Friday, 26 February 2016

Amidst all the crazy...

I went to visit a good friend in Hull over the weekend. Hull was a pretty pleasant surprise, all things considered. I liked its indie vibe. I liked it better than Plymouth, but less than Glasgow. It had lovely cake, a good whiskey bar and fabulous sea food. It was very flat and quite cold, as this whole winter has been, everywhere across this island. Cold and damp. The kind of damp cold that gets into your bones and torments the traces of every injury you've sustained from birth to the present day such that staying in your house until spring starts to seem like a good idea.

On the way home from Hull, we got stuck in a terrible traffic accident. The kind where they stop traffic on both directions of the motorway and fly in a medical helicopter before sending police to instruct the cars to reverse, one at a time, and drive backwards up the on-ramp, decanting everyone into rural Buckinghamshire. In the two hours between the initial crash and the instruction to reverse, there was plenty of time to listen to the radio, which is how I found out that a date had been set for Britain's EU referendum.

There's a lovely form/content fusion there, really, because I can't think of a better metaphor for the howling stupidity of the entire referendum issue than 'car crash'. In fact, I can't think about the referendum at all without a vague sense of nausea and a strong urge to make escape plans, in the manner of savvy Germans watching the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. I may be dipping a toe into hyperbolic waters with that last sentence, but seriously - referendum + the Trump nightmare currently unfolding in the land of my birth leaves utterly aghast at the current political landscape. How are these impossibly absurd things - things which don't even bear thinking about - suddenly things that might actually happen?

I've gone on at length (in both word-count and duration of time) about the paradox of democracy, which for me amounts to the problem of a system where under-informed or problematically biased people make bad, fear-motivated decisions that we all have to live with and allow politicians to essentially get away with hijacking our countries and lives for their own political gains. I don't know what the solution to this is, since obviously (right?) democracy is a good thing. It's good that serfdom no longer exists, that most of us have relative autonomy, that we're able to vote (again, most of us - I still can't vote where I live), etc. But voting isn't and shouldn't be random.

When I'm teaching performance-making, there's often a moment where students ask me, or their colleagues, if something is good. Or perhaps they ask us to help them decide between two options: which piece of music? which projection? which piece of text to end this sequence? The knee-jerk response is usually to respond with personal preference, but the question that first needs to be asked is: what's the goal? What are you trying to do? Once I know the answer to that question, then I have a rubric for deciding. It's not random, it's specific and teleological - in other words, turn out the lights because you need the darkness to make a point, not because it looks good or (worst of all) interesting.

When I listen to Trump supporters or proponents of Britain exiting the EU, I don't understand what they're doing, what kind of world they envision, what they're working towards. So much of what is said is just inaccurate, more personal than political.  Everyone needs to go read Benedict Anderson on imagined communities and come to grips with the fact that the entire concept of nation-state is a relatively recent phenomenon. The idea that somehow countries only belong to the people that were born in them, that the right to move freely in pursuit of happiness is somehow limited to individuals comfortable with describing themselves as 'expats' - what sort of world do these modes of thinking point to? And are so many people captivated by these ideas because they're frightened, or because they've mistaken politics for entertainment and forgotten that what and who we vote for has implications that continue once the coverage stops?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but they're occupying me of late. These questions and the escape plans. Like Oliver Imhof (whose excellent Guardian editorial is well worth a read), 'I will not live in a country that defies values such at the solidarity and human rights that a postwar Europe - including Britain - worked so hard for'.  I also will not live in a United States presided over by the stewing ball of hatred, capitalism and intolerance that is Donald Trump. And so where to? And how to do all possible to prevent both these outcomes?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Post -

I left a hyphen after the title of this post, because I'm not really sure what to put there. As with everything (jobs, versions of news stories, Crouch End coffee shops, abominable leggings), there are multiple candidates competing for space. Specifically, I might have said any of the following:

1. PhD. As in it's done. Well, mostly. There is a tiny bit left to do, but the viva is over and passed and I can now check the Dr box on forms, as long as said form is not an application for a job demanding a PhD, as I am not yet able to provide a certificate. But basically, I'm done.

2. Apocalyptic. As in the back side of this whole completion thing is really a bit rubbish and anticlimactic. I was prepared for it, sure, by the wise women and men who have gone before me. But still. The aftermath is depressing, full of exhaustion, guilt, job applications and the creeping fear that somehow the torture you've gone through wasn't worth it in any sort of demonstrable sense. In response to the occasional suggestion, no doubt well-meaning, that surely the personal edification, growth and sense of accomplishment rendered by a PhD is recompense enough, I think no. Recompense, actual recompense, is recompense enough. If I wanted edification and pleasure, I would do a string of MAs. MAs are lovely, especially if they come with ample studio time and result in a subsequently marketable show, project or portfolio. PhDs are brutal. They are neither fun nor edifying. I am pleased to have completed, particularly after abandoning my MFA. But enough now, on to the next thing. Except I'm exhausted, which makes me feel guilty, which is silly, because I've been working hard, but not in a broadly socially acceptable way, because I haven't been paid, which makes me feel guilty for falling victim to the whips and snares of neoliberal market capitalism...(this is what it's like in my head right now).

3. Stasis. As in I find the most genuinely problematic area of my life to be a lack of agency. I'm no longer sure if things I think are difficult (like finding an affordable rehearsal space in London that I can actually rent on a regular basis, just to play with things) are actually difficult, or if they're just difficult for me. I honestly don't know. Other people complain about them, including people I trust, admire and respect, so it must not just be me. However, if I was truly tenacious (and this was my gifted education teacher's favorite word for describing my class's particular gifts), surely I would o'erleap this paltry concern. Wouldn't I?

4. Posturing. As in I am profoundly sick of the amount of unnecessary silliness that goes on. As in there is no way that I should publish this post, because what if a future employer reads it? And what if they do? Am I not allowed to have opinions and/or be annoyed that too high a percentage of human interaction tends towards pretense and instrumentality? Particularly in fields like mine, which are full of extremely smart, talented people, all slowly going mean and crazy because they can't do what they do, so rather than banding together and making a ruckus of some description, they joust pointlessly with each other in tones that make me want to cease all communication and move to a warehouse in Karlin.

5. Procrastination. As in sometime I had to begin to write again. And suppose this is it. More (and better) stuff soon.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Recent events

Usually when I come to the States, I’m good for a post or two ranting about the horrors of Fox News encountered at the gym, or the pleasure of coffee shop/restaurant /shop employees who appear, at least, to be genuinely friendly…this time, however, I’ve arrived home to a tragedy. You know what I’m talking about – the shootings in Connecticut. I haven’t said anything about them online yet. Not because I am not terribly upset by them – I am, more so than any previous shootings. I’m not especially proud of this , but my thinking about the land of my birth tends to follow Dan Savage’s island map from the 2004 Bush re-election, which pictures the coasts and certain blue “islands” (like Chicago) adrift on a sea of Republican red. While I’ve ached for the victims and families of shootings in the south or Midwest, it’s a different, less personal empathy. It’s crazy down/out there, I think.  What do you expect in a land (to my mind) filled with Guns ‘n’ Jesus bumper stickers and (seemingly) mandatory NRA/Republican Party membership (from birth). (And before someone objects, yes, I know I’m generalizing – that’s the point.) It’s not going to happen here, in the north-east, I think. Except now it has, in a state I’ve vacationed in and travelled through many times. My dad had clients in New Haven, which my twelve year-old self enjoyed mocking for its preppiness. My aunt used to have a store in Greenwich. There are photos of me and my cousins, as children, the same ages as the victims, in the Berkshires, one foot in Connecticut, the other in Massachusetts. Too close for comfort.

At the same time, comment is entirely too easy. I can’t change my profile photo, or put some sentiment up on Facebook. I don’t question the sincerity or motivations of those who do, but my attempts to follow suit feel inauthentic. Reactions to such moments are personal. Having sustained my own share of loss, I know I wouldn’t have wanted it filtered through Facebook, which seems (to me, anyway), a better place for political debate. To that end, I am vociferously liking friends’ posts calling for action on gun control. This is the best memorial we can give these children, and what we should have given to earlier victims of earlier shootings.

Seen from a distance of 3,000+ miles, many American policies look crazy. The lack of a national insurance program, for one. Gun control, for another. I am aware that these policies (or lack thereof) are generally defended with an argument for freedom – you have the freedom, in the United States, to bear arms. You have the freedom to not have health insurance. Except that’s not freedom at all. I am currently resident in a country (which, it must be acknowledged, is also capable of driving me to drink) where it’s much harder to own guns and where everyone has access to health care. These two facts manifest practically in my life as freedoms. The freedom to get on a bus, go to a concert or a busy shopping area and not worry that someone may be carrying a gun. The freedom to pursue a freelance career, safe in the knowledge that a broken bone, or random attack of appendicitis won’t leave me facing eviction. These freedoms are not insignificant.

The United States constitution is allegedly the fruit of Enlightenment thinking. I don’t have it to hand at the moment, but I’m reminded of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings on social responsibility. The gist is that if something benefits me, but not my family, then I must yield it for their greater good. And if it benefits my family, but not my community, then it too must be yielded. And if it benefits my community, but not my nation, and so on, and so on… The same thread exists in Jan Patočka and Václav Havel’s thinking – freedom is greatest when we speak of the freedom of societies from fear. Social freedom trumps individual freedom. In other words, the right of children to go to school unafraid trumps individual rights to own/do anything that might impede that right. That is our legacy. That is what we need to honor and respect. That is what a land of the free might look like.  Perhaps we could work towards that in 2013.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Pretty Peas...

Yes, dear readers, it's time for another helping of Pea Soup, where you can my monthly and reasonably well-researched musing on various sartorial happenings around the capital. For this month's SEX ISSUE the theme is Victoria's Secret's arrival in London - an event I personally find less heavenly than the brand's marketing campaign would desire. Take a look at the whole publication, which is full of interesting things and, if you like it (and why wouldn't you, really?) share and like it on Facebook, tweet about it and/or (if suitably impressed) marshal  on its behalf whatever social media minions are in your power, as apparently these things are important in the world of online publishing. Bon appetit!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Subliminal styling...down the rabbit hole

In my last post I took issue with a suggestion that emerged in the Jumpy panel discussion last week. Specifically, the notion that women's aesthetic choices are motivated (primarily) by a sense of insecurity, or a felt need for correction. There's lots wrong with this argument - and its absurdity shines through when similar logic is applied to other manifestations of personal style. Do you, par example, paint your walls and hang pictures on them because you wish to live admidst color and images or because you're trying to distract potential visitors from a draughty window? If, then, our sartorial and interior design choices (along with what we eat, drive, do with our leisure time, etc.) are motivated by a desire for self-expression, then they should be, largely an act of self-articulation. How then, do we make these choices? What is the anatomy of self-curation?

The easy answer might be a range of socially and commercially constituted factors. In my case, sartorially speaking adverts in Vanity Fair, mainstream fashion coverage and/or the helpful emails Topshop regularly inundates me with (I maintain my subscription because they're so much fun to deconstruct - such as this fabulous example on how to express yourself through (mass-produced) pieces inspired by (appropriated) tribal motifs). So internally incoherent is their logic that it makes me wish I was writing a PhD on the discourse and marketing of high street brands. I may take a superior attitude towards such missives, imagining they won't influence me, but is this actually true? If while consuming a great deal of fashion-related discourse, one still strives to ultimately employ sartorial items to serve an evolving sense of personal style, is s/he safe in assuming the styling choices that result are sui generis? What actually happens as you stand before your open closet, with no idea what to wear, no runway look you're striving to emulate? What leads you to combine a selection of  items you've never put together before? In other words, precisely where do outfits come from?

Let's see if we can unpack this one, which I wore to the very wonderful White Rabbit in Stoke Newington on Saturday night.


I had never worn these items together previously and their various provenances are quite diverse. The skirt is a Ralph Lauren blanket skirt that my mother bought for me sometime during my undergrad years. I don’t know that I truly understood it at the time, but I rediscovered it in Warsaw and it’s had periodic outings since then. The grey net sweater is from Topshop, purchased  in Prague a couple autumns ago, worn over an American Apparel leotard. The shoes are new Chelsea boots from Office and I’m wearing a lot of jewelry with both gold and silver, including new French connection earrings and a necklace I bought from a vendor at Little Paris during last month’s First Friday. In other words. completely random. Or really?

While not the best ensemble I have ever put together, it is ripe for dissection and I can identify three sources (apart from general start-of-term madness and indecisive weather) for this outfit. The first and most serendipitous was a twenty-something man I observed earlier that day at the 91 bus stop outside the British Library. He was beautiful, with dark, curly hair and wearing a floor-length black watch tartan kilt, the likes of which I had never previously seen anywhere. So striking was he, and his originally-styled girlfriend, that I nearly managed to overcome my fear of snapping strangers to ask to photograph them. I wasn't consciously thinking of him as I dressed for the evening, but I'm sure he contributed to my choice of skirt. A second factor is location - I knew I was going to an eccentric cocktail bar in North London, so felt free to play. Much of what I wear is influenced by the part of London in which I will be wearing it. This has something to do with with framing - a bit like publishing in the right journal or placing one's production in the perfect venue. There is something terribly sad about a missed opportunity to wear something delightfully odd or wasting a truly excellent creation on the wrong audience. A third influence, tragically, but perhaps inevitably, is admittedly my old friend Topshop, whose range of gothic jewelry I inspected on a recent trip to the Knightsbridge branch and blame for metal-mixing here. 

So there you go - an argument for subliminal styling (or perhaps just the existentially-inclined meanderings of an overly-taxed mind). Night night. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Gender Tuesday

As Regina Spektor sings, "Some days aren't yours at all." Yesterday, most decidedly, was not my day, in many ways. There is the still-unresolved datagate nightmare and a whole bunch of annoying little things occurred. More interestingly, however, was that the day seemed bizarrely hijacked by gender issues of one kind or another and it is these I wish to share with you. What, dear readers, are we to conclude from the following examples?

Exhibit A. - Dear Mrs. (Mr.?) McFadden

Unsurprisingly, datagate has involved communications with the company that made the offending product. The following correspondence resulted from me filling out a tech support request on their website (long passages of technical goobledegook and incriminating contact details have been omitted).

Dear Mrs. McFadden,

Thank you for contacting . My name is Tennyson. Since the hard drive was making clicking noise initially but it's no longer recognized on your computer,  I would suggest that you try use a different cable for the connection between your hard drive and your computer. Also try connecting your hard drive to another windows computer if it would be recognized. Kindly get back to me with your findings, and I would advise on the next step to take in resolving the problem.
If you have any further questions, please reply to this email and we will be happy to assist you further.


From: Becka McFadden []
Sent: 9/24/2012 3:23 PM
Subject: Re: Device does not power up [ ref:_00DU0Jpn7._500U04lbwe:ref ]

Dear Tennyson,

First off, I am not Mrs.

Secondly, I have followed your advice and also taken the drive to be seen by a technician at the University of London, who was unable to extract any data using software-based recovery. [...]

I suggest that you forward this information to your superiors as there are clearly quality control issues in need of urgent resolution. While my device is under warranty, there is little chance I shall actually claim a replacement, given the appalling experience I have had with this one in only two months' ownership.


Becka McFadden

Tennyson  wrote:

Dear Mr. McFadden,

Thanks for your reply. First, I'm sorry to have assumed based on your first name that I was addressing a female. I understand it's not a good experience to go through such stress , additional cost and inconveniences. We have not received reports of common issues of drive failure of this kind, but I would notify my superiors about the problem. If you would consider replacing your hard drive as it is still under warranty, you could either go to our website at and create an RMA or give us a call on , and we would create an RMA for your defective hard drive to be replaced. 

Ref#: 091812-5978349

Dear Tennyson,

Thank you for your reply and for passing on the report of the device's failure. 

I am indeed female. I am not, however, a Mrs and was not sure why a communication about a failed hard drive had to include speculation as to my marital status when Ms will do just fine.



Sent from Samsung Mobile

Unsurprisingly, I have had no reply to this final missive. Perhaps I should cut my friend Tennyson a break - he may be working in an outsourced tech support center and English may not be his first language. Perhaps the unwarranted "Mrs." wouldn't have angered me so much if I wasn't in the midst of a data crisis. But even in the best of circumstances, is it really still socially acceptable to address half the population with titles that implicitly comment on the personal life of the woman in question? My fellow female doctoral candidates and I frequently talk about how we can't wait to be called "Dr." - how lovely to be able to effectively educate oneself out of gendered language. Perhaps all women should be awarded honorary PhDs forthwith. Or we could find a less Cold War-tastic equivalent to the gender-neutral "Comrade." Maybe championing "Ms." is enough - it's pretty hard to go wrong there. I imagine certain women will be ecstatic at adopting a Mrs. prefix and that's great, I'm happy for you. But do you really want your tech support guy to know you just got married? Isn't that a personal joy to be shared with family and friends? For the purposes of business communication with people we will never meet face-to-face, it seems quite clear to me that Ms. should be ubiquitous. Why it's not, I just don't know.

Exhibit B - @JumpythePlay

Last night, I attended a panel discussion at the Duke of York Theatre in connection with my work for Peasoup Magazine. Entitled "Has the Legacy of Feminism Been Betrayed", the panel was meant to reflect on issues raised by April DeAngelis's Jumpy, a Royal Court production now running in the West End. While I haven't seen the play myself, I'm reasonably familiar with the plot. Essentially, domesticated, ex-feminist mum has problem with her daughter's valorization of glamour models and celebrity culture, hence the panel title and consideration of multi-generational conflict. Discussing the issue before us were the playwright, dancer Immodesty Blaize, and two women whose names I didn't manage to write down - one tasked with the monumental responsibility of speaking for "the younger generation" and one an articulate professor and veteran of feminist protests in the 1980s. The whole thing was moderated by a woman of mind-boggling vapidity, who seemed to have been pre-programmed to insert tragic one-liners and defenses of the Daily Mail (why? how?) whenever the conversation dared to get interesting.

At the outset of the event, the moderating genius encouraged us to tweet throughout - thank heavens, really, as there was no other opportunity for audience engagement. I  tweeted twice over the forty-five minute discussion.

Why is feminism such a hot potato? 

The first was in response to the game of ideological hot potato that always ensues (again, why?) when you ask women if they consider themselves feminists, particularly in the UK. The second came later and was prompted by an observation from Immodesty (this is approximate, I wasn't transcribing) that previous generations of feminists have paved the way for her to run her career as she sees fit and to not feel as if she has to get married or have children to be a successful woman. For me, this question of social roles - women's ability to be self-determining, not determined by a set of expectations - is much more important than, say, suggesting (as occurred in the course of the discussion) that the beauty industry relies entirely on female insecurity (right...because any aesthetic choice clearly displays insecurity), or attempting to mediate one's feminism, by tacking "I am married" onto the end of a meaty consideration, a bizarre move by the otherwise fabulous DeAngelis that made me and my editor visibly flinch. Seriously?

Topics raised in the debate could be discussed for 15 more blog posts, but I shall not being doing that. Instead, I'll ask you which of my tweets the Duke of York Theatre felt compelled to share with its 700+ followers?

Immodesty Blaize is really quite fabulous. 

Yes, indeed, the one that would look most innocuous and least feminist (read icky) when taken out of context. And so ended a day which, on the whole and with little manipulation of the evidence by yours truly, seemed a pretty compelling confirmation that institutional misogyny is, alas, still with us. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Public Service Announcement

One of the things I very much enjoy about autumn is the first foray into each shop to encounter the first offerings of the A/W collections. I may purchase a few things, but mostly what I'm trying to do at this point is to gauge what, if any, significant acquisitions I would like to make in a given season, so that I can than employ various stalking methods in an attempt to secure them. Meet this year's front runner:

Women suit
This gorgeous suit is from Kooples. I am in love with it. I am convinced, somewhat irrationally perhaps, that were I to purchase it, I would unquestionably pass my viva in flying colours and secure any job interviewed for whilst wearing it. So deep is my love, that, while I've visited it several times, I haven't yet dared to try it on, as I fear I will be compelled to immediately hand over my credit card by emotions too strong to resist. 

It transpires that my resistance to the gorgeous suit's charms has been prudent, as today I discovered that I will evidently be forking over nearly the entire price of this suit (or, in other terms, significantly more than the asking price for another early favorite, these kickass All Saints boots) on something else. No, I have not suddenly decided to attend an intensive physical theatre workshop, self-produce my own show in London for several nights or succumb to the attraction of Dries Van Noten's kimono skirts. Instead, I shall be paying to regain access to my own data. Yes, dear readers, my external hard drive has crashed.

I am not an aggressively vindictive person. Like any good Sagittarius, I have high standards and am easily disappointed. If someone or something grievously displeases me, s/he/it may struggle to get back into my good graces, but I'm far more likely to express my displeasure through silence and withdrawal of intimacy. Not for me the online diatribe. So Jerry Springer. So not chic.

However, there is a time and a place for everything, and now feels an appropriate time to publicly name and shame the companies involved in this fiasco. I say so not because I bear them any particular ill-will, but rather because I'd quite like to save anyone else from retreading my painful steps. So, here goes. What I've learned from my external hard drive debacle.

1. If your previous device fails, do not allow the company retrieving your data (Epsilon Computers on Tottenham Court Road, I'm talking to you) to randomly decide to which device they will transfer it. Conduct some research and do not let them use just any old drive they feel like. Better yet, have them transfer the data to DVD and worry about the drive later.

2. Do not, under any circumstances, purchase a device made by Western Digital. Mine was two months old to the day when it just stopped working. I didn't pound it with hammers, use it as a coaster or let the guinea pigs gnaw on it. I used is as an external hard drive is meant to be used. And it just stopped. Not a little. A lot. Dead motor, multiple bad sectors, the works.

3. Be aware that your external hard drive's warranty likely does not cover data loss, even if said data loss occurs (as mine did) due to a hardware fault. Back it up, back it up, back it up, back it up people. If you're worried you'll forget, just listen to this song, which is guaranteed to become lodged in your brain, thus functioning as a permanent reminder. 

4. Finally, brace for impact. Data recovery is expensive shit. Data recovery companies know they've got you cornered, no matter how lovely and approachable they seem at first. They will give you quotes that do not include VAT or mislabel and subsequently lose your device for several days without offering a discount for the inconvenience. They will drive you crazy and empty your bank account of money you're unsure you should part with even for something as beautiful as the Kooples suit. In return you will get a stack of DVDs containing your own thoughts, which will make you both incredibly happy/relieved and depressed at the same time. To combat, I recommend cloud backup (which I will be using a lot more from now on) and/or the establishment of a "Money for When my External Hard Drive Invariably Breaks", or MfWEHDIB fund. 

5. The only honorable mention of this escapade goes to Naved and his team at Student Computer Services, who did everything they could to sort this out for £47. He is deserving of your business, so give it to him. 

Right, folks - you have been warned. Time for a gin martini and prayers that the 70:30% statistical bias in favor of my data's recovery does not betray me.