strangecharm: (Default)
2015-01-28 04:43 pm
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One of those weeks

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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2015-01-27 09:53 pm
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Fish

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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2015-01-27 08:42 am
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Here's my general election prediction: the run-up to it will ruin my mental health

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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2015-01-22 10:51 am
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The two USAs


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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2015-01-21 09:46 pm
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he was embroiled in the battle for fun.

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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2015-01-20 03:27 pm
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Ladies' Problems

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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2015-01-20 09:04 am

New appreciation for hoodies

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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2015-01-20 07:47 am
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The Mrs.-Hudson-on-the-Utopia book

The story I was enthusing about here is the start of a novel that's now available.
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2015-01-19 12:45 pm
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Nine years

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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2015-01-19 10:33 am

Feature

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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2015-01-18 10:02 pm
Entry tags:

The sort of conversation people look at us funny for having in public

"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.
strangecharm: (Default)
2015-01-18 09:07 pm
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Major

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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2015-01-18 11:46 am
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Geography lesson

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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2015-01-16 09:22 pm
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Ah, Just a Touch of Autism...

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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2015-01-16 03:07 pm
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They found Beagle 2!

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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2015-01-16 01:08 am

Something I'd never seen before



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.
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2015-01-15 06:41 pm
Entry tags:

I think I'll still wear the cat-ear hat at my own peril, though

I can tell I need to get my hair cut again -- not just because I want to (though I do! that hasn't been enough to compel me to the barber's, though), but because I'm starting to get clocked as a woman more consistently in public.

I know this because men are no longer making any attempt at moving out of my way when they walk towards me.

I shared an image on Facebook a little while ago that said something like (of course I can't find it to check exactly, because Facebook) "My sister is doing an experiment: she's no longer moving first when men walk towards her. So far she's collided with 28 men."

I'd never realized before that this was a gendered problem -- I thought I was in danger of walking into people just because I'm blind and processing many fast-moving targets is hard for me -- but it totally makes sense that it is. Of course I'm sure the blind thing doesn't help, but it definitely is less of a problem if, though I'm not in any way trying to pass as anything other than the cis woman I am, sometimes people's encounters with me are brief enough that they don't necessarily treat me like I'm a woman.

I was reminded of this today when I was out with [personal profile] magister, because at least once or twice, a few young guys passed us, walking the opposite direction, and spread out to get around James. One of them, in so doing, changed his trajectory to walk straight towards me. James was worth evading, but I wasn't.

As I did that little dance of suddenly stopping and resisting all my momentum in hopes of avoiding a collision, I mused that this was a surprising thing to have to do, but also that it was very familiar to me.

I mused, as I walked on, that the two feelings, surprise yet familiarity, seemed to indicate that I was accustomed to having to perform these kinds of evasive maneuvers, but that I hadn't recently had to. Which fits with my unthinking trend towards a slightly more androgynous appearance... but also the fact that today I was wearing a fuzzy hat with cat ears on it, which would itself probably be enough to get me assumed female in most contexts!

And this is when I realized that the bit of self-bribery that might induce me to actually bother to get my hair cut again is telling myself that it'll probably make me have to stress less about running into people. Sad, but true.

(And yes, I know there are other ways to make my body language more physically assertive. I'm sure there are plenty of cis women who can stride unflinchingly through crowds. I know gender (or perceived gender) is not the be-all and end-all of how people treat you. But getting my hair cut does seem to be the most effective, and least-effort, thing I can do to improve my stress levels in crowds of people.)

And anyway, the hair's long enough to make my ears itch, and that's no good; it must go.
strangecharm: (Default)
2015-01-11 11:31 pm
Entry tags:

Every time

Light is fixed. Like everybody said, the starters needed replacing.

Such a simple solution, after all that angst.. I'm grateful that these things are relatively straightforward because I'm already running on empty, but it also makes me feel sheepish about flying off the handle.

[livejournal.com profile] haggis was kind enough to drive me to B&Q twice in less than 24 hours when that became necessary, and after buying my starters and her carefully choosing a new bedside lamp (which unfortunately took long enough that I had plenty of opportunity to get excited at overhead lights I'd love to have in my house, especially because I so hate the lights in my kitchen) we went back to hers to hang up some paintings.

She had some complex damage-free picture-hanging stuff, so we carefully measured and made marks on the wall -- blue-tack and string got involved -- and pressed and held the sticky stuff on the back of the painting, and then pressed and held the painting on the wall...and then it didn't stay. And a bit of the paint came off along with the sticky stuff. And this led us to the conclusion that the poor paint job needs to be stripped off and the room repainted.

I sympathize and empathize so much with [livejournal.com profile] haggis's plight here. Looking forward to having the beloved paintings up on display, instead she faces a big new task that's comprised of several small tasks: because the paint is coming off so easily, she thinks that won't be helping the sticky stuff stick to the wall, so the paint has to be stripped, the room has to be repainted, the stuff has to be moved out of the room so it can be repainted, so a place has to be found to move all that stuff into, and then after all that is done we're back to the original problem of the best way to get these paintings hung on these walls

I certainly wouldn't wish such a problem on her. But since it's there, watching how she reacted to it was really good for me because I so thoroughly identified with it, and it helped me to see how someone else dealt with the situation. It feels very lonely when I find myself lacking some skill, knowledge or information that becomes necessary. Often I don't even know the right questions to ask or where to start seeking answers.

I am not alone in my struggles. I am not doing particularly badly.

It's hard to believe these things when that's exactly what it feels like, but that's also when it's most important to remember.

Taking two days and a mini-nervous breakdown to get some light in the basement seems, to say the least, not a very sustainable method of solving this kind of problem: I don’t want to flounder every time there's a crisis and feel stupid and get upset until one of my friends bails me out with the essential knowledge or ability that I'm lacking. It's too hard on my emotional and mental health. I suspect there's some comprehensive solution that consists of both increasing my resilience and finding some good resources for the the known-unknowns and the unknown-unknowns of DIY and being responsible for a house.

For now, I'm just glad that I have so many generous, kind, adept, and above all supportive friends catching me every time I stumble.
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2015-01-11 08:27 pm

It's so easy

It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.
I do try to thoughtfully compliment people as often as I can. Sometimes I worry about being the effusive American, about embarrassing people. (But, I now realize, I worry less than I used to!)

And, thinking about the rest of that article, I do think I fall in love easily. Mostly I've led a life safe enough that I could stay pretty vulnerable most of the time. Spending an evening like that described here sounds like lots of fun to me!

When I first read it as a teenager, I was intrigued by Heinlein's "The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just." He's wrong about so, so much but I still think he might be right about this.

But, having no particular time or energy for things like falling into any more love just now, though, I still like the idea of handing out thoughtful compliments all the time.

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2015-01-10 10:10 pm

KBO

I'm really disappointed that buying a new bulb for the fluorescent light downstairs hasn't resulted in the light actually working.

Buying a house has put a million demands on my time and money and knowledge when none of them are up to it. I'm annoyed that I knew I wasn't up to this before we even started looking for a house and yet the choice to burden me with it was made. I feel lonely every time something goes wrong, like the world's waiting for me to sort it out.

I'm trying to get lifelong conditions for both Andrew and I properly diagnosed so we can both get some much-needed official acknowledgment and support, I'm trying to find a job or better yet a way to train to do something other than shitty office work. Everything I try just leads me to more phone calls or e-mails I have to send to explain myself yet again to more strangers.

For every item I cross off my to-do list, three appear to take its place. I try to focus on the positives and be cheerful and look after myself, but these things are all hard to do, too. I just wish everything wasn't so hard.