Saturday, 3 March 2012

Tag, you're it

I was standing in front of a mirror tonight, getting ready for bed, when I saw another grey hair and suddenly a thought struck me: I hadn't spoken with M. in a long while. I couldn't do it right then, because she was in a different time zone and probably asleep, but I imagined talking to her anyway. I imagined I said:

"M., do you remember when we were eighteen and jumping on your bed to Lenny Kravitz' Fly Away?... Can you believe we're about to turn 32? Where did all those years go? When did we grow this old?"

Blink and you've missed it.

I'm not sad or disappointed. I'm just surprised. It feels like it was only yesterday, and today we woke up with husbands and children, jobs (or not) and bills to pay. It was only yesterday we were berating our parents, and today we're living some sort of slow-motion switch-a-roo; time-travelling into the future, one day at a time.

My counselor reckons I'm no longer depressed. I agree. Too busy taking care of the baby, I no longer worry about the meaning of life.

Friday, 18 November 2011

I'm working on it, promise

I might have tried explaining, but it's already been said perfectly by Hyperbole and a Half:

Friday, 29 July 2011

IRL character alignment

Obviously, most people cannot and should not be forced into one rigid box. But there is something neat about the Dungeons & Dragons' axes of law/chaos and good/evil.

This whole train of thought started, innocently enough, with a throwaway question: if I were a superhero, what would my alignment be?

Hmpf. Neutral, I guess. With flashes of Chaotic Good on good days and Chaotic Evil on bad. I probably take those kinds of questions far too seriously anyway. They make me think too much. They make me wish I was steadily Neutral Good instead.

In lieu of a character made of a stronger moral fiber, I've done my best to surround myself with good people. Until now, I've never done it consciously. I just enjoyed their company without giving much thought to the why.

Having considered the possibility that there is a certain trend to my friendships, and in the interest of (pseudo) science, I then went as far as abusing facebook for the deplorable purpose of shoving some of my friends and family into boxes after all:

To be absolutely honest, I don't think I know anyone I'd actually call Evil. The two poor souls I'd placed in the lowest row were simply unfortunate enough to occasionally exhibit said tendencies. It is actually quite likely that I might be the most Evil person I know (and endure on a regular basis).

Completely unscientifically, I've come to the conclusion that blondes tend to be Good while brunettes (and gingers) tend to Evil, and that women are more likely to be Good or Evil rather than Neutral. There might have been some bleach and dyes involved, however, so I wouldn't set much store by this assessment.

I didn't really have a conclusion in mind for this chaotic post, so I might as well wrap it up as it is, with a word of thanks to all those who have been morally propping me up over the years (if I'd pasted all their lovely mugs above, it would make for a very long top row indeed). Keep up the good work. Who knows, I might miraculously turn out a decent human being. Eventually.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Conversations with kids

When in my late teens I worked as a camp counselor, I learned that children do like bold colors, big jewellery and anything jangly. So when a friend invited us over to her house for an afternoon in order to introduce us to the newest addition to the family, I decided to put on my peacock-feather earrings and strut for the older girls. They are 6 and 3, and are frikking adorable.

Tintin was great with the newborn, but I prefer them when they start stringing sentences, and so ended up sandwiched between the girls and loving it. I had the 6-year-old blond princess on one side and the cute-as-a-button 3yo tomboy cuddled up on the other, pushing dark bangs out of her eyes and trying to get a word in edgeways. The princess was chattering away, and there's no interrupting the princess. At that moment, she was gushing over my earrings.

Princess: They're great. I'd love earrings like that.
Me: When you're older, I'm sure your mum will let you pierce your ears, and then I'll happily get you a pair, if you still want them.
Princess: What's that made of?
Me: Peacock feathers.
Princess: Like the bird with the big tail?
Me: Exactly.
Princess looked at me quizzically, while the little one sat up in expectation. She knew her sister better, and must have sensed something was brewing. I, obviously, remained clueless.
Princess: So those belonged to a bird?
Me: I guess so.
Princess: Do they cut them off?
Me (growing uneasy): I don't think so.
Princess: They don't?
Me: I really don't think so.
Princess: How do they get them, then? Do they... kill the bird?!
She had tears in her eyes, and the tomboy looked ready to start bawling, too. I panicked.
Me: No no no no! I'm sure they don't! I'm sure the birds just lose the feathers and grow them back.
Princess (suspicious): You're sure?
Me (not a liar): Sweetie, I'm not sure-sure. But I'm absolutely positive nobody would hurt a bird just to get some pretty feathers. I'm totally sure of that. Okay?

I guess she won't want those earrings now. But I've checked, and yes, peacocks molt, and live through the ordeal of providing us silly girls with flashy earrings. Phew. But next time, I'll try to go better prepared into the perilous den of childhood inquisitiveness. Or get an iPhone, I guess.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Boutique hobo strikes again

Today made me wonder. I was sitting at a bus stop, minding my own business, when a homeless man strolled over, picked up an empty beer can from underneath the bench, and put it in the rubbish bin, explaining that if the police chanced by, I'd get in trouble for even sitting near that particular piece of incriminating evidence. He was nice. Polite. He guessed I was from England, he was sure it was from Manchester. He wanted to know if I saw the Royal Wedding, but said he himself didn't watch it. He much preferred the prince's mother, Princess Di, getting married. That was a wedding.

The bus arrived and I got on, and that was that. But it made me wonder. Living in Seattle the way I have thus far - safe, but with little to do and precious money to spend - my social interactions seem to consist mostly of this city's soft underbelly. A few times, as I got into the elevator, I've been followed by my equally time-rich neighbour. I suspect she's on benefits. She looks forty but talks like a five-year-old. She's lovely. She completely ignores my London mannerisms and chatters away a mile a minute, for as long as our mutual confinement allows.

Another day, while I was still getting used to how laid back Seattle actually is, a homeless woman stopped me in the street to compliment my shoes. I didn't wear white leather brogue oxfords out again, but the experience itself wasn't unpleasant. The woman seemed genuinely impressed with my footwear. And yes, I did agree they were super comfortable. When she asked where I got them, I said Value Village. I figured it was easier than explaining in England we have those lovely little charity boutiques that pretty much serve the same purpose.

Truth be said, I spend enough time in Value Village as it is to make the above true-ish anyway. It's cheap entertainment. Like a treasure hunt with the added benefits of people watching and, occasionally, finding a real gem (a $.99 ballgown, for one - at that price, I can wear it to take out the trash). And as I usually go during the day in the week, I get to mingle with people who know how to get excited about little things. Last time, a middle-aged woman an aisle over squealed with pleasure as she riffled through the dress rack. Her social worker told her to pipe down, and reminded her that they had a couple of hours, so she should take it easy and make it count, because she was only allowed one dress. So she should choose wisely. I hadn't seen a person's eyes get this big with anticipation and gravity of their position in a long, long time. And then I giggled, because save the social worker, I was in the exact same position.

Maybe I just spend too much time on foot, and not in the most desirable parts of town. In London, it was normal not to own a car, and to snub people begging in the streets. There were posters everywhere telling us we were doing more harm than good by giving those people money, and to donate to dedicated charities. And we did. But when somebody asks flat out, it's difficult to say no. A bit easier in this day and age, as often I could honestly say I didn't have any change. Why would I? Most shops in London were happy to take my card for the smallest purchases, and I had my Oyster card for getting around, be it by bus, tube or train. There was no need for me to handle any cash. But, they said, one could always give something in kind. So when the usual man stopped me on my way back from the shops, and as usual I said I had no change, I had no heart to refuse when he asked if I could give him some food instead. I just let him dive into the bag. I was at uni still, then, so the money was tight. I bought what I needed and just one treat: a mango smoothie. I was really looking forward to that. Well, one guess as to what he picked out.

That time, it was a bitter-sweet charity for me. It actually hurt a little. But I got my explanation for the man's fussiness not long afterwards, on an evening underground ride back from the campus. It was late, the carriage was full of people obviously coming home from work, tired, hungry, bored. Suddenly, a bedraggled man stepped in from an adjoining carriage, and loudly said his spiel. It was good, to the point, a little self-deprecating. He said he was happy with food as well. When he stopped in front of me, I said the truth. I only had a couple of apples. He laughed.
"With those teeth?" he asked, grinning. All he had in there were two rotten stubs. I couldn't help myself, and laughed and apologised.

The day my mango smoothie and I parted ways, I realised then, there was nothing else easily consumable in my bag. That will teach me. McDonald's milkshakes all round.

And here I am, aimlessly walking for miles, wasting my time at bus stops, wondering at how nice homeless people are whenever I get to talk to them. And how scary everyone seems to paint the police. Have they actually strolled by me in a similar situation in England, our conversation would go something like this:
"Hullo there. Is that your beer?"
"What? Where? Oh, no. I haven't noticed that. No, not mine."
"Would you mind being a good citizen and putting it in the litter?"
"Not at all, ma'am."
"Thank you, have a nice day."
"And you."
Crazy, I know. Some of my best friends are in the force. Or else I'm getting a skewed view, seeing as I'm a generally harmless daytime hobo who likes her comforts and the rule of law.

Found this sign a few days after posting the above. Ditto.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Toilet humour

It's been a year since Tintin moved to the States, and his original visa has now expired. Since mine is tied to his, off we went back to London to reapply.

And it's been the loveliest of times. I went to my first ever real bachelorette party, and finally understood the point of those: I wouldn't have known anyone at the wedding had it not been for the bride's kind invitation to traipse around Brighton in sailor costumes with ten of her best friends. The wedding itself was magical. The next week, we got to spend time with family, and finally got to have our interview at the embassy. We arrived back in London the night before, and the hotel we were supposed to stay at was overbooked. So they chauffeured us to a better one near Hyde Park, and sent a car for us the next morning, so we didn't even have to remember where the embassy actually was. The weekend was stunning for early April, picnics in the park and long walks along the Thames, and then on Monday the visas didn't arrive.

We booked another hotel for a couple more days. Still, the visas didn't arrive. We thought of booking another hotel, but were getting tired of dragging our bags around London, and the possibility of having to extend our stays in two-day increments for up to two weeks wasn't appealing. We called friends. They took us in.

The next morning, I was having a shower when I looked across the bathroom and saw THAT:

From the wall opposite, Hitchcock was staring at me appraisingly. I nearly choked. But I loved it.

It made me think of all the bathroom weirdness that my friends seem to indulge in and for which I adore them even more. One of my favourites is a photo of Saddam Hussain surrounded by his honchos, irreverently propped up on a toilet cistern. You drop your pants, you moon them all - you get the picture.

(The least favourite was a strategically placed mirror.)

On a more general level, the thing that disturbs me the most is the strange American custom of making public restroom doors just this tiny little bit too small for their frames... And then placing the cubicles opposite the entrance... While most British restroom doors not only fit perfectly, but often have a modesty panel for extra piece of mind for those worried about their privacy. Alfred Hitchcock staring down at me is one thing. Strangers getting a glimpse in public restrooms will take some getting used to. And the strategic placement of a coat.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Great expectations

At what point does one stop to show promise, and start to be all one could ever be? The years have gone by, and from a very mature child I've managed to grow into a scandalously childish adult. Swings and roundabouts, as they say. I've got no complaints. But the IQ that was so impressive in a 16-year-old must be nearing a 100 now, because, frankly, I haven't done that much with all that promise.

I've been knitting, that's about it. Getting manicures and brazilian waxes. I've cooked a few decent dinners, ironed a pile of shirts and vacuumed the house once or twice. I've been a lady of leisure, a homemaker, an idler extraordinaire with a penchant for feeling entitled and misapplied. A 1950s' model housewife who only cleans up for show, and prefers to sit around sipping lattes and watching Hollywood-gritty TV series all day long (Dexter and Californication are my latest fads).

Seemingly overnight, I have become an airhead. I've never been bored in my life, never disorganised, never, not since I turned 15, unemployed. Suddenly, I'm all of those things. I could have tried harder to productively occupy myself, but once I've dropped my budding CRA career and defected to the States, I've lost the momentum. I sat down on the sofa and found myself plump out of promise, and with a writer's block to boot.

I did eventually send a draft of the introduction to my boss. She sent it back with a note: "Death by referencing?"

Touché. It was four pages long and included about 150 citations. It's 1.5 pages now and I've whittled the citations down to seven. But it did take time.

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm prolonging this exercise because it's the only ambitious thing still on my plate. Once that's done, knitting and waxing would stop being mere distractions. And sometimes, I'm deluding myself into thinking that I'm a troubled academic, and that Richard Feynman was talking about people like me when he said that the best way to destroy one is to give them all the time they need to research that one thing they're actually interested in... Because once they're let loose on a single challenge, there's no end to tangents. I didn't just write an intro to my research, I've established the entire history of the field.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Rock the Red Pump

The Red Pump Project

No, I'm not going to drag you to a testing centre. And I'm not going to regale you with statistics. You're an intelligent person in a country with good infrastructure. (Why else would you be wasting your time on a blog?) So instead, I'm just going to say that:

* sex is fun
* pretty people find it easier to get laid
* sexually transmitted disease ain't pretty
* testing and condoms are cheaper than treatment for AIDS

You do the math.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Writer's block, or how to eat an elephant

It's been two weeks since I arrived in Seattle and perched at my desk overlooking the Space Needle, Puget Sound and, weather permitting, the Olympics. In that time, I've developed a passable poker face, got really good at Carcassone (once we'd added two expansion packs and I was allowed to create The Leper tile), pranced about in unseasonably heavy snowfall, roasted my first Thanksgiving turkey and spent the next week trying to get rid of the evidence (by hiding it in turkey toasties, turkey kievs, Silesian potato dumplings in turkey and tomato sauce, and turkey quiche... no more turkey for at least a year for me, please). The one thing I haven't done is WRITE THAT DARN ARTICLE.

Every day, I sit at the table, look out at the sunny/snowy/rainy/misty Seattle, and balk. My SPSS is up and running, all the reference articles I've spent a year collecting are right in front of me, and I've even managed to write the first paragraph of the introduction. The first sentence will knock your socks off, guaranteed. But since then, nil, nada, zilch.

I sit at the table and stare outside. It's morning, it's noon, it's night. I read the paragraph, go through my notes, then balk.

All I've done today is colour-code the reference articles. Heck, it's a start. In fact, I was so proud of myself that I went on facebook to brag about it... only to be faced with a deluge of ads. My choices were simple: get help getting pregnant, find divorce attorneys near me, or buy discount Hunter wellies. I've been married for six months. Six! So just because my Wall isn't chock-full of baby news, my marriage must be on the rocks?! It's a brave new world out there, fb, and I've only just moved countries, so cut me some slack.

I clicked 'uninterested' and thought that would be that. But no, fb has it all worked out. No offspring, not interested in a little help siring one, and won't consider a divorce? But of course! Here's a new ad for me: local churches. Figures. I sat there staring at it, and actually thought it did make some sense. I'm a childless, faithless hag, and I need new shoes.

I need to write an article. The future of my nascent research career depends on it.

(Or I could start pushing pins through condoms... If only the thought of pregnancy didn't make me think of baby aliens breaking out...)

The way to eat an elephant is to start by eating the tail. With the colour-coding done, it's onto the trunk. If I only knew for which actual piece of article-writing that metaphor was supposed to stand.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

30 things to do at 30

Well, that was a non-starter, you might say. A whole year since I posted here! Not for the lack of things to talk about, but time has been scarce. I got my degree (not too shabby, actually), and stumbled into a job right away. From then on, it's all been work, house-hunting, and wedding-planning. The work's been fab, the house never happened, but the wedding did. So here you are, all up to speed!

(photo by Ben Langdon)

Now, let's get to the point: I've just turned 30. Tintin's in States for a while, and I'm a somewhat recalcitrant lady of leisure (which moniker I do prefer over grass widow, thank you very much). As such, I've decided to actually flaunt my age and get up to all sorts of mischief. Some that I should have tried long before, some I'm only old enough to try now.

Since the fashion at the moment is for bucket lists, and my art teacher always used to say that humans tend to see symmetry as beauty, here's my 30/30 list (on a shoestring):

1. Learn to surf

2. Visit Disneyland

3. Go blond

4. Learn French

5. Drive an Aston Martin

6. Become a citizen of another country

7. Join the circus

8. Go on a Night Hike of London

9. Learn a martial art

10. Learn to take better photos

11. Write a novel (and do your damnest to get it published)

12. Watch Bonfire Night fireworks at a theme park

13. See 30 operas or ballet performances

* Agon - Igor Stravinsky, George Balanchine (ballet, 1957) - impressive but forgettable
* Un ballo in maschera - Giuseppe Verdi (opera, 1859) - great
* La Bayadère - Ludwig Minkus, Marius Petipa (ballet, 1877) - very good
* Castle Nowhere - Arvo Pärt, Matjash Mrozewski (ballet, 2006) - beautiful, with superb set design by Yannik Larivee
* Don Pasquale - Gaetano Donizetti (opera, 1843) - good fun
* Giselle - Adolphe Charles Adam, ch: Jules Perrot, Jean Coralli, Marius Petipa (ballet, 1884) - very good
* Invitus Invitam - François Couperin (arranged by Thomas Adès), Kim Brandstrup (ballet, 2010) - odd, but hauntingly beautiful
* Limen - Kaija Saariaho, Wayne McGregor (ballet, 2009) - weird
* Nabucco (Nabucodonosor) - Giuseppe Verdi (opera, 1842) - mind-blowing
* Niobe, regina di Tebe - Agostino Steffani (opera, 1688) - great (and Jacek Laszczkowski as Anfione was sublime)
* Onegin - Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (orchestrated and arranged by Kurt-Heinz Stolze), John Cranko (ballet, 1965) - good
* Polyphonia - György Ligeti, Christopher Wheeldon (ballet, 2001) - forgettable
* Requiem - Gabriel Fauré, Kenneth MacMillan (ballet, 1976) - forgettable
* Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold) - Richard Wagner (opera, 1869) - very good
* Romeo and Juliet - Sergey Prokofiev, Kenneth MacMillan (ballet, 1965) - great (and Tamara Rojo as Juliet was ethereal, heart-breaking, stunning, poignant, marvellous... I could carry on like this all day)
* Roméo et Juliette - Charles-François Gounod (opera, 1867) - no (halfway through, I was already thinking "oh, die already!" and Juliette's grating voice and appalling lack of acting skills were painful to witness)
* Rigoletto - Giuseppe Verdi (opera, 1851) - perfect, best performance to date with the sensational Dmitri Hvorostovsky (and Michael Vale's sets and Tanya McCallin's costumes, lovingly lit by Paule Constable, were extraordinary)
* Sphinx - Bahuslav Martinu, Glen Tetley (ballet, 1977) - very good
* Swan Lake - Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, ch: Marius Petipa & Lev Ivanov (ballet, 1895) - absolutely fabulous
* Sylvia - Léo Delibes, Frederick Ashton (ballet, 1952) - there's no crowbarring a plot into this one, so unless you're a stalwart fan of endless silent-movie-style harem follies, this one is borderline tiresome
* Theme and Variations - Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, George Balanchine (ballet, 1947) - impressive, again
* The Tsarina's Slippers (Cherevichki) - Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (opera, 1887) - absolutely fabulous
* Turandot - Giacomo Puccini (opera, 1926) - very good
* La Valse - Joseph Maurice Ravel, Frederick Ashton (ballet, 1958) - like watching ballet through a kaleidoscope
* Winter Dreams - Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (arranged by Phillip Gammon), Kenneth MacMillan (ballet, 1991) - very good

Total: 25

14. Climb an active volcano

15. Visit Pompeii

16. See aurora borealis

17. See the fjords

18. Go on a road trip in the USA

19. Learn sign language

20. Become an extra

21. Find out who killed Laura Palmer

22. Learn to ski

23. Learn to read sewing patterns properly

24. Do Hawaii

25. See roller derby live

26. Knit an heirloom shawl

And here I've run out of ideas. The rest, therefore, is comprised of all the things I didn't know I wanted to do when I started this post, but ended up doing anyway.

27. Visit New York

28. See a Broadway musical

29. Take an oil painting class

30. Start a family