Showing posts with label opinion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label opinion. Show all posts

Not That Kind of Girl

I recently read the article Why I Left My Children by writer Rahna Reiko Rizzuto in Salon and it struck such a chord with me. Particularly these bits:
I never wanted to be a mother. 
I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over ... My problem was not with my children, but with how we think about motherhood. About how a male full-time caretaker is a "saint," and how a female full-time caretaker is a "mother." It is an equation we do not question; in fact we insist on it. And we punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother.
From the time I was old enough to understand where babies came from and astute enough to appreciate the dynamics of caring for a child, I knew it wasn't for me: the lack of sleep, the inability think of yourself first (or sometimes even think) and the observation that having a child is more than something people do, it's who they are (and I don't mean this in a nasty way - it seems like an inevitable part of the job description). I generally like kids and have a fondness for a few in particular - my friend Jackie's little boy Hartley is definitely on my list of very special little humans, my nephew Seth is the perfect balance of adorable, clever and mischievous, and the kids of other friends like Jaime and Kulsoom's gentle little ginger haired boy Joe. But for all this, I have never had a moment where I've thought that motherhood is something I want to do.

It's funny how people react to this news. When I was a kid and a teenager, generally people told me that I would change my mind when I grew up. The responses I tend to get now are a little bit more subtle: some people are surprised, some people are ambivalent, a very few totally get it, but there are still a surprising number of people who just don't believe me. Like this lack of desire to procreate is just a problem and we need to diagnose it properly to find a cure: is it my relationship or my job? Maybe I just don't feel financially secure enough to have kids? Or my favorite: when the time is right, I'll know and it will magically happen.

I don't know if men who don't want kids get this same kind of reaction from people, but I suspect not. Actually, I suspect men rarely even get asked the question because it is assumed that with or without children, they are living a complete life. But so many people still equate motherhood with the ultimate fulfillment a woman could possibly experience - our bodies were designed to have babies and how could we possibly go through life without wanting to be a part of this glorious miracle? If you are a woman who doesn't want kids, there must be something wrong with you. Don't believe me? Just scan some of the comments on the Salon article - a shocking number of them express thorough disgust with Rizzuto, despite that she is still actively involved in her kids lives, despite that if you believe the article, her kids are happy and well cared for, despite that she gave custody to her husband - a man who always wanted kids.

Here's a sample:

From the vitriol in some of these comments you would think that she beat them or starved them before handing them off to child abusing strangers. Nope: she went to Japan for six months before moving into a house down the block from where they live with their father, she sees them whenever they want and, it sounds like they have found a non-traditional family model that works for everyone. Would a man writing the same article get this kind of reaction about the audacity of his ego?

I am happy for my friends and family who choose to have kids, despite the fact that I may not relate entirely to the decision. And yes, there are things I'll probably miss in my life because of this choice, but there are also things I will gain: travel, freedom, the ability to put my relationship with my partner first, a greater likelihood of financial security, the ability to sleep in or stay up late, time to read and write, the ability to work when I want to work without feeling guilty ... And I refuse to accept that these things are of lesser value than the sacred calling to motherhood. I'm tired of it being implied.

So that's it world. This is my declaration to you: I do not intend to have babies and it is not because I am damaged or selfish or deluded or deranged. It is highly unlikely that I'm going to change my mind on this and believe me, I take every precaution I can to ensure it doesn't happen. And I am not sad, or lonely and I am not worried about how I'm going to feel about it when I'm 70 years old and this decision is not the result of some horrible trauma I suffered during my childhood. Please save the disproportionate pity, incredulity and sometimes outrage for someone who truly deserves it.

I think Rizzuto made a difficult decision, one that was probably more painful because of the inevitability of running up against the underlying assumption that all women should feel a calling towards motherhood - she expresses more guilt in the article about her lack of calling than her decision to give up custody of her kids. I feel sad that despite the apparent health and happiness of her children, she still feels like "a cold bitch" and that sentiment is reinforced by hundreds of hateful anonymous trolls who only underline that ladies, we actually haven't come as far in our quest for equality as we like to think we have. And to some degree, our freedom to choose is only acceptable if we are making choices within the boundaries of the socially ascribed limitations of our gender.

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Nothing Lovely About Them Bones - Film Review

The Lovely Bones is a strange choice for Peter Jackson, the director best known for bringing the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to life in, what I consider to be, one of the truly brilliant book to film adaptations of my generation. I haven't read the Alice Sebold book, but the film is very much pre-occupied with the things young girls are meant to be frightened of - scary men who want to rape and murder us.

I can remember being nine, ten, fourteen, sixteen and every time some new young girl disappeared, no matter where in the world, my grandmother would look at me and say, "This could be you." And I always knew that in theory it could be. Whether it is because the media bombards us with the grisly details of these tragedies or because the world really is less safe these days, girls, even women, cannot really ever feel truly secure.

Peter Jackson doesn't approach this story by genuinely trying to examine the very real fears of young girls, nor does he really achieve a full sense of the horror or grief this kind of tragedy can inflict on a family or community. Instead he spends far too much time following the dead girl Suzie through the endless landscapes of the 'in-between place' (not heaven but not earth), depicted in painful CGI faux-realism. The film takes place in the '70s and in one especially painful moment, Suzie and her dead friend Holly (another victim of her killer) are clad in platform shoes dancing on a record player to disco. I think they may even be wearing tie-dye. Although in parts heaven is pretty, it is also boring and the young actress who plays Holly gives a performance not even worthy of a bad high school play.

The element that rings the most false about the film is that although Jackson is trying to hit one melancholic high note after another and is figuratively jumping through fire to try and tug at our heart strings, it all feels a bit empty. Like the narrator Suzie, who is telling us this story from far away, I felt removed from the emotion of the story. The thing I felt most consistently throughout was discomfort at Jackson's awkward attempt to try to understand and represent the fears of the teenage girl (he fails at both). At best, the film is a third rate Hallmark Hall of Fame made for tv movie crossed with an episode of law and order - at worst it is the sticky, voyeuristic approach of someone who is trying to make teenage girls into some strange ideal - beautiful, thin angels dancing about in gauzy fields of colour. The gaze is uncomfortable and at times feels inappropriate. I'm quite certain that this was not Jackson's intention.

The only slightly redeeming feature of The Lovely Bones was the performance by Saoirse Ronan as the dead girl Suzie Salmon - probably best known for playing the trouble-making Briony in the film adaptation of Atonement a few years back. She doesn't have a lot to work with in The Lovely Bones, but but she does mostly manage to play it straight, despite being forced to deliver line after line of insipid surgary goop. Rachel Weisz, who plays Suzie's bereaved mother, is adequate as are the other supporting children (with the exception of the horrific Holly) but where it really falls apart is with Mark Wahlberg, who plays Suzie's father. Sporting a shag haircut, which is constantly in his face, there are dramatic moments where crazy-eyed Mark doesn't seem to realise he isn't in a Saturday Night Live sketch. I half expected a laugh track to cut in where I should have been feeling sorrow for a father whose favourite daughter was murdered.

Similarly, the usually lovely Susan Sarandon plays an over-the-top character whose only purpose is to distract us from how rubbish we think the film is with her big hair and kookiness. Finally, Stanley Tucci as Suzie's killer is so oily and grim that it is hard to wonder that any of the characters in this film aren't immediately assured that he is the monster in the neighbouhood. All he does for two and a half hours is skulk in dark corners, spy on young girls and build doll houses. He is creepier and more obvious than Golum.

The Lovely Bones was odd, painful and it missed every single mark. The paranoia and pathos so entangled with being a teenage girl in North America is a strange choice for a middle age, male, Kiwi film director, though it could be argued that as Jackson is neither a hobbit nor an inhabitant of middle-earth, yet he created a great series of films out of The Lord of the Rings. It would be interesting to know what pulled him towards this material that so obviously eluded him.

There is a scene in Sophia Coppola's great film The Virgin Suicides (based on a book, which, it should be noted, was written by a middle-age white guy), which really sums up where this film went very wrong for Jackson. Young Cecilia Lisbon is in the hospital after trying to kill herself and the doctor says, "What are you doing here, honey? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets."

"Obviously Doctor, you've never been a 13-year-old girl."

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The Etymology of Nerd and Geek ... And A Bit of Love

There are a lovely group of people in London who occasionally organise fun networking events around town. Networking can be scary. It can be difficult to feel OK approaching and making conversation with strangers, so instead of just arranging more boring meet-ups, they take it a step further and arrange activity-based get togethers. Recently, Dan and I went to the Geek Foosball meet-up at Bar Kick in Shoreditch.

Some people don't like the terms 'geek' and 'nerd' and I suppose many of those feelings of discomfort probably hearken back to when they were used like barbs by meanies in school. Until about a year and a half ago, I worked in the Canadian arts sector and have always been arty and into things like writing, photography, going to museums ... I was even in choir in high school. Think Rachel from Glee without the fantastic voice. Even so, I don't remember people using those words - geek or nerd - to cause me pain in school. Maybe they did, but if it was preceded by the word 'art' or 'choir' (as in "art nerd" or "choir geek") I don't think it would have bothered me, or at least not enough to remember.

The etymology of the words nerd and geek are indisputably negative. According to the book Word Origins: The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z by John Ayto, nerd "is a term for a dull, socially inept or otherwise obnoxious person." It was actually invented by the popular children's author Dr. Seuss in his book If I Ran to the Zoo (1950):
And then, just to show them
I'll sail to Ka-Troo
And bring back an It-Kutch,
A Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!
Geek, which is not covered in Word Origins, is much older. According to Answer Bag, "it is a variant of geck, a term of German/Dutch origin that dates in English to 1511. It means fool, simpleton, or dupe." Later on, the word was assigned to mean "a carnival performer who does disgusting acts" and eventually just was used generically to describe and "eccentric, oddball or someone with an unusual or odd personality."

I find it interesting that when these words were most socially damaging was in the 1950s in America, a time after the war when the country was clamoring to rebuild the 'big dream'. Homogeneity was important - everyone was expected to fall in line and fulfill their roles in the same way. People who were different were a threat and words were used as a nasty way to identify non-conformists. The strange oppression of 1950s America ushered in the 1960s, where everything changed and being odd and different was ok, even encouraged. Angry words that had been used to punish difference became somewhat less potent.

All this is a very long introduction to where we are now - 2010 in London, at a very hip bar in Shoreditch, surrounded by a genuinely diverse and friendly group of people, none of whom were carnival freaks or simpletons. Everyone I met was a young(ish) professional - some of them worked in technology companies (developers, techies and such tend to be most closely associated with the terms geek and nerd these days), some worked in film studios, some were photographers and one is even a popular food blogger. Nobody fit into a stereotype.

I like the reclamation of words like 'geek' and 'nerd' by people who are proud to be a little bit obsessive, a little bit manic and completely, unabashedly passionate about what they do. I guess that's how I would separate the nerds and geeks from everyone else - for the most part, they are enthusiastic and head-over-heels in love with something - technology, food, film, photography, even choir ... and they are not afraid to wear their excitement on their sleeve.

Everyone should be so lucky.

To see more pictures from Geek Foosball, click here.

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I Wanna Speak Like Common People

As a language obsessive, one of the things that has dogged me since moving to the UK is the strange insistence so many people here have on using the word whilst instead of while and amongst instead of among (and a few others).

I've never adopted the habit and, in my professional life, often find myself correcting it out of our content. Over the last year or so that I've been in my job (I work in marketing), my insistence on using the common, modern while and among has slowly been eroded and quite recently, I'd all but given it up. Although my employer is quite agreeable and allows me to adopt the language style-guide I think is the most appropriate for the tone of our brand, I slowly allowed myself to become convinced that the difference was geographic and that as a Canadian, I just didn't relate to this particular turn of phrase.

Tonight, armed with a bit of time between episodes of The Wire, I decided to do a little research and I am renewed in my petition against the common use of these particular two terms.

According to Wikipedia, reputable language stylistas on both sides of the Atlantic have renounced the use of the word whilst, including the Times Online Style Guide and the Guardian Style Guide. "Notably, there are no style guides that explicitly recommend the usage of whilst over while in any circumstances whatsoever. The general consensus of English is that whilst is an unnecessary, archaic word whose primary usage is by Britons who prefer what they perceive as a more 'noble' word. Its etymology derives from the early English whiles and, simply put, while is the word that has replaced whilst in modern English, just as thee and thou were replaced by you." (source)

I've found similar results when trying to get to the bottom of the use of amongst over among.

So why are whilst and amongst so commonly used over here? I don't tend to spend time with pretentious people or royalty. I am most often editing things written by developers - that is, people who write code. Call them many things, but they are definitely not pretentious. If the origins of both words are similar to thee and thou, and the evolution of language has truly made them archaic, why are they still so prevalent, so ... common?

Although I am renewed in my effort to purge our official company language of these kinds of terms on the basis that I believe language is at its most effective and powerful when it is simple and accessible, I have to conclude that technically, whilst and amongst are not wrong or meant to be poncy (unless you are royalty) but likely just the result of habit.

Some sources I've looked at have suggested that the choice is completely aesthetic. Apart from writers and language whores, I doubt many people think about their choice long enough to really understand why they use one word over another. Besides, why would anyone intentionally choose to clothe their sentences in the linguistic equivalent of this:


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Dear Waitrose

We need to talk.

Let me preface this by saying that I am likely not your target customer. I am not independently wealthy and although I prefer not to, occasionally I do need to at least consider whether it is more clever to buy the £4 pasta sauce, or the jar for £1.

Despite this, my desire to visit your glowy fluorescent halls has, for the past few months, won out over considerations of money and I have been overcome with an addiction to your crispy and fresh leafy greens (not easy to come by in the UK), your organised aisles of neatly stocked specialty items, your genuinely impressive array of fresh herbs and your cheery employees. Your store is sunny and bright and is something like what I imagine a grocery store in heaven might look like. You know the angel in the Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercials? I bet she shops at a Waitrose.

It never smells like sour milk and you don't have any of those horrible self-checkout counters that has taken over most other grocery stores. I really resent that M&S, which is arguably just as expensive as you and, which runs a campaign based on their difference in quality to justify high prices (it's worth every penny!), have replaced nearly all humans with an extremely unfriendly self check-out system. Unless you shop during peak time, you have no choice but to bumble through one of those unpleasant machines yourself (usually only to find out that after all your effort, the machine doesn't take card, or coin, or just generally hates you).

Waitrose, maybe it's because you are a genuine diamond in the roughage of unfriendly and painful shopping experiences or maybe it's because even though I know I can't afford you, I still persist in giving you all my money (and I do it with love), that you broke my heart a little bit last week.

For the last month and a half you have not had any whole wheat pasta on your shelves - nothing. The only pasta of the whole wheat variety is that sticky gluey stuff in the refrigerated food aisle. And just between you and me, it's really pretty awful. The first few times I visited, I gave you the benefit of the doubt but last week, I decided to enquire at Customer Service. Here's where it gets ugly...

Although you have a big, bright and welcoming Customer Service desk, the girl who works there told me that to actually ask a question related to Customer Service, I need to dial a toll free number. She was nice about telling me and gave me the number but ... really? I also didn't get the impression it was just bad timing but that as a matter of course, to speak to Customer Service you expect me to use the telephone. The big desk is apparently a ruse - I guess if we see it, we assume we can get it and that makes us feel better? The poor kids who actually work at the Customer Service Desk must just be hoping that no one actually thinks to, er, ask a question.

Anyhow, I went home and called the toll free number. Thankfully, it didn't lead me to a phone tree or automatic recording, but rather a real human who was quite friendly. She explained (in a very perky manner) that other than the gluey fresh pasta, you have discontinued your line of whole wheat pasta and do not plan to carry another line any time soon.


In this age where people are trying to be healthier, you, my beloved Waitrose, have decided to discontinue your entire whole wheat line of pasta? When your USP is that you offer good service and specialty items to justify huge price mark ups, you've decided to discontinue your entire whole wheat line of pasta? (I could go on...)

I suppose I should be thanking you. Despite my best efforts at convincing myself otherwise, I now feel compelled to go half a block down the street to Morrisons (the horror!), which makes me sad and angry because it is the grocery store equivalent of a MacDonalds Playroom on a Saturday afternoon.

Still, though I am missing you now, in more ways than one, this transition will eventually be good for my health. Which is what I'll be trying to tell myself next time I'm at Morrisons stumbling over toddlers and fighting for the last browning head of lettuce, while trying to avoid slipping in the pool of sour milk on the floor.



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British Oddities - Eggs

I could easily construct a top ten list of the things I find most culturally odd about Britain (and in some ways, I have an ongoing one I am compiling and revising constantly in my head). On that list I would definitely include that supermarkets in this country consistently do not refrigerate their eggs. It is also considered completely normal to keep your eggs on the counter top in your kitchen, not in the ice box.

According to the Egg Safety Centre (yes, there is such a thing!), you should refrigerate eggs and even throw out any that have been accidentally left out on the counter for over two hours and the USDA agrees. Despite the fact that it feels patently wrong to me to not refrigerate any animal products (meat, eggs, cheese, milk ...) I do regularly eat eggs over here that have undoubtedly lived chill free on a supermarket shelf, and as far as I know, have yet to get sick from them.

I do put them in the fridge the moment I get home from the market though and I have to say, if I think about it too much, it creeps me out a little.

Two points to anyone who can tell me how this cultural anomaly came about!

Robin Eggs image from Photoholic1 .

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Do We Really Need This?

I love the Sex and the City television series but, let's face it, the movie was shit. The sequel to the movie will be even worse. They are going back to the 80s for Christ sakes!

Is anyone actually into this?

Image from The Frisky .

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I Like Obama BUT...

This dress (worn by actress Victoria Rowell at the Emmy's over the weekend) is whack.

Found via the hilarious bitches at Go Fug Yourself.

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The Desecreation of My Life in France by Julia Child

I'm currently reading My Life in France by French gourmande extraordinaire, Julia Child and am mostly enjoying the book. Child is charming and dorky and makes me feel like I am listening to someone's great aunt tell a story about her youth. Sometimes it gets a bit tedious but there is also something lovely and simple about it. It's good Tube reading material because I can dip in an out and there isn't much to keep track of.

Now on to the atrocity bit. This was the original cover of the book:

It's classy, simple, charming (not to mention adorable) and features Julia and her husband Paul Child on the cover in one of their famous Valentine cards.

Now, I bring you to the new cover (the ONLY version shops seem to stock at the moment):

Not only has the book become a blatant advertisement for the film Julie and Julia but for some completely mind-boggling reason they have replaced the image of the real Child with the actress who plays her in the film - Meryl Streep.

I really like biographies and the whole point of reading them is because I am interested in the real-life person behind the story. I assume I'm not alone in that. I don't know anyone who seeks out a biography who would rather see pictures of an actress from the biopic rather than the real person. If I wanted to see Meryl Streep on the cover of my book, I would buy a biography about her. I suppose I should feel grateful that they've left the photos inside the book intact instead of replacing them with stills from the film.

And what's with the Sex and the City-like New York skyline next to the title that turns into the Eiffel tower? I am 3/4 of the way through and so far no one has spent any time in New York. Sheesh!

I have nothing against the film (though I haven't seen it yet so it could be terrible) but being forced to look at a promo for it every time I pick up this book almost makes me want to boycott it out of spite. Thoughts?

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Escalator Etiquette and Other Notes

(Image from here.)

I've had a bit of a rough day and feel a bit like whinging. There's no real reason for this, just an overall sense of aggravation and frustration, which is mostly unjustifiable.

I love London but sometimes living in a city that pulls at you the way it does, a city that allows for so little personal space, grates. Most days I am so much in love with all that I get to see and do here that I barely notice the inconveniences of jamming my body into the hot tube every morning, but today everything felt like a challenge. If I had to pick one thing that annoys me the most it is the men and women who line the busiest streets and intersections pawning off London's free dailies - London Lite, Metro, etc., etc. They block doorways, entrances and sidewalks, their insistent arms jutting out in front of you, all but forcing you to take one. I'm not sure how their employers instill such passion in these people who surely must be poorly compensated for their time but almost without exception approach each passer-by with an almost religious-like zeal. Take what I have! Take one! When I am really at odds it takes everything in my power not to tell them to kindly take their paper out of my face.

The first time I visited London, I remember getting on an escalator going down into a tube station and like so many newbies to the city, I planted myself firmly on the 'wrong' side of the moving stair. In London everyone is in a rush all the time and to enable those people, the proper thing to do is to stand on the right hand side of escalators to leave room on the left for those people who are in such a great rush that they choose to walk. Instead of being told gently to move to the right, I am pretty sure that someone yelled at me and maybe even shoved me a little bit. I felt embarrassed and a little annoyed at the rudeness. It's amazing how many other non-Londoners share this exact same experience.

When my mother was here visiting a few months ago, I warned her in advance about escalator etiquette and as a result I am pretty sure that the only one reminding her to move over was me. She remarked quite a few times on how rushed people were in London and now, instead of commiserating about the rudeness of Londoners, I found myself defending them. In a city filled with thousands of people, most of whom are commuting good distances on a daily basis, it is easy to find yourself pushing, trying to get in front of slower people and even desperately impatient when others don't follow the rules. Tourists are fair game because, especially during the summer, they are everywhere. This isn't to say that I don't try to be polite when I tell someone to please stand to the right so I can get past, but now instead of empathising with them, internally I am shaking my head just a little.

Here are the top few rules I wish someone had told me before that first trip to London:
  1. On an escalator, always stand to the right so that people can walk to the left.* If you use crutches or can't walk at a reasonable pace, please stand to the side.
  2. Never travel on the Tube at rush hour unless you absolutely have to. There are thousands of people who are forced to cram onto those tiny bullets and if you aren't one of them, you should really try to not compound the situation.
  3. If you are going to consult a map or book, it's best not to do so at the top or bottom of busy stairways, in doorways or smack in the middle of a sidewalk. The same rule applies for taking a photo or having a mobile phone conversation that brings you to a standstill/near crawl.
  4. Get out your Oyster Card or travel pass before getting to the gates. It's not cool to stand in front of a gate rifling through your bag while other, more prepared people, wait on you.
These are really pretty basic things but when you aren't dealing with the day to day push of the London grind, it's easy to overlook them. It will make for friendlier Londonders and a nicer trip.

Now if only we could think of a way to address all the free paper pushers.

*Rule doesn't seem to apply to escalators at Westfield Mall if my trip tonight was any indication.

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A Love Letter

Dear HSBC,

I know that you are a gigantic multi-national bank and that you probably don't care about a small fish like me. I do not have millions (or really, even thousands) of pounds in my bank account. I do not have a mortgage with you or anything else through which you can drip me dry of my savings through fluctuating interest rates. And I generally tend to pay off my credit card bill month to month, which means that you don't even get to earn money off of my most frivolous purchases. I am a dud of a bank customer.

I should feel fortunate that you ALLOW me to have a bank account at all, really. I am a Canadian after all, and you know what we are like. We tend to be wishy washy peace keepers, we aren't involved in the oil race in any meaningful way and we tend to limit our pillaging. As a result, we never have the big bucks.

Although you call yourselves 'The World's Local Bank", which I understand to mean that you are international in nature, and even though there is even one of you in the medium size Canadian prairie town I come from, I should count myself lucky that it only took two months for you to let me set up an account and that you are only charging me a £12 per month premium for the luxury. Thank you HSBC for enabling me to allow you to make money off of what is mine.

Most important, I don't want you to worry about me having any expectations related to customer service. I am paying for the luxury of having you as my financial institution, not for service. I don't expect my Internet banking to work on a regular basis and I am just fine when, for no apparent reason, I get security warnings that force me to call you and sit on hold for a half an hour only to have you get me to pick yet another security number. The fact that you can't explain why this keeps happening must be stressful for you and I hope that you know that I am clear that none of this is your fault. I must be doing something wrong.

Although it is my money sitting in your bank, don't think that I want easy or regular access to it. Being unable to take out cash only makes me appreciate the value of a pound when you do see fit to allow me access. Feel free to put security flags on my account any time you want. Decline my purchases and don't bother calling me. Just do it. It's not really my money, is it? Oh, right, it is. But still. I'm sure you have your reasons, though you are shy and unable to clearly articulate what those are.

Last Tuesday night when I was in a strange area in North East London and my card ceased to function, it all worked out in the end, didn't it? I didn't get stabbed, or beaten up, I didn't have to pan handle, and thanks to the kindness of friends, I didn't even have to walk the three hours it would have taken me to get home. When I called you from the rainy streets of London, I appreciate that you saw fit to get to me within 45 minutes. Efficiency is your middle name. And don't pay any mind to the fact that the call used up almost all my mobile minutes for this month or that your customer service number is not one that is included in basic free calling minutes so I paid for every second you had me on hold. If I didn't have to work for it, how would I ever really appreciate all that you do for me?

When we did finally connect, you made me realise that it really was my fault that my bank card stopped working. Even though the card said it was good until May 2010, I should have been paying more attention to the piles of mail you send me because at some point you did post through a new bank card, which I must have missed. You can't really explain why given that the current card was working fine, but I guess I should consider it a special gift from a friend. I know your computer system told you that I hadn't activated the new card yet, but you needed to teach me a lesson, which you did by turning off my perfectly functional card. You're a real pal.

Finally, I really appreciate the fact that when my Canadian mother went to her local HSBC branch in an attempt to transfer money to me, you wouldn't help her. I know I have a checking account, savings account and credit card with you, but it would be ridiculous of you to be able to apply money to any of these accounts from anywhere other than my local Cardiff branch. Just because you are international doesn't mean we can expect you to function, erm, internationally. The problem is really all those people (like my mother) who have unrealistic expectations. You are only a bank after all.

This is a bad time to be in your line of work. You are suffering, through absolutely no fault of your own. I just want you to know that I am going to stand by you through all the financial mismanagement and shoddy service. You are going through a difficult time, and we always hurt those who are closest to us. I am there for you. Hell, I am willing to pay for the privilege.

All my love,


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Stop. Hammer Time... No, SERIOUSLY.

London is considered one of the fashion capitals of the world along with New York, Paris and Tokyo. As a result of this, walking down the street on an average day it isn't uncommon to see people exploring avant garde trends. Although sometimes I can't resist pointing a particularly odd ensemble out, I genuinely find this to be a really interesting and inspiring part of living here. The diversity and creativity in a city like London is made into a physical thing through the interesting things people wear.

But there is a line and these people have crossed it:





Almost daily, I see people walking around London wearing what can only be described as a hideous combination of Hammer pants and bloomers. Apart from conjuring up the memory of terrible music and dancing from a year when I undoubtedly had a perm and spotty skin, on its own they look very much to me like the wearer is wearing a baggy diaper, soggy with some kind of body fluid that I would really rather not think about. Even in the pictures above, the people have an unsure look on their faces (maybe with the exception of the last image). I feel like they are looking at the camera thinking, "Someone told me this is cool, but I'm really not sure. I kind of feel like my ass is dragging on the ground."

I remember a long time ago a horrible expression was going around my high school. I am almost embarrassed to post it here but there is really no other word... Deep breath and read no further if you are easily offended:

The word is gunt. I am not going to define it, but will leave it at saying that these trousers make even these stick people look like they have one. Use your imagination.

Seriously people. Don't touch this.

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Hell Hath No Fury…

On Sunday night, thanks to an ICA membership and quick thinking by Dan, I got to see an advance screening of Sam Raimi’s new horror film Drag Me To Hell starring Justin Long and Alison Lohman. I have never been a huge fan of Raimi’s films, with the exception of enjoying the quick-paced, big budget fun that is Spiderman . It’s not that I’ve actively disliked films like Evil Dead but I’ve found that the gross, slap-stick factor outweighs the scariness with the result of constantly reminding me that I am watching a film. I’ve never been able to get lost in them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Drag Me To Hell. The trailers make it look like a straight up horror film. I was pleased to find that it was much more than that.

The plot isn’t complicated. Christine (Alison Lohman) works at a bank and is looking to get a promotion. Her boss gives her the impression that she may not get it because of a perception that she is unable to make the hard decisions that are required in the position. One day a weird (disgusting) old woman comes in. She’s had two extensions on her loan and is asking for a third. If the request isn’t granted, she will be evicted from the home she’s lived in for decades.

Initially our girl tries to help her but then, acutely aware of her manager’s disapproval, she denies the woman the extension. The old woman gets down on her hands and knees and begs but Christine calls security and, feeling shamed, the old woman curses her. From that point on Alison Lohman’s character is trying to out run a very creepy curse, which will drag her to burn in hell for all eternity after three days of torment.

At first read, this might not sound funny but it really, really is! There is a fight scene towards the beginning of the film between Alison Lohman and the old woman that manages to jump between being full of scares that actually made me jolt in my seat to being completely ridiculous as the old woman keeps coming and coming, spewing all kinds of nasty body fluids in the process.

There were other, much more subtle moments that managed to move easily between terror and hilarity. In one scene a psychic advises her to make a blood sacrifice to the demon by killing an animal. Although she is initially horrified by this idea, after a particularly brutal (and scary) altercation, Raimi cuts to Lohman tip toeing through the house looking for her kitten, a butcher knife in hand calling out, “Here kitty, kitty!”

My favourite moment happened during a s̩ance when a possessed goat suddenly began talking in the voice of the demon Рa wicked expression on his face. Funny and horrible!

I don’t know how Raimi achieved this balance. The problem I had with Evil Dead is that the comedy yanked me from the horror and I couldn’t get back to a place of feeling afraid. In contrast, Drag Me To Hell felt like a roller coaster ride where I was thrown between being genuinely scared and laughing my ass off from one moment to the next. I felt outside of myself but still trapped inside my senses, which is really the most one can hope for when seeing a good film.

I won’t tell you what happened at the end because I genuinely hope you go and see it yourself. Even if you don’t like horror, even if you aren’t an Evil Dead fan boy, it’s a very fun way to spend an hour and a half. There were some minor moments of discontinuity in the story but they were small and this ride isn’t really about the plot anyway.

Following the screening we were treated to a Q&A with Raimi, Long and Lohman. Shallow though it may seem, I was immediately struck by how much better looking Long and Lohman were in person then in the film. Raimi and Long were easy, interesting and really funny and engaging to listen to. They had a natural rapport with the audience and like the film itself, didn’t take things too seriously. Lohman was just kind of there - a vacuum taking up space. She has always been one of those actresses who are a bit of a blur for me. I know I’ve seen her in films, but until now I couldn’t name one. She didn’t make much more of an impression in person.

The thing I will most remember about her from now on is all the disgusting goo Raimi poured on her (and in her) during the film.

Go and see it.

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Sad, Sad Synecdoche

Last night Dan and I saw Charlie Kaufman’s newest film, Synecdoche New York . I had high hopes, mostly because I have found his other films (Being John Malcovich, Adaptation) to be playful and inventive while not feeling hollow.

Synecdoche started out OK. We are introduced to a strange, overweight, neurotic Caden Cotard, a theatre director who is afraid of life, afraid of death and seems completely stuck in his discontented, lonely life. There are some really nice moments towards the first quarter of the film between Cotard and his wife and daughter. My favourite is when they are all in the car together and Cotard explains how plumbing and pipes in houses work by comparing them to veins in the body, which are little tubes transporting blood. The little girl starts shrieking, “I don’t want blood! I don’t want blood! I don’t want blood!” The two adults in the car respond in a muddled way as they simultaneously try to calm her down without lying to her. When Cotard eventually gives in and tells her she doesn’t need to have blood if she doesn’t want to, his wife rebukes him for being dishonest. It’s a really nice and poignant moment.

There are speckles of these beautiful little pieces throughout the film. I love the miniature portraits Cotard’s wife paints (done by an artist called Alex Kanevsky). I love the strange, colourful house that is always on fire that one of the characters lives in (though I have no idea why it is on fire).

Unfortunately these beautiful snapshots feel like moments that don’t have much of a connection to what is going on in the film. That they are there at all is the film’s only saving grace, especially as the plot begins to meander into a dream-like and self-indulgent hallucination that Kaufmann can’t seem to shake off. He wanders off the path and though as an audience member I was rooting for him to find it again, sadly he never did.

The reviews I’ve read of the film today are surprisingly positive. The thing I find the most disturbing about them is that more than one says that to appreciate and ‘get’ the film it needs to watch two, even three times. I found one, two hour sitting to be excruciatingly painful as I inwardly rooted for Cotard to just die already so that I could get on with my own life. That is two hours I will never get back. I am pretty certain that there isn’t anything so brilliant about Synecdoche that it will make me throw good time after bad.

It’s hard to say what this film was about, but in terms of what happens, there is a director who is abandoned by his wife and child, wins a big grant, and in his desperate attempt to control and understand his life, he decides to stage a massive theatre production where he recreates New York and casts actors to play the characters of his life. This outline makes it sound much better then it actually is!

At times I felt like Kaufmann was being purposely elusive about what was going on. At times I wasn't sure he really understood things himself. For example, one character inhabited a burning house. It was a pretty and strange effect, but it was distracting as he gives no clues to why the house is burning and how it fits in with all the other incongruous scraps. Other times he slams his audience over the head with meaning. There were short bursts about mortality, the constant reminder that we are all going to die and that the human condition is essentially one of loneliness and loss. Sigh. This movie is like a hazy, foggy mess interspersed with moments that are supposed to feel like enlightenment. Instead, Synecdoche begins to feel like a muddy slog up a steep, wet slope through the fog wearing damp shoes, weighed down by something oppressive and heavy. Once can only hope that the summit is just around the bend, which in this case it isn’t. This film feels very long.

What critics seem to say most often in response to Synecdoche is that it is either a masterpiece of a massive miss. I think Kaufmann is a genius. But this film is not a masterpiece and is barely watchable. Just because it is by Kaufman (generally a great film maker), doesn’t mean we should give it the benefit of the doubt and watch it over and over again (surely a form of torture) until somehow its genius is revealed to us. It’s a pass, which is followed by a sincere hope that his next effort is better.

The Guardian has done a round up of what the most prominent critics have said about Synecdoche. In some cases, the critical response reminds me of the film’s character Claire (played by Michelle Williams) who is constantly in awe of Cotard, regardless of how stupid or self-involved he becomes. She is always there to look at him with wide, trusting doe eyes and to tell him he’s a genius. The saving grace is that she does eventually tire of it and leave him.
“Kaufman has outdone himself, for good or ill, with the strangest, saddest movie imaginable, a work suffused with almost evangelical zeal in the service of disillusion. It’s a film of mad Beckettian grandeur about the terrible twin truths of existence: list if disappointing and death inescapable. And it supplied a third insight: art is part of life and so doomed to failure in the same way.” (Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian)
“[It] is [Kaufman’s] most demanding and ambitious work. Afterwards you will feel not only that you have walked a mile in Charlie Kaufmann’s shoes, but that you have also plumped up his pillow, pilled back his dirty sheets and finally snuggled up inside his skull. For all Kaufmann’s intellectual brilliance, his films have great heart, and there is something enduring and moving about Caden Cotard’s fruitless struggle to memorialise his life as it is occurring.” (Matthew De Abaitua from Film4)
“I think you have to see Synecdoche twice. I watched it the first time and knew it was a great film and that I had not mastered it. The second time because I needed to. The third time because I will want to. It will open to confused audiences and live indefinitely.” (Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun Times)
My last word: sad.

(Quotes taken from the Guardian.)

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Selfishness Rant

The other night I was out with an old friend and the topic of selfishness came up. We both had a few drinks and were probably less than coherent or measured. By the time we were through I'm sure we had wandered in circles around the topic without actually landing on it.

While our conversation revolved around specific issues involving people and occasions that I'll keep out of here, at one point he said, "I think that you are pretty out for yourself Amy but at least I know where you're coming from. You're honest about it."

At first I didn't think that this bothered me but as I've played the conversation over and over in my head, I realize that it does. And not because I essentially disagree with what he said, rather because of the implications he failed to consider when he said it. With very few exceptions, I believe that people are looking out for themselves and I don't think this is a bad thing. Yes, there are the Donald Trumps of the world who arguably aren't giving a lot back, but the average person who is making decisions with their own happiness and fulfillment at heart is often also doing a lot of good. I've yet to meet a martyr I like. But maybe I haven't been spending time in the right circles...

In the history of the Western world throughout most of recorded time, women in particular have not been allowed to look out for themselves, or their best interests. First they were the property of their fathers and then their husbands - their value little more (and in some cases probably less) than that of a farm animal. Throughout the 1900's this started to shift, but very slowly and slightly. It is still hard for women to get access to reliable contraceptives in certain parts of North America, never mind their ability to make safe decisions to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Our ability to be selfish about our own bodies is always up for question and debate.

My point is that I think as women we are still often made to feel guilty for choosing things that are right for us. For not putting others first at all times, which biologically we are probably at least partially conditioned to do from an evolutionary perspective as the primary, long-term caregivers of babies and children, we are still in some ways punished. The conversation my friend and I had was not about women or patriarchy or anything but the few examples that were brought up were examples of women being 'selfish', mainly due to thinking about their own happiness over that of a long term partner or husband.

It is true that I have made decisions in my life (like moving to the UK, ending relationships where I wasn't happy, choosing to travel) that were probably mostly if not completely for me. But aren't these the kinds of decisions that men have been allowed to make for centuries? Aren't these the fruits of making your way in the world? Isn't this what we've been talking about and fighting about for decades? Being self-directed does not mean not caring about the feelings of others, it just means that when considering which way to go, individuals need to at least consider what is best for them alongside the needs and desires of everyone else. I genuinely believe that people give more good to the world when they are happy and fulfilled then when they are feeling miserable and stuck.

And yet this old friend I was talking to, who in most things is very illuminated - a solid and good human being - still wants me to feel guilty for being 'out for myself' alongside other equally 'selfish' women who have dared to make their own (sometimes very unpopular) decisions.

Maybe he needs to get honest with himself. If he did, I wonder whether he would find that most of his decisions are sacrificial or are simply and innately the best thing for him?

(Image via Cupcake)

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