In need of a redesign since 2011.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

On choosing sides

When I was a kid, everyone supported either Liverpool or Man United, and despite not knowing a thing about football I was encouraged to pick a side. Just the same, whenever there was a falling out between my classmates, someone would run up to me in the playground and say “are you on Tom’s side or Kirsty’s side?” (I’d refuse to pick a side; even then I was a difficult little bugger.)

The same binary thinking is everywhere. Democrat or Republican, Gamergate or SJW, Red or Blue. You have to be all one thing or the other; no middle ground, no grey areas, no compromise. The internet has exacerbated this problem by providing us with more people to agree with us than we could ever need.

This thinking is insidious, which is why I recently had to check myself (prior to any potential wrecking) when I saw a tweet I disagreed with by someone I respect. I still disagree with her, and I still respect her, because I don't want to fall into the trap of designating her "problematic" and putting her in the bin, nor of ignoring her flaws and setting myself up for disappointment. It's okay to have problematic faves.

We’re too ready to regard other people as inferior copies of ourselves. I think that’s why we get angry when they won’t agree with us, and I think that’s why we draw these battle lines. John and Hank Green (known as the Vlogbrothers by their thousands of fans) often entreat their following to “imagine others complexly,” which is the most succinct way possible of expressing this idea. I’ve probably even quoted it on here before.

This is not a callout post. I deleted about three paragraphs of specifics, but ultimately I don't want to go into the details. I left my comments where she may see them, may ignore them, may still disagree with them. The part I want to remember, is this:

We have to learn to be comfortable in the middle ground, even if it means leaving contradictions unresolved. It's a far, far better way of being.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Cleaning house

“What’s that, Anna? You’ve written 800 words about cleaning and church? Why, you must be a RIOT at parties,” I hear you cry. “u sarcastic bitch”, I reply.

I am an untidy person. Whether this is nature or nurture, I couldn’t tell you, but I’m happy to let my entire floor disappear under strata of clothing before I finally decide to tidy. But when I clean, I clean HARD. And I think that has its roots in a church rota.

As a child, I was raised by my religious community almost as much as by my parents. I therefore spent a lot of time wandering around the church my family has attended since the 50s. My grandfather, as I understand it, was one of the founding Elders, and it had always felt like a home – just with more pianos and a higher ceiling.

Bethany Evangelical was (and still is, I’m sure) a community. We had rotas for everything: for flower arranging, music, sermons, the recording of said sermons onto countless cassette tapes... And, whether I liked it or not, my family and I were on the cleaning rota. I did not like it. Or, no, it was fun at first: up to about age 10, I loved running around the church in its off-hours, getting to know its every secret corner while playing hide and seek with our cousins. But playtime can’t last forever, and I was eventually expected to be useful.

As I got older, and more fiercely protective of my lie-ins, I started to resent the enforced early mornings. I’d never signed up for this, after all! How often do plastic chairs really need dusting, anyway? I’d waft a dustcloth around, spray furniture polish at things, and get frustrated by the total lack of difference it seemed to make. It was rubbish. I’d grumble, I'd slack off, I’d attend only out of duty - but I’d clean.

At that point in my life, I was a sincere, believing Christian. So I did what I always did when something frustrated me: I asked God why I should bother with any of this, and started feeling slightly guilty. Not in a bad “faith made me neurotic” kind of way (I've never wanted to blame religion for all the world's ills), just in a “maybe check your selfishness” kind of way. If I really wanted to honour God in word and deed, I reasoned (or He pointed out), maybe I should take a different approach.

That’s when I started cleaning in a completely different way. For some reason, there were long bamboo sticks in one of the church cupboards, or under the stairs. So I’d tie a dustcloth around the end of it, and brandish it like a magical extendo-rag to get dust out of all the hidden places. I’d stand on the balcony at the back and dust the slats on the blinds that were higher than any of us could reach. I’d dust the tops of doors. I’d dust the light fittings. I’d clean anywhere that nobody would see, that nobody would notice…. except for, if he happened to be paying attention, the omnipotent, omniscient deity with what I imagined to be a bird's-eye cross-section view of the building. Like in the Sims.

And if my parents complained that I wasn’t doing the hoovering, I could have a little theological chat from atop the moral high ground about who we were really doing this for. Oh, yeah, I was that insufferable.

I bring this up because it’s become part of my approach to cleaning, and I hadn’t noticed until recently. Why do I scrub the dirt out of woodgrain on the bannisters? Why do I wipe down the underside of shelves? Why do I clean the grime off lightswitches? (Well, because that’s where most of the germs are. But still!) I spent a day cleaning our tiny bathroom at home recently, using a rough sponge then a normal sponge then a dustcloth then a disposable dry duster. My housemate may do the washing up more often, but he doesn’t clean like this, does he? He doesn’t dust and sweep and polish every tiny crevice, does he? He doesn’t get on his knees and scrub with an old toothbrush at the gaps between the taps, does he?

Well, no, nor should he have to.

Maybe this is not a normal thing to expect of someone.

Perhaps, thinking about it, I am a bit manic about these things.

And now, with God no longer in my personal picture, who am I really doing this for? I don’t know. I just like to. My room may still be an absolute tip, but the bases of our shampoo bottles are clean, and I’ll be happier sooner if I accept that my housemate will never notice or care, and that I shouldn’t expect him to. But for some reason, that’s how I operate: If I’m going to do housework, I’m going to do it to an almost unreasonable degree, as a passive-aggressive jab at a callous universe that still sometimes makes me get up earlier than I’d like.

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
-          Matthew 5:41, NIV.

Friday, 25 December 2015

It's a Christmas miracle!

Gosh. It's been a while, but I always do come back.

I've been missing writing, and I want to pick it up again.

Right now it's tricky, because it's Christmas, and I'm listening to Cabin Pressure with my family. So I can't concentrate. Despite how often I multitask, I am not very good at it. Nor are you, actually. Multitasking is one of the great lies; we have finite resources for attention, and splitting that up between multiple tasks decimates the amount of energy we can dedicate to each. This is one of those times when the whole is truly less than the sum of its parts.

I would like to address my most recent post of a little over a year ago (making this, I think my longest hiatus yet). I was depressed! It kicked in again in November this year, and I couldn't work out what was wrong, until I brought my blog up. "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again," as the saying goes. It helps to remember that.

The doc's prescribed me a whole bunch of anti-allergy stuff, and I'm feeling in better health than I have done in a very long time. And feeling well in body has left me feeling well in mind! So that's been awesome! I'm getting a bit of the seasonal malaise, but (today aside) I've been eating far better lately. Let's try and work some exercise into that, and we'll be away.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Winter daze

Work has been objectively stressful lately, but I don't think that's entirely why I'm struggling. All my copes are gone, you know the feeling. SAD or summat.

This is good, that I'm doing this. It's been a long time. I've been at least 3 entirely different people since I started writing this blog. School Anna and girlfriend Anna and whatever the heck I am now.

Howard, thanks so much for your comment, I definitely want to catch up soon! I keep meaning to carve time out of my reluctant schedule to do so. It's difficult, but not impossible - think obsidian rather than bedrock!

What would be nice, in the middle of winter, is if you could open a door into summer. Sometimes that's all I need, just an hour or so of summer that  can walk into. Someone else's summer. One where there's grass.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

“And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you'd be?”

I'd like to tell you that a lot has changed since I last posted, but in truth, things are much the same. I sympathise very much with Alice:

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
I've been running in place for quite a while now, and I'm not sure how to achieve escape velocity.

I told myself, a couple of years ago, that I would find the Thing I'm meant to b doing when I was 27. That I'd work out what I can contribute to the world, and what would make me happy, before a completely arbitrary date: New Year's Day 2015. That, if I didn't have some kind of revelation before then, I'd do something drastic to change my circumstances.

Drastic change can be very good, very healthy. The frame of mind I've been in lately, I have not been thinking of good change. I can't put it into words well, but if I can't find some way to be happy soon, my 'drastic change' might be to give up, I don't want that.

It's hard sometimes to believe that I can get on the right path, but I hear that, with practice, one can believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Did you miss me?

Sometimes you don't know what you've been missing until you're in the middle of it.

Tonight I caught up with a lot of very good friends. Many of us apologised to everyone for 'being antisocial lately.' It happens so easily sometimes, doesn't it; you're busy for a bit, or fancy some alone time, and the next thing you know you haven't seen some of your favourite people for months.

I've been very lonely and I don't think I saw a way out of that until tonight.

A couple of weeks ago I went home to visit my family. We did the usual Cowes Week things - beach barbecue, fireworks, catching up with my oldest friends - while thinking about how it might be very different next year. Dad's retiring, so a lot of things might have changed when I next go back.

One moment stands out though: it was so wonderful to swim in the sea again. It was the first time I've been swimming since... maybe over a year ago? Could be two. A long time. As I squeaked about the cold and inched my way deeper in, my sister said the sea had missed me, that it had been waiting for me to come back.

The thing that surprised me, both tonight and back on the island, was being reminded that there are other people who think like me. Whether it's my friend Zaru encouraging me to perform my poetry soon, or my brother Michael chatting to me about quantum physics, it's been a blessed relief to be around people who are interested in things that interest me. I don't get that at work.

I work with good people, kind people, but I don't have much common ground with them. I know nothing about football or reality TV, and am too scared to go digging for something real to talk about. So I've felt alienated. At first I thought they were a bit weird, but in the absence of anyone with whom to talk about that, the thought gradually became "I am completely abnormal."

Well, normal is all in the context. These people, my family and friends, are the context in which I make sense. They are my normal. They are my home.

Monday, 29 July 2013

My left hand is spasming. I don't want to be resting up for work, I want to be writing. I want to spend every minute working on outliving myself. There are caves where you can hear and see the northern lights sing. I know this is true. Just like I know that if you hold your breath and step sideways, if you do it at just the right angle, you can go somewhere different. People at work keep telling me how intelligent and creative I am, and I keep telling them it's a shame that doesn't matter here, it's a pity that doesn't help. The surface of the moon and the ocean floor are the same place, and both have deep and heavy lakes full of terrors. I was tired five hours ago. I should have slept then. Instead I want a pen and paper bedsheets, instead I want to keep going until something worth saying falls out of my hand, until I can fall asleep knowing I'll respect myself in the morning, until I can tell the imaginary Neil in my head what I've come up with and imagine him smiling in imaginary pride. "Not a bad start," I imagine he'd say. "Now actually write it, and you'll really have something." Damn you, imaginary Neil. You're always right. My last resting place will be beneath a willow tree. I know, but don't know how I know. I hope there will be a bridge at least, and someone to lead me across.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Hipster fashion

I don't have a problem with hipsters, first of all. I long ago realised that 'fashion' as a concept wasn't for me, but I don't want to intrude on anyone else's fun. Or what passes for fun when you're too cool to publicly emote. If you want to wear skinny jeans, leggings with elaborate prints on them, thick-framed glasses, t-shirts featuring animals that also wear thick-framed glasses – well, fair play to you. Well done on the impressively swoopy hair.

It is bewildering, though, isn't it? The way one particular style starts to pervade the media until an entire era has a definable Look. In the same way that some photos are instantly recognisable as being from the seventies, the images we're churning out in advertising and posting online all scream “I was taken in the twenty-tens!”, and there's nothing you can do about that. The very cut of your fringe betrays you.

I think what bothers me most is that people don't realise how temporary it all is. Twenty years from now, when aesthetic circuitry is the big thing, you'll still have a moustache tattooed on your index finger. Forty years from now, when fabric can be programmed to display whatever you dreamed about last night, you will still have a moustache tattooed on your finger. That doesn't bother some people, but I like the fact that some tattoo artists will only ink unique works. If you already know three people with a particular design, like it or not, you're joining a club. What would the club of people with moustachioed digits look like, I wonder? Would you want to be a part of it?

There's been a lot of debate over what exactly makes someone a hipster, and because humans can't cope with there being more than two kinds of people, I've helpfully decided where the line is. You're welcome. The schism is as follows:

Anyone who gets conspicuously, publicly excited about their interests is a geek; anyone too cool and reserved to do so is a hipster. There's a distancing from the moment in that attitude that's actually pretty sad, and more held back than laid back. If you're tempted to say that you preferred a band's early work because the alternative is to appear happy or unhappy at the music entering your earholes at that exact moment, you've detached too much.

I think you'll find a comments section below, if you want to say that I don't know what I'm talking about, and lord knows you'd be right to. I'm no expert. I'm just a victim of the times, like everybody else. It wasn't intentional - I'd been looking for non-skinny trousers for months, and eventually gave up. I bought the first tolerable item that looked like it would cover my legs, only to check the label after purchase to find that I was now the ashamed owner of a pair of jeggings.

That's how fashion works. It gets everywhere, until you have no choice but to succumb. I have girl boxers with bowler hats and monocles on, and I'm not sure I could tell you why; only that it seemed the least abhorrent option at the time.

And so the symbols of our time continue; repeating, duplicating and mutating, until every surface in sight is covered in owls with moustaches.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Why I Selfied

For Jill, because she was interested.

"And I'm a million different people from one day to the next" - The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony
Between the ages of 17 and 22, I took a lot of selfies. Hundreds. Probably thousands, although a mere few hundred ended up online. How very restrained I was. (Of course, they weren't called selfies then, and all this was fields.)

Why was I so obsessed with my own image, and with other people's reactions to me? I've given a lot of thought to this, because that is the kind of person I am. I do very normal things, then give a lot of thought to them, as if that somehow makes them worthy and important.

Many would say that it was vanity; the more perspicacious might say it was insecurity. I think it was both and more. I think that those years, late teenage and early twenties, mark the baffling, peculiar, and mercurial stage in which one looks like a different person every day.

This is undoubtedly true of one's childhood, too, but now the world is treating you like an adult. Suddenly you're considered ready for responsibility, for attention, for catcalls and compliments. When two different strangers can, within the same week, shout that you're ugly and beautiful respectively, we should not be surprised that people want to know what's happening that could provoke these responses.

So, we document. We try new hairstyles, new outfits, new angles; but instead of waiting for the opinion of a random on the street, we put them online and mentally chart the likes.

My peak of selfie-taking was probably age 19. My life got suddenly fuller, days packed with new experiences, and I never felt the same from one week to another. This was reflected, it seemed, in my reflection itself. Every time I got the camera out, I found that I looked less or more grown up than I expected, sometimes slimmer, sometimes lonelier, sometimes happier. I was in a long-distance relationship, which provided the perfect incentive (alibi?) to send photographs, and every one was a surprise to me as much as my intended. I was an adult now, who knew?

And why was it that I never saw what I expected? What is the strange dance we do with our self-esteem that prevents us from getting a reliable read on how attractive we are? (That's a whole 'nother blog post, I suspect.)

I still look like a different woman every day, but as the woman in question is merely getting older and fatter, I forgo the photos. That era has passed, for me. I'm done taking selfies. I don't see that changing, as I don't want to see myself changing any more. Maybe one day I'll be glad to have these to look back on, but they're not exactly things to show the hypothetical grandkids, are they?

Who knows. Maybe by then I'll be too old and too wise to be embarrassed of my fascination with my own changing self.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

"Today I accidentally let a meth addict use my ukulele as an ashtray."

Fairly self-explanatory? No? Ok, apparently this one needs further elaboration.

Jenny Lawson, wonderful and strange, offered a copy of her book to a random commenter on her blog. "What should you comment about?  Anything.  Your favorite toe.  The pet names of your body parts.  How many glass eyeballs you think a normal person uses in a lifetime.  The number of bodies you can fit under your bed.  It’s totally up to you," she said, and so...

I was showing a friend around Cardiff yesterday. She's recently moved to this fair city, and I wanted to show her everything exciting and good that it has to offer. We swung by the Cardiff Fashion Quarter to introduce her to my lovely and talented friend Laura Pickering, who recommended that we wander around Bute Park, seeing as how it was such a lovely day.

It was such a lovely day, guys.

At some point, I got my ukulele out in a quiet area and started strumming one of the few I know by heart. A woman approached us. Now, I'm woefully naive at the best of times, but even I know that someone who's walking unsteadily, missing teeth, and alarmingly thin is either an addict or a zombie. (From that perspective, this story could have gone far worse for me.)

She opened with "You can't play." I smiled politely and said something self-deprecating, probably "I know I'm not very good, but -"
"Let me have a go."
So, I took a gamble, thinking she'd take refusal as an insult and hoping that she'd get bored fairly quickly. Above all, I hoped she didn't smash it. (Spoilers: if she'd smashed it, I wouldn't be writing this - I'd be cackling madly on the news while a man in a suit said "my client has no comment at this time" to the cameras.)

She twanged the A-string, pulling it out of tune, and shakily tapped her cigarette ash into the body of the uke.

Now, my friend, as she's pointed out to me, has lived in London and dealt with worse. God bless her, I don't know how she had the fortitude, but she stood straight away to ask for - and then take - my uke back. And she had to fight for it, too.

The woman struggled with her and called her a fat bitch a few times, while my friend said "would you please leave us alone," politely but firmly. She eventually did walk off, and I went to a music shop to buy the uke some strings as an apology. I should have known better. I am sometimes, as I said, woefully naive.

So, that's that! I apologise for the long period of silence. I got scared away from my blog because of something I can't talk about, and in all honesty I only came back because this one was too long to tweet. But there it is, Tony. She left, everyone's fine, and my friend reassured me that I should forget about it, so I think I will.