exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

neither here nor there

by Jen at 2:04 pm on 30.08.2010 | 7 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

this is a picture of the last tattoo i got, 4 years ago – it’s a bit abstract to some, but for the purposes of moving things along i’ll tell you it’s an elephant. (ah, there’s the lightbulb!) i got it in thailand for what were, at the time, very meaningful, very sincere reasons. a) i love elephants to a completely illogical extent and b) it was meant to remind me of my travels. or, to be more specific, it was meant to remind me of who i was during my travels.

sounds silly, right? i mean, “who i was during my travels”. clearly, i am me. i harbour no illusions of being some mysterious person, nor do i have any additional personalities that live in alternate realities. i guess what i meant was that part of me that i was able to be during a time when i was unfettered by the grind of daily life. because without any ties or responsibilities, it turns out, i’m actually quite a fun, easygoing (!), adventurous person. (i know, i know – i too was shocked by this discovery!) when footloose and fancy free, i can be very laidback, whimsical, and confident. who wouldn’t want to keep that jen?! she’s much more appealing than the set-jawed, furrowed-brow, anxious, and unhappy person than i am these days.

so as i am contemplating how to break out of this rut that i’m in, and suppressing an overwhelming desire to run away, i made the mistake of re-reading our round-the-world travel blog. big.fucking.mistake.

i’ve been here in london for over seven years now, and fairly soon, i will have lived here longer than i’ve lived anywhere else as an adult. i lived in new york city for eight years, and i loved new york. i’ve lived in london almost as long, and i’ve never loved london.

but even if i did, i would be feeling itchy. i’m convinced that wanderlust is in my nature. in fact, i have a theory that those who grew up in one place as kids, are drawn to a mobile lifestyle as adults, and those who were bounced around as children, want nothing more than to put down roots.

i spent 17 years in the same house, wanting desperately to leave america behind, and my ideal lifestyle would be to move to a new city or country every few years. jonno moved about 30 times as a kid, has lived here in london for 11 years and *still* says that he feels like he’s living out of a suitcase. i would love to do more extended travelling, jonno has to be forcibly dragged on holiday for a few weeks every year. i go to places like paris and rome, and find myself saying, “i’d love to live here for a few years.” i turn to him and say, “wouldn’t you?” his answer is always a flat, unequivocal “no”. i see my maroon passport and think about all the places we could retire to. jonno is emphatically *done* with europe. i have never been interested in owning a house, jonno browses the real estate listings in vancouver. i still daydream about joining the peace corps. jonno has made it clear that while he’s happy for me to do that, he would not be joining me.

how do you reconcile those incredibly disparate desires? i don’t know.

neither of us wants to be here – and moving there is proving much harder than we thought. this difficulty is compounded by the fact that my idea of where “there” should be, seems to change every few days. do i want to live in vancouver? yes. am i also terrified of finding myself feeling trapped in vancouver? undeniably. and in the back of my brain, i still have all these wild impulses to just go somewhere (nyc, nz, spain), find a job, and make it all work. (don’t ask me what “it all” is, by the way, or how exactly i would make it work – details are the devil of dreams.) or alternatively, to cash in my half of our savings, throw on a backpack and head off into the unknown (or as much of the unknown as one can see with that meagre amount of money – in other words, a few weeks of seeing not much!) these may not be realistic or mature impulses for a late-thirties-woman-with-husband-job-and-cat, but these days they predominate my brain nonetheless.

it’s all making me feel so mixed up i can’t think straight. i look at the tattoo on my wrist, and feel such a desperate desire to get back to that person i was. that warm, laidback, wide-open jen is locked inside this uptight, unhappy, pinch-faced facade i see staring back at me in the mirror, and she’s being starved of oxygen. something has got to happen, but i don’t know how to break her out of the shell…and i don’t know what that means for our future plans.

and yes, i’m going to leave that big giant question mark hanging there. there is no other way, at the moment, to end that thought.

7 Comments »

all pent up with nowhere to go

by Jen at 5:30 pm on 24.08.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

america has made me angry these last few days. well, america can make me angry most days, if i let it, so perhaps my skin is just thinner lately, because every time i check the news, or log onto twitter, i feel this slow, hot burn begin in my stomach and spread up through my chest and into my brain.

sarah palin’s anti-woman sentiments cloaked as “feminism”. dr. laura’s hostile need to spouting the n-word at will. the naked racism on display over the manufactured “ground zero mosque” controversy. the 20% who claim to believe, in spite of all evidence, that obama is muslim.

all the intolerance and attacks and wilful, deliberate, obstinate ignorance just sends me over the edge. it makes my pulse pound in my temples, while the hot fever of shame and embarrassment at being the same nationality as these people crawls over my body.

i recently spouted off something to that same effect on facebook, and one of my stateside friends commented that it must be the distance that contributes to my naivete. not being around it all the time, only seeing it from afar, i am not jaded through enough exposure to be able to shrug it off like they have to. living in an environment where you’re surrounded by people who genuinely say and think these things, you must develop a sense of resigned antipathy. after all – you can’t spend your whole life being angry at ignorance and fear, or you’d do nothing else with all your days.

but what can i do? there’s precious little i *can* do. instead, i just get wound up, with no real place to channel my frustration, no way to effect change. i just seethe quietly (or not so quietly), raging away futilely on the internet, and hope that public sentiment will change with time.

i am powerless to do much more. and weeks like this, it feels like there’s nothing worse.

3 people like this post.
4 Comments »

the enchantments of paris

by Jen at 8:26 pm on 15.08.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: photo, travelology

ah paris! it never fails to enchant. the sidewalk cafes, the grandiose buildings, the magnificent art, the impeccable style with which they carry out everything – it all makes me long to spend my days sipping coffee by the seine, smoking galluoises, and waxing poetic.


statue

mural

fountain

grand palace

bright

fountain

girl

sacre coeur

montmartre

graffiti

corner

notre dame

gargoyles

balconies

bookshop

more photos here.

1 person likes this post.
4 Comments »

now i’m ready to start

by Jen at 11:39 am on 8.08.2010 | 2 Comments
filed under: mutterings and musings

things have been coming to a head in my life. the dissatisfaction that i’ve alluded to so often here, has been building, swelling – i can’t ignore it any longer. change is needed.

there are unexpected catalysts for epiphanies that reach out and force us to pay attention – songs that come on the ipod, out of the blue, that you turn up to thunder in your ears and shake up your heart. and suddenly the ground beneath your feet begins to shift, the tide sucks the sand from under your toes, everything which was solid becomes dangerously uncertain as you get caught in the undertow, and find yourself lifted into the middle of a tidal wave of unimaginable magnitude, tumbling, tossing, unable to tell up from down, all sense of direction lost, horizon and landmarks topsy-turvy, until suddenly the music smashes you down upon the sharp rocks of clarity. the lights explode in your head, fireworks blossom in the darkness of closed eyelids, and you are left gasping for breath on the shore, with everything in precise, crystalline focus, as bright as if seeing everything for the first time.

and once you know what must be done, there is no escaping it – revelations can be postponed, but they cannot be ignored forever. you’ve got to suck up your courage and brave the rocks again – risk being bashed about by the unknown, risk losing yourself to the force of an endless ocean of uncertainty.

i’ve been scanning the horizon for it, and now the sea change is here, the current is pulling me, and i can only trust that i am strong enough to hold my head above the water.

ready to start – arcade fire

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(h/t to Chris for endorsing the new arcade fire album)

1 person likes this post.
2 Comments »

let’s get one thing straight

by Jen at 4:50 pm on 25.07.2010Comments Off
filed under: blurblets, like a fish needs a bicycle

okay, i’m all riled up because i’ve been hearing some otherwise smart women saying some very dumb things, so i’ve just got to get one point off my chest:

women being in positions of power is not feminism – even if they got there on the back of feminists, and even if they appropriate the term “feminist”.

feminism is, at it’s heart, about ensuring equality for *all women*. there are two fundamental principles which must be central to embedding equal opportunity for all: the ability to control one’s body, and protection from discrimination on the basis of sex. feminists may debate many other factors and values around oppression and inequality, but without those two core rights, feminism as a movement, essentially has no meaning.

so you can be a powerful woman, and you can be independent, driven, educated, successful, capable, and equal to any man… but unless you act in ways which advance, at a minimum, those two fundamentals, you are not a feminist, no matter what you choose to call yourself.

to paraphrase jessica valenti: i can call myself an astronaut – that doesn’t make it true.

3 people like this post.
Comments Off

i want to trade my jumbo jet in for a paper plane

by Jen at 1:49 pm on | 2 Comments
filed under: mutterings and musings

as much as i love technology, certain things freak me out – in particular when i stop to think about the amazing technological world that the current generation is growing up in. i don’t know why i find it so unsettling, but i do – i get a distinct sense of unease, as if the world is turning too fast and is in danger of spinning out of control. it’s ludicrous, i know, but the pace of change even in my lifetime, seems to be increasing exponentially with every new development. i worry that as i struggle to keep up, i’ll have less and less in common with those coming behind me – which is of course true of everyone as they age, but the lightspeed acceleration of that ever-widening gap leaves me with a sense of whiplash. as someone who has always embraced the new advances in technology, this feeling is new to me, and i find myself wanting to slow things down. already, at the advanced age of 37, i am bemoaning the loss of simpler times, even knowing as i do, that it will only get worse.

i grew up with black bakelite rotary phones, yet my nieces and nephews will never know a world where everyone doesn’t have a smartphone that isn’t also a camera, web browser, and gps device. seeing toddlers clamour to play with touchscreens just blows my mind.

the only people that will ever see the pictures of me running around with a pot on my head at the age of 3, are people who come to my house and view them in an actual photo album, and there are, luckily, no surviving photos that document my experimentation with green hair. by the time my nieces and nephews hit their teenage years, however, there will be thousands and thousands of photos of them floating around in existence in a multitude of places on the web – their entire lives, the embarrassing and the mundane, will be digitally documented, and those images will likely continue on in perpetuity.

i had to learn to recite my address in case i got lost – yet today we’re a hairsbreadth away from everyone being microchipped. i went to a library and selected paper books to read – these days many people rarely read anything longer than an email on a computer screen. i had to save my allowance and go to a shop to purchase the latest record, but now, any music or movie you want is only a few minutes’ download away for instant gratification. those friends i made at sleepaway camp, i had to write to, using pen and paper and stamps, yet skype and facebook have obliterated any need for something as quaint as a letter.

all of this makes me sound like a luddite, which i’m absolutely not, as anyone who knows me in person will testify. but i can’t help feeling nostalgic – so many of what were formative experiences for me growing up, have fallen by the wayside as nothing more than archaic relics of an analogue age… and i’m only 37. what else from my childhood will become permanently outmoded?

what it feels like is this: the faster those things which were so important to shaping me become outdated, the faster *i* become outdated.

and yet, i know such change is inevitable, and mostly good. as our technology becomes more sophisticated, so do we – i really believe that to be true, (even when it doesn’t often seem so). my nieces and nephews will experience a world which was well beyond my reach as a kid. i am a product of a time when things were constrained to the tangible, physical realm – this generation will have no such constraints. the possibilities, for them, are nearly infinite.

my generation, generation x, once the vaunted vanguard of the new and experimental, will go the way of the dodo – i am convinced of that. and i believe that where it once took a lifetime to become outpaced by the invention of the telephone, or television, or internet, whatever comes next that demarcates that generational chasm between new and old, will happen much faster than it ever did before. and it’s that knowledge that makes me so uncomfortable – i, who once considered myself something of an early adopter, am now lagging behind. when my parents were this age, everything new was aimed at them – today, everything new is starting to be aimed at the babies from the turn of the millennium.

i am technologically old, or getting there. and in a few years time, i’ll still be clutching my iphone 4 and remembering the days of video downloads, when everyone else has moved onto holographic communication devices and projection media streaming. soon i’ll be nothing more than a creaky dinosaur, a living, breathing fossil. me and my photos of running around with a pot on my head, and blessedly not photos of me running around with green hair. and thank god for that.

trading things in – the voluntary butler scheme

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

2 people like this post.
2 Comments »

slow change may pull us apart

by Jen at 4:58 pm on 18.07.2010 | 2 Comments
filed under: mutterings and musings

what i remember about my high school graduation – besides the sea of red nylon gowns, and skewed mortarboard caps, the warm afternoon sun raying out from behind the bleachers of the football field, the band launching into an off key “pomp and circumstance” – is this: being surrounded by a circle of friends i would have trusted with my life, embarking on my first love with a boy i’d fancied from afar for years, and the mixed anxiety and excitement of feeling i was the cusp of something indefinably momentous.

that moment was twenty years ago. the adults in your life tell you during high school that it is both the best time of your life, and that it is insignificant when viewed from the lens of everything that comes after. high school commencement serves as a proxy for a coming-of-age ceremony – a demarcation of leaving the shelter of childhood, and gaining societal recognition as an adult. it’s a launching pad into “real life”.

and so as you step across the stage, awkwardly collecting your diploma and shaking hands and trying to face forward smiling for the camera and searching the audience for your family and friends – in that nanosecond before they call the name of the next student… you have arrived.

and for some people, that moment was their peak. there are lots of members of my graduating class who have stayed preserved in that moment like amber – oh, they have nice families and good jobs, and all the trappings of everyday life that we all have. they hold fast to that moment, by living in the same area, seeing the same people, going to the same places, doing the same things. it’s not that there’s anything wrong with any of that – in fact it describes several members of my own family.

but i can’t relate to it, not even a little. i would die a death if i had to live that life – i want nothing of it. for someone as mawkishly sentimental as i am, it’s remarkable that i’ve rarely dwelt upon the foggy memory of my high school era with anything other than fleeting curiosity. in fact, flipping through the facebook profiles of my old classmates, i barely remember any of it at all. those friends that i’d been so close to at graduation, i haven’t spoken to in twenty years. and who are all these other people? did i even go to the same school as everyone else?

if i strain, i can sort of, kind of remember that one golden post-graduation/pre-college summer of friends and first love…and nothing else. after that summer, there was too much real life to be lived to spend time looking back.

so when my ten year anniversary came long, my old friend nathaly dragged me to it, i remember being bewildered even then, at my lack of attachment. after all, at that time i was living in new york, married, with a rich social life and an important job, and i was perplexed by everyone else’s evident nostalgia for their youth. what was so great about high school? we were all adults now – wasn’t that so much better?

my twenty year reunion will be held in my hometown next week. as the trans-atlantic distance is prohibitive, my absence is not unexpected. but i admit, i can’t imagine going even if it were 3 miles away instead of 3,000. i bear only the faintest resemblance to that girl of then (who thought she was a woman). and from what i can glean of people’s lives via the internet, it seems my classmates fall into either that same category themselves, or alternatively, have not changed at all. either way, i doubt we’d have much in common – throw us together for an evening without the rubric of a “reunion” and there are few of them i’d even want to spend time talking to. harsh, but truthful – these people don’t matter to me anymore.

our theme song for our class of 1990 graduation was “don’t you forget about me”, by simple minds. and i know that there are many who emerged from highschool with lifelong friendships, who are eagerly looking forward to getting together, reconnecting and remembering. that’s was never me or my experience – in many ways, my real life after high school was a complete disconnect from what went before, both intentionally and not. perhaps that’s to my detriment, but i can’t imagine why there’s any expectation that twenty years later we’d enjoy getting together.

and ultimately, i did forget – aside from random snippets of memory, there was apparently nothing compelling enough to stay stuck in my brain. i have never longed to return to high school times or relationships, and so upon becoming an adult, with all the real life joys and sorrows that ensuing adulthood entailed, i put it behind me and never looked back. the adults were wrong on that count: it was never the best time of my life – it was simply a time.

so i’ll hang on to my genuine memories, scattered and few though they are, rather than feign ersatz fondness for people and a time so long ago. we’re adults now, with real families and jobs and real joys and sorrows – that’s what keeps me looking forward and fills up my real life. i was indeed, that day, on the cusp of something indefinably momentous, and in the intervening twenty years since i crossed that stage into adulthood, i’m happy to say that everything i’ve done and experienced since, makes my high school girlhood era pale by comparison.

4 people like this post.
2 Comments »

thinly veiled

by Jen at 5:15 pm on 13.07.2010 | 2 Comments
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle, rant and rage

“france’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public.”

i’ve mentioned here before numerous times that i live in a largely muslim neighbourhood. every day i step out my front door, i see many women in some form of traditional Islamic dress – most often that’s just long sleeves and hijab, but a niquab, or even full burqua, is not terribly uncommon. as an atheist feminist, i’m the first to admit that it makes me uncomfortable to witness, both the disconnect from the westernised culture we both live in, and what such dress represents about a woman’s place in that socio-religious context. it’s something i find symbolically oppressive, even when it is the woman’s fully informed choice to dress that way, as i believe it tacitly condones those (patriarchal) frameworks which exclude choice for so many other women.

but what makes me even more uncomfortable, is the idea that any (largely white, largely male) government should think they are entitled to dictate what a woman does or does not wear.

if i’m feeling charitable, i’ll ascribe these actions to some benevolent impulse – but what all those well-meaning lawmakers miss is this: that to proscribe a certain form of religious dress by specific law, is just as dictatorial as any religion proscribing westernised dress. the attempted imposition of westernised mores on women by telling them they cannot wear the veil, is just as oppressive as any religious requirements telling them they cannot show their hair. because when it comes down to it, the rationale may sound different, but the motives are the same: both embody an attitude of moral superiority, and a belief that society not only has the right to, but an obligation, nay, an *imperative*, to “protect” women through dress code.

when you put the religious clerics and the lawmakers side by side, they all think they know what’s best for the women, who are viewed through a lens of passive participation in their own lives and closets. and whether it’s through religious dictum or democratic law, women are stripped of any agency to *choose what is best for them*.

do some women choose to electively wear the veil? i’m sure many do, even as many do not. is it a choice i would make or agree with? not at all. but under no circumstances would i believe the have the right to tell them that they shouldn’t – just as i don’t believe they have the right to tell me i should. even worse, the targets of this law are people who are already (in many cases) dispossessed of the ability to exercise their will – and yet the lawmakers have banded together and singled them out for special attention and regulation. would any of them dare to dictate what a westernised woman could not wear?

established democracies must be committed to upholding freedom of religious expression, even if it’s an expression we find intensely uncomfortable. in a free society, we must uphold the right for women to make choices, even if those are choices we disagree with – otherwise we engage in perpetuating a power imbalance where women do not decide for themselves. i acknowledge that in some religious contexts, many women may not decide for themselves, and that continues to be problematic – however one set of clothing commandments does not, and cannot cancel out another. we may all feel better not having to see women wearing veils, but it doesn’t change a damn thing that’s going on behind them.

in the end , we cannot change people or their religion simply by changing their clothes, and it’s foolish to try. i think that if we want women to opt out of a religious mandate which views them (and requires them to dress) as lesser beings, we can only hope to incite change by exemplifying freedom, choice and tolerance ourselves.

2 people like this post.
2 Comments »

courting public opinion

by Jen at 12:47 pm on 11.07.2010 | 3 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

so the new government has over the last few weeks, been rolling out their “big new ideas”, both at the national and local level. of course, so much of this is not new at all, simply old Thatcherism given a shiny new patina of glossy technology and lingo. in particular, they’ve combined two key messages: partnering the ideas of paring down waste with massive public consultation.

we’ve been prepared for massive spending cuts to the public sector – well, no surprise there. they’re tossing around figures of 30% or more. but what is new is that they are inviting public sector workers to help propose which areas should be cut. they even have a snazzy new website where you’re invited to help “re-think government to deliver more for less”. all very well in theory, unless you happen to be a public sector worker.

as a public sector worker who manages a small team of 9 in a local authority, right now i am (and all my colleagues are) being asked to justify our existence, whilst looking around and knowing that in a year or so, 1-in-3 of my team members (or i) will likely be gone. those of us who remain will all be on pay freezes for the foreseeable future.

the reality is we’re all fighting not to be downsized, and like anyone else, if there’s a viable alternative that gives me and my team a chance at escaping the very real axe hanging over our head, well, i wouldn’t be shy about offering it up – and i don’t think there are many who would do differently. but it’s a sickening experience to know that in order to save your own neck, you must willingly participate in in the sacrificial offering of someone else. and in the end, they will do what they want anyway, but as one of the crabs in the pot, i’ll bear some of the guilt.

but instead, we’re supposed to go to the website and presumably contribute ideas like:

those are the kind of savings ideas they were looking for, right? because that’s what they got.

another public consultation exercise being undertaken is the new “your freedom” website. in theory, the government wants to scale back the rule of what came to be called “the nanny state”, so they’re asking people to propose laws and regulations they want to see scrapped. they’ve established a website for public proposals and commentary. again, if you’re truly committed to smaller, more libertarian government, then i suppose it’s a fine idea in principle.

the problem is that it takes almost no imagination to realise such a website is bound to quickly devolve into a sloppy free-for-all of intolerance, idiocy and blatant racism. some of the ideas floated thus far include:

and that is just from a quick perusal of the postings submitted *today*. such vile, contemptuous opinions are being hosted on state-sanctioned websites which i, as a taxpayer, help pay for.

let’s not be daft: there is absolutely no way the government will action any of these proposals, whether spending cuts or legal repeals – even if there were a genuinely good idea hidden somewhere in the pile of shit, it would be a nearly impossible logistical task to even trawl them. these websites are simply technological lip service to mollify voters who got stuck with a “coalition” that absolutely no one is happy with.

is this really the best, most effective way to solicit public opinion that this short-sighted government could come up with? have they never read internet comment forums before? have they never scrolled to the bottom of an op-ed piece? it’s the equivalent of an electronic slam book.

but the pretence and expense of this is all the more baffling considering we *just had an election* whereby people presumably made their political priorities quite clear. it’s simply not possible to have effective collective rule, and in fact doing so risks de-prioritising those who are most vulnerable and fewest in number. the role of government is to balance the needs of all its constituents, not just those of the majority. which is, after all, why we elect leaders to act on our behalf… or at least, that’s how i thought it worked?

in the meantime, the great ill-informed masses will get to continue to graffiti the websites, in the name of democracy. on my tab. i’m tempted to submit my own e-proposal that cameron-and-clegg simply unplug the servers that host these pages, and do the jobs we pay them to do – come up with and implement smart, considered ideas.

and i would, if i thought there was a prayer in hell that anyone would actually get a chance to read it.

2 people like this post.
3 Comments »

it’s complicated

by Jen at 2:03 pm on 4.07.2010 | 2 Comments
filed under: mutterings and musings

it’s the 4th of july here in london, and i’ve been thinking about how complicated my relationship with my birth country has become. “birth country” – even those words are complicated. “home country” doesn’t feel right any more. it’s not home, and hasn’t been for quite some time.

there are things about the u.s. that i revere, things i miss, things that embarrass me, things that are ingrained in me, and things that i loathe. and that is true of most any country – that’s not the complicated bit.

it is only when you live outside a country you grew up in, that you have the chance to evaluate it from afar. the distance is the complication – it tests your bonds. a country, especially one as large and diverse as the u.s., is more than just the sum of its parts. and as an expat so is your relationship with that country -it is part nostalgia, part fantasy, part critique.

as my identity as an american continues to change, as the country itself continues to change, i don’t always know how i feel. praise comes with qualifications, love comes with conditions – everything has strings and disclaimers attached, both because i can see things more objectively at a remove, but also because i am now on the outside speaking to an audience of outsiders. i am simultaneously defender, detractor, cheerleader and critic.

i am american – it’s as much an immutable fact as the colour of my eyes. i didn’t choose to be american, and i wouldn’t choose not to… but i don’t know that i would choose to be either. we are two moving points, american and i, bound together, yet never making the same line.

today is independence day, a day americans are called to celebrate the freedoms of the birth of a new nation. now, the definition of freedom seems to have changed beyond my recognition over the past few years, and that is the source of much of my conflicting feelings towards america. the distance makes it easy to avoid the excessive patriotism and expressions of divine supremacy.

and yet, the one thing which i wholeheartedly, and without reservation, love about the country of my birth, however, is the ideals to which it aspires.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

those words never fail to send a chill down my spine. it simply doesn’t get much better than that. and it is because of those vaunted ideals, that i have such complex emotions about america. when you set the bar that high, you will inevitably be judged on your shortcomings. and at the same time, i can’t help but be lured into believing that it can be achieved.

oh america – you both inspire and frustrate the hell out of me, and i couldn’t quit you even if i wanted to. happy 234th birthday. wishing you the best year ever, and hoping you continue to improve with age

an american paradox – strung out

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

3 people like this post.
2 Comments »

world cup and world travels

by Jen at 10:03 pm on 22.06.2010 | 3 Comments
filed under: photo, this sporting life, travelology

in spite of the radio silence, i’ve got a lot to write about… but as many of you non-Americans will know, about 2 weeks ago the world cup got underway.

like lots of american kids, i played soccer for several years. and like a lot of american kids, promptly forgot all about most anything soccer-related once i left high school until the spectacular women’s world cup victory in 1999. it was an electrifying and unifying event (i recall people setting up televisions on the sidewalk and watching with all their neighbours) – but that was largely seen as an anomaly. then a few years later, when the mls began to get some attention, my friends and i became enamoured of the new england revolution team, and followed their season all the way to the finals at gillette stadium… where we lost.

but it was only natural then, that when i first moved to the uk, i assumed that i would become immersed and fully fluent in the football culture – after all, i’m a sports fan, i’m a fan of fit men with nice legs, and i understand the basics of the game. i even decided in advance that i would support arsenal as my favoured team. i was prepared to become a full-on footy lover.

imagine my disappointment when i arrived to discover that the english premiership league television rights were exclusively owned by the skysports cable channel – a premium pay channel. unfortunately i didn’t control the cable in my flat (my landlady had the contract in her name) and as a premium channel, it would have been prohibitively expensive even if i did. all my nascent football passions fizzled. without a means to watch regularly, i never really had much opportunity to follow the season fortunes, never really learned who all the teams were, and in general, never really had a chance to get caught up in it the way i do with my other beloved sports.

but the world cup… well, the world cup is different. as an american, i’d had no awareness of it before living in europe. but during the last world cup in 2006, we were travelling through south east asia, watching games with all the other backpackers on outdoor screens in vietnam, gathered in ramshackle cafes in laos, and boozing in backwater bars in cambodia. the fervor and intensity with which both westerners and easterners alike congregated and cheered their teams was amazing to experience. i was hooked. in hindsight, with my love of giant multinational sporting events, and my love of the underdog, it was a natural fit.

so i’ve been a little distracted lately. i’ve been supporting the u.s. team (natch), the south african host team (obvs), and pretty much any underdog team i can find (go cameroon! go honduras! go north korea!) i’ve been calculating probable group winners and twittering about blown ref calls. when even jonno is bored by the less-than-scintillating matchup of slovakia v. paraguay, i’ve been glued to the screen. i’ve got the fever, and if the u.s. manage to win tomorrow (please god let them win tomorrow!) it is unlikely to abate any time in the next few weeks.

in the meantime however, i’ve edited my pictures from our recent holidays in the scottish highlands and venice/croatia. both were incredibly beautiful (why did no one tell me how stunning scotland was!!?) and we were fortunate enough to have fantastic weather for both.

a few favourites below. more of scotland here and venice/croatia here.

go team u.s.a.!!

eilean donan castle

isle of skye

old man rock

lake

venice

venice

venice

rabac

unije

unije

zadar

bride and speedo guy

dubrovnik

3 people like this post.
3 Comments »

unije

by Jen at 8:28 am on 9.06.2010 | 6 Comments
filed under: family and friends, photo

i don’t really know how to write about this. the fact is that, no matter what i say, or how i say it, there are some experiences that are intensely personal in a way that doesn’t translate into words. so i can’t explain why it meant so much to me to see the little island of unije, where my grandfather was born, any more than i can adequately explain why my surname matters so much to me.

it just does.

americans are, by definition, immigrants – it is as much a part of our identity as anything we call our own. ask any american where they’re from, and they can proudly tell you the different ethnic heritages they are descended from. we are american, yes – but we are irish-american, african-american, vietnamese-american.

me? i’m a second generation croatian-american, from croatian grandparents on my dad’s side. my grandfather’s immigration story is a typically american one, right down to becoming part of the great melting pot. it is so typical, in fact, that most of the families of unije, croatia also have a story like mine.

my grandfather died in 1993, and the memories i have of him are distinctive, sharp and clear – he is etched in my mind as a deeply tanned, square jawed sailor, standing astride his boat, backlit against a sea blue sky. but in many ways, poppi was always something of a mystery to me. he lived in florida, so i never saw very much of him growing up. when we did see him, he and my father often clashed in dramatic fashion – that scared me, and the force of poppi’s personality intimidated me. much of his personal ethnographic history has been omitted through the years – part of the common desire at that time to become a fully immersed “typical american” – so the family stories i know of him come to me secondhand, filtered down through his children.

and yet, the older i get, the more i see the reflections of him in my own father… and in myself. his effusive, emotional nature, the salt-water that ran in his veins, the stubborn streak at the core of him, the silver hair and prominent cheekbones. i have come to associate these as immutable family characteristics, passed down to me through genetics and upbringing. so for many years, now, i’ve wanted to see where poppi came from – the place and time that made him who he was as a young man setting out for the unknown shores of america. the land where he was born and raised, and the land he left behind. the land that launched this offshoot of my family tree with branches now so numerous and far-flung, it’s becoming hard to keep track. i wanted to see it for myself.

and it seems i’m not alone.

we first ran into silvana the evening we arrived, when we were sweatily, tiredly, grumpily chugging our way up the island’s highest hill, dragging our dusty wheeled case loudly behind us. she asked us if we were lost, and she wasn’t far wrong. we’d arrived at the island without any accommodation, somehow missed the island’s designated travel agent who met the ferry at the dock, and were now bumbling our way about trying to find a place to stay via the charitable assistance of the woman from the market – she’d made some calls on our behalf, then told us in broken english to look for a “blue house”. we were lost in a town of 200 people, looking for a blue house.

that blue house would turn out to belong to her niece (the travel agent we’d missed). when i mentioned in conversation with the niece the next morning that i had a family connection to unije, she passed that information along to her aunt, silvana. and so when i ran into silvana in the single-room town ‘market’, buying bread and cheese for breakfast, she stopped me and asked me about my surname.

silvana is a talkative, engaging woman in her mid-fifties, who happens to have been born on unije – she lived there until the age of 12, then immigrated to new york. after living in astoria, queens for most of her life, she recently moved back to unije a few years ago, and has become something of a local historian, actively working on island preservation projects, and keeping up the local lore. as a side hobby, she likes helping visitors to unije learn more about their ties to the island, and so it was that she approached me in the market, offering her assistance.

before i knew it, she’d asked around with some of the island elders and identified the house that my grandfather was born in (*), showed us some of the historic features of her own house, found someone who was probably related to me by marriage, and showed us where there were ancestors buried in the local cemetary. she told stories about island life before full electricity and telephones arrived in the late 70s/early 80s, when all communication was relayed through the post office and turning on a light switch in the middle of the day was a revelation. she spoke about how, to this day, whenever they receive notice that someone from unije has died, an old woman is dispatched to ring the church bell. she talked about how families used to farm their own food, and keep old stone barrels just for olive oil, and bake the day’s bread in a built-in bread hearth. she told us about the sardine factory that was closed, bought and re-opened by the state, then sold and closed again. she talked about the old families that left the island, the families that had returned, and the new residents from places like russia and bosnia who bought property and rented it out. she talked about the old women of the island who remember all the original families and their houses, and the arrival of the new rich yacht owners who anchor offshore in the pristine bays by the dozens. she discussed the change for the better (income from tourism, connections to the mainland) and change for the worse (the dying dialect, the increased litter and pollution).

she talked for hours, eager to share knowledge with those who came seeking on their personal quests. she told me about the newer phenomenon of people who are now several generations removed from the island, returning to explore their roots. these days, while visiting unije is logistically a bit of a pain, it’s far from insurmountable. complicating factors like political instability and civil war are now safely distant in the historical rear-view mirror. travel to and from croatia has become cheaper and easier than ever, and more and more individuals like me are taking the opportunity to see their ancestral homeland in person. every summer, she told me, she encounters people looking to trace their history – and it is those links which she believes will keep the essence of unije alive into the future.

her stories struck a deep chord, and as jonno and i spent the next day wandering the hill and coves of the island, taking photos, watching the sun pass along the sky and into the sea, listening to the background music of the waves and birds, eating grilled squid, drinking beer amongst the locals… i found myself trying to pinpoint more precisely what need this particular experience filled within me. as i ran my fingers over the stone walls of houses hundreds of years old, as i walked amongst the ruins of the old sardine factory, as i sought the shade of the olive trees, i couldn’t help but try to picture my grandfather’s life here as a young boy. and i felt the way i imagine adopted people searching for their birth history must feel: a longing for that sense of connection, that familiarity of seeing people who look like yourself, that internal, personal understanding of where you come from, not as an abstract idea, but as a tangible touchstone that slots into the foundation of *who you are*. and in seeking, finding a bit of who my grandfather was as well.

in a population of billions, this is a universal truth – we are all of us, searching for who we are in the world, and where we are from. for some of us, that is encompassed by a place, for some of us, a person, and for some of us, a purpose and future.

and in unije’s houses and families, crystalline waters, sunsets and fishermen, i somehow found a piece of all three.


(*) upon further clarification by a few other island elders, it turns out that was one of three houses that it might have been – oh well!

5 people like this post.
6 Comments »

in sickness and in health, only for as long as we both want to

by Jen at 6:25 pm on 1.06.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: mutterings and musings

the other day, i found myself saying to a friend, ” i wish i wasn’t married.”

now, let me quickly point out that not wanting to be married is a) not the same as wanting to be single and b) not the same as wanting a divorce. i’m happy in my relationship with j, and have no intention of changing things.

it’s just that more and more lately, marriage feels like a security blanket that i no longer need.

i liked marriage. i liked it so much, i did it twice. i got married with my whole heart and soul in it – i stood in front of family and friends and a minister and took vows eagerly, joyously. they were carefully considered vows, and i meant every word of them. it felt incredibly right.

and there are a lot of good, solid reasons for marriage – there are a lot of really good reasons for committing to someone, and binding yourself legally (and for many, religiously). i believe it’s a good, valid thing for families and couples that want it, and it’s an institution that should be freely available to all consenting adults.

but it is, just that: an institution.

as an institution, it is something which is not always taken up freely. as an institution, it’s not available to everyone. as an institution, it’s only for couples. as an institution, it shapes our ideas of family and our ideas of what is valid. as an institution, it has become interwoven with religion.

as an institution, it has started to chafe a bit.

and more and more, it feels like gratuitous validation of something that i don’t need validated. there’s a woman i know from my last job, who knew me when i first met jonno and we got married. last year, we met up for drinks and she said to me, “if i didn’t know better, i would never guess that you were married.”

that stuck with me for a while – in fact, it made me smile. i kind of like people not knowing. after all, what business is it of anyone else’s if i’m married or not? i don’t wear a ring, i rarely say “my husband”, i didn’t change my surname, i go by ‘ms.’ as a title. why should it matter to anyone but me what my marital status is?

which, if i don’t believe it should matter to anyone else, logically brings me to the next question: why does it matter to me?

and it turns out that the answer these days is: perhaps it doesn’t. and as i have slowly come to that realisation, i kinda wish that it never mattered to begin with.

i’m not in any way denigrating marriage. but i no longer feel the need for the legal scaffolding around my own relationship. in fact, as i get older, i really like the idea of long-term ‘at will’ relationships.

because really? all relationships are ‘at will’. documents and rings guarantee nothing in this world. jonno and i are together only as long as we both want to be. the strength of our relationship is a private, personal thing which has no bearing on witnessed vows or state-sanctioned papers.

i’ve often said that a marriage has nothing to do with a wedding, and i’ve always believed that to be true. but it’s only just now that that’s beginning to feel real for my own life, and i’m left wondering why i ever needed the wedding in the first place.

like training wheels on a bike that i’ve finally learned to ride steadily, solidly, those little marriage wheels are just vestiges of a stage in my life when i needed to believe that they would help keep me upright if i wobbled. which isn’t true, of course – nothing can prevent you from falling over.

but i have the rings and the papers, i took the vows. if i were to do it all over again, i might choose not to do it at all. but i am married, and happy, and far too lazy to get divorced just for the principle of it. so i guess we’re just stuck, being happily married, for only as long as we both want to be.

there are worse things )

2 people like this post.
1 Comment »

running against myself

by Jen at 1:13 pm on 28.05.2010 | 5 Comments
filed under: run for the ellies, this sporting life

i did it!

my edinburgh marathon official time was 4 hours, 33 minutes, 34 seconds – my second best time.

it was hot (25C and blazing sun! just killer, really) and painful – my hip started hurting at 2 miles in, and i thought for sure i would never make it to the end. when you’re doubting yourself, 20 minutes into a race, it doesn’t bode well – my only goal was to finish.

so let’s just say my use of painkillers would not win any medical seals of approval – i took 3 ibuprofen before the start, 1 dicloflex at 10 miles, 4 more ibuprofen at like 15 miles, and 2 cocodamol at 20 miles. i’ve probably put a hole in my stomach and permanently shrivelled my liver.

i drank and drank and drank. the punishing sun beat down on my face. i forced down nasty energy gels. i passed some runners, and was passed by others. at mile sixteen, there was a course dogleg – seeing the advanced runners already heading toward the end, knowing you still have two and a half hours to go, was incredibly disspiriting.

but somehow, (perhaps because i was concerntrating so hard on putting one foot in front of another) it passed pretty quickly, and before i knew it, i was at the 18 mile mark. that’s when i knew that i would finish for sure, and my goal became to finish without walking.

at some point, i looked at my watch and realised that actually, i was doing an okay time, and that perhaps there was even a chance of finishing strong.

i cranked up the music in my ears, put my head down, and started chugging. ” i will not walk, i will not walk, i will not walk”.

19 miles, 20, 22.

that’s when it got really hard. my hips were aching like rusty ball sockets, and my thighs began to burn with the fire of built up lactic acid. my face was coated with a layer of salt that got into the cracks of my sunburnt lips. my legs seemed to be pulled down by a separate force of gravity.

the 24 mile marker came into view and i pumped my fist in the air with a loud, “yeah!!”, startling nearby runners. i turned up the music even more and began singing aloud.

i wanted so very badly to stop. i began to think about all the reasons i was so desperate to run another marathon – the challenge, the accomplishment, the cause. the 25 mile marker crept up like molasses on a cold day in february. “i will not walk.” i sang even louder to drown out the insistent complaints from my quads, my legs crying out for mercy.

finally, the finish was visible and i let the emotion of the moment carry me across the line. nearly three years since my last marathon, 10 years since my first, i finished marathon #4.

and i was reminded why i do this, why i spent 3 years trying to do this – because each and every time i get beyond the limitations of my fears and doubts and exhaustion, whether that’s at mile 6 or mile 26, it feels like a triumph. there are millions of runners faster and stronger than i – but i can guarantee you, none of them ever have, or ever will, feel better crossing the finish line.

it’s a truth of all runnners: even if you are racing against others, you are first and foremost running against yourself. it is *you* that you have to face every time you lace up your running shoes, and *you* that will always be your biggest supporter. it is *you* who sets your own goals, and *you* that lives up to them.

a huge thank you to everyone who donated to the elephant nature foundation – your money means so much to the rescued elephants, and a tremendous amount to me as well. a massive shout out to my friend fiona, who kindly massaged me post-race.

several days later i’m already pondering what’s next on the agenda. my cousin and her husband (who do ironman triathalons), have been inspiring me to reach for a new goal, and i’ve just got the book “born to run”, so who knows… i have this idea for running 1000 miles in 2010. already got 400 under my belt, so we’ll see.

in the meantime, this was my 25 mile song – it worked wonders to lift my feet and my spirits through that last unending 1.2 miles.

my hero – foo fighters

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

1 person likes this post.
5 Comments »

what’s wrong with this picture?

by Jen at 6:30 pm on 18.05.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle, rant and rage

so a week ago, the conservatives and the liberal democrats agreed to rule the country as a coalition government under david cameron as prime minister. it was heralded as an unprecedented change.

coulda fooled me.

the new government? looks suspiciously like a lot of old government – read: almost exclusively white, upperclass, male.

screen

the number of women in the cabinet (not to mention ethnic minorities) is not only completely unrepresentative, it’s completely *insulting* – talk about tokenistic.

columnists and feminist bloggers have, quite rightly, been taking our new overlords to task over a leadership profile that looks like something out of a 1950s sitcom. and much of the commentary response has been along the lines of, “well that’s who people voted for!” and “if there aren’t as many women and ethnic minority members of parliament to choose their cabinet from, that’s not their fault.”

bollocks. it’s a sad fucking state of affairs when the ‘old boys network’ in power expects to lay the blame at the feet of women and ethnic minorities for not being invited to the party in the first place.

it could not be clearer: if your party representatives are almost exclusively white, upperclass, male, that’s because your party is *exclusive*. if you don’t have women and people of non-white backgrounds representing you in parliament, it’s because your party doesn’t represent women and people of non-white backgrounds. if you can’t get women and non-whites to stand for you, it’s because of what you stand for.

in other words, not having a pool of women/non-white members of parliament to choose from, doesn’t let you off the hook for not engaging and involving them in your government. in fact, what is does is point out only all-too-clearly, that the way in which you develop your party policies and politicians is sorely, sorely lacking. anachronistic. retrograde, even.

exclusive.

do something *real* about the gender wage gap. do something *real* about police profiling. do something *real* about urban crime rates. do something *real* about the midwife shortage. make real progress on the multitude of real issues that face women and ethnic minorities, and i guarantee you, you will have absolutely no shortage of them willing to get involved in politics at the local and national levels on your behalf.

because not having a representative leadership does not allow you to just throw up your hands and whimper, “well there’s just not a large enough pool of women and minority mps!”, because if that’s the case, it just means you’re not trying hard enough. nor does it exempt you from responsibility for actively striving to represent all your constituents – including the 50% of the country that is female, and the 10% that’s non-white…

…and even the ones that didn’t vote for you.

2 people like this post.
4 Comments »

lucky number 9336!

by Jen at 12:22 pm on 15.05.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: photo, run for the ellies, this sporting life

i got my race number yesterday!

runningnumber

so far i’ve been trying not to talk a lot about my training, for fear of jinxing it. and things were going pretty swell until my 18 mile run – since then my hips have been complaining loudly. however i managed my 20 miler, and have been trying to mostly rest and do physio exercises, in the hopes of making through this marathon with my legs still attached.

i only know that one way or another, i will complete it. painfully, slowly, or otherwise, i will get to the finish line. i’ve never dropped out of a marathon yet, and i don’t intend to start now.

so it seems like as good a time as any to remind y’all that i’m trying to raise a few bucks for one of my favourite causes – the elephant nature foundation. you can read my lyrical waxing about it here and here, but suffice to say it’s an amazing place doing amazing work. can you spare a bit to sponsor me? it would do so much good towards saving an abused elephant.

big thanks for all those who’ve donated so far – your support means a lot to me and to the ellies )

elephantschilling

1 person likes this post.
1 Comment »

batten down the hatches

by Jen at 6:57 pm on 11.05.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: rant and rage

when i first arrived on these shores back in march of 2003, i was fleeing. i was deliberately running away from a government under george w. bush – the most uncritical, unthinking, intolerant, knee-jerk, fundamentalist, warmongering president i’d ever had the misfortune to live under.

so what a relief it was to find myself in a country lead by labour. a flawed labour, with blood on its hands and a disturbingly overzealous nannying bent to be sure. but still, fundamentally a left-leaning, socially liberal, welfare supporting labour.

over the past seven years, i’ve had my problems with labour policy: i.d. initiatives, immigration crackdown, civil rights infringements, to name just a few.

but still – it was reassuring to know that on the most essential principles of protecting the poor and disenfranchised of society, issues of equality and diversity, and human rights… underneath it all, still labour.

and as of today, i find myself once again under right-wing rule. i don’t yet know enough about david cameron to draw any parallels between himself and george dubya… but i know that the conservative ideas about how the government, social services and the economy should be run, are in complete diametrical opposition to my own.

when george w. bush was first elected, as depressing as the prospect was, i remember thinking, “we’ve lived under republican presidents before – how bad could it really be?” i could not in my wildest dreams have imagined just how bad it would be.

the last conservative run of governance here in the u.k. was the thatcher/major era.

doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, does it?

2 people like this post.
1 Comment »

happy mother’s day!

by Jen at 4:38 pm on 9.05.2010 | 2 Comments
filed under: family and friends

happy mother’s day to all the mothers/step-mothers i know and love so dearly.

in honor of mothers everywhere, i’m quoting in full, this column by kristof. i hope you’ll be as moved as i was.

Happy Mother’s Day! And let me be clear: I’m in favor of flowers, lavish brunches, and every other token of gratitude for mothers and other goddesses.

Let me also add that your mom — yes, I’m speaking to you — is particularly deserving. (As is mine, as is my wife. And my mother-in-law!)

And because so many people feel that way, some $14 billion will be spent in the United States for Mother’s Day this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That includes $2.9 billion in meals, $2.5 billion in jewelry and $1.9 billion in flowers.

To put that sum in context, it’s enough to pay for a primary school education for all 60 million girls around the world who aren’t attending school. That would pretty much end female illiteracy.

These numbers are fuzzy and uncertain, but it appears that there would be enough money left over for programs to reduce deaths in childbirth by about three-quarters, saving perhaps 260,000 women’s lives a year.

There would probably even be enough remaining to treat tens of thousands of young women suffering from one of the most terrible things that can happen to a person, a childbirth injury called an obstetric fistula. Fistulas leave women incontinent and dribbling wastes, turning them into pariahs — and the injuries are usually fixable with a $450 operation.

So let’s celebrate Mother’s Day with all the flowers and brunches we can muster: no reason to feel guilty about a dollop of hedonism to compensate for 365 days of maternal toil. But let’s also think about moving the apostrophe so that it becomes not just Mother’s Day, honoring a single mother, but Mothers’ Day — an occasion to try to help other mothers around the globe as well.

Oddly, for a culture that celebrates motherhood, we’ve never been particularly interested in maternal health. The United States ranks 41st in the world in maternal mortality, according to an Amnesty International report, or 37th according to a major new study in the medical journal The Lancet, using different data sources.

Using either set of statistics, an American woman is at least twice as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a woman in much of Europe.

A friend of mine in New York, a young woman who minds her health and has even worked on maternal health issues, nearly joined the data set last month. She had an ectopic pregnancy that she was unaware of until her fallopian tube ruptured and she almost died.

Maternal mortality is far more common in Africa and Asia. In the West African country of Niger, a woman has about a one-in-seven lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy complications. Women there often aren’t supposed to go to a doctor if the husband hasn’t granted express permission — so if he’s 100 miles away when she has labor complications, she may just die at home.

On the 50th anniversary of the pill, it’s also worth noting that birth control is an excellent way to reduce deaths in childbirth. If there were half as many pregnancies in poor countries, there would be half as many maternal deaths.

It’s certainly not inevitable that women die in childbirth, and some poor countries — like Sri Lanka — have done a remarkable job curbing maternal mortality. But in many places, women’s lives are not a priority.

There’s no silver bullet to end maternal mortality, but we know steps that have made a big difference in some countries. Bipartisan legislation to be introduced this year by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut aims to have the United States build on these proven methods to tackle obstetric fistulas and maternal health globally.

Just the money that Americans will spend on Mother’s Day greeting cards for today — about $670 million — would save the lives of many thousands of women. Many organizations do wonderful work in this area, from the giants like CARE and Save the Children to the tiny Edna Maternity Hospital in Somaliland. Women Deliver and the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood do important advocacy work. And the Fistula Foundation and Worldwide Fistula Fund help women who have obstetric fistulas. (Details are on my blog, nytimes.com/ ontheground.)

So if one way to mark Mothers’ Day is to buy flowers for that special mom, another is to make this a safer planet for moms in general. And since we men are going to be focused on the flowers, maybe mothers themselves can work on making motherhood less lethal.

I had a letter the other day from a woman in Connecticut, Eva Hausman, who was so appalled when she learned about obstetric fistulas that she e-mailed her friends and asked them to contribute at least $20. To date she has raised $9,000 for the Fistula Foundation.

“Most of the contributions were accompanied by thank-you notes,” she told me. When people thank you for allowing them to donate — that’s truly a heartwarming cause, and a beautiful way to celebrate Mothers’ Day.

1 person likes this post.
2 Comments »

she loves to be one of the girls

by Jen at 1:04 pm on 8.05.2010Comments Off
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle

while i was home visiting my family, i got to spend a lot of time with my niece p, who is rapidly approaching the ripe old age of 5.

she’s got a lot of toys – not nearly as many as most kids these days, but a lot nonetheless. i guess once you have a kid, these things seem to multiply of their own accord – toys are gifted, handed down, left behind accidentally.

and being that my niece is a five year old girl, she is at that age where she has a plethora of pretty pink plastic princess toys. these computer-chipped, pepto bismol coloured, tacky disnified toys. much to my sister’s chagrin, i couldn’t seem to keep my mouth shut. part of me thought they were hilarious in their grotesqueness, the other part of me thought they were noxious – sexist and consumerist in the extreme. this one in particular, was the most odious.

phone

it’s a disney princess cash register/till. disgustingly pink, it features all the stereotypically sexist disney princesses (snow white, belle, ariel, cinderella etc.) and buttons which say things like “cosmetics”, “toys”, “shoes”, “handbags”. it apparently also comes (when new) with plastic credit card and makeup.

it says this:
Listen!

i think my sister felt i was critiquing her parenting by criticising these toys. “if you don’t make a big deal out of them, they’re not a big deal jen!”

and to a large extent, i know that that is true. after all, there are few well adjusted adult women who expect to life to replicate a disney fantasy.

but think about how many women who epitomise shopping as a feminine hobby, or who expect to be “treated like a princess” by a man, or who profess a love of all things pink – not an insignificant number. when these are the kinds of behaviours little girls find attention and reward in, it gets harder to dismiss these kinds of toys as being innocuous.

yet they are almost impossible to avoid – even i, a non-parent, can see that. even if my niece’s life were to be purged of all this consumerist pink princess crap, it’s what her friends play with at their houses. it’s in television and movies, it’s in the books and dvds at the library. it’s postitively insidious, creeping in from every angle. so why wage a war against something you can’t win?

i understand that. i do. and i’m not criticising parents, who are essentially helpless to prevent this invasion.

i’m criticising the corporations. it’s infuriating that so much of a little girl’s childhood is for sale – that there are people who make money by specifically targeting an avalanche of consumer goods at little girls which tell them in a million different ways they are most valued, most feminine when they conform to stereotype. that there are people who get rich by making sure little girls are tied up with a pink ribbon – it’s crass and amoral and, yes, damaging. because if you’re a little girl, the stereotype that you are being continually assaulted with is that all little girls like pink plastic princesses, and their parents like little girls who like pink plastic princesses, and therefore you must like them too.

it’s enraging that little girls and their parents have to battle these messages at all. and it’s disheartening to know so many of them won’t.

my sister says if you don’t make a big deal out of it, it’s not a big deal, and i want to believe that. sure, today my niece’s favourite colour is (predictably) pink. but maybe tomorrow it will be purple or green. she has that putrid pink princess register, but rarely plays with it – one of her current favourite toys is a wooden workbench. and if indeed, the most direct influence on molding and shaping a young girl is the role model of her mother, then my niece is one extremely lucky girl indeed.

i only wish all little girls could be so lucky.

pretty in pink – the national

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

1 person likes this post.
Comments Off

is it possible to have ptsd from an election 10 years ago?

by Jen at 7:17 pm on 5.05.2010Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

tomorrow is the uk general election – the first i’ll have been eligible to vote in since moving here. the system of electing a uk prime minister is vastly different to electing a us president – both have pros and cons, and i’m realising there are things i like better about each.

things i prefer about the uk election:

  • pre-election campaigning is largely limited to a month. the official election period began at the start of april, and it’ll all be over with by the 6th of may.
  • three genuine major parties. you’ve got the conservatives, labour, and the liberal democrats, who, whilst not as big as the top two, play a significant and important spoiler role. plus lost of smaller parties who (theoretically) stand a chance of winning a seat in parliament.
  • less emphasis on personality. with 3 party leaders who couldn’t charm their way out of a wet paper bag (and a prime minister who perpetually looks like he’s got a bee up his bum), uk elections are much less about what the candidates look like and how they come across on television.
  • less television campaigning. the uk recently held its first televised leader’s debates – much ballyhooed as becoming “more american” in the way in which elections are conducted.
  • no silly electoral college.

things i prefer about the us elections:

  • held on a regular, predictable day, at regular, predictable 4 year intervals. none of this waiting for an announcement stuff, as if it’s some kind of electoral surprise.
  • voting for a leader, not a leading party. the last election, people voted for tony blair’s labour party, and then halfway through, got the bait-and-switch gordon brown. that irks me.
  • less paper waste through my mailbox, fewer people campaigning door-to-door. i know i shouldn’t begrudge them my time, but when i’m constantly answering the buzzer during dinner, it gets annoying. and *all the trees* being killed by parties trying to get me to vote for them. at least television adds don’t clutter up my recycling bin, and robo-calls can go straight to voicemail.
  • less emphasis on class background. there are no real parallels in the us to the uk class distinctions, but people in the us do not generally expect their leaders to have come from the same socio-economic background as themselves
  • term limits

even with all the differences, i’ve got a dreadful sense of deja vu building in my stomach. most pundits seem to think the tories/conservatives will be in power by friday – it all feels a lot like the 2000 us elections, when the incumbent/heir to the throne *should* have had an easy ride to the polls… but somehow managed to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. there are lots of similarities – both felt to be too serious, too out of touch with the public, with the long shadow of misconduct by their predecessors still looming in the background.

there’s a groundswell of sentiment that labour (who’ve been the party in power since 1997) have outlasted their usefulness, and with the liberal democrats having a late surge in popularity, we may be looking at a big upset.

we’ve had to declare a truce on political discussion in this household – it is a true test of our marriage that we’ve not yet come to blows over this election. suffice it to say, however, that i’m voting strategically tomorrow, specifically to cancel out my husband’s vote.

whatever will happen in the rest of the country will happen. i’m hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst.

i only hope that the fallout (for the sake of britain and the rest of the world), is not nearly as bad as the george w. bush years.

1 person likes this post.
Comments Off

zombie

by Jen at 8:28 pm on 28.04.2010Comments Off
filed under: mundane mayhem

at what point does a person with insomnia become an “insomniac”?

this is a question i’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as i enter my sixth month of sleep struggles. just the thought of that label brings a stricture of anxiety up into my chest.

insomnia makes you feel alien, other. freakish. that everyone else can take for granted something that comes so naturally to them, and can’t understand why it’s so difficult for you, feels almost psychologically traumatic as you lie awake in the wee hours of the morning, next to a peacefully slumbering partner.

you begin to doubt your own sanity, to play mind games with yourself.

iwon’tlookattheclockiwon’tlookattheclockiwon’tlookattheclock.

or:

the striped pillowcase helps me fall asleep.

or:

i’ll think of a time when i didn’t have any trouble falling asleep

or:

i’ll think about anything *but* trying to sleep

you lie there, trying to be motionless, straining to relax, hearing your heartbeat thud in your ears, willing your brain to tumble ever so gently off the edge of the cliff of consciousness. and you finally begin to get drowsy, you finally begin to drift ever closer towards the tipping point, and then… in your last moments, you become aware that “aha! i’m finally falling asleep!”…

…which of course, wakes you up.

and each night that sleep doesn’t come, the dread of bedtime multiplies. as you stumble groggily through the days in a foggy haze of semi-alertness, you can think of nothing but how tired you are, how zombie-like you feel, how blissful it would be to rest your head on a soft, cool pillow in a dark, quiet, peaceful room and fall into a deep well of refreshing sleep. yet the more tired you become, the higher the stakes get every evening – surely tonight you simply *have* to sleep. you simply can’t continue to *not* sleep. and every night, the crushing fear of not sleeping continues to build.

you try light pyjamas and warm baths and earplugs. you follow all the rules about going to bed at the same time, about not eating too late, or drinking caffeine. you try melatonin and valerian and magnesium and camomille. you try over the counter tablets and doctor prescribed drugs. you try combinations of all of the above. sometimes something will work for an evening. sometimes nothing works.

this cycle goes on and on, until every few weeks, the desperation and anxiety and pressure and overwhelming exhaustion get to the core of me, and somewhere between night and dawn, i crack.

hysteria sets in. i scream at the ceiling, i wail, i babble incoherently – i get carried away by the waves of frustration and bone-weariness until i am a blithering, blubbering mess of tears and snot quivering in the dark. jonno tries to comfort and console me but his very *existence* as a normal sleeper feels like a personal affront. all i can focus on is my intense craving for sweet, unconscious oblivion and mad thoughts of slamming my head into a wall run rampant through my brain.

i feel utterly, out-of-control insane.

until, in the ultimate cruel irony, these bouts usually knock me out. through swollen eyes and stuffed nose, i sleep the sleep of the dead.

and when after actually sleeping, i awake, a small bubble of hope rises with the sun. maybe i’ve broken the cycle, maybe i can somehow claw my way back towards some semblance of rested normalcy. maybe my bout of insomnia is over. maybe i’m not doomed to flail sleeplessly amongst the bedsheets forever.

because i can’t be an insomniac. i just can’t.


for more on the world of insomnia, i highly recommend the “all-nighters” series in the new york times. i must admit, however, i can’t even bring myself to read them all – they make me too anxious.

1 person likes this post.
Comments Off
« Previous PageNext Page »