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Thursday, October 30th, 2014 10:11 am
"Does the Goldberg Variations count as one song?"

Andrew laughed at me. "No."

"Well, one of them then," I said.

I'd never before had the terribly British experience of being asked what my Desert Island Discs would be, and I was making this up as I went along.

My first couple of answers were similar to what James and Andrew had given -- pieces of music that were particularly important to me, or particular favorites of mine -- I have to include "Born in the U.S.A.," and "Finale" from Dvorak's New World Symphony, and the song that a favorite musician of Andrew's and mine wrote for our wedding.

I think I asked about the Goldberg Variations right after that, though, because on some level I realized that if I was on a desert island I'd be really upset and I'd really miss Andrew, so "Now's Eternity" (the song at our wedding) would just hurt and make me sad. So I thought of soothing things, and of course the first that left to mind was Goldberg.

I recently heard a story about how the Goldberg Variations were written, thanks to one of my new obsessions: Jarvis Cocker's Wireless Nights, an occasional series I love and find really captivating; that link has all the episodes as podcasts and I can't recommend them enough if you like humans or music or poetry or life. Anyway, the story Jarvis Cocker whispered into my ears (I find to my amusement I can only listen to Wireless Nights when it is night, or when I'm on a train -- something about the expansiveness and intensity of it seems to suit those things particularly -- and at those times I use headphones) goes something like this:
[For this work] we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, Count Kaiserling, who often stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia. ... Once the Count mentioned in Bach's presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: 'Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.'
As a chronic insomniac, I was intrigued and maybe even delighted to find that I wasn't the only one who wanted something soothing and yet distracting to listen to during my sleepless hours. I've often wondered what I'd do before the podcasts and audiobooks I use: turns out, if I were lucky enough to be a Count who knew J.S. Bach, I could've had him write me something. What a delicious idea.

But, whether the story is true or not, I can imagine they'd be good for insomnia: soothing and yet cheerful. The Goldberg variations are not stupefying or dense; they may not inspire awe like some of Bach's other skilled and impressive work, but I wouldn't want to be left alone on an island with the distant, inspirational Bach. I'd want this cozy, bedroom-antechamber Bach. I'd want the company on the desert island.

And from there the rest of my "Desert Island Discs" amused me by sort of missing the point of the game, which is to pick songs you particularly like or that say something about you or have a meaning or a story or something entertaining associated with them. I picked songs to comfort me in my isolation and get me through what would no doubt be a terrible experience for me. Quartet for the End of Time* (which should be awfully sad, drenched in the Holocaust as it is, but inexplicably is a favorite of mine; still if I want less somber Messaien, there's always Turangalila). I think I said Ave Maria, too. And maybe The Flower Duet. And Gymnopédie, naturally.

It's strange to think of the things I fall back on. I wouldn't have expected it to be all western art music I find so durable, able to withstand the hatred I have for anything played too often.

But still, I am happy I am not stranded on a desert island, and able to listen to lots of music, and talk to people, and do lots of things.


* That's a particularly cool video I stumbled across there, I think, because it shows you the sheet music so if you're a music nerd like me you can follow along as they play...or just sit back and be even more impressed than you were that people manage to play these things at all, especially in the circumstances of the original performance:
Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered World War II. He was captured by the German army in June 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland). While in transit to the camp, Messiaen showed the clarinetist Henri Akoka, also a prisoner, the sketches for what would become Abîme des oiseaux. Two other professional musicians, violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier, were among his fellow prisoners, and after he managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic guard, Messiaen wrote a short trio for them; this piece developed into the Quatuor for the same trio with himself at the piano...

The quartet was premiered at the camp, outdoors and in the rain, on January 15, 1941. The musicians had decrepit instruments and an audience of about 400 fellow prisoners and guards.
Thursday, October 30th, 2014 09:18 am
Let's review.

I am still waiting for owning a house to be this amazing, fantastic feeling everyone has assured me it is

In the meantime, I hate DIY -- I abandoned a shelf in the bedroom yesterday after even careful measuring and cutting left it a bit too long to fit where it needs to go and I gave up in despair and exhaustion. The other bits of wood I was hoping would fit in the spaces for other shelves were too short, so it was altogether a pretty frustrating morning, where I had nothing to show for all the effort I'd expended.

And I hate radiators. Last night when Andrew came to bed he asked why the floor in front of the front door is all wet. He was talking about terrifying things like spending a few grand on getting stuff fixed that might be causing things, things that were mentioned in the survey but which my job being insecure and then nonexistent have meant we've entirely ignored in in the seven months we've lived here. So he was also talking about scary things like getting a loan to pay for all this shit. No wonder my sleep wasn't very restful after that...

Upon small investigation this morning, I wondered if the water might not be coming from the pipe to the radiator there. That's one of the radiators that always was red-hot whenever I turned the heating on, but this time it was cold, so I think the water's not making it that far. So I turned off the heating for a while, we'll see if that does anything.

Andrew says he's going to sort this out. I fear he'll have to; I just don't feel I can deal with anything or contemplate spending money I am not contributing to at the moment.

I know renting is no fun in these situations either -- [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours asked for his dehumidifier back last night, to dry out his own entryway after the leak there had been fixed, and now I can't give it to him yet because I'm using it in exactly the same part of my own house! and the horrible time he had getting his landlady to fix that leak does make home ownership seem unstressful in comparison, because at least you aren't beholden to the whims of someone negligent or obstructive people (which has always been my experience of landlords), but having all the responsibility myself seems absolutely crushing right now.
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Sunday, October 26th, 2014 11:06 pm
The wedding photographer looked worried when our table burst out laughing when she suggested taking photos of each couple around the table. I'm sure this isn't much like the reaction she usually gets, and I didn't blame her for saying "What? What'd I say?"

None of us could think of a good answer for her. So she tried again: "How many couples are there here?" Our laughter this time was if anything louder and more hysterical. Finally [personal profile] miss_s_b was able to help the poor woman out. "I'm in a couple with him, and him, and him," she said, pointing at a different person with each "him." "And she's --" (pointing to me now) "-- in a couple with him and him..." and of course by this point one of the "him"s had been pointed to twice.

The photographer just went with it, took a photo of Jennie and the three boys she had with her, and then [personal profile] magister, who'd been standing behind her, walked around the table to stand behind Andrew and me for our picture. And then the photographer looked at the two people left at the table who hadn't been part of any of these photos/couples so far, asked them who they were with, and they said they weren't with anybody there, but they didn't mind having their photo taken together either. Since they were sitting on the side of me where Andrew wasn't, it was a short stroll over for James to stand behind them, too, and so in those pictures we're all cracking up. "Just call me Benedict Cumberbatch," James said afterwards, which worried me for a while (I am not a fan!) until he reminded me of this Cummerbund Bandersnatch beautifully photobombing U2 at the Oscars this year.

And the photographer probably thinks we're all insane.
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Saturday, October 25th, 2014 04:59 pm
Paul Magrs, the writer of many of my favorite Doctor Who stories, asked me how I was doing as Andrew went to the counter to order our coffees. "Oh, all right," I lied.

And then this nice-seeming man I'd just met, who I wished would like me because I already liked him based on the evidence of his writing, said some of the most bone-chilling words in the English language: "You've got a LiveJournal, don't you?"

A fine start! Any hope I had of impressing him obviously had to die right there. But I was mystified: Andrew never mentions my writing because he's much more cautious than me about sharing his private life (such as it is!) on the internet, and obviously I talk about him all the time here. So how did he know? Andrew and Paul Magrs are friendly acquaintances at best, and hadn't really spent much time together. I had to introduce myself at POD because Andrew hadn't thought to mention he'd be bringing me along.

I'm left to conclude that I just...look like someone who has a LiveJournal. Heh.
Friday, October 24th, 2014 02:37 pm
Watching The Thick of It (which I'm doing because I need something to keep me from getting bored while I knit that doesn't actually require me to pay too much attention to because I'm knitting) is weird now: I keep thinking The Doctor's swearing!

I think it's a testament to how quickly and thoroughly Capaldi's embodied the role that it's overtaken, in my mind, the previously iconic role of Malcolm Tucker. I know people who are struggling to accept him as the Doctor, but I'm totally not one of them: I've absolutely believed him and adored him from the beginning. It's nice to be able to enjoy Doctor Who uncomplicatedly for once.
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Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 08:58 am
I just had a big rant at Andrew about how much I hate radiators -- it started because I said "I have to buy some pliers" and then realized that I was saying I needed pliers for my house to be at a convenient temperature and I hate to get all entitled-first-world person about this...but that's exactly what I am.

"You know what happens at my parents' house?" I said. They have a thermostat, and whatever temperature you set it to, the whole house is that!" Our house has a thermostat, too, but the temperature it gives you isn't anything to do with reality because the radiators seem to have two settings: full blast and off, so the house is an interesting patchwork of places that are too warm and places that are too cold. All the radiators have little knobs you can twiddle but these seem to be some kind of placebo, allowing you the impression that you have any control over the ambient temperature but the radiators stay either dangerously hot or disappointingly frigid whatever you do.

Andrew helpfully said things like "Believe it or not, central heating wasn't even a thing in Brtiain until about fifteen years ago."

"I do believe it!" I said. "Because central heating is still included in descriptions of places up for rent." And I know we got asked if this house we were going to buy had central heating. Even my parents didn't ask that -- and, remember, they had to ask if my house had windows.

More than most of the things I've had to learn how to fix or deal with since we bought the house, the radiators piss me off. For all my joking entitlement, my real problem is that they are entirely outside my experience. They don't work and I don't know why and I don't even know where to begin. But I know I have to, because it doesn't stop getting cold just because I don't feel up to dealing with it.

And my reward for sorting this out will not be enjoying the warm and dry; it'll be Andrew whinging that he's too hot.
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 09:50 pm
A mock-up of a magazine called Dad, made to look like women's magazines but with headlines like Which free hat with a logo on it works best with your look? and Are you using your backyard to its full potential?

Because the other day, after I talked to my mom about someone who's dying and shouldn't be, my dad just wanted to talk about power tools. I think he wants to get me some for Christmas.
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 12:41 pm
I put on a sports bra this morning, something that doesn't happen that often because I do zero sports.

I always forget how comfy it is. This morning I wondered to myself why I don't do this more often.

My next thought was, I probably have to blame the patriarchy again. Because many of my clothes won't fit right or look right. Because as with so many things how I look is deemed more important than how I feel.
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 11:31 am
...the more convinced I am that Avon is the Sir Humphrey Appleby of Blakes 7.
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Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 04:55 am
I do not remember the dream I was having before I woke up a little bit ago, but it must have been something weird. Because in my own bed next to my own husband, I opened my eyes and didn't know who this was sleeping next to me, or where I was. I couldn't even hazard a guess; my mind at that point was completely free of likely candidates or even ones I could safely rule out.

Just then he, lying on his side facing me, reached out an arm to throw it around me. And then I found myself thinking Oh, that must be Andrew then, as if I'd worked it out by deductive logic, and thus I was soothed.
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Monday, October 20th, 2014 01:01 pm
My hands are too sweaty for my phone to register the movements of my fingers.

Usually when this happens I rub my phone or my hands on my shirt to dry things off sufficiently to recover usefulness, but this time my shirt is drenched in sweat and so that didn't work either!

Andrew read me out a tweet a while ago that said something like "My friend asked me if he could charge his cigarette and I said no because I was charging my book. The future is weird." The inability to answer my phone when I'm sweaty seems a similar kind of thing, a problem we couldn't explain to any previous generation of human history.
Sunday, October 19th, 2014 08:06 pm
My parents have a few couples they're friends with, the six or eight of them have been doing stuff together and sharing their lives since in some cases before I was born.

One half of one of those couples, Karen, has been in hospice care for the last week or so and apparently it's a matter of hours rather even than days now.

"Battling cancer" is a cliché, but Karen really did. She's been sick for so long, had several surgeries and some intimdating-sounding elective treatments. She religiously followed advice in books like those written by Andrew's uncle about vitamin intake and dietary changes for cancer patients. She bought beautiful headscarves and stylish clothes in new tiny sizes to hide the outward side effects of the chemotherapy. The tumors have attacked so many parts of her body, including her brain, ensuring she'd lose her memory and her voice and her personality even before she will lose her life. Apparently her sort of cancer is one of the most aggressive types.

There were many times over a period of years where it seemed like the cancer was winning the battle, but she'd always bounce back.

So many times this happened that part of me still can't understand how this time can be any different. I know cancer kills people all the fucking time, of course, but...that isn't how this story goes. right? Surely. I know this one so well by now.

Cancer makes me wish I could really live, as I sometimes feel I do, in a world powered by narrativium, because nothing so pointless and unfair as cancer could happen there.

There is nothing specific I can say: part of the pain of this kind of tragedy is how very ordinary it is. It breaks my heart to think of this happening all the time, though I know it does. Happening to people who I don't know and can't care about, just as they don't know and can't care much about Karen. None of us can deal with such things on the humanity-wide scale; we're not built for it and our minds would break.

Madeline L'Engle said "Every life is noted and is cherished, and nothing loved is ever lost or perished.” I guess by doing everything I can to ensure the first part of that is true, I can foster a hope that the second half will be true as well.
Saturday, October 18th, 2014 06:05 pm
So yeah. This is my life right now. (And at other times. But it's worse lately than it's been in a long time.)
Because there is a place beyond tired — bone tired — where you don’t even have the wherewithal to ask for what you need. When you’re in this state of mind, kind humans offer up their time and talent to you, but somehow you can’t receive it. You’re in a fog of exhaustion where you can only see an arms length ahead: reply to this email, return this call, drink this coffee, do this dish, survive, barely.
And it's nice to know I'm not the only person reacting to this stuff in the way that I do.
Then someone stopped offering help and started ordering me around — namely my husband (which, if you know me, is pretty hilarious). “That’s it,” he said. “Get in bed and take a nap.”

Without saying another word, I stripped down, peeled back the clean, white sheets of the hotel bed, set the timer on my iPhone for one hour, and crashed.
If you don't get why somebody would unquestionably take advice like this, be glad you've never been in this state where you're failing so hard at basic stuff like eating or sleeping or relaxing that you're not only bad at them or not doing them, you don't even notice you're not doing them, you don't care you're not doing them, and you don't even think doing them with help you feel any better. Sometimes you get into a state you just can't get out of by yourself; you need someone to tell you how to do it.

I think about this kind of stuff all the time, and I talk about it a fair bit, generally with the few people who kinda provide this for me. [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours and I acknowledge this really blatantly; I think it started at Lib Dem Autumn Conference in 2011, the first I went to, and since he remembered what his first Conference was like and since I was staying with him and Eve in a house rather than by myself in a hotel like most people do at conference, he was explicitly kind of looking after me, reminding me to eat and making sure I was reasonably happy. And it worked really well, because I have very fond memories of that week (driving adventure! Akira the Don! Akrams! D pointing out Edgbaston when we drove past because his dad always did that! huddling together for warmth while waiting for a taxi back on like the fifth night in a row when we'd been out from nine in the morning until eleven at night!), without which I probably wouldn't have gone to any subsequent ldconfs.

And that's still a thing he and I do for each other; I go over and cook dinner every now and then, once he ordered me Chinese takeaway because I was in such a state I couldn't even operate Just Eat or have opinions about food, we tell each other to go to bed if we're online too late at night, and if I'm running myself into the ground and never giving myself a break for too long, he'll threaten to chain me to a bed somewhere so I have to relax -- which never fails to cheer me up, and I don't care if that makes me weird.

So anyway, I think and talk about this but I haven't written about it because I have never been able to find a way to address the fact that I really only approve of telling people what to do if it's very specific people and very specific things and very specific situations. And I haven't been able to articulate what those are! I just know them when I see them. Mostly I know them when they happen to me. And as this writer says, when it happens to you you're not in a state to talk about it.
I have had so many moments when I am deep in the fog and I don’t reach out. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a neat story about my sadness. There are only a few people that I feel comfortable being totally incoherent with, calling and saying, “Hi. I’m going to cry. I’m okay, but I’m just going to cry.” Often I don’t call, not just in order to spare someone my blubbering, but to spare them my confusion over what they can do to soothe me. It’s so much responsibility, isn’t it? It feels like we are expected to be simultaneously devastated and proactive in our culture.
I do a lot of apologizing for myself and my existence, and my friends think that's unnecessary -- because of course they do, they're cool people who don't think anybody needs to justify their existence like this -- and it's because I do feel like this pressure to have a neat story about my sadness and to be proactive rather than blubbery and to tell people what they can do to soothe me.

I spend a lot of time making decisions and looking after people. Buying the house, much as I like it as a place to live, has given me a pretty near constant state of decision fatigue. Andrew's been unwell in recent months in ways that I'm really good at helping with, which is awesome because I'm glad I can do that, but it also means that I'm doing all the executive function for two people, it sometimes feels like, and that is difficult in itself. It's not just that doing the chores and remembering the appointments and running the errands is difficult (though sometimes it is, because it makes demands on your willpower and stress levels just like something like poverty does), it's that having to organize the to-do lists and the meta-to-do lists can be mentally and emotionally tiring...something I learned from a post in the wonderful Blue Milk blog which I'm still grateful to [livejournal.com profile] haggis for pointing me at because it's been very useful to me ever since to be able to keep this in mind:
Walking someone through all the steps in preparing a meal, making sure you haven’t run out of laundry powder for when it’s their turn to do the laundry, writing the shopping list for them and describing where on the aisles they will find the items they need to buy.. all draining work.

Making sure the family meets its social obligations and remains connected to its community is work – were birthday presents bought for children’s parties, did the mother-in-law get a phone call to wish her well in surgery tomorrow? Who is keeping an eye on how well the children are adjusting to the new school? Who went to the parent-teacher interviews? Who worries about whether it is time to see the pediatrician about the younger child’s night terrors?
Just articulating that social and psychological chores exist has been hugely helpful to me. Because part of my problem was that I was feeling exhausted despite not being able to point to anything that explained it, and this is where the possibly most evil word in the English language comes in: should. I shouldn't be having so much trouble doing simple things. I should be better at looking after myself/my house/my husband/my job/everything. I shouldn't be such a drag or a bore or even a slight inconvenience to anybody. I know these thoughts are ridiculous but, if we could extinguish thoughts merely by wanting to...I don't think mental illness would be such a big problem for humanity.

The only really effective way I know of to beat those "should"s is to cut myself some slack, and that's easier to do when I can convince myself that there are actually a lot of real obstacles and energy-sapping things in my life. That seems like it'd be a depressing realization, but actually it's kind of awesome because it means me feeling shitty is not, as I tend to assume, a sign of weakness or failings on my part, but a totally reasonable reaction to difficult shit going on.

And one way to remind myself of this is to listen to the people saying "Go to sleep. Come out for a drink. Eat something. Do you want to come over and hang out? You can do the chores later. Looking after you is more important right now. You are important."

Okay, they might not think that's what they're saying! But I think it is. I absolutely love Captain Awkward's answer to "how can I help people with depression?", which I think goes back to "don't stop at 'is there anything I can do to help?' "

Making suggestions can seem presumptuous, and generally sensible people expect their loved ones to be the best judge of what they need. My first link addresses that as well:
In part, people resist doing things — bringing soup, making an acupuncture appointment, taking the kids for the day — for friends in need, because we wisely understand that not everyone is built the same, particularly in their darker moments. Some of us genuinely want to be left alone; we need the salve of silence. Some of us feel comforted by a body right up next to us — the isolation shattered by the warm breath of another human. Some of us need sleep. Some of us need to be dragged out of the house.
After a while you'll get to know what your important people are likely to need. And you can always ask them. I make a point of trying to ask "would you like advice or sympathy?" when people tell me their problems, because I know sometimes I want pragmatic solutions and sometimes I just want someone to make sympathetic noises or give me a sandwich/whisky/fun excuse to get out of the house.
Friday, October 17th, 2014 10:11 am
Or maybe it's spelled "#myass" or something, I dunno.

One reason I'm glad I'm not having kids is that I wouldn't want to have to explain, to their derisive giggles and rolled eyes, the stupid culture I grew up in.

(A things I liked in that Doctor Who episode about the Moon I saw yesterday was the astronaut saying, "Tumblr! Aw, my granny used to post stuff on Tumblr.")
Friday, October 17th, 2014 09:59 am
So far today I've learned that when I try to write "DIY" on my phone, it autocorrects it to DIARRHEA.

Yeah, I look forward to each about as much as the other, so I can see the phone's point.
Friday, October 17th, 2014 07:36 am
I have been having strange and complicated dreams lately (another sign that my brain's not doing well; since I mentioned one yesterday and [personal profile] magister asked me if there were others, I keep noticing more).

Last night I dreamed a bunch of friends and I were at some kind of political conference. And for some reason my mom was there, too. I lost her for a while when I was arguing with an LGBT Labour person and when I found Mom again she'd seen a speech by Theresa May and was enamored with her, telling me she had a lot of good points about terrorism and she was going to be the next Prime Minister.

So I had a long dream-conversatiom with her about how that was unlikely; about the coalition (because Theresa May had given my mom the impression that only the Tories were in government) about the differences from the American system that mean British people don't choose their country's leader, about the upcoming election. She didn't seem that interested in me; I think Theresa May was still winning in her head.

I woke up feeling exhausted and frustrated. I fail at sleep.
Friday, October 17th, 2014 12:13 am
Somehow it seems particularly unfair that I've got a mysteriously, but very and persistently, achy foot at the same time I'm having some kind of goddam existential crisis.

I can put up with physical or mental pain, but both at once always makes me feel like the universe owes me better.

Even though I know it doesn't. I'm lucky to have what I do, really.
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Thursday, October 16th, 2014 04:07 pm
As is so often the case, my favorite part of this blog post is what's in the parentheses.
Sadly, the article is locked (quite rightly, humanities can kill if not used correctly)
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Thursday, October 16th, 2014 12:33 am
There should be some kind of browser add-on for hypochondriacs, to block webpages that list symptoms of diseases.
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Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 09:28 am
Today I will be mostly knitting and sawing up bits of wood.

Because, as usual, I have all the gender roles in this house: I clean and cook and I drink beer and watch sports.