Sunday, December 05, 2010

Oh Mr. Darcy!

I've been reading a lot lately (see previous post about work visa application) and, because they're free and readily available, I've found myself nose-deep more than my fair share of 19th century British novels. In the past few weeks I've read Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Sense & Sensibility, and a few Sherlock Holmes short adventures. I think Middlemarch will be my next undertaking, though I'm a bit daunted by the first page.

With the exception of the Holmes stories and Alice, my text choices have been largely...similar. Strikingly so. Without meaning to, I wonder if I haven't chosen the three most similar narratives ever written. Perhaps this similarity would not be quite so pronounced to me if I hadn't chosen to read all of them in sequence, but while I've enjoyed all three to a similar extent, the same difficulties have dampened my enjoyment to the same extent in all. I'd like to document these themes here--of plot and language most particularly--for my own future reference. As a reader, you may find this dull, as this is a posting wherein you may find my thoughts, not my fury.

Similar Plot Points and Characters in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, and Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility

-All three involve at least one young woman being bedridden and on the verge of death because of illness, but no men. Jane Eyre, Marian Halcombe, and Marianne Dashwood catch some form of stress/hanging out in the rain-related disease.

Likewise, clearly-doomed girls (the excessively-innocent ultra-pious who talk about how lovely death would be) Helen Burns (Eyre) and Anne Catherick (White) spend some time bedridden before kicking it.

-All 3 protagonists are between age 17 and 20, and all marry men between age 35 and 40. Each marriage must be for love, because though the women are all of high birth (Jane Eyre unknowingly) the men they marry are handicapped in some way. Edward Ferrars (Sense) has lost the bulk of his inheritance, Edward Rochester (Eyre) has been blinded and lost a hand in the destruction of his manor house, and Walter Hartright (White) is sickeningly middle-class, and Laura lost her fortune when her (deceased) first husband declared her dead and stole it. While everybody is still fairly wealthy at the end, they all lose a significant investment or holding.

-All three are caught up in inheritance issues equalling or exceeding £20,000.

-All three involve a nasty elderly woman who screws things up royally for the protagonist with her selfishness. (Mrs. Reed, the Countess, Mrs. Ferrars)

-All three involve one major female character being pressured by a guy that she doesn't like to marry him. (St. John Rivers, Colonel Brandon, Sir Percival Glyde) Only Brandon's pressure ends in something resembling love and financial stability.

-All three involve at least one pair of close, affectionate, inseparable sisters, and it is generally understood that there's a prudent one and a pretty one. (Marian and Laura, Elinor and Marianne, Diana and Mary Rivers) At least one of the sisters has a Mary-based name.

Similar Thematic Elements in the aforementioned text group

-The female protagonist through who's eyes much of the story is told is invariably well-educated, exceedingly honest and forthright, and never makes a statement or decision that is not perfectly well-justified both to her religion and her caste. She likewise spends a lot of paper justifying her decisions and statements to the audience, imploring us to realize that they're being utterly selfless in all things and are only seeking to do what is best for everyone involved.

-People who start high end in the middle. People who start in the middle end with a compromised version of high.

-Women who have choices they can make are just as likely to make ones that cause them harm as good, because they must consider what is righteous regardless of their best interests. Jane Eyre nearly goes to India, where she's sure to die within days of arrival of disease or heat-stroke, because she knows that God would want her to be a missionary. The only thing that stops her is she also knows that God would not want her and St. John to marry without loving each other. Likewise, Laura Fairlie marries Sir Percival, despite the fact she doesn't like him, because she agreed to the engagement to please her father on his death-bed, and it would be shameful to break it. Elinor Dashwood, meanwhile, keep's Lucy's secrets, despite how badly they hurt her and despite how useful it would be to disclose them, because she promised she would. Virtue always wins over self-interest and intelligence.

Similar Endings in the aforementioned

-Everybody gets married.

-Everybody has babies, or there's hints of babies.

-All the women fall into their roles as subservient wives, though they had the capacity to be powerful and respectable women in their own right.

Similar Things That Piss Me Off in the aforementioned

The ladies always have the option of doing something deemed vaguely improper but better for everyone--and always decline. The authors, rather than congratulating their heroines for their good deeds, make things kinda suck for them as a consequence, but they nevertheless feel better in their hearts for having done what was socially accepted, in spite of the fact that no sensible person around them would have done the same.

Jane Eyre clearly acknowledges that Bertha Mason is not really Mr. Rochester's wife, as she's not only batshit but hell-bent on Mr. Rochester's immolation, but rather than see what is an unfortunate circumstance and run off to the south of France as his beloved mistress (while maintaining Bertha's safe upkeep), which would ensure everyone's estates and safety, she runs off to develop pneumonia and endure abuse under St. John, and lets Bertha burn the house down and severely handicap Rochester. Her virtue screwed her over and left her with half an estate and half a man. Jane grins and bears it, and Brontë seems to think she got off no better than she should have.

Laura Fairlie will be coming into possession of £20,000 in under the space of a year, and her guardian is a douchebag. But rather than refuse to marry Sir Percival until her finances are hers to control, she does what the men around her want, because that's 'right,' and loses everything. Had she said "hey buddy, let's wait 6 months" the story probably wouldn't have happened, but she would not have wound up with the line in her will that gave him everything upon her death (she probably would not have wound up married to him at all) so Marian probably wouldn't have gotten typhus, she wouldn't have wound up in an asylum, and neither the Count or Sir Percival would have wound up dead. Had she taken this one step in her best interest everyone, even the jerks, would have been better off.

Had Mrs. Dashwood stood up for herself against her stepson after her husband's last wishes were for him to provide for her and her daughters, they could have moved somewhere besides the little cottage their income afforded them. They really don't meet anyone that great or helpful on account of it, Marianne wouldn't have had to endure the BS that was Willoughby, Elinor could have been in money enough for Mrs. Ferrars to approve of her relationship with Edward, and Lucy probably would have wound up with Robert anyway but with less money to taunt Elinor with. But no, Mrs. Dashwood doesn't seem to think it's proper to say "look, buddy, I know you're a sucker and your wife's a bitch, but you're not weaseling out of your obligation to your family." so Marianne wound up with a "putrid fever." Bleh.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Atheists Love Christmas too!

Why do you want to take the holiday season away from me, theists? I'm just as cold as you, and is that not provocation enough to seek warmth and good cheer with the people I love? (Did you know atheists can love? When it is reciprocated it is the best feeling on earth. It is real--a bond between two real people, not two people and their shared imaginary friend, which, let's face it, is creepy.) Even your official church documents acknowledge that the birth of your saviour (who was elected saviour, what, 300 years after his alleged lifetime?) could have really been anytime--nobody's sure or gives a hoot, but these Pagans have a pretty good party scheduled for mid-December, so that seems a good a time as any. We've already put a damper on their fertility festival in the spring, might as well ruin the mead-and-fire party too.

Yesterday I had the privilege of seeing the website of Boss Creations which sells "CHRIST-mas" trees--£300 artificial douglas firs with a giant neon cross glowing from within like a...well, like nothing else. Take a moment and google it. Go on. I'll wait. is always nice to see you says the man behind the counter to the woman coming inside, she is shaking her umbrella...doo-doo du-doo dut-dut du-doo...

Yep. Did you notice the red white and blue "Christian Nation" pile of offense? Why has no one told these people that the USA is neither Christian nor even religious? It's not. Really. America does have an official anthem, an official seal, an official flag, and an official football team but it does not have, and has never had, an official religion or a recognition or sanction of any religion of any kind. Them's the rules. Like 'em or leave.

Wait, what, am I pulling their own bullshit to serve my ends? "like it or leave" eh? them's fightin' words! (especially from an ex-pat) But seriously. It is so brazenly disrespectful of the nation for a religious group who seeks daily to remove the rights of everyone who disagrees with them--Feminists, minorities, Muslims, homosexuals, Blacks, the educated--to arbitrarily decide that the country *actually* is Christian and Naughty People are trying to take it away and punish them for their beliefs. How Dare you try to undermine the truth of what makes the USA so remarkable? How Dare you try to impose your theistic law to the land, while simultaneously condeming other nations for doing precisely the same thing with a different religion?

How Dare you suggest that because other people want to be festive in December that we're not only trying to outlaw your obsolete religion, but trying to make it mean something it doesn't?

Christmas is a religious takeover of the winter solstice celebration. It began as a celebration of light on the longest, darkest night of the year in the hemisphere. It still is for many millions of people. It is a time to be warm. It is a time to be together. It is a time to celebrate our survival so far and to hope our friends and families keep living until spring. That's the long and short of it.

All that December 25 birth of your saviour bullshit? You Made It Up. Just like your deities and your nonsensical rules and your ban on mixed-fiber fabrics. It's shit. Admittedly, it's old shit, but that doesn't make it right. You hurt my feelings by trying to tell me I can't celebrate at this time of year because I'm not one of you. By telling me I can't send cards wishing people good cheer because they don't have angels on the cover and verses overleaf. That I can't give people gifts simply to warm their hearts, not because it represents something in your thought-control system.

I am insulted. As an American I feel like I bend over backward for you far too often, let you have your way far more than is necessary or right. This is a time of togetherness. If the only way you can unify your flock is to convince them there's bad guys out to get them, maybe you should re-evaluate why you're together.

Me? Me.

I have finished my MA. It's official, I have my letters and results. Yadda yadda. NatWest were true to their word and sent me my bank statements on Monday. I checked through my application, signed and dated it, and put it in the post. I also sent a birthday card to my dear grandmother. They put this gigantic gold stamp on it to send to the US, which was pretty nifty. I hope she likes it.

I checked with the post office and saw that as of yesterday evening the parcel had been signed for. I checked my bank account today and saw that I'm officially £550 poorer. I think they got it.

Oof. I'm now broke. I just went ahead and canceled my gym membership and Boy has agreed to take over my chunk of the rent and council tax until I can find a job. I'm such a filthy freeloader. Hopefully I'll have a visa soon, maybe even before February, and will apply like mad to get a job and start paying for myself again like a real grown-up. At this point I really don't care what the gig is, so long as it's out of the snow.

I filled out the form truthfully and fully, though there was this one bit that made me uncomfortable. The form indicates I must include my Biometric Residence Permit, and write its number and expiration dates and such in the space provided. My application will be deemed incomplete and will be returned to me without this data and official card. I never received a Biometric Residence Permit. I'm a Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) applicant here legally on a Tier 4 (Student) visa. Neither of these categories are included in the Biometric Residence Permit scheme, and indeed, when I checked the Border Agency website, I discovered I am Forbidden from applying for a Biometric Residence Permit. Yet the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa application is incomplete without one and will be rejected out of hand. I assume this is a clerical error and I'll be fine, but it about scared the pants off of me.

The Border Agency website also informs me that there's a 6-week wait time before applications are considered. They're currently considering applications submitted on or before October 13. Yay. I feel naked without my passport. And my overcoat.

My neighbourhood is sitting in about 6" of snow right now, and the sidewalks are coated in two-inch thick mirror-smooth ice. At the time of writing it is just past 4:30pm and pitch black outside. Now is the winter of my discontent. Or at least my griping about the weather. Sheez. One day I hope to be wealthy enough to have a winter home somewhere closer to the Tropic of Cancer. Not even somewhere particularly nice, just Not Here. Hell, it'd be great if we could just have a Winter London somewhere south of here, maybe in northern Algeria. It's not like they need...oh wait, I'm starting to sound like an imperialist. Oof, at least now I understand where they get it from.

Cold cold cold cold. I was so optimistic when I set the heat timer. Yeah, the house will be tolerably warm until 6:30, you don't need to waste money on gas until then... yeah right.

I think it's funny how, when you're cold or hungry, that's all you can think about. You could be the cleverest person alive, but as soon as the heat dries up the only thoughts you can muster are "Cold! Hey stupid, yeah you up there! Toes, fingers, legs, and nose agree--cold! You know what's great? Warm. Find warm. Oh, and by the way--Cold." It's like the body stages a coup d'intellect. The only ideas my id will let through are pictures of socks and instructional videos on how to open the airing cupboard and switch on the boiler. Okay! Okay, I'm going...

(toes cheer)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Republicans and why I'm not going back (Incoherent Rant)

You have got to be f'ing kidding me. You can't f'ing hold the f'ing congress hostage like that--saying you won't vote for necessary social progress until you let the wealthy have unnecessary increases to their wealth contrasted with the rest of the population. This is Nonsense. What the hell is going on?

Why aren't people rioting?

Get it together, middle class! The American Aristocracy is working very hard to take your rights, your health, your food, your jobs, and your freedom away, and yet you're not gathering stones? There is no more room for debate. There is no more room to let the wealthy and their doting pawns laugh at you while trampling over your votes, your liberties, and your self-interests. They have never listened to you, they will never compromise or consider reason, they don't give a wet slap about equality, the Constitution, or civil liberties. START THROWING THINGS.

Oh middle-class Republicans. They're stupid enough to believe their representatives when they tell them continuation of tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting services to the poor will help them in the long run. They think Wall Street deserves every cent it earns, despite Everything, as they hope to one day enjoy a portion of that money if they play by the rules. That they will one day fulfil the American Dream and be one of the wealthy fat cats at the top--and gee, when I'm rich and famous, I sure won't want to pay taxes so the poor can survive the winter! These hope-blind sheep are proud enough to think that the poor don't deserve anything, and ignorant enough to disregard simple truths about poverty.

Being poor and living like you're poor are only likely to continue your poverty, and the poverty of your children. It is very difficult to pull yourself out of poverty, particularly when you're born into it, regardless of how many or few government handouts are available to you.

Poor people toe a fine line between fed and housed and hungry on the streets. The difference between 'sandwich' and 'no sandwich' is the difference between 'law-abiding citizen' and 'violent criminal.' Ask Haiti. You can't starve people, offer them nothing, keep them unhealthy, and prevent them from providing for themselves and expect your society to survive. Ask South Africa under Apartheid. Y'know, all those nice lovely middle-class homes surrounded by chain-link fences and razor wire. That's what happens when the difference between the rich and the poor becomes too skewed. The poor become, not angry, not insubordinate, but Desperate. Desperate enough to break, to steal, to cause great harm in order to find something to pawn.

Providing for the poor--keeping people housed, fed, educated, and healthy--benefits everyone in very direct ways. It is not philanthropy to provide Medicaid and unemployment benefits--it is national and personal security. But these projects do require money in order to function. Wealthy individuals and corporations should Gleefully allow their Bush tax cuts to expire, happily pay an extra million or so per annum, because it means they can lay off a few of their security guards, and maybe even defuse the land mines in the croquet field. Perhaps go outside when the weather is fair, and open the windows in the armoured car.

Because fed, sheltered, safe, and educated people don't break into houses. They're comfortable enough in their lives to not need to, and they're smart enough to recognize that they have something to lose if they get caught. If your life has value to you, you protect it. You don't improve the value of your own life by devaluing others'--you just make them more likely to try and take yours off you.

These same gun-waving "Christians," these same people who continue to insist the President's birth certificate is fraudulent and support senators who refuse homosexuals the right to love while leading the most pathetic lives of (white) adultery, money laundering, and graft need to just come clean about what they are. They're bigots. Bigots who do what their politically-bankrolled preachers tell them to do in their neon-lit mega-churches. Bigoted idiots who have been lied to time and again--and been present, but not paying attention, when those lies have been exposed--by mouthpieces which avow that social and fiscal conservatism are not only linked, but appropriate for all.


Homosexual marriage does not harm, undermine, de-value, or threaten heterosexual marriage. It only increases the number of marriages per year.

The function of marriage is not to make babies. People's reproductive systems can do that regardless of marital status, and married people are not legally obligated to have kids. Neither are unmarried people forbidden. That would require quite invasive government, and would get real ugly, real fast.

The function of marriage is, however, to ensure shared financial responsibility, and the right to make choices for your spouse in the event of his or her incapacitation.

Guess what--that's not even me being uber-liberal and progressive and minimalist. Read any novel written before 1900--over and over the story is "wealthy woman marries wealthy man, her estate passes to him, he squanders it and abuses her, she runs away a pauper, without claim to home or stock, she falls in love with a poor man, her wicked husband dies, she and poor man take the house back." (Okay, well that's essentially the story of the Woman in White, and bears resemblance to Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice) Marriage is nothing, and Never Has Been anything, but a financial arrangement.

Or an immigration issue.

You can love without marriage, and marry without love. You can equally replace both words 'love' and 'marriage' with 'sex' and be equally right. It is pretty much indistinguishable from any corporate merger, except somewhat less binding.

It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, holy.

Marriages are worth exactly the paper they're written on. Nothing more, nothing less. They have no intrinsic worth, no spiritual elevation, no super-duper special Us-Only-Because-We're-Chosen properties that can possibly be undermined by opening them up to homosexuals. Fundies like to say that marriage is a super-sacred covenant between the couple and their deity, but it doesn't upset them that Hindus, Taoists, or Buddhists are allowed to wed. (For the purpose of clarity I will acknowledge the shared god of Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Rastafari, and Christianity) It Does annoy them that Atheists, Wiccans, Feminists, contraceptive-users, and poor people can share their visitation rights, but they can grudgingly say "land of the free, I guess" and get back to the serious business of chewing their McBurgers. But when it comes to gay people having the ability to co-sign on a mortgage or help each other's credit scores?!


I'm really just writing for the sake of venting frustration. This probably doesn't make a heap of sense. I'm just sick and tired of America embarrassing me--not just the Fundies, but the government and media run by the greedy wealthy who are determined to find a way of milking money from absolutely every aspect of life. People who won't perform medical procedures on the customers they insure--not because it's hopeless, but because it's expensive. People who demand you pay a fee for the right to use your internet connection how you want to, to use the products and services you choose. People who lie about matters of significance and aren't fired or even made to apologise when they're caught. People who make the system of checks and balances necessary.

Because that's how it's designed to work--both parties take the most extreme version of their wants to the floor, and through a system of compromises, come to a liveable middle ground. Everyone is dissatisfied, but nobody is beheaded for having a beard. Nobody starts with a reasonable middle-ground, because where's the fun in that? Nobody starts with what is actually best for everyone, because you can't froth at the mouth about reasonable taxation or the notion that everyone is different and that's okay. Politicians must come to the lectern with an all-or-nothing scenario so they have somewhere to haggle from. Which wastes everyone's time and gets everyone upset. Why not just start with the idea "everyone is different, and as long as their differences don't actually cause physical, financial, or psychological damage to others, they should be allowed to live life the way they choose?" What is Wrong with that? What? what...


As to why I'm not going back, I have a wonderful boy and I'm happy in London. I've submitted my work visa application and hopefully will have the right to get a job around here in the new year. We're about six inches deep in snow right now, but it's a good opportunity to snuggle up and waste time blogging.

No Holds Barred


Friday, November 26, 2010


This was my first Turkey day in my own home that I made myself. Well, Boy helped. A lot. But we did it ourselves, and it was exciting.

We did blend a little bit of British food in with our traditional American fare. Instead of mashed potatoes and a sweet potato casserole, for instance, we made a vegetable roast of potatoes, purple potatoes (nom, and colourful!) parsnips, carrots, and butternut squash, seasoned with fresh rosemary and sage from the garden.

The result was NOM.

I made buttermilk biscuits, not really out of respect for tradition, but because I've never really understood the point or intended flavour of stuffing. They were very tasty, but did not rise very well--I've noticed this trend in my gas oven.

Boy and Boy's Brother roasted a chicken and said it was delicious. I'll take their word for it.

I also made a green bean casserole. The mushroom soup and green beans came out of tins, but I French-fried my onions myself! The result was pretty tasty, and amazingly bad for you. I baked it in a terra-cotta dish I found stashed above a cabinet that looked like it'd seen the inside of its fair share of ovens. It did a beautiful job. The recipes I found were all American, and I think they expected the soup to have more salt, so it wasn't as salty as usual, but it was certainly edible. (We ate the other half today for lunch, on toast, with a garlic and habanero sauce, and it was Wonderful.)

We bought cranberry sauce from Tesco, and it was actually much tastier than similarly-priced American sauces. But alas, no slorping sound when it fell out of the tin. (It was in a jar.)

We set up some speakers in the dining room and listened to Skynyrd for its cultural value. We sliced into my second pumpkin pie in the space of a week and it was glorious. The crust worked, and was (remains) flaky and tasty. I wrung out the fresh pumpkin in an old t-shirt instead of squeezing handfuls and it made the process much faster. (Thanks, mom!) Whipped up more maple syrup and cream. For their cultural value.

I'm still full.



Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I have painted my bathroom yellow, and will shortly be painting the study blue. I think it looks quite nice. My new drill has not yet arrived, but I do have a package for my next-door neighbours in my front hall.

I made my first pumpkin pie this past Thursday and it was wonderful. Well, I say wonderful. The fill was wonderful. The crust was just...bizarre. I used an Alton Brown crust recipe and did not like it. The edges did not burn, but became very hard and crunchy. The crust under the fill remained flexible and almost...rubbery. Not sure how I managed that. I've asked my mom to source a more idiot-proof crust recipe if she or the neighbours can think of one. The fill was really, really good though. I made it completely from scratch, from a whole pumpkin. (Didn't have much choice, actually--I couldn't find tinned stuff. But I was up for the challenge.) I gutted and steamed it (kept the seeds) then peeled and squeezed the water out by hand. I pureed it with my soup-er-izer (little spinny blade on a stick thing) and added it to single cream, a few eggs, hand-ground cloves, hand-rasped nutmeg, and some cinnamon, a bit of sugar (with a few drops of Lyle's Golden Syrup mixed in 'cos I didn't think to get brown sugar) and a pinch of salt. Baked it for 45 minutes, rotating a few times 'cos its a gas oven, and served it with cream that I whipped (with a whisk) with a generous teaspoon of maple syrup. OMG. It was light and fluffy, not overpoweringly sweet or spiced but very flavourful. I did it almost entirely by hand and all by myself.

Like I said, the crust was garbage. I think it may have been because I included some vegetable shortening when I should have just used butter. Oh Alton, why did you lead me astray?


Also on Thursday I officially received my MA in Advanced Theatre Practice. My post-study work visa application is all ready to go with the exception of my bank statements, which must be mailed to me because NatWest has to have them hand-engraved by Norwegian monks. I don't look at the £550 application fee as a great spending of money--it was just money I was holding in my account for this purpose. It was never mine at all.


This past weekend was our 1-year House-I-Versary here in Lewisham. We celebrated with some friends who moved into their house the exact same weekend we did. It was a lovely time.


The 25th is both Thanksgiving and Ben's and my 6th anniversary. Though of course 4 of those 6 years have been spent in wildly different time zones, we've nevertheless perservered with close affection through the modern marvel that is Skype. Thank you, Skype, for making my relationship possible, and keeping us in constant contact for years so that we might eventually find a way to be together on the ground.

Any phone company executive that would destroy net neutrality for the sake of trying to "recoup" perceived "losses" from international internet telephony is a horrible, disgusting entity that deserves nothing but inconsolable loneliness for the rest of his meaningless, pitiful life. You will not make money from making VoIP prohibitively expensive.

You will only break families.

Financial Antique

I am sick to the teeth of British banks. Not that American ones are much better, but at least from US banks you can expect some semblance of modern business practices.

Let's have a look at my bank, shall we? Let's call them, oh, I dunno, DouchEast. DouchEast says they close at 5 on weekdays, but that actually means they lock the door and clear the place out by 4:15, a good two hours before most of their customers leave work. Cheque deposits, done by machine or in person, take 8-11 business days to become available to you, despite their ability to be processed instantaneously. DouchEast can rarely do anything for you in-shop--most things you request must be mailed to you, and will arrive in 7-10 days. Even if they're just documents that could be easily and securely printed off in office.

DouchEast's business practices involve a great deal of pressure--both on the employees and the customers. Employees are expected to maintain a quota of account openings per week, regardless of what their customers come in there for or the number of people in the country who need to open bank accounts. They are pushed to use every tactic available to them--up to and including flat lies--to lock customers into the ugliest, most expensive accounts and credit cards they have. When modern, skeptical customers shake off this pressure, employees are reprimanded for not meeting goals, and may eventually be fired for not being good enough salespeople. Likewise, employees are required, for PR purposes, to use their unpaid time to volunteer in the community in some capacity. Rather than be at work, where the community needs them most.

I believe DouchEast has, after helping as best they could to collapse the economy, had to make some HR cuts to maintain top-tier bonus packages. Naturally, most of these cuts have had to come from front-line plebian services, as of course the investment bankers who caused the depression are too valuable to let go. Most of their branches have desks and windows for up to 8 cashiers, but rarely have more than one person running them. Likewise, they have offices for up to ten people at a time to discuss their accounts, but typically have one person or no one available to do this. This causes queues--and fury. In banks, even a queue of five people can take an hour to slog through, as there's no telling what people are coming in to handle. It's not like checking out at the grocery store, or even getting on a roller coaster. These days queues are out the door, with fifty people or more waiting for one stressed, exhausted clerk to call them. Fifty people who have stepped out early on their lunch break because it's the only time they can be there when the bank is open, and will be delighted to discover that they won't actually have their inquiry addressed until their office closes for the day.

What makes this even more fun is the fact that their operation model sends most of their employees out of the building for lunch breaks at exactly the same time as most of their customers arrive. This is not a new problem or phenomenon--most people have jobs these days. Even back in the day when women generally did not have jobs, they had no need to go to the bank because they also weren't allowed to manage accounts. Banks have Always had to deal with most of their customers at lunch time. And they've always been short staffed at lunch time.

There are several very simple, practical, and inexpensive solutions to this problem. One is part-time shift labour. The morning shift arrives at 9 and leaves at 2; the afternoon shift arrives at noon and leaves at 5. The office is double-staffed for two hours right when most of their customers show up, everyone works a reasonable amount of time between meals, you can stagger in a few 15-minute breaks for tea, snacks, and cigarettes, and everybody gets a fair day.

Alternatively, you can have lunch-cover employees. Backstage administrative assistants most of the day, this team eats first, then comes in and takes people's places as they leave to eat in groups arranged by the size of the cover team. Once lunches have cycled through, they may go back to stapling forms and playing solitaire like normal.

Another option is to do what several companies I've worked for in New York do and call in lunch for the whole office. You buy a variety of foods, making sure to account for everyone's eating preferences and allergies--some online services even allow everyone in your office to login and, within a price cap set by the company, select a meal from up to 5 delivery places a day--and then let folks sneak off for fifteen minutes at a time to eat.

What you do not do is let most of your staff disappear for an hour the hour they are needed the most. That is stupid. And it makes people angry. Angry enough to take their money elsewhere.

Oh but wait. Everyone else behaves exactly the same way.

If it weren't for the existence of banks, no one would believe that an industry could actually survive being run so poorly. People have complained about banking services, opening hours, fees, and money-making practices since the invention of the bank. They're run badly, and they're not run with the Main Street consumer in mind. I recognize that banks are businesses and need to make money. I'm not averse to the idea that employees need to be paid. I have no real problem with bankers investing my money in rational ways for their profit, provided my money is kept safe and made available to me whenever I need it.

I Do, on the other hand, have a problem with banks being under-staffed, causing queues which waste my time and the valuable time of others. I have a problem with inefficiencies, like having to wait a week for a document I need now that can and should be printed immediately. "oh, but it's printed by our secure printing service in the middle of nowhere..." bah bah bah you could get it for me but you won't because of a policy that was established in 1870.

Everyone else has modernized. I can get free wifi on the grounds of ancient ruins. I can ride into the city in air-conditioned silence at 80 miles an hour in a train wherein, if I wanted to, I could roll a football down the aisle from the conductor's cabin to the rear fire exit. I have watched a hotel be built on its settled foundations in under a week. We have a probe ORBITING JUPITER. But you. You can't go to the printer behind you, pick up the official letterhead in the sheaf next to it, and print off six pages of bank statements for me because that's just not how you've always done things.

Banks, governments and churches. They must hold everyone else down in order to stay on top, and they have the power and money to do so.


In other news, I'm conviced the Mimic Octopus is far more intelligent than any human.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

wind and rain

Tears run freely
I blink them angrily away
Flicking my head to the side
So the wind will catch them.

If you see me
And I look like
I've just lost my puppy
Have no pity
I'm fine.

No really.
There's something wrong with my eyes.
I don't think it's allergies.
I wake up with my eyes dripping
And itchy
Every morning.

They water when I go outdoors
Blinding me
Freezing my face
Streaming like
Well, streamers


yeah, I suck at poetry, but if anyone has any experience curing constantly watery eyes please let me know. It's driving me nuts.

Monday, November 01, 2010


I finished painting my dining room today. It's a lovely, rich red-orange shade. I did an okay job, I think. It's kinda shiny, which is something I've never felt ballsy enough to commit to before.

I haven't found a job yet, but I've been applying.

I still haven't heard about graduation, but I'm not particularly worried that I'll pass. I am worried that they won't get their asses in gear on the paperwork soon enough to keep me and my international classmates out of hot water with border control.

In other news, I've been keeping up with Joe My God lately, and as much as I applaud the thousands of Americans who have contributed to her first real grassroots movement in decades by making "It Gets Better" videos, they make me sad. Most of the ones I've seen (made by individuals--not the awkwardly-read ones from politicians and public figures) have told of a difficult and painful childhood that was only alleviated by leaving. The only way they could find to make their lives better was to run away from their families, their homes, everything they knew, and to go somewhere safe. Because the people who were horrible to them stayed horrible when they grew up. Their families and churches remained intolerant, even dangerous.

The videos never say "it'll get better because the world is getting better." or "when you grow up, the people you want to love you will come to accept you for who you are" or even "I had a difficult discussion with my father, but he's come to tolerate me." The sweeping majority say "When you grow up, you can leave all that shit behind. In a little while you'll never have to see those fuckers again."

And in America today, that Is the best option for gay kids in the Bible Belt. Hell, in some communities it's the best option for ethnic and religious minorities, intellectuals, feminists, and even cancer victims. Just get out. There's no rehabilitating these fascists, and if you fight for your right to pursue your own happiness, in the open, pretty soon you'll start seeing burning crosses in your front yard.

Because that's what the Tea Party is. That's who video makers have had to escape in order for things to get better. The white, Christian, middle-aged bigots who don't want to have to accept anything but themselves. Indeed, they want their identity to be the national identity, the only collective identity. I don't think they even want 'different' people to join their religion, culture, or xenophobia--they just want them to go away. They oppose diversity, tolerance, and understanding. They oppose government spending on anything that isn't a free cheque for a million dollars that only they receive for being so wonderful.

The video makers have done precisely what the Teabaggers wanted them to do. Vloggers call it escaping. Baggers call it banishment. In the end, the Baggers get what they want for their community, and the Vloggers join a new one. Nobody has to change.

Teabaggers tend to live in areas of the world where they don't have to grow to accept anyone who's different because there's no one different around. Extreme conservatism is less common in urban areas because everyone is different from everyone, so there's no opportunity for cultural insularity. It is a matter of simple proximity. Urban areas do wind up hosting gangs and working around the odd integration-proofed pocket, but this is what happens to supremacy movements in diverse communities. Weirdos who can't assimilate or tolerate others find themselves on the edges of society, angry but ultimately powerless. Most people just blend in and are fine with that. They don't try to impose upon the freedoms of their neighbours, provided their neighbours extend to them the same courtesy. Any lifestyle that doesn't actively cause harm to others is just fine.

The Tea Party are the problem. They always have been. Now at least they're a unified and easily-identifiable bag of doorknobs. A quivering mountain of human blubber sitting around in their Medicare scooters, Klan hoods in one hand, misspelt sign demanding that healthcare not be extended to poor people clutched in the other sweaty palm. These are people who hate Obama because he is black, hate homosexuals because they're told anal sex is icky, try to ruin women's lives with unwanted children as punishment for not abstaining from the most natural act in human nature, and sincerely believe that America and her people are actually better than everyone else on earth.

They are not fiscal conservatives. That's giving them too much credit for learning about and understanding conservatism. Moreover, the reductions to government involvement and financial oversight they would like to see would result in catastrophe, with each one of them out of the job as soon as their employers moved overseas, or dead in explosions when their un-inspected, corner-cut factories finally shake themselves apart.

They are not social conservatives, as they don't have any coherent moral or ethical values they're sincerely trying to uphold. They demand that women not have the option of terminating pregnancy, while simultaneously demanding that no one should have to provide health insurance to them, so these miserable women are back at work trying to pay off their hospital bills mere weeks after they give birth, making them completely unable to bond with their babies or even breastfeed them. These children grow up neglected, resented, and often abused when the stress gets too bad, leading to lives of crime, hatred, and fear. They demand that students not be permitted to learn about or accept homosexuals, and demand that the only thing their kids be taught about sex is that they shouldn't do it, and try to 'cure' them as soon as they get wind that they're gay anyway, but try and hush-up the fact that their 'homophobic' pastors are routinely caught in bed with South American rent-boys, and forgive their senators and governors for having mistresses. They ignore what it really takes to uphold family values--education, acceptance, support, and dedication--in favour of hate, fear, and disgust.

Fascism is a belief that the best way to unite a country is for the government to mandate that everyone in it believe the same thing, behave the same way, and have all the same values. Once they agree on a religion, political party, and way of life, everyone must follow it without question. The Tea Party does not believe anyone should have the right to disagree with them. They do not believe anyone should be allowed to live in America without being an evangelical Christian and adhering to their teachings. They believe the church should rule the country, just as it should dictate the specifics of every individual's entire life. Because in a unified country, there is no room for individualism, intellectualism, or dissent.

No, wait. They don't believe these things. They just mindlessly repeat these things. Because they're sheep. They're sheep who have been told by their shepherds that they're the best sheep in the whole field. If they look outside the herd they may see that that's not strictly true--all the other sheep are just as pretty as them, really--so they're told not to look. The shepherd's control over them would be compromised if the herd realized that the other sheep were happy too.

You can't be at once fiscally and socially conservative in a secular state. The two are mutually exclusive. A small government cannot execute a cultural mandate. That's why they want to empower Evangelical Christian churches to bindingly establish and enforce their way of life as The only way of life. That's their goal. Not to protect religion from a powerful state that they believe would ban it, but to empower it further than it already is compared to the rest of the first world. It is frightening, disgusting, and back-assward. It is a desire fuelled not even by religion itself, but by hate, greed, and idiocy funnelled and fanned by religious and corporate leaders to further empower and fund themselves. I'm scared shitless for America right now, because too many stupid people have been organized into a singular movement that they don't and won't ever understand. They will bring painful consequences down upon themselves and the rest of the world, and all the rest of us can do is bite our fists and wait.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I am now past the Wednesday of my 20's.

I also have a head cold that is gradually getting worse. Bleurgh.

I'm working on a couple of small shows as part of the Creative Producers Collective with the Camden Council. I'm working very hard to clear my sinuses so I can think and be productive, but so far I haven't been very successful. I commented at a production meeting this afternoon, after spending ten minutes trying to read the lips of my nearby collaborators, "it's funny how this theatre has such dampened acoustics, seeing as it's not particularly well-insulated." They all just looked at me until I realized it wasn't the space, it was me.

I've tested a few more colours on the dining room walls and we may have found one we like. Still need to give it a good stare and (brain-functional) consideration before I splash out on the whole room. It's a saturated orange-coral shade.

Anyway. That's all I can manage with my snarfly brain. I just knocked over a glass, my lip balm, and a roll of tape. My hands are like the front axle of a 1978 Chevy Silverado with 30-plus years of mountain driving on its steering column. And a cup of coffee. Damn. I need a bib.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Value Added Tax. This tax increases the price of goods and services.

The Department of Redundancy Department strikes again!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cleaned Up

Today Boy and I visited his Granny's house to begin organizing a disused study. His Grandpa passed away in 2001 and left vast stores of books, articles, photos, and Stuff neatly heaped in what could be a guest bedroom at the top of the stairs. Overwhelmed but ready to part with it, Granny needed someone who knew books to have a look at it.

I came along for the ride.

While Boy indexed shelves of tomes (discussed here) I dug into the contents of drawers, unearthing a treasure trove of nifty gadgets, contraptions, and art supplies. Granny really didn't want any of it, so we made out like kings. I'm now the proud owner of:

:a well-maintained draughtsman's tool set, including compasses, dividers, and ruling pens

:a set of French curves, rulers, and scale rules

:a small, 2-inch measuring contraption made of brass and horn embossed with "J BUCK LONDON" (Any ideas?)

:A pile of cool nautical gadgets, including small wooden parallel rulers, a marlinspike, and a small, brass weather forecaster (that depends on you having a barometer)

:Folding knives and steel measuring tapes of all shapes and sizes

:Sealing wax sticks and two stamps--one the monogram "WI" in florid lettering and one of a rabbit.

:Several fillable fountain pens and ink that's still good

:Tiny steel futuristic staplers and thousands of tiny futuristic staples

:An antique ammeter

:A clip-on coat of arms for Grandpa's school--The Brentwood (Happy 42nd, Douglas!)

:Folding scissors

:A tiny silver twist-up pencil, about 3" long, engraved with rosettes and Grandpa's initials

A suction-cup listening device for recording phone conversations.

I left some things at the house though, simply because I had no real use for them, but couldn't bring myself to throw them away. These included:

:2 Walkmen with built-in microphones

:Several sliderules and sliderule-esque devices (yuck. These things make no sense and I'm convinced they make maths harder)

:Dozens more rulers and neat wooden rules with bizarre increments

:An inlayed wooden letter-opener

:Computer cassette tapes

I was able to throw away a number of items, some joyfully, such as:

:Dozens of giant, obsolete computer and audio cables

:Bizarre answering machine accessories

:dried-out adhesives, inks, and varnish

:Windows 95 (With a separate CD for Internet Explorer 4)

:Ancient batteries and an equally ancient universal charging station

:Instruction and warranty booklets for obsolete (and generally absent) electrical goods

I've learnt a fair bit about Grandpa in the past few years--it would have been cool to have met him. He was a Methodist minister and a technology writer, so the study is filled with roughly even numbers of theological and engineering texts, many of which he wrote himself. Some of Grandpa's mechanics books are still referenced by engineering students. He was a draughtsman, a sailor, a computer fanatic, and a lover of gadgets who was regularly invited to manufacturing plants all over the world to write about their systems and machines.

As you might expect, the religious texts are still fairly relevant--even the crumbling centuries-old analyses and wartime reflections on the function of the church in society continue to resonate. We came across a family Bible that is over 150 years old, with names of children neatly written in the front as it was passed through the generations, and it looks and reads pretty much exactly like a nice, presentation-grade King James you could find today.

The technology texts, however, are all about ten to thirty years out of date. Even the newest books treat the internet like it's a novel idea. All of the manufacturing systems described in the academic texts look fairly archaic and the computer studies are hilarious. Remember the difference between "Microcomputers" and "Minicomputers"? (Spell-check apparently does!) Remember when 16-colour displays were "Sleek and cutting-edge" and enough RAM to run an egg-timer was "powerful"?

Grandpa kept up-to-date on computer technology until his final days, and there were books in the stacks from the early 2000's, but even the edgiest machines and theories of the day are adorably wimpy or pointing in the opposite direction to how history unfolded. Oh Betamax. Oh car phones. Oh poor, poor laser-discs. (I find it interesting that when CDs came out they weren't sold as 'CLDs')

Boy spent the day filling a data sheet with titles, publishers, dates, and volume quality notes, and I covered myself in dust rooting through historic pointy objects. There's still plenty left to do, and I haven't even mentioned the massive hanging file, the thousands of slides that need to be digitized, and then the final decisions: What do we do with all this stuff?

We may be able to find theologians interested in the religious texts, I'd imagine we'll recycle the obsolete tech books (those not written in-house), scan the interviews and articles, and I'll take the slide projector if no one else wants it. Might come in handy in a scenic context.

Oh dear. I've been doodling with a ruling pen this whole time and my fingers are impressively ink-stained. I feel so quaint.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Better Wording for a Controversial Policy Change

I am responding to recent news reported here

It is imprudent to remind readers and viewers that their hard-earned money is being taxed to support large families--that just opens the door to people saying "but families need that money to support all their children--if you take it away, the children will suffer!"

No. Put it simply. "The current system gives families on Benefits more money for every child they have. Working people don't get a raise every time they have a child--even folks with below-average incomes. Indeed, it is the children with working parents who suffer in this system." Or, to make it personal, "I don't get more money for having more kids, so why the hell should you?" Controversy obliterated.

Maybe some prudent people only decide to have another kid after they've gotten a raise, but that's entrusting a lot of responsibility in your average parent. Some people do check their finances before trying for a child or additional child to ensure that they can still live comfortably with the new addition. Some people think they've got enough, then find out they don't and have to find a second job to feed a second mouth. Point is, some industrious (and frequently religious) people have 8 or more children and work their asses off to afford them, frequently getting by, or even thriving, on far less than what they could receive from the State. For some people this is an issue of pride, but for many it's just considered normal. One parent leaves the home to earn money and the other minds the kids. Some people put their kids in day-care so they can go work (mostly to pay for the day-care, but whatever) which offers children an opportunity to socialize.

I guess...I have several points, some of which are reasonable, and some of which are not. People do what it takes to make ends meet in order to provide for their families. Most people have the number of kids they want and can afford. (for me both columns are marked 0) If big families, like anyone, temporarily fall on hard times I am okay with the government supporting them until they get on their feet--provided they're trying to stand up--and hopefully allowing them to keep their home, neighbourhood, and dignity. I think reasonable limits must be kept in place regarding duration and extent of Benefit allowances, and after a while, if it hurts the community to keep paying for big houses or expensive private schools, everyone should have to take things down a notch. I don't think big families typically have enormous houses or send their children to expensive schools though, so this is largely moot.

But when it comes to people having more kids than they give a hoot about or can reasonably supervise and raise; people having kids for the sake of getting more money (I recall one memorable exchange between two teenage girls with screaming, ignored strollers, waiting for an A train at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, "Of course I'm looking for another baby-daddy! I need that check, and that child support. By the way, you like my new nails? I got the Works. It was only fifty dollars more than usual.") I have one simple phrase to utter, one that would piss many people off to hear.

There are people out there who would love to raise all those kids.

Of course, in all social service issues the best interests of the children involved must be the first priority. I think giving money to parents to sit around and not contribute meaningfully to their society or family, thereby teaching their kids that this behaviour is acceptable, is not in the kids' best interest, but there aren't really better options available--the foster and hostel systems routinely turn kids to crime, drugs, and violence; you can't always get kids adopted young enough to not screw them up mentally; if you interfere in every failing family there probably won't be enough hopeful adoptive parents around to take care of all the kids; the list goes on. But Actively Rewarding layabouts for making more kids? That's an insult to society. That undermines every teaching of state, church, and scout troop--and as "sit back and let the government pay you to do nothing" involves much less work than effort, study, and responsibility, it is a much easier and stronger lesson to learn. Laziness and a sense of entitlement are natural, but useless, components of the human condition. If we all did that, we'd all starve. No. Cut people off at the level that most people have to live on, regardless of family size. That teaches kids, "if you want more comforts, you're gonna have to earn them."

Saturday, October 02, 2010


We ate my first eggplant last night--it had bright white flesh and a stripey purple and white skin. Very tasty, but quite small. I was proud of it though--I planted them out back in March and over half of the plants were eaten by snails, then we had a sudden freeze in late April that knocked out a few more, and then I found out that they usually don't do anything outside in the UK because it's not warm or humid enough for them. So I got 1, and there's another one that's still little...not too bad for a novice in London with the coldest, shortest summer on record.

I'm still bringing in about 30 tomatoes a week. We had a huge amount of rain lately and several of the most recent pickings have been big and bright but kinda tasteless. I think this is in part due to the water overload and partly because I haven't been willing to go out and fertilize them in the storms. ("There she goes again, with an umbrella, watering her plants..." "poor dear, she must be rather simple.")

Sorry for the image quality--I took these pictures with my phone before we sliced into the aubergine. Ben was a bit concerned that it wasn't ripe because it was white inside instead of that sort-of parchment colour you see in grocery-store varieties, but it was very good. I only wish I'd managed to grow more. Now that the weather is returning to normal I'd imagine that's all I'll get. Next year I think I'll invest in some bigger pots and just grow them in the attic.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Lessons from Childhood

I never liked The Giving Tree as a kid. I thought it taught a pretty horrible lesson: take joy in being exploited by some ungrateful douche--after he's taken you for all you're worth, he may come back and expect you to support him in old age. Great. Thanks.

That's not to suggest I dislike Shel Silverstein. I'm quite fond of much of his poetry--Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book is a personal favourite. But I've always been baffled as to why Giving Tree deserves so many honours and accolades for being such a good book for children. I never felt sorry for the tree. Perhaps I was supposed to, I don't know, but I always saw it bad taste in men coupled with a masochistic streak. The female does everything she can for the male in the hopes that he'll recognise her effort and love her for it, but he always just takes what she offers as a given and raises his expectations. And then he goes off with another woman. And she is happy.

The lesson I gained from this story is, "don't give people anything. They won't appreciate it, they'll come to expect you to provide for them, and they will offer you nothing in return." I mean hell, the tree probably got a few greenfly infestations over the years that her sweet little boy could have sprayed for. What if she'd caught a nasty rootworm? There are plenty of ways to give back to a tree, but her darling child didn't even come around to prune that itchy dead branch. But no, "the tree was happy." Being taken for a sucker. Even when the boy was young he used her selfishly, eating her apples (how can you build a house out of apple boughs?) glorifying himself with her leaves, expecting her to make everything safe and comfortable for him. While many parents of course are happy to provide for children and only want love in return, there's a damn limit.

The Boy screws up. He makes some really bad decisions--from what I can infer from his desire for "a boat that will take me far away from here." he is not welcome in his community any longer. He has ruined his relationship with his wife and children. Maybe he made some dodgy investments or was caught cheating. So he comes back to the mother-figure to bail him out. "Hi Ma, I know we haven't spoken in a while, I'm not doin so good. I need you to give me some money so I can get outta dodge. I'm gonna have to lie low for a while, if the cops come to the door, you never saw me. Love ya." He's a fifty year old man! What the hell is he doing? Who does he think he is?

If the Tree had some self-respect she'd say no. No, you're an adult. If you want me to secure a loan for you you better be prepared with some collateral, 'cos I'm not risking my credit just so you can go on another bender with no consequences. I am not an accessory to your destruction, and I happened to like your wife and what you did to her and your kids was rotten. In fact, no, I will not secure a loan for you, you're too likely to default.

I assume that's the metaphor.

And then he high-tails it to St. Somewhere, fishes the pilings and drinks his green label each day for another twenty years. And we're supposed to in some way identify with him when he discovers the cost of repatriation of remains and decides to get to the burial plot he purchased with his ex-wife when they were planning for retirement before he dies? He gets back and lo and behold, his mother or ex-wife is still there, in her nineties but holding onto her own home with a combination of social security (which he hasn't paid into since he opened that offshore account that would eventually cause him to flee the country) and her own small IRA. And he moves back into her house and continues to mooch off of her, and via her the state to which he owes thirty years of back taxes!

What a Terrible Story.

I think this book should be read to women considering IVF treatments, perhaps with a discussion session afterwards. Are you Sure you want a kid this badly? I mean, they're shitheads.

Child-rearing requires a selflessness that I will never understand. While I'm grateful to my parents for raising me, sending me to school, feeding me, and doting on me as appropriate, I don't have it in me to do the same for anyone else. I mean, what's in it for parents? After twenty years, congratulations, you've made another taxpayer.

When you get a cat, you know from the outset that they're a species of selfish little bastards, they'll always be selfish little bastards, and they don't give a hoot about you. They let you pet them if they associate that with being fed. They'll sit in your lap, not because they like you, but because it's warm. You know this, but you get one anyway because they're fluffy and cute. You don't expect them to eventually come to appreciate you, or take care of you. But with kids it seems to be different. You give them everything you can, they take it without question, and after a while they leave you with nothing but debt so they can go do the same for their own brats, so they can too find themselves giving their all for no reward. And for some reason, that's what you Want them to do. Silly genetic imperative.

This book does not provide any helpful insights or suggestions for improvement that may one day help a child or grown-up. It is simply a reflection on how assholes take advantage of others, and how other people convince themselves they deserve to be taken advantage of. It's a very common and very shit relationship that serves as the cornerstone of the modern psychotherapeutic industry.

Monday, September 27, 2010

cultural rift

The biggest difference I've been able to find between American and British "values"--that is, issues surrounding children, religion, and being offended--is the presence of healthy cynicism. Brits have it. Americans don't.

British people openly acknowledge something that far too few Americans do--if you tell a child or teenager 'no' they will go out and do whatever you've denied simply to spite you. For instance, if you tell your child not to read Harry Potter because it's full of the devil's craft, your offspring will pop down to his local library to covertly read it as soon as he possibly can. If you tell your young adolescent that pornography is a dirty sin, she will seek it out, watch it, and may even get hooked on it.

Everyone is aware of this. In the back of every book-banning committee member's mind is a clear recollection of his own teenage porn stash, her hidden copy of The Catcher in the Rye, her own half-burnt bundle of sage that she used to cleanse the air during her friend's Solstice ceremony that one time. Teenagers are quite predictable in their naughtiness--something that cigarette and alco-pop manufacturers bank on.

But in America parents must pretend that they never were young, or that they only were very briefly. They expend a lot of breath declaring that they either "never would have even Considered doing that" or "did all of those things once and got them out of the way." In order to preserve social acceptability in their churches, PTAs, and garden clubs millions of American parents must ignore hundreds of years worth of psychological research and thousands of years of common sense in regard to the adolescent mind. They must voice their belief that strong moral teaching and parental involvement will keep their kids sober, sexually abstinent, straight, and devout despite their own experience to the contrary twenty years before. They must wave their arms around and shout Depravity! every time a book that uses the s-word is included in a high school literature curriculum, despite calling the teacher who teaches it far worse than that at the dinner table. They demand that picture books books like And Tango Makes Three be taken out of their children's sight and put into the up-high and out of the way "alternative family" section of the library to reduce their mind-broadening wherever possible, as young as possible.

I almost wonder if they deliberately do this so that their kids will read these books and challenge their publicly-outlined preconceptions. I rather hope they do. But I sadly doubt it.

Parents in Britain tend to have far more outward comfort in their awareness of the young mind. The cultural understanding is that if you limit a teenager too severely, he will do what you told him not to. I don't pretend to know what goes on in people's homes, but I do know that even conservative parents don't try to restrict the education or freedom of other people's children just because they don't want theirs coming into contact with ideas they disagree with. That's not to suggest that Brits don't harbour hatred or intolerance. They're just as privately back-assward and stuck in their ways as Americans are, but due to their very, very close proximity to the rest of the world they can't really manage insularity. You can't prevent your kids finding out about and tolerating homosexuality when the well-liked head teacher of your school is openly gay. You can't rally too many troops to the cause of blocking the construction of a Muslim cultural centre in someone else's neighbourhood when a significant proportion of your friends and neighbours are Muslim. There aren't many opportunities in London for people to establish single-minded communities, and while they may behave in accordance with the rigours of their culture or religion, people generally don't see a point in trying to convert or impose said rigours on anyone else.

The same may be said of most urban areas in the USA--tolerance is borne, not out of education or morality training, but proximity. People realize here that there's no point in trying to change people's minds or behaviours--there's too many people with too many contrasting views. As long as you just live and let live everyone is fine, but don't dare try and impose your flavour of crazy on anyone else.

American book-banners, prayer-in-schoolers, anti-gays, and other such douchebags simply haven't had to live around people outside of their teeny tiny worlds. Social acceptability in these communities is allowed to be singularly defined because it has been singularly established, uncontested, for many years. Natural, Normal, and Necessary don't need to be taken into consideration when your understanding of human nature hasn't grown since Queen Victoria declared gay sex 'icky' but couldn't comprehend the mechanics of lesbianism. It doesn't matter if you had trouble fighting nature in your adolescence, it doesn't matter if the pastor of your mega-church was caught in bed with a Costa Rican male prostitute--if you are surrounded at all times by the people who established your concept of right and wrong in your infancy, that concept will solidify in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Evidence which is available, yes, but if you prevent it from being seen, not necessary to consider. It is easy to suppress your knowledge, your memories, your instincts when you're rewarded for doing so with status and respect. It's easy to forget that you were once rebellious, curious, and motivated entirely by your libido. It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that if you ban normal actions you can prevent them. If you never have to hear that good people have good lives that are utterly unlike yours you never have to accept that your right is not the only sort of right.

You don't grow a thick skin if you're always right. You don't need tolerance if you're always right. You don't raise your children to seek out the best in others if you think everyone else is wrong.

There's no real way to break up these knots of self-appointed Bests, to force them into diverse communities where their demands are opposed, not by the evil Media or the Government You Didn't Vote For, but by Steve and Gareth upstairs who would be great dads, and the researchers at the local university who can explain why teenagers can't be expected to abstain if you would only listen.

I wish public education could fix the Evangelical problem, but it can't--only experience can teach tolerance.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life, eh? I submitted the final essay of my degree last night, returned my library books, and now...feel vaguely uneasy.

Oh sheez I hope I pass.

I put some thought into it--didn't just wait until the last minute like I typically do. I did actual research and did my best to relate the lessons I'd learned from my own project to art that people who get paid to do art have also learnt. My bullshit factor was actually quite low, which, if you've ever read another post on this blog, may surprise you. The essay was limited to 2500 words, so I had to condense my typical 7,000 words of waffle per thought quite a bit to fit. I didn't say 'ergo' or 'therefore' at all.

I'm convinced I've done something terribly, terribly wrong. Misspelt my name or wrote it in Greek or left out half of it... I spent hours agonizing over my references. It is scandalous how quickly citation formats have had to change as the legitimate uses of the internet have grown. Did you know you no longer have to include urls in ? Looks much tidier, I think. And you don't have to say when you accessed documents with stable urls, or archives in a database, which I always thought was a bit invasive. It's not any of your business when I did my research.

I'm going to keep an ear out for the rest of the day for the course support office, just to make sure everything is in order--that is, everything I was supposed to submit got submitted to the right people at the right time. They kinda sprung this "oh by the way, you're supposed to submit MOAR web presence documents to us" shenannigan on us right at the last second, so I'm not sure if I sent my link to the right person. Hopefully I'll find out.

By the way, I've come to realize that I adopt different poses for typing depending on what I'm doing. For blogging I almost always sit bolt upright, keep my fingers on the home row, my wrists relaxed--the perfect model of a well-trained touch-typist. For writing research papers, however, I generally rest my head on my knee, type almost exclusively with my left hand, and lean in toward the monitor like a half-blind tv addict. I wonder why.

Friday, September 10, 2010

An Open Tutorial for Letter-Writers

I would like to offer a few words of advice to people who work for banks, utility companies, tax offices, and other groups that regularly send out bills, statements, invoices, and other letters.

There are 3 titles in the English language for women who are neither doctors, members of the clergy, nor royalty. They are Mrs. (mis-sus), Ms. (miz), and Miss (miss). They have three distinct pronunciations and three distinct uses.

Mrs. is used to address women who are married or widowed and use their spouse's last name. It indicates that a woman has chosen to drop or move the surname of her birth from her legal name.

Miss is used to address girls who are not only not married, but are under the age of 16. In years past it was also used in regard to spinsters, but over the past century this has become rude. Unless specifically requested or signed by the woman in question, Miss is a diminutive term for children or women who are significantly younger than you.

Ms. is used to address women you don't know, or whose marital status and age are irrelevant to the content of your letter. All it indicates is that you acknowledge (or believe) the recipient is female.

Many single women of voting age in English-speaking countries do not appreciate being called Miss. They may tolerate it from the elderly or members of their church or family, but it is not appropriate or acceptable to refer to anyone as a Miss in a business-related letter.

Why, you ask? Why would a woman be offended if you pointed out she was single and young in her electric bill? Let's think a moment. It is currently the year 2010. Only in the past 150 years of recorded history (there's quite a bit more than that on file) have any women had the right to handle their own property and finances. Before that women's land, investments, and even wages were automatically transferred to her husband upon their marriage. Before That, women didn't have the right to own any property or receive any wages, and all finances regarding her went straight from her father to her husband upon their marriage. Denying ownership and stewardship to women been a huge component of our legal subordination for thousands of years.

As of now, in all matters relating to business, unless a mortgage payer has decided to guarantee her repayments against the value of a relative's fiscal holdings, she is dealt with not as a wife or daughter but as a customer. Her age and marital status are utterly irrelevant. She does not need any guarantee or permission from a man to borrow, loan, buy, or earn anything.

That said, any woman you meet can tell you stories about dealing with men who ignore or dislike that. Several times I have been told by a workman that he'll only discuss repairs and matters of payment with the "man of the house." I've even replied to this with "I am the responsible party, you can talk to me." and been told no, have him call. (On one memorable occasion, I was living in a university residence and was told this by an on-campus maintenance guy.) Some of these terse conversations have actually ended with the grunt excusing himself with the phrase, "you just give this invoice to your daddy, Miss." or "just let your husband know, ma'am."

Miss is a condescending and insulting term. It suggests you think that a woman is not as wise, experienced, or capable as you. If you're 90, fair enough. You can even get away with calling a 30-year old bachelor 'little master.' But for the rest of us, save it for children. Mrs. is just as bad with strangers--you don't know me. You don't know anything about me.

The fact that a woman has a different name from the man or woman she lives with says nothing about her relationship to him or her. They could be married. They could be room-mates. They could be siblings. They could be lesbians. She could be married to someone else. She could be 80. She could be your mom. As long as she doesn't default on her payments, her age and who she's bonking don't mean a thing to your business relationship.

Gas company, electric company, water company, bank... I wrote Ms. on your forms. But ALL OF YOU BACKWARD, PATERNALISTIC, 19TH CENTURY YAHOOS WITH GERIATRIC CORPORATE POLICIES have sent bills and statements to someone named MISS G. If I wanted to be called MISS, I would have told you I was called MISS. But I didn't. Because I'm not. Because I find it demeaning. I told you the exact opposite. I've SENT YOU LETTERS informing you that I am not MISS. And still you insist. Why? You don't need to know my age or marital status. Why do you give a shit? You don't call Ben 'Master' or 'Son'--why do you think it's okay to talk the fuck down to me?

MS is the girl equivalent of MR. It means you are someone. Just someone. Not a member of a partnership, not a kid, not an old person, not a dependent, not anyone you should treat differently from anyone else. I insist upon calling every woman I contact Ms unless she prefers a different honorific. If she wants to be called Mrs. I'm not going to stop her. If she wants to be called Miss I may look at her funny but that's her right. My grandma still likes to be called Mrs. Kenneth G, and while I find that disgustingly offensive, it makes her happy. So great.

I just want to be addressed as a face-value person. Men are lucky--they're called Mr. Surname from the day they're born. I was born and always will be Ms.Me. Leave it at that.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Happy Blogiversary to me!

My very first post on this site was exactly 6 years ago.

Holy crap.

May I share with you a run-down of what's happened in my life since I started? I mean, after all, I did start blogging with the intention of keeping track of my life when I moved to the UK. To quote adorable little 19-year-old me:

"I intend to use this webspace as a journal of my adventures and experiences in the UK and the rest of Europe. I figure its a great way to store my thoughts-there's no paper to get wet or torn, I never need to find a pencil, and it's hard to lose. And if anyone happens to read it besides me...well, oh well. Just hopefully my mother won't, as I at least hope that my experiences abroad will include a couple of non-G-rated scenes."

As it happens, my mom says she only rarely reads this, and mostly just to see pictures of my plants. And a couple of other people periodically check in (though I honestly can't fathom why.) So I suppose it's fulfilled its primary objectives.

But yes. Hm. 6 years. I lived in Canterbury for a school year. I met Ben and fell, giddily, in love. I befriended Sarah, Tom, and Matt, drank too much, and scraped a pass in all of my classes. In summer of 2005 my sister and I went trekking through France and Spain for a few weeks and then went home. In summer of 2006 I finished my last year of school and got my BA, Magna Cum Laude, from the University of South Carolina. My car died twenty miles outside of Columbia in the pouring rain as I tried to move back home. My mom got a new car, I got her old car, and a week later I moved to the Hamptons. I worked as a scenic intern for Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor for four months, usually for 16 hours a day, every day of the week, had a small nervous breakdown, and got Ben to ride with me while I drove to California. I worked for Berkeley Repertory Theatre for the better part of a year as a scenic intern--fairly reasonable hours--learned a ton and worked hard, befriended Kim, Sheri, and Lisa, and Skyped with Ben almost every day. At the end of May, 2007 I moved to Colorado for 4 months to work for the Central City Opera as a props assistant/usher, where I got to dress in period costume and humiliate myself every evening after my my co-worker and I spent the day being harassed by our shop head. I moved back to South Carolina for six months to take an AutoCAD class, decompress, and look for work. After failing to find any gigs that weren't more fucking internships in theatre I went on holiday with my mom and sister to Key West, met a tall ship captain, and fell in love with his job. Just before the beginning of 2008 I sought out sailing gigs and landed a position as Mate on the Skipjack Sigsbee with the Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore and had an amazing 9 months sailing, maintaining boats, and teaching kids on the Chesapeake Bay while living on the retired Coast Guard Cutter Taney. Ben and his friends visited New York City and I got a bus up to visit him for a weekend. As the sailing season drew to a close, however, and my captain got her own ship, I weighed my options and began to realize that I couldn't afford to maintain this life indefinitely. I began to look at graduate schools, and in January 2009, after throwing away most of my Taney-scented clothes, I began interviewing for programmes back in theatre. I briefly entertained studying radio journalism, but the industry looked unstable so I chickened out. I moved to New York City at the end of February, found a cheap, if awkward sublet, interviewed with Central, fell in love with the program, and spent another three months temping with occasional theatre work. I had a hard time with loan and visa applications, had another mild nervous breakdown, got a regular temp gig with an investment firm, moved to Bushwick, and didn't sleep again for another 3 months. Ben and Tom came to visit, separately, and I decided if I ever move back to NYC it will be only to live on Governor's Island. In September, 1 week before my scheduled flight to London, the British Embassy approved my visa and mailed my passport to my mom. I moved to Greenwich, started school, Ben and I moved to Ladywell, I was confused and disappointed with school for six months, finally gave up on trying to find any connection between the course I was on and the course I interviewed for, and started doing my own work. Early in 2010 I took Lautes Licht to Shunt, designed lights for all of my classmates' shows barring 1, and thought hard about writing my dissertation. Two weeks ago I took Licht to the Old Vic Tunnels and started writing. Since last weekend I've seen Beirut in Brighton, was offered a lighting gig with Cardboard Citizens, and have put a few thousand words on paper. All of them awful.

(heave for breath)

So there you have it. The summarized contents of this blog (and my academic blog), excluding the mountainous piles of undirected rage that dot the pages like crude oil in a deepwater harbour. Six years.

Right then.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lautes Licht: Underwater(loo)

This Saturday (the 21st) the Lautes Licht team will be working in the tunnels under Waterloo Station for the Old Vic's "Red Light Night." This is a 4 hour arts club immediately following the Tunnels' much-touted "Dark Carnival." It will be a loud and raunchy extravaganza of Red Light District themed-and inspired art, performance, music, and more.

For those familiar with my interpretation of the piece, you may not be surprised to find that I think this could not be a more ideal niche for the show. Lautes Licht is the most disturbing PG-rated piece I've ever created--an opportunity to manipulate and exploit other human beings in an eerily non-sexual way. The cast will be clad in frumpy and comfortable pyjamas and trainers while the audience will likely arrive in corsets and fishnets. This works in my head, in a funny sort of way--hopefully it will come across well for the viewers and operators too. Here are these free people willingly clad in the constrictive, restrictive, and frequently bondage-inspired garb of the sex industry, pulling the puppet strings of perfectly ordinary people in attire usually reserved for Buffy marathons.

Except the performers are actually all professionally beautiful people under the t-shirts and flannel trousers, while the audience is actually comprised of ordinary folks with sensible jobs out breaking the monotony of their daily lives for one deviant night. Audiences are out to be entertained, to escape themselves, and debauchery-themed club nights fill a vital role to that end. If these leather-clad Lady Marmalades were like this all the time everyone in the office would be driven to distraction. Everyone knows they're playing dress-up. But sometimes even your friendly and helpful receptionist needs to glam up and indulge her trashy side in a loud, dark place. It's edgy. It's dangerous. It's a well-researched, medically-endorsed cathartic experience.

Art clubs provide a space for responsible adults to look sexy, think with their genitals, and be bad in a supervised and controlled environment. They're a place to have all the dirty fun you imagined the cool kids were having when you were a teenager, except with less risk of getting caught by your mum, arrested, or pressured into sneaking off with that popular guy who expects a blow-job but thinks pleasing a girl is disgusting and degrading.

The point is, you go to the art club knowing full well that, after spending Sunday nursing an expensive hangover with burnt toast and instant coffee, you'll put your tie on and go back to your real life--the same old responsible, upwardly-mobile you.

It is an ideal place to bring a piece of theatre that requires an audience that is willing to manipulate and unapologetically jerk on willing strangers. Particularly when they get a good look at them and realize that they're being handed beautiful, talented willing strangers to command. Not beautiful like a painted prostitute in a picture window, but beautiful in that wakes-up-with-dribble-and-hair-plastered-to-her-face-and-she's-still-hotter-than-you-with-a-makeover-on-a-thin-day way. Beautiful, in short, in burlap.

They're wearing pyjamas to distinguish themselves from the audience, and to showcase the way manipulation is always disgusting, even when it's in completely mundane ways. And these people you're playing like an accordion? They volunteered for this to show you a side of yourself you may not want to see. But the jammies may serve a more sinister purpose, as a reminder to the false-eyelashed audience that for some, even real life is sexy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

NHS musings

I've been going to the NHS for several months now to seek assistance with my skin. My face, chest, and back have until recently been constantly coated with antibiotic-resistant, regularly refreshing acne, and it's taken its toll on my self-esteem. For about 5 years I have felt ugly, ashamed, and sad, which has inhibited my motivation to take care of myself, exercise, wear pretty clothes, or give a damn about anything aside from my fury-inciting reflection.

I started seeing a GP in September, who, after hearing my carefully documented treatment history over the past 5 years in the USA, began me on the exact same treatment I started on 5 years ago in the USA. I came to understand that if you move country, your health records aren't recognized as legitimate. Fun.

So I spent an entire academic year on a trip down memory lane--the same old treatments, the same old failures. Benzoyl Peroxide/clindamycin cream, BP/CY plus lymecycline tablets (topical plus internal antibiotics), Retin-A plus lymecycline tablets, more Retin-A, and finally "I can no longer treat you. I'll refer you to a dermatologist."

Great. 3 months of Retin-A later, my dermatology appointment arrived. I waited over an hour and got a ten-minute appointment in which I was told, "the next step is isotretinoin, but I can't prescribe that here. We'll have to re-evaluate you at the hospital and decide if it is best for you there."

Between starting treatment and reaching this point, I moved. Not a huge distance, but I moved from Greenwich's NHS trust to Lewisham's NHS trust, and continuing to see the same GP was becoming a hassle. After the move I asked if I could transfer my records and progress to Lewisham and was told no. "You'd have to start over from scratch."

I moved 4 miles, in the same country, within what I thought was the same health service (that whole "National" thing kinda threw me) but my records would not follow me. That makes no sense.

Nevertheless, I persevered, and six weeks later I was seen by no less than 5 doctors who all agreed, after I passed a pregnancy test (I suppose? Passing is being not pregnant, failing is being pregnant? Is pregnancy a failure? I mean with some medications it is, but what about at fertility clinics?) liver function test, cholesterol test, blood count test, platelet test, and additional pregnancy test, that I was a good candidate for Accutane. I signed the NO BABY forms, promised I would not remove my IUD, received my first month's supply of medicine, and got a little cold.

What's that about the little cold, you ask? How is that relevant?

See, in order to receive this treatment, for which I am very grateful, I have to go to one of the giant hospitals in Greenwich council. To get my blood tests, I have to wait about 2 hours in a vast, crammed-full lobby with hundreds of other outpatients, all stiff-upper-lipping through their godawful diseases. When my eyes get tired of reading I tend to quietly play "find the sickness" with my fellow patients. With many, it's dreadful diseases of the elderly--painful-looking skin and joint conditions that are both causes and symptoms of a sedentary lifestyle. Others snarf back slime while trying to entertain screaming and oozing children. Still other afflictions aren't apparent until you see the back-pain dance when their numbers are called. (And then there's the otherwise-fine folks like me, feeling apologetically out of place but staunch in our assertions that we deserve treatment too, and dammit, we pay our taxes and we've waited long enough.)

But as with all overcrowded hospitals, feeling fine on arrival is no indicator that you'll leave in good or better health. These people, coughing and even just breathing in your vicinity, are certain to share something during your afternoon in this poorly-ventilated, windowless sick-tank. At least half of them have been there an hour or longer, silently spreading their sickness to surfaces and staff alike. (hopefully not staff, but I couldn't leave the alliteration chain hanging.) The sniffles and subsequent nausea from knowing where that bacterium just floated over from leave me wanting a scour-shower when I get home--something I shouldn't do now that my skin has been made delicate and sensitive by my medication.

The thing is, none of this is necessary. I recognize that medicines such as Accutane are controlled substances, and reasonably so, and as such it may not be a good idea to dispense them at Boots. But there's no reason why they can't be dispensed at offsite dermatology clinics. With the right distribution controls it makes far more sense to provide medications at purposed pharmacies--if you run a general practice, the NHS pharmacy nearby offers a well-rounded supply of frequently requested drugs. If you run a neurology practice, next door you sell brain-related pharmaceuticals. You offer phlebotomy services at GPs, even if you occasionally have to send samples to larger labs for more obscure tests, and you do not make thousands of patients spend entire days waiting in stuffy, pathogen-rich disease transfer centres for testing and medication. That's a huge health risk--indeed, probably the biggest health risk in the entire system. F'ing Ellis Island was cleaner than this.

But no, those tight-fisted money grubbers at stage 2 of funding are fighting tooth and nail to keep that from happening. See, the big cheques come from the government to the hospital trusts, and they like to keep all their money to themselves. They distribute a little bit of it to community GPs and clinics, but the bulk of the cash never leaves the hospital. They account for this by offering all the services that would otherwise be distributed throughout the neighbourhood on-site, but crippled to near uselessness by three-month waits, overcrowding, under-staffing, and poor site management. Worse, referrals into the hospital are complicated by hundreds of different forms used by the hundreds of different GPs who haven't had the money to upgrade to something compatible with the centralized data system, or the last 10 upgrades to the hospital data system. So you walk up with your handwritten phlebotomy form and the receptionist spends ten minutes digging through her notebook of phone numbers to find a contact for the doctor's office who produced it so she can ask them what this form number refers to in the new system. Gaah.

Centralization has never worked. Big hospitals are the biggest culprits when it comes to accidental disease transmission and stress-related malpractice. You just can't cram all those different conditions into one place and expect things to be okay. Even with a huge full-time well-trained custodial staff shit goes wrong, sometimes literally.

Take Outpatients Out of the Hospital. Separate maternity centres from skin disease wards. Let people avoid six month queues by allowing more doctors to practice in more places, and let qualified pharmacists make informed decisions no matter where they are.

If you're curious (and have a strong stomach--otherwise please skip this paragraph), my skin is looking a million times better than it did this time last month. Thanks to it being that lovely time of the month my face is bumpy and my pores are enlarged, but I'm not seeing any of the typical redness, gross inflammation, pain, oil sheen, or pustules. The doctor says the bumpiness and pore enlargement should go away over the course of treatment. I've been getting some red patches on my arms but I moisturise constantly. My cholesterol and liver function are still fine. My hair stays clean for days on end, so I'm saving water, and interestingly--mom, get this--you know all that weirdness in my ears? That's been wet and inexplicable for more than a decade? I still hear the crackling noise whenever I swallow, but I've not had any active dripping all month. Indeed, my earwax is actual wax, not a fluid. Wow. (grossness ends)

Anyway. While I appreciate the NHS, there's a lot that can be done to improve it without increasing costs or reducing safety. If the conservatives can pull off what they claim they'll do in that regard, I'll applaud them. If, however, they let their grand scheme get buried in business-as-usual, I will not be surprised.