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|‘How it Works’, #385 from the brilliant XKCD.com|
Whilst waiting around on jury service recently, I spent some time reading Keats as part of my general project to correct the blind spots of my general C19 knowledge (at university I got to choose what I studied perhaps slightly more than is good for me!). I was reading for fun, hence slowly, and an idle thought popped into my head as I loitered on the phrase “pretty hummer” (l.2, ‘Sleep and Poetry’, for those interested). I thought about whether I could ever use it given modern connotations of the word ‘hummer’, and whether I’d sound like an arse if I did (or in attempting to explain myself), and then I mentally bemoaned the lack of general literary knowledge today. And then I stopped myself.
It’s quite a classist expectation, isn’t it? A bit like the constant moans about how exam standards are going down. Or is that quite a classist response, expecting most people to know about and embrace X Factor but be baffled and disengaged when it comes to literary works like Endymion?
I stopped myself particularly because the train of thought reminded me of a recent Twitter discussion between the wonderful @cnlester and @parislees about how to approach concepts like intersectionality with casual acquaintances and strangers day-to-day without sounding either alienating or patronising, as well as CN’s very thoughtful reflections on CN’s mother’s experience as a working-class, first-generation university student, immersed in — and isolated by — cultural references that she didn’t ‘get’.
CN pointed out:
[…], I just want to make sure that I’m neither the person making someone feel bad about not having heard a word or phrase before…
— CN Lester (@cnlester) November 25, 2013
…nor the person assuming that other people couldn’t possibly understand what I understand.
— CN Lester (@cnlester) November 25, 2013
It’s a tough balancing act.
I always hate this phrase because it implies quite negative things about marriage, and about a deep and abiding dedication to one’s work. Still, I think it is rather apt for my current state. I am still working 10-12 hour days (depending on whether it’s a good day or a bad day), and I occasionally hate it. When I hate it, however, it’s because a) my blood-sugar has dropped to a horrendously low level, or b) something (or someone) has made me momentarily angry.
I have always been slightly envious of those who can “work to live”, as they say, because I have never wanted to be one of those who “live to work”. Yet I couldn’t ever be properly satisfied with a job that I didn’t love and feel passionate about, and with that comes the inclination to take on new roles and do whatever is necessary to see that the job is done as well as it can be. And that inevitably involves becoming “married to the job”. As with all marriages (so I’m told), it has to be worked at, though, and sometimes I have to remind myself that I love it after all.
No, the answer is not “00:01 on 1st January”, thank you very much. I think most people will agree that, in fact, the New Year begins where the holiday season ends: going back to work. In my case, the New Year started yesterday, when I flew back to Boston for the final time. (Can you sense the excitement?) I flew with American Airlines, not wholly of my own volition; I bought the tickets on Priceline‘s “name your own price” service, where you don’t find out your airline until after you’ve booked. In my experience, American Airlines have old planes, which means poor entertainment systems (think back to ye olden days of one screen mounted on the ceiling showing one reel of PG films/sit-coms), mediocre food, and in this particular case poor staff (because I turned down the initial drink offering—I had my own bottle of water with me, and I don’t like to be wasteful—when the actual meal came around the hostess then asked me snidely, “Will you be eating?”). Still, I got back in one piece, and that’s the main thing.
As I’d booked a morning-afternoon flight, I got back in fairly good shape and not overly tired, so I went to the gym. I’ll confess, however, that it wasn’t solely my willpower driving me to the gym. It was the fact that the night before, my father and I had watched Claire Sweeney’s Big Fat Diet. I thought that it might be a bit like awful, rubbish celebrity ‘reality’ tv, but it wasn’t. I felt so much empathy for Claire as she embarked upon what was essentially the ‘living as you want’ diet. Watching her health risks rise scared both me and my father, aside from the shocking visuals of how only 3 weeks without exercise or controlled diet can begin to radically change one’s body shape.
Between watching that and getting back here (where deadlines suddenly seem far more real and close), my New Year has definitely leapt out of the gates after what threatened to be a sluggish start!
Society does seem obsessed with them, when we stop to think about it. If this title caught your eye, then consider yourself part of society, and ask yourself why while reading this excellent article over at The F-Word, which I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone. Bold and wonderfully open, it can’t help but be a little troubling as well, particularly this paragraph, which I present to you now, teaser-style (somewhat ironically, given that it’s about breasts…):
Nowadays things are much better. I’ve got better at dressing to make my breasts look smaller (not that I should have to, although I would choose to anyway), and looking older means that I get less unwanted attention (not that I should have received unwanted attention when I was younger either, and not that I am exactly geriatric at 25). I no longer feel like a sex object every waking moment. I no longer hate my breasts and I no longer feel that they’re unwanted appendages. I would definitely like them to be smaller and I won’t pretend otherwise, but they feel like part of me, rather than the disembodied udders that they used to feel like. I’m still not happy though. Why should I ever have felt that way? Why should I have had to have struggled so hard to be respected and taken seriously?
Well, I’m halfway through this book now, which I initially commented on in Christmas Books. I’ve been reading it off and on in amongst other reading/writing projects, and I keep putting it down because I’m not sure it’s worth continuing. That might sound a little bit harsh, but it’s a horrible feeling to see great potential and be disappointed.
What’s got me right now is Thomas’ presentation of the Troposphere. Ariel keeps shouting “Console,” which is ‘something like a desktop’ and helps her navigate her way around. It seems to be halfway between Skymaze (children enter a computer game which they can play for real, with lethal stakes), a book by Gillian Rubinstein, which I enjoyed greatly as a child, and Insomnia, the Stephen King thriller where another dimension blurs with this one and only the two protagonists can see the dwarfish demon who threatens them and manipulate the energy of the world around them to try and defeat him. And I’m finding Thomas’ version nowhere near as enjoyable as these two.
Perhaps the strangely anachronistic language and vision we have of the Troposphere is postmodernly pastiche-like deliberately (I suspect this is the case), melding the Victorian literary aspect with Ariel’s rather typical brand of bleakness and all the science and technology references Thomas likes to throw in. Personally, however, I feel like this says more about the author’s pretensions* than about her writing skill.
To be fair, it may be the case that Thomas is trying to show the limits of language, and that we apply the best words we can to the unknown, even when they seem anachronistic. Ariel, the main character, does at one point note: “Nothing like this happened to Mr. Y. This must be the effect of TV and cinema and – not that I’ve played them often – video games on my weak mind”, so, indeed, maybe the author is trying to show something about subjectivity. However, I can’t help feeling that in this scenario arguing “it’s the limits of language” would be the argument given by an apologist covering for a weak authorial imagination, and claiming “it’s about subjectivity” is perhaps convenient after the fact but not a well-constructed, premeditated attempt. I genuinely believe Thomas could have imagined better; that’s why I’m feeling so disappointed with the read. And I won’t even begin to mention the “god” that appears when Ariel is told by the (typical) disembodied female voice that guides her in the video-game-like Troposphere that she can “play the Apollo Smintheus card”.
Naturally, I’ll finish the book, and my opinion may well change, but right now I have an eyebrow raised. I’ll keep you posted!
* On the topic of pretensions, I should probably say that one of the things I really do like about the book is the strange black colour given to all the page edges, so that from a distance the book appears to be a block of black something. This sort of colouring actually adds an air of tongue-in-cheek fun, whilst one of the things I loathe most is the seeming vogue now for publishers making the foredge of the book ragged, as if to try and suggest real parchment or an old text when the top and bottom of the book will be perfectly machine-cut flat.