Saturday, September 27, 2008

Conspiracy Theory.

"Everyone knew that Kathleen was pregnant and that she died of the child. You'd have to be an idiot not to have figured that out, what with the girl's hasty home-coming and incarceration in the house. But the thing you do in a case like that is to go along with the idea that the child is the offspring of the grandparents. Everyone agrees to this fiction, and the only people who'd breathe a word of the actual facts to the illegitimate child are those who are so malicious to begin with that they are easily dismissed as liars. As in truth they are. For the beneficent lie tells the truth about the child, which is "you belong in this community", whereas the malicious truth-tellers use fact to convey a lie, which is "you don't belong". This is an imperfect system but it's the prevailing one. As as the years go by the facts get eroded and scattered by time, until there are more people who don't know than people who do."

Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall On Your Knees (London: Vintage Books, 1997): 165-6.


Sometimes the intensity of my anxiety surprises even me. For instance, did you know that for the past ten years, I have been worried that something was going to happen to the Standard of Ur and its companion pieces, The Ram in a Thicket and the Queen's (Golden) Lyre of Ur? I know this fear is crazy--what possible difference could it make in my life if the Standard of Ur somehow was destroyed? But I ran over the to British Museum today just to make sure they were there. At first I was completely disoriented by the renovations made since the removal of the British Library to its own site (the British Museum now seems more like an over-sized gift shop than a museum, I think). Once oriented, however, I went straight to the Mesopotamia rooms to make sure the Standard and friends were okay. Even as I got closer, my anxiety grew more acute. At two galleries away, I was panicked that they were gone. At one gallery away, I had sweated completely through my shirt and jacket. At ten paces, I had to fight back tears of relief that everything was in place and as it should be.

For anyone else suffering from this particular anxiety, there is a small women's restroom just outside the north lift where you can recover from yourself in privacy.

Even a monkey can do it.

Anyone who has the (dis)pleasure of dining with me knows I am completely incapable of using cutlery. My wife teases me about the way I hold my fork, and my parents used to argue about the same when I was a kid (whose responsibility was it to teach me to hold a knife and fork properly, anyway?). So, here I am in, in a land where everyone eats pizza with utensils instead of fingers, suffering and sweating every lunch hour. As I slowly work my way through the menu at Pizza Express, I am being forced to eat my entire lunch, day after day, with fork and knife.

This week I discovered that the angle at which you hold your knife when cutting actually makes a difference. It's much more effective to saw a pizza crust at a 23-degree rather than a 45-degree angle. Who knew? Well, probably everyone who knows how to use silverware knew this. However, until recently, that group did not include me. I'm sure whatever gains I make will be lost after nine months of eating with my right hand only in India, but in the meantime, I'm making progress with my tools.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


This is what I look like when I'm playing Intergalatic Battle Checkers on Facebook w/Catherine.

Little Head, Big Brain

Just got in from a 3-hour walk along the London Loop. I only went halfway along the section between Cockfosters and Enfield Lock before turning around, so I guess I only walked about 7-8 miles total. A nice stretch of the legs, but not really a very brisk pace. Much of the time I was in or around Trent Park, a rather large bit of land that was once part of Henry IV's hunting grounds. It has a lofty obelisk that fans of Dr. Who might recognize. A large step off the main path will lead to Camlet Moat, an earthworks that dates to the 1300s or so. Most of the stuff on the web is about the moat as a haunted site (although I suspect all those burned-out spots and trees with fabric draped on them were created by teenagers earnestly exploring the occult, perhaps with a lager or two, not by haunting spirits), but I did find an interesting write-up about Camlet/Camelot, Geoffrey de Mandeville and myth to read.

Anyway, I saw much today, including four fighter jets flying in formation, a landscape produced by Repton and Brown, an ancient moat, a rather large obelisk, children playing cricket, plowed fields, baled hay, and dozens of dogs off leads, but I'll tell you what I'll remember the most. I'll remember the high-pitched voice of the little girl behind me informing her parents as loudly as she possibly could, "That lady has a little head! That big lady has a little head!" You'd think a child walking behind someone with a expansive, colorful tattoo on her calf would notice that, but no, she notices my weight and my pin head. Lovely.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Well, that's true.

I finally saw 30 St. Mary Axe in person--from a distance, mind you--but that was probably worth the long bus ride into the city. Actually, I saw it while looking across the Thames from the south bank near the Millennium Bridge, so that's two Norman Fosters in one glance.

Also, for you bollykids, I was briefly in Waterloo Station today. Catherine, you will recognize the guy standing next to Mr. Bachchan in that video clip. And while I'm posting Jhoom Barabar Jhoom links, this one is kind of sweet.

ETA: Sorry, fixed the links.

Surprisingly Quiet

I think it's a rather sad commentary on my creativity that I have been in the U.K. for over a week now, and I can't think of anything interesting to write in my blog. Or my journal. Journaling lasted exactly one day, and that day consisted of bullet points.

In part, I think this is what happens when you travel to work rather than play. I spent a day or two clearing up communications issues--bought a new cell phone w/world SIM card, got my computer set up on the wireless network at the house, got my British Library reader's pass, bought an Oyster/Travel Card so I could use the tube to go into the city every day. After those exciting problems were easily and swiftly resolved, I just slipped into a regular work schedule: up in the a.m., eat an apple on the way to the station, sit on the train for 30 minutes, get off the train, sort my stuff into a locker at the British library, work for several hours, eat lunch, work more hours, take a break for a cup of coffee and a quick phone call to Catherine, work another hour, pick my stuff up out of my locker, sit on the train for 20 minutes, walk home from the station. In the few evenings I've been here, I've spent them: talking to Catherine via webcam, watching television, walking to the supermarket, and eating dinner.

There is very little excitement in the daily schedule of the working life.

I think it's just possible that I've now spent enough time in London that what once might have seem notable or odd is neither any more. Well, what is notable and odd is that there are dustbins everywhere these days, even on the train platform at Cockfosters. Obviously the days of "bomb in trash" worries are over (supplanted by the days of "bomb in train" worries), and now it is easy to eat my breakfast on the way to the train, because I have somewhere to throw the core when I'm done. Also, the British Library is a much friendlier place these days. It is no longer like working in a prison, with the warden standing just there, behind your shoulder. It's a much better environment. I only wish the reading rooms had longer opening hours--trying to get everything done between 9:30 and 5:00 is difficult.

And, yes, I've turned into Randy. I know.

I spent the day on the bus from Cockfosters to London Bridge (don't do that again). I intended to spend a full afternoon at the Tate Modern, but once I got there, I realized I was bored. The building didn't grab me the way I thought it would, and the art on display wasn't...wasn't...I don't know. Nothing drew me in. I hate it when I can walk into a gallery and tick off the artist of every piece on the wall without trying. It's true enough that I could have spent more time in Surrealism gallery, but de Chirico and partners make me queasy even in small doses. The only piece that really held my attention was Cornelia Parker's Thirty Pieces of Silver, and even that viewing was somewhat marred by the poor design of the exhibition space. People, if you are going to put up a long text about a piece in a room that has only one entrance/exit, MOVE IT AWAY FROM THE DOOR. Huddled masses, trying to read, tripping over the barrier.

Anyway, I think I should have enjoyed the art, the building, and the experience more, and I'm not quite sure why I didn't.

Today was the last sunny day EVER for London. At least, that must have been written on the memo that was sent out to all of Europe this a.m. The south bank Thames Path was packed, shoulder to shoulder, everyone trying to absorb one last bit of Vitamin D before the winter grey sets in. It made for slow service in the cafe, but for cheerful people on the pavements, so that's a fair trade, I suppose.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Parting Gifts.

The best going-away gift I received last week was handed to me quite casually by my therapist. As we were wrapping up my final session, she looked down at her notes and agreed with me that I would be just fine this coming year. "You're meeting your potential, and you are going to do well." As you might remember, living up to my "potential" has always been a big burden for me. I never seem to be able to do it, I always seem to be chasing my potential and just falling short. But, finally, someone has decided that I'm doing enough, I'm maxing out my capabilities, and I should feel good about that.

The worst going-away present I received last week was a parking ticket. I was on my way back to my car with 20 minutes to spare on my meter when a faculty member stopped me to talk to me about her research plans. I kept trying to edge toward the door, but I couldn't bring myself to say, "Hey, my parking meter is about to run out of money, I gotta go!" My meter was 5 minutes expired when I got back to my car, and I had a $20 ticket because of it. It's just annoying, because I am so uptight about putting money in my meter, parking legally, and being responsible, and then, look what happens on my very last day on campus.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

You're not from around here, are you?

This year, I promise I will learn the names of the trees in my neighborhood(s) in India. I swear.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Itinerary and Ire

So, my airline tickets to London and Delhi are finally in hand. T-11 days and counting. Every other sentence out of my mouth is "I don't want to go," but it seems that I have to, whether I want to or not. We have the webcams all set up so we can Skype, and Catherine has promised to visit, but I can't seem to stop feeling like this is all one big mistake. I spend all my free time reading cake decorating websites, contemplating a second (third? fourth?) career at the local bake shop. I'm pretty sure I'd be a good cake decorator.

As my departure draws nearer, I find myself growing more and more bitter about the Defense of Marriage Act. It's standing directly in between me and my partner, keeping us apart for twelve months simply because we're both female.

Here's the exact language from the DDRA booklet:

A dependent is any of the following individuals who accompany the fellow to his or her research site(s) for the entire fellowship period if the individual receives more than 50 percent of his or her support from the fellow during the fellowship period: 1) the fellow’s spouse; 2) the fellow’s or spouse’s children who are unmarried and under age 21.

Dependents for whom the fellow is requesting a dependent’s allowance must accompany the fellow to the research site for the entire fellowship period. Should a fellow’s dependent return to the U.S. during the tenure of the fellowship, the fellow will be required to return the full dependent's allowance.

The word "marriage" means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word "spouse" refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. These definitions are found in 1 USC Section 7, commonly known as the “Defense of Marriage Act” and apply to all federal programs."

So, the fact that Catherine and I have been together for sixteen years means nothing--she doesn't count as a dependent, and doesn't qualify for a dependent's allowance. She could easily get a leave of absence from her job, and the living + dependent's stipend from the DDRA would easily support us both in London and India. But, no. Not straight, not possible. When my friends try to tell me I should be happy for "domestic partnerships" or "civil unions," I offer this as a clear and specific example of why these supposed "separate but equal" institutions are in fact still discriminatory.

A friend of mine who is in the process of applying for the Fulbright-Hays told me just today that she and her boyfriend have decided to get married so he will be considered a dependent. Well, I'm sure they would probably stay together, and even get married in the future, anyway; but the truth is, they can decide to get married because it's practical to keep them together in the next twelve months, reaping benefits denied to me.

Well, life isn't fair, and that's a lesson learned a long time ago, so I can't waste too much more energy on this. But when I'm sitting in front of the television, listening to a presidential candidate who believes civil unions are good enough, and that the federal government doesn't need to do anything to secure my marriage rights, I get angry all over again. It's probably a good thing I'll be spending the two months immediately before the presidential election away from American television and radio.