Saturday, April 30, 2005

Haha! Success!

Chloe on her bed. And jay-sus I've got a lot of pictures of the damned cat.

I don't want to get your hopes up, though. I'll probably still not remember to take the camera with me when I go places.

Okay! Fine!

All right, I've been scolded several times before for never bothering to bring a camera with me when I travel and never having pictures of anything. So I understand the spirit with which my friends gave me a digital camera when I graduated. (Thanks guys!) And although this camera never left the hotel room (indeed, never left my bag) when I went to London, and I didn't even remember to bring it with me when I went to Berlin, and I'm pretty sure it has never been exposed to the rarefied outdoor air of Dublin, I want to say that I appreciate the gift. Really!

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so to kill two birds with one stone (that's the end of the stupid cliches, I swear), I'm going to attempt to post pictures on this blog. Now, I will mosey over to the blog help section and work on this. It's okay that I'm spending a semi-sunny Saturday afternoon messing about on the computer, because I'm also enjoying my new chair!

Reading: Um, spent last night kinda drunk, so nothing new.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Templates for real life

At the very beginning of Hexwood, a girl meets a boy. Well, actually, a young teenager meets an older man. Their relationship was written in a way that puzzled me. And then I thought, why should this be puzzling? The two characters form a close relationship, and because they are of the opposite sex and are both past puberty, my brain at once reached for the only template it's ever been exposed to for a close relationship between two sexually mature people of the opposite sex, which is, of course, the romantic, sexual relationship. As Terry Pratchett has pointed out often in his books, stories have power. This template I've got attempts to fill in the blanks and paint the background of a relationship which the author may or may not have intended. Whatever actually happens between the characters and whatever they say to each other, my brain will attempt to mold its tone to fit within the template. It colors the whole experience. And this is true whether I am presented with a man/woman pair in a book, a painting, a play, anything. In the case of Hexwood, Diana Wynne Jones has, disappointingly for me, re-inforced this template. (Okay, fine, so I've just given away a crucial part of the plot of the book; but you weren't going to read it anyway, right?)
This particular template is surprisingly strong and deep-seated. Right after reading "girl meets boy" at the beginning of this blog entry, who didn't immediately file the relationship of this fictional pair of people into the "romantic" category? And you know nothing at all about them except for their sexes! I racked my brain to try to find a story, a piece of art, anything that depicts a close relationship between a man and a woman that wasn't romantic or sexual. And I can't think of one! The movie Lost in Translation came close- except for the kiss at the end, of course. (Um, another spoiler.) Surely there must be some examples, somewhere!

Every once in a while, I'll read something where some idiot says, Oh yeah, men and women can't ever really be just friends. My reaction to this kind of statement has always been a strong desire to whack the speaker upside the head, but now I'm thinking, Why wouldn't someone say something like that? They have no examples of anything else! There's no other mental template to fit such a relationship in, so it gets slotted into the only one available. And that's a shame, because stories do have power and they influence real life.

Reading: Finished Hexwood. Lata gets heartbroken in A Suitable Boy.

Monday, April 25, 2005

It's the little things

I need a haircut. Well, not really a cut, just a trim to get rid of the split ends. All the "respectable" places here charge upwards of 50 Euro, which is highway robbery. But don't worry! I'm not here to do the "Dublin is so expensive" whine. This is an altogether different whine.

The closest I have ever come to having a "regular" hairdresser is this Chinese lady at a shady storefront in San Francisco, whom I went to three or four times. I also got a pretty good haircut from a lady in Manchester's Chinatown. I had to respond to her Cantonese with English after embarrassing myself with my broken Cantonese, but the communication was sufficient for the first short hair I had had since I was born. And she did a great job. Both these people charged, like, 20 bucks (or the equivalent in pounds). In Seattle I tried several different places, like Borseno's and Rudy's, but they were disappointing.

So, naturally, when it came time to get a haircut here, I went looking for little Chinese ladies on dodgy streets. And in my failure to find this mythical shop, was reminded again of how young the immigrant population is here. Only in the last ten or fifteen years has Ireland became a country where people immigrated to rather than emigrated from. You see lots of Asian faces on the streets of Dublin now, but most of them only arrived a few years ago or are students here to learn English. You don't see any Asian-Irish yet. In fact, I haven't even seen very many Asian-Irish couples. I was reminded of this when I saw a hapa teenager on the U-bahn in Berlin; it will be a few years yet before hapas appear here. I do see many Asian couples with babies or toddlers, however, so it won't be long before people hear a Dub accent you could float rocks on coming from an Asian face.

I can't identify very well with, for lack of a better term, Asian-Asians. Almost all my Asian friends have been 2nd-generation or beyond. For the first time since I moved here, I missed having this specific group of people around. I had bought a book called Ego Trip's Big Book of Racism (had to order it on-line through a store in the States, naturally), and it is, to quote a certain friend, hilaaaaarious. I got to a page titled "The Top Ten Things You Wouldn't Want to Steal from an Asian Household" and didn't have anyone to share "#3: fluorescent lights in the living room" with. I laughed and laughed, and at the point where, at home, I would have shown it to someone and pointed and laughed some more, I realized there was no one here to show it to. I knew it was getting really bad when, in a pub a couple weeks ago, I saw this Asian woman speaking with a British accent, and actually went up to her and told her I wanted to say hello because it's so rare that I find an Asian person here who isn't "Asian-Asian." Well, first I asked her whether she lived in Dublin, 'cause Brits coming over here for a drunken weekend don't count. Okay, so I had had a few pints at that point and was maybe a little tipsy. This whole episode was made worse by the fact that I was at the pub to meet a dude that a friend had set me up with, and, from the moment I heard that chick speak with a British accent, I practically ignored him and spent the whole time sneaking looks at her and hoping she'd notice I was speaking with an American accent. That, and trying to work up the nerve to go speak to her. I had developed some sort of instant girl-crush on her or something. Dang. And now I wish I'd drank some more and had had the nerve to give her my phone number.

Needless to say, I didn't have a second date with the guy. Too bad. He may have been able to suggest a hair stylist.

Reading: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones (I usually stick to her Chrestomanci books, but this one is dedicated to Neil Gaiman! How could I just put it back on the shelf?). I'm used to reading multiple books at the same time, but this is getting ridiculous. I suspect Jonathan Lethem's going to have to go on the back burner.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Speak of the devil...

Reading: An interview at with Richard Florida, who wrote The Flight of the Creative Class, following his first book The Rise of the Creative Class three years ago. The books lay out Florida's theory that the "hot" cities in which to live and work, cities which have strong economic growth are also places with large ethnic and foreign-born populations, as well as large populations of artists, free-thinkers and, in a blow to the conservatives, gay people. He thinks that you can predict which cities are up-and-coming by looking at how welcoming they are to such groups of people, the creative class that he alludes to in his titles. Places like San Francisco and Seattle come out on top on his lists. His new book talks about how the competition for the creative class is now global and, in the interview, he mentions Dublin several times as a strong competitor in the global market for this group of people. So whaddya know? I'm ahead of my time.

So far

At a project and funding review session today, I was asked by the outside reviewers why I'd chosen this position and whether I liked working in Ireland. I refrained from saying that I didn't want to have to learn German to take the other offer I had, but did say Yes, I liked working in Ireland. I've been asked this question quite a lot and at first just said yes because I think it was sort of the expected answer, but I'm finding that I'm not lying. I do like it here. The people are friendly, the lab is good, Dublin rocks. I've talked to a lot of people (especially, for some reason, a lot of Germans living here) and was surprised to find out that many of them just hate living here. Amongst complaints such as the roads and other infrastructure being bad and the government and bureaucracy being incompetent, the main gripe seems to be that Ireland is ridiculously expensive. Which, to be fair, is true. I then usually ask why they don't go back home, and the answer is always, There're no jobs at home. Well, so that seems to be the trade-off: you could live cheaply off unemployment at home, or pay 1000 Euro/month from your paycheck to rent your closet-sized studio here. It's expensive here because people can afford it. Plus I think the Irish are overcompensating at the moment for centuries of being desperately poor.

I wonder how much personality has to do with it. I've read about people who visit some place and "fall in love with it," who feel instantly that "they belong there." (It seems to happen to a lot of Americans in Prague. Although my guess is that it's because there are already so many American ex-pats living there that it's no wonder it "feels like home.") I don't know what that feels like or how it happens. I think I have the ability to be perfectly content with wherever I'm living. Or, to put it another way, I don't think my location affects my level of happiness very much. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to move to Manchester permanently any time soon, but I was more or less happy during the time I spent there. And although I don't think I will live the rest of my life in Ireland, I'm also very much hoping that my contract will be renewed for a couple of years. Does this attitude mean I have no discrimination, no taste or preference? Does it mean that it doesn't actually matter where I live? Surely this is an area where one should have a definite opinion?

Reading: Mingus Rude arrives on Dean Street in Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude and Maan gets freaky with a Muslim singer in Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Who gives a flying fuck?

The title pretty much encapsulates how I felt about blogs. I already regularly communicate with the people who care about me, so what would the point of a blog be? How arrogant to assume that complete strangers would care how I spent my day or how my life is going or what my opinions on the Nescafe espresso machine is! (It sucks, if you want to know. The espresso machine, I mean. The day and life are going okay so far.)

However, the insistence of several friends has convinced me that there may be an audience, and a recent bout of navel-gazing has convinced me that it may have therapeutic value. So here it is! Ta-da!

I'm uncertain about who I want my audience to be. On the one hand, of course, it will simply be another way for me to communicate with my friends. On the other hand, I think I would find strangers' opinions fascinating. Without any background information about me, and having only my own writing to go on, what would they think, and what's the process by which they form their opinion?

Well, here's to the spirit of experimentation.

Yesterday's reading: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem