The Great British (and not-British) Public

I have spent today hanging out volunteering at an historical building today, because sometimes that’s a thing I do. I really, really love doing it. People complain, sometimes, that these historical, English/Welsh Heritage, National Trust things don’t ‘include’ and ‘involve’ and ‘represent’ people in our country. I saw a thousand people today, literally, indeed, 1,100 people today, walking around a beautiful building that belongs to the nation, is being kept fascinating and accessible to all, full of things to do and see and learn and just…be in.

Literally all kinds of people. Tourists, yes, but plenty of locals. Not just NT members, certainly not just the stereotypical weird nodding smiling yuppie parent (although there was a child called Verruca – WHO DOES THAT TO A CHILD?), but really all sorts, all classes, all backgrounds. People who were wearing clothes the cost of which I could buy a house for. People who were wearing rags and were in a state more commonly associated with not having the privilege of a roof over the head. All sorts.

And I don’t think this is surprising, because people do, contrary to the popular opinion, like to get out and about where they live, and everyone does possess curiosity to one degree or another about things, and, if they can have a day out and go somewhere where everyone is catered for, then they do.

It’s also wonderful how interested people are once they’re in places. Most people think of something to say, or ask, and I don’t ever remember kids being as interested in kids’ activities when I was one myself as they seem to be now – maybe the quality of children’s activities has improved, but still, I don’t remember anything except brass rubbings (I LOVED brass rubbings, honestly, I did, I don’t know what that says about me) ever being interesting. I certainly don’t remember paying attention for prolonged periods of time in the many places I visited.

There’s a lot of complaining about about a lot of things, so, sometimes it’s nice to notice the good stuff, too. There are ways of engaging with what’s home and what’s ours that are really catching people’s attention, are genuinely positive and pleasant and suitable for and working for everyone. And that’s nice. Sometimes, we get it right. It is a joy to be able to be a part of it , even a tiny bit.

So that’s nice. And that’s what Bank Holidays ought to have more of. Religion or otherwise, people being good and doing good stuff, I don’t think anyone of any religion could complain about. Happy Easter, whether it’s chocolate or crosses or nothing at all to you.

 

Five Things People Don’t Tell You About…Being Busy.

Maybe you’re usually a busy person. Maybe you work a proper job and commute a fair way to and from it. Maybe you have small children, or care for someone, or run your own business and don’t recognise the ‘off’ switch, or one of any other possible human combinations.

Until last week, I didn’t really have anything to do in my day. That is to say, no-one told me to do anything, and I didn’t have anything demanding I do simple things like get dressed, or open my front door. Obviously this state of affairs didn’t also include someone rocking up and handing me money for nothing, but my time was my own, and I could ‘work’ (doesn’t matter how much of it I do, I really struggle to call writing ‘working’) whenever I felt like it, as much or as little as I wanted.

The downside of being an unagented writer is that one must spend precisely fifteen times the amount of time spent writing trying to work out how to get an agent. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion this isn’t the genuine truth of things, that I could, in fact, have got an agent if I’d only spent more time writing something saleable, but that’s another blog post for the future. All the same, it’s meant that any semblance of being busy – writing query letters, polishing words, researching who I should try and how – has been reasonably grim, and that therefore I have had no qualms about spending at least an hour out of every afternoon in the bath watching Hawaii Five-0 or Supernatural or The Good Wife (these are the three most perfect bathtime shows: fact). I have been perfectly able to fit in at least one workout per day, if not two. I have had no worries at all about spending two hours chopping vegetables and cooking them slowly and making something delicious and, perhaps, even nutritious.

But this week, this week I have suddenly become busy. I’ve realised I need more money quite urgently. I can’t take my time. I need to actually sell some writing, get myself out of my shell, and achieve some paid work. This need has coincided with the coming together of the plans for Meddle, a project I’ve been involved with for several months. Suddenly, I’m in charge of tweeting (follow the Twitter!), which also means learning how to use HootSuite (which is apparently an application so complex that it requires an entire ‘University’ course and an exam to be any cop at it) and organising all kinds of things to make this exciting creative conference not just possible, but properly awesome.

To be fair to my previous self, I also felt that, because I had no money and no specific demands on my time, I also couldn’t, y’know, go out. Anywhere. At all. For anything. So I’d just be here at home, doing not much.

And now I’m still here at home, but I’m doing all the things.

This is fun.

That’s thing #1.

1. If you’re lucky, being busy is fun.

Now, I’m not stupid. There have been other periods in my life (ill parent, ill partner, anything to do with ill at all, tax return season, deadline time) where being busy has not been fun. But, if you’re working on something you love (eh, this is the theme of our first Meddle!) being busy is actually really nice.

At no point do you spend five hours concocting serious opinions on Lindsey Lohan. There are things that actually need to be done, and one realises that having an opinion on Lindsey Lohan is not, contrary to some sections of the internet, important for me as a woman, or indeed for me as a human.  I don’t need to learn about stuff that doesn’t require my attention right now.

2. Time has lied to you.

Long hours become short. Every minute is a possibility. At no point do you become angry that you’ve got five minutes to stand in the middle of the room and do nothing. No, any five minutes that presents itself to you feels like a vast swathe of time in which you might make a telephone call, check your to-do list has been done, remember to take your glucosamine so your knees will stop crunching, see if there’s any food in the kitchen, that sort of thing.

3. Having a to-do list is fun.

No, really. It is. I know some people love them. Traditionally, I haven’t, but that’s probably because my day previously looked like this:

  1. Breakfast.
  2. Write.
  3. Query.
  4. Make dinner.
  5. Drink tea.
  6. Work out.
  7. Research more things about what I ought to be doing.
  8. Have a bath.

There are plenty of people who actually do this before the sun has even risen. And that was taking up my entire day. Today, on the other hand, I barely managed #1 and #4, and justified a list with at least twenty different items on it, at least three of which I still have to do tonight. Why I decided I ought to blog instead of having a bath and watching Supernatural, I’m still not entirely sure – perhaps I think this little corner of internet might, might be more use to me than swishing about in warm water for a while. (40 minutes of staring at Dean Winchester’s face is, though, definitely something that is missing from my life right now.)

But back to the list thing. I have spent YEARS accumulating notebooks, stationery, all sorts of things that I would never write my fiction on because, to be honest, I struggle to commit fiction to physical paper in case I need to delete all the things and do it again. But when it comes to lists of objectively important things? Those, those I can commit to paper. Those I can commit to really awesome Sanrio stationery and super, unbearably cute notepads that I bought from the incredible Korean stationery shop at home in London because I need to look at those things multiple times per day and they in themselves aren’t that interesting, but if they’re surrounded by a happy duck saying “Good friends put a smile on our faces!” and “I can fly! I am faster than the wind!” and the magnificent “Dreams create hope! Hope creates chance!” (who doesn’t love a motivational happy duck?) then suddenly they seem like MY DESTINY and everything is great.

4. It is genuinely possible to forget to eat.

I don’t think I’ve forgotten to eat…ever, really. I’ve never had any kind of job that didn’t leave me desperate for it to be lunchtime for me to have a break from my desk, as much as for some food, and when I didn’t have anything else I HAD to do, creating a decent plate of food out of beans (I can do a lot with beans) was as accomplished as the day got. But today I got to about four o’clock and wondered why I was suddenly so stupidly hungry, and, lo, that was because I had forgotten about lunch. I even had lunch, and it was even a nice lunch that I wanted to eat, but it was still there. Perhaps I’ll remember to eat it tomorrow? Bearing in mind that I am in the middle of a general nutritional overhaul, this is definitely the kind of thing I must prioritise.

5. It is actually quite difficult to stop being busy.

I’ve never really understood the concept of workaholic, although I’ve known a fair few of them. I don’t think I’m an inherently lazy person, or anything, I’ve just, always been quite good at saying, now it’s time to sit down and have a cup of tea and not do anything at the same time. Today I have caught myself chasing after my phone and laptop and constantly checking said to-do list for everything, whilst panicking that I’ve left something off it. Yesterday I didn’t manage to stop wondering about the things I had to do at all, and barely managed to cease business even for Parks & Rec (suddenly I have decided that show is wonderful: I tried to watch it last year, but it didn’t work…is it possible that its peculiar positioning on BBC4 has made it better?).

This inability to just stop does not a better person make. At half four this morning I found myself in a panic that I’d done a thing wrong, and tried to fix it for ages before forcing myself to acknowledge that my eyes were crossed and I was trying to work on a screen I couldn’t even see.

Sometimes, it’s time to not be busy.

But that time is not right now.

I’ve got at least three things left to do on that list, like I said. And I really ought to work out. And maybe even find a minute to look at Dean Winchester’s face. Tch. See you later!

The Greatest Kind of Gift

I *adore* sci-fi novels. Anything from the Victorian age to about 1965, and then in its own way, 1965-1985, and then you end up in the ’90s and it gets a bit cyberscifi and that’s great too, I love it all. BUT. There’s a kind of paperback that’s particularly close to my heart. And, for Christmas, I got a massive stack of them. See how beautiful?

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Geek Girls Unite to Write: 7 Questions for Stewie & Emily of the IGGPPC

I spend time aplenty hanging out on Twitter for various reasons, and, whilst I’m there, I like to keep Amanda Palmer’s @ feed running in a column alongside things, simply because there’s usually a ton of good stuff going on in there. As I was checking something this evening, an @ to Amanda from @frogmellaink and @darlingstewie about the International Geek Girls PenPal Club caught my eye, and nothing makes me click a link faster than geekdom coupled with letter-writing. I had to examine.

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Obviously, I signed up like lightning (I suggest you do the same if you haven’t and are interested – places in Round 2 are almost gone! – and Round 2 is full up! Follow links at the bottom of the page to get in for Round 3 ) and then I thought, what kind of glorious beings set up this magnificent endeavour, and why? So I asked them. And then I asked them a couple more things. And this is what they said:

1. How did this project start?

Em and I met as most people do these days, via the Interwebz. I think we discovered each other through Twitter and the rest is history. I’m a geek girl blogger, so I’m always posting about science fiction or cartoons or comic book inspired fashion, and I think Em has similar sensibilities in that she likes geek fashion too (I’ve seen her wearing Rebel earrings from Star Wars!!!) Em is the purveyor of a fantastic geek chic Etsy, House of the Fickle Queen.

Re: The IGGPPC origins… Em made a blog post about it (it is long and rambling, that’s how I roll~Em):
On Creating Something Out Of Nothing and the Phenomenal Response to the International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club.

And I made a similar but more basic post:
How A Tweet About Curly Wurlies Turned Into An Explosive Internet Phenomenon Overnight.

But the long and short of it is, we had been reminiscing about the days of getting surprises and thoughtful letters in the mail from Pen Pals, which is something we had both done in our younger days, and missed that fun mailbox bond. Also, as an Air Force brat, I’ve got a taste for travel (and love learning about other culutres,) but flights are expensive! Pen Pals are like mini vacations cross-country. And Em and I both hoard stationery (as many geek girls I know do) and wanted a purpose for our Sanrio and Lisa Frank stuff. And I wanted a Curly Wurly. Seriously. Those things are good.

(AES – Those things ARE good. All I can think of are Curly Wurlies right now, and the corner shop is closed. ARGH. Also, wow do I hoard stationery. I am super excited to have a reason to share some of that now 🙂 )

2. What’s the best letter you’ve ever received? Or, the best letter you’ve ever read?

My best friend & I exchange letters fairly regularly (as she lives at the other end of the country from me) but one that stands out isn’t so much the letter as the fact that she sent a cushion with a picture of a stag on it! (It’s hideous and beautiful all at once!) Unexpected presents are the best! ~Em

3. Any good stories to share from Round 1?

When we started, I do not think either of us really saw this blowing up like it did. Once Veronica Belmont tweeted about us and we were featured on GeekSugar.com, we knew it was something big. At one point I was refreshing the submissions for Round 1 and we’d gotten 10 in 1 minute. I pretty much peed myself then. We hit our 1,000 person cap in 3 days, 9 days prematurely, and that’s a pretty sweet thought.

The response from the geek girl community has been overwhelmingly positive. Lots of girls have posted or blogged about the project and everyone is very excited to connect! They practically smashed down the door of our Facebook, chanting “We want our pals!” It’s such a great positive thing to be a part of.

I would like to add that one girl put “animals who look like old men” as a geek love, which was a highlight for me because that is just a legendary thing to say. ~Em

4. Where do you start?

When your email conversation begins with your match, try to have a mini bio prepped. “Hi, I’m Suzy, I’m this old and I live in this state and country. How about you?” The basics are always the best place to start. Then you might try asking your new pal what they listed as their Geek Loves, because chances are we’ve paired you with someone who matched one of your Geek Loves…the conversation should absolutely take off from there.

It’s an intimidating thing, sometimes, writing to someone you don’t know (or even writing to someone you do!). Any tips for first time participants on getting the most out of the experience and not feeling a tidal wave of embarrassment the moment you drop your first letter in the postbox?

I’d say just be yourself and write the letter you’d love to receive. We have paired everyone so they have at least one love in common so you know you have at least one thing in common with your new pen pal ~Em

5. Gandalf IS my homeboy*. Let’s just take a moment to imagine he’s an international geek girl. What would you send him in an envelope? (cannot resist a stupid question, but I think a couple of dinosaur stickers would really set off that cloak)

I feel like I’d send him tea, flavored tobacco, and incense… I mean maybe I’m stereotyping him as like a wizard hippie, but I’m a thoughtful letter sender and I know he’d love all those things!

Dumbledore is my homeboy, I would make him sweets as I have mad confectionery skills ~Em

6. I happened upon your project via a glance at Amanda Palmer’s mentions column: she brings like-minded people and projects together like no-one else, sometimes without even trying! What made you @ her in particular?

We haven’t really tweeted at many ‘big’ name people. I have been a fan of AFP for more years than you can count on one hand, and as she is big on community, asking, art and creativity I thought, what the hell, if there is one person out there who’ll RT us it’s her! Pretty much all the rest is just word of mouth (or word of tweet, I guess would be a better approximation) ~Em

7. Which woman in history would you most like to write to, and what would you like to say to her?

Anyone from the American women’s suffrage or African American civil rights movement is bound to have a spectacular story… so if we’re going for history I’d have to say anyone of these women. I’d be desperate not to say too much so I could listen to their story. Honestly I have no clue what I’d say…I’d be all derpy and scared, but excited…like “Hi…HI HELLO HI UR COOL CAN WE BE FRENZ?”

For me it would be Mae West…she is my idol and she knew how to turn a phrase. I would ask her what it was like to be such a pioneering actress, playwright & screenwriter. She was risque, bold and years ahead of her time. I’d also ask her if I could have the spiderweb dress she wears in ‘I’m No Angel’ (opposite Cary Grant <3) as it is one of the most incredible outfits ever worn on screen! ~Em

And if you’d like to keep up with the International Geek Girls Pen Pal Club (WHY WOULDN’T YOU?!), find them at geekgirlpenpals.com and on Facebook.

*
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A Things I Love Post: Three Films Edition

I love a lot of films, who doesn’t? (Apart from my mother, whose film loves are limited to Mamma Mia!, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mrs. Brown, but she’s odd.) I do have favourites, permanent ones, but I’ve talked about them a lot and it’s nice to have some other conversations sometimes, so here’s a couple that I love today.

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Somewhere

I didn’t get around to seeing this until last night, but I wanted to the moment it came out. The reason it took me so long to stick it on is that I’m always a bit wary of Sofia Coppola films, because, whilst universally more beautiful than all other films available, they usually make me sob with infinite melancholy and awe. That’s fine, indeed, sometimes it’s perfection, but it means that, unless you’re 15 and rocking the wet eyeliner/pretty emo look, you choose your moments to watch such things with care.

This film definitely has all those feelings in it, and it is beautiful and aching and sad, yes, but also sweet and amusing and occasionally bizarre. And it doesn’t leave you feeling grim. It’s gentle and eerie and curious and if you don’t mind a film in which not all that much happens on the outside, and indeed nothing at all happens for at least the first half an hour, there’s a great deal to enjoy here. Not least the fact that Stephen Dorff is still hot. Yes. The best part of it all is that it’s made with confidence and skill, and every performance in it is exquisite, including that of the camera.

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Game Over

This is precisely my kind of film. I bought this DVD when I was living in Helsinki and didn’t have anything to watch, so I headed out to Sokos and bought the film with the most attractive cover. It turned out to be a good plan.

Kimi (Reino Nordin) is beautiful and crackers. And dangerous. He also manages a floorball team with his friends, and, via the inevitable suitcase full of cash, winds up in a complex and terrifying web of murder and bravado. Both easy and creepy watching, not exactly a landmark in Finnish cinema, but good, grim entertainment.

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Katy Perry: Part of Me

I liked Katy Perry, when she turned up everywhere suddenly all technicolour, kissing girls and liking it and that, but I didn’t exactly care about her. I liked her progressively when her songs earwormed me, and by the time Firework was released I figured, eh, that’s a nice positive song, you clearly know a thing or two about pop music. We went to see her live, and then I decided I might love her a bit, because the gig was like the happiest, most fun club night imaginable (notably also much more enjoyable than 99% of the nights I’ve ever had in clubs – certainly the dancing was better), and she had so much energy that I was exhausted just watching.

But this is a great piece of documentary. Even if you don’t like her or don’t care about her, this film has the gift of telling you someone’s story, rather than just showing their ‘crazy wonderful word!’ It makes you infinitely more appreciative of the sheer level of work that goes into a world tour, for starters, and it’s also nice to see that someone who, from a distance, appeared plucked from nothing and foisted infinitely on the world, worked damn hard to be there. Also, I would really like the first album she seems to have wanted to make. I miss shouty early ’00s girlrock.

A lot of the write-ups I’ve seen about this film focus on the uncompromising amount of content about the disintegration of Perry’s marriage, which is understandable, because it’s a bit unexpected in the middle of a film that might have, marketing-wise, been mistaken for a 3D gig movie, but it’s only half the story. An interesting, even shocking, rather heart-breaking half, but to focus only on that, and the amount of times she appears without make-up (really, that seems to have been some magazines’ only take-away), misses a very sizeable chunk of what’s to appreciate here. If you happen upon this, try it. She’s quite something.

At the beginning of the film, an excitable, about-to-walk-on-stage Katy Perry is shown, as her voiceover says something like, “Since I was nine years old, I’ve dreamt of walking out on stage and having everyone sing along with me.” That’s the thing. Not everyone chanting my name, like many a would-be star. Everyone singing along with me.