given Visa $20 of my hard-earned low-value savings. (the pound is sitting at about $1.60--quite nice compared to my undergrad average of $1.97 but it still means my money is cheap).

Now, fun thing. When I found this out I ran to my nearest British bank and said "account me now" and they said "oh, actually, we need a letter from your school, written to our bank, saying that you're a student and confirming your address." "But I have two letters here from my school that the border agency accepted, and my passport, which has a shiny year and a half student entry clearance in it that even has my picture on it, and on your website this was all and exactly what was required for the type of account I want." "well, sorry, but these are the rules." "not according to your website. I would like to formally request that you update it to reflect your actual policy." "I'll see what can be done." "I'm positive you won't. But never mind. You want me to write a letter to my school telling them my address so they can write a letter to you with the same address on it." "Yes." "That's moronic."

So I went and got a letter written, then went up to school the following day to pick it up. It had been left at reception and the whole process of getting it took about eight seconds. Thank you Central. I then enjoyed a one-hour wait at the bank to be seen at all, then an additional chunk of waiting after I began my meeting with a bank representative who wasn't at all sure if the letter, the passport, the visa, and my presence in the bank were sufficient proofs of ID for their purposes.

Now I'd just like to establish that my first week of my undergraduate career put a foul taste in my mouth for banks and credit companies' student-geared promotional materials. Thousands of my classmates were roped into signing up for credit cards with eye-crushing interest rates by smiling, pretty girls who handed out free* t-shirts emblazoned with funny slogans, cell phones, pizza discounts, beer, bottle openers, beer coozies, and chances to win big! in raffles for cars, vacations, and cash prizes. Thousands of these ignorant kids then found themselves drowning in debt within months to companies that were suddenly short on smiling pretty girls after they failed to realize that credit is not free money, or even cheap money. After years of paying off one card with another and spiraling into alcoholism-inducing poverty many students dropped out of school, signed up for credit counseling, managed to consolidate and pay off their debts, only to find that their credit score was still so low they couldn't even find an apartment, much less a new student loan, and moved back in with their parents. All for free t-shirts that brandished cute sayings like "chick magnet" and "my other ride is your sister."

I don't trust free shit for students.

So imagine my distaste when I discovered that the only account for which I qualify is one that smells horribly of student rip-off. It has a fee, has no financial benefits, but it offers me great perks like 2 for 1 movie tickets! (i hate the movies), 25% off big shows! (like Madonna concerts...right. yeah, I'll use that. Willingly.) cell phone insurance! (why on earth are you offering that? Don't trust it.) Gadget cover! (yeah, I've gotten tech replacement policies before. The ones that end on "if technology has moved on since you bought it and it's obsolete by a month and it's not really easy for us to replace you can buy a new one for $700 and we'll give you $50 after a few years and consequently repeal our gadget cover policy." After reading the fine print I typically opt out.) and a variety of other pointless bells and whistles that have nothing whatsoever to do with banking!

So, can one opt out of the pay-for-play bells and whistles? No. And to add insult to injury, not only did I have to concede that I'd pay £6.95 a month for the honor of a UK bank investing my money as they see fit, but I had to go through a form with an accounts manager while we discussed which of the perks I would find most valuable. I said none, seriously dude, I don't want any of this, I just want a safe place to put my loan disbursements, and still he persisted. What about the mobile phone cover? You could lose it, break it, have it stolen, doesn't matter... I picked up my 6 year old green-screened torchphone that I've been borrowing from my boy. "There is no point in insuring an object that has no value." "Well if you get a new phone?" "I'm happy with it." "But if." "But if. Fine." "Great! See, for just 6.95 a month you'll get this and all these other features--2 for 1 cinema tickets--"i hate the cinema." "Oh come on, everyone loves the cinema!" "I hate it. I can't justify to myself paying $10 for 3 cents worth of popcorn just to sit in a sticky seat and watch a brainless sequence of explosions." "Naw, everyone loves the cinema! You can take your boyfriend!" "My boyfriend is too smart to drag me into an expensive, foul-smelling crowd." "See? That's worth £72 over the course of a year! So I'll just tick that off." "I said I didn't want it." "You'll want it." I then punched him in the ear.

Okay, well, maybe I didn't quite punch him in the ear. I did remind him that I'd looked through the perks online and did not find myself wanting any of them. He eventually lowered his voice and said "Look, I know, and I'm sorry, but I'm contractually obligated to go through this form with you and check off a few things that you value, for the marketing department." "That's dishonest." "It's just part of it. You have to pay for the account anyway because you're international. I'm not saying its right or fair, but every bank does it and this is among the cheaper ones. It's still cheaper than paying Visa every time you need money." Just now I pay you.

Defeated, I signed the forms. A tiny demon danced across the desk, giggling and gyrating its pelvis at me.

Looks like I'm sold. Alas. On a brighter note, my southern reserve and sweet tolerance when it comes to imbeciles and dishonesty have fallen off, the upshot of which is that I've been feeling better about myself after my encounters with bureaucracy. I've come to feel far more comfortable calling shenanigans, declaring the unacceptable, and standing my ground than ever before. I'm so tired of being taken advantage of and kicked around by the sweet-sounding mouthpieces of big business and big government. You ain't so innocent, sister--you work for these people, you know exactly what you represent, so when you lie, I'm going to call you on it. I am done being patient and courteous. That route has gotten me nowhere.

Asshole time it is.

*to qualified applicants (not first-time applicants with no credit rating) for the first 3 months, then 17% APR compounded monthly thereafter. Maximum credit begins at $2,000, with the option to extend after the first 3 months. Any balance of greater than $2,000 after the first 3 months will be considered an informal credit limit expansion request and the APR shall be raised to 19% . . . .

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Re: A Cohabitation Update

To Kim's Kitchen Sink:

I would grow weary of monthly budget sit-downs, itemized chore rosters, and high-lighted question marks next to tubs of ice cream that were technically for both of you but only one person ate. Indeed, I think that sort of policy of stringent household equivocation would drive my Boy screaming from the house. He is much more content with the "thump" policy--that is, if I require him to clean, fix, or pay for something, I thump him on the forehead. But maybe you and your Boy will find that refreshing, to get everything aired out and back to even on a regular basis, and it wouldn't require you to be constantly responsible for his actions. This all is, of course, up to you.

That said, if you're happy to go the on-paper, every cent tallied route, I think there's some considerations you should take in before you agree to any financial or tidiness-related "fairness campaign":

-who earns more? S/he should feel comfortable throwing down more for rent, utils, and chow.
-who's home more? S/he should feel comfortable cleaning and maintaining more.
(if these spots are filled by the same person...well la-tee-frickin-da, good for him or her.)
-who is more likely to generate a mess that does not benefit the other? if you bake a pie by yourself for both of you to eat, it is appropriate for Boy to at least help cleaning up all the mixing bowls. if you bake a pie and don't share, you clean up for yourself. If he takes his bike apart on the living room floor to grease it and you walk through an hour later and trip over a spoked wheel, you have a right to kick him.
-Does either party enjoy cleaning? Will one person get upset if s/he begins to clean and the other doesn't snap-to to help? Does one party clean things that aren't actually dirty, or does one party fail to see filth? If that's the case, only a verbal instruction (paired with a thumping) is going to get you anywhere anyway.
-Who is better at budgeting? Who actually gets the fingerprints off the wine glasses? If you tend to forget to pay the rent, perhaps you should entrust the budgeting and fiscal scheduling with him. If, try as he might, he still manages to turn your socks pink, perhaps you should do the laundry. If you are actually better at all of these things than him, perhaps its time to teach the dork how to wash a dish, and tattoo due-dates on his arms.

Writing checks to each other actually sounds like what divorced people do, not people who really want to live together and make things work. Remember--as long as both people are aware and remember to pay on a regular basis, most equivocation will come out in the wash. If after a few months you're finding that fiscal fairness is not being upheld, there's no crime in opening a joint bank account that you can both throw into without being married, or even planning on marriage.

If you feel you need to set up a chore wheel or stick grocery receipts to the refrigerator, it's an indicator that you don't actually trust him to do his part. While you've been off-paper living together for a while now, I don't think you've had a fair chance to see what he's able and willing to do on his own. If he proves incompetent, negligent, or unwilling to contribute to any set of responsibilities, then you should bust out the cardstock and thumbtacks as a last resort before kicking the bastard out. But give yourselves a chance to see how your natural inclinations mesh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Misc, Various

Financial situation: I am an employed member of American society. I work hard when I can get jobs in my field, and when none are available, I temp. It's not glamorous but it's work and I'm glad to have it. Unfortunately, on the wages I earn I could afford either rent or insurance premiums, but not both. Needless to say, I don't live in a tent.

So. As one of the 47 million Americans who are uninsured or insufficiently-insured, I feel that current events affect me rather a lot. Far more, indeed, than the gun-waving fanatics at town hall meetings or the wealthy lobbyists and "news" anchors who sent them there.

Let's look at me, as a demographic, for a moment. I'm 24, single, and not a parent. I hold a BA in a liberal art and am embarking, in just over a month, upon an MA. I'm a skilled carpenter and rigger and have a good work ethic. I type 90 words per minute and have been described as an ideal employee by my temp agency for having the simple sellable skill of courtesy. (Indeed, shouting at Sallie Mae representatives was not easy for me.) I actively pursue regular employment and speak and write in English.

Am I what you envision when you think of the 47 million Americans scraping by without access to health care?

For the past four years I have found myself working very hard for next to nothing in internships and assistantships around the country in order to make connections in a field that is rapidly collapsing upon itself because it costs more to produce than patrons are willing to pay.

In 2008 I earned just enough money to not qualify for Medicaid but far too little to afford private insurance, even when I itemized my student loan repayments and living expenses. Guess where that left me. (one moment while I find my Hiker's Guide to Shit Creek and a highlighter)

Interestingly, I do have some medical concerns that I would absolutely love to have addressed, but most if not all of them would not be covered by a basic health plan at the best of times. A chunk of my retina has detached and is freewheeling around the vitreous fluid in one of my eyes. My teeth, which have always chipped when I so much as eat yoghurt, are in a bad state and one of the lower incisors may need to be completely replaced. My face is a raging bacterial infection that is not only immune to benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid but is made red, scaly, and painful by even small amounts of either.

Are any of these concerns life-threatening? Probably not. But even if my vital organs are in pretty good nick, I still need some work. Yes, technically I can survive blind in one eye and missing a few teeth, but if I can avoid these problems I'd prefer it--particularly in the job field that I seek. I'd be hard-pressed to find someone who makes a comfortable wage in a white-collar environment who got into their job with gaping holes in their smile, a face that's downright icky, and severely compromised vision. There are probably people out there who've managed it, but even if company policy prohibits it, interviewers take things like appearance into consideration. While broken teeth don't actually indicate personal dental neglect and acne isn't a real sign of poor hygiene, appearances mean quite a lot when it comes to gaining employment. I keep my clothes clean and rarely carry an offensive odor, but due to genuine medical issues that I can't afford to correct, I look like a slob. Would you hire me?

The thing that really baffles me about people's aversion from socialized (or social-lite) health care is the fact that so many of these people would, if asked, concede that they're being rooked by their (shudder) premiums and they know it. (the word Premium grosses me out, not unlike the word Moist) Yes, we the people know that insurance is by its very definition an act of extortion that we buy into in order to feel safe. "I'm paying you to help me out in the event that I get sick, because on some subconscious level I believe that if I give enough money to the right people I won't get sick, I won't get hurt, I'll get in to Heaven, and I'll be happy and safe." I'm accepting your money under the condition that you don't get sick, because when it comes down to it I have no more idea as to what lies after death than you do, even movie stars get hit by cars, and absolutely nothing buys happiness." We all know that taking out an insurance policy is gambling and selling insurance requires fraud, but decent, intelligent people do both.

And if it wasn't for the profit side of insurance, it really would be an entity purely established for the greater good. Everyone pays into the pot so that in the eventuality that someone does get hurt or sick, there's money available to fix them. Insurance Is socialism. Or is on paper. In the US it's more of a Ponzi scheme, and those who are most likely to need it don't get it because that would force the companies to actually use the money they've worked so hard to collect.

I and others have explained this concept to many Americans and found the principle dashed against the wall, not through intelligent rebuttals, but with the simple phrase "I've got mine, I don't care about you." Many people seem to believe that when they pay their insurance premium they're just paying the company for the right to have them pay out, apparently from their assholes, in the event that they need medical attention. The idea that they're using money from other people's premiums, in addition to their own, doesn't quite dawn upon them. So a more accurate phrase to describe their state of insurance is "I've got yours and mine, but I don't care about you." And who are the yous? Millions of people who are just as likely to get H1N1, drive off a bridge, doze off while making toast, drink themselves jaundiced, and develop diabetes as oneself. The people who can't afford health insurance under the current plan are typically, if anything, more likely to take care of themselves simply because they know there's no safety net. (That doesn't mean we don't need it, don't want it, or are too good for it. We're just forced to be somewhat more aware when we're crossing the street by the crippling fear of even more debt.) We're mostly employed, 'cos otherwise we'd probably qualify for Medicaid and wouldn't be in this bind.

A question I have, for any reader who may stumble across this--are you really happy with your insuranace? I've heard on the news that millions upon millions of Americans like their insurance the way it is, but I have never actually met one of these people. Everyone I know has been alarmed to find that their premium has been hiked out of their affordable range after they've gotten hurt, or has been rejected for necessary surgery because their doctor improperly filed a form, or has found that, because their company switches insurers every six months, they've had to start from scratch with new doctors every time their kid's reflux disorder has flared up. Not once have I heard out of anyone's mouth that they are at all happy with the service they've received. "well of course, if they're talking about it it means they're unhappy with it--that's not an accurate representation." Yeah, but I know a lot of people, and a lot of them complain about it. This isn't a peer-reviewed study. So please. Let me know if you are happy with what you have.

I'm willing to pay into a system that I can afford. I am unable and unwilling to pay into a system that punishes me for going at it alone, that pockets 20 cents of every dollar I throw in, and that knowingly rejects people from the pool who might use it. These are the same people who rejected homeowners' insurance claims after Katrina because the roof blew off after the water level rose to the second story, not before. The people who wouldn't pay for an arborist to safely remove a dead tree but instead waited until it fell and smashed the roof to tell us that they weren't going to pay for the damage because their records showed we knowingly had a dead tree near the house. For-profit insurance does not reward good companies, it allows all companies to be shitheads. And they are. Remove the profitability, remove the shareholders, remove the greed and the sticky-fingered hold on policyholders' cash and you get affordable insurers who are willing to do their jobs. You're paying them to responsibly dole out everyone's collective funds to people who need it, and while they do that to an extent, they charge you far more than they will ever put into that pot.

That profit margin is the difference between me affording to join and my application being rejected due to insufficient funds. I take the risk--a risk that, in the event that something horrible does happen to me, will hurt you in the long run if I wind up being hospitalized. I can't afford hospital bills. No one can. So I'm going to take out a loan to pay the hospital, and when I lose my home (and thereby my job and my ability to get another one) because I can't afford the interest, i'm going to default. No matter how much the collection agency harasses me and hurts my feelings, it would take a thousand years for me to pay them back. which hurts the economy, and your bank with it. Ooh fun, higher interest rates for everyone! Because I got excluded for being poor. Is it fair to you, as someone who can afford it? No. Would you rather I just get a cheap lethal injection if I survive a nasty train accident with eight broken bones? Many Americans would say yes.

American insurance is the only industry I know of in which the point is to pay a lot for absolutely nothing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What Happened Next?

August 16, 2009: Receive confirmation email from British Consulate, politely telling me it will take 5-10 days to process, thank you for your patience. Convince myself I'm a terror suspect. Have dream I'm denied entry because I was deported once in 1854.

August 23, 2009: Buy two sets of plane tickets, one for Sep 1 to go to Mom's, one for Sep 15 to head to London--include time cushion just to be on safe side. Start packing to go home.

August 24, 2009: Receive e-mail from Consulate confirming issue of visa. Do a happy dance around my office.

August 25, 2009, 8:15am: Receive robophone call from UPS informing me that package will be delivered today, if no one is there to sign for it the delivery person will leave you a message. Sigh, knowing I'll have to go pick up document from UPS after work, hope it'll be open late.

August 25, 2009, 9:30am: Mom calls from South Carolina, opens package at me, describes my SHINY NEW VISA. Why it went to her house the world may never know. Apparently the new visas have your photo on them and lots of shiny squiggly business to prevent fraud. Excited to see it in a few days.

August 25, 2009, 1:00pm EST (6:00pmGMT) Ben leaves work to visit house we're interested in renting. Cross fingers and hope it's not so far out of our price range that we can't make it work.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sometimes a lawnmower is just a lawnmower

I find people who use brand names to refer to generic products, such as Hoover instead of vacuum cleaner or Crosby in place of cable clip, annoying. I don't really know why, but I'd imagine it is in some way related to my hatred for all forms of advertising. I'd much rather not have specific manufacturers referred to as though they are the primary or best example of a particular type of product. Kleenex is not the best brand of facial tissue, but when you ask your neighbor to pick up a box of them at the grocery store while they're out, you can bet that they will bring back a box of the established brand. Even if by "Kleenex" you meant Puffs.

Interestingly, I've had this low-level loathing as long as I can rememeber. I distinctly recall feeling it during a vocabulary lesson in the second grade. On Mondays Mrs. Popp would get one of those giant lined sheets of paper and clip it to the chalkboard with industrial-strength magnets and ask us to come up with at least 20 words at least 5 letters long that started with the same letter. The trick was we would have to come up with words who's second letters were all different--if we already had "apple" on the board, "aperture" would be rejected. We would try, most weeks, to get through most of the alphabet. When we came across letter pairings that didn't really work in English, for example xk, cd, sr, or mf, we would stop and talk about it (and usually giggle and try to pronounce the impossible syllables.) The week I recall so vividly was O week. We got to OX, and I knew it. The best word was Oxygen. I knew what it was, I knew how to spell it, and I even knew that through some sort of voodoo trees made it. I held a lungful of the stuff and waved my hand around like a lunatic trying to get my teacher's attention--partly because I thought it was a good word, but mostly because I wanted to remind her of how smart I was (just like I did every vocabulary day).

But alas. She picked Laura, who's hand was also in the air and who's reputation for being an imbecile was well known. Her suggestion for the vocabulary board? "Oxycute."

For readers who may not remember early-90's American tv ads, "Oxycute 'em" was (and may still be, I don't know) the catch phrase for Oxy astringent pads' marketing campaign, and a reminder that you should use their product to help clear up acne.

Mrs. Popp looked befuddled. "I'm sorry, I don't think that's a word."

"No, Oxycute. Like on TV. It means "get rid of zits." replied Laura. The heavy, already-pubescent 9 year old had a smattering of them near her temples to go along with her kids' shampoo-immune hair grease. Had I been older than 7 at the time I might have understood and sympathized that she was a clear victim of poverty in the American South. Like all of us she drank hormone-laced milk which screwed up her pituitary gland, but she also carried junk food lunches--chips, candy, coca-cola, cookies and string cheese--every day, a trend that at the time didn't send up as many red flags in teachers' minds as it should have. Her health and maturity were not being attended to, most of her words and phrases came from TV, she was kind-of dirty, she packed her own lunch of absolute garbage--she was a neglected child. Now I feel bad for her upbringing and hope she's doing something with her life that she feels proud of. At the time I thought she was stupid.

My mouth shot off, before I could stop it. "That's a nonsense word from a commercial. It's not real." Her glance was daggers, but quite a few of the other children laughed.

Mrs. Popp tried to salvage what she could of the situation. "I don't know the term, I'm sorry, but you said it means 'to get rid of zits'? Like, pimples?" We all laughed again at the word 'pimple.'

"Yeah, y'know, like Oxy pads." retorted Laura, determined to save face if she could.

"I think that's a proper noun." said Mrs. Popp, not unkindly. "Remember, our vocabulary words can be people, places, and things, but not specific people, places, and things. Anyone else?" My arm flew into the air again. The god-like second grade teacher's eyes appraised me briefly. "No, Kristen, you spoke out of turn. Who else?"

I was appalled. My perfect word was rejected because I was too much of an arrogant little shit to keep from hurting the dirty girl's feelings. I hated Laura. I hated Oxy acne-control products. I vowed I would never buy them, even if I got pimples worse than Laura's. (As it stands, I never have bought Oxy products, and my skin is far worse than Laura's, so I guess I stuck to my guns.)

After a lot of hints and effort on Mrs. Popp's part Vincent finally came up with "oxen" and it was entered onto the big word list in neat second-grade teacher handwriting. I tried to point out that "oxen" was shorter than 5 letters, but she addressed my claim without acknowledging my raised hand. "I know it's not 5 letters, but there's not that many words that start with OX so I think it's fine. In any case, it'll make the quiz on Friday a little easier! Is that what you three were going to say?" I lowered my hand, along with the other pedants, and nodded, defeated.

To this day brand names and marketing-generated words make me uncomfortable. I despise hearing product-specific words in conversation or the workplace. It cheapens conversation to hear trademarked words ("Hey, are you heading to Walgreens?") where generic ones ("I'm going to whatever drugstore I can find.") would suffice. It even puts me off my ease to refer to products and places by their market name, even if they're precisely what I'm buying or where I'm going. I could never work in fast food. ("Medium black coffee, please." "Do you mean a Grande Americano?" "No, I mean a medium black coffee. See the big metal thing with the brown liquid dripping out of it? That.") Like the way "Rockefeller Center Observation Deck" has the hip name, "Top of the Rock." I think that sounds marketing-y. I've been up there twice in a month (damn foreigners) and still think it sounds too stupid to say aloud. (I also strove tirelessly but to no avail to convince a friend that the tv program title "30 Rock" refers to the thirtieth floor, not the entire building, so no, we did not visit it.) Thankfully I rarely enter establishments that ask whether I'd like to "Super Size" my purchase, and I haven't purchased a McAnything since I was about 5. (It really does annoy food chain employees when you refuse to order anything by name. "Can I get your two-layered hamburger, please?" "My what?" "The one with two slabs of meat interspersed among three pieces of bread." "A Double Whopper?" "I guess that works too." Eventually I got so frustrated with the process that I gave up fast food, and a few years later, meat.) I just think, unless you've invented an entirely new product, or discovered an entirely new species, giving something a new name is tacky. It sounds stupid. I feel awkward when I say it, and I get annoyed and embarrassed when people correct me with their corporate-endorsed term. ("Can I take your order?" "Yes, can I get your mango-pineapple please?" "Which one--the Mango A-Go-Go or the Mango Mantra?" "" damn people humiliate you with stupid words and charge an arm and a leg? I won't be going back.)

On a related note, I hate the word "nugget."

the process so far, cont'd

August 3, 2009: Call Sallie Mae, beg for express mailing. Can it be overnighted? Customer Service rep says yes, if you have a FedEx account. Ask if it can be mailed to a local FedEx office. Am told no. Tell rep this is ludicrous, as I'm a student and an independent entity and cannot be expected to have, or have access to a FedEx account like some sort of corporation. At this time, am told that Request has been processed but no letter has been written. Rep says she will send an e-mail to encourage speed on letter writing, but I should allow 3 business days for request to be processed. Point out that 3 days have come and gone. She corrects herself, says "I mean allow 3 to 6 days, then 7-10 days for processing."
-Call temp agent, ask if temp agency has FedEx account. As temp agency's primary product is, in fact, people, who don't particularly like being FedExed, her answer is a sad no. Also tells me not to ask if I can use my primary worksite's account, as the agency considers that tacky.

August 5, 2009: Call Sallie Mae, ask if letter has been written. Am told by different rep that yes, not only has it been written, but it has been processed and shipped and should be in your hands by tomorrow (Thursday), Friday at the latest. Moreover, it was written on the 29th of July. Have doubts, but thank rep.

August 6, 2009: Nothing in mailbox. Friend arrives from China and I decide to have a good time and try not to freak out.

August 7, 2009: Nothing in mailbox.

August 8-9: Weekend. Aug 10: visit DC, get nice and sunburnt.

August 11, 2009, 9:00am: Call Sallie Mae in morning, demand letter. Rep says letter was written August 6, was shipped August 10, and should have been in my hands yesterday. Inform rep that I was told letter was written before August 4, and was to be delivered by the 6th. Ask just why the hell company policy is to lie to me to get me off the phone. Ask where letter is being mailed, as I clearly don't have it. Rep lists off my mother's address in South Carolina. Begin shouting and swearing at rep, as at no point has my mother's address been listed as my correspondance address, do you idiots even read your applicants' information, you should know that. Demand another copy be overnighted to my home at Sallie Mae's expense. Rep corrects himself and says "oh, no, it was sent to your current address, should arrive in 7-10 days." Shout that this is unacceptable. Rep connects me to manager, who asks if I can receive it as an email or fax. Eyes turn purple and nearby phone book begins to smoulder. Tell rep I was specifically told two weeks ago that email and fax were not options. Rep apologises and says she'll email it today, and will call to tell me when it's done. Ask why it can't be sent now, she says she has to find the document first, but it will be in your hands before 5. Thank her, head to diner where friend from China eats first American-style pancakes.

August 11, 2009, 4:30pm: stop into internet cafe to find milkshake for friend, decide to check email while there. No letter. Call Sallie Mae, spend 15 minutes on hold before getting base-level rep. Demand previous supervisor; rep has never heard of said person. Demand another supervisor. Wait on hold for 20 minutes. Get another base-level rep, declare I require document in next 15 minutes, rep opts to connect to supervisor, wait 15 minutes, redundant hold music begins to make me twitch. Get supervisor, demand immediate emailing of letter, supervisor says the letters are written and sent by a separate company and they've all gone home for the day since it's after 5. Inform her that that is irrelevant, as the letter has already been written and must surely be connected to my account in some way. Supervisor says letter has not been written and must be individually constructed by a high-ranking member of separate company. Nearby computer explodes at a touch from my hand. Supervisor apologises profusely and has asked assistant of high-ranking letter writer to write e-mail requesting letter for tomorrow morning. Demand from supervisor recourse to compensation when Sallie Mae's incompetence prevents me from getting visa and starting school on time. Inquire as to what policy is in place to ensure that I'm not completely fucked by their flat mismanagement of this situation from the word go. Supervisor informs me that "this is the first time the British Consulate has required this sort of thing, so it's all new, and you're the first person to have had a problem with it, so we don't have a policy regarding that." Inform her that I believe that statement is flat horse-shit, and explain that after two months of fielding her company's lies I've had enough. If the letter isn't in my hands by 8:00 tomorrow morning I will be reneging on my loan agreements, and if you still want to charge me fees for your disservice you can discuss that with my lawyer. She apologetically reiterates the company's mantra that due to the high volume of letters that need to go out she will try to have it by tomorrow, but allow for Thursday at the latest. State that this is unacceptable, I am done with Thursday at the latest, it needs to be here now, it was late three weeks ago, Godammit what is wrong with you people, if it's not here tomorrow morning expect a call from my lawyer. Supervisor apologises, begs for patience, I hang up and burst into tears. Head to Coney Island to have mohitos with my sister and scream at the ocean.

August 12, 2009, 9:35 am: E-mail with password-protected .doc file arrives in inbox.

August 12, 2009, 10:30am: Print off document at Kinko's, take whole application and passport to post office. $13.50 later it is express mailed 10 blocks to the Consulate's office, here's your tracking number. Skin loses redness, find that fire-starting ability is suddenly absent. Have a beer, visit top of Empire State building.

August 13, 2009, 10:00am: Check mail tracking. Application was signed for at the consulate half an hour ago. Sleep soundly for 6 hours.

August 13, 2009, 4:00pm: continue worrying.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the process so far

December 2008 - Begin grad school search. Become very interested in RADA and Central School of Speech and Drama. Begin communicating with schools via e-mail.
- Apply to Central School of Speech and Drama, RADA
- Receive offer of interview for Central in NYC in February.

January 2009 - Visit London to look at schools. Enjoy impromptu interviews with 3 schools (Westminster, Central, RADA.) Apply to Westminster in person. Visit Rose Bruford College, lose interest.

February 2009 - Move to NYC
- Telephone interview with and receive offer of studentship with Westminster. Realize I'm not hugely interested.
- Attend Central Interview. Enjoy it greatly. Make friends, decide we must all be classmates.

March 19, 2009 - Receive offer of studentship with Central. Realize I'm hugely interested.
March 26, 2009 - File FAFSA and request that info be sent to Central. FAFSA states this will be done automatically.
- Realize RADA is not part of FAFSA, which would mean I'd have to take out expensive private loans. Frown and think. Eventually give up on RADA when I discover their interview/portfolio review dates are not until late June, and I must accept or decline Central's offer by May 15.

March 30, 2009 - Receive Student Aid Report from FAFSA, discover I do not qualify for Subsidized Stafford Loan. Frown, but am not hugely surprised.

May 8, 2009 - Accept Central's offer, prepare to begin grad school October 5. Inquire whether FAFSA was received.

June 3, 2009 - Discover FAFSA was not sent, and that FAFSA never sends information overseas. Central requires official paper copy. Scour FAFSA website for this information, eventually find it on unrelated page. Attempt to request paper form from website. Find this is impossible. Call FAFSA, order official copy. Do not have option of choosing address to where this is sent.

June 20, 2009 - Mom receives FAFSA in SC. Forwards it to NY. Start getting concerned about time.

June 25, 2009 - Receive FAFSA. Apply for financial aid with Sallie Mae. Send off Master Promissory Note, FAFSA, cover letter outlining fund request to Central. Pay for 3-5 day delivery.
- Call Sallie Mae to ask if I need to file two separate MPNs for Stafford Loan (maxes out at $20,000) and PLUS Loan (required additional $22,000 to pass border control.) Am told by Sallie Mae representative no, just one is necessary, and overage will become PLUS loan automatically.

June 26, 2009 - Fill out application for student visa, discover application fee has tripled since 2004 and now requires fingerprints and retinal scans. Realize I don't know when financial documents will come in, abandon application.

July 13, 2009 - Call Central to see if they have received financial aid info. Am told it just arrived, will be handled in next two days. Get more worried about time.

July 22, 2009 - Receive e-mail from Central asking why I only have one MPN. Reply immediately stating that's what Sallie Mae told me to do. Ask if I should file another one, and if this will cause problems. Express confusion. Receive no reply. Start picking at face.

July 26, 2009 - Call Sallie Mae's dial-a-song, discover I will receive 2 loans amounting to $20,500. Am baffled and angry, as this is less than half of what I require to even gain entry clearance. Try to ask Sallie Mae what's going on but website and phone service encounter technical difficulties. Try to ask boyfriend, parents, sibling, Central for insight as to what may have gone wrong. No one answers phone. Start hitting things.

July 27, 2009 - Call Sallie Mae during business hours. They apologise for misinforming me before, but PLUS loan Does require separate MPN. Discover that 2 loans are not Stafford and Plus, but rather Stafford Subsidized and Stafford Unsubsidized. Am pleasantly surprised. File PLUS MPN over phone. Sallie Mae promises to contact Central themselves to confirm loan amount. Send Central .pdf of new MPN in email.

July 29, 2009 - Receive confirmation of PLUS loan amount from Sallie Mae and Central.
- Call Sallie Mae asking if I need an official document confirming loans for border control. Yes I do, and it should get to you in 10-14 days. Express that I don't have that kind of time, can you send it as a .pdf, can I pay for it to be express mailed. Am told no, that's just not how it works. Politely thank customer service agent. Hit things.
- Fill out visa application again. Credit card is rejected by website to pay application fee. Hit things. Call bank. Nothing is wrong. Receive call from bank, discover that border agency website entered security code wrong and sent garbled info. Call mom, scream a little. Give up. Mom convinces me to un-give up.

July 30, 2009 - try paying fee again during business hours. It goes through. Am $244 poorer.
- Schedule Aug 4 biometric data appointment. Shudder with revulsion. Print application.
- Discover passport needs to be valid at least 6 months after expected return from UK date. Realize mine will only be valid for 4. Hit something, but fairly gently.
- Check and find that IcelandAir only requires 3 month validity after trip. Hope this helps.
- Discover that passports may be renewed 9 months prior to expiration. Do some quick math and realize that doesn't work for me. Drink tea and wonder what will go wrong next.

Friday, July 17, 2009

passive aggression part 2

If you're a plumber, and you're sent to work on a gas line in an upstairs apartment, and you tell the owner of the building you're working on that the work will all be done on the outside of the the work on the outside of the building.

If you find it would be easier to run the pipe through, say, the floor, and through two other apartments, there are certain things you must do before you start cutting.

For instance, the first thing you must do is tell the superintendent of the building, who will then notify the landlady, who will then notify the tenants of the affected housing units. You are not legally permitted to proceed until the tenants have been notified. Under no circumstance do you enter the units without the prior consent of the tenants. Entering a housing unit without the consent of the unit's legal occupant has a name, and that name is TRESPASSING.

After the tenants have been duly notified, you may proceed with work, making sure to bring all tools and materials with you to the worksite that you will need to complete the job. This includes not only your plumbing tools, but gear such as drop-cloths, contractor bags, clean rags, and a shop vac for protecting the house you're working in and cleaning up any messes you inadvertently generate when cutting drywall or tile. If you do make a mess with chunks of plaster, tile, dust, sheetrock, and/or your own muddy boots, you are flatly required to clean it up. Under no circumstances is it the responsibility of the tenant to clean up after you.

If you fail to bring proper cleaning supplies with you, you are responsible for obtaining them. This requirement may be fulfilled in a number of ways, but it may not be met by using those of the tenant into who's house you've broken. If you do use all of a tenant's paper towels, it is important that you replace them at your own expense.

If you must leave the jobsite incomplete due to extenuating circumstances, you are still required to clean up and restore the unit to how you found it, or at least as close as you can get it. You may not leave the tenant's belongings strewn about the place. Belongings of the tenant may include items such as garbage bins (not in front of the refrigerator overflowing with chunks of drywall and your own soda cans), cleaning supplies (not left in the middle of the floor with mops and brooms strewn about, now coated in grime), pet food dishes (not put up high and therefore inaccessible to the elderly feline you've now distressed), and any wall-mounted items (not coated in drywall powder, then perched in the middle of a stack of clean dishtowels on the recently-clean table). Additionally, it is considered a bad practice to leave any items, such as big blocks of the tenant's ceiling, perched precariously on high surfaces.

If you feel the need to relieve yourself while you are trespassing, it is considered in ill-taste to track drywall dust all the way down the hallway and into the previously-clean restroom of your chosen victim. Additionally, as many people visit their bathrooms barefooted in preparation for a shower, it is highly inconsiderate to leave painfully large chunks of both drywall and gravel all over the tile.

If you must leave large, unsightly holes in the ceiling and floor around where you've installed your large, unsightly pipe, you are contractually obligated to inform the superintendent of the building of your need to do so to ensure that repair of the ceiling and floor by a separate contractor can be prompt. You should not rely on the astonished and frightened tenant of the ostensibly burgled and vandalized flat to pass this message on for you.

If you break into and trash one apartment, you should lose your job. If you break into and trash TWO apartments, you should pay a hefty fine and be made to formally and publicly apologize to the tenants you have harmed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

passive aggression

If you own a cat, but live in a house with a roommate who does not own the cat, and your cat pukes everywhere every day, or misses the litter box, or sheds constantly on all surfaces, or is simply hungry...guess what. It is your responsibility to clean up after and feed said feline. More to the point, even if you don't give a damn if your house is booby-trapped with cat vomit or carries an eye-watering odor, your roommate probably does, and you are obligated to clean it up. It is irrelevant if you get home from work late and are tired, or are busy doing other things--its your pet, not your roommate's, and your roommate should neither be forced to clean up the dried piles of puke nor live with them in his or her kitchen.

Additionally, if it is pointed out to you that your cat throws up more often than it should, or that the puddles of diarrhea in the living room and hallway are a sign of illness, you are also responsible for seeing to the cat's healthcare, at your expense. If you are unable or unwilling to tend to the health of the feline, then it is still your responsibility to see to it that the cat winds up in the care of someone who can and will.


If you run a gas company and need to replace the fuel lines going into an apartment building, you have an obligation to tell the people it affects so they can plan ahead to not be home. If you are going to begin tearing up the street with jackhammers at 5am on a Saturday, they should have the right to know in advance. If you cannot inform people of this inconvenience, you must start work later in the day. Additionally, you have an obligation to put things back the way you found them when you're done. That involves patching the holes in the street fully--e.g. not leaving loose steel plates all over the road that make noise loud enough to set off car alarms or leaving around lightweight sawhorses with no sandbags that fall over into traffic. That also involves turning people's gas back on, without being begged, in a timely fashion. If you must gain access to the home of a client in order to turn it back on, you must take in small considerations for your clients' own time, such as requesting clients block off 2 hours for a technician to arrive instead of 15. You cannot expect clients to take days off work and sit around at home waiting for a technician to arrive "anytime between now and 11:59pm." Then charge them a fine if they cannot be there.

If you are the superintendant of a building and a landlord requests that you leave a basement door unlocked so that a maintenance person from a gas company may gain access to a resident's meter, you have an obligation to do so. If you fail to unlock the door, you are responsible for all fines incurred by the tenant from said gas company. Additionally, if the tenant is required to take the day off work to let the maintenance person in, only to discover that thanks to your negligence they will have to take an additional day off of work in order for the repair to actually take place, you owe them additional compensation, such as culinary services or cooked food for all of the days that the tenant is unable to cook for him or herself.


If you are a ginger-haired Englishman with a direct connection to the writer of this publication who recently returned home against the request of the writer, you have an obligation to come back and continue your snuggles.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Oh Corona

I don't want you, I want your beach.

This is the first time I've watched ads in months.

Food Ad

I just witnessed an advert for Jell-o low-calorie pudding. the set up--"How does Jell-o fit all that rich chololatey taste into just 60 calories?" a beat, in which they showed the pudding squishing out of an extruder. My mind searched for answers that didn't end in, "they make it out of plastic." The excited female voice finally answered her own question with "Who Cares?! It'll add flavor to any diet!"


Don't ask, don't look under the hood, don't read the ingredient list, just eat it. And get addicted to it. and in a thousand years they'll find your preserved remains, still rubbery and clogged to the brim with artificial cholesterols.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

so, we're done, right?

Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson--that's the three for this go-round, right? No sneaking in a fourth--our tvs will explode.

Monday, June 15, 2009

recent quotations

"Whenever I see tired-looking people in scrubs coming home at weird hours, I get this urge to go over and shake their hand and say 'thank you for keeping crazy hours to save people's lives.'"

"Well, isn't that Karma?--you'll either get stepped on or rained on."

"Everyone's a little bit Puerto Rican--if you're from there, your parents or grandparents, your friends--even if you're not connected to it at all."
-NY official on news

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Bona-Fide question--I would like to know, of my readers, who finds ladies' thighs that don't touch when her knees are pressed together attractive. As in, ankles and knees touching, but one and a half to two inches of breezeway between the legs when they meet her groin. I am genuinely curious here.

Because I don't. I think it looks wrong, at the Id level. The animal in my brain is frightened and repelled by ultra-thin frames. This is not my aesthetic speaking--I appreciate all shapes of people for their artistic value--but the hungry, violent, sex-craving, and linguistically impaired chunk of my functionality makes my heart race and my feet want to run away when I see stick-legs. While the impulses these people elicit in me rarely reach the analytic area of my mind, or even form themselves into words, when I see these breathing Jack Skellingtons folded into chairs I find myself very hungry, very anxious, and very aware of my exits. My self-preservation instinct, which will never understand the intricacies of society, is scared that I'll become trapped in here and made to starve with these people.

Yes, I spent my past two weeks working in fashion. (Buh? You? Fashion?) I was dressing models and tending wardrobe for a high-end New York design firm for a sales event of some persuasion. It was actually pretty fun, and half of it was work I do anyway in my closet, just on a larger scale. Each garment, of which there were about 400, had a place in a very specific order, which was listed in a book. All I had to do on the showroom floor, aside from serve occasional coffees and clear up tables, was make sure that each garment was put into, and put back into, its exact spot in the rack--which lined all of the walls of the large space--between buyer appointments. Backstage, as rackfuls of clothes were brought in for the models to, well, model, I loosened, unbuttoned, and untied garments, put them on the models, tucked, tightened, zipped, and buttoned dresses, buckled shoes, sent the girls out, collected the garments when they returned and, after putting the girls in the next look, re-hung, re-buttoned, tied, fastened, straightened, and snapped all closures and hung them on the buyers' racks in the showroom. We were forbidden from allowing garments to touch the floor--the cheapest of which would have taken me a month to save up for, the most expensive would have wiped out my savings and put me into serious debt--and probably would have been flatly executed if we'd soiled or damaged anything. As it was, the sample clothes started falling apart by day 5--hastily sewn collars parted, unfinished seams began to unravel, snaps fell off, zippers snagged, and the floor was literally littered with sequins and beads. One particularly ugly zipper snag, which everyone agreed was not preventable, had to be taken up to the designer's desk so she personally could snip it out. and by "taken" I mean "walked"--the model was trapped in the dress. It was kinda funny.

Most of the buyers were lovely people, though some were jerks--the kind of people who want to see this dress in all five colors it comes in, as quickly as possible, only to say, "no, I hate all of them." Occasionally a model would ask, "Didn't I just have this on?" and the seller would reply, "oh yes, you showed these dresses a few minutes ago, but the buyer wasn't paying attention so if you'd please walk them again? thanks." through tightly clenched teeth. But, even in haute fashion--or perhaps especially so--the customer is always right. And the sellers were always smiling. As much as it may have hurt.

I liked the people at this fashion firm--they seemed genuine, for the most part, and if the pants size in the building was an eighth of the city's average so what? Skinny people need jobs too.

I spent most of my time, however, sitting and doing crossword puzzles in the dressing room with the girls. Most buyers would block two hours for their visit but the modeling component only took a third of that time, so we would chat about current events and our own lives. One of the girls had just bought a condo with her husband. The other is working on her PhD. They both party on the weekends and come in with blinding hangovers when they overdo it. They read the paper, they file taxes, they love their families, and if it weren't for the fact that they were both 5'10," flawless of complexion, comfortable naked, and frighteningly rail-thin they'd be just like you and me. They are aware of the anger their careers incite. They're aware of the pain that their glorification generates. They suffer for their bodies, and they suffer when they fail anyway, just like us.

"I'm downright obese for a model." said the emaciated girl as she stepped out of a pair of trousers she deemed ill-fitting. "These were made on the other girl, who is shaped right. I'm a fatty. I mean, I know I'm still terrifyingly underweight for a real person, but in this field...pass me that skirt. I can wear that."

"You are a bit of a big one," the other twig replied as she took the aforementioned trousers and pulled them on. "I mean, I'm really proud of this company for hiring you. Not every designer feels comfortable hiring a plus-sized girl like you, but I think this company is responding to current social pressure to stop making chubby little girls feel bad about themselves by contrast. And they started with you! What an honor."

"I know, I'm doing my part. But it's true. He thinks my hips are too wide."

"Yeah, he thinks my boobs are too big."

(she has hips? She has boobs? Where?)

The girls ribbed on each other like this all the time. The one may have weighed about three pounds more than the other, and while this was not noticeable to the naked eye, for some garments it meant the difference between a dress squeezing on and not. Because yes, even though these girls were underweight to the point of infertility, even though they couldn't maintain their own body temperature, even though their cheeks were hollowed out with melon-ballers, they were too big for the clothes. And it wasn't the clothes' fault.

Even runway models are expected to modify their bodies to fit the clothes. It's not just "real" women who are made to feel imperfect by a French seam. It's not just "real" women who are made to believe that their woman-shaped butts are too big because they cupcake over the waistline of their trousers. Even the people for whom the garments are made are told they fail to fulfill the designer's vision.

Because the garments are not made for these models. Nope, not even these women who work hard and starve daily, these delicate, shivering towers--they don't do the dresses justice. Because who they would really look best on is twenty year old drag queens.

I am tired of being told how to look by gay men. I have boobs. I have an ass. I have thighs and a belly and my hips are a force to be reckoned with. I'm shaped like a girl and I should like that. I do like that. Gay male fashion designers need to be designing for the little cross dressers they love. Their ideal woman is not a woman. And if they weren't in a position of global influence that would be absolutely fine. But it's not just that women around the world are frustrated with themselves for not being tall and thin. We feel frustrated with ourselves because we're not teenage boys.


I may have the acne of one, but I'd never pass for a gangly gay youth. I have curves that designers flatly ignore. The reason the size 12 version of that dress will still look horrible on me is because you've just made it a foot larger all around--I go out and in and then out again in what some people would assert is a rather pleasing manner. But That dress in my size will be two feet too long, too big in the waist, too small in the bust and hips, and wouldn't even begin to accommodate for my arms. And if I got it altered--well, actually it would still look stupid, because if it is reshaped for a person with a shape, it's no longer the same dress. No matter what, the top designs will not look good on me, because they're not intended for me. They're not intended for women.

I know my proportions are not media-beautiful, and my weight is downright alarming, but even when I kept my hair cropped to a uniform 1" all around I was rarely mistaken for a man. But even when models have full Farrah Fawcett heads of hair a part of me wonders if any boys have been slipped in--I'm sure it's the next logical step for most designers. When your best model fails to conform to the ideal, it's time to change the model, not the ideal.

"This next look coming out on 15-year-old Hans is our playful take on the classic bikini. Note how the beading moves the eye away from the bustline, encouraging a slimming effect and smoothing out any roundness. Available in lime, tangerine, and cerulean, sizes 00 through 2. $11,300."

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Gas Attack

So I moved a little ways across town last week, and, while I've spent most of my time since then working as a wardrobe assistant, when I've been home I've been befriending my new roommate's cat, Slider.

Slider is somewhat ambiguous in age and origin--my roommate has had her for about six years, but believes she was at least seven when she came into his care. Her slightly saggy old lady cat belly has always had very short, thin fur--an appearance which gives the uninformed observer the impression that she's recently had surgery.

She's snuggly and affectionate, if a bit needy when it comes to attention. She seems to want to be picked up whenever a human comes home for a bit of head scratching, finger licking, and a touch of that weird "cram my head up under your chin" behavior. She's talkative and communicates easily, with the "meow then point my head at what needs attention" system, and the "pat pat pat...pat pat pat....pat pat pat...head butt--wake up stupid human, kitty is hungry!" morning routine. She prefers to have company when she eats and will come get you for a trip to the full food dish.

She farts constantly.

Sheez, I have never before been so regularly privy to the scent of yesterday morning's lightly fried eggs. She gets right up in my face to do it, too. It's not my fault her owner feeds her corn-based chow, but she sure wants to punish me for it. Bleurgh.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

On Righteous Indignation

I was born in the mid 1980's to a card-carrying member of NOW and an absent-minded engineer. I was raised not believing, but knowing I was equal in every value to boys, but also knowing that stupid boys might try to harm me if I reminded them of that fact. From that I grew to understand that I was equal in value to smart, worthwhile boys, and was actually worth more than stupid rednecky ones. I knew that I had every opportunity to be as smart as I possibly could, pursue any career I wanted, and that I had the right to say no, or yes, as the spirit moved me.

I also knew that when I reached adulthood I would be held responsible for my actions and choices, that my self respect and sexuality were mine alone, that a woman was prime minster of England and there would soon be a woman President, and that I had a personal responsibility to maintain my sense of self-worth in the face of all that might oppose me because I was a girl.

It was a lot to absorb before 1990.

But absorb that I did, and I think that may have harmed the feminist movement in the long run. See, I grew up under the very erroneous assumption that my rights, responsibilities, and opportunities were a given. That they were not something I would be called upon to fight for, because that fighting had been done for me. All I was asked to do was maintain it, and not waste it.

Which is why I was a bit shocked to learn, upon leaving Fort Mill, that the oppressed women we'd glossed over in social studies were actually real people, and the institutionalized rape, murder, and imprisonment of forward-thinking women was actually going on outside of the protected bubble I called home. I got through the chunk of my education in which my teachers focused on making us appreciate what we had, but before they could get to the point where, I think, they were going to tell us to help others attain it too, 9/11 occurred and the message of "promote women's rights in the Muslim world" was trampled by the much louder, "kill all brown people."

The hoopla did die down a bit and more recently our politial sights have returned to the plight of women living under the Taliban and other Back-assward regimes. I think the reason Western women have a hard time wrapping our heads around the fact that women haven't en masse risen up against institutionalized rape, honor murders, punishable education, and forced marriage is that we really don't understand how they can feel powerless. Our reeducation in the 1960's was pretty damn thorough--girls do feel empowered, women know we have rights, and we know when they're being infringed upon. We do get angry when our neighbors only pay for their sons to go to college. We do get upset when jackass old men leave their wives of 40 years for teenage gold-diggers. We're saddened to see the ghetto produce teenage baby-mamas who erroneously believe that having kids of their own will free them from the abuse they receive from their families. And people do work to help women break free of these patterns of male-dominance, or at least sue the bastards for everything they've got. People do go into the schools to try and help teenage girls see that college, not babies they can't handle, will help them break free of poverty and subjugation by men. We do try in our own communities because we know that the overall sentiment among women here is that we are equal, and we deserve our equality.

In the West we are shocked and horrified to read inquiries into the institutionalized beating, rape, and neglect of children by religious schools in countries we call our own--especially when we know that something could have easily been done to stop it at the time. I think the abuses perpetrated by the Irish Catholic Church against the children in their care are identical to the abuses against women in Saudi Arabia, in almost all ways. The children were captives, raised in the abusive institutions, understood that they could be abused at any time for any reason, and that if they spoke up about it or even cried that the pain would be worsened and they would be isolated, called liars, shunned, sent away, or killed. Many had never known any other way of life, and they inherently knew that fighting would get them nowhere--they were smaller than their captors, and in many instances kept weak and on the brink of starvation partly to ensure that they would never effectually fight back. Indeed, they also knew that complaining would get them nowhere--even if they sought an outside authority, such as the police, the adult in the confrontation's word would always be taken more seriously than theirs, even if their bones were broken and their bodies clearly violated. If you were raped by a priest it was your fault for reaching puberty in his presence. If you were beaten senseless by a nun it was for your own good because otherwise you'd end up like your mother, who was a prostitute and the spawn of Satan. You are alone, you have no recourse to aid, and you have no rights at all--not even to your life.

I have never lived in this world. I don't ever want to. I have felt victimized and have occasionally feared for my life, but I have never been made to feel utterly helpless for any sustained period. I've always had the right to leave, the ability to seek help, the right to a grown-up or a lawyer or a jury of my peers. No one's authority over me is absolute, and I always have the right up to stand up against what I perceive as injustice. I have stood up against what I perceived as injustice. It got me nowhere, as the last time I did was during the Bush administration, but I was not harmed or punished for doing so. I have petitioned, written my senator, peacefully protested, and voted again and again. I have taken my side up in court and won with the validity of my argument. I've been intimidated by cops but only in one instance have I ever felt that they were twitchy enough to abuse their authority or harm me. I have said no, and been respected for it. I've also said no and been told to fuck myself for it, but I've still had the confidence to uphold my dignity that I believe must come from the inner knowledge that if this punk tries anything, I'll totally bring the law down on him.

But that's the difference between me and girls my age living under oppressive states, with oppressive religions and oppressive parents. They don't have that confidence. If punks try something against a girl in a community where she is repeatedly told she is worthless, she is browbeaten and will not find anyone sympathetic to her plight, where even the nice people say she probably asked for it, she'll probably find herself raped and beaten by a man, then beaten or killed by her family, the state, and the church for allowing it to happen to herself.

Where's the strength to stand up for yourself? Where's the self-assurance that comes with knowing this is wrong? Feminism is Western and the West is Satan, so Feminism is satanic, therefore many men are working very hard to convince women that they are worthless and might as well like it that way. How many women in these communities genuinely believe that rape is the fault of the raped? How many mothers feel a strong responsibility to raise their daughters to submit? How many mothers felt that their forced marriage to the douchebag that fathered their children was appropriate? Why?

It's this aspect of the mindset that baffles today's Western woman. It is one thing for a mother to impress upon her daughter that yes, this sucks, and I'm sorry for bringing you into this horrible world, but if you don't marry your cousin willingly you'll just be beaten senseless and married to him by force so you might as well deal with it like I did--but when a mother says "this is what you must do, this is my will, you may not marry the man you love because your father and I want your money" to her daughter without a shadow of empathy or just doesn't make a damn ounce of sense. That seems contrary to every basic instinct that makes up the female condition. How can adult women willfully suppress love for the sake of money or propriety? How can fathers so deliberately sacrifice their daughters--entities deemed sacred by their own endocrine systems--to lives of misery and servitude for the sake of their own finances or reputations? How can this behavior continue through the generations? How can parents defeat biology?

Love is not an abstract entity--we know that. It's a huge and complex network of synaptic responses to stimuli that demand we protect our offspring and those with whom we mate. In my culture people who deliberately harm, or appear to not have good intentions for their children are considered insane. Assault and battery are one thing when it comes to strangers, but if you hurt your own kid, prevent her from going to school, make her marry a man she detests, or refuse to let her go outside unattended by a male relative the police inquiry will probably include some Rorschach tests. Child abuse is a sign that there's something terribly wrong going on.

So what does it mean when a culture institutionalizes it? Condones, encourages, even demands it? What we call catastrophic human rights abuses, brainwashing, and the subjugation of over half of the population, Saudi Arabia calls "Thursday." The small clusters of women that do feel inspired to start grassroots equality campaigns are choked out early before they spread, and are often publicly raped or stoned until dead to serve as examples to everyone. These displays don't prove rightness or wrongness to anyone--they just remind everyone that violence will always defeat pacifism. The Westerners who manage to get in and start talking to people are imprisoned for espionage, or simply disappear. These are countries that don't want their people to want life to improve. They'd rather blame the West for their horrible lives than take the initiative and improve them for themselves. It can't be this repressive religion or culture we've built around ourselves that makes us so unhappy, that makes our finest minds escape to America at their earliest opportunity to pursue respectable careers and send their daughters to school, thereby leaving us devoid of modern healthcare or access to legal representation. They appear determined to make a bad situation worse even though they can easily see that their goals are not realistic and their ideals are intolerable. All for what? Spite? God? Didn't they say their god was benevolent? What idiot worships a god that she believes hates her? Why is the pursuit of happiness a sin?

This is the problem. We don't get it. We don't understand. The misery of these women's lives doesn't make sense to us, because to the empowered mind it doesn't seem possible. And it's because we're a little bit empowered. We're not on top, we're still struggling for our own voices to be recognized as true authority and not merely conciliatory authority permitted and supervised by nice men. (Between two equally awesome hypothetical candidates, a woman and a man, I'll vote for the woman out of a sense of "it's about damn time.") Western women have a sense, fulfilled or not, of ideal equality. We seek it, we crave it, sometimes we even feel it. Do oppressed women know this feeling? Do they get the urge to fight? Do they want to?

In our idealized eyes we know that if we could simply get all repressed women to stand up as one and throw off the shackles of their government they could succeed in overthrowing their way of life. Sadly revolutions must have a starting point, and it is pretty easy to stamp out little fires of revolt. Moreover, even if they did really all stand up as one and demand their government and religion be restructured to include them as equals with rights to themselves, i'm pretty sure they'd be attacked, as one, and wrestled to the floor by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and community men who flatly refuse to allow women to consider themselves people, even if every single one of them demanded it. Because it's not just a small group in the government controlling the masses--the permeation of culture through religion and education allows the masses to control the masses. Just as American education and a lot of Western religion does in favor of women.

Our idealized notion of empowering the women themselves is not going to work because a large portion of their culture was established to prevent them having power, and to prevent the men in their lives from wanting them to have it. Even the men who genuinely do love them. Look at how much American men fought against women's suffrage, for centuries, and came up with a host of bullshit excuses why they shouldn't--excuses as far-ranging as "women don't need to vote because they can't hold land--oh what, now you're going to tell me you want to do that too?" and "women shouldn't have say in what the country does--it's not like it affects them." and "frankly my dear, you're just genetically stupid." Love or no, if you convince a person he or she is better than another flavor of person, he or she is going to have a hard time granting that flavor of person the same rights and privileges he or she enjoys. (for a list of flavors, allow me to direct your attention to the Anti-Discrimination Policy included in most American corporate models. Baskin-Robbins ain't got nothin on it.)

America as a nation is still pretty bad at the whole "live and let live, everyone is equal--yes, even Transvestites, Mexicans, and Mormons, so knock it off" thing, and we claim the greatest Human Flavor Diversity Index of any country ever. (The combinations! The mix-ins! The subtle hints of mocha!) Imagine the difficulty of convincing people who's lineages determine what they eat for breakfast of the equality of all people. (My heritage recall gets hazy beyond my grandma, and in my country that's a-ok--even desirable, as I'm not entitled to anything, but I don't have to apologise for anything either.) Plenty of Americans' backgrounds are so diverse it's easier for them to just mark "yes to all" on the survey sheet. Our ethnic diversity is so great that equality is paramount among all lessons taught in public our urban centers. In states that turn red on election maps...that tends to be glossed over.

To diverge from my topic (further), I just want to ask Islamic Nationalists which chunk of America they find more despicable--places like New York and San Francisco, urban centers of diversity and typically peaceful interaction among races and cultures, or places like Oklahoma and Nebraska that have reputations for promoting and wishing to impose upon the rest of the world their homogenous race, religion, and ancestors?

I don't know what type of intervention into repressive religious government is appropriate. How was denazification so successful? I guess we...bombed Germany into a pulp and then rebuilt it as the global community saw fit. Somehow, though, I don't think the same technique would be effective in an area we've been continually bombing for decades for no readily apparent reason. I think the trick is to covertly re-write the laws, and when somebody notices, just point at the humanitarian re-write and the Qu'Ran and say "oh, but look--it totally fits! It must have said that the whole time."

Seriously, I don't know how Western women managed it, rising up and demanding to be respected after lifetimes of repression. It's been a gradual process and we're not there yet, but we're the closest we've ever been in centuries, and sadly as our culture has filled in behind the waves our foremothers made we've lost the fire, the spark, the anger that got us here. We have no reason to fight for what we have, and have a hard time doing it when it is asked of us. (Prop 8's success startled many people.) What we have, instead, is a sense of cultural identity built upon the understanding that we are in fact equals, always have been, and always will be. I was born knowing that, and as such can't genuinely fathom an existence without it. I don't know how to fight for the right to self-respect. I sadly feel like Marie Antoinette saying "let them eat cake" simply because I'm truly so far removed from the matter that I don't get it. I don't know how to help.