How Not To (Long Distance Relationship Edition)

So, I’ve been thinking for a while about doing a blog post about long-distance relationships. Because I hate them and think they’re doomed to failure and swore I’d never enter into one. And then…I did. Like, a super-long distance. For many months. And I’ve been bad at it and I’ve been good at it and I still don’t know if I “believe” in them or not, but I certainly understand their occasional necessity.

But this actually isn’t about any of that. Because, as I was aimlessly googling on this topic, I discovered this and oh, how I had to write about it. Thus:

(At Least) 10 Things I Will Never Do With My Long-Distance Boyfriend (and one thing I kind of already did)

6. HoochyMail!
Okay, so maybe Frank doesn’t like this one so much… HoochyMail is a website where you enter information and it automatically generates a story with your names in a MadLib type fashion. You choose the story level: sexy, x-rated, or off the wall. I did this for Frank, and cried laughing reading the story the website generated. I think Frank just stared at his computer with his eyebrows bunched up.

Yep, I’m gonna agree with Frank on this one. An x-rated MadLib? Can’t we all agree that that’s the least sexy concept ever? Also, isn’t the whole point of a MadLib to insert the word “cum” into otherwise unremarkable situations to hilarious effect?

…heh. “Insert.”

11. Make a website!
Make a website about your relationship that you both can work on. It is a great way to track your progress in your relationship, and what a great idea it would be to add a timeline….

I really hope that’s the only bit of data that future scientists discover when they attempt to piece together this era. “And you see here, Jenkins, where they’ve exhaustively described the linguine prepared and enjoyed on their fifth and a half (because that time they just got a sandwich on Jane’s lunch break didn’t officially count) date? Clearly, this formed the backbone of some sort of primitive religion…”

17. Send fun coupons
They can redeem them the next time you see them. These are great to include in care packages along with other nice items they may enjoy.

Actually, Ed and I once had a conversation about this. And I told him that the day he makes me bargain for physical contact with a goddamned coupon is the day we are done. He was sad, because he’d already made a whole stack of “One Free Hug” coupons, but it’s okay, he’ll make coffee sleeves out of them or something. He’s green like that.

But seriously…coupons are the creepiest, unsexiest, old personiest thing to introduce into a relationship. It makes doing nice things for the person you love explicitly transactional and equates your hugs, kisses and whatevers with dry goods and dented cans of pineapple. No coupons. Really.

20. Send a Hip-Hop gram.
You can send a song to your love with their name actually in the song. And it’s free! All the lovey dovey type songs are only meant for sending to girls for some reason…

This suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of either Hip Hop or singing telegrams. Or possibly both. Actually, probably both.

22. Take an online compatibility test.
SimilarMinds.com offers a compatibility test that you can take with one or more people. Fill out the form and they will send an email to whom you choose so they can take the test. Once you have both completed the test, you’ll get an email that tells you your results. Want to know our results? Frank and I are 75% similar and 81% complementary. I hope that’s good!

There’s something similar on here about “love quizzes” or something like that. But I can’t help but feel like these are annoyances at best and, at worst, the kind of doofy little thing that can get you all worked up if you’re already in a strange and stressful situation. Like, say, loving someone and being unable to interact with them on some of the most important human levels. And then before you know it, you’re pounding car bombs and wailing about how your 64 percent similarity score means that your significant other is probably boning a clerk from 7/11, like, right this instant. I advise staying far away from Cosmo for similar reasons.

23. Make them cookies 🙂

I would totally do this, actually, if they wouldn’t be all stale by the time they got there. I make awesome cookies, man. Unfortunately, Ed doesn’t really bake. And you just can’t demand that someone mail you grilled cheese or vegetarian curry from Belgium. Not that I haven’t seriously considered it.

44. Share LDR bracelets.
Get one for your girlfriend/boyfriend, or for yourself too.

Show off your long distance pride. A keychain option is also available. You can include a special message too!

An actual conversation that Ed and I had in January:

Me: So, at New Year’s, my grandmother asked if you’d given me a promise ring.

Ed: …is that like a decoder ring?

So, um, we’re not so much for the commemorative jewelry. Although, a relationship decoder ring would totally rule and I would use it all time because, quite frankly, I’d like to feel more like a WW2-era spy.

But really, what would your long-distance relationship keyring say? “Never drive faster than your long distance relationship can fly”? “My other car is in a long distance relationship with a Russian tank”?

54. How much do I love you?
This next idea is an email game created by Evan.
I made up this little game for my gf and I to play… all you do is email each other “how much you love them” and the point is to use analogies and try to top the last one sent. Example would be: “I love you like pigeons love statues.” And then she’ll reply with one and keep trying to make them better and better, really makes you think when your out and about working and whatnot. You find yourself trying to look around for an idea for a better one. Just a little something that you can have some fun with. =)

I’m sorry, people resent couples enough without adding this cutesy bullshit into the mix. Plus, “I love you like pigeons love statues”? Like, feces are involved? That’s a glimpse into your private life that no one wants, sir.

59. Hold hands.
Thad is the genius behind this next idea. Thad writes:
Last weekend when my girlfriend, Cheryl, was visiting I got another idea for you to add to you list. We were visiting a bookstore in western Massachusetts that is housed in an old mill — its an amazing place and it was a great time to go through children’s books with Cheryl (she’s an elementary school teacher) but its not the subject of my idea. As we were driving south on I-91 to Springfield, Massachusetts to meet a friend for dinner we happened to pass the Yankee Candle company factory. She had heard that you could dip your own candles so we decided to turn around and find our way there. As it turns out, you can’t actually visit the factory itself, but they have a pretty amazing visitor center with shops and restaurants a bit farther up the road. And yes you can dip your own candles and other wax creatures. The idea I wanted to share is that you can also do wax molds of your own hands. We each did one, and are planning to trade them off. This would make a nice wonderful gift, and it was a really fun experience. They’re only $5 each and it only takes a few short minutes. So if you’re in the area, I strongly recommend a visit to the Yankee Candle Shops in South Deerfield, Massachusetts.

If you aren’t anywhere near Massachusetts, don’t worry! You can also find hand molding kits in any crafts store. Just think… you’ll be able to hold his/her hand whenever you want to! 🙂 Thank you for the awesome idea Thad! 🙂

…holy fucking shit. Yikes. I’m just picturing some dude in his lonely apartment, delicately clutching a wax facsimile of his girlfriend’s severed hand…just…wow. Wow. One or both of these people are going to end up in eight garbage bags at the bottom of a river.

95. Create a timeline and predict your future together
This next idea comes from Mia. Her and her boyfriend created a timeline together predicting and setting date goals of major life events including:
When to move in together
When to get married
When to have your children
etc…
Don’t get too serious about it, just make it a fun, even silly 😀

Totally fun and silly! What could be more whimsical than discovering that your significant  other has the two of you on a detailed, long-term schedule and that you’re going to have to pick up the pace if Tad Junior is going to graduate from Harvard on time?

Make Babies! 😛
Well, not real babies… haha. MorphThing.com is a website that can take two images (one of you and your boyfriend/girlfriend) and generates an image of what your future child might look like. It is the coolest thing ever! 🙂

Full disclosure: I morphed the shit out of Ed and I. I can’t resist these things! Even though, last time I did one, it suggested that my closest celebrity facial match was Dolph Lundgren. According to sophisticated interwebs morphing technology, our baby will be whiter than summer yachting camp. Seriously, they gave our morph!baby blue eyes? I don’t have blue eyes. Neither does anyone in my immediate family, to my knowledge. And it was actually paler than I am. Paler! Than! Me! Also, it had a lumpy, misshapen head. Given this evidence, though, if we do ever have a kid, I wouldn’t have to defend myself from accusations of infidelity with an encephalitic viking. “Remember? The internet told us this would happen!”

I think this has strengthened our relationship already.

In as much seriousness as I can muster, loving someone from far away is really hard and not anybody’s recommended lifestyle. So, you know, if you have to make a morph!baby or do simultaneous karaoke to stick with someone, then go for it. This is silly and often weird but I can’t really knock on the attempt to hold on to someone when all the normal avenues of relationship building are closed to you.

…except for that hand thing. That’s some proto-Ed Gein shit right there.

A Sputnik to Call My Own

“She was born in a barn in 1896 and she died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut.”
-Mad Men’s Bert Cooper, shoeless Ayn Rand enthusiast

There comes a time in every young woman’s life when she must put aside childish things and finally order a damn business card. Or two.

Okay, maybe three.

I am someone with business, and I am certainly someone with a desire for more business. Plus, business cards are cool; a little portable form of representation. My goal is to have them/ have any discretionary income with which to buy them by World Fantasy Con this fall (which, if you’re not attending, you should totally attend because it’s awesome and also because you could hang out with me. How can you not want to do that?)

I have a general idea of how I’d like the card to look and I’ve been doing some preliminary research (um…googling. Informed consumer, over here!). And, honestly, it’s pretty fucking bleak.

For example, a google image search for “space girl,” turns up a myriad of what I like to call the Totally Superfluous Gun (common additional elements include the Incredibly Impractical Spacesuit and Boobies)

This is not to suggest that I am not in favor of sexiness. Sexiness is rad! But these women are uniformly…well, incompetent. They are limp-wristed and doll-eyed, they hold their ray guns like someone told artillery makes their boobs look perkier. Hell, even putting aside ray gun operation, even walking seems to pose a challenge for these chicks. Their chests bow outwards and their knees knock together uselessly. This poor lady had to lean against a wall for support! What the fuck? Are they newborn baby giraffes or something? Learn to walk under your own power, woman!

But maybe it was the “girl,” in “space girl.” Perhaps it was a pejorative that doomed me to returning only “Inept Jailbait in Space”? But “space woman,” gave me more of the same, except with more instances of the apparently really trendy space shorts. “lady astronaut,” resulted in a lot of pictures of that woman who got famous for diapers, death threats and mental illness. “Female astronaut,” the driest term I could think of, produced a lot of actual photos of real astronauts (and at least one picture of Christina Aguilera preparing to fellate a space shuttle. NASA training really is comprehensive!) Plus this gem. “Wrenches are hard!” YOU AND EVERYONE ON YOUR TEAM IS GOING TO DIE IN SPACE!

Dude, whither the fun, stylized representations of female space adventurerers who look like they could survive something more taxing than a trip to the space-hairdresser?

Do you know why I wanted a picture of a spacegirl on my business cards in the first place? (if you said “because spacegirls rule,” I award you half-credit. It’s true, they do.) Because, for a while, my resume declared me a “writer. explorer. idealist.” And then I realized that was unbearably pretentious. But I still wanted to convey that idea. Exploration; it’s what I want and what I offer. What are writers, after all, if not mapmakers, historians and investigators of new worlds?

Not all hope is lost. This is cool. She looks prepared and thoughtful and useful. And she clearly knows how to work her gun. There’s a lot of fun in this one, and she looks like a sharp chick. Here is a spacesuit that looks like it could actually withstand…um…space. And I like this a lot, though it’s really not, stylistically, what I want. It has an optimism and an eagerness and a determination that I’m looking for. I don’t want a photograph, though (trying for something more retro pulp and cartoon-y. More representational than individual) and there is a notable lack of ray guns. But that is the kind of idea I want to put out into the world: we look up, we look forward.

*note: I’m not trying to criticize individual artists here so much as express my discomfort with the idea that our go-to image for “a woman in space” is overtly sexual and not much else, the trappings of competence (guns, spaceships, tools) only serve to underscore how…silly she is. And the fact that appending “woman,” “girl,” or “female,” to anything seems to be the most direct route to pictures of nipples in exotic settings. That concept is pervasive and really doesn’t have much to do with the creators of the images I’ve linked here.

Devil and Nicole Taylor’s Ire

I always roll my eyes when people call some totally banal thing or activity “addictive.” No one is turning tricks in a Denny’s parking lot for another hit of Farmville, you know? I feel the same way (but much more vehemently) about the distressingly common “raping/raped/rapes/ my childhood.” You know what rapes a childhood? Rapists. Who rape children. This concept does not belong in any sentence about your feeling that Snarf’s new voice actor doesn’t live up to the rich Thundercats legacy.

Can I digress in an entry that’s actually composed exclusively of digressions? Let’s find out!

Anyway, what I was getting at with that was, although I hate that bit of nomenclature, this has been taking up a suspiciously large amount of my free time lately. It’s a text-based options game that lets you take on a character and guide them through a variety of adventures, your decisions determining the trajectory of the game. It was produced by the fantabulous Heather Albano and a number of other clever people. My favorite was Choice of Dragon, but that may be because I have long cherished a fantasy about stalking through the countryside indiscriminately eating peasants. Ch-ch-check it out!

I’ve been sort of aimlessly researching Brussels recently, preparatory to my return there in the spring, and I ran across this, which I hadn’t realized existed. Of course, it makes a lot of sense. The ex-pat lifestyle can be enormously isolating, especially if it’s something you’ve followed someone into. It can produce an extraordinary dependance. Resources are tough to get to even in one’s home country where, presumably, you’d have a superior understanding of how the government is structure. Add to that a possible language barrier and citizenship tangles and it could be a recipe for misery. I’m glad this organization exists and think their “volunteer ambassador” program is really neat. If I ever find myself living abroad for an extended period of time, I hope it’s something I’d be able to participate in.

Okay, so I watched Devil recently (because…don’t ask questions, okay?) and I came to a conclusion: M. Night Shyamalan is just fucking with us at this point, right? No functional human can be so utterly lacking in self-awareness, in even the most rudimentary concept of what people find ridiculous…right? RIGHT?

For example: at one point in Devil, a character drops a piece of jellied toast to prove the existence of the Devil.

Allow me to repeat that: a character drops a piece of jellied toast to prove the existence of the Devil.

Not only is that a criminal waste of jellied toast, it’s so fucking stupid that my eyes lodged a formal complaint with my brain immediately after watching it. And not only are we supposed to take this character seriously after that, we are actually intended to regard him as the Mulder-y voice of reason, surrounded by stubborn Scullys. No! He is a crazy person! Get him out of there! At the very least, he’s getting jelly all over the fucking floor and someone’s going to slip.

Plus, the whole central conceit is really bizarre. It’s like trying to learn how to play Poker from a really competitive seven year old. “And now I win because sevens are high and because…um…it’s Wednesday and because of Saturn.” The Devil needs a suicide to enter the world, he has to gather a group of people together in an enclosed space, he needs an audience (so…closed circuit television is always required. Okay. The 18th Century was hard on the Devil.), he has to kill them one by one, oh, and 2/3s of the way through the movie, he suddenly needs his victims’ loved ones (or just one guy’s loved one?) to witness it too. Jesus H. Christ, Devil! Mariah Carey has a less labor intensive rider!

Also, this is all framed as a bedtime story that Sir Isaac Toast-ton’s mother told him. What the ever-loving fuck? In what universe is this an appropriate bed-time story? Let alone one told over and over again! “Mommy! Tell me again about the suicide that ushers in the Devil who then proceeds to slowly torture several irredeemable sinners while others watch helplessly! That’s my favorite!”

You can’t even argue that it’s an instructive tale, really. The take-away from the story is that there’s nothing to be done about the Devil and sometimes it just happens and then, whatever, it’s the Devil. If you’re trying to scare your kids straight, wouldn’t the time-honored evocation of a standard Hell and a non-elevator-bound Devil probably do it? I say, if it was good enough for Cotton Mather, then it should be good enough for us. And the movie acts like this is a totally standard bit of Catholic dogma and, man, doesn’t everybody grow up regularly hearing about how we live in a cold and malevolent universe where unimaginable evil is constantly out to get us in highly specific ways?

Everything about that movie is lazy and stupid. So there.

On the Occasion of My First Publication…

Honestly, I’m so happy I could spit. I won’t though. That’d be gross.

The Excision

I’m going to ask to be paid in Zimbabwean dollars, so I can swim in a pool of filthy lucre, Scrooge McDuck-style.

Also, today I finished the first draft of a new story in what feels like forever. It heavily features Paris and dogs and severed hands. So, all in all, it’s been a good writing day.

Birth Control For Everyone

I just signed this, for reasons that are, like, 60 percent altruistic and 40 percent selfish. Of course, I believe that more birth control needs to be available for more women. This is a medical issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a human rights issue. But I super-extra believe that birth control needs to be more available to me.

See, I’ve been doing the the BC merry-go-round for a while now, trying to make the best of a series of not-so-great options. I try to be educated and thoughtful about the things I put in my body and my reproductive health is incredibly important to me. And yet, everywhere I turn, I feel like I’m, at best, being told that it’s somehow luxurious or decedent to want to control the contents of your own uterus and, at worst, that I’m bad for wanting to do the same and therefore deserve some kind of fiscal punishment.

Because I’m poor. Not dire-poor, but the kind of ersatz, college-student poor that a lot of people my age are. I don’t have dependents, I have a secure job, I’m a lot better off than most people. But I still have a hard time swinging most forms of birth control. The Nuvaring, for example, was costing me 70 dollars a month, or as much as my fucking electricity bill. Also, it wasn’t exactly a monthly purchase (every three weeks) so it was even a little more than that.

Dude, you say, just go on the pill, it’s cheaper. It is that. But even then, the pill is usually 20+ dollars a month and can be more, depending on various factors. Plus, there is a reason there are approximately ten bajilleron forms of birth control: they aren’t one-size fits all and most of them can have some pretty gnarly side-effects for a lot of people.

I knew I didn’t want to use the pill. For one thing, is has a margin of human error much larger than I’m comfortable with. Especially when I’m that human being counted upon not to make errors. In a year of taking Prozac, I don’t think I’ve ever once taken it at exactly the same time two days in a row. When things get hectic, I’m lucky to hit every day in a week.

And of course there’s the other thing. With the Prozac (and even without it) introducing an unknown element into my body is a bit of a Mr. Wizard experiment. I knew I wanted to go with something as low-hormone as possible. Originally, I wanted an IUD, but for physiological reasons, that was impossible for me. I seriously considered the depo shot but subsequent research has indicated that is not for me either. In addition to the standard host of potential side-effects, one is also warned about “significant bone density loss.” Yiiiiiikes. I went with the Nuvaring as a temporary measure and I discovered that, not only was it frustratingly expensive, but even its relatively small dosage of hormones made me more emotionally unstable and slightly, but noticeably, decreased my sex drive (which, I suppose is one way to prevent pregnancy. But not, I’m gonna guess, anyone’s preferred method.)

Right now, I’m interested in the Implanon implant and I’m doing some research to see if it would be a good fit for me. I complain at least on a bi-weekly basis that not having babies shouldn’t be this difficult. But, in reality, I’m really, really lucky. For one thing, I have the time and resources to try all these methods and see if they work for me, for another, I have recourse if I’m not able to afford something. It’s impossible to guess how many women there are who are sticking with BC methods that make them sick or unhappy-or going without entirely-because they can’t afford to do anything else.

Not only do petitions like this one matter, but we have to work to stop this implicit cultural idea that birth control is somehow inherently hedonistic or dissolute. Women shouldn’t be shamed or punished for being responsible and proactive about their own health. And this is about health. Quite frankly, pregnancy can be incredibly rough on the human body. Not to mention the fact that US has one of the highest rates of maternal death of all developed nations. No, being up the stick isn’t a disease, but it is a condition and it isn’t exactly safe or comfortable either. And it should be voluntary. Voluntary for everyone, not just those with sufficient income.

And, goddammit, can we stop suggesting that “just don’t have sex” is at all a reasonable counter idea here? You know, just cut an essential and delightful part of the human experience out of your life and your relationships. Just ignore a bodily imperative that humans almost never successfully suppress. Let’s just categorize sex as something that only people with money can have. Seems totally reasonable. In this economic climate, forcing people to wait until they’re fiscally prepared to have a child (the biggest and most long-term expenditure most of us will ever make) before they have sex just isn’t a tenable position at all. Plus, I really believe that removing the moral stigma around birth control might even be more important than removing the prohibitive cost. Because right now, you see a lot of people (young people especially) who feel like it’s better to risk conception than to seek out birth control because BC is like this Slutty Point of No Return and if they just don’t go to the doctor and get a script, it’s like they’re not having sex at all. Let’s increase transparency, let’s encourage people to be active rather than passive about their health, let’s improve access for more people.

Let’s make life better, okay?

The Larval Stage

I plan to move house at least once a year, whenever the hip and trendy blogging platform of three years ago filters down through the layers of competence until it reaches the hard, impassible sediment of the Even Nicole Can Do It! layer. (Look out for my Tumblr next year!)

If you can think of some way for me to make this lifecycle more annoying, please send me an e-mail or something…maybe I can get a widget for that?

As…er…often, I guess, my blog mirrors my life entire. Largely fallow, expectant void interspersed with lightning flash impressions of beautiful things or unnecessary academic whinging. And my corporeal body is moving too! Sadly, nowhere so hip and minimalist as wordpress.

Right now, I’m living in a studio made for vikings, I think (I have to stand on a chair to reach all of the cupboards. Short people: I now know your torments. I grant you a reason to live.) Tonight I finally finished nailing up assorted pictures, posters and mementos, much to the apparent chagrin of Neighbor-Boy Through-The-Wall. I suspect that his apartment and my apartment were once one and were separated by some sort of ghoulish architectural Dr. Frankenstein. Sound carries, is what I mean. I know when he watches Family Guy and what time he has to go to work and when he watches porn for six minutes at random in the middle of the day (whut?) and I have been carefully (and unwilling) following his acoustic guitar progress. He knows one song. “Wonderwall.” He sings with considerable feeling. I think he really thought they were going to throw it back to him. And when he gets annoyed at my bumping and thunking, he presses a speaker against the wall and blasts music until my bed shakes. We have a surprisingly complex relationship for two people who have never met.

I like this place, though. It’s big enough for me (though I could do with a drawer. Damn, people!) and it’s somewhere warm to work and sleep and watch entire seasons of Teen Mom (holy shit. I’ve become someone who watches entire seasons of Teen Mom.) And, you know, it’s mine. I pay the rent, I keep the lights on, I do the dishes and request that the shower be repaired. I feel good and industrious and, yeah, proud of this place. It’s the nature of early adulthood to be a little transient, and I’ve lived a lot of places in the past four years and I think that that’s the clear distinction between places I liked living and places I did not like living. I was uncomfortable freshman year because I didn’t really know my roommates, though they were all perfectly lovely girls and because I felt like an appendix on a functioning creature. It wasn’t mine, just a place I hid out between classes. The next year, though I was in the same situation (literally, same room and everything) I was rooming with my best friends and it was kind of a Laverne and Shirley+2 situation and I was tremendously happy. Some of the best times I had in my apartment last year were during those summer months where I was the sole occupant and I had to buy all the groceries, clean the floor and take out the trash and generally own that shit.

It might be silly to feel this way (or, I suppose, to cultivate this feeling. I hung the pictures up for a reason, after all) because I will not be here long. I have come to think of this as a butterfly year. I spend 60 percent of my time flitting around, 40 percent of my time landing briefly. This spell in Michigan will not last.

Around this time last year, I wrote a long, soul-searching blog about the difficulty involved in making choices. At the time, I thought this whole Figuring Stuff Out thing was the hardest part of becoming a grown up person. No, it’s totally not. I can now definitively say that Past!Nicole was dumb and, speaking as the much more enlightened Present!Nicole: it’s always harder to make things happen. Deciding only seems like work because you spend so much time arguing with yourself, but that’s only phantom problem (a phanto-mime? Yikes. I’m terrible.) Having arrived at several decisions, now I just have to steer myself towards these goals I have laid out.

I’m a very busy lady (kind of. I still have to carve out a lot of time for naps.)

And what has changed since that panicked blog post of yesteryear? Not my student loans or attendant fear, surely. Well, except for the part where they steadily increased. Well, okay, so you may have seen that meme going around Facebook and Twitter, Five Things I Learned at Clarion? (if you haven’t seen it, you should totally check it out, lots of cool, wise stuff) As I was filling mine out, I realized the real extent of the changes I had made since Clarion. My understanding of the world and myself have been totally altered. Traveling helped a lot with this too. The most major difference is…I just feel capable. I don’t have that constant, gnawing worry that I’m going to fail at everything and be forced to subsist on Fancy Feast. I have strengths, I am better equipped to sell them now, too. And I’m unwilling to fail, quite frankly. I was having a discussion recently about my money woes and I told a story about my mom. When I was young (and now) whenever I or my parents were in the throes of some potentially disastrous scenario, I would immediately begin to imagine the worst possible outcome and torture myself with doom-y extrapolations (it’s how I roll. It hasn’t gotten better with age) and I would pepper my mother with dire what-ifs and she would always say in this restrained and non-committal way “it’ll work out.” “How?” I would ask. “It just will,” she would say. “Why?” I would ask. “Because it has to,” she would say. And so this is how I’m choosing to proceed forth.

Plus, I found someone I love and want to be near. And that does make things remarkably simple. Though, I suppose, sometimes ideologically complex from a feminist standpoint. In the run-up to the holiday season, I tagged along with Ed to a cookies-themed Christmas-y party where most his fellow Fulbrighters promised to be in attendance. Over the course of the night, I met many of them and, inevitably, they were curious about me, what I was doing in Europe, what I planned to do next in my life. I looked at these smart, adventurous women and this little voice in the back of my head wondered “what will they think of me if I say I’m following a man across the country?” So I didn’t say that. I gave artful answers, explaining myself in the terms of the things I would be doing in California, as though Ed’s presence there was a mere unexpected boon, rather than my primary motivator.

Because Ed is astute, he noticed this of course, and when we got back to the apartment, he asked me if I was uncomfortable telling people about our plans. I wasn’t…exactly. But I was…kind of. And I have since realized that it had nothing to do with those women-who were unfailingly funny and inviting and cool and not in the least judgmental about anything. It was about me. My own interior barometer of what I “should” want. What I believe passionately about feminism is that the platonic ideal here is choice. Opening more choices to more people. Opportunity replacing rigidity. But I again and again find myself swayed by the socio-cultural constructions that tell us all what to do and how. A girl like me-a smart girl, a serious girl, a feminist girl-should be heading out into the world alone, intrepid, following dreams, achieving goals. But…I have never wanted that. Or at least I have never wanted it in that mold. What are these “dreams” after all? It’s all very nonspecific and suggests that the way you attack your goals is more important than the goals themselves (which is why I’m also a little eyeroll-y at the lipservice paid to this idea in RomComs where the protagonist is a total careerist…yet has some vague and nonspecific job that we never actually see her doing, wanting and enjoying.) I don’t think this is so much as problem with feminism as with, again, conventions on how we must behave if we are to project a certain ideology. I mean, I am not uncomfortable with solitude or with focusing on work, but my certainties in this life are in the the intangible. I don’t really care about much other anything other than writing. Meaning, as long as I can write, it doesn’t really matter where I do it or under what circumstances, for the most part (you know, within reason. Had Ed been committed to a PhD program in the Arctic Circle, I may have rethought this whole thing.) I am fiercely dedicated to preserving certain select choices in my life and totally apathetic about the rest of them. Going to California doesn’t require me to give up anything that I think of as a part of myself. It is an adventure of its own. I guess I never minded getting direction from some external source, because I never felt like I would be doing the whole Betty Friedan sublimating-of-the-self thing. My self is portable and, in that way, kind of immutable. I don’t want me and Ed to be like water and glass, me taking my shape from him. Rather, I’d like us to be like a tomato plant and stake. I grow around him, with him, but I move in unexpected curlicues and blooms.

Of course, as usual I’ve made it all too complicated. The thing is: please yourself. Try not to worry about the rest of it.

But yeah, I’m moving to California. I’m excited about the prospect of community building there. My hope is that I can get a gig working for a domestic violence and/or sexual assault prevention and resources service. And I want to write. And I want to get a dog. And I want to learn to speak Spanish.

Until then, I’ll keep making my temporary homes. There’s a community here, after all, there are things to enjoy and work to do and many, many tasks to be completed. A year of flitting has to taught me to appreciate these moments of stillness. To immerse myself in them rather than spending all my time considering the next flight.

>Vagina Dentata: On Jennifer’s Body

>In high school, I had a friend who was sexy. She had large breasts and she developed them early. She always had a boyfriend and she had a pretty high turnaround rate. And, like me, she was poor. Her mom was a single mom and the way she dressed and wore her hair, the way most girls from my socio-economic bracket did, became a kind of short-hand for promiscuity. The high, tight ponytail slicked back but with two small pieces of hair hanging down was popular. They were immediately dubbed “slut strands.”

The thing was, she wasn’t really any more overtly sexual than other girls I knew. She made the same kind of jokes, did the same kind of things with boys. She lost her virginity in the veritable cluster that occurred around junior year. There wasn’t really anything to set her apart. But she was sexy and, in that, somehow dirty.

Once, we were waiting in line to do something on the blackboard. She was a little ahead of me and she bent slightly to pick something up. Two boys, two middle-class boys with American Eagle wardrobes and frosted tips, snickered to one another. “I’d do her,” said one.

The other one gave him a withering look. “Ew,” was all he said.

“Well, I’d do her, but I wouldn’t tell anyone,” the other boy backpedalled in a hurry.

I’m really sorry I didn’t take the opportunity to inform them what shitty excuses for humans they were, but I was stunned. I knew boys liked my friend, I knew boys wanted my friend, and I knew why. But it never occurred to me before that the thing that gave her value might, at the same time, utterly de-value her. They didn’t care that she was funny or really silly or much smarter than people gave her credit for. And it wasn’t just that they didn’t care, they didn’t even have a conception that those things could be true. The couldn’t even imagine her as a whole person.

And this is my roundabout way of talking about Jennifer’s Body (timely!) I think I might be the only person in the continental United States who actually liked that movie. And I mean really liked it, not thought it was better than expected, or had some merit, or didn’t deserve all the backlash. I thought it was a really well done movie that discussed intelligently stuff that almost never gets talked about but has a real and natural place in the horror genre.

Because, you know, I’ve known a Jennifer. I’ve known a hundred Jennifers. They have kids now and are perpetually waiting for their children’s fathers to marry them. They work at gas stations and fast food places. They live nine, five, two miles from the place where they grew up.

I remember reading an interview with Karyn Kusama about the film and she mentioned that part of what they were trying to comment upon was the notion that, “a woman who is worth only her body, isn’t really worth very much.”* She also mentioned that Jennifer is “the kind of girl who’s going to be a real wreck in a couple of years.”* And the tragedy of Jennifer (and yes, Megan Fox actually sells the character. When she’s not being chased around by robots, she’s a perfectly serviceable actress, if an incredibly frustrating human being) is that she knows that. Maybe not in words, but something inside of her is desperate. She knows the end of her “best days” is upon her and she is wild with fear.

The moment I knew I was buying what the movie was selling was that excellent scene where she watches Low Shoulder go through their set, enraptured. We know them to be dead-end douchebags who need to strike a deal with the devil to even get on late-night television, but that enhances rather than detracts from the bitter honesty of the moment: if Jennifer could see them for what they are, she wouldn’t be a Jennifer, she would be a Needy. But all she sees is somewhere else and she chases her opportunity impulsively. Jennifer-girls are always punished for wanting more and for going for it with the only tools they have been allowed: their sexuality. Seeing Low Shoulder, Jennifer doesn’t think “they are not going to spend their lives in a place like Devil’s Kettle, I should start a band so I can get out too.” She thinks: “I should fuck them so they’ll take me with them.” Because Jennifer leaps immediately to sex as the solution to every problem, she is a slut. Because she is a slut, Jennifer has been taught by everyone around her that sex is all she has. It’s not the solution to every problem, it’s just the *only* solution.

Much has been made of the commentary this movie provides on toxic female friendships and the kind of jealousy and undermining that high school relationships can create. But I think the slut thing is really at the heart of the jealousy thing. Given only a cursory look, Jennifer should be the object of jealousy in this relationship. She is beautiful and ostensibly popular (the literature around the film describes her thus, but I think the movie actually suggests that that’s not really true. There is a difference between being a sexually appealing girl and a popular girl, especially in high school. Because a girl’s popularity is dependent upon the general consensus of girls around her and a slut, a Jennifer, is almost never popular. She is treated instead like a threat to be contained, with slurs about her dirtiness, her unfitness, her desperation. We never see women fawn over her, just men. And although Needy’s boyfriend is established as not liking Jennifer, his “I know,” response to Needy’s assertion that Jennifer is a monster seems to suggest that she has a possible reputation as an unpleasant girl) Either way, Jennifer knows how to game high school. She’s good at it, she gets what she wants from it. It seems bewildering that Jennifer would harbor jealousy towards unremarkable Needy and I feel like it’s a misunderstanding of this dynamic that has led people to conclude that Jennifer’s just a huge bitch (though, to be fair, she is a bit of a bitch.) Jennifer resents Needy because Needy, seemingly effortlessly, has that thing that Jennifer is persistently denied: a future. People acknowledge all sorts of things about Needy, her smarts, her kindness, even her sexuality. One aspect of her does not eclipse all the others and does not define her. Basically, Needy gets to be treated like a person and Jennifer doesn’t.

Jennifer-as-demon-possessed-succubus is a stroke of brilliance, in light of these considerations. She is driven exclusively by-exclusively *is*-hunger. The metaphorical hunger for a way out replaced by a literal one for flesh ‘n’ stuff. And, once again, she uses sex to secure all the things she needs. I think it’s telling that the movie suggests that Jennifer *could* eat women, if she so chose, but she directs her energy exclusively towards men instead. Towards men, specifically, who respond to her sexuality unvarnished, without any pretense of emotion or intellect. Men who seem to find nothing strange about her suggesting a quick fuck in the middle of the forest or meeting a virtual stranger in an abandoned house for sex. Men, in short, who think she’s a slut.

And, once again, Needy is the one who actually manages to navigate a way out. Needy is the one who manages to integrate some kind of superpower (whether sexuality or floaty eaty demon magic) with the rest of her personhood, learning to master it and not become consumed by it. Learning how to use it in the most successful ways.

The movie doesn’t work in every way and, honestly, from the commentary I’ve read by Kusama and Cody, I can’t help but wonder if my read is an overly charitable one. But I don’t think the flaws outweigh the virtues, especially as one of the biggest virtues in my mind is that of novelty. Jennifers are a staple of horror, you see them often getting naked and then getting murdered. The girls who have sex and die first are so rarely represented in the horror genre that I can’t help but delight in this. The slutty girl who dies first and then comes back and becomes the monster in her own tale! A movie that refuses to discard the Jennifers, that, in it’s way, demands a kind of accountability from the genre is always going to be interesting to me. And, the movie points out, if Jennifer is a monster, then like Frankenstein’s before her it is because she’s been built that way.

*not exact quotes. Because I’m lazy and Wikipedia exists.

>Being a Treatise on The Differences Between The Old World and The New

>A Number of Distinctions (Largely Inconsequential) to be Made Between Wales and America:

1. When exiting a bus in Wales, one thanks the driver.

2. Saying anything after a sneeze, however, is not done.

3. “Ta,” is an enormously versatile word meaning, depending upon the context, “hello,” “goodbye,” “yes,” “no,” “please,” “thank you,” “of course,” “excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” and “cheers.” It is the British “aloha.”

4. Everyone wears tights in the UK. Legs are rendered utilitarian, rather than erotic, as women from toddler-age to Of a Certain Age wear what would be, in America, sexy patterned tights.

5. In Wales, you are a lightweight. Yes, you, Frat Boy Who Spends All His Free Time Developing a More Efficient Beer Bong. Weep as a tiny, chirrupy woman in a sequined tank top drinks your ass under the table.

6. Brits really are that serious about their tea. There’s nothing quite like watching a burly rugby player slump down in his seat and declare: “I’ve had a rough day. Put the kettle on?”

7. There’s really only room for one beverage in a nation’s heart. In the UK, it’s tea and the search for a non-weak cup of coffee is one that has proved all-consuming for your humble correspondent.

8. While not prim in any sense, Welsh speech is, in general, less peppered with obscenities than that of Americans of a similar age. This has the effect of making a transplant feel even more profane than usual.

9. The meal to eat is breakfast and there’s no shortage of places to find it. For all other meals, a combination of sandwiches, chips and Chinese takeout will do.

10. The door opens the other way. And no, you need to look in the other direction before crossing the streets.

11. Cadbury rules the candy roost. Also, it is fashionable to create increasingly “wacky” candy. Chocolate and peanut butter is virtually unheard of. Chocolate and caramel is huge.

12. Everywhere is accessible with the right combination of modes of public transportation. (This is awesome).

13. Christmas begins the week in November and accelerates steadily towards December 25th. Christmas is inextricably linked with carnival rides. It’s a lot like fair season in the States. If they served spiked coffee and crepes at the fair. By which I mean, if the fair were much, much cooler.

14. Jaffa Cakes are inexplicably popular; they are also terrible. If Val Nolan attempts to refute this on Facebook, don’t believe him. He’s been brainwashed by the powerful Jaffa Cake lobby. Digestives are similarly popular and much tastier. Like graham crackers with chocolate grafted on top.

15. And finally, a short list of British/ Euro initiatives that I desperately wish the US would adopt:
-newsagents
-charity shops
-eating beans for breakfast
-BOOTS! Such boots! (the footwear, not the pharmacy)
-car boot sales
-including a Jägerbomb station at the Welcome Freshers University party.
-“freshers,” “lovely,” “uni,” “go round,” “isn’t it?” “off his/her face,”
“take away,” “nice”
-the ubiquity of jacket potatoes
-pound and two pound coins
-long cut shirts and tank tops (seriously, get on that America, some of us
have torsos we need to lengthen.)

As a kind of rebuttal: Ten Things I Will Do As Soon as I Return to the States:

1. Eat a grilled cheese sandwich. With triumph. And maybe a pickle.

2. Hug my adored relatives and friends.

3. Give blood

4. Drive Clint (um. This isn’t in chronological order. That would be unsafe.)

5. BATH!

6. Return to volunteering.

7. Return to working, in fact, hard for the money.

8. Drink coffee. Strong coffee. Keep-me-up-at-night coffee.

9. Plug in more than one appliance. Because I do not require an adapter.

10. Go out to breakfast. Before 9 am. On a Sunday!

>WTF, Mate?

>I’m coming to terms with my role as a spectator.

I don’t suppose I considered myself a terribly active participant even in my “ordinary” life. Maybe it’s the nature of writer-y people, who learn early and decisively that the best way to observe people is from a removed vantage point. Maybe it’s the nature of me, fairly shy, not exceptionally good at human interaction. Maybe it’s the nature of people and everyone feels like a tourist in their lives from time to time.

Probably the last one.

But international travel seems to demand or at least strongly advocate for a kind of total immersion that I’m not sure even exists.

If you’re a friend of me on Facebook (gonna guess most of the my “readership” is) you may have noticed that there are a lot fewer pictures in my Swansea photo album than in any of the others, despite having spent the most time there. And it really is because photographing your home feels weird. The things I see every day cease to become notable. I no longer feel the need to record and disseminate them because, hell, that’s just what the school looks like, that’s just what the beach looks like, that’s just what the crumbling castle in the middle of the swank shopper’s arcade looks like…

So, you know, there are ways-significant ways-in which I’ve settled into a life here, tongue and groove. Nevertheless, I keep confronting these moments so surreal that they take me immediately out of myself-or immediately out of my quotidian stupor-and, by dint of their sheer strangeness, make me conscious of my status as a foreigner.

Basically, I don’t get this shit at all.

For example, I recently found myself struck down (in my very prime!) by a dastardly kidney infection. I had a similar one last fall and, thankfully, I recognized the symptoms before it got really unpleasant. But it was still pretty unpleasant and there’s a good two miles between the student village where I live and the only hospital I knew.

Aha! I thought, I shall take the trusty bus! (seriously, useful, comprehensive, culturally established public transportation may well be the single most awesome Small Difference between Europe and the US. The least awesome? Pay toilets. I don’t like it and I don’t understand it and I think it might be a witch.)

Unfortunately, the second-to-last bus out of the village at quarter to eleven on a Wednesday night is apparently highly sought-after. It was the only time I’d ever stood right next to the bus driver for the duration of a ride. When I crammed on to the bus, a pimply fresher just looked at me and laughed ruefully. Never a good sign.

So that’s awkward and not ideal. But hardly a moment of bizarre clarity.

Oh, and I forgot the part where 98 percent of this bus was absolutely shitfaced. I saw a girl who had repurposed a can of Strongbow, cutting off the top (she bent the edges down. For safety!) because apparently the classical pop top opening didn’t allow her sufficient access.

And the whole back end of the bus had been colonized by what I took to be some sort of unsuccessful Welsh male a capella group who had taken to drink to balm their failure-wounds. When I got on, they were slurring their way through “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” but over the course of the fifteen minute ride, the demonstrated an impressive and eclectic catalog.

I looked at my face, reflected in the bus doors thanks to the darkness outside. Pale, miserable, bewildered. Every bump the bus took hurt. I occasionally made uncomfortable eye-contact with the bus driver. I was wearing pajama pants and carrying a manila folder full of documentation, because I had no idea what to expect at the hospital. And seven drunk Welshmen were bellowing out “O! Canada!” more or less in tune.

“This is not what humans do,” I thought. “Where the hell am I?”

As Lisa Mitchell might say, sometimes I feel like Alice.

I had a similar kind of ghostly, disconnected feeling when I went to Brussels for Halloween weekend. I had been told that Halloween was nowhere near the Big Deal it is in the UK (dude, people in the UK love them some costumes. If a holiday doesn’t involve costumes, they will find a way to shoehorn them in. Hell, if a night at the bar doesn’t involve costumes, they will find a way to shoehorn them in) but that it was growing as a cultural event.

As would follow logically, the Halloween “industry” as such seemed to exist in only a very minimal form in Brussels. There were some Halloween shops, but the year-round Fancy Dress place was not an institution, clearly. This rendered the whole experience almost…old-fashioned. For example, I saw more than one little ghost made out what was clearly an actual sheet (and, in one case, embellished with marker). That’s one of those images that’s part of the cultural shorthand, but doesn’t seem to exist in the actual world. But it exists in Brussels! There were witches, vampires, pirates and pumpkins. But no Iron Mans, no Harry Potters, not even any Doras-the Explorer.

Also, trick-or-treating as I experienced it in Brussels is really unlike the individualized free-for-all in the States, with its myriad options to refine one’s candy-acquiring technique. I didn’t see any lone pockets of children, everyone seemed to stick with the smallish parade that wended its way through town, choking streets with merry abandon (at one point, a crossing guard fruitlessly blew her whistle and then waved her arms in a universal gesture of disgust). People tossed candy down from upper windows and those brave or foolish folks who tried to hand out candy from the door were immediately mobbed.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact moment-some time after we saw the group of guys in full executioners masks and real torches walking sedately down the street, but before the tiny pirate with the curly eyeliner mustache smiled at me over his mother’s shoulder-but I began to feel like I was just drifting, floating in a warm sea. Everything around me seemed conjured from the idea of childhood that I was promised but never seemed to actually encounter. It wasn’t quite like on the bus-it didn’t seem weird because it was strange, but precisely because it was familiar. This was the kind of thing I’d had always been told-but had never seen-humans do.

The next morning, as Ed escorted Tiff and I back to the Eurostar station, we exited his apartment into the sort of queerly silent world that only Europe can seem to manage (I was continually boggled in Ireland that I couldn’t get breakfast anywhere before ten. That’s brunch-o-clock, people!) The only other person we saw was a woman with a large black pram. It looked almost Victorian, all ruffled as she hurried across the tram tracks.

“Shhh, shhh, shhh,” she said, and the sound bounced off all the buildings, filled up my ears. I felt, as I often do, like an intruder. But privileged, as well. It is gracious, it is rare, it is a luxury to be allowed to observe.

>Accidents, Happy, Sad, Mainly Indifferent

>If you want to get all technical about it, most of this trip wasn’t supposed to have happened.

Initially, the plan was to come early to Wales, set up shop in an apartment, learn the city and generally become very cool and cosmopolitan (how I was going to manage that is, yes, a bit of a hole in this plan). But then there were money tangles, and visa snafus and it became increasingly apparent that I wasn’t going to get in until the very end of August. Student housing and a planned trip to Albania put me in certain places at certain times, but left me with a large chunk of days. Which I eventually filled with increasingly grungy travel (true story: towards the end of the trip, in Ireland, I was preparing one morning to put on mascara and suddenly I paused, stared at myself in the mirror and said aloud “Wait! I don’t give a shit!” And then I put on yesterday’s pants and headed out the door.)

I’m not really good at “playing it by ear.” Perhaps I’m just tone-deaf? When I look back on my month of travel, I see all these places where I did things wrong, spent money unnecessarily, made poor decisions and didn’t use my time effectively.

The very end of my trip was a glistening cherry of poor decisions on the top of that mis-step sundae. Booking a room in advance (and not looking carefully at the address) led me to a Tesco at 10 o’clock at night, furtively plugging my iPhone into the wall (on the advice of a friendly bus driver) in a desperate attempt to get enough juice to get directions from Swansea proper to the tiny town out in the sticks where I’d managed to book a room. An elderly man in a florescent yellow vest promptly made me unplug and delivered a lecture of electricity theft and consideration for others (which I was clearly sorely lacking). As I trudged out to the waiting bank of taxis, I was close to tears.

All the way there, the taxi driver pointed out each of my mistakes in careful detail. He was much like my inner monologue in that way.

But there is something comforting in being in a warm car, just sitting in the passenger seat and surrendering that weight of obligation, of control. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved various forms of travel? They encourage a sleepy passivity?

By the time I reached the B and B where I was staying, I had developed an equilibrium within myself. I was at peace with the situation at hand. I wasn’t, however, really prepared for it.

I was in a town where everything appeared to be having a going out of business sale. There was a marked lack of residents between the ages of 18 and 40. I stopped in the police station one morning for directions and found a man reporting the theft a bicycle and an incredulous police woman commiserating with him about the general lack of crime in his area. This quickly turned into a gossipy recounting of all the minor crimes in recent memory and speculation as to what motivated them.

My B and B was operated by a small man with a very strange mustache who was perpetually (terminally?) out of breath. In order to see to everyone’s needs, he had rigged the house with a series of buttons and pressure alarms. One of them made a sad trumpet noise. The night I arrived he gave me an extensive run-down of the place, noting especially the air freshener in the bathroom and warning me that occasionally emitted a puff of air and I shouldn’t be frightened. It seemed that a great many improvements were in the works for the place, but all projects were in a rather suspended state.

“You’ll need the code for the door,” he said, “It’s 1, 2, 3, 4.” Pause. “We’ve been meaning to change that. We probably will tomorrow.” They did not.

The best/most bewildering part was the cook, who was a straight up mad scientist’s assistant. He wore all black, refused to make eye contact and greeted me in the mornings with a mumbling, deeply uncomfortable “what can I get for you?” clearly having been extensively coached.

I didn’t know you could microwave eggs.

I was, quite frankly, delighted by all of this. There is nothing I love quite so much as absurdity and I feel like a true alien here, perhaps moreso than in a place like Albania or France where I didn’t speak the language. I wandered around and everything about the place just tickled me. At night, I slept in a huge bed that I had all to myself. I shamelessly used up all the hot water. I watched TV. It was the calm, quiet, private little cave of time where I sort of made myself transparent and simply watched everything. I was very glad, in short, that I got to spend time there.

And that is the thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken a four hour train ride to walk around a Scottish delta for forty-five minutes, but there is sometime precious, unique about the rain that pelted my face there. The fisherman I watched cast and re-cast his line. The immense mountains I craned my neck to see the misty tops of. If it had been another day, another time, another sort of weather or if I’d had other things weighing on my mind, my eyes could not have worked in the same way. I would never have seen it, just like that, had I not fucked up.

Sometimes I think that all the good things (maybe all the things?) are in the avenues between where you are and where you’re trying to get.