Monday, October 30, 2006

Check it out

The Washington Post published a powerful feature on Garry Trudeau, the reticent force behind "Doonesbury." It's long but well worth a read, whether you're a comics fan


Oh my God.

As I lay in bed last night, I started reminiscing about high school and for some reason drifted into memories of how Cruel Intentions was one of the best films I saw my senior year. I remembered the stories Reese and Ryan told about how that final fight scene was so difficult for them, emotionally, that he spent the morning getting sick and she couldn't stop crying. That seemed so romantic to 18 year-old me that I've forever felt affection for them. "Cool," I thought as I fell asleep. "They're still together. Good for them."

This evening, I scanned the news online. Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe. Broke up. And it is all my fault.

I just jinxed the coolest couple in Hollywood. What kind of flowers do you send to apologize for that?

Wake the F up

For God's sake, people, what the hell is it going to take for us to realize that we are running out of time on climate change?

The Stern Review came out today and probably didn't even make the news back home (did it?). Nicholas Stern is a former World Bank head, not your typical ecogeek, and produced the massive report in his role as one of Tony Blair's senior economists. To summarize the 700-page document: we act now, or we see an average global temperature rise of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius in the next 100 to 150 years.

"It is not in doubt that, if the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous," Stern said. "Unless we act now, these consequences... will be irreversible."

On the same morning, the UN issued a report which found that the industrialized world has done almost nothing to reduce its emissions.

Think this doesn't matter? Tell that to Katrina victims, farmers losing their crops in drought-stricken regions, entire nations in the Pacific who are being forced to relocate to other countries. Hell, tell it to your own family: Stern's report found that we could realistically witness a 20% reduction of the global economy if we let the changes continue unchecked. Thank God Tony Blair at least pays attention: he stood up today and said it's time to stop kidding ourselves by twiddling our thumbs over tiny scientific discrepancies when the big picture is painfully clear. This isn't a sci-fi scenario concocted by a bunch of America-hating Greens, people. This is reality.

Yet, it can take as little as
one per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) to mitigate the damage, Stern said. Or, we can fiddle while Rome burns and watch 40% of the planet's species disappear while millions of climate refugees stand outside our door.

I just don't get it. We should be doing something, even if it's only out of self-interest. This is going to hurt our country, our whole species, but we can't be bothered thinking about it.

Here's the cold, hard truth: acting is going to hurt. We're going to have to pay more for our products, travel less, maybe even institute taxes based on carbon consumption. But it's that or make the immoral decision to turn our backs on future generations. If that's the case, we deserve whatever we get.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Showdown

Overheard on the living room floor tonight:

Me: "So, you've never carved a pumpkin with official pumkin carving tools?"
CB: "Nope."
"Well, I guess you're at an advantage. Do you think I could use this short knife as a scraper?"
"A what?"
"You know, to scrape away the skin so parts glow."
"Oh, erm, sure."
"It's okay. All in fun, remember? It's not like we're having a contest."

Figuring that whatever I made would impress him, I set to work on a bird. Arguably, it is meant to be an English robin, but you try making one of those when all you have is a stubby knife and a potato peeler. A short time later, I showed CB my finished product:

For the record, I actually felt quite happy with my bird, considering I had not carved a pumpkin since sometime in high school. Meanwhile, CB fiddled in the corner, intent on his design, refusing to let me see. Finally, he finished and with one casual turn of the squash in my direction, he revealed my bird for what it was: a valiant effort by someone with the carving skills of a five year-old.

I looked at my pudgy bird as my artistic spirit shriveled.

"How the hell did you do that?"
CB, shrugging: "I'm good with geometric figures."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

RIP, Empty Space

I thought I was finished writing for the night, but now that I know one of my favorite theaters in Seattle is gone, I had to post. During college, I was lucky enough to see a few great shows at Empty Space, and when we lived in Fremont, we walked down to see a stunning production of 1984. This was small, independent urban theater at its finest: bold and polished with outstanding casts and a commitment to showcasing original work. ES helped keep Seattle's arts scene vibrant. A lot of small and mid-sized theaters have been struggling in recent years, and the loss of ES is a bad sign for the city. You'd think with all of the uber-wealthy people who are pouring in and making the city too expensive for the rest of us, they'd be able to support the places that made Seattle unique. Guess not.

Vaya con dios, ES. I'll miss you like hell.


I'm not entirely sure what part of the cosmos decided it would be hilarious to give me a body that can't sit in normal chairs for more than a few hours at a time without stiffening into the shape of an archer's bow, but I finally caved and purchased a dodgy-looking ergonomic chair on EbayUK. For the price, I'm guessing the extent of its ergonometry is that it comes with a broken back and a roll of duct tape; with a few sticky strips, I'll be able to make it fit my contours. Until the tape melts off, which is likely here because our apartment, while wonderful (which it is, trust me), currently resembles a tropical rainforest.

The one significant downside our older building is its serious dearth of insulation. Combine that with poor ventilation, and the windows sweat buckets on cold nights, leading to all sorts of horrific fantasies involving my clothes and cotton-loving mold. After a little experimentation, I figured out that one can reduce the condensation by turning up the heat, which warms the window glass. Alas, another downside to an old building is an eccentric heating system which *only* operates as follows:

1. Turn heat storage on at 7pm, because it is only possible to have the heater on from 7 to midnight under our council energy plan. No, I don't have the slightest clue what that means, either, but it is apparently very expensive to do anything else.
2. Turn heat storage off in the morning.
3. Wait for heater to emanate the heat it has stored. Wait about 30 seconds.
4. Stand before heater in awe as hot air pours from its innards.
5. Grow slightly dismayed when heat doesn't stop, which it won't until 7pm.
6. Open all the windows and hang out in agony
7. Repeat

It's great, really. I also purchased a dehumidifier which is supposed to be large enough to work on a place bigger than ours. It's been filled to capacity three times today, and I'm pretty sure it's about to fill my clothes aren't dripping wet, I'm not sure.

That's about all I can write tonight -- I've been writing all day, and my shoulders are protesting.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Feminism needs a comeback

Oh, the Uppity Woman is pissed tonight. In addition to Rush Limbaugh's jaw-dropping remarks about Michael J. Fox (don't worry, I'm building up a slow burn on that, too), this little gem just slipped out the mouth of a major figure in Australia:

"If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem....If the woman is in her boudoir, in her house and if she's wearing the veil and if she shows modesty, disasters don't happen."

Just in case anyone out there wants to argue that the battle of the sexes is over, that feminism is pointless and that equality has been achieved: half the world has just been compared to a piece of meat. A PIECE OF MEAT. The rest of the speech is just as lovely. If you feel like throwing things, you can read it here.

I'm glad that so many people in Australia and around the world have condemned his remarks; it doesn't take much to figure out the speaker's religious affiliation, but it's heartening that most people seem to recognize that this has less to do with religion than it does with misogyny, a misogyny that transcends religion and culture. A misogyny that's as at home in America as it is anywhere else.

It's a point Bob Herbert makes well in his recent column on the execution of several Amish schoolgirls. Herbert points out that, in all the coverage, no one batted an eye about the fact that the killer targeted women. "Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews...None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected."

It's true. The only information we heard about the Amish shootings over here was a little surprise that it happened in an Amish community. Never mind that the killer released the boys before he shot the girls.

It all fits into a picture painted by Ariel Levy, the whipsmart author of Female Chauvinist Pigs. I read the book over the summer; some of it is a little "well, duh," but it is nonetheless an important book because it finally connects the dots between all of the little things which degrade women in society: our voluntary participation in shows like Girls Gone Wild; the hypersexualization of Halloween costumes, music videos and makeup ads; the ridicule you receive if you dare suggest that Eminem's wife-beating lyrics are hateful and disturbing.

Individually, sure, they aren't that dangerous. But that's the thing, and this is what makes me so angry: we aren't receiving them one at a time. We are living in a world which is saturated by misogyny. We are drenched by audio and visual stimulation which suggests that women are nothing more than hypersexualized boytoys who exploit and enjoy being exploited. We're told that we are pieces of meat. And we should celebrate it.

I can't stand it when I see girls grinding each other on bartops. Correction: go on and do it, if you want to. Hell, I have. But don't insist, between hip thrusts, that you're doing it because you're so Liberated, that somehow this ability to participate in your own sexual exploitation means that you've come a long way, baby.

Here's what matters. We still make a quarter less in our jobs than men. We are still raped and beaten and murdered every goddamn day at rates that should make us scream. Yet, how many of us would call ourselves feminists? Don't we all think feminism is a joke, something that went out with burning bras? Funny. I'm not laughing.

Pieces of meat, going merrily off to market. Just remember that when someone gives you a hard time because something just feels wrong about GGW, Marshall Mathers, Abercrappie t-shirt slogans, or women who say equality means getting to act as raunchy as frat boys. Aren't we a little tired of being on the menu?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Skipping stones

Let's face it: lately, the world's been a bleak place to inhabit. Over here, we're on the brink of national riots fueled by religious and ethnic tension; over there, a certain administration believes we'll accept anything they say if they just yell loud enough. (Seriously? If people accept the line that we never had a "stay the course" plan, I will scream loud enough for you to hear it on the West Coast. Then, I will bombard the entire Washington, D.C. core with enough copies of 1984 to bury a small nation.)

Frustrated? Entangled in existential despair? Might I recommend Red Stapler's request for people to contribute to Women For Women.

Think of life as a big, flat stone in the palm of your hand. No, don't throw it through the window. I don't care if it does look into the Oval Office. Just skip it. I've always liked skipping rocks -- although you probably can't call my staggering plashes "skips" -- because the ripples extend far beyond where your rock touches down. It's not the subtlest metaphor, but somehow it rings true to me. Supporting a group like WFW makes some ripples, or lights a candle, or performs whatever symbollic act you see when you think about changing the world. We're lucky enough to be in countries where we generally aren't restricted from work or assaulted on the streets for being born female. Whatever we have, it's probably enough to give a little bit back. Or at least link to RS's site from your own. Find a nice, shiny rock. See where it travels.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Medeni mjesec 2

I forgot to mention, dear reader, that this trip was an experiment in "packing light." Observe the size of my backpack in comparison to your standard Nalgene bottle. Yes, that's two weeks of travel gear in there. Although I admit that I was a bit nervous about the prospect of traveling with two pairs of pants and one skirt TOTAL, it worked out quite well...apart from the incident on the island of Lopud, in which Ecogrrl and her spouse were caught out in the middle of a lightning storm and sprinted madly for home across pitch-black fields...leading to the skirt's untimely demise. Yeah, running pell-mell through a tempest with lightning so intense that the memory plays like the world-ending storm at the end of a black-and-white movie? Can't say I recommend it. Particularly because passports do not like water. At all.

But the bag was great. Its innards bloated a little at the end, when I crammed in an extra couple of books because I'm insane enough to plow through two novels in the first week of a trip, necessitating the purchase of two more at a Dubrovnik bookshop and the Dublin airport. Apart from that, I'm truly impressed with how well it performed; it even emerged unscathed from the belly of a Ryanair plane.

The only real downside to packing light is the need to recycle the same clothes every few days, as demonstrated by Coalescent Boy. As you can see, however, CB remains his same handsome self -- and no one on Lopud (left) knew we wore the same things in Dubrovnik (right).

As an aside, note the ridiculous height of the aloe plants. These were not the largest specimens we saw -- the biggest were almost CB's height. Based on casual observations, *everything* grows lush and massive in Croatia's climate: figs plummet from city walls in Dubrovnik; squashes vie for space on arbors with grapes bursting their skins; limes the size of softballs droop from trees.

The only other drawback to spartan packing is doing the laundry, or, "Oh hell, we are out of socks and the ones I washed have not line-dried yet and now I must tie them to the outside of my pack so they don't make other things in my bag wet." Hey, at least you receive some amused smiles from people when you're traipsing around city streets with clean laundry streaming out behind you.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Fact, not fiction, for the first time in years.

DCFC lyrics have been running through my head lately, a sure sign that I'm in transition. Certain music accompanies me whenever I am on a physical or mental journey, and Death Cab's songs have been close companions since I discovered them seven years ago.

I'm not even sure where to begin. I find myself at a loss for words when people ask -- as they inevitably do -- what I'm up to these days. Depending on your perspective, I'm either taking a risk to pursue a dream, or wasting time when I should be focused on long-term plans. Realistically, I feel somewhere in between, but it's difficult to justify the big "U" (that's unemployed) to fast-track students here who haven't paused for breath since completing their A-levels.

My degree course wrapped up at the end of August, and I spent September in a pleasant blur, hosting my family when it came to visit, moving to Oxford, leaving for Croatia. I returned to learn that I'd done remarkably well in the program, although whether or not that will have any tangible benefits remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I'm happy that it went well, and happier still that the end result was good in spite of my very aberrant decision to turn it in a week early. AKA, *when I still had time to make it PERFECT!* Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a new relationship with perfectionism, in which I grow comfortable with finishing things when I feel done instead of scouring them for every last error, when the amount of time I spend working is too great to justify the tiny improvements I make.

So, what am I up to now? I've spent the last two weeks working from home, which means I wake up around 7:30, brew a pot of coffee, and sit down at the table by 10:00 to write. Part of me hesitates to even talk about this, because I'm afraid I'll jinx it or wind up sounding like a major flake (stupid social pressure), but there you go. I have three months on my hands with no job prospects in sight and no real way to apply for any that arise: with Christmas travel, I can't exactly take a position now. ("Gee, thanks so much for the job! I'll be gone from December 6th until mid-January, okay?") School is finished, for now and possibly forever. (Although I can't really think about the finality yet.) Volunteer opportunities are sparse. So, with some much needed support from Coalescent Boy, I'm writing a novel.

Yeah, I'm serious.

It's not a great story. At this point, I'm just hoping it will be good enough for me to do something with after I finish the second draft, even if that means showing it to friends and then sticking it in a drawer. The goal at this point is simply to begin writing, to develop a daily habit, and to understand what kind of schedule I'm going to need if I want to keep writing for life. When I'm not writing, I'm mulling over what comes next, which generally means weighing the horrendously difficult "stay in the UK/go back to Seattle" decision looming in January. But for at least a few months, I'm trying out how it feels to say "I'm a writer." (It feels freaky.)

Any illusions I had about being the next great American author have been discarded, but there's a certain amount of freedom in accepting one's capabilities for what they are. I have no idea how I'm going to milk 150,000 words out of the ideas in my head -- I'm at 19,000 right now, and that already feels monumental -- but something tells me that finishing one will make it easier to start another. Think of this as a test book. Does that mean it's a throwaway? No -- I still nurture a hope that it might be publishable with a regional press, but I am starting to believe that I won't be crushed if it doesn't happen. I'll just sit back in front of the computer and start again.

There you go. I'm writing. I'm reflecting. I'm ignoring well-intended students and staff who say, "Oh...have you tried looking for a job, though?" or, "You know, there's a good PhD program in X Department." I'm trying not to think about what I should be doing to get back into the environmental world where I know I belong. I'll get there. This just isn't the place to do it, which means I probably shouldn't expend my energy fretting over nonexistent opportunities.

I've been deliberating whether to make this a matter of public record, partially because, as I mentioned, I still have qualms about saying "I'm writing" as if that's a valid adult activity. The adult part of my brain keeps muttering about how I should be doing something I know I'm good at, something safe, like more academic research. But there's a kid inside, too, and she's jabbing at the adult with her pen, insisting the adult see that writing is valid, is legitimate, is worthwhile. That kid has secret dreams she's nurtured for the last decade or two, ambitions she isn't quite willing to speak aloud. The good thing, I suppose, is that the adult in me shares those dreams, too.

So, here we go. 2000 words per day; one day off per week, a few more when I'm traveling. Draft by end of January/early February. Revisions in early March. Reviews by kindhearted people in the spring. Redraft over the summer, if readers deem it worth redrafting, and then we'll see what happens. Maybe nothing. At the very least, it's a stepping-stone for future work. At most? Well, there's where the dreaming comes into play.

Blogger help???

Okay, my big problem seems to have solved itself (hooray), but I still feel like I have an extra bit of padding below my header. Also, the little white margin between the header and the navbar -- does anyone know how to get rid of that? Anybody? You'd have my eternal gratitude.

Any feedback on the new layout (header too big? posts too bland?) would be appreciated, too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Medeni mjesec (honeymoon), part 1

"Erm, dobra večer," I said, clutching a grimy mobile phone to my ear. I stood at the side counter of a compact bar in Zagreb, having just begged and plead with the bartender to lend me his phone for a minute so I could call the owner of our private room at 10:30 pm to tell him we couldn't open the front door.

Coalescent Boy -- his adopted moniker, I'll have you know -- and I had been traveling since 5:30 that morning, when we trudged out to the cab that would take us to Stansted Airport. After a shorthaul flight to Trieste and a long bus ride to Croatia, in which we were stopped at the Slovenian border so bored Croatian guards could order us all of the bus, herd us on again, and then order us off with our bags to "search for drugs," we finally arrived in Zagreb. Exhausted and famished, we successfully navigated a bewildering tram system, the route maps of which were faded beyond legibility and written in Croatian. Furthermore, they relied upon some new space-time continuum in which hours like "36.5" and "19" coexisted, a state of affairs which Zagreb residents seemed to accept, leaving two f---ing confused tourists to run back and forth across the tracks, trying to figure out which side went the way they needed. Finally, we scrambled aboard the right tram, a dingy, graffiti-strewn box that looked older than the city itself. As it rocked on the track, emitting sharp, aggravated cracks whenever it turned, Coalescent Boy and I looked at each other and grinned. We made it.

Our success was short-lived. After finding our room, the first in a series of private accomodations or "sobes" which we occupied down the coast, we set out to find a late-night dinner. The lodging itself was fine, but we were just outside the city center in a roughish-looking neighborhood (hey, for less than 30 pounds per night, who's complaining?). On a whim, I decided to check the lock after we shut the door. I turned the key. The door handle remained fixed in place. CB jiggled the key. No go. Fueled by hunger and the prospect of sleeping on concrete steps in a dingy, draughty yellow hallway, we took turns hammering at the door. The overhead light flicked off.

Great. Nice planning, Ecogrrl. I'd managed to start off our honeymoon by forcing us to sleep on cold cement. Thankfully, the bartender spoke enough English to vaguely understand what I was saying -- that, or he was a little frightened by the frantic girl waving a phone number in his face. We reached our host and convinced him to drive back out again to help us with the door. Ten minutes later, he showed up, considerably more disgruntled than he had been during our initial meeting. I launched into a detailed explanation and apology while CB handed him the key. He slid the key into our lock, turned it until the latch clicked, twisted the handle and shoved the door open.

Oh sweet lord.

"We really aren't as stupid as we look right now," I said.

"Uh-huh," he responded. "I have to go now."

Having done our patriotic duty by convincing another European that Americans are blithering idiots, we raced out to find food before everything in the city shut down for the night. Thankfully, Croatia isn't England -- we may have found the only restaurant still serving food, but a plethora of outdoor cafes awaited after we finished our pizza. We collapsed underneath a canopy of umbrellas stretching end-on-end down a wide pedestrian walkway, ordered a couple of local beers, and sat watching the crowds. Most passers-by were young, drawn to Zagreb's extensive pedestrian zone, where you can walk for several blocks in any direction without dodging cars or mopeds. Music streams from cafes and bars; gelato shops serve huge, glistening scoops of toasted pistachio ice cream; people sit and talk and call to friends walking down side streets. I've never been anywhere with a night life like Zagreb's, except for Cuba. There, too, the warm climate and communal atmosphere created a vibrant nocturnal community. As the minutes slid by, I slipped into a blissful, gelato-induced stupor. Not a bad start to things. Not bad at all.

...and we're back

Real posts start up tonight, so you may now recommence your daily routines.

Talk to you soon.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

We're experiencing technical difficulties...

AKA, we have no freaking internet connection.

Check that: we have one slow-ass 36k link that disconnects every 30 seconds, while our ISP claims that it's working on the problem. Suffice it to say that I am now a cooped-up, cranky as hell unemployed person with no links to the outside world. Our ISP is about to get a taste of my wrath.

Croatia was fantastic, and I promise that I will regale you with stories and pictures as soon as I can sit at my own terminal for more than three minutes. The blog, she is NOT dead! She's just being held against her will.