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.