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Friday, August 28th, 2015 10:12 am
...and how it's different from what British people mean when they tell me they don't feel British.
I tweeted this yesterday morning, and a couple of things happened. First, a bunch of people kindly retweeted it. That led to some "fun", like the guy who told me everyone was welcome here and if I didn't feel welcome it was my own fault and why wasn't I more grateful that he was welcoming me (which, bless them, seemed to shock and horrify my friends with his rudeness, whereas I thought I'd gotten off lightly to have only attracted one of the well-meaning Britsplainers and not any of the proper nasty bigots...#everydayxenophobia, eh?).

Anyway, the retweets also elicited this:Now, I've heard "I don't even feel British" from people who are, technically, British a lot. Pretty much any time I talk about my status in the UK, I'm met with this. When I was fretting over having to take the awful Life in the UK test, co-workers and in-laws were always intrigued by my book of practice questions but when none of them -- all native Brits! -- could answer them, they inevitably laughed it off by saying that having to take a test like this was itself an un-British thing. The think-pieces about "what it means to be British" work along similar lines: it's like "the true meaning of Christmas," something a certain kind of person likes to noodle about and everyone always comes to the same conclusion about: it's not only impossible to pin down, but that very ineffability is part of what makes it so great. Et cetera.

Through no fault of his own, Daniel's tweet made something snap in my head. It wasn't the first time my articulating how hostile I find "Britishness" and how little I feel it's anything to do with me got this kind of reaction. Indeed, I don't think I've ever talked about this without one or more friends -- and very close friends! and partners! -- saying "I don't feel that British either."

Of course people are welcome to affiliate themselves with "Britishness" as much or as little as they like, But I think they can't help but mean something very different by it than what I mean when I say "I don't feel British." I certainly empathize with Daniel's reluctance to align himself with some of the actions of his country's government -- of course I do, I'm from the U.S.! The first time I visited the UK in 2004 I was delighted my accent so often got me mistaken for Canadian because I'd have much rather been from a country that wasn't determined to bomb the shit out of all the brown people.

But even if I were to say "I don't feel American" because of that government...it is in my head an entirely different thing to what I mean when I say "I don't feel British." And I kind of despaired of being able to explain this at all, much less in Twitter's character restrictions, so I just said And this got the responses it always does: people born in Britain who've lived here most or all of their lives saying they don't feel British and "feeling British" isn't a meaningful phrase to them. They're good people who I know love me, but things (temporarily!) seemed to be getting worse instead of better. I doubted my ability to explain to myself what bothered me about this, much less them, much less on Twitter.

But I figured if I was going to try, I might as well try it on James -- poor guy, these are the perks of being my partner: more unrefined unsolicited thoughts! .And I added this, more generally. And he understood it better than I understood what I was saying myself at the time, because he's good. Yes. Luxury. Unavailable luxury. This I think was the description I'd been groping for. It was the kind of luxury that means white people don't have to think about race, cis people don't have to think about gender, non-disabled people don't have to think about accessibility, and so on. (A point something like that was made by [twitter.com profile] pickwick.)

But it helped a lot to see someone else saying that, and not having to say it myself. This is true not only for personal reasons of it feeling so nice to be understood and have my perspective valued...but also because it's not just my identity that people feel free to argue with, it's also any opinions I might have about theirs -- like the guy who said Britain is welcoming and if I don't think so I'm wrong -- he told me "rubbish" when I challenged that, but he didn't say anything to the British people allying themselves with my side of the argument. So it's nice to have James saying these things partly because he makes me happy but also he doesn't run such a risk of attracting the kind of animosity I would have to worry about if I said the same things. And not only can Twitter randoms argue with it...the Home Secretary can argue with it. A nasty headline or a few minutes of Radio 4 on the subject of immigration can ruin my mental health for the day. I know my passport says I have Indefinite Leave to Remain now, but I don't really believe that. You can be working illegally, or more difficult to give a job to, once the passport that has your ILR in it expires. You can be deported if your British spouse isn't making enough money. The ILR stamp in my passport says I am officially "Settled" in the UK, but I'm really not. I'm decidedly unsettled, that's just how the system wants me, and that's what I mean when I say I don't feel British.

My well-meaning chums who've never lived anywhere else and think passports are for holidays rather than for when a family member dies or might die...they might not feel British because they disapprove of the actions of their government, but at least they can vote. They can stand for election and try to improve that government. I can't. The label they'd toss away carries privileges and securities I can only dream of.
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Monday, August 17th, 2015 01:42 pm
"Film about whether Test cricket is likely to survive or not," James called it when he e-mailed me the link to Death of a Gentleman. That was pretty much all I knew about it when we sat down in the Media Museum to watch it today.

I hear a lot of debates about whether test cricket will survive because most of the ones I encounter, getting all my information about cricket (that I don't get from James) I get from listening to the radio. Of course Test Match Special is of the opinion that shorter ‎forms of cricket, especially Twenty20 and most especially the Indian Premier League, are to blame for the downfall of Test cricket. 

These arguments, as might be expected from old white English men, usually seem to me tinged with racism and even ageism: not only is cricket more popular and profitable in India where T20 matches have the production values of Bollywood movies -- which makes them kind of scary and weird, obvs --young people these days with their youtubes and their phoneternets just don't have the attention span for a game that takes five days, and probably also are insufficiently dedicated to the ideas of fair play and sportsmanship and so on that would have been inculcated in them if cricket had been allowed to work its magic on them.‎

For you see, cricket is magic. Cricket is synonymous with all that is good, play up play up, things can be "just not cricket," etc.etc. There was a bit of this at the beginning of the movie, which worried me because this kind of sentimentality can be caked on pretty thick to put a respectable face on some nasty colonial and post-colonial mindsets. (This is one of the reasons my favorite book about cricket is written by an American Marxist.) But luckily there wasn't too much of that in the movie, and it did end up serving the point the film was trying to make: cricket should be about those things and not about nepotism and selfishness and a few rich, powerful people destroying something a billion people love.

Also, unlike a lot of things that start out waxing lyrical about cricket, the movie manages to make the case for test cricket be less racist/post-colonial. Cricket need not be a zero-sum game where the success of one format will doom the others. Sure, fans at a Twenty20 match in Mumbai, when asked "Twenty20 or Test cricket?" said Test cricket was boring, but that doesn't meant Test cricket shouldn't exist alongside it (not to mention the self-selecting sample; depressing as that was for a Test cricket lover like me to hear, I must remember that they'd get a different answer on the first day of the Ashes at Lords or what-have-you).

It also made the (terribly-interesting to me) point, which I think I might previously have come across in one of the cricket books James lent me, that test cricket isn't something that could be invented now. If we don't keep it, we can't get it back. Like it's an endangered species, or something. Spoiled by the modern world, I'm used to thinking I can have anything I want: something I thought about on a whim yesterday and bought from Amazon is turning up at my house today. I can go to the nearest store and buy fruit and veg out of season and spices that people would have paid fortunes for in previous centuries. Formerly lethal diseases are now just an inconvenience as a matter of course. I'm not used to thinking that there's anything -- anything good, anyway -- that my world cannot provide...or at least that is couldn't given money and the choice to pursue it. Test cricket is a valuable reminder that some things are precious, and can't be regained if they are lost.

I like that the importance of cricket was explained in a couple of different ways in the movie: one interviewee explained his problem with Twenty20 by calling it entertainment rather than a sport. This was not a snobbish declaration but the beginning of the explanation: sport endures, entertainment shows get canceled.

And, in a kind of business context, another interviewee explained that while insider trading (which is basically one of the facets of the modern cricket scandal) happens all the time, it's "only" about greed and injustice...and it affects adults. I thought that was an odd way to phrase it until his following sentence: Sport, on the other hand, descends all the way into emotions and childhood. And I think this is why such mistreatment from those who control world cricket -- or world football, or any such thing -- feels so much worse than finding out that a bank or financial conglomerate has done the same thing: no one watches bankers at work, flies across the world to see them, follows their every move on the radio for days on end. Other things don't infiltrate our lives like sports do.

To some extent the old cricket rift between gentlemen and players still seems to exist: there are still people who want to provide for themselves and their families as well as they can in the short time they're able to play professional cricket, and those who think that money sullies the game and cricketers should be content with poetical evocations of sunny afternoons and the sound of willow on leather and playing for their country and so on.‎ Now it's between the traditional international cricket that carries all the sentimental attachment overseen by the ICC on one side and the glitz and cash of the IPL on the other, but the old patterns are still there: money is thought to sully the "true meaning" of the game, people who have any concern for their salaries are looked down upon by the more sentimental and snobbish...but should the game be limited only to those who don't need to worry about making money?

One thing I did wonder during the film -- which I noticed had no women in it, except the wife of one cricketer whose career was being followed a bit in the film, but you only had her talking about her husband and reacting to seeing him play -- was what the situation is like in women's cricket. It'll be a smaller and newer institution, and thus one would hope set up with more governance and ethics and regulations? I don't know. I asked James and he didn't know either. I know this movie was really just about one thing, men's international cricket, but even a compare-and-contrast reference to how it's the same in women's cricket, or how it's different in ways the men's could model itself on, or whatever, would've been nice.

So yeah: watch this if you are interested in cricket, international webs of intrigue, or documentarians doing their best to be the Bernstein and Woodward of this subject. They have a website and a petition and everything. They're going to have a silent protest at the Oval on Thursday, during the last (Men's) Ashes test. I've signed the petition; I wish them well.
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Sunday, August 16th, 2015 11:41 am
There is one thing I've been struggling a bit to wrap my head around in the last month or so.

With the surprisingly easy (and quick! I was told the decision would take 6-8 weeks but it was more like two) awarding me of PIP...and this happening soon after Andrew's annual review at work where he was given a small raise in recognition of how hard he works...

...the combination of these two things happening close together means that our income has now increased by just  about as much as the wages I tend to get in the jobs I have done.

We are basically as well-off now as we were when I was working, without me having to work.

Which isn't to say I don't want to, of course. I function much better with structure and nice people around and feeling I'm "doing" something. But it has starved the gnawing guilt and anxiety about me not working -- which Andrew always told me I shouldn't have anyway, but that never affected it -- and it means I can be a bit more careful about what kind of work I pursue. It means volunteering will be okay for me. It means I don't have to take jobs that ruin my mental health for the sake of keeping us housed and fed.

It feels like the greatest luxury of my life.‎
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Friday, August 14th, 2015 11:08 pm
I thought we might have the theatre to ourselves for the seven o'clock showing of Absolutely Anything at the Stockport Cineworld, having settled into our seats in a tiny, oddly silent even at 6:53, Screen 3. But a few more people trickled in before it started, which is good because more people should see this movie.

It stars Simon Pegg, who's given the power to do anything he wants by some snobbish aliens (voiced by the Pythons) who go around the universe determining if other cultures meet their standards for superiority or whether the planet needs to be destroyed. By choosing one person at random to have unlimited power, they judge the species' ability to do good instead of evil. The requisite comedic furniture of Evil Boss (played by Eddie Izzard) and The Girl He Wants and His Friend from Work are assembled, with fairly predictable consequences for this kind of plot.

But it doesn't follow its tropes too closely, so it's never boring. I feared some of the "agonizing misunderstanding that could've been avoided if anybody ever talked to each other properly" stuff would have been much more heavy-handed than it was. And the cast are all clearly having such fun with this. The premise leaves lots of people suddenly acting out-of-character -- Evil Boss turns Nice as quickly as an improv star in a game of "New Choice" would -- and especially once the dog starts talking (voiced by Robin Williams) it is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

Well, I was laughing mostly because the dog's relationship to his owner appears disturbingly similar to Andrew's toward me -- except that he never tries to shag my leg, thankfully -- but there were enough giggles around us in the cinema that I know this movie was funny for other people too.

For all its fluffliness, though, I love that it does actually emphasize the importance of consent and autonomy, without battering us over the head with them: if someone loves you who can make you do anything, how can you love them back? Knowing that at any point your actions and even beliefs are subject to their control, love is not possible because choice and agency are not possible.

It's not new or ground-breaking, of course, but it's nice to see this in something that otherwise veers close enough to romantic-comedy convention, which normally includes a lot of narrative imperative that a couple will be brought together (or torn apart) by coercion or false pretenses of some kind.

Not necessarily the best movie I've seen, but probably the most fun I've had in a cinema in a long time. It doesn't outstay its welcome, either: t's just short of an hour and a half long, the perfect length for a film. I'd definitely recommend it if you like aliens, talking dogs (the dog has a pivotal role!), or many funny people having a good time.
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Friday, August 14th, 2015 04:14 pm
2015 was going to be the year of sorting out.

A couple of friends and I told each other this as we were around each other's houses, helping with DIY or painting the kitchen, accompanying each other to scary meetings and helping each other write scary e-mails and catching each other up on the progress we'd made in getting counseling, going to the gym again, talking to the GP about that thing that'd been bothering us, making difficult phone calls about money...

I started the year with two big things pressing upon me: Get A Job, and Get Registered Blind.

Cut for ridiculous length. )
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Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 11:53 pm
So I still have the guide cane, but another thing I did yesterday was get the standard "pencil" tip changed for a "roller" one, because it gives me better data about unevenness in the path ahead of me, which is what I benefit from most.

After only a day or two of this, I already feel I'm well on my way to a Vimes-like knowledge of Manchester based on all the different surfaces I can feel now. This makes me smile.
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Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 09:06 pm
1. Marmite- love or hate?
I don't actually love or hate Marmite. I wouldn't go out of my way for it but if it's on something I'd otherwise like to eat, I'll still eat it.

2. Marmalade- thick cut or thin cut?
I do hate marmalade, actually.

3. Porridge- made with milk or water?
I genuinely don't understand how anybody could prefer water, unless they were dairy-free generally.

4. Do you like salt, sugar or honey on your porridge?
Blueberries. Or bananas. Or peanut butter. Or maple syrup. Or raisins. Or ground cinnamon, or ginger. Honey or brown sugar are okay too, but not on their own.

5. Loose tea or teabags?
Either, but I buy teabags because my teapot didn't survive the move. The fact that I haven't bothered to replace it in the last year and a half indicates how bothered I am about this. But I like the faff of loose-leaf tea when I'm out somewhere that has all the nice cups and saucers and pots and milk jugs and sugar tongs and whatnot.

6. Where on your door is your letterbox?
Waist height and not vertical, as per regulation. (It jams rather than going flippy-flappy and I'm sorry to say it does have bristles, but these are not things I had any say over.)

7. What's your favourite curry?
Saag paneer.

8. What age is the place where you live?
Approx. 115, as it was apparently built at the turn of the century.

9. Where do the folks running your local corner shop come from?
Somewhere in the Caribbean I'd guess, by the accents. I've never asked specifically.

10. Instant or fresh coffee?
Instant coffee is made of mud and gravel, you know. Americans make coffee in pots and everyone drinks it, so there's not the demand for instant.

One of the most expensive things I did when I moved here was accidentally make Andrew stop drinking instant coffee. He was welcome to it but I wasn't touching the stuff, so bought Proper Coffee, which he started drinking too, and eventually realized it is far superior, and then wouldn't drink instant. When we had no money and he was going through like a bag of coffee a day, this was expensive indeed!

11. How far are you from the sea?
~35 miles, according to Google (I had no idea, so I looked it up.)

12. Have you travelled via Eurostar?
Not yet! I'd love to, though. Both my fondness for trains and my hatred of air travel would on their own be sufficient to make me want to.

13. If you were going to travel abroad, where's the nearest country to you?
Ireland is probably closest, whether i"m going to travel abroad or not! #subjunctivecasepedant

14. If you're female (or possible even some males) do you carry a handbag?
Yeah. I need somewhere to put my cane when it's folded away, if nothing else.

15. Do you have a garden? What do you like growing?
I do have a garden. I'm not growing much at the moment, except a few herbs. I like to grow things I like to eat.

16. Full cream, semi skimmed or skimmed?
Full cream!

17. Which London terminal would you travel into if going to the capital?
Props for being a thing about "Britishness" that doesn't assume everyone's already in London! From here I go to Euston, though I'm already starting to prefer the Grand Central trains from Brighouse, which take me to Kings Cross. But I prefer Euston as a station, compared to the inaccessible mess of Kings Cross (generally, the newer something is the more difficult I find it to navigate).

18. Is there a local greasy spoon where you live?
Yep. Does fried bread and everything. A nice contrast to POD and Trove and the gentrification they symbolize.

19. Do you keep Euros in the house?
There have been a few rattling around for a while, but not in useful amounts and not intentionally. I never have chance to use them except in the occasional airport.

20. Does your home town have a Latin, Gaelic or Welsh alternative
Manchester's name comes from the Latin, Mamucium or Mancunium (which is where we get the adjectival/demonym Mancunian from, something that confused the hell out of me the first time I heard it...though I don't know what I was expecting: it's not like "Mancastrian" or whatever would really be much better).

In Welsh, apparently this is Manceinion. I couldn't find a Gaelic variation.

21. Do you have a well known local artist or author?
Hm, maybe one or two! Mostly musicians who are not to my taste.

22. Do you have a favourite Corrie character?
It took me a second to even understand what this question was asking me. Not having a TV since I moved to Britain means I'm completely doomed, which is a shame because we get a lot of pub quiz questions about Coronation Street.

23. Are your kitchen sink taps separate or a mixer?
Mixer. This is one of those things you wouldn't even have to ask in the U.S.; it's so rare to see taps (or, faucets) that aren't.

24. Do you have a favourite brand of blended tea?
I do, actually; I'm a huge fan of the Co-op's 99.

25. What's in your attic if you have one?
A few suitcases, a few musical instruments, the remnants of what look like a just-started attempt by previous owners to convert the space into something useful that were stalled for whatever reason.

26. If you go out for a cream tea, what jam do you like on your scone?
Strawberry or cherry. NOT raspberry. Not blackcurrant either, blech. I miss grape jam.

27. Talking of scones- scon or scown? Jam or cream first?
Scone! Cream first.

28. Barth or bath?
Thing is, the way I say "barth" isn't the way anybody says "bath." That non-rhotic thing does my head in. But I say bath.

29. Carstle or castle?
Same again. Castle.

30. What flavour of crisps do you favour?
I like wanky ones like vegetable crisps or those multigrain things. I don't exactly favor Doritos but I do crave them sometimes, especially if there's hummus in the house that I can dip them in. This is probably about as close as I get to a guilty pleasure (normally I don't believe in feeling guilty about what brings one pleasure...but I wish I didn't like Doritos).

31. If you go to the chippie, what do you like with your chips?
Cheese, or curry sauce. With curry sauce I like half rice half chips the best, though.

32. Take away, take out or carry out?
I don't know what this question is asking me. I call it takeaway now because I'm surrounded by people who do. I didn't in the U.S., I called it takeout then. Or, really, just "pizza" because that's what it usually was.

33. If you have one, what colour is your wheelie bin?
Grey (though sometimes Andrew calls it black so then I call it black to avoid (further) confusion) for non-recyclables, blue for paper/cardboard, brown for plastic/metal/glass. And I guess there's a green one for garden/food waste, but I have a compost bin (also left by previous owners) so I don't bother with that.

34. What colour skips does your local skip hire use?
Yellow, I think?

35. Do you celebrate Guy Fawkes?
What, as a person? No. I like bonfire night, though, but that's just because I like fireworks and funfairs.

36. Dettol or TCP?
I genuinely have no idea how to answer this question. I know what those things are but I don't know what I'm being asked.

37. Do you have a bidet in the bathroom?

38. Do you prefer courgettes or aubergines?
This question happens to be about both two vegetables that have different (non-French!) names in America -- zucchini and eggplant, respectively -- and the two vegetables that are the bane of my existence. Both turn up in a lot of veggie options in restaurants, and I can't stand either. But that used to be true of mushrooms too and I made myself learn to like those (thereby opening up many veggie options!), so I'm sorta trying to do the same thing for courgettes/zucchini now. But I don't think there's much hope for the aubergines/eggplant.

39. In the 'real world', do you have friends of other nationalities? Which nationalities?
Ha. Most of my friends are of other nationalities!

40. Do you have a holy book of any sort in the house?
Principia Discordia.

41. Do you prefer a hankie or tissues?
I don't carry a hankie but I like them because my dad does and I like when he used to give it to me as a kid; made me feel looked-after.

42. Are you a fan of crumpets? What do you like on them?
I'm okay with crumpets. I've only ever had them with butter.

43. Doorbell, knocker or both?
Our front dor has a knocker.

44. Do you own a car? What sort?
Between the blindness and the dyspraxia, we are not a car-friendly household. I have a National Concessionary Travel Pass and a Disabled Railcard now, though!

45. What sort of pants do you guys prefer? Y fronts or boxers?
Wearers of the traditional masculine underpants of my intimate acquaintance tend to prefer boxers, or boxer-briefs. I like boxers; they're comfy.

46. Anyone still a fan of suspenders?
In the American sense of the word, several people I know -- including my boyfriend, who said "no" to this question -- wear suspenders all the time. But in Britain those are called braces, and suspenders are for holding up stockings. I...definitely know someone who's still a fan of suspenders. I don't usually bother, but they're handy when my tights are getting ragged and I cut off the top bit and wear them as stockings.

47. Do you have a favourite quote from the bard?
I have a sentimental attachment to "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit."

48. Do you like toasted muffins?
Yes? This set of questions is making me hungry.

49. Do you think a traditional trifle should contain jelly?
Things I nearly gag at the thought of include jelly (or, Jell-O) and trifle (which even if it doesn't contain jelly has custard in it, blech), so I don't think I am qualified to answer this question.

50. Do you attend regular religious worship? Of what kind?
I attend irregular religious worship when I'm visiting my parents. If my mom can be bothered to go to church when I'm there (which is increasingly rare), I'll go with her as it's the only way to catch up with a bunch of those people. But I'm not religious.
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Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 02:11 pm
So, after a few weeks of totally ignoring the problem of not finding much use in the white cane training I was offered, I finally adulted sufficiently to talk to the woman for long enough that we both ended up a bit more on-the-same-page and happy to continue. That was last Wednesday, so my first Tuesday back at this was today.

And it went so much better. Outwardly nothing was that different (though I didn't get told off too much for every slight instance of doing something "wrong," that was about the only overt thing I noticed), but it was generally a much more relaxed and fun session for me and probably for her as well. And I learned some actually useful stuff, like how to look like/be less of an idiot when crossing roads and navigating stairs and other things that I can do but which I actually am interested in learning the "proper" blindie way (or ways) of doing even if I end up ignoring them! Being trusted/allowed to combine sighted and blind people's ways of doing things in the way that works best for me is still my favorite part of pursuing this stuff as an adult, because it was the thing most often missing for me as a kid.

It's still kind of frustrating that this is another hoop to jump through: I can't practice with the long cane between sessions using it because it's thought to require enough specialist training that until you reach a certain level you can't take it home, so as to discourage "bad habits." And this training is clearly tailored for people who are new to sight loss or have been really severely affected by it; today she talked about eventually going into town and practicing on Market Street like it was a huge deal -- and I don't mean to diminish the extent to which crowded chaotic areas like that are a big deal, especially for people who are used to having sight and only just coming to terms with having less/none. I imagine I'd stay in the house a lot too if my sight got worse! But since I'm so used to this...well, after relinquishing the "long cane" in favor of my trusty guide cane, I ended up walking into town, and around the city centre, before I went home today.

I'm an edge case, and I don't expect the training to be tailored to someone fairly-sighted-for-a-blind-person who has decades of coping mechanisms stored up already. But I'll manage, and the stuff I can do well seems pretty recognized now, so that's okay.

When I got home, I found that my prescription swimming goggles had arrived already in the mail, and now I'm excited to go tackle another area of human endeavor with all the useful eyesight I can bring to it!
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Saturday, August 8th, 2015 10:59 am
Remember how Mom told Andrew the other week she was worried about me because my eyesight had gotten so much worse I was depressed about it?

This is already so full of however you say "I can tell you don't get it" in NT-ese that no further refutation is really necessary.

But, in case it were, I was just at the optician's this morning (all by myself! what used to induce panic in me and require [personal profile] mother_bones's presence so I didn't run away now seems like a piece of cake after all the eye hospital hoops I've jumped through, and it helps that I know this optician and what the tests will be like) and my prescription has hardly changed at all! I don't even need to get new glasses.

And this meant I finally could get the prescription swimming goggles I'd decided on as a "hooray, I'm getting PIP now!" celebration once my first payment arrived a week or so ago. That should help a lot with both anxiety and of course blindness when I'm swimming, and hopefully help me do it more.
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Sunday, August 2nd, 2015 05:38 pm
Today I met new people off of LiveJournal! One of them recognized me as A Person From LiveJournal and everything!

It's such a delightfully old-school thing to do.

So hello to [livejournal.com profile] biascut and [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau! And their amazing baby, who recognized my rainbow-colored plastic bracelet for the baby toy/teething aid it clearly was destined to be.
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Friday, July 31st, 2015 05:29 pm
The great thing about having plok for a friend is that he knows what I'm talking about even when I don't know myself.

Vaguely apologizing in an e-mail the other day for my lack of having replied to e-mails for months, I mused that it's been kind of a strange year for me. His reply started
Strange years happen, eh?  I feel like I've had a couple of those recently, when people have asked me what I've been up to and I flat-out have NO ANSWER, even if I just went on a helicopter ride that afternoon.  It didn't feel like tunnel vision, it felt like something else...what do you call it when you buy groceries and then are completely surprised to see them when you open the fridge?  Not that I'm saying this is extensible to your experience, but it's what my most recent strange years have been like:  I *have* been doing stuff, but somehow it all fails to get properly flagged. 

I don't really know how that happens.  It seems like maybe I'm reading my current emotional state for memory?  Like, I forget about the trip and the work and all the peak (or trough) moments, all I can think of is the book I'm reading or how I have to buy toothpaste or how I'm a bit hungry...hmm, or maybe I'm reading *past* emotional states for memory, something that happened last week that I haven't adequately sorted through.  "What have you been up to?"  Well, I've been wondering why I seem to be short a couple of pillowcases...really need to get up to my parents' house and take care of a couple things anyway, maybe I'll look for them there?

"Uh...but didn't somebody tell me you just won the lottery?"

Oh yeah, and I won the lottery...the thing is, I remember the last time I *saw* those pillowcases, but I don't know if it was last week, or last month...

But at least if I'm already like this now, I don't have to worry about turning into this when I'm an old coot, eh?
I feel well on my way to old-biddy (biddy is the feminine form of coot, right!)-dom myself. And I have long thought that my problems started (though I don't know whether this was a cause or an effect) with failing to process things that happen to me, failing to flag them or sort them out exactly as plok says here. It's bugged me a lot that I was never able to write much about the two "tracks" of my life I was working on through the whole first half of 2015 and, now that I've got them sorted -- as much as they're going to get for now, anyway -- I still want to write about them, partly to update the people who read about how I'm doing here but largely for my own benefit: I feel stuck. And the reason I haven't written much -- a near-complete inability to focus or concentrate, a tiredness that cannot be fixed by any amount of rest or good eating or exercise -- is dragging me down still further itself.

To have this articulated for me with the words I cannot find these days, to know that this is a thing that happens to other people too, is an immense relief to me.
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Friday, July 31st, 2015 08:15 am
In one of my (countless, surely) recent posts about blindness, lovely [livejournal.com profile] artremis linked to this this description of a Cbeebies show called Melody which I'd never heard of because having no kids means I only am aware of the shows my parent-friends complain about (so, Peppa Pig and In the Night Garden mostly). But this one sounds really awesome! For so many reasons.

First, classical music for pre-schoolers! And not just "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" stuff either; this article uses as an example "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis", composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Then, that the animation and soundtrack were specifically designed to be easier for blind/partially-sighted people to follow. I'm really curious to see what this'd be like! Not many things I do see seem created with the likes of me in mind. (Except Mad Max, obvs.) All this about "working with high contrast colours, having centrally focused action, bigger, definite (sometimes exaggerated) movements and holding on certain shots longer [than usual]" sounds really good to me! Plus, it's all audio described as well.

Next, I like...mostly...that
Melody's sight difficulties are never mentioned. "We often see her using her white cane, or placing her hand on top of her mum's whilst they cut something," he says. "It is never about what Melody can't do or needs help with, but always about what she can do and the methods she uses to do as much as most children."
I like that it's not assumed people need or are entitled to know/ask what other people's disabilities are, what caused them, or what effects they have on a person. But my own experience makes me a bit wary of focusing on what people can do, just because I'm aware of how much more work it can be to complete the tasks by which we're judged to be keeping up with our peers, and how invisible* that work tends to be anyway. "What we can do" is cute and celebrates independence when we see it in a kid, but once we're of working age it seems to be about how conveniently what-we-can-do can be exploited by potential employers and how little we deserve if we don't or can't work. Or maybe I'm just too grumpy lately. This is a mostly-positive point I was making here, honest.

But actually my favorite thing about this is a quote from the head teacher at an RNIB specialist school, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised he's good at talking about blindness in simple ways but I found this a really powerful sentence on the subject of how much blind people can actually see -- which I guess is a topic of great interest to sighted people...but also one that we often get wrong because we tend to assume that "blind" means "can't see anything at all." But this head teacher says "Many blind people and the majority of partially sighted people can recognise a friend at arm's length."

I just love that. I don't know why, but it makes me really happy. Like "I caught myself randomly remembering this on the bus the other day and that was enough to make me grin" kinds of happy. I like that it's true, of course -- being able to do that also implies a lot of useful stuff that should also be possible -- but, actually, given what I just said about defining people by their usefulness and productivity, I think the thing I love about this turn of phrase is that it's more about a benefit to the blind person themselves than it is about their usefulness to the rest of the world. The accomplishment of recognizing a friend will not get you a job or anything, it will just make you happy. This is a great metric, having friends within arm's length.

* I tried hard to think of another way to express this because I attempt to keep metaphors equating sight with knowledge or concern and lack of sight with not knowing or not caring, but I'm so used to "visibility" in the context of both bisexual activism (where the main antidote to erasure and other forms of biphobia is visibility, to the extent that our celebration day every year is called "Bi Visibility Day") and disability activism (where much vital work is done contrasting visible and invisible disabilities/conditions as well as the spoons it's easy to see someone's expending, like trying to climb a flight of stairs or push themselves in a wheelchair, versus the less obvious drains on energy like struggling with cognitive demands or pain that is not obvious to the external world. Because of these invisible struggles and the struggles against invisibility, I know of no better word for what I'm talking about here. And I'm not saying it's a bad or offensive use of the word, just that it goes against my usual aims of trying not to talk about sight good blind bad (which of course also ties into connotations of light and darkness and can get pretty racist too).
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Thursday, July 30th, 2015 12:48 am
Andrew's learning to touch type.

He doesn't like C. C, he thinks, should be handled by the F finger, not the D finger. (He's okay with D doing E, though. And X.) But he thinks the F finger gets in the way of D moving to C.

"F already has like six letters to do!" I said. "It doesn't need any more work!"

"It's only doing F and R so far," he said.

Aw. Having learned this when I was nine, I had forgotten what it's like for each letter to be its own little challenge, its own individual victory.
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Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 09:28 am
Because everyone (including me!) is terrible at descriptions of photos they upload.
The tool works in two parts—a browser extension for blind users that provides user-created descriptions of images around the Internet, and a website for sighted users to provide those requested descriptions. If a blind user clicks on an image of an apple tree, which is not properly described in the HTML code, the photo will appear on the crowd-sourced website where sighted users can write “apple tree.” The highest rated description based on sighted user votes will then replace the original description, and be read aloud to any blind user that scrolls over the photograph in the future.
The person who developed this, not blind or a web developer usually, acknowledges that it's kind of a band-aid for the real problem with is that being blind on the Internet has gotten increasingly terrible since the 90s. Now everything's so dependent on Javascript and Flash -- pictures whizz past and it's never obvious where to click and suddenly a thing like finding out what's on at my local arthouse cinema is basically impossible if I can't get Andrew to do it for me...and I'm a relatively sighted blind person. I don't use a screenreader, not because I'm actually confident I wouldn't benefit from it, but because I know the experience of doing so sucks so much on the modern web so I'm better off using up all my visual-processing spoons on the Internet instead.

But the thing I like about Depict, this new tool, is that by it's very nature it involves sighted people in the plight of blind people using the Internet. It's especially awesome that this is calling attention to the problem not just in a "pity the poor suffering people" way but in a "and here's how you can help fix the problem." Crowdsourcing good image descriptions is such a great way of dealing with one of the internet's problems.

One thing about this interview that made me laugh, though:
Google, Samsung, and one other group in Montreal, are doing a lot of research on getting computers to give accurate descriptions of images online....I was trying out one these tools and I plugged in a close-up image of a spider in a web and the description that I got back was a ‘Man on a tightrope.’
Computers are terrible at identifying images. This is how we get captchas that are actually somewhat accessible to me! I can't do the sort of "traditional" ones where words are distorted and lots of "noise" is introduced into the images, so I love that a few I've seen lately are like "is this a picture of a goat or a dog?" or asking me to type what I see in a photo of a house number. So I'm glad computers still think a spider is a man on a tightrope and hope they don't get better too quickly, because god knows what I'll have to do next to "prove I am a human" when I want to sign up for something or leave a comment.
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Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 05:22 pm
Because "cane training" will make my dirty-minded friends think of something else and giggle?

The "rehabilitation officer" from the council rang me yesterday morning. "I'm worried about you, darlin'!" she said. I had a couple of voicemails from her the previous week that I hadn't even bothered listening to once I knew they were from her, which I know is naughty, but once I was in the pub and once I was helping move house, and I'm still in a state where doing even one thing at a time takes concerted effort.

I went for my first training session before I went to Minnesota. I'd been looking forward to this because I was sure I was missing stuff in the fake-it-til-you-make-it tactic I've been taking since I got the thing in April. But when I turned up, I felt like a bait-and-switch had been pulled on me because I was again heavily pressured into trying the "long cane" and not the "guide cane" I have been using. My general agreeableness and some curiosity about the difference between the two kinds led me to have a session with the long cane.

I found it interesting and perfectly okay at the time, but the more I thought about it once I left, the more I found myself unsettled and dismayed by it.

The long cane is intended to give a much richer "view" of the world. Its user taps or rolls it from side to side along the ground as they walk (under normal circumstances; wheelchair users can use them too and there are weight-bearing walking-stick canes for people who need to use a walking stick as well). The pendulum-like movement of the cane therefore has to co-ordinate with the person's steps: it should reach its furthest point right when you take a step with your left foot, and vice versa. This can be surprisingly difficult and tiring at first, especially as the cane is meant to be "centered" at the middle of your body, held near your belly button, and it's too easy for whatever hand you're holding it with to get tired and drop down to your side. This is bad because it means your movement of the cane no longer sweeps all of the area it needs to -- which is the width of your body plus a little more each side so you know if you're right near curbs, walls, people, cars, or other obstacles.

When she'd first assessed me and talked about the canes, the lady was pushing "long cane" at me pretty heavily. If it was a real business, she'd have been upselling. So I wasn't too surprised when I got there and she's like, "Well, you don't need any guide cane training because -- you got here, didn't you?" I boggled at that: I've gotten all kinds of places, even from one continent to another, without any cane at all for my whole life until the past three months, but that doesn't mean I'm doing so in the best possible way! This "logic" was one of the few things I was annoyed about at the time, instead of just in retrospect.

Another thing, which will become relevant in a minute: the canes have different tips, too. Cane users (and this goes for guide as well as long cane) can tap or roll their canes side to side along in front of them. My guide cane happens to have a "pencil" tip, the kind for tapping (I don't know why it's called that; it's not pointy -- indeed I was instructed not to drag it on the ground because that would make the tip pointy and thus both ineffective and potentially dangerous), it's just a smooth plastic cylinder the same width as the rest of the cane, with a rounded end. The other kind of tip is called a "roller" tip, which is also white plastic but bigger and rounder -- maybe roughly the size of a tennis ball, though not quite that spherical -- and as the name implies is for rolling across the ground instead of just tapping to the extreme right and left points of the pendulum swing, lifted slightly off the ground all the rest of the time.

So I went slowly up and down a corridor until I could do this in practice as well as understand it in theory; for maybe twenty minutes or so. Then we went outside. Outside was more tricky immediately because the terrain was more uneven so --

So because I'm used to a pencil-tipped cane, and because I use my guide cane differently from a long cane -- I generally hold it still in front of me, tip near but not on the ground near the middle of where I'm walking -- this meant the roller tip took at least as much getting used to as the techniques for the long cane itself. I tried the pencil tip first in my long cane training session but preferred the roller tip, for the more complex information it gave me about what I was encountering and because it seemed more work than paying attention to how my wrist had to move to get a useful but not too violent tap or to pick it up off the ground in between sufficiently that it doesn't roll across the floor but also not too high that it's awkward or unnecessarily difficult for me to lift. Because your steps match the movements of the cane, how fast you can walk is dependent on how fast you can whip the thing back and forth in front of you without getting it tangled up in your feet and kicking it or tripping yourself or doing something else alarming; walking at what felt like a normal pace (though nothing feels normal when you're overthinking it like this) gave me enough to think about, so I was happier with the roller tip that could just rest on the ground.

The downsides of the roller tip became more evident as soon as we got outside. Sometimes the tip would get hung up on some bit of the unevenness, and then either it'd stay stuck and I'd impale my belly on it which would usually eventually cause the tip to spring up out of whatever crack or divot it'd gotten stuck in, or else the tip would jump up with the effort I was putting into shoving it across the ground in front of me. Both of these would immediately get me told off "Don't lift it!" by my ever so helpful instructor. Who was walking behind me, so I couldn't flag up how these problems seemed to me, or ask questions, or anything, without stopping and turning around, which usually got me told off for stopping when I should just keep going, or something.

I don't take criticism fantastically well at the best of times, but I thought that continuing to chastise me every time she thought the tip of the cane left contact with the ground was a bit much after a while. It's hard learning a new thing, being bad at it (especially out in public). There is a point in learning a new skill where you're intellectually aware of what you should be doing but you haven't yet had enough practice to do it reliably all the time, and at that point it stops becoming useful to point out the mistake every time it happens. I found it unspeakably frustrating, especially because I was struggling with the nuance of "using enough force to keep the cane moving at the rate you're supposed to be walking" and "not using so much force that the tip flies up in the air."

Especially because she didn't seem to like me walking slowly. "You walk fast, you're naturally a fast walker," she kept saying, which I don't even think I believe and I was irritated that she was basing this on having seen me once walk toward her office when I was worried about getting there before it closed so of course I was walking fast then! But during this lesson it was just something else to be irritated about, because it surely made sense to practice all this new stuff at a slower speed (though, obviously, moving the cane too slowly would also leave it prone to sticking in all the dips and holes in the pavement...).

I don't know how much this not-getting-a-say-in-the-narratives-about-me was echoing that pattern from my childhood, and how much was me thinking it was like that and falling back into my childhood habits of not arguing when people tell me wrong or just odd stuff about myself because arguing never worked then. I don't want to return to that kind of fatalism but also I think these kind of jobs foster habits of not always listening to their clients, particularly if what we're saying can be parsed as "I can't do that" or "I want to do an easier version of that," and that once what I say has been put into a category like that I'm pretty much doomed for evermore.

What I was supposed to do seemed kind of inconsistent, too. Praised for "avoiding the obstacle" of other people standing in the corridor, I was then accused of "veering" and staying too close to buildings when we were outside. My arm did brush up against a fence that was cordoning off some construction work at one point (all of Manchester seems to be under construction at the moment!), but that was because the space left for pedestrians to walk was really only wide enough for people to go comfortably in one direction at a time but since it's a busy area there were always people fighting past each other in both directions. Asked if I usually stick close to buildings, I honestly didn't think so, but in busy areas like this (on and near Oxford Road by the precinct centre and the aquatics centre and that), most pedestrians tend toward one side of the pavement or another as people walk the opposite way past them. It wasn't as if I was crashing into buildings or anything, just vaguely tending to that side of the pavement, which I guess is a habit I've probably developed so that I'm not going to step off a curb if I encounter someone walking the other way past me? I don't know; I've never examined my reasons for doing this. I'm not even sure how much of a pattern it is. Some of it comes from the fact that [personal profile] magister prefers to walk on the traffic side of any pavement so he can hear conversation better; I've noticed my habit of arranging myself accordingly does tend to bleed over to other people I'm walking next to these days and I really don't think that is a big deal.

But in the eyes of my "mobility instructor," this ticks a box called Veering. So I was told to walk right down the middle of the pavement, to expect other people to get out of my way. My experience had already taught me that while most people do indeed leap out of the way, yank their less-observant companions out of my way (to the point where I sometimes find myself missing the odd exchange of hellos or smiles I used to get with strangers in the street!), some people are so very not going to get out of my way. I get the theory that I'm as deserving of my space in the world as anyone else is (and that walking right down the middle is probably best-practice for people less sighted than me), but I'm really uncomfortable with feeling that I'm making an unnecessary nuisance of myself above and beyond that.

I was also told not to apologize, which again I can see the theoretical point of in being assertive and confident that I am worth the space I take up...but in practice I both come from and live in cultures where people apologize for everything, including other people bumping into them...it'd be a very hard habit for me to break, even trying to break it would skyrocket my anxiety, and my apologies don't mean that I feel I'm any less entitled to my bit of space. So yeah: not apologizing just ain't gonna happen. And that doesn't bother me.

Of course the most annoying thing about all of this is that I've seen a lot of people use these "long" canes, since childhood. Yes never for very long and yes only in certain types of situations, but. I've almost always seen them being used pretty similarly to how I use mine: drifting along in front of the feet in spaces we expect to be relatively free of obstacles (like walking down the aisle of a bus, or along a train platform). I am not saying the synchronized tapping and whatnot doesn't have its uses, but my impression is that it's like driving lessons/tests, versus how you drive after that. You have to do everything ultra-correctly for a while, with just the right amount of rolling and to just the right distance either side of your body with the cane at just the right length from your belly...and then once you pass the "test" and get to keep the cane (unlike the guide cane, I couldn't take that one away with me; this is a matter of policy to keep people from learning "bad habits" apparently), you can do what actually works for you.

It is the nature of my anxiety to second-guess pretty much every decision I make, especially for myself, so I could devil's-advocate myself into the whole "you shouldn't give up on things just because they're not fun or you're not good at them or they're not being taught in the way you'd find most perfect..." line of thinking, but I really don't think I am giving up too easily on this. I really think that the benefits of the long cane for me are nebulous and not worth the stress.

She told me at the end of the session, which was just before I was about to be away for the next two Tuesdays, that I should think about whether I wanted to continue the long cane training and let her know when I got back if I did, and not to worry about getting in touch right now if I didn't. So I had my horrible holiday and by the time I came back I was sure I didn't want to bother with this, not right now at least. And life got busy and I didn't worry about not being in touch since that's what she'd told me would indicate to her that I wasn't interested. But then I had a couple of voicemails from her last week, which I basically ignored -- one was when I was helping friends move house and was tired and covered in sweat, the other was when I was in a pub and actually having a nice time -- but then she me yesterday. This time I actually answered the phone (not having maliciously avoided it before, just not having noticed it when she called) and she told me she was worried about me because I hadn't gotten back to her. Then she asked me if I still wanted the long cane training and I was all ready to say no when she added "...or do you want the guide cane training?" I was so surprised at that I said the guide cane would be good. I hadn't expected this to be an option; I guess she's forgotten about telling me I didn't need any.

But then today I woke up late and didn't want to rush to turn up late (she'd probably think I was an Olympic sprinter if I turned up in a hurry agaiun...) and the weather was awful and I know I should have called her but I am in fact a rubbish human being so just couldn't. And now I have another voicemail from her that I'm ignoring. Nnrgh.
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Monday, July 27th, 2015 12:28 pm
Today I learned the word "aGreekment," which I like because it's such an awful word and it's also for something that nobody seems to like or want. It's sort of onomatopoeic in that way.

(Also Greferendum, though. And I was reading about Brexit for weeks before I figured out what it meant (all my guesses were way off). Honestly, what is it with European politics spouting so many teeth-grindingly bad neologisms lately? I blame twitter: trying to get a phrase like "the latest bailout deal between Greece and the rest of the EU" into a tweet would leave no room for pontificating but "aGreekment" is only ten little letters!)
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Saturday, July 25th, 2015 11:56 am
I must admit I, like no doubt almost everyone else, take it for granted that every year or so there will be some new amazing feat of ingenuity and discovery in space: dive a probe into the atmosphere of one of Saturn's moons, trundle around on the Martian surface, find hundreds of planets outside our solar system via a telescope in space, orbit an asteroid, land on a comet, most recently transform our knowledge of Pluto from a pixilated disco ball to the incredible detailed pictures we've no doubt all seen now because Pluto is the internet's favorite planet.

It's easy to think these things are so obviously good that we can assume they'll carry on happening, injecting our daily routines and concerns with a regular dose of the sublime and the numinous in order to keep our psyches in good working order. But every single one of those missions and accomplishments has to be fought for, hard, many times. The money has to be spent long before the payoff in the public's eyes -- if it ever happens at all. New Horizons was approved knowing that it wouldn't produce results until a president or two later, and it's hard for congresspeople (most of whom need to worry about re-election every two years) to play that kind of long game, especially when there are of course so many worthy causes the taxpayers' money could go to.

I'm fascinated by how New Horizons so nearly didn't happen; there seem so many parallel universes where it never was, or where it ceased to exist before any of us heard of it, or even one where it cleared all the hurdles but our now-iconic image of Pluto was nearly lost in the computer before anyone laid eyes on it, reminding us that space scientists at work are susceptible to all the human failings of anyone else at work.

I try to be mindful of these things so that I don't take our knowledge of the universe for granted. It's easy to assume fabulous pictures and information about exoplanets and Kuiper belt objects are as inevitable as new TV shows, especially when it all ends up in the meat grinder of social media, which extrudes fanfic, urban legends, politics, news, pop-culture references, and amazing new scientific knowledge such that they all look like each other.*

But there's nothing certain about it: a few days ago made 46 years since man first landed on the Moon...and I think it's 43 years since man last landed on the Moon. Having done something in space is hardly a guarantee that we'll do it again. We have to keep supporting funding for science, and keep celebrating the amazing fruits of that labor.

* And again I could rant about the sad Pluto cartoons: people drawing Pluto with a Care-Bear heart on its tummy just like they draw their favorite characters from TV or anime or whatever, so used to feeling this level of ownership and participation in their entertainment that Pluto gets treated like Benedict Cumberbatch or something...but I have somewhere to be this afternoon so won't rant about this any further! But someday this subject will escape my footnotes, I hope.
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Monday, July 20th, 2015 09:15 am
  1. It is possible for me to throw something in the "nah, pass it along to someone else" pile for no other reason than this looks far too much like something my ex-girlfriend wore. Seriously. If she were local, she'd be the person I offered that skirt to next.
  2. I personally disapprove of shapewear, both on philosophical grounds -- I've been a lot healthier and happier since I stopped believing that this shape for my body would be better than that one -- and practical grounds -- wearing stuff that squeezes my thighs and hips into a different shape fucking hurts -- but the shapewear of someone a little bit bigger than me? Makes perfect cycling shorts (or wear-under-dresses-that-might-make-my-legs-rub-together-too-much shorts) for me. I don't care if they do have lace at the bottoms of the legs; they're not underwear any more, they're totally shorts.***
* By informal I mean since I was helping them move anyway, [personal profile] mother_bones had a bunch of clothes I could take away, either hers or her boyfriend's wife's. I look forward to wearing something when I next see my family that they compliment me on (which they will, because these clothes look great) and asking me where I got it so I can say, "from my Platonic Wife's boyfriend's wife. Actual wife, in that case."

** By swap I mean I didn't offer any clothes, only take them away. Though having tried them all on this morning, I do have a bunch that I will pass along because they don't suit me.

*** Especially handy since I'm helping [personal profile] mother_bones et al. move to such a great distance away that I might start cycling there! People who I'm used to having within ten-minutes of walking distance will now be in ten minutes' cycling distance. I've been so spoiled having them so nearby...
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Saturday, July 18th, 2015 11:17 pm
Fuck your order. Fuck your time. I realigned the cosmos.
I chaosed all the hell you have yet to feel. Now all your kids
in the classrooms, they confused. All their clocks:
wrong. They don’t even know what the fuck to do.
They gotta memorize new songs and shit. And the other
planets, I fucked their orbits. I shook the sky. Chaos like
a motherfucker.
I have a bunch of things I want to say about the sad Pluto cartoons, about ownership and narrative and cultural participation and infantalization and all kinds of stuff, but my brain is slow lately and I haven't been able to manage it yet so have someone else's words in the meantime.
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Saturday, July 11th, 2015 05:41 pm
"I must be doing worse than I thought," Andrew said as we were on our way out of the cinema after seeing Mr. Holmes. "I actually started tearing up at the end of that!"

I smiled. "That is not a sign of any problem."

It's a marvelous film, emotionally powerful but no overwhelming, as my anxiety leads me to find so many stories these days. Ian McKellen's performance is so tremendous I think I might have to add him to my usual list of favorite Holmeses -- Merrison and Brett. I never expected that duo to become a trio.