30 January 2010


Here is one of the biggest reasons why I love my father. I love him because, after I read him a paragraph of my draft prose down the phone, he said, "Take out 'that' in that last sentence, because it ruins the rhythm." And that is EXACTLY how I spend 50% of my revision time: listening to the rhythm of what I write and trying to fix it. I love my father because he shares that ear, and the recognition of its importance, and because he probably gave it to me.

Read more »

24 January 2010


Every now and again I must admit that I have been wrong, or over-stringent, and this is one of those times. Recent experience has demonstrated that I could be friends with someone who reads and enjoys Dan Brown novels, so I must alter my view and consider that, yes, I could have a partner who does the same.

You read it here.
Read more »

22 January 2010

Girl Steps into a Carriage...

When I was little, my mother told me a not very good joke. It takes place in the 19th century.

There's a girl, and she very much likes a boy at her church. She keeps indicating her interest and indicating her interest, and he never takes her up on it. Finally, one night after choir practise, she lingers and lingers until he asks if she would like him to drive her home. So they get in the carriage, and he drives silently along, simply driving her home. Finally, after a good while, she gives a little fake sniffle. He says, "What's the matter?" and she says, "Nobody loves me, and my hands are cold!" He thinks for a second, and then he says, "God loves you, and your mother loves you, and you can sit on your hands."

As I said, this joke is not very funny. But I have thought of it frequently in my life. Really, I only ever think of the last line, and I think of that whenever I feel very sorry for myself because my life seems hard: I think something along the lines of, Yeah, yeah...you can sit on your hands. To me, it means, "You can fix your own problems; stop wallowing."

As you know, many bad things are all piled up at once in my life these days. The least bad of them is also the most mysterious, and the most immediately ongoing. This is one place where I can't sit on my hands, so there's no thing for me to do. And it's not even that big a deal. At worst, someone is being a little thoughtless, with fantastically good justification. But my hands are cold! From breezes blowing in all directions. Really really cold. And a tiny bit of warmth would be nice.

Read more »

18 January 2010


I have come to a conclusion that I have come to before: I don't know; I just don't know. About anything.

This time, however, I feel a little different about this conclusion. My friend D. says that Buddha said we are always surrounded by uncertainty; we think that given situations are uncertain, but in fact uncertainty is the condition of life (not that this is relevant, but David Hume would agree). Therefore, rather than feeling unhappy or tense because I don't know, I have decided to, to the extent that I'm able, just accept it. Non-Buddhistly, I could say that my not knowings must resolve with time: it is not so much that now I see through a glass, darkly, but then, face to face (one of my very favourite Bible quotations, and not for its promise of revelation but rather for its acceptance of mystery), as it is that time must bring resolution, since that's what time does. If I were determined to clutch on to logic in the face of uncertainty, I could say that my not knowing will resolve because after a time constant uncertainty is itself a certain state (a sneaky way of making yourself feel better, but not entirely without legitimacy). But I do neither of those things: I have decided instead to fight against all my tendencies and simply live in this state (these states?) of uncertainty, allowing it/them to flow through me in such a way that I achieve peace.

Read more »

16 January 2010

"Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances. My memory of past errors and perplexities, makes me diffident for the future....
I am first affrighted and confounded..."

- David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature
Read more »

15 January 2010


In therapy this week we discussed overthinking. I think too much: I knew that already. The therapist was concerned by how much of my thinking was self-critical, but I was and am just concerned that I think all the time. Even during experiences that should be purely emotional and purely enjoyable, like dancing, I'm thinking away. So after we had our session I resolved to think less, to try just to experience things rather than thinking about them while I'm doing them (sine that kind of sucks the enjoyment out of them). (funnily, yesterday somebody who was neither the therapist nor me said to me, "You think too much!" I just laughed.)

Anyway, before I give up thinking too much, I wanted to post about something that I've thought on and off for several months. Intermittently but repeatedly for, say, the last nine months, I've
wondered whether I was always this way: so convinced of my own unattractiveness, so desolate about romantic possibilities, so deeply and abidingly certain that there is something terribly wrong with me. And when I've wondered that, I've also wondered if Mr. Fallen did something terrible to me, if he did me some truly lasting harm.

You see, this is what I think happened. I think I broke up with Dr. Higher, and then I lived in Otherhome. I briefly thought I might go out with someone else there, but that person turned out to be a terribly bad bet, and in Otherhome there wasn't anyone else; it just became clear to me that I wasn't going to meet anyone else. And then I met Mr. Fallen. And he seemed so right: it seemed he shared my interests; he shared my cultural references; he shared my sense of humour. And he was so nice! In comparison to Dr. Higher, he was unbelievably nice and thoughtful. And I couldn't believe my luck. I just couldn't believe that I would meet someone like that - that I would ever meet them, never mind that they would want me. And then, of course, it turned out he didn't. And I think that just made it clear to me that I was right: that no one like that would ever want me, even if they did appear again.

But it can't be that I just believed that out of nowhere. Surely, surely, I must have secretly believed all that before? I mean, Mr. Fallen can't have made me feel worthwhile so effectively that when he left I felt completely unworthwhile. It seems more logical that I always felt worthless, and just for six months I thought it might all work out, and then what happened proved to me that it wouldn't. I remember saying to my friend M. after I saw Mr. Fallen at the conference, "I always believed that I was second-best. I always believed that no one would ever pick me if they had a choice. And he proved it." I'm inclined to believe that that's the correct reading of what happened. I feared that the fact that I'd not had a lot of relationships, and that I now (then) lived somewhere where there's nobody to meet, and that I was older than most people I knew there, meant both that I was unattractive and that I was doomed never to meet anyone. Then this attractive person came along and appeared to prove me wrong, and I was happy and relieved as you are when your seemingly plausible fears are proved implausible. Thus, when they were proved plausible again, it seemed that they really must be true.

So I can't blame Mr. Fallen, and I don't. But I do sometimes stand there in my head and marvel at the fact that one event could precipitate such total destruction. I had a therapist once who said, "Sometimes you give a little tap, and the whole wall falls down"; that's what happened here. It wasn't the cause of my ruin, but it was the conduit to it.

Still, I suppose you could say that if it weren't for that I never would have faced all these terrible feelings about myself and be dealing with them.

See how I did that? I turned potentially gloomy thinking into a source of enjoyment.

Read more »

10 January 2010

A Bit Gloomy

is how I am feeling, reader. I have begun work on my new set of final revisions, and while even I can tell that they're improving what I have, there is very little sense of pleasure in thinking about them or about the project generally, or in figuring out where to put my additions - I get pleasure only while I am writing, from figuring out how to say what I want to say, and from the occasional really interesting idea I get.

The truth is, I hate this project. The process of reconfiguring what I'm writing seemingly endlessly, always missing anything I think gives the manuscript real interest or value, always adding bits that, while no doubt true and perhaps enriching to thought about Byron, don't particularly interest me or make me feel proud of myself, has sucked me and my enthusiasm empty. I feel exactly like W.B. Yeats in "The Fascination of What's Difficult" (oh, that feeling! of course), when he says, "The fascination of what's difficult / Has dried the sap out of my veins." Only when he said that, it proved that it hadn't - the constructed poem is itself a demonstration that the fascination of what's difficult hasn't dried any sap out of him at all. But it's dried the sap out of me. Like a shirt that has been worn and washed too often, this manuscript that has been re-read and rewritten uncountable times is now for me empty of colour: it's just washed out, and trying to care about it is sheer drudgery. I know "it is a job," but I never imagined that the end result of writing an academic book could be to make you hate the subject of it, and hate the idea of academic writing. I now fantasise that when I finish this I'll never write anything again.

But that's okay, of course. What makes me gloomy is the fact that I have no relief. I was saying to my friend S.M. last night that I feel like the Little Engine that Could: I think I can, I think can, and that's fine, but there's no else here to tell me that they think I can, too. And there's no one to give my life at the moment anything to look forward to beyond this drudgery: everyone who is back is working themselves; term hasn't started; and distance and sickness have decimated the ranks of those I would be really excited to see. At lunch or dinner I sit around and talk to people, but because of the way scheduling works out those are people I don't know very well yet, so conversation is stilted and somewhat hard going itself. It would be nice EITHER to have someone really close to me, whose "I know you can do this" would therefore have some weight (not possible in this country), OR to have someone or something stimulating enough to take my mind off this wretched wretched project for even half an hour.

Of course, it's not just that. I was also slightly and weirdly under the weather, and that seems to have stuck around somehow: I'm by no means sick, but I don't feel quite right. And I wanted to make cookies but then found out I had no baking soda, and for me there's almost nothing worse than being all geared up to do something and then at the last second being thwarted. And I've been getting a lot of messages on match.com, which should be nice, except none of them are suitable, and they're pretty much all unsuitable in obvious ways (why would someone whose favourite author is Dan Brown even contact me? I don't get that). So I have the sense of dwindling prospects and grim necessity again. And when I was home the lovely Jennifer said something to me about meeting David Tennant or something, and I said to her, "I think we have to accept that at this stage I am not going to marry David Tennant or any celebrity," and it's true: I'm too grown up to be unrealistic anymore. And that's even leaving aside the disheartening meeting I had with my HoD when I was in the States, even more disheartening job prospects here, and downright depressing and scary e-mail I received from my HoD regarding what might happen if I don't return to my home institution next year.

It's just a lot of stuff all piling up at once. You know how it is: it happens to everyone. And of course it will pass, but at the moment I'm having one of those periods where it's all just too much. And will be too much for a while, since the horrible horrible book can't be done for at least another two weeks.

And now I've ripped a hole in the inside seam of my jeans! Not single spies but in battalions, my friends, not single spies but in battalions.

Read more »

06 January 2010


"We need to talk." I believe there is no one in the world whose heart does not sink or give a jump of fear when they hear this phrase, but I fear that I may be the only person in the world who finds ominousness in the sentence, "A lot of exciting things have happened to me over the past few days." Oh, God, I think, really? Things that will make you leave the country? Things that will make you want to spend time with people other than me? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that these interesting things are things that will make me less interesting. I need to work on that.

So here I am, returned to WhereIlive. The trip back was nearly as awful as the trip there. Skipping the part where I got to the US airport 3. 5 hours early, but then it only took 20 minutes to get through security (which, afterward, I realised I could have foreseen - or I could have foreseen that going out would take much less time than coming in - but better safe than sorry), it was still pretty hellish. There was a four-hour stopover in Toronto, which is only fractionally more interesting than the airport in Parentshome. Why is it that only the English, apparently, know how to make international airport areas with enough shops to keep you busy very nearly forever? They aren't a particularly lavish or spending orientated culture, but they know how to put together a Duty Free area. Whereas the US, land of the gluttonous and spendthrift, offers you a stand in a corridor; Canada had a shop, at least, but there wasn't much in it.

BUEno, after the four-hour stopover there, when we were all on the flight to London and assured we would take off in ten minutes...nothing happened. And then a little more nothing happened. After about an hour of nothing, the captain came on the tannoy and told us that there was some sort of difficulty loading the baggage, which no one had told him, and they were just finishing it up now. This is the only time I've ever heard a plane captain sound annoyed. He then told us that after that we'd need to get a wing de-iced, and then we'd be off: a total of half an hour. So, finally, we took off two hours late. The flight itself was fine, but after we landed there was something wrong with getting the baggage off, so we waited for an hour in the baggage area (I imagined to myself that it was like the car trunk/boot: you're trying to get it to stick, but it won't, so you slam it shut, and then when you come to try to open it, you can't). Then, finally released from airports after a full 18 hours, I discovered that the next coach was a local: three hours, six stops.

But then I was back. And...it didn't feel as great as I thought. That's nostalgia and anticipation for you: the longed-for never quite measures up.

(No, I don't live in a thatched cottage. I just thought it looked like the word "home." Although thatched cottages turn out to be quite expensive to keep up: you have to re-thatch. Someone who owns one told me that. Who knew?)

But it is pretty good even without measuring up, I must confess. And as we were driving through the motorways of England (which don't look that different from the highways of the South, which may be why coming home wasn't quite as good as I'd anticipated), I thought to myself that, given the rigours and tedia of these journeys, ideally, if I could arrange it, I would never go to the States again. Which, of course, is not possible, but I did take it as something of sign, and now that I'm not swimming in jet lag and travel trauma, I still take as significant in some way (although I can't tell you what way).

Everyone I know in the States keeps saying, "Enjoy the rest of your time..." or, "When you come back..." My tactless father said, "Well, you've had two years there; we only had one when you were little." The one exception to this is my HoD, who said, "Where were you the last time you were happy? Not happy temporarily, but with the underlying happiness that should get you through every day?" And when I said, "England," he said, "Then you must stay there."

Everyone here keeps saying, "You're going back? You have to go back?"

All I can do is keep applying for jobs; I knew that even before I left to go back for this visit. But I wish, I truly wish, that there were some magic way this could all work out.

Now, happy news: I washed my hair! It felt different when wet: sort of flatter, or perhaps it would be better to say more contained. Before I washed it it still felt tacky and vaguely waxy, so I expected that when I did get in the shower all this dark yuck would come off and blacken (or at least darken) the water. Not at all. When it first got wet the stall was filled with an overwhelming scent of mushrooms (which is how the air smelled when it first went on), but that was it (which was rather disappointing, to be honest).

After I got out of the shower and had a look at it, I was rather alarmed: there were medium-sized white flakes all through it. It looked as though I'd had a terrible attack of dandruff, but I think it was just the extra gunk being sloughed off. Now it's drying, and although I wouldn't say it's straight, or flat, I would say it's wavy and calm. And soft! Both soft to the touch and soft in the sense of not as rigid and coarse as it normally is. Before it stood: now it falls. I have the hair of a normal person! For the first time that I can remember. I like it!

I felt I had so much more to say...

Read more »

04 January 2010

I Travelled Among Known Men

Deprivation, one thinks whilst deprived, is terrible.  Not to have x, or to have y when you want z, is irritating, grating, and sometimes enraging. But you know what?  I have a new appreciation and gratitude for deprivation.

As I've mentioned, all the time that I've been home this time I've had to depend on my parents to drive me places.  I would sit in the passenger seat, or on the couch while I waited for my mother to get ready, grinding my teeth in frustration.  Then, yesterday, my driver's license arrived.  I asked for the car key and registration, got in the car...and took what I believe to be the sweetest and most viscerally enjoyable drive of my life - even more wonderful than the first time I drove my own car.  Oh, the bliss of driving at my own speed, in the non-turn lane!  And with the cd player turned up!  It was exquisite, and I never would have had the keen poignancy of that delight had I not been deprived of it, and so fully deprived of it, before.  

The same is true of my hair.  When I stood up out of the chair yesterday, as at the times I've stood up out of the chair after having it blown dry straight, I couldn't believe how wonderful my hair looked.  So smooth!  So sleek!  And my face had such nice bones!  And was so noticeable!  If I hadn't had my giant bush of hair for contrast before that, I never would have had such an experience, never would have had such exquisite pleasure in this, after all, fairly simple thing.

And now I am going back to WhereIlive.  As you know if you've read previous posts, it doesn't take a journey away from WhereIlive to make me know how comfortable I am in England.  But my time here has made that sense of comfort more vivid to me than it would be if I had not come here.  Not that being here is an experience of deprivation in any way, except deprivation of being "home."  But that what you might call passive deprivation is enough for me.  I never thought to feel kinship with William Wordsworth, but packing my suitcase this night before I leave, I know exactly what he meant.

Read more »

03 January 2010


I have had my hair done! As a result, at least one of my worries has been allayed. Remember my telling you that I thought my hair would be pretty gross after four days? Well, as it happens, my hair is pretty gross right now! I thought that the treatment would be sealed onto the hair in the sense of heated so that it became smooth, but in fact it was sealed onto the head in the sense that, although it's sealed on there, it's left a greasy residue. And because you can't wash your hair for four days (so the cuticle can seal and absorption can be completed), the residue has to remain for four days, too. I dread to imagine what my hair will look like three days from now: I'll have to hide in my room for the two days after I come back (well, I'll go the phone place, because I need a new phone and they've probably had even less kempt customers than I will be).

So, enough about my hair. It's a new year! And I saw it in by going to a milonga - a milonga which offered a fascinating contrast in dance to WhereIlive.

The best, but also most elusive, way to express this difference would be to say that it seemed clear that all the dancers at this milonga had been trained by a Hispanic. But even that's not quite right, because not all of them looked that way. So it might more accurate to say that this milonga both demonstrated clearly the difference between a tall milonguero and a smaller one, and demonstrated the difference between the style of dancing where I live and the style of dancing here. Both of these are in relation to men, because as a woman I was only interested in checking out potential partners.

The most immediate and profound attribute I noticed is that the best male dancers at this milonga flowed. By this I mean that they were in almost constant movement, and that that movement was smooth and propelled - not propulsive, but propelled. They looked as if they were being drawn forward by a magnet; the movement had both the sense of inevitability and the sense of constancy that that description suggests (you can get it slightly from this picture). After a very short period of observation, it became clear how they did this, and that "how" was totally unsurprising. They used the floor.

I've talked about using the floor before, I know, but this milonga really made it clear how important that is. The men who used the floor were noticeably better dancers than the men who did not. By pushing against the floor, and by pushing against the floor consistently, they were able to create the forward angle that gives the illusion of constant unforced motion, as well as the movement of actual constant unforced motion. But obviously they didn't just do this by using the floor. I think another immensely important ingredient was that they kept their knees loose. As I've said before about my VTTT, they used their legs but not their upper bodies - but whereas my VTTT used his legs in such a way that he freed his hips, these men used their legs but not their hips, nor their upper bodies. Those upper bodies they kept as the forward-most part of their angled line.

In WhereIlive, I have only seen one man dance this way: my FTT. He holds his body in precisely this same way, and watching him on video I see that he also keeps his knees loose. And these men, like him, also moved their feet at the last moment, and often with the least amount of floor removal, as he does. This is part of what made me say that they all looked as if they'd been taught to dance by a Hispanic. But the other part was that they were comfortable in their carapaces: they carried their bodies as if they were pleasurable containers, which, as I think I've also said before, most Anglo-Saxons do not do.

Watching these men dance and searching for a word of comparison, I finally decided that the best way to describe the difference between WhereIlive and here is that in WhereIlive the tango is "stately." The people move more slowly, and each move is made with, if not solemnity, a certain kind of slowness that makes it look elegant. Here, the tango is "catchy," that would almost be the right way to put it. In WhereIlive we look like we love it, but here they look like they're having fun doing it.

But I thought of something else, too, and that was that I don't think this kind of dancing could be done by someone tall, and particularly not someone tall and skinny. Such a person simply wouldn't have the grounding that being close to the floor gives: they wouldn't have the benefit that gravity gives them. And without the weight they wouldn't have enough ballast, really, to lean that way elegantly, or, I suspect, to walk in that curious way. The short and slightly tubby have weight on their side. But a tall, slender man would, I think, look so odd leaning forward in that way, and I can't help but be almost certain that purely because of his lack of weight and distance from the ground the strain on his leg and back muscles to control himself in the way these men did would be gruelling, to say the least. As I watched, I began to think that this is why my VTTT has evolved the style of dance he has. He's too tall to hold himself or to move in the way these shorter men can, so he's made use of his hips to give him his distinctive smoothness and sense of fun.

On the other hand, my FTT is not at all tubby, and he moves in a version (because he is less practised, this version is less practised, but it's there) of the way I've been describing. Now, this may be because his body is, although not tubby, built along compact lines - he's not attenuated. Or it may simply be, to reiterate two earlier points, because he's grown up in a culture that's fine about having fun with your body, and/or because he had a particular type of teacher. Or it may just be that he's comfortable with loosening and moving his body. Whatever the reason, as you can see from this video, he is the only person in WhereIlive who moves the way he does.

Now, it needs to be said that they way these men danced didn't leave much room for more than simple moves: I saw one gancho all night, and very few giros, never mind anything fancier (except the one tall man I danced with, who was flashy and did lifts, yay). But I think such dancing can involve those things, as this clip shows (incidentally, here at 3:10 you can see the man perform precisely the type of posture and movement I've been describing here, from a standing start). Also, instead they did a lot of small step work. Indeed, the man who was called "the teacher" by everyone, Juan Carlos, did tiny step work like my VTTT does (little staccatto steps to the side), which made me very glad that I'd experienced those with my VTTT.

So I had a lovely, interesting time. And the men who did dance with me seemed to love me. They all said I was great and, more importantly, didn't want to stop dancing with me. And the first dance I danced with Juan Carlos (who I didn't know at the point was Juan Carlos, or the teacher), he kept say, "¡Que linda! ¡Que linda! ¡Bailas linda!" (except at the beginning it sounded like he was saying "que lindo," and "bailA linda/o," so maybe he was complimenting himself! but he did stop dancing and say to me, "You dance beautifully." And when I told him my "Professor del Tango" was un Mexicano, he seemed surprised and pleased). And they all kept asking when I was coming back, and two of them hit on me (and one, who talked about himself and about himself, and only once, and at the end of a long disquisition about himself, and very briefly, asked about me, asked for my card at the end of the night. I gave it to him, since what difference does it make?).

So I take three things from this evening: 1. men in Philadelphia, or at least men who dance tango in Philadelphia, are bolder romantically than men in WhereIlive (but then, they'd almost have to be). 2. tango in Philadelphia is danced with more fun than tango in WhereIlive. 3. small people are designed to tango.

And tomorrow I go home. Home! Where I live, and where I am happy in the way you are happy in the place you feel is your home! All through this week my parents have been talking about how I'll come back, and how I'm lucky because I had two years there, and I feel a terrible sinking in my stomach. So I better get to work on that!

Read more »