Sunday, July 27, 2014

Issue 21: Garden Heart

Oh Comely - Issue 21

The latest issue of Oh Comely is out now and somehow it's Issue 21. Time Flies. The issue is garden themed and I wrote a piece about my childhood garden, rural upbringings, nostalgia and green pastures, the claustrophobia of cities, all of these things. There are interviews about rooftop gardens and bonsai trees and allotments. There's a piece about Lady Charlotte Guest and a great interview with Dan-Rad. He's so tiny and delightful. I am very fond of him.

There are also a couple of my older pieces up online if you can't get hold of Issue 21. I hadn't re-read them since they were published and it was interesting (admittedly, probably only to me) to see how my writing has developed over the past few years. It doesn't feel like it most of the time but progress happens slowly.

Butter Chicken - This remains one of my favourites. Who needs dignity??

Tantric Dance

Irrational Crushes

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Sound



"Stevie Nicks was the first woman I ever heard say she had chosen not to have children because she cared more about her career. The first that ever warned me men might not like it if there are things more important to me than they are. The first that ever said that that was fine: sometimes, you have to leave them behind. Wherever she goes, she surrounds herself with girls. “I can’t imagine you in a bathing suit,” someone says in an interview for Rolling Stone, when Stevie says she likes to play in the pool in her backyard. “Yeah, well, you never will,” Stevie says. “There is never - ever - a man in the backyard. If there is, he is banished to the front of the house.” Men don’t get to look at Stevie Nicks unless Stevie Nicks wants men to look at Stevie Nicks. In her songs, even when she’s talking about how she has to change, she proclaims her power, her ability, her worth. She is a queen, she is a witch, she is a dragon, she is in control. She isn’t polite. She’s competitive. She’s bossy. She claimed all the things the men around her claimed — she spent as much money as they spent, had as much sex as they had, was as reckless as they were, stood at the front of the same stage — and never questioned that that was her right. The world tells us women are there for men, but despite all the boyfriends and the jokes about how she’s so easy and the sex-symbol status, she isn’t there for men at all. She does it without ever giving in to the men that dismiss her. She’s emotional. She’s dramatic. She raises her voice as much as she can. She thinks she’s pretty, she thinks she’s a star, and when her fans crowd up to the edge of the stage, crazy, she welcomes them, with open arms. She revels in it. She’s too much of a girl for you? She revels in it."

Stevie Nicks is a queen, a witch, a dragon



To Do List: Learn this dance.



Melancholy goddess of forever.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Don't Last Forever

So I'm back from a blissful fortnight in Italy. I may or may not have had to be dragged onto the plane kicking and screaming. It is hard to say goodbye to blue skies and empty days and exemplary food. I read a ton and caught up on some much needed sleep and wallowed in the sun from sensibly shaded coves. There were olive groves and medieval cities. Real life struggles to compete.


The Duomo in Siena. 100% excellent Catholic insanity. I didn't take any photos inside but, man, it is great.

Obviously I didn't schedule any posts during my absence. Partially because I was (am) busy and lazy, partially because I am struggling to maintain my enthusiasm for blogging. The blog is dead, long live the (micro) blog? I mean, I think it is fair to say that blogging is over or, at least, that blogging has peaked. The age of the blog has passed. Email newsletters are pretty good. I am still online but it is becoming harder and harder to find the time to blog and follow individual blogs. Feedly, as much as I like it, is no Google Reader. The death of Google Reader killed the blogging star, or was is dead before then? Perhaps it is just my personal apathy. It is a hot night. I hope it is just me. I like the blogging community and I like the space and flexibility blogs. I don't want to blog for the blind sake of it but occasionally there are things I want to write but blogging is about being actively engaged and is there any point in blogging sporadically? I don't know, I don't know. This is no kind of retirement but it has been concerning me.

On a more positive note, some Italian recommendations:

  • Oltrarno: I have been to Florence many times but somehow I have never stayed south of the river. This was a hideous mistake! I never want to stay anywhere else. Bloody hell, Florence is packed with tourists in July but the Oltrarno is a (relative) relief. It is quieter, there are silent shaded streets and beautiful piazzas and there are many excellent places to eat.
  • Piazza della Passera: This little piazza has everything you could possibly need. 5 e Cinque is a lovely, predominantly vegetarian restaurant with good wine, excellent melanzane alla parmigiana and hummus (!! in Italy, I KNOW). Caffe degli Artigiani does perfectly serviceable tap wine and nibbles for aperetivo in the evening sun, Gelateria della Passera has great ice cream in a decent range of flavours (although, it was particularly noticeable on this trip how generally conservative the ice cream choices are in Florence - delicious but safe. I will try to do a full report for Repeat Scoop but I didn't take photos or notes so it isn't going to be my most accurate offering) for after dinner. You never have to leave...
  • Il Santo Bevitore: My favourite restaurant in Florence (not including pizza, man, we had some excellent pizza in Florence). I have come back here on two consecutive trips and I can say that the quality remains excellent. Busy but not raucous, great design, very friendly and helpful staff, excellent wine, excellent food. Book ahead. The cured meat is exemplary, the 'nduja pasta is a menu staple and is hot (spicy) and delicious, there was a slight delay with our bill (that we barely noticed being more than one sheet to the wind) and they gave us complimentary dessert wine. If money was no object I would have come here pretty much every night. As it was, a perfect special treat. 
  • This rabbit ragu: Not strictly Italian but rabbit is so so available in Italy, in all butchers, supermarkets and restaurants, that I always associate it with the country. R cooked this recipe one night and it knocked my socks off. 10/10, would eat every day.
And now I have cheered myself up. Excellent. Thanks, Italy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Article Reading Group: Merits, Privileges and None of the Above

I have been reading a lot recently about meritocracy. About the tech industry, about smart people and superiority and the myth of specialness. Janet Frame, who I had never come across before, wrote a perfect, perfect short story called Prizes in 1962 that feels like the most fitting response/clarification/conclusion to my reading material and my own reactions. Nothing is ever new. Well, I suppose the current financial success of technocrats is new but the privilege of the few is old indeed. Miranda July, who I admire as an artist even if I do not enjoy all of her work, read Frame’s story aloud for the latest New Yorker Fiction podcast and I would highly recommend listening to it, even if you read none of the other links.

I should preface the following by acknowledging that my familiarity with the tech industry, its figureheads, culture and history, plus pretty much all of the technical details behind the technology of ‘tech’, is limited at best. Still, you don’t need to be a genius or an insider to know that Marc Andreessen is basically (technically) a butthead. You just need to browse his Twitter feed. An introduction: this man has made huge amount of money in the tech industry but it’s fine because he’s smart and he deserves it and tech innovation totally helps The Poor™. Maria Bustillos calls bullshit pretty eloquently for the Awl. The price of fridges may be down but cheap fridges won’t help people to escape poverty (Andreesson also fails to acknowledge the human cost of cheap goods). To succeed like Andreessen you need education, extended access to technology beyond fridges, free time, self-belief, the support of the people around you (be it teachers, family or industry connections) and probably a plethora of other basic requirements that I (unfortunately matched with Andreessen by my skin colour and privilege if, hopefully, nothing else) can’t even imagine/don’t think to name. To believe that you have earned your success when the odds are stacked so heavily in your favour is insane. Bustillos quotes from a 2001 Guardian article by Michael Young (on my To Read List) that almost, ha, almost, makes you nostalgic for the aristocracy:
If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.
They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody's son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.
So assured have the elite become that there is almost no block on the rewards they arrogate to themselves.
Perhaps it is incongruous to introduce The Case for Reparations alongside a (pseudo) profile of a rich, white tech dude. Or perhaps not. Everyone who is likely to read Ta-nehisi Stoatss extended essay (feature? Article?) for the Atlantic has already read it, I’m not going to change any minds, but I would be remiss in my duty as a blogger, internet user and human being if I didn’t add my voice to the chorus of recommenders. Also, I think it is relevant and arguably parallel to the Andreesson takedown. Poverty is not a choice and African Americans are disproportionately affected by all the barriers to entry that prevent America from being a truly meritocratic land of opportunity. We are our history and Coates traces the many oppressions that have culminated in the violent, impoverished ghettos of Baltimore. Andreesson’s wealth and success exist within the context of sharecropping and redlining and gang violence. It exists in a mirrortocracy, a financially successful industry (like other financially successful industries) that disavows prejudice but demands a secret handshake, while a whole race struggles against the restrictions instigated and maintained by the (white) privileged.

The specifics of Coates’s essay are American, I don’t think there has ever been mandated redlining in the UK (let me know if I’m wrong!), but we pioneered the Atlantic slave trade and profited from the plantations. Besides, privilege is hardly an American phenomenon. Britain has a world of class and race issues of its own (among other things) nurtured in the fine historical pastures of feudalism and colonialism. As a white girl from a moderately affluent family I have benefitted from these privileges and I must strive to remember that. It is difficult because when life feels like crap these benefits don’t seem meaningful or even noticeable but they are real and these articles are important aides memoire for when I am being stroppy about my own displeasures.

Like Janet Frame’s narrator I won prizes at school. Well, I didn’t actually, I never win prizes, but I did get good grades and positive reports and a sense of promise. It is the same mind-set; work hard, be rewarded, feel good about yourself. School was neither a particular pleasure nor a walk in the park but I left it with the expectation that hard work was rewarded. Never a more privileged belief, I suppose. Adulthood has, so far, proven more complicated and success more elusive than I was lead to expect. This shit is nebulous. The prizes were empty but I don’t want some glossy domestication either.  I don’t know how you escape the pit or if it is somehow presumptuous and entitled to even try. There are times when my twenties have felt like a series of disappointments and that’s rough but then I feel guilty because most of those disappointments are still privileges. They are luxury disappointments. The guilt is probably good and my life is basically pretty sweet.

I don’t know. I don’t know. Being a person is hard. I should probably read more.