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Friday, January 30th, 2015 03:53 pm
Today's not all bad... Indeed, otherwise it's quite good.

1. Many people have assured me it's never too early for whisky when things like that happen. I haven't had any yet, but I feel buoyed up by the reassurance.

[personal profile] haggis offered to come round after work if I still wanted company (but I'm so tired now I might have a nap instead!), [personal profile] magister even managed to surprise a laugh out of me when he called to see if I was all right. And of course if I do end up drinking any whisky it'll be because I have been given it by lovely people. My partners and my friends are the best.

2. I made hummus, inasmuch as you can without a food processor and without measuring anything. With toasted cumin seeds, mm. The stick blender didn't blend everything perfectly, of course, but I don't mind some of the chickpeas remaining whole. It is a great comfort food and reasonably healthy, and I made more of it than I intended to so I won't have to worry about what to eat for a while if I don't want to.

2. I made these cakes, which I slightly overbaked so they're a bit dry and crumbly but no less nice for it, and it's not as if pairing them with a cup of tea is much hardship.

3. I did dishes and laundry, and tried to fetch Andrew's new glasses from the optician (they've been delayed, unfortunately). Keeping busy is the best cure for me.

4. The sun's out! After the gale-force winds and the snow of the last two days, it's especially welcome.

5. Fed up of faulty and easily-lost headphones, I spent £6 on some new ones this morning. They work very well (good noise-canceling too, for earbuds!) and they're bright orange so hopefully I won't lose them as often as I have recently become accustomed to.
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Friday, January 30th, 2015 10:46 am
I was accused of shoplifting on leaving the Asian supermarket across the road from here, where I go all the time and had honestly just been thinking about how great it was. I didn't understand what the guy was saying at first or why he wanted me to follow him back into the store, so he dragged me by my bag, which was over my shoulder so the strap cut into my neck when the guy yanked on it, and had even the pockets of my jacket and my hoodie dug through. Another guy (who I think works the fish market at the back of the store and tipped off the guy who was doing most of the intimidation) came in the little room to "help" I guess, he was totally sure there was something in my bag and they both looked through it repeatedly before admitting that there was nothing there and saying sorry.

I left in a hurry, immediately trying to figure out how this could've happened. The only things I can think of are that I had a bunch of stuff in my bag already (DVDs [personal profile] magister has asked me to pass along to Andrew) or that it took me a long time to find some of the things I was looking for because some of the labels on things are hard for me to read. I couldn't figure out why I was desperate to explain this until I realized that I need to reassure myself that it's safe to go back there. Because I do love that place! Lots of cheap food and stuff that's impossible to get elsewhere, and it's the closest store to my house.

I thought I was fine but I got home and dropped the shopping (I had spent twenty quid in there! usual behavior for a shoplifter I suppose, that) and burst into tears.

Sod's law would have it that Andrew's at work today, when usually he works from home on a Friday, and the nearby people I'd next go to are in York or on their way to Brussels. So I've had to write it out to calm myself down enough to put the food away and do some laundry and all the stuff I want to do today.
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Thursday, January 29th, 2015 02:01 pm
(thanks [personal profile] andrewducker)

It turns out procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic as it is often regarded to be. It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth.

You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything.

But in real life, you can’t avoid doing things. We have to earn a living, do our taxes, having difficult conversations sometimes. Human life requires confronting uncertainty and risk, so pressure mounts. Procrastination gives a person a temporary hit of relief from this pressure of “having to do” things, which is a self-rewarding behavior. So it continues and becomes the normal way to respond to these pressures.

Particularly prone to serious procrastination problems are children who grew up with unusually high expectations placed on them. Their older siblings may have been high achievers, leaving big shoes to fill, or their parents may have had neurotic and inhuman expectations of their own, or else they exhibited exceptional talents early on, and thereafter “average” performances were met with concern and suspicion from parents and teachers.
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Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 04:43 pm
I seem to be alternating weeks where I am really productive with weeks where I get absolutely nothing done.

I noticed this pattern a couple of weeks ago, and it was my guilt and anxiety over that "wasted" week that got me to accomplish stuff I felt good about last week. But this week is all exhaustion and indolence again. Trying to fight it just seems to necessitate more naps.

I try to be kind to myself but it's hard to know where the line is between "good self-care" and "indulgence of poor character traits that will make getting a job impossible."
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Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 09:53 pm
This story about the discovery of fish where people didn't think there'd be fish reminded me that at lunch today [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours told me about a fish that swims upside down just because it likes to.

This news delighted me, because one of the things that freaked me out about fish back when I was going fishing and had to touch them and look at their eyes was that there didn't seem to be any personality there, nothing above the level of instinct.

That biologists can't determine any evolutionary benefit or other justification for why the fish likes swimming upside down and thus are left with "they must like it" brings me both relief that fish might get to have preferences just for the fun of it and also amusement because I love being reminded that humans don't know everything.

So much of what we accept as fact turns out to be merely arbitrary convention. Who says life needs a planet with liquid water? Who says north is at the top? Who are we to tell fish which way is right-side-up anyway? What do our assumptions lead us to overlook?
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Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 08:42 am
On facebook, my friend Richard linked to a poll (I'm not going to share the link because it's too crazy-making for me, but I'm sure you can find it: "Exclusive Mirror poll shows General Election on a knife edge") and one of the things he said about it was I do not want to live in a country where 34% trust UKIP most on immigration.

I most heartily agree with this sentiment, of course, so I commented to say, "I don't, either"... After a moment's thought, though, I had to add: "But then I probably won't be able to, anyway."

I've been here long enough that I'm eligible for citizenship, but it's still prohibitively expensive -- around a thousand pounds, last time I checked, and of course the fees are only going to increase the longer I have to leave it.

I remember [personal profile] po8crg once saying that if UKIP win, he'd start a Kickstarter to get me citizenship. At the time the suggestion made me laugh, as a sweet thought to remind me how lovely and supportive my friends are. It's still sweet and my friends are still lovely, but it doesn't make me laugh any more.

Not when things like this are happening. Andrew intends to quit his job by the end of this year to be a freelance writer, which means an unpredictable, unstable income -- this man's fate could totally happen to me, except I don't even have the excuse of a British child to get me sympathy, and he can move his family to South Africa whereas I still don't think Andrew and I could make it in the U.S.

UKIP don't even have to win, really, if the mere specter of them hanging over the main parties that are, or reasonably might expect to be, in power are sufficiently racist and xenophobic to stop people having to change their vote to UKIP.

Anyway, after my facebook comment saying I probably wouldn't be allowed to live in a country where so many people trust UKIP the most on immigration, I woke up this morning to a reply from Richard where he said "And that alone would make it wrong." Which is a nice thing to wake up to. I did mention I have lovely friends, right?
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Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 10:51 am

Regularly, when people I meet here find out I'm American, they say something like "Why would you want to move here if you could live in America?!" 

You can almost see the Disney-World and living-on-the-set-of-Friends thought bubbles above their heads as they ask. 

Next time that happens, I think I'm going to reply "because I don't want to live in a country where national politicians‎ think that paid sick leave is an unattainable ideal worthy only of mockery and ridicule."

The United States isn't really a first-world country. It's at least two countries, and the very small one that has all the money and power has a great standard of living (this is also the one most often referred to as "America," by both its bigoted patriots who are proud of it, and the people I meet abroad whose eyes shine when they say it because they're thinking of holidays and celebrities). The other, much bigger, USA still languishes in a state most developed countries would call barbaric if it wasn't happening in a country with the same name as the one where the Hollywood films and the Starbucks coffee comes from. 

When people hear that I'm from America, they're usually thinking of the first America, and I'm thinking of this second one, where an illness coul‎d cost my parents their home, where they got the bill for the ambulance that took my dead brother away even before the funeral, where poor people die if they get sick, where I couldn't afford to bring my new husband which is one of the many reasons I moved away from America.
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Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 09:46 pm
I was genuinely sad to see from this article that Mike Marquese died last week.

I'm not often really affected by the deaths of famous people, and I knew next to nothing about this one. All I know is that that he wrote Anyone But England and what that book taught me about him: namely that he's an American socialist who likes cricket.

It was, I think, the first book [personal profile] magister lent me, and it was perfect for me as my vague fondness for the game clarified itself into the understanding and knowledge and affection I have gained for it since.

Books about cricket, as Mark Steel says here, "were supposed to depict glorious summers and splendid figures and never stoop to ask grubby questions such as why the MCC supported apartheid, or why the odd England captain admired Hitler, because this was cricket." Much as I like a little waxing rhapsodic about glorious summers and splendid figures, I can get that better from baseball. So I quickly tire of the stories English men tell themselves about cricket. (The other book, besides Anyone But England, I recommended to an American friend who said he might like to understand the game (Pundits from Pakistan) was also not written by an Englishman, and I do not think this is coincidence.)

My experience of Marquese being so limited (I've read one other book by him so far, War Minus the Shooting), I'm delighted to learn from Mark Steel's obituary that he really does seem to have remarkable.
In 2007 he was told he had multiple myeloma, a cancer diagnosis that created a new subject for enquiry. Amongst the articles he wrote on his illness was one called The Bedrock of Autonomy, describing the multitude of characters that led to his treatment being possible, written while on an IV drip. It includes “all who contribute to the intricate ballet of a functioning hospital, the Irish physician Frances Rynd who invented the hollow needle, those who built and sustained the NHS… the drip flowing into my vein is drawn from a river with innumerable tributaries.”
Certainly his work has affected a multitude of other characters, of which I am glad to be one.
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Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 03:27 pm
When I started the contraceptives I'm on, I was told it could make one's period heavier or lighter or stay about the same.

Mine all but disappeared. Hooray! (I started taking them because my periods were so emotionally and physically ruinous, rather than for the actual baby-proofing of my body, so they solved the problem in one fell swoop.)

But that does mean, on the rare occasion I do get them now (and they're nowhere near as bad as they used to be), I always feel incredibly sorry for myself, because I've had all this time where I was able to take for granted the fact that it never felt like anyone was trying to extract all of my innards through my belly button.

And I have done some hard things today relating to Changing Career While Disabled, so I feel like I've earned some time crumpled up on the sofa with a cup of tea now.
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Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 09:04 am
I love everything about my new hair cut -- I basked in compliments from Andrew's mom and Jennie about how well it suited me, on Sunday -- except that I still haven't gotten used to how cold the back of my head gets now!
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Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 07:47 am
The story I was enthusing about here is the start of a novel that's now available.
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Monday, January 19th, 2015 12:45 pm
After my mom handed the phone to my dad, I heard her say something in the background.

"Oh, and Mom says happy anniversary," Dad said. "Seven years it'll be now, right?"

"Nine!" I said. "It was 2006..." I smiled that he seemed so surprised at this. I kind of am, too.

"Time flies when you're having fun!" Andrew said, having discerned enough of the conversation from my half of it.

Our anniversary's Wednesday. I think yesterday or today marks nine years since my parents first met Andrew. Circumstances dictated that they planned their daughter's whole wedding to a stranger, and had only my word for it that this was a good idea. And they never caused me a moment's trouble over it: never raised even the slightest concern that this could be a good idea, never quizzed me about what he was like or where we'd live or what I'd do.

For all they frustrate and confuse and worry me, my parents have been unbelievably supportive of my odd life trajectory, my valuing of things they don't understand (within reason...and I get by without telling them the rest).

I wish I remembered my wedding more fondly, but it was an awful day for me. I was grateful to the friends I had there, who had traveled great distances and driven in bad weather (with a broken foot, in [livejournal.com profile] kmusser's case!), and while Andrew and I were glad to be married...neither of us enjoyed the process of getting married.

Which is sad I guess, but mostly I think it's sad that there's such a narrow cultural understanding of what weddings are like that anyone who feels it was anything other than the best day of their life -- and any woman who didn't "feel like a princess" -- is lacking.

Well, I did feel like a princess, I imagine, in that I was doing this to please other people, some of them strangers.

My wedding was possibly the only day when I felt like I had a public life and a private life and the two were very different. My family don't know the locket I got from my girlfriend, which I usually wore as a bracelet on a watchband, was tied around my ankle with a piece of lace for the wedding. They don't know about her tears at the thought of me moving away.

They don't know that the first words I remember Andrew saying to me as we held hands and walked to where the reception would be were "You're my wife now, Dave," which I knew as a line from a show I don't like.

They don't know that my wedding night was spent playing Apples to Apples with Andrew's and my friends until four in the morning, at which point I cried all over Andrew in the wedding-bed which in our case was a pull-out sofa in my parents' basement because the rest of the house was full of our friends, staying because we're miles from any hotel (though I was secretly thrilled as it was lovely to spend as much time together as we could).

They don't know that I had to explain to Andrew that when people banged their forks on their glasses, they wouldn't stop until we the happy couple kissed. I'd been just about to get up to pee and he had a mouthful of pulled pork, so we kissed quickly and then I went to extract myself from my dress (which luckily I could just about do on my own, one of few concessions I'd gotten on the wedding dress). As soon as I unzipped it, it fell off my shoulders and slid into a puddle around my ankles on the bathroom floor, so I was sitting in just my bra when I heard a knock on the bathroom door and my mom's voice. Apparently people were worried that I was upset. I assured her I was fine -- is a bride not allowed bodily functions on her special day?! -- but the word evidently didn't get around enough because there was no more banging of forks on glasses that day, and I knew from other weddings I'd been to to expect a lot more than the once we escaped with!

My family don't know that Andrew didn't write the song that played at the end of the wedding ceremony. He tried to explain but he talks so fast and sounded so foreign that probably only I could understand what he was saying. He didn't write the song; he had it commissioned as my wedding present. He was rightly proud of it, as it's very good. But if facts were decided democratically, he'd definitely have written it based on what all the people at that wedding thought.

I didn't mind at all that my dad was a couple of years off in how long we've been married. Maybe he's thinking of someone else's wedding.
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Monday, January 19th, 2015 10:33 am
I think it's really cool that, on a Dreamwidth entry, the tags now have little arrows each side of them; clicking the left-pointing arrow takes you to the previous entry that tag was used in, and the right-pointing one takes you to the next one.

This has already led me to a random but fun perusal of some of my previous writing.
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Sunday, January 18th, 2015 10:02 pm
"Oh, stop ogling," James teased Jennie. Someone she's been known to admire had just walked away, in the direction back over my shoulder.

"What?" she said indignantly. "I wasn't admiring his bum, I was admiring Holly's tits!"

I do appreciate the honesty of my autistic friends.

That he apparently had no objection to.
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Sunday, January 18th, 2015 09:07 pm
My mom always says on the phone stuff like "not too exciting around here," and "nothing major."

Both of which she said even today after she just got done telling me about planning their vacation-of-a-lifetime to Hawaii.

I start to wonder what would count as exciting to her.

Another thing that struck me in this conversation: in the middle of telling me about one of the girls I used to babysit, who's a college freshman now, she suddenly said, "And she has a friend who, it's like how you and Seth were, you know."

There was a long pause I utterly failed to fill as my mind raced trying to figure out in what way this girl and her friend were supposed to be like me and Seth. Our freshman year, my roommate and I sort of adopted him because he didn't get along with his roommate very well. We met almost literally running into each other outside a party for the new freshman before classes even started. He and I went on long walks in the middle of the night as an excuse to chat. We did improv together. He told me about calculus and coding and I told him about poetry and astronomy. In which of these or a billion other ways did we remind Mom of this girl and her friend?

"They're just good friends, you know, like you were. He goes with her for her blood tests and stuff, so she has someone there. But it's not like a boyfriend-girlfriend type of thing, her mom told me. And I said, well, it's like that friend you had in college.

Oh. So it's just "mixed-gender friendships" she was thinking of. Right. Is this one of those things my mom thinks only happened to me once, like she thinks I only have one gay friend?
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Sunday, January 18th, 2015 11:46 am
Today I taught [personal profile] magister and his dad that no, his parents are probably not going to Nebraska on their cruise.

Turns out it's New Brunswick.
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Friday, January 16th, 2015 09:22 pm
Andrew resisted referring to himself as anything like autistic up until several years after I first met him.

His reluctance seemed to arise partly from not having -- or, at that time, wanting -- a formal diagnosis and partly from the people who had what we called Internet Asperger's, a self-diagnosis that guarantees accountability-free insults and bad behavior to anyone online, a get-out-of-consequences-free card that anyone can play by simply saying the magic words "it's not my fault, I have Asperger's."

Andrew is the furthest thing imaginable from that kind of person: he is hyper-aware of his difficulty in decipering nonverbal communication and is thus constantly apologizing pre-emptively just in case he's upset or offended someone and hasn't realized it. So he wanted to clearly differentiate himself from these allergic-to-accountability people by avoiding their self-description.

I understood, respected and did my best to support him in his decision not to claim autism as a label for himself. But a lot of things got better or easier for both Andrew and me when he started to realize how much of his experience fit what we gradually discovered were both the strengths and the difficulties of people on the autistic spectrum. A surprising array of seemingly-unrelated things, from his Princess and the Pea-esque sensitivities to the fact that he needs more Novocaine at the dentist than most people because he registers pain in a way most neurotypicals don't, suddenly make sense, make more sense, or have some evidence backing up what seem to otherwise be peculiar or inexplicable characteristics. It leads him to retroactively look on his experiences he had in university and in relationships more accurately and more kindly than he did at the time.

It has helped me appreciate the work I do in interfacing between him and the world, and it's even might explain why I'm good at being married to him, because my visual impairment leads me to share more traits in common with people on the spectrum than I would otherwise and there's a theory that autistic people form successful relationships with partners from different cultures, because those people go into the relationship expecting to have to work harder at communicating than perhaps someone from the same background might do.

It's hard to think of any downside to saying that Andrew is autistic that isn't about the sticgma autistic people face from asshoes or the well-intentioned ignorance they face from almost everybody else.

Through my early twenties I found that many guys would hone in on my “cute eccentricity,” my “beautiful weirdness,” and, yes, my “adorable awkwardness.” Autism didn’t come into it for them — I was not what people imagined when they heard the word. I didn’t rock in anxiety, I didn’t speak in a monotone, I laughed and danced and engaged with people, showing interest in their work and passions. Here the common misconceptions about autism were both my ally and my enemy: they allowed me to hide, and to embrace a status as “off-key yet normal,” but they also damaged me by giving fuel to the lie that I was just a bit odd, making it all the more difficult when it blew up in my face with someone yelling: “What the hell is wrong with you?”

From what I can tell, the impetus behind this "you're not autistic, you're just endearingly quirky" is extremely similar to that which leads people to tell me things like "you're not fat, you're beautiful." What seems to be the message, in both instances, is that's a word we use for people we don't like, and I like you, so it can't be said of you!

Maybe a better way to fix that would be to stop thinking these words can only be insults, fit only for people who are to be either pitied or despised -- if not both.


I had a lot of random conversations during the week I spent looking after my mom in August. One of them, and I can't even remember how now, led to her telling me that Andrew isn't really very autistic. "He only has a touch of autism," I distinctly remember her saying, because I remember thinking that makes it sound like it's something he dabbles in. When he can find the time.

Yeah. No.

And then I thought And she should know better! She knows enough about autism... but of course, that was precisely the source of the problem. She knew about autism from working with an autistic boy who needed a ton of assistance to get through the mainstream school he was in. He was called "low-functioning" and fit a lot of the ideas people have about what autistic people are like -- he was difficult to communicate with, he needed strict routines, stuff like that. And a friend of my mom's has an autistic son, who is a bit "higher functioning" but still needed tons of help in school and has some stereotypical traits. So this is what her idea of autism is. And Andrew doesn't really fit it, so he only has "a touch of autism."


I think she thinks she's paying him a compliment, by saying this. "You're not that autistic" is probably good, in the same way that "you're not that unattractive" would be -- with all the overtones of trying to be reassuring and supportive...and of failing oh so hard.

Like the people who reassure me that I'm totally not fat. Because I'm great. Like those are mutually exclusive states.

Thanks, but no thanks.
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Friday, January 16th, 2015 03:07 pm
I still remember Beagle 2, which was the subject of one of my first LJ entries to get lots of compliments and still one I'm fond of. So I remember poor doomed Beagle 2 fondly, too.

So I was amazed to read today that it's showed up on images taken of the Martian surface, painstakingly scrutinized for the little thing, which is just at the limits of the high-resolution photos. Apparently the entry, descent and landing sequence worked and it did indeed successfully land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.

It'd never occurred to me that imaging on Mars could include looking for stuff we'd sent there, but apparently there'd been prvious searches for Beagle 2. It's not like they just stumbled across it; it sounds like it was tricky to find because it's so small.

People who'd worked on the project expressed happiness about these things, and while it must be nice to know what happened to Beagle 2, I can't help but think it'd add a little element of heartbreak to learn that the mission did so many things right, came so close to the success all those people had worked so hard for.
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Friday, January 16th, 2015 01:08 am

I'm sure it's purest coincidence that it was the train conductor I immediately thought was cute (she clearly had a sense of humor) who left me a heart on my ticket.