29 December 2008

New Years Resolutions

I refuse to be as upset in London next semester as I was during this one.

I will not sleep until 1:00 in the afternoon. I will wake up at 9:00.

I will find a volunteer position.

I will read EVERYTHING assigned to me, no matter how much I dislike it or cannot understand it.

I will continue seeing at least one theatre show a week.

I will not complain a lot. I will deal with whatever pain, knowing that life would not be worth living without occasional upsets.

I will realize that I am a smart young woman and not feel inferior.

I will work hard and love a lot.

I will stop drinking diet coke and load my fridge with cases of water.

27 December 2008

Merry (belated) Christmas

So I'm at home -- America. Haven't written here. Been too lazy watching marathons of HOUSE and James Bond. I'm beginning my papers that are due on the 12th of January today. I've never been more angsty.

That's it. Write again when I'm in Britain.

Hope you all had a great Christmas!

(And, of course, while I am away, I cannot neglect the timesonline political cartoons): :)

12 December 2008


I forgot to let you in on HAMLET. As some of you may know David Tennant is out of Hamlet for the time being with a back injury. He has an understudy, Edward Bennett, who did play Laertes but has now taken on -- at least until Christmas -- the role of Hamlet. Being that Tennant is out, it wasn't too difficult for me to get a ticket for tonight's performance.

Here is the only picture of Bennett in the role:

He's 29. Four years out of RADA. This is his first lead role on stage. This could be his break. It's happened before. Lead gets sick, understudy takes over and becomes a success over night. However, based on what I saw tonight (which I will discuss more later) I do have to say that such a quick transition from nobody to star probably will not occur for Bennett at this stage.

On taking over HAMLET from The Times:

For now, he is trying not to think about what this new break could do for his career, in either direction. “It's worrying,” he says. “I mean, I might be crap. Seriously. I haven't done any rehearsals. That's how I feel. I'm not going to beat David, and I'm scared that I'm not good enough for it. And after the reviews, which I shouldn't have f***ing read...”

They were all pretty good, though.

“I shouldn't have read them. I can't help it. I can't help it. Because I hate that thing when you've had a bad review and you see people and they've read them and you haven't. And they're treating you a little bit different. How are you feeling? All that. So I'd rather just know. But, well, it's like, did you see David's mug? Which I love? Keep Calm And Carry On?”

Yes. Is it meant to have that big hole smashed out of the bottom, do you think?

“Oh. I hadn't thought of that. Maybe he smashed it on the desk? F*** you, keep calm and carry on! Oh dear.”

I'm sure it's nothing like that. Probably just an accident. Sshh. Have another cough sweet.

Bennett laughs. “It's an amazing experience,” he concludes, sounding exhausted, “but hopefully David will be back soon. Although I won't lie. It's nice to be in his dressing room.”

Here's Mariah Gale -- the stunning, brilliant Mariah Gale -- as Ophelia, opposite Tennant. A rising star for the RSC.

Penny Downie as Gertrude.

The lighting in this show is unbelievable. The whole stage is one big mirror, huge glass panels along the back that open and close so that the light reflects off it. Very dark stage throughout -- dim lighting -- with no spot lights on the actors, just lighting from above the stage. Ed Bennet didn't do very well at this scene. He just limply held the mirror while saying his lines. Pretty much how he acted every scene, to be honest.

His mannerisms are non-existent and his voice, while rather deep and melodious and much more mature than his 29 years, was not used to its full potential during the delivery of his lines, so it sounded the same when he was plainly speaking as when he raised his voice. Not much change, not much wavering during high-emotion/crying scenes. Occasionally the inflection would change but it was never held for an effective time. His 'actions' were about the same, very stiff. Whereas Tennant in the picture with Mariah is using his whole body Bennet during this scene was scrunched up against Mariah, with his arms locked over his knees. Perhaps as a way to express a sort of closing up of his self -- what have you -- but also a good image to describe his acting style throughout. (And I much prefer Tennant's sexual/flippant style).

Tennant and Patrick Stewart as Claudius at the end of the first Act. Will he or won't he kill Claudius? Hamlet goes to jab him with the knife as the stage goes suddenly dark. There are no intervals in traditional Shakespeare plays so it is always up to the production when they will place one. Good choice here. Heart-stopping ending to the first act, even if you know what is to happen next.

In summation, very glad that I got to see Hamlet. Production on the whole was fabulous. And despite my quips about Bennett, I do think he did a great job, especially considering the circumstances.

Although I really wish I had seen Tennant.

I'll leave you with another bit from The Times article:

Bennett is not just Tennant's understudy. He is also quite unashamedly in awe of him. The pair first worked together in the RSC's Romeo and Juliet in 2000 in Stratford. “I wouldn't say we worked together,” says Bennett, amused. “He was Romeo. I was a spear-carrier. I was a member of Escalus's watch. My job was to walk across the stage with a gun three times. And stamp twice. And arrest Benvolio in the third act. And I got to grunt.”

The pair did, however, speak. “I remember talking to him at a party,” says the understudy. “And I was like, ‘I just want you to know I think you're incredible!' And he was like, ‘Thanks very much'.” Bennett was 18 at the time, and on holiday from Cardiff University. He wanted to be an actor so he knocked on the stage door in Stratford and asked whether they would have him. “They said: ‘Are you an actor?' And I said: ‘Um, no'. So they said: ‘Well, we need spear-carriers. Send in a picture'. And I did. Although I didn't know they meant, you know, a ten-by-eight. So I just sent in a picture of me and my mates. Pissed at my 18th.”

10 December 2008

Literature may mimic life, but in the end, that is what it is -- made up

School is unbearably restricting. Theory. That's all the professors care about. Not your thoughts. You can't read a piece of literature without connecting it to some piece of theory. The novel is to be seen as a subsidiary to the theoretical piece; the novel is only used to support the theory. That is not how I think, how I feel one should think. The novel is the most important bit, any abstract theory should be taken into consideration but is not necessary. So now that I am faced with writing these two essays, I am having a terrible time of it, because I have some great thoughts but no theory pieces to connect them to.

I feel rather estranged in London. I love it here so much, but I don't feel necessarily attached to the place, and particularly the people. I went to the pub last night for this professor/student end of the term thing and hung out with some of the students who are rather nice, but, I must admit, rather boring. At one point, they began talking about how horrid facebook is and my favourite student about how she doesn't know how to type and never uses a computer. At home, I was always the ultra-serious one that was awkward and old-fashioned; now I'm still awkward but only because I am rebellious and not serious enough.

They're all really good at this theory stuff. They say brilliant things in class -- or at least things that the professors rather like. I never receive any positive remarks from my professors. Anything I say is never good enough. Other students say things and the professor say's, "Right that is so interesting," and then go off on it, and I say something and it is like, "Oh, yeah, okay, moving on then." Because what I say is always very grounded. Theory stuff is relevant, I'm sure, but the classes are so set on it, that they neglect the other elements -- the EMOTION element of a novel, or the mere interaction between characters, the themes that are present, the authors life and literary intention, the real social issues at work. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Last week we were reading some theory author and the professor was dead set on connecting it to BLEAK HOUSE. None of the students could think up anything and then the prof. turned to me b/c I hadn't spoken all class and I said, quite truthfully, "Well, there probably isn't any connection," to which the students laughed. They thought I was making a joke.

What I find most interesting is that the students take it all as a matter of course. They never challenge the professor or the works themselves that are apparently this or that as pronounced by some literary critic. What I have always loved about literature is how open-ended it is. Challenging what one person or another say's about it. But the students just sit in class with these naive expressions of total belief that what is being told to them is absolutely correct, or what they believe about a piece is correct, when almost everything these students spout out is so relative, could so easily be wrong. The ridiculous stuff they say and with such assurance. They all seem to live in another world, one that is pretty, and nice, and where no one fights one another. But I suppose that is what it is to be an English student. Most live in a fantasy land made up of people that don't really exist, for which mammoth amounts of critical texts are created to evolve some sort of substantive worldly meaning to it all. Literature may mimic life, but in the end, that is what it is -- made up. It really has hit me recently as I sit in class listening to these students so serious, with their hand gestures and their rumpled brows, spouting off about Hardy's fictional world Wessex and what sort of space this made-up world represents -- just how pathetic it all is. There are people dying in Africa, and I'm sitting in a classroom with students who are getting hot and heavy about a place that doesn't even exist.

In short, I have doubts about becoming a professor. I think I would be good enough to teach undergrad and I am passionate about literature and about teaching other people about what I find particularly interesting and relevant about literature, and more than anything being a good role model for students, both on an intellectual plane and a humane one.

But I don't know if I'll ever believe in this theory stuff and if I'm going to have to work deeply with it in order to get my PhD (which in the states takes 7 years to complete), then I'm just going to be miserable. Unless, in some way, I learn to understand it...but I really don't know if I can understand it or appreciate it on the level I need to.

A friend of mine said to me recently that blogs are for expelling our unhappiness, so this is just one helping.

[photo: Gillian Anderson]

08 December 2008

Of Jobs Past

I don't know if this is interesting, but the other day, instead of doing work, quite suddenly I thought about all the jobs I've had over the years, and was sorta stunned at how weird and different they all are to one another.

My first job was as a sort of teacher helper at my local church. I was in middle school. Did it in the summer. Essentially watched little kids whose parents sent them there five days a week while they were at work. They did crafts, every other day we went to the pastor's house where he had a pool. I made sure the little ones didn't drown. I got paid 25 dollars a month for it. Except for when I broke the see-saw and lost my month's paycheck as a result. I was then a kid myself and probably too young to do such dull work as watch other kids have fun.

I didn't do that the next year. My freshman year of High School I worked at Magee Women's Hospital. There was a self-playing piano in the very large foyer, with large windows instead of walls to bring in the light. I shuffled around on a wheeled cart free goods to be given out to the patients, like sewing material. This job was perhaps the most strange of all, especially for a young girl like myself, because of the juxtaposition between the two wards I had to cater. The first was the cancer ward. I had to knock on cancer patients doors and ask them if they wanted a flimsy bit of yarn and needles to make something while they lay in their bed in pain, or, as in some cases, while they died. There were many people I waited on one week that I did not see the next, and it was not because they had "checked out" in the traditional sense. I went to the front desk before I started my routine on that ward to ask if there were any specified rooms I was not to knock on. Every week they had a list of at least half a dozen.

After walking around this ward, which took about twenty-five minutes, I went to a ward directly opposite this. Opposite in more than just location. It was for mother's who had just had babies. I was never given a sheet at the desk. What I think was most disturbing about these two wards was not so much that they were, literally, so very different -- on the one side the possibility or eventuality of death, the other birth and happiness, although that in itself was very disturbing -- it was that there were always people in the rooms with the mother's who had just had babies, generally with the babies themselves that the mother's were showing off or feeding, and rarely any visiting the patients on my other ward when I was there. I would like to think that I was there at a non-visiting like hour -- I worked from 12:00 - 1:00 -- but considering the vast amount of people in the baby ward, my thinking may be wishful.

I handled it all stoically, either from ignorance of the reality of the situation or because I understood it too well. I really do think it was mostly the latter. At the time, my literary mind was already reeling against the novelistic situation I was placed in. It was like a Dickens novel, being in a situation so opposite in nature, so rife with commentary about the life we live in, its unnaturalness, death, destruction, terror and conversely birth, happiness, community. I treated every patient the same. I was perhaps a little too cheerful with the patients in my first ward. There was a great deal of self-awareness that went on during this time for me. I wanted to contain my smile and moderately upbeat tone as well as hide my youth and health. But I could not do the latter, I could not hide the fact that I was what they were not, and I remained (moderately) cheerful while waiting on them because I figured (or hoped) that it would be more beneficial than containing it, of being in a sense understated and morose out of deference to their condition. I hoped to impart some sort of hope to them just by giving them a smile and a kind word.

There was one woman I never saw again after two weeks of waiting on her. I don't remember saying anything particularly out of the ordinary to her, or she to me, but I was very sad when she was not there the next week. She had a pained look on her face every time I saw her, and short cropped hair, and tubes sticking out of her and machines.

After working the two wards, I had lunch. I was excited about the half-off coupons I was given each day for my meals. They had really good food. And I could choose anything I wanted; they had a large refectory. I ate alone. I did for a time work with a young Muslim boy. He would go on my travels with me to the two wards, but he left after only a few weeks, and I was asked if I felt comfortable doing the two by myself which, enthusiastically independent as I am, I was only too cheerful about.

After lunch I left the main building, walked across a very busy road, to another, smaller building, that was the administration head quarters. I used a card with my picture on it to get in. I was also very excited about the card. I think I worked four hours here. I rather enjoyed it. I was usually given a very menial task to commit, like shoving papers with all sorts of long numerical figures on them into pre-addressed envelopes.

The secretary left after the first month I was there and for some reason the people in the little office thought I could do the job as well as she, and after that every week I arrived to loads of paper to be xeroxed, and people to call about things that I now don't really recall. Vaguely I remember calling about having one of the copiers fixed, a number that was taped indelicately underneath the previous secretary's computer key-board.

My next job, the summer subsequent to Magees, was not so revelatory, by really any means. I got a very inconsequential job at the City Theatre on the South Side of Pittsburgh. Not one of the "upstanding" theatre's that put on award-winning performances -- such theatre's that a year later I would be working in as an usher -- but a well-known sort of grubby avant-garde theatre. In short, they don't put on Harold Pinter or The Lion King. At first I worked in their administrative offices. One day I was asked to re-file one of the female workers filing cabinets. She was gone on vacation. I was to take all the papers in each file and place them in a new file that was not falling apart as hers were, and then alphabetize them by name. I did so, and then the next week I was shuffled off to help the scenic designer. I didn't think anything untoward about the switch. I just thought they didn't have anything else for me to do. The switch was, however, probably prompted by a faux pas on my part. While I was placing the papers in new files, I did not notice in any sort of attentive sense the bits of sticky note papers attached inside the older folders that had, apparently, really important phone numbers on them. I saw them, but didn't think them important, probably due to naivety. And to (slightly) exonerate myself, I was not told anything about them, only to throw away each folder for the new. But the woman who had been on vacation the previous week did not look kindly on me the next.

The scenic designer, who worked behind the theatre in a sort of garage, was not particularly pleased with me, I think, but luckily his grand-daughter, who was a few years older than me, and worked with him in the summer while away from drama school, was. So I didn't actually do any work during this time. Once we hopped into a van and went downtown to a storage area to pick up props needed for one of the shows, but other than that, the girl and I (whose name I don't remember) pretty much just ran about the theatre. She knew everyone who worked there. We sneaked up into one of the theatre's (the whole building comprised of several) and watched as some of the men put a scene together. I usually had lunch at a shoppe next door that sold the most delicious (heart-burn inducing) cheese fries. I must admit, I wasn't terribly pleased to have this girl around me and may not have been very kind to her. She tried once to join me for lunch and I was a bit rude. I was, as I am still rather now, a bit of a gothic girl.

Another time I went with one of the girls who was then my age now to various places around the city to ask shoppes to put ads of upcoming plays in their store windows. I was left to myself to do this. The girl went one way, I another. I don't think I actually went into any of the shoppes in the end, but just wandered around and then told the girl later that none of them would take one.

The next summer I did not work.

The following I got a job through my school. One of the teachers had a friend who worked as a secretary in a law office. I was to work "downtown." I had just started working downtown for the theatres on the weekend, but now I would have to take the bus by myself, instead of getting a ride from my folks. I relished it! I was working in a law office and at theatre's in the city. My idealistic self rejoiced.

I worked in a large building caty-corner to the large, ancient looking court house. Downstairs was a cafe and a shop for trinkets. A man worked the elevators. Every time I got off the elevator I could smell the tabacco from the pipe of the man who would eventually ask me to help him. The secretary didn't have much for me to do, so one of the lawyers out of the two that she worked for saw me one day -- nearly impossible not; the room that he and another lawyer worked in was very small, containing only their two small offices, a moderately sized "discussion room" and the front desk where the secretary sat -- and asked me to do an errand for him. I did not know downtown at all. I did not know where anything was, that is. As with most things, my memories of just exactly what I was to do is hazy, but I do remember I had to go to a building some ways away from the office and present a piece of paper to someone there who would then give me something that I was to give to my boss. I do remember it was not law-related. It had nothing to do with a case. I think, it had to do with his cell-phone bill. He gave me vague directions. I eventually found it by roaming about for a bit. I took longer than he thought I should have to get back, he told me. I told him that it took me a while to find the place and he told me (the only thing I remember him telling me): "It doesn't matter how you got there just that you eventually did."

Now you're not going to believe me. You will say that I am being romantic. You will say my literary mind is playing with my memory, but I thought so then and still do now, that this man came out of a Dickens novel. In fact, I only last year correctly placed him when I saw the new adaptation of BLEAK HOUSE. This man is Mr. Tulkinhorn!

His room, unlike his much younger partner situated next to him, was a complete mess. Papers strewn everywhere. During the entire time I was there, an empty liter of pepsi was situated half underneath his desk, on top of papers and files, probably at some point fell off his desk which, as can be assumed, was in an equal state of disrepair. The secretary, who had been so for about ninety-nine years, and who consequently was on a personal footing with the lawyer who also had been in the same building for ninety-nine years, would sometimes walk into his office while he was out and pick up a few of the papers. I don't know why the empty pepsi bottle was so neglected.

The best thing I can say about the secretary is that she is a chav. Fun but not intelligent. Short-hand and copying a paper is her only accomplishments. Par for the course, I heard a lot about her boyfriend at the time, who was much older and still married, and had kids.

The lawyer, Mr. Salamon, asked me to do more and more. He worked primarily with housing disputes. One of the cases he was then working on involved two sisters who were fighting over one of their deceased relatives houses. I spent more time in the deeds office in the County Office Building then I did anywhere else. I became an investigator. I would be given details of information he wanted and then have to find it, among very old, very heavy books with once white, but now yellow coloured paper. Usually I had to find history about a particular house, like who owned the home years and years before, sometimes well back into the nineteenth-century. First, I had to go to a computer to find the book that would have the information in it. I was not told by Mr. Salamon how to do this. I think he delighted in discovering how I would figure it out. He later called me a genius -- that no girl my own age -- and he did mark out "girl" -- could have done what I did on what little instruction he gave me. Then I somehow used the information on the computer to find the book (I can't now remember exactly how that went) and then looked through the book for the information. It was never so clear what I was looking for or, if it was, the information in the book was not so clear. I would go through pages and pages (the papers as large as the length of my hand to my shoulder) looking for information I didn't even comprehend. But somehow I always managed to bring back the right information, usually a facsimile of the page that I received by copying down the book information and page numbers, that I then presented to one of the clerks who, once I gave him a blank check from my lawyer, would print out for me.

I was only to happy to get the secretary's lunch. She asked me almost every day, and every day she would very kindly ask me if it was all right. Usually it was to go to Brueggers for a bagel sandwich. Once a week she would give me extra money so I could get myself something.

She also taught me how to play gin. It was a rainy Friday. Salamon was not in. We both had nothing to do, so she told me that Salamon and her sometimes played cards on days like this, and did I know gin? I didn't, and felt ashamed. She told me it was the easiest thing to learn and would I want to? Having nothing else to do, I said yes. I wasn't particularly pleased to be learning something I didn't know. But I realized it was easy and fun, and I got the handle of it quickly, and we played the whole afternoon.

The other lawyer in the room did not like me. He was as different to Salamon as could be, except that they were both Jewish. The other lawyer (so he shall be called, because I do not remember his name) has a wife and children and his room was very neat indeed, with plush blue carpeting, a window that looks out over the river, and a desk spotless with pictures of his family. He did not like me because I occupied the conference room, which he thought was silly because it was not designed to be a young girls mock-office (where generally I read when I was not needed -- I remember in particular being fascinated by Alan de Botton's The Art of Travel), but it was a place to have clients when they were not in your office which -- was never. The other lawyer never used the room. He could have. Salamon told him that if at any time he needed the room I would be kicked out forthwith. He never did need it, but showed his protest against my habitation there by coming in one day while I was reading, shuffling around some lawyer books that I had previously been asked to look through for information, and using the phone to call a client -- although, needless to remark, he had a phone in his office.

My lawyer, Mr. Salamon, was most markedly like Mr. Tuilkinhorn in BLEAK HOUSE primarily because, like the former lawyer, he did have a man who came to him every so often asking for money. Now I know this because Mr. Salamon never closed the door to his room and I am very curious. He was like Mr. Smallweed in every way. Dirty with a lower-class accent. I later saw him hanging out in Lawrenceville in the not-so-well area with some other people of his ilk. I imagine that is how he spends most days. Well, it must be that my lawyer and this man had some sort of deal, of what complications I never did discover. But he came every other week or so to have a conference with my lawyer, the latter of whom did bespeak of money problems, although once he pulled out a few 100 dollar bills in front of me, in an entirely showy manner.

The last month I was there I worked on a case with my lawyer. What I did, really, was show up at the courthouse when I was told and sit next to him at the left front desk (the opposition sitting at the right) and gave him a few papers when he indicated while he was questioning witnesses or addressing the judge. This was a small case; it did not have a jury. It was a civil case. He didn't win or lose at the end. Like the case in BLEAK HOUSE, nothing was resolved, and another court date for the future was set.

Once, very early on in his taking me up, he asked me to walk with him to the court house, talking to other lawyers that he ran into on the way, whom he also introduced me to. We at first talked to a judge about one of his cases. After, I was shown two boxes along one of the corridors where lawyers put papers to say that they want such and such a case to be heard the following week. I would later be sent to place papers in these boxes throughout my time with him. We were walking along the corridor to go to a very small courtroom. When we sat down he told me that he was there to be heard regarding his divorce, one that had been going on for some time. He was waiting to be given a court date. The judge called his name and he went up to the bench to be given some such paper and then we left.

Fragments of other things occur to me. Like when I was told to go to a building so tall that it had literally 100 or more floors going all the way up. Once again, I was to find information. He had to give me his i.d. to present at the front desk and I had to present mine as well. I was given a piece of sticky paper to place on myself, that had the date and floor I was going to. It was something like the 70th floor. The elevator, of course, went really fast; I was delighted. Once the door opened, I put my purse on a conveyor belt and walked through an arching medal detector. Then had myself wanded by a security guard. Whatever information I was there to find -- that required me logging onto a computer -- I could not. Mr. Salamon told me, I think truthfully, that he didn't think the information was there, but that he had to check. The next time I went there was to pick up a large amount of boxes with files in them that I had to take from the building in a little -- well, I don't know what it is; mechanical things are lost on me -- but it essentially carried the papers on wheels. It was a rather long walk, and I was pretty tired by the end of it.

Mr. Salamon is an old man. At the time he was probably in his 60's. He has a bit of a hunch so that he can not stand up straight. He is generally jovial. He was never mean to me, but watching him in court, I saw that he could be, and I would even say that some of it was natural, not purely contrived for effect. He told me once that he had studied English literature and as he did not want to teach, he so decided to study law. He was always very nice to me. I think he liked me well enough. One day he came out of his office -- I was sitting with the secretary -- he just started dancing, out of no where, some sort of square dance, and had the secretary get up to join him, and then taught us both a few moves.

The job was only for the summer. At the end of it, Salamon gave me "as much money as I can spare" for my service, even though I was paid through my school for my time there through the summer program. It was a little over 100 dollars. The check did not bounce, as I thought it might.

I did not know what I was going to do after high school, other than go to college at Point Park, and went back to the office the next Spring. Mr. Salamon had told me that I could have a job there after high school, but when I saw him then he told me that he could not afford another assistant. I'm fairly certain now that he was only be nice when he offered it before; that he didn't actually think I would come back.

My senior year of high school I also worked at the Boys and Girls Club after classes, two days a week. I chased after little kids -- 7 to 9 years of age -- and became very close with a young mentally disadvantaged girl. She look and acted like she was 5 but was actually only two years younger than me. No one else cared for her. She was quite annoying. She followed you around everywhere, always seeking attention, and would lie about other kids hitting her, and never did this computer program work that she was to do every day. She became so fond of me that after a while she went to no one else, and the other teachers felt sorry for me, but I really liked her, and got her to do the computer program, although some days it was just impossible. She never had tantrums. I can stand anything in a child but tantrums. But she would lie, something fierce. She would tell me that I had been at the club the day before and did not say anything to her, when in fact I had not been at the club the day before, and never ignored her. She became fixated on this. Every time I saw her she would say the same thing. I only worked at the club two days a week and that Tuesday and Thursday so I was never there any "day before." Finally, I decided to work a little Helen psychology on her. As she was quietly ranting about me not talking to her the day before, I told her that she was lying and that if she kept up saying this then I would not speak to her. She said again, in her staccato way of never really finishing a sentence, that she had seen me yesterday and I had ignored her. So I turned around from her and did not say a word. She tried to pull me around to face her and told me to say something to her. I would not. She continued her former ranting and I continued my silence. As I was not so sure she would, she relented, saying, "Okay. Okay. I will not, I will not...say that anymore." And she did not that day. Any time she brought it up again, I would resume my silence and after a while she would stop it, I always explaining to her afterwards that I was not there the day previous, that in fact I would never ignore her, and then quickly changed the topic to something else.

She also had a great need to say very bleak things about her life. A kid at school was teasing her; her mother was mean to her. I was not sure if any of it was true, as very often she would say a kid at the club had just hit her moments ago when I had been there and saw no such thing occur. So in like fashion to what I did previously, I enacted a bit of, I suppose you would call it, reverse psychology. I told her that she could tell me anything bad that had happened to her, but only if first she told me three good things that had happened to her from when I last saw her. Every day she had something bad to tell me and wanted desperately to tell me, jumping up and down sometimes, and I reminded her of our agreement, and she would sigh like a little girl and say, "okay," and then would proceed to tell me three good things, which was quite hard for her at first. Perhaps she didn't know what good things were, or what was pleasurable to her, so that often I would have to say, "Did you have something tasty for dinner last night?" and she would immediately get excited and say something like, "We had pizza!" And, "Did you like that," and she would nod. And really, after saying whatever three things she liked -- which after a while she was able to come up with on her own -- she had forgotten the bad things, which probably were made up things, that she was going to tell me.

I did not tell her I was leaving. I thought that would be best, but now I'm not so sure. I hope, however, that she is doing well where she is, and that she will lead a very rewarding life.

My exciting jobs -- or, at least, interesting jobs, ended in high school. After that I went to college and worked in the library there, to only transfer to one of the branches of the Pittsburgh library a year later, first as a page and then as a clerk. That job, which I had for roughly four years, had with it some interesting things. I met some great people, some of whom are still my friends, and learned a few more things about human nature. But it somehow doesn't -- at least yet -- rank with my innocent years that preceded, and the jobs I had during that time.

06 December 2008

In which Helen is a spectator and takes part in history

So last Wednesday -- second class of the day -- 4:00 in the afternoon -- just getting dark -- fire alarm goes off just as class is to begin -- have to go out the building.

My school is next door to Somerset House that, in the winter, features an ice skating ring; a very pricey ticket it is to use it's facilities.

So as stuck in the semi-cold -- still in the 40's here most days (about 4-8 degrees celsius) -- I decided to watch the people in the rink. They were just preparing the ice when I got there and within two minutes people were allowed on it.

A lot of people fell. I was surrounded by 'spectators' looking on, most to make light-hearted fun at those who were not any where near professionals. It was fun. I conversed with an older English man who was next to me -- probably in his 60's -- who laughed as one boy fell. I don't remember what we said to one another. I am horrible at recalling events. Dialogue in particular is never remembered by me. It was a typical jovial chit-chat with someone who happens to be next to you.

As it was night-time and my camera is-- for lack of a better word -- shit at night, here is the best picture I could "summon":

Somerset House, whose origins I do not know, I figure, nonetheless, since it is a very large mansion in the middle of London that features the most famous ice rink in the city, has to be steeped in a rich, interesting history. It is of three connecting sides, the side in front shown in the picture, then a wing on either side, like a half-courtyard, so that one side is open for an entrance that is not barred by a door or building. The Strand, and the busy street, is only a few steps away. A not so hidden-away picturesque mansion in London, next to my modern college on the one side and (if memory serves me correctly -- although we've already stated that it is rather rubbish) some kind of food store on the other.


Almost every night I take a walk along the Bank of the river. It is dark by 4:30, which is what time I usually come home from wherever I have gone that day. So I eat dinner, maybe do some proper book reading, & rubbish about on the Internet for longer than I should.

There is a Christmas festival on the bank now and being Saturday night it was loaded with more people than usual. I've been to all of the stands many times, so tonight I walked past them without a glance. Half of the bank is filled with people/festival commotion, the other half containing the National Theatre and park-like trees, is relatively uninhabited, except near the BFI where outside there are picnic benches where people drink beer and sometimes eat meals that they've purchased inside. Can I just say that I love how people drink beer outside pubs and restaurants. It seems to combine the city experience -- which is so insular and chaotic -- with the homely. You walk down a street, looking at the buildings, shoppes, rushing traffic, as you do, and then come across a pub, many of which are down a side street, leading one can only imagine, to come across a pub called The British Arms, or The Coach and Horses, with people packed inside, many forced to go outside once purchasing drinks to sit around tiny round tables or on benches or, when all else fails, stand with pub glass in one hand.

I usually walk to the end of the bank that looks directly out to the City, St. Pauls rising above the rest of the buildings, some, if they were of a literary turn, might write, defying the modern buildings -- such as the Gherkin beside it.

It is interesting that every night I walk along the bank and always pass the three long tables of books that are stationed there. There are huge black, I would suppose heavy, luggage cases that are stationed along the railing of the bank where the books are placed every night, safely locked up, to only be taken out again in the morning. From very early in the morning until about 8:00 at night they are on the tables. The people who you pay for the book are always very far away along the railing; the books are in the middle of the walkway, so that I think it wouldn't be too difficult to snatch one up without paying. I never bother to really look at them, even though sometimes I'll be in my room and think I would like to read something, to only go on amazon, when I could simply walk a few blocks from where I live and pick up something cheap.

Well, the whole purpose of this section of the blog -- which is now much longer than I intended, which makes me fear that the reason I have written will have no "shock and awe" quality to it, since it is but so small -- is that I did see an item, a little nugget among so many large ones, in a box, still left out, although many of the other books were in the process of being put away. Goldsmith's Poems it is called, although an essay or two is also included. It wasn't because I had just read about him in a book I am reading for one of my essays -- Raymond Williams's The Country and the City -- but because it is so small (I do love small books) and clearly from the late 19th or early 20th century (although I'm pretty sure the former; it doesn't say) that I had to pick it up. The lettering inside is ridiculously small, even one with perfect vision would tire of it after a minute. It smells as a much older book does, one that's stood neglected on a shelf for 20 years. Some pages nearly falling out and the first few very dark, possibly water-stained. A small hole in the first page; otherwise crumpled. In short, a delightfully old book that just by placing in your hands you feel, not to be too unrealistically passionate, but really as though you are a part of the journey of this book. It can be a transcendent experience. A book produced over a hundred years ago should be picked up by you, along some anomalous bank. It's nothing to get too worked up about, but just something that enters into your head a little, if you're like me.

I tried to show it's size but I don't think a photo will do it justice:

strike three

Like seriously?

Oh my.

Okay, got to the theatre an hour and five minutes before box office open. Already long line. This baffles me b/c it is a theatre show, not a concert or a famous stand-up comedienne.

But it is also a Saturday. The only non-working day the theatres are open. People who can't make it during the week may want to make sure they can get a ticket.

Nevertheless, Monday -- I suppose two hours before the box office opens I will be there. Monday is a very non-theatre day...which will probably make no difference in this case, but seriously, I don't think people would get there more than two hours ahead, yeah?

Ah, back to bed.

05 December 2008

what I have in my fridge

for amusement purposes.

4 diet coke cans

a pretty finished jar of strawberry jam

half-full milk carton -- 2%

salad dressing -- organic french dressing

Dijon Mustard

fat-free chicken and broccoli pie

month old English cheedar cheese slices

one orange

butter made with mild olive oil

one chocolate sundae from Sainsbury's

Oh, it is on!

Oh, yeah, it is so on!

As some of you know, I went to the RSC yesterday to secure a ticket for HAMLET. I got there two minutes after the box office opened, thinking any sooner would just be silly, because who would be waiting in line for the mere 25 tickets they give out each day for that nights performance?

Um, well, I must admit, I am not usually wrong about things....

But by the time I arrived there was a line nearly out the door.

I decided to hoof it home and try again today.

Today -- got there 20 minutes before the box office opened. The line to get tickets for tonight was even longer than it was yesterday, going out the door and around the corner. I stood, thinking there may be some hope. But no. With about seven people in front of me, the manager came out to say that all tickets for today had been sold, but, if we cared to, we could stay and sometime throughout the day there may be a posting for returns.


Yeah, somehow I don't think that is very likely. And by the way the man said it, he shared the same thought. People were pissed though. Many of them tourists, only in town for the day. The manager looked scared; he probably had images of being clobbered and ending up in a bin behind the theatre. I left before the blood-shed commenced.

So, peeps, it is on! Tomorrow -- 9:00 am, an hour before the box office opens, I will be there, with frickin bells on. And a big, warm coat.

And a book.

And maybe some hot chocolate.

Mmmm. hot chocolate.

03 December 2008

I walked past

the Royal Shakespeare Theatre tonight on my walk home from class. Tonight is the beginning of the season, with HAMLET, starring, of course, David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.

A little girl of about 7 was very excited as she walked into the theatre with her mother.

That's good enough.

01 December 2008

In which Helen gets free drugs and is very excited about a spicy meatball sandwich

[Billie Piper in stage play "Treats"]

Got up at 9:45 today. Go me. Though, a bit sneezy and woozy and feverish. So may have a cold. Went to local chemist and bought some pills and the woman checking me out gave me a free "vitamin booster" thing which I thought was very kind of her -- although it was just a small packet of it and no doubt she's to give it out to anyone buying flu-like stuff to advertise the item-- but, emotional me, was momentarily affected by it.

Saw a picture of one of my favourite actresses, Billie Piper, on the cover of a magazine where she looked all worn down, wearing a shabby coat, with her hair all mussed, no makeup. The headline was something like "after giving birth, Billie Piper on diet, eating nothing, and smoking lots of fags," which made me despair of life b/c she's such a lovely sweet girl whose imperfections are exaggerated and/or disparaged regularly because, even though she is a well-received actress now, she was once a pop star -- and they are easy pickins. But then, against my "better self", I felt sort of pleased because even she is criticized, and it put into perspective any such criticism I might receive. And then she really doesn't put on any pretensions. She often looks like a "regular" person when out in public. She doesn't care so much about appearances as many in her position do.

Went to four different book stores looking for a book I'm suppose to have read by Wednesday for one class. None of the book stores -- even the major ones -- have the book. Library is of course useless. I never bother to look at my book list any farther than a week before the class, and usually only a few days before. I should probably work on that for next term.

Taking for-eva to get through Hardy, THE WOODLANDERS, that I have to give an "informal presentation" on next Wednesday. Enjoy the book, though -- one small relief. And no theory shit, which pleases me to no end.

Bought a heated spicy meat ball sandwich from Pret a Manger. They were out when I went in so I went to a local store to get something and then came back and they had more. It is wonderfully surreal how happy I was about that.

Sunny; 40 degrees abouts. Despite being a bit sick, I spent an hour on a bench along the Bank reading Hardy. The sun kept me warm, and my ridiculously huge fluffy white ear muffs.

3:30; starting to get dark. I found a whole series of Friends bloopers on youtube. So I'm going to watch that, take a shower, read Hardy (hopefully finish Hardy), go out & get a London Lite from the Indian guy who gives them out on the corner (who, when I passed him the other day after having already been given one from someone else on my way home, looked very sad that I didn't take one from him; I get one from him nearly every day), then watch new episode of Spooks, in which I shall find out which character is working as a double agent -- hope it's Harry -- then maybe read some Febvre for migration class (probably not though), and then sleepys.

And you?

28 November 2008

In which Helen explores clothing fashions over the decades

from London Lite

The world's oldest person has died aged 115. Edna Parker, of Shelbyville, Indiana, US, was born on 20 April 1893, and was the world's oldest person for just over a year, according to the Gerontology Research Group in California.

Imagine that! This woman was born in the Victorian Era. Born a woman without the right to vote.

Lived through the two world wars, through the depression.

Saw women get the vote. Lived through the jazz era of the 20's, and the revival of the victorian era that was the 50's and the feminist 70's.

Lived through each different fashion decade that in many ways defines the era itself.

Through --

the late victorian period:

the Edwardian period (1901 - 1911):

post world war one 20's:

turbulent 40's:

the watershed family-centered (post-world war II) 50's:

The "modern era" 60's, exemplified in Britain by the modish Twiggy:


(real airline stewardesses at the time)

punk-rock 80's:

my adolescence, the 90's:

And today:

Just compare this last pic of Britney with the late Victorian outfit -- and you can tell what evolution has been made in the clothing industry -- or perhaps I should say devolution.

She saw cars (which existed when she was born) completely take over the horse and buggy --in most western societies.

My own picture of an Amish buggy and child (taken years ago before I discovered they don't like having their photo taken). Near Erie, Pennsylvania.

She was born in an era of individual will -- one the Amish still try to preserve -- to live through to the era of mechanical dependence.

I imagine she never thought she would live to see the Millennium.

She was born in an era that looks (almost) completely different to what it looks like today.

Which only makes me think how different the world will look if you or I live to 115 -- or 100 -- or 90, 80. Either way, I guarantee it will look much different to what it does today.

27 November 2008

It's William!!

This is William -- the guy Stacey and I tried to find when we went back to our former college. He was our dorm security guard/know it all. Our best friend away from home. Impossible not to love. Here he is in Reid Hall.

more photos, yay!!! on this (American) Thanksgiving Day

So I told myself that I was going to do some proper book reading for clarse before I left for the play, but instead I, uh, started taking photos of myself:

What the hell. I swear the camera doesn't register my image correctly:

I'm super excited -- going to see Oedipus with Ralph Fiennes, yay!!!

And here are some photos I took today, along with a few from when Stacey was here

Stacey and I at the Bond Street Christmas Lighting.

Me getting candy at the South Bank Christmas Festival. Yay, I know your jealous of my ear muffs

Stone statue guys on a bench. (I'm not feeling him up, I swear).

Here are some photos of the South Bank I took today:

Where I'm going to see Oedipus tonight. The National Theatre. Laurence Olivier was the first artistic director of this theatre. I bought a biography on Olivier at the bookstore there this afternoon -- plane ride home reading.

The South Bank by the way was blitzed during the second world war. What remained was nothing but marsh land. In 1951, the government decided to hold a festival there (in celebration of the Great Exhibition that took place exactly 100 years earlier). They built the Royal Festival Hall, which is so large that I couldn't get a good picture of it. It contains various concert halls. A sort of place to meet and greet. Contains bars and shops as well. It is also where I saw the jazz trio with Stacey last week.

Yes, you have finally found me out folks. I have come all the way to London to see the Andy Warhol exhibit.

South Bank books. Whoever runs this has three tables of books here all day, every day.

Skate boarding area:

St. Paul's in the distance:

I should have probably mentioned (if it were not obvious) that the Sound Bank is on literally on the river Thames.

Down the street from where I live this view

26 November 2008

hilarious/outlandish articles from London newspapers

from the LONDON LITE:

Stuck in reality TV, get me out!

Scores of people are suffering a psychiatric condition which sees victims believe they are stuck in a reality TV show. US mental health professionals have been inundated with complaints from patients with the delusion, including a man who walked into a government building to demand his "show" was stopped. The illness is known as The Truman Show Syndrome.

10k given away by a credit card prankster

A WEB entrepreneur gave away 10,000 pounds to astonished Londoners last night -- by projecting his credit card details onto a wall in 10-foot high letters.

Bertrand Bodson, 33, of website Bragster.com, displayed a massive version of his MasterCard on the side of The Bank of England and a corner of Kensington High Street. Anyone was free to write down the card number, expiry date and security code.

The projection also had directions to a website where Bodson had provided his address details for telephone and online purchases. The card was loaded with 10,000 pounds of credit.

Bodson said: "With all the doom and gloom, we wanted to bring a little Christmas cheer. Everyone is welcome to spend the money how they want."

Many Londoners were suspicious of the offer, but other less-cynical shoppers took full advantage of Bodon's generosity -- including one who ran up a 7,000 bill at apple.

Harvard-educated Bodson, 33, from Belgium, set up Bragster, based in Shoreditch, 18 months ago. The site boasts more than a million members.

from the LONDON PAPER:

Dead pianist in HAMLET

David Tennant will fulfil the dying wish of a concert pianist when he uses the musician's skull in the West End production of HAMLET next month. The Doctor Who star has agreed to use Shakespeare fan Andre Tchaikowsky's skull in the Act Five scene featuring Yorick's remains. Tchaikowsky, who died of cancer, aged 46 in 1982, donated his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

here, by the way, is an article I just came across about Tennant in The Telegraph.

24 November 2008

Kevin Spacey wins Evening Standard Award

Kevin Spacey has been given a special theatre award for rejuvenating one of London's best-loved play houses.

By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent
Last Updated: 4:32PM GMT 24 Nov 2008
The Telegraph

The Hollywood actor, turned London theatre director, was recognised at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards "for bringing new life to the Old Vic".

He took over at the theatre, near Waterloo Station, five years ago to the bemusement of some critics.

Speaking at yesterday's (Mon) ceremony, he said: "I can't quite believe what has happened to the Old Vic."

He said he remembered when some critics were "asking me to pack my bags and get the hell out of town," he told the Evening Standard.

The Old Vic was the home of the National Theatre until it moved into its current premises on the South Bank in 1976.
A decade ago it went though a period of deep uncertainty after being put up for sale. Suggestions were mooted to turn it into a themes pub or bingo hall, but after a public outcry it was bought by a charitable trust in 2000.

Three years later came the announcement that The Old Vic would once again become a producing house, with Spacey as the first artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre Company. He vowed to bring in new talent and famous names from film.
Yesterday the LA Confidential and American Beauty actor, 49, said he had told staff that "if we kept our heads down, kept focused on the vision, we would eventually emerge and establish ourselves".

The awards panel was particularly impressed with his company's revival of the Norman Conquests trilogy by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, for which it built a special circular theatre.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, who acted alongside Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in American Gangster, won Best Actor for his Othello at the Donmar Warehouse. Penelope Wilton and Margaret Tyzack shared Best Actress for their performances in The Chalk Garden, again at the Donmar.

The Best Play went to Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre, about a group of 1930s miners who took up art.

23 November 2008

In which Helen has an adventure with Stacey

[Regent's College -- former school]

Have had an uncharacteristic last few days, spent with Stacey, an American friend of mine who I went to school with at Regent's.

Here are some photos, and maybe a bit of descriptions in-between.

A lot of ducks and pigeons in Regent's Park, where Stacey and I went to after walking around The Wallace Collection near the park. The WC is (not a bathroom) but a home -- a mansion really -- that has a collection of paintings, including one of my favourites (shown first) and one that is very popular:

The Swing

Portrait of Madame De Pompadour (not here shown entirely). She was the mistress of King XV of France in the 1700's.

So Stacey and I decided, spies that we are, that we would try to break into our previous college in order to have dinner there and perhaps see our favourite (security guard? -- I can't even remember now what he did -- he just sat at a desk in the dorm hall & chatted with students all day -- our very own google -- he knows where everything is in London, the nearest Tesco, etc...e) -- ah, yeah, so we were going to try to find William too. Alas, the way we used to sneak into the school was blocked off and so instead we decided to be sensible and just go to the front desk and ask. At first this seemed very unlikely that the guard there would allow us in. How were we to prove that we didn't want to blow the place up? But in the end, after two hours of walking around the park before dinner would begin to be served in the halls, thinking of just how we would phrase it so the guard saw us for the innocent, slightly kookie girls we are (ie: harmless), we went in, walked up to the guard, and told her that we were former students and wanted to have dinner there, to which the guard replied, without a moment of hesitation -- "Yeah, okay, sign this book, I'll buzz you in."


So not even asking for i.d., references, or collateral for our eventual return, we signed our names in the guest book and were allowed to enter.

It was very sad for both of us that the place has changed so dramatically since we were last there. The front hall itself has had a complete make-over. Now very corporate looking. When once two cats would roam the foyer that had couches against the walls (where the black cat would often lie) now there are flat screen tv's on either side of massive stone desk that one can hardly see over, replacing the small one that used to be on the side where two men sat day in, day out, listening to music on a hand-held radio. The refectory underwent a complete rejuvenation as well, and even the food was much different. I told Stacey that I think it is a new food company supplying the food. Stacey was particularly upset that the round booths (another homely object relinquished) were replaced by a deli area. The food is also very pricey, especially for us as we discovered that as no longer students of the college, we are called "delegates" and have to pay nearly double. Across from the refectory is now a very fancy bar/eating area where you are served at your table. This is geared naturally toward the "sponsors" of the college, as it was evident by the people we saw in the two roomed area.

We snuck into the dorms twice -- waiting for students to swipe their cards in and out of the halls -- but were unable to find our fun loving gay scottish man (otherwise known as "glitterboy") William. Twas very sad.

Me: sad.

We took a double-decker from the college afteward, stopping at Trafalgar Square to walk down Whitehall (past no. 10) and across Westminster Bridge. Went down to the South Bank intending to walk home but came across a christmas festival, with vendors selling chocolate crepes -- of which stacey and I got one each -- and ornaments, gifts, and even a merry-go-round. Very fun. We ran into the Royal Festival Hall so I could use the loo and came across some people warming up for a jazz performance that night -- also the jazz festival going on here -- and decided to come back at 10:30 to see them perform. Got there late so only saw about 10 minutes, but went to see them again the next morning at the Natural History Museum.

Crappy photos but didn't want to put on flash b/c I was so near them. They are really really good. The Nick Crowley Trio. The pianist is like the guy in Life is Beautiful. Not italian; English, but very upbeat. Ran to kiss his little son and his wife who were there before beginning. Jumped up and down many times, talking to the other guys in the middle of performing, continually moving his legs up and down to the beat. Very fast piano playing.

Stacey left this morning at 9:00 for America, something which I will be doing very soon, in less than a month, on the 15th of December. Surreal.