freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
well, then. Happy new year. 2016. A year, as the Goon Show would have it, of months, and one which adds up to 9, a number of which I've always been fond for random aesthetic reasons. (Curvy. And three threes). I hope this is a good omen. I didn't do the annual scorecard retrospective last year, because I was submerged in depression at the start of 2015 and not really blogging, so as has become traditional, I'm going to catch up by doing them both at once.

2014 was about change, in a lot of ways: moving out of a 15-year shared space, a new boss at work who radically redefined both my working conditions and my sense of safety, and the opening of a lot of major cans of heavily suppressed worms in the therapy process. In fact, safety nets were removed in 2014 to rather dramatic extents. It's probably not surprising that 2014 was quite bad for the depression. I'm not good at change. It frightens me, and I tend to sit in a rut in order to avoid it, and I find it more stressful than energising. But if the two-year comparison has done anything, it's been to realise that I can do change if necessary (and if prodded properly, and I still owe Jo beyond belief for lending me the energy and direction to shepherd me through the move); and more importantly, it can be exciting and energising. At the beginning of 2014 I resolved, above all, to try and be happy, and while it's been a two-year process with patchy results, I think I'm starting to achieve that. If 2014 was about change, 2015 was about adapting, moving forward.

So, here's the scorecard, with its usual random set of juxtapositions.

Things achieved by me in 2014: a break-up with my Evil Landlord, in the domicile rather than the friendship sense; an autonomous home filled with the basic furniture and appliances for daily life; an autonomous life in which I control all my own adult-related decisions; a chapter in a major book on fairy-tale film; something resembling a start on a theoretical engagement with the existence of African fairy tale within my personal academic paradigm (this is actually rather major); some crowbars applied to crack open deep-seated problems in therapy.

Things achieved by me in 2015: a new cat. A refinement of my home space beyond the basics, in a way that has made it feel particularly mine. A new set of work responsibilities (I now head a student engagement cluster, for what that's worth) and, after careful manipulation, a working relationship with my new boss. A negotiation of a major political melt-down on campus, during which I think I helped students measurably and was able to give free rein to my organisational bent. An emergence from the chrysalis of therapy and anti-depressants into a more stand-alone existence, although I suspect my wings are still drying.

Losses: Philip&Jo, who fled the country, and who are not an absolute loss because the internet, but whom I miss. My sweet and mentally disabled Aunt Jane, sadly, from cancer, but also mercifully quickly and while she was with my mother in the UK rather than being in Zim. Golux, about whom I am still sad. (Also, I discover, Ounce, who was never technically mine, but with whom I lived for a decade or so, and for whose shadowy, flighty insecurities I had a fondness not untinged with guilt. He had the same thing Fish did, cancer on the roof of his mouth; the EL had to have him put down just before Christmas. It's been a bad year for kitties chez EL, they're down to Todal, who remains in reasonable health, albeit very skinny, despite some sort of fairly major kidney problem.)

Things discovered by me in 2014: Inquisition, Death Cab for Cutie, living alone, really loving living alone, mocha cheesecake, Bed On Bricks, morally ambiguous honey badgers, Agents of Shield, comparative chocolate digestive anthropology, memory-scrambling anaesthetic drugs, 2048 with Sherlock and otters, building bookshelves with Jo, Moxibay side-effects, Parade's End.

Things discovered by me in 2015: Fallout, Sunless Seas, epic container gardening, growing things from bulbs and seed, Dragon Age fanfic, office politicking skills, makeshift racerback bras, the corrosive properties of lemon juice, electric toothbrushes, hipster cats-eye spectacle frames, reading the service agreement properly, Amelia Peabody, the limitations of the therapy process, Mallory Ortberg, Frère's, cauliflower and sweetcorn soup, Daredevil, clipping my cats' claws myself, Wellbutrin side-effects, Flow, Windows 10.

Things rediscovered by me in 2015: my brain not on drugs; long hair; dreaming; being happy.

If I'm making resolutions, which I don't think I am in any formal way, it's to try and continue being happy; to look for positive ways to change. Because apparently it's possible.

(My subject line is quoting ABBA, unashamedly, because new year always earworms me with that song for days).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
A week into no anti-depressants at all, and it transpires that Evil Wellbutrin was inhibiting my ability to giggle at the Internet. Or at stupid stuff my Dragon Age companions say, or that ridiculously graphics glitch where it gives you two of a pack of wolves stuck into the same spot at right angles and spinning gently. Or to feel attachment or affection, actually - I'm currently romancing Cassandra, and kicking myself that I didn't do it earlier, she's a sweetie. All fluffy romance under the righteous grumpy kick-butt sexy contralto surface. At any rate, there is now giggling, the absence of which I hadn't noticed until it started coming back, and my expression of affection to my cats and Dragon Age romances is at approximately three times the level it was a month ago. Huh. I am apparently me again. I'd missed me.

The thing is, I am, when you get down to it, fundamentally a contented person. When functional I have a sort of innate connectedness to existence at large, the ability to get a gentle kick out of random examples of the universe doing its thing: cool clouds and spring foliage and happy dogs being walked and good food and catchy music and elegant turns of phrase and flower scents and beautiful coltish students and people letting each other into traffic in the morning. Living is its own succession of micro-rewards, the enjoyment of which consoles me enough for ongoing angsts or challenges that I can drift more or less contentedly through my days. Depression suppresses that ruthlessly, and apparently anti-depressants muffle the connection.

I don't think I'm naturally a depressed person. I think the last few years have been triggered by circumstances, some of them physical: my dad's illness and death, and the giant knock to my system represented by the DVT and embolisms and what have you. The anti-depressants made it possible to survive that by kicking up my energy levels to the point where I could function, but I suspect that somewhere over the last year my natural brain chemistry tried to reassert itself, and the anti-depressants started messing with that in a negative rather than a positive sense.

It also explains, I think, why I reached a sort of natural end to the therapy process, at least for this particular point in time. I have a great deal of respect for therapy, which on a good day finely balances insight and moral support with a crash-course in building an emotional toolset. My therapist was lovely (and amazingly open to acquiring ridiculous amounts of by-the-way knowledge in my bizarre interest areas. Apparently you can't understand my psyche without a passing acquaintance with vampire symbolism and videogame narrative patterns.) I learned a great deal, and made a start at acquiring some important skills, but then the relevance just ... ran out. Part of the problem was that I couldn't get beyond a certain point in the process owing to the emotional muffling - it's not really possible to excavate emotional responses if you're not, you know, actually feeling them. Part of it was practical, in that therapy is expensive and I actually can't afford it - my medical aid runs out approximately in April every year, and the couple of thousand rand weekly sessions represent every month just pushes me over the boundary from "makes ends meet" into "inexorable slide into credit card debt." (And the one sour note my therapist ever struck was in repeatedly recommending two sessions a week at a time when I wasn't quite surviving financially while covering one. To her, "I have no money for this" apparently meant "is prioritising disposable income differently", and it was really "has absolutely no disposable income, thank you very much" to me).

But part of the problem was also that I became frankly bored with myself. We were circling repeatedly back over a particular set of dysfunctions which I know about, dammit - I recognise them in myself, I have acquired some tools to start to try and recalibrate my own behaviours, and the rest is time and practice. I kept having to say "Yup, still doing that, working on it, might be improving a bit" week after week. Really I'd rather put the mental energy into enjoying something life-connected and happy than in revisiting, endlessly, the darker corners of myself. And it also rubbed my nose in the fundamental disagreement I eventually have with therapy, which is its validation of me-focus beyond the point where I'm actually comfortable with it. Me-focus is important. Boundaries and self-care and other buzzwords are essential. But there comes a point at which this feels too inward-turned, too close to narcissism, and I feel that it's at the expense of outward connections which are also important for my mental health. I like the world and want it to be happy, and there's a moment in therapy where the therapist is defining it as "self-care" and I'm defining it as "selfish". And, frankly, bugger that.

So now I can only see where this goes, and hope it lasts. I am let loose on the universe unmoored by aids either therapeutic or chemical, and am apparently drifting contentedly thereby. And I've remembered how to giggle at the Internet. I'm surprisingly OK with that.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
When I was in my last year of junior school, i.e. aged 11 or 12 or so, I had the lead role in a school play. Well, to be precise, in the small, serious mini-play which served as the opener to the school's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, in which I was a member of the chorus. Possibly the lead member of the chorus, come to think of it, the director used to give me the mike when the chorus was being more than usually unintelligent about their timing, pointing inexorably to the fact that I am somewhat musical but have little or no actual voice. That was a horribly over-regimented production of Joseph, rehearsed to the point where, to this day, I have a party trick where I can still recite all of the colours of the amazing technicolour dreamcoat, which I learned obsessively because I was terrified of the director and he used to yell if you weren't word-perfect. (Red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and orange and violet and fawn and lilac and... I'll stop now.) I can also, if challenged, sit down at the piano and play most of the gosh-darned songs. That director was a scary man.

But the point is, I'm really bad at acting, because of extreme self-consciousness and the tendency to freeze and go deer-in-headlights when undue attention is paid me by rooms full of strangers. The small, serious mini-play in which I played the aforementioned lead role was a horrible little effusion written by said scary director, and acted entirely and rather reluctantly by his Standard 5A class. It was medieval in setting, possibly engendering a hopeless imprinting which explains my helpless compulsion towards the SCA, and my lead role was that of a girl who's almost burned at the stake as a witch because her village thinks she's weird. (Clearly, given the dynamics of my Standard 5 class, he was casting to type). I can still recite some of her long, pretentious speeches. "I was Petronella Savrolet, and I was young. My father was an officer in the Black Watch. He died, and I was left alone in the house." I think they were burned into my skull by sheer terror. (I did like her long white lacy dress and cape, though. Further SCA implications).

Fortunately the nature of the character meant that stage fright was largely indistinguishable from actual acting, and my subsequent career suggests that the ability to give long, pretentious speeches with bell-like clarity to a large audience was inscribed somewhere on my DNA. Those weren't the problem. The problem was the part where actual acting was unavoidable. There was a bit towards the climax of the play, when the villagers are all crowding round and waving pitchforks and shouting "She is not like us! she must be burned! she is a WITCH!" where I was supposed to scream and faint. Weirdly enough, given that I've never had any dramatic training at all, the fainting was no problem, I crumpled very gracefully to the ground without even thinking about it very much, and retained the ability in later life - I probably still could if my knees wouldn't immediately detach with extreme prejudice. Somewhere in my DNA is also clearly one of those small, furry creatures who play dead when terrified.

What I couldn't do is scream. The degree of noise and social violation encompassed by simply throwing my head back and letting rip was absolutely unthinkable. Even with the completely terrifying director looming over me threateningly and mocking my inhibitions, I couldn't do it. (He was a bastard, that man). He eventually had to employ one of my classmates, the rather sweet guy who played the minstrel who rescued me at the last minute from fiery, inhibited death, to stand in the wings and scream on my behalf. It must have sounded rather odd.

I had a point in all this. One of them was to actually blog something, because I haven't for over a month, and because a random memory hit me and this flow-of-consciousness thing strikes me as being a reasonable strategy in trying to get back to blogging. The other is to realise how emblematic that little anecdote is, and how far I've utterly failed to overcome some of those issues as a (technically) grown-up. Still hopelessly self-conscious. Still unable to scream even when threatened. Still inclined to wait passively until rescued. Thus still prone to spend several weeks depressed and hermitting, and not blogging or socialising, and to have it be functionally impossible to ask for help or even allow the feeling to be seen, particularly. When in doubt, play dead. Can still collapse and huddle, apparently. Can't scream.

I'm sorry I haven't seen anyone much, lately. I shall try to Be Better, and to aim, at the very least, for quiet, plaintive meeping. Or, at the very least, blogging. There may be more flow of consciousness, this was cathartic. You Have Been Warned.

(My subject line is mostly because I've been playing Mass Effect again, and it does tend to colonise one's imagery.)

Oh, fine.

Saturday, 28 March 2015 01:44 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Apparently taking selfies makes me look grumpy and suspicious. I suspect, actually, that this job is making me grumpy and suspicious. I'm developing this pronounced frown line between my eyebrows, I shall have to practice looking more cheerful. Anyway, this is off centre because I am a complete neophyte selfie-taker and all the centred ones made me extra-grumpy and extra-suspicious.



They're nice glasses. I'm very happy with how they've turned out, or will be once I've got used to them and they've stopped rubbing the bridge of my nose. However, because he's way more photogenic, have a Still Life With Hobbit.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's Hellweek! The first week of term has stomped around, my life is full of incessant student demands and queues for change of curriculum, advisors are defaulting in all directions, and I have random insomnia and am navigating all of the above on five hours of sleep. Despite which, I'm curiously cheerful, possibly because I'm manic on sleep deprivation, and propose to distract myself pleasantly by burbling about tea.

This morning's challenges were materially increased by the discovery that my campus Twinings cache was tragically empty. I have a serious Earl Grey addiction. I mean, serious. Six mugs a day serious, although more at the moment because I'm stressed, and continuous caffeine with bergamot apparently soothes me to the point where I don't actually go for student throats with my teeth. (My brower's spellchecker also doesn't know how to spell "bergamot", which I consider something of a personal betrayal). Said addiction is peculiarly crippling because a six cups a day habit has apparently habituated me to Twinings to the extent where any other brand tastes bizarre and unlikely. We will draw a veil over the cat-faces I make when forced by cruel circumstances to drink so-called "tea" that isn't Earl Grey at all. Inhuman, is what.

I am not only ridiculously picky about my tea brand, I am hyper-ridiculously picky about how I drink it. I don't like it too strong; the teabag must steep for no more than five seconds. I am not fond of that sense that tannin is coating my teeth, although even at my strength habits sheer volume is probably coating my stomach, and is definitely coating my mugs. Irreverent friends (possibly Phleep) have categorised my milk requirements as "Show it the cow"; rigorous testing with a measuring spoon reveals that in fact I need between 5 and 7 mls of milk to make it drinkable, and I have on occasion made myself tea, incautiously overmilked it, curled my lip, and poured the resulting tragic beverage down the sink before re-making it from scratch. I brought myself down from two spoons of sugar to one about a decade ago, but haven't, despite frequent attempts, managed to reduce it any further. Since at present I'm evincing a tendency not to eat at all until supper, I figure I probably need the blood sugar. There is, in short, a good and sufficient reason why, if you offer me tea in your home, I will probably gently shoulder you aside and make it myself. Because, honestly, there's only so much I can expect from my friends, and precisely two of them have ever learned to make it to my exacting and unreasonable specifications.

People give me boxes of tea. It's very sweet. The aforementioned Phleep, who also takes his caffeine seriously, brings me tins from Harrods every so often, and it's my actually-palatable fallback for those terrible moments when all the supermarkets in my immediate radius run simultaneously out of Twinings. Occasionally students give me tea, as a thank-you for my intrepid negotiation of particularly uphill tracts of curriculum advice, also incidentally raising my hopes for the basic observation skills of the younger generation. Which brings me to the actual purpose of this post, which is to record for posterity the fact that something called "New English Teas", of which I have never heard prior to this kindly student donation, (a) does a nice line in pretty scrolly boxes and packaging their Earl Grey, (b) claims to be "BEST BEFORE END: 6153", which seems frankly unlikely, and (c) tastes almost, but not quite, completely unlike Earl Grey. However, I contrive to soldier on grimly.

On the general principle of sharing internet joy wherever it may be found, this is a thing of subtle beauty whose payback, when you work it out, causes (a) giggling, and (b) forgiveness of the fact that it's actually a rickroll.

My subject line, not unnaturally, quotes "Tea for Two", which, since we seem to be doing random personal factoids today, I am fond of mostly because of an anecdote my father used to tell about Victor Borge playing it upside down.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I didn't do the official year retrospective post last year, possibly as a result of the major fit of pique which resulted from those bastards nicking the television last New Year's Eve while we were off partying. Since it's quite a nice exercise in stock-taking I am hereby resuscitating the retrospective tradition, pausing only to note with some pleasure that no actual bastards robbed the house last night while we were off having civilised six-course dinners for eleven at jo&stv's. (Memo to self, post that recipe I invented for the mushroom salad thingy). I shall also, by way of comparison, briefly survey 2012, because the gap is irritating me like a missing tooth. Can you tell that I'm the kind of computer gamer who absolutely has to visit every corner of a map and pick up all the loot? You probably can.

Weirdly enough given that this year was characterised by a giant month-long depressive slump somewhere in the middle of it, I think it's generally been a more positive than negative year in my personal universe. It's been mostly blissfully free of massive personal or medical disasters, and I'm certainly feeling more functional and on-track in basic life issues than I was a year ago - some unresolved things that were hanging over my head have finally been resolved, like cars and house agents. There's some evidence that fairly intense therapy may actually have some utility: while I can't say I've solved all my self-sabotaging tendencies, I'm far more aware of them than I was, and generally less likely to be destructively hard on myself. I feel slightly more confident, slightly more open, and rather more likely to do things I want and need to do without feeling that other people's needs should come first. Yay therapy.

  • Things achieved by me this year: The writing up and submission of two papers, plus various encyclopaedia entry updates and a couple of new ones (one submitted already, the other to be submitted really soon now since the final deadline was yesterday). An invitation to contribute a chapter to a rather prestigious fairy-tale film anthology. A driver's licence and a spanky new car. The start of an actual exercise routine, in a small but so far reasonably consistent way. A sense of improved management of fatigue and associated bodily ills. The gradual re-focus of my job towards more interesting policy-setting rather than administrivia. General validation of my work achievements by various Deans and other superiors. Ongoing relationships with lovely and essential friends.
    (Things achieved in 2012: more international travel on (a) my Cherished Institution's dime (two fairy-tale conferences) and (b) as a keynote speaker partially funded by the conference (that Harry Potter one). After really rather a lot of HR wrangling, the upgrading of my post and job description to bump it up a payclass and include a 10% research/teaching component. A learner's licence. A new agent for the French house. A therapist.)

  • Things discovered by me this year: Ipads, Nimona, truffle oil, the reality of depression, taxis, fresh broad beans, Blu-Ray, subject line footnote refs, Sherlock fanfic, evening constitutionals, Captain Marvel, mole mapping, freeform LARP-writing, social self-preservation, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Benedict Cumberbatch, Vampire Weekend.
    (Things discovered by me in 2012: Veronica Mars, Tamora Pierce, Tumblr, Goats, WordPress, subject line reference posts, Phryne Fisher, Avengers fanfic, Kingdoms of Amalur, Scotland, the Lake District, Ghent, Kristen Cashore, madly ordering internet art, Chrome, Kickstarter, Sherlock.)

  • Things achieved by other people this year which affect me: the Evil Landlord's acquisition of a girlfriend.

  • Things not achieved by me: as usual, fleeing the country, crushing academia beneath my booted heel, enough writing, enough exercise. Although I think I have failed to meet many of these goals rather less catastrophically than some previous years.

  • Resolutions for the new year: continue upward trends wherever possible in writing, exercising, socialising, self-management. Try to move out of ruts and comfort zones. Be, wherever possible, happy.


A ceremonial happy new year to all of you lot. I hope it exceeds all positive expectations.

Subject line from "Auld lang syne", for fairly obvious reasons.

I want a zebra

Tuesday, 22 October 2013 10:22 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am, for no adequately defined reason and after almost a year of absence, remembering my dreams again. This is a profound relief. I like dreaming; mine tend to the vivid and trippy and are always entertaining. I think it also means that I'm probably emerging from the loathsome embrace of depression at least to some extent, to which I say calloo, callay. Although Sunday night's little excursions entailed (a) being locked carefully in a room somewhere by concerned friends so that the giant, unlikely, terrifying cloud of bats couldn't get at me despite much fluttering at windows, and (b) trying desperately to find random objects in the old house which was slowly decaying and filling with water, so possibly a certain subconscious concern about dissolution of the structural coherence of my identity may be implicated. On the other hand, last night I dreamed an extended balloon trip in the company of Sherlock Holmes, which was about wish fulfilment on so many levels I actually woke up giggling. I've always wanted to go up in a balloon, I love flying, and flying dreams are a rare and particular pleasure. Also, BBC's current Sherlock. I have, shall we say, no complaints.

In other news, the EL appears to have achieved a girlfriend, although this is a conclusion drawn solely from observation of particular patterns in pewter-casting, he hasn't said a word about her. What's with that? Oh, wait. EL.

Subject line from the Magnetic Fields's "Zebra", chosen mainly by random association and the fact that it contains the line "We circled the Earth in a hot air balloon, So what?" I can't say I actually want a zebra, which for the purposes of scansion and rhyme in this particular instance is pronounced "zee-bra".
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Last night I couldn't find the (seven hundred rand's worth) of excitingly contoured Apple doohickey which allow me to, gods willing and the moons in the right conjunction, connect my Ipad to the wayward vagaries of my Cherished Institution's lecture venue data projection facilities. It has become vital, as it does surprisingly frequently, to show my students PowerPoint slides of hot vampires, which they don't deserve because as a class they have the approximate responsiveness of a row of puddings, but still. Forty-five minutes of searching through various drawers and shelves revealed the following:
  1. The better part of a box of chocolate coated coffee beans which I'd completely forgotten about and which have gone all weird and pale.
  2. A collection of postcards from Carcasonne, which means I must have bought them on that trip in 2005 or so. I have no idea why. Possibly the SCA was implicated.
  3. Three pairs of 3-D glasses, which reminds me, I'm taking myself off to see Pacific Rim at Canal Walk on Tuesday night, let me know if you want to keep me company. 8pm show. Last chance, I've put this off until it's almost off circuit.
  4. A tight little coil of cellphone/computer connection thingy, still in its original wire ties, which on mature reflection I think belonged to that cellphone which got stolen, and which I always fondly imagined didn't actually have a computer connection cable. I must have stashed it in the drawer immediately upon opening the cellphone box, and promptly forgotten about it. Not being able to data transfer from that phone drove me crazy for years - it's a weird-shaped connection and I could never find one to fit. Finding it now is depressingly futile.
  5. My (small, cheap, nasty) MP3 player, which I haven't been able to find for months and could have sworn was stuck to the last TV they stole. At least this means I can play a broader selection of music in the car, I'm currently relying on my Boxing Day mix CDs and they're giving me whiplash, which is my own damned silly fault for randomly juxtaposing Franz Ferdinand with Joni Mitchell and Neil Diamond with the Pixies.
  6. A ridiculously large stash of tasteless wrapping paper, most of which I have no memory of ever buying or using.
  7. Finally, after becoming increasingly enraged, the excitingly contoured R700 Apple doohickey, which I knew was in there and which I eventually found in the exact place I'd checked first without actually seeing it.
This merry little exercise in disorganisation and failed pattern recognition brought to you courtesy of a weekend which was also rife with stupid culinary errors, like cutting the pastry too small for the quiche pan, and forgetting to grease the muffin tins before sloshing in the batter. There's this thing depression does to me where it all turns inward and I am filled with self-loathing and a sense of my own uselessness. Desk drawers are chaotic and detritusy at the best of times. They really don't help.

My vampire pudding fate awaits. Don't wait up. Oh, and subject line courtesy Belle & Sebastian. A random google for no adequately defined reason has made me realise how utterly dodgy "The Boy with the Arab Strap" is, anyway.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have three separate posts half-written, all offering possibly pretentious analysis of things - fanfic, feminism, what have you. Your eagle reader's eyes will have noted that, of course, I have not posted any of them. I have not posted much. Can I, will I, post at all? Apparently I can if I access the perfect confluence of empty stomach, fanfic-reading trance and insufficiency of caffeine which permits the flow of consciousness necessary to talk about depression. Bugger it, let's talk about depression.

The problem is that I don't usually talk about depression. I've been medicated it for around two years now, and while I have down periods mostly I function fairly well, am even reasonably contented at times. The leaden, shuffling grey of those few months of fatigue immediately after coming out of hospital has mostly passed. I'd rather believe that it's passed; if I'm occasionally unhappy, I haven't wanted to make a thing of it. I'd thought it was getting better. I have no idea why the monster should suddenly have chosen a few days of leave from work as the moment to spring out and drag me into the dark alley for a quick kicking about the head, but there you have it. I have spent the last four days stumbling through a sort of lead-weighted black cloud in which I do nothing, eat very little, god, I don't even drink tea, you know it's bad, hover on the edge of tears, achieve nothing whatsoever. I have interesting things I need to do, but I can't make myself do them. If prodded to movement by an actual obligation, like a meeting or a role-playing game, I go forth and imitate the action of a human being. I'm quite good at that. I even temporarily convince myself. It terrifies me, because it says that maybe the grey has been there for a while, concealed by distracting imitation, and the clear space has simply revealed it.

It's difficult to describe this state, because it deadens - why make the effort to understand or quantify it, it won't make any difference. Why am I sad? Is this grief, loss, pain, loneliness? What do I need to do to make it better? Who the hell knows? I think it would probably help a great deal if I could even put a name to it, but no, it's the classic Lovecraftian nameless dread. It feeds on itself. Not savagely, but with a slow, relentless mumbling of blunted teeth. It's a black hole. Everything is swallowed up. You're left with nothing to work with.

It'll pass. It has before. Something will shift, there will be a tilt and trickle in the brain chemistry and I'll slowly emerge into something like colour and life. I'm lucky; a lot of people have it a lot worse. But this is the worst it's been for me for a while, and this post is, I think, about anger as much as anything else. Fuck this. If I can't pin down what it is or how to fix it, at least I'll bloody well assert that it exists; I nail this fog to the wall in this small way, at least. At least feels like I'm doing something. Hi, it's me, I'm depressed. Bear with me.

(This post, incidentally, was initially friends-locked in the interests of my mother's mental health. She worries. I unlocked it when I'd emerged from the depression and told her about it. Subject line comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Carrion Comfort. It's less comforting to atheists).

tuned to a dead channel

Wednesday, 7 August 2013 05:11 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do not appear to feel much like blogging at the moment. Right now that's possibly because I have a Horrible Cold In The Head, courtesy of my mother, who also has a Horrible Cold In The Head which she picked up from my niece. Children are plague pits. Fact. Anyway, we're both dragging ourselves around the house gravitating to heat sources (it's bloody cold, there must be snow on the mountains), her with a pestilential snuffle, me with a head full of cement. I have re-read two-thirds of my Phryne Fisher collection in the last three days. Bohemian flapper detectives may be keeping me sane.

In default of anything more intelligent, I present for your delectation the intelligence of others.

This is an incredibly interesting interview with William Gibson in which he talks about his own influences and writing processes, but even more about the interaction between the world and science fiction. My favourite bit is the ending:

If you’d gone to a publisher in 1981 with a proposal for a science-fiction novel that consisted of a really clear and simple description of the world today, they’d have read your proposal and said, Well, it’s impossible. This is ridiculous. This doesn’t even make any sense. ... Fossil fuels have been discovered to be destabilizing the planet’s climate, with possibly drastic consequences. There’s an epidemic, highly contagious, lethal sexual disease that destroys the human immune system, raging virtually uncontrolled throughout much of Africa. New York has been attacked by Islamist fundamentalists, who have destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city, and the United States in response has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. ... You haven’t even gotten to the Internet. By the time you were telling about the Internet, they’d be showing you the door. It’s just too much science fiction.

By way of antidote to all this contemporary bleakness, this is a rather lovely graduation address which exhorts graduates to be kinder, and thereby gives me lovely ammunition in some of the recent arguments I've been having with my therapist. My commitment to the therapeutic process has a very well-defined limit beyond which I simply don't buy the idea that it's OK to prioritise yourself above all else. It is an index of the success of the therapeutic process so far that I'm actually capable of arguing with her about it.

I need to go and blow my nose, again. I hope you are all well.

Subject line quote is, of course, from the opening sentence of Gibson's Neuromancer, which he apparently wrote without having any idea of where the novel was going to subsequently go. Writers' differing processes are fascinating.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have to say, along with Hoban "Wash" Washburne, that with 2011 we experienced "a little problem with our entry sequence". The last few years have not been kind to me and mine: 2009 was father's illness, 2010 was father's death, and I'd hoped that by 2011 the cosmic wossnames would have shot their bolt and we'd experience an upward trend. Instead, the pitch of entry has caused the outer casing to overheat and the wings to fall off. 2011 was a complete bugger, marked both by my increasing lack of happiness in this job, and by a new and interesting chapter in Things My Body Inflicts On Me Out Of Perverse Sadistic Glee. I am not leaping joyously into 2012 so much as crawling over the finish line while 2011 sits panting behind me, the bloodied scraps of fabric in its jaws all that remains of the seat of my pants. (Bizarrely mixed metaphors in this paragraph brought to you at no additional cost).

Thus, the usual scorecard is somewhat unbalanced in its 2011 iteration. It also completely ignores global trends and disasters to focus, as usual, on the purely personal. Thusly:
  • Things achieved by me this year: international travel on my Cherished Institution's dime. Survival of life-threatening illness. Survival of concomitant post-illness chronic fatigue. Invitation to give a keynote paper at a conference next year, albeit a small conference. Invitation to submit paper to special edition of journal, on Miyazaki, so score. Relative success at doing my job despite being absent from it for about three months, and validation from superiors in proof of same. With assistance of therapist and my, as usual, incredibly wonderful friends both real and virtual, something vaguely approaching mental health in endurance of all of the above.
  • Things discovered this year: Dragon Age, Eureka, Lillian Jackson Braun, She Wants Revenge, retro Golden Age superhero comics, the Avengers, Skyrim, buying a new computer specifically for gaming, Dark Angel, Melbourne, the reality of deep vein thrombosis on long haul flights, compression socks, anti-depressants, Questionable Content, bras that fit, Lego, Dollhouse, growing out my fringe.
  • Things not achieved by me: as usual, fleeing the country, crushing academia beneath my booted heel, enough writing, enough exercise. Any of the end-2010 resolutions about having a better year. Most importantly, the actual writing any of the above papers owing to aforementioned fatigue. Possibly as a result of all the therapy, I am bizarrely inclined to actually cut myself some slack for this.
  • Resolutions for the new year: attempt to continue the process of cutting myself slack on the fatigue, while simultaneously resolving both to cautiously exercise towards actual health, and not to use fatigue and Skyrim as excuses for protcrastination. Writing of kick-butt papers variously for the journal special issue, for the May Harry Potter conference, and for two additional fairy-tale conferences in August/September. Fiendish political strategising to bend the structure and expectations of this job to my inflexible will. More socialising with all the lovely friends I've hardly seen owing to fatigue and inexorable hedgehogginess.
I spurn 2011 as the dust beneath my chariot wheels, and look sternly at 2012. Shape up, dammit. In the global sense, but particularly in the particular.
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Today I unearthed unexpectedly, from the clutter in my drawer, my Zimbabwean post office book. At the time I last used it, which was in 1996, its charmingly analogue columns attested to my ownership of Z$529.23.



This would have been the residue of all the saving I did from vac jobs when I was at school or in my first few years at university, less whatever I drew out for self-indulgence (usually books or fabric). If it's still there, and hasn't been closed down or whatever, it might have picked up a bit of interest in the intervening fifteen years. But let's take it from the actual depicted amount. It's currently worth a fraction over 10 South African rand, or approximatly 0.89 British pounds.

My mother has an older sister who is still in Zim - she's mentally disabled and lives in a retirement home. My grandparents left a trust fund for her when they died, which was designed to provide for her for the rest of her life. After Zim's economic collapse, my mother drew the entirety of the trust fund out of the bank, and used it to buy a milkshake and a toasted cheese sandwich at a local fast food joint.

I spent the first 20 years of my life in Zimbabwe. I don't know if it's possible to get across to someone who hasn't had their national identity whisked out from under them like a rug, exactly how odd it feels: your whole childhood, the validity of a whole nation's operation, taken away from you. The first twenty years of my life is unreal to the point where it may as well have been a fantasy, one which has been replaced with a reality which is horribly Kafkaesque. My stupid post office book is a ridiculous microcosm of the feeling my parents must have had, watching their entire working lives, plans, investments, gurgle down the drain in a matter of months. There are still people in Zim, and a government of sorts, and if you work in US$ apparently you can make a living there, but there is no coherent sense of stability or continuity such as would make a sense of identity feel legitimate.

They say you can't go home again, and in this particular case they're horribly right. I have enormous emotional attachment to Zimbabwe's landscapes, which at times I still miss with an almost physical ache, but the place is no longer the locus of any sense of a working country. I can't think of myself as a Zimbabwean any more, because Zimbabwe doesn't viably exist. But I still can't think of myself as a South African. At best, I'm a Capetonian. At worst, I know I'm not anything. There's not anything to be from. It does some very odd things to one's psyche.
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A student wandered into my office yesterday, and for a wonder didn't immediately get snarled at for interrupting, which is regrettably tending to be my default response of late. Instead I looked up, slightly cross-eyed, from my 35th replay of Arcade Fire's "Crown of Love" tinnily through my desk speakers, and said vaguely, "Oh, right, it's the same chord but they're not using the tonic in the base progression. Sneaky sods." Then I dealt with the curriculum question, which I assume, since I can't remember it, was trivial and routine and had nothing to do with contemporary alt music, and sent the student, slightly bewildered, on their way.

See, I sort of play the piano. Sort of. As in, I took formal piano lessons and did the exams at school, all the way up to O-level Music and the Royal Schools Grade 6, which I scraped a pass in after being heartily sabotaged by a nasty little modern Russian piece which featured enormous, merry, octave-and-a-half leaps in the right hand. Since I never practised worth a damn and it's bloody impossible to hit enormous leaps accurately without practising a lot, the whole enterprise should have been doomed from the start. What saved it was the fact that I have a fairly good ear, in so far as I'm reasonably capable of reproducing, albeit in truncated and simplified form if it's complex, pretty much anything I hear that isn't hard-core classical or jazz. I fumbled my way through most of my formal piano pieces on memory, a good ear and a reasonable streak of actual musicality, but I don't have anything whatsoever that you could identify as technique, and my stabs at sight-reading or correct fingering would make a piano teacher spontaneously combust, weeping.

All this notwithstanding, I still derive considerable enjoyment from noodling around on the piano. I am fortunate that I have mine lying around the living room courtesy of my amazing mother, who stuck it on the back of a truck and brought it down from Zim when she fled the country, and my amazing friends, who paid for it to be refurbished as a birthday present a few years back. I stuff around either with classical pieces (Chopin nocturnes!) or Cole Porter, or 80s hits, or, most often, whatever random song has caught my attention because of interesting chords, or has been floating around my backbrain and needs to be exorcised by reproduction (this is surprisingly effective). I do it when I'm depressed, tired, annoyed, have a spare moment when the EL's not in the house, or am waiting for the kettle to boil for tea.

Playing the piano is a personal, private and solitary vice; I do not care to inflict my stumbles and experiments on anyone else, because there's a lot of stumbling, mostly while I play the wretched song over and over again on the CD player, leaping at intervals to the piano with cries of illumination (see above). And this is in defiance of the fact that a lot of rock/pop/folk music is, in chord pattern at least, very simple. Yer gets yer tonic, subdominant and dominant chords, the basic triad which tend to define pop tunes, occasionally with a minor or seventh or key change or something flung in for good measure. (The very first thing I ever taught myself to play, when I was about 11, was "Michael Finnigan", which uses two chords, tonic and dominant. I hacked my way tentatively through it and the scales (hah!) fell from my eyes. The world opened up. Suddenly I could play anything. I still have an incredibly vivid memory of that moment. It also led, indirectly, to a gig playing light poppy background music at one of the five-star hotel restaurants in Harare while I was still at school; I also have a vivid memory of breaking into "Mama Tambo's Wedding" as a warm-up before any of the diners had actually arrived, and having the waiters all bopping in the aisles.)

Despite this innate simplicity of chord, it's actually quite difficult to make a single piano operated by an indifferent pianist (and if I practiced very hard for about three years I'd probably qualify as an indifferent pianist) reproduce the different strands of sound which make up a contemporary rock/pop number. You keep the beat going in the bass with your left hand, often in octaves, cunningly synthesising both the drum beat and the actual bass line if you possibly can. Your right hand reproduces the characteristic guitar riff (or, occasionally, piano accompaniment) which fills out the middle range. In the same range, and with your third hand, or possibly foot, you carry the actual tune, since if you're me you can't sing loudly enough to hold it and, besides, that's not the point. Your second foot is reserved for the embellished descanty bits that someone like Arcade Fire sticks in with a violin just to keep things interesting. The occasional cymbal clash you supply with your nose, or a passing cat. If you were a decent pianist, such as I ain't, you could play something like "Total Eclipse of the Heart", which has a beautiful piano accompaniment, by melding the accompaniment and the tune into one with your right hand, but I can't. That's high tech piannering, that is. I'd break a finger.

And there's the final Achilles heel. I try to play stuff in the same key the originators do, but it is my seekrit sorrow that I can't do flats. I tend to default to the keys of D, A or G, or related minors; I lack moral fibre sufficiently that I shy away from whole thickets of sharps, but flats bring me out in a cold sweat. This is not unrelated to the problem I have with the eight times table, which back in kindergarten days I for some reason never learned properly by rote. Sevens, fine. Nines, OK. (I like the nine times table, it's aesthetically pleasing). I wasn't concentrating when we did eights, and to this day I count on my fingers when calculating them. Likewise, I clearly skimped on F major and B flat major and all those evil flatty keys back in the good old days of scales, and it's haunted me ever since. Which is a bugger, because David Bowie loves the bloody things.

Things I have recently taught myself to play: the above Arcade Fire. ("Wake Up" is also fun, mostly because of the driving base). Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection". ELO's "Midnight Blue". A particularly bastardised and inadequate version of "Life on Mars", which really needs four pianos, a full orchestra and a death wish. Annie Lennox's "Into the West" from the LotR soundtrack. If you cherish any fondness at all for any of these tunes, don't for FSM's sake come anywhere near the house when I'm playing them. It'll make you wince, but worse, I'll have to stop playing in sheer embarassment, and you'll interrupt my ham-fisted happy.

discombobulated

Thursday, 11 August 2011 03:35 pm
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Bleah. Talking to my nice therapist lady this morning about various Stupid Ex-Boyfriend Incidents way back in the mists of time (disclaimer: applies to no-one who's reading this) has put me into a profound depression for most of the day. Either that or the increase in my Warfarin dose has made me draggy and tired. Apparently my blood remains determined to clot madly, recking not the insane quantities of anti-coagulant we apply to it. Adds whole new dimensions to "bloody-minded". I contemplate with a certain quiet smugness the fact that it can't make my hair any worse owing to how I cut it all off.

Since I'm uninspired, and have moreover not much to talk about owing to the tight correspondence between my return to work and my return to Dragon Age II (the "Escape My Life At Any Cost" clause; newsflash, plotting still irritating and inadequate, romance options mostly insulting to right-thinking female players, but can I stop playing? noooooo1), I fall back into random linkery. These will be familiar to those of you who retain any consciousness whatsoever of my Delicious feed.

Hmmm. Apparently the entire upbeat content of my life has migrated to the internet. I console myself that it's better than no upbeat content at all.



1 Looking at that parenthesis, to the hypothetical question "Does that apply to Dragon Age or my life", I am forced to answer "yes".

comedy hiccups

Sunday, 9 January 2011 06:58 pm
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I'm attacked by hiccups fairly often, and when they hit, it's violently, with full-body twitches, and, owing to the correlation between hiccups and booze, and my tendency to verbosity when slightly sloshed, the intrusion of loud and helpless "hics" into my usual babbling. All of the above has caused my loving friends to invent the notion of "comedy hiccups", and to point out their arrival, loudly and with mockery. We will not go into the horrid litany of "you're married to..." which they fling at me in an effort to shock me out of the wretched things. The fact that it frequently works is a testament to their inventiveness.

I hadn't realised for how long the hiccup affliction has been a feature in my life until I stumbled on the scrap of paper reproduced below, which [livejournal.com profile] egadfly scribbled, I suspect during a late-night role-playing tournament design session, lo these many years ago (as in decades). I feel his essentially minimalist style captures the full-body nature of the phenomenon very well.



This is a Microfiction weekend, and owing to a terminal difficulty with this theme ("Silver") I've actually put up two, "Silver" and "Household God". I don't like either of them much. YMMV. I don't like most of what I write, after all.

retrospective

Friday, 31 December 2010 12:45 pm
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That was 2010, that was. Now it's old and grey and tottering towards the finish line while 2011 sits in the wings and plots. At the end of last year I said that 2009 had made me sad, and politely requested 2010 to pull its socks up. In a weird sort of way it's sort of complied. Given that my major resolution for 2010 was "survive", I can pretty much say "mission accomplished", but it wasn't much of a mission.

I lost my father this year and, however merciful his release was from his horrible illness, losing a parent is something of a major life event. His death has freed me to start getting my life and finances back on track, but I think I'm still trying to absorb the implications of his absence; it all feels strangely distant and unreal, as though he's actually live and well and pottering around France somewhere. I suppose that's almost inevitable, when the relationship I've had with him for the last ten years has been across distance and with infrequent contact. Loss takes a while to sink in.

The usual scorecard:
  • Things achieved by me this year: a conference, a published paper, a serious amount of academic validation from complete strangers. Paid-off debts to bank and sister. A house in France, and an actual tenant in it. Survival of giant renovations. A far more vicious stranglehold on this job, it's starting to become routine, and to give me something approaching headspace, making it vaguely possible that I will be able, in the near future, to think of it as a day job and do more interesting things around its edges. A reasonably effective management plan for life with chronic sinusitis/glandular fever, although I'm still working on the "while not whinging about it" part.
  • Things discovered this year: Star Trek, Smallville, Plants vs. Zombies, Catherynne M. Valente, tempura batter, Death Cab for Cutie, Echo Bazaar, Scott Pilgrim, Transmetropolitan, Fiasco!, netbooks, how to cook fillet, Microfiction.
  • Things not achieved by me: as usual, fleeing the country, crushing academia beneath my booted heel, enough writing, enough exercise. In addition, I have not seen enough of all my friends; I've retreated into a sort of exhausted hermitage thing where I socialise only if someone actively pulls me out with hook and line. I've missed everyone.
  • Resolutions for the new year: trample job under my booted heel and find more energy for more interesting things, including headspace in which to write. Do some bloody exercise. See my friends far more actively and often. Travel more.

2010 had extremely horrible moments, but I think its overall arc has been slightly upwards. I am cautiously hopeful about 2011. Tonight a small gang of us see in the New Year in our traditional fashion, which is to cook giant, elaborate meals on the distributed plan while imbibing alcohol freely and allowing the conversation to wander hither and thither at will. I hope that you all have equally pleasant prospects for the evening, and that 2011 will bring you wonderful things.
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It's not surprising that I hate going to the dentist, everyone hates going to the dentist. Having someone else poke around inside your mouth is an uncomfortably intimate sort of thing even without the pain and the grinding noises and the horrible little supersonic whines of the drills. But I really hate going to the oral hygienist, in whose chair I've just spent an ungodly half an hour. I'm very rigorous about brushing my teeth, but her exertions make me feel as though I've been caught out living in a filthy house with an unmade bed. And she always guilt trips me about flossing.

Flossing is the curse of modern Western civilisation. Who really flosses, anyway? It's the perfect millstone around our neck, compounded of a horrible constellation of impulses - health, beauty, self-discipline, inconvenience, guilt, pain, boredom. I'm very bad at remembering to do it because to me it feels as though it's about beauty: it suggests that I should be aspiring to shiny white toothpaste-advertisement teeth, and I mentally classify it under the same heading as wearing make-up or blow-drying my hair. These activities nark me off not just because they're about superficial ideas of beauty, but because they demand that I take time pandering to them. Life's too short to spend half an hour every morning blow-drying, making yourself up, and flossing.

Of course, this is utterly wrong. Flossing isn't just about shiny white Tom Cruise teeth, it's about preventing plaque build-up and therefore about reduced fillings and healthier teeth, insert dental infomercial here, and less time in the dentist's chair in the long run. I'm perfectly aware of this, and therefore my time with the oral hygienist is nicely balanced between resentment, pain, guilt and self-loathing, with a side order of Herodotus's crocodile (little tooth-cleaning bird in my mouth! crunch!) and my heels lifting several inches off the chair in sheer muscular tension. She's right. I should floss. But I probably won't.

Last Night I Dreamed I threw over this admin job and emigrated to Nicaragua, where an unspecified nice man had promised me and a bunch of other people new jobs, which turned out to be in (surprise!) university admin. At some stage I was sleeping in a sleeping bag out on a hillside somewhere, and woke up with the dawn to find myself surrounded by the beautiful, half-tamed jaguars which belonged to the resistance movement.
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Lovely, gossipy lunch with [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun yesterday, in the course of which she revealed that she's just been promoted to Senior Lecturer. Hooray! *random pom-pom routine, with mortarboards*. This is excellent news: the ad-hominem promotion process is legendarily nasty, and it's very, very cool that her faculty has recognised her Excellent Work. However, she also gently suggested that it would be far preferable to impart this sort of news over lunch if I was in any sort of position to be contemplating such a promotion myself, and oh, by the way, when am I resigning from this job? Which is an excellent question.

While I'm actually not completely hating my current job just at the moment, nor is it anywhere I actually want to be in the long term. I want to be a Real Academic, and be able to share my academic ladder-climbing triumphs with [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun over the calamari. However my daily little theme song, wandering the corridors of my Cherished Institution, goes something along the lines of "I'm a lonely little fantasist in an African Potato patch". As long as I resolutely stick to my non-Africanist guns in terms of research interests, it's extremely unlikely that I'll acquire a permanent academic post of any sort here. It may be wantonly bloody-minded, but those are my guns, and by gum I'm sticking to them. This recent Glasgow trip has suggested that I'm also not quite as uncompetitive in the international arena as I've always kinda thought I'd be. All of this being the case, why the hell am I still in Cape Town, instead of kicking my heels up in a much more accommodating unicorn-infested field overseas?

Another excellent question, and there has been Brooding about it. Mature reflection has suggested that the following factors may be a consideration:

  • Trepidation. I'm a cowardy-custard, you may commence the junior playground mockery now. I doubt I'll waltz straight into an academic post of any sort overseas unless I'm actually living there, which will entail some sort of temp work. I lived hand-to-mouth for a long time as a grad student, and I do not contemplate a return to a more precarious existence with anything other than fear and trembling. Also, I am very happy with my home, friends and life here, other than the actual career satisfaction, and the thought of having to start again from scratch fills me with a profound desire to chain myself to my bed and hide under it.

  • Location. It's a well-known fact that the groovy cosmic rays put off by the Mountain have a measurable effect on brain chemistry, as well as causing long-term inhabitants of the city to put down Psychic Roots. In the immortal words of [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun, leaving Cape Town is all cool and exciting and great career opportunities etc, except for the part where you shrivel up and die. She was born here, she Gets It. I am too young and cussed to shrivel up and die just yet.

  • Dislocation. I am Capetonian, body and soul, but I'm also an exiled Zimbabwean. Being Zimbabwean does very odd things to one's sense of identity and belonging. Cape Town has become my home, because the utter disaster that is Zimbabwe precludes thinking of it as home any more: there's no longer anything there for me, and never will be. My family is now dispersed all over the world, which means that the main thing which makes Cape Town "home" to me is my presence in it - I build that rootedness for myself, not because of a family safety net or family home or anything else which grounds it. (Friends do, and my friends are amazing, but you can't take them for granted; they're also dependent on ongoing construction by one's actual presence). If I go elsewhere, out of Cape Town, I have no anchor. I'm adrift. I can't "go back", because "home" has uprooted and moved with me. It's a horribly precarious feeling to contemplate, and I think contributes materially to my reluctance to leave.

  • Consolation. As I said above, I actually haven't hated this job lately. Bits of it annoy me intensely, particularly boring admin nitty-gritty and not being able to work at home. But at the same time, I'm achieving useful stuff here, both for me and for the organisation. I am advancing, if nothing else, in leaps and bounds in the acquisition of interesting political skills in the areas of self-promotion, committee-wrangling and what have you. If I ever do get back into academia proper, watch out academia. Also, this year I've managed to up the amount of teaching I'm doing quite considerably, with the reassuringly full blessing of my superiors, and have moreover realised the possibility of exciting conference trips courtesy of the Cherished Institution. I thus have just enough access to the things that make me happy to be able to contemplate the continuation of what's effectively a Day Job for at least a little while longer.
All of the above, of course, is sheer rationalisation, and subject to change without warning: if someone against all odds offered me an overseas academic post, I'd probably up sticks tomorrow without a thought. But it's quite a good feeling to think it through and realise that there are Reasons, and it ain't all bad.
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As I mentioned yesterday, this dratted conference wanted a photo of me as well as a bio paragraph. Oh, and a topic, but I wasn't really worrying about that, I can cobble words together on the fly with a dashed sight more facility than that with which I can find a photo of myself I don't hate enough to actually disseminate. I don't have any decent, recent photos of self, on account of being incurably camera-shy as well as being completely non-photogenic. (And, weirdly enough, on account of being single. Count up how many of the good recent photos of you are taken by your loving partner).

However, the Dynamic Duo of jo&stv herded me up to campus yesterday morning, on a beautiful autumn's day, and proceeded to charm, browbeat and otherwise coerce me into a number of attitudes while Stv clicked the camera. This process revealed the following:

  1. I work on a beautiful campus. It's easy to take it for granted until you show it to photographers, who proceed to wax lyrical about its buildings, trees, ivy and what have you, and you realise they're right.
  2. Unleashing an amateur photographer is like unleashing a professional obsessive. "I need a bio pic, please" translates to over a hundred shots, in quite a few of which I look OK. I expected him to take a dozen or so. Silly me. Also, I'm grateful he didn't actually make me climb the library.
  3. Watching him up close like this makes me realise how many technical aspects of photography there are of which I remain blissfully oblivious as I take my own photos. Gawsh, no wonder they're not good photos.
  4. While I hate, hate, hate being photographed, having jo&stv clowning around does make the process at least somewhat amusing, to the extent where I'm either smiling or packing out laughing in about two-thirds of the shots. So not academic and sober. Sigh.
  5. These amateur photographers know their stuff. Stv selected what he thought were the best 10 or so shots out of the 100 or so total. I looked at these, did the classic "aargh they're photos of me and therefore hideous", rifled madly through the rest of them, and returned to his selected 10 having finally admitted that of course he's right, they're the best.
I sent the conference this one:



But this is my favourite, just for the composition:



That's me, that is. That's my Cherished Institution. I don't even look drunk.
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When I was eight years old I gave up biting my nails. I remember the occasion quite vividly: one day I looked down at my nibbled-at hands, thought "that's ugly, I should stop that", and did so. I haven't bitten them since. This suggests that, while in later life my willpower seems to be a small, mad, fluffy thing crouched on a rock in the depths of my subconscious, refusing to stir when prodded with sticks, technically it does exist and should be in there somewhere. Consequently, in a spirit of enquiry, a few days ago I randomly decided to give up saying "fuck", just to see if I could - while I have a just appreciation for its Anglo-Saxon bluntness, I lard my conversation with it far too heavily, and occasionally can't help using it in a professional context, upon which people look at me sideways. So far so good - I've involuntarily uttered it once in the last three days, and that while slightly sloshed. I shall watch my own progress with interest.

The weekend seems to have been a bit of a mad social whirl. We (jo&stv and Evil Landlord and I) took my mother out for lunch to Overture on Saturday, as a thank-you for her entirely saintly energies in looking after my dad. She is an Amazing Person, TM, and richly deserved Overture's view, good-humoured and attentive staff (the manager was hilarious), flowly-freeing wine, kick-butt pumpkin risotto, hake with mussels, and pork belly with pork rillette beignet, the latter pretentious-sounding concoction being a sort of pork stuffing in a thin deep-fried pastry baggie, and frankly delectable. She possibly didn't richly deserve the lunacy levels of the conversation, but hopefully it was at least entertaining.

The EL has also recently had the counter in the dining room flung out and replaced with a fitted version with room for the bar 'fridge, and in the course of unpacking the old cupboards and repacking the new we found no less than four bottles of champagne. This means we lugged two of them plus the Cointreau over to jo&stv's for potjie last night, and made French 75s (Cointreau, gin, champagne, lemon, hold the sugar, I like them dry). These are evil. In a good way. And get you very sloshed very quickly. Then again, it's been a hellish couple of weeks and I think I deserved to get slightly drunk and almost say "fuck" several times. But only almost!

Now, onward! to arrange internet connectivity for my dad at his new frail care institution, into which he moves on Friday. [livejournal.com profile] friendly_shrink's nice husband has, bless him, sorted out the Windows install problem on dad's computer by giving me a legal copy, and I am fiendishly scheming to persuade the Evil Landlord to let me install an ADSL line, so I can hijack the Iburst and haul it over there for Dad. Since this entails allowing Telkom over our threshold, I may be making a hell of a lot of creme caramel in the next few weeks. Will the Evil Landlord accept Telkom sweetened with creme caramel? News at 11!

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