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2016 playlist

2016 was a pretty awful year for the world, but I would be doing many people and things a disservice if I said it was for me. It was difficult and full and at many times incredibly bizarre, but overall pretty amazing.

The world may have been falling to pieces but I was rebuilding myself. For ten years, two fairly major things dominated my life – working towards citizenship and planning a trip I wasn’t ever sure I believed I’d take. I never really thought about the energy I was spending on those things until all that real estate in my brain was suddenly free.

Perhaps this is why my Lindy Hop obsession exploded. Perhaps it’s why I dove into freelancing without really thinking much about it. Perhaps it’s what finally allowed me to let go of having to plan every detail of everything all the time (my friends will probably not believe I’ve actually managed this, but I assure you, I only plan about 65% of things now, as opposed to, oh, 99.142%).

I started the year in a Chinese border rail station with people I’d only just met, and absolutely no idea that the next 24 hours let alone the next year would hold such ridiculous and wonderful adventures. The lows were very low, but the highs were higher and more prevalent. And everything in between was sharper.

I went to 2 international Lindy Hop camps, one of them by myself. I danced in 8 cities (well, 7 cities and one French valley). I jointly started an awesome practice group. I went into my first jam circle and didn’t fuck up. I got clients. I supported myself and lived pretty well despite a 50% pay cut. I got super awesome office space. I read more books that I’ve read probably in any other year since I graduated college. I sewed a whole lot of clothes and started teaching someone else to sew as well. I did Thanksgiving for 19 people – more than ever before – AND managed to get red wine spills out of a white carpet. I cycled more than I bussed. I went wild swimming and wandering up hills and shimmying over flooded waterways. I had a lot of bomb-ass conversations. That’s only a fraction of it. Bad things happened in the world, but good things happened in mine.

I will end the year in a cottage in the Scottish countryside with some of the people who have made it all possible, and for once I’m not even bothering to wonder what will happen in the next 365 days. I hope it’s just as awesome. I hope it’s also much better for the wider world. I’d say it couldn’t get much weirder, but I know better than that.

As it the custom, I’ll leave you with my 2016 playlist. Again, roughly corresponding to the timeline of the year, with a few deviations. (Here’s 2015 and 2014 in case you’re interested.)

Another day, another lava bomb

This is (part of) one of my favourite pictures from this year. It says more to me about that trip than most of the other ten billion pictures I took. Perhaps because it’s not a pose, as most pictures you take of yourself are by default. It’s a rest for shoes that are only about halfway done their job.

And now these shoes are waiting for me to get around to throwing them away.

The bottoms are worn flat and the whole waterproof thing is a distant memory because of holes. Three straight months of pounding two continents worth of dirt and pavement and train corridors, trails and stairs and banks of various bodies of water, often under the strain of 40-60 extra kilos on top of their wearer’s usual 80ish. Not often warm enough – laughed off as summer-wear by my Mongolian hosts – and then suddenly too warm.

No shoe on the planet was designed to cope with the shit I threw at these. You’d be ready for the footwear dumpster in the sky too. (Can you recycle hiking shoes? I should find out.)

I recently watched Werner Herzog’s Into The Inferno, during which he muses on how comforting it is that the earth gives exactly zero shits what mythologies or traditions humans assign to forces of nature. If you’re in the wrong place when that hole in the earth spews a red hot lava bomb, you are dying whether you believe it’s god’s will or not.

This of course doesn’t mean stories are worthless. You need a way to handle a hunk of molten rock flying at you. Anything is suitable and nothing is suitable. You do what you can. That’s human.

While I was pondering ditching my shoes, I decided to re-read my trip journal cover to cover. I was amazed, not so much at the things I’d forgotten about, but at all the things it made me remember that I didn’t write down.

Will I remember the same little things the next time I read it through, or will they be lost to the ages while I recall things that I didn’t this time around? Either way, I refused to make additions. The story will keep changing, but it will always be suitable.

Hanging on to a pair of shoes wouldn’t anchor any stories. I’ve recently moved them from the floor of my bedroom to the floor in the hall. That’s about 10 feet closer to the door. But I felt they deserved some kind of eulogy before I take them all the way out.

To everyone else, they are rubber barely worthy of all this thought. But they took me through temples and mythologies of all kinds. To the tops and bottoms of literal and figurative walls and mountains. The world doesn’t have to care. For me they’re a book cover, a carrier bag, the right tool for the job, used snout to tail.

Having a rest at the Great Wall.

Vote for respect

This has been a good year, but an incredibly difficult one. (That’s how good things work, right?) I have been less active about writing here than I’d like, but that’s because I’ve had to buckle down and try to get my own business off the ground. Ripping up and starting again is hard, lonely, frustrating work. This week it’s all come to a head in more ways than one.

In the midst of this all exploding in my chest, I just watched Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire. I didn’t realise just how upset I was by the possibility that the country where I was born, which regularly and somewhat disturbingly boasts that it is the greatest in the world, could elect a man who treats a majority of the population with such blatant disrespect until I heard her say the things that I was feeling.

I had my only private sector corporate job for 2 years before I picked up and left to take a train halfway around the world. I made more money than I ever have, and quite possibly than I ever will again. But that came at a pretty high price. What I have been reminded of in the past few weeks is how the culture of that company was the least friendly to women I have ever experienced and what that felt like on a daily basis. (And I know that it wasn’t nearly the worst you can get, which is horrifying.)

It took every scrap of strength I could muster to finally call out some of the sexist remarks that my female colleagues and I regularly experienced. Things that were written off as banter, jokes, no big deal. But they weren’t.

I didn’t even make as big of a fuss as I now feel I should have. But I was still aggressively verbally attacked for standing up to it. And while some people higher up went through the motions of dealing with the problem, it wasn’t really dealt with, just swept under the rug. I was, for my last few months, in the most uncomfortable situation in a job I have ever been in. I experienced firsthand why most women never bother to say anything about this kind of thing. Why we just try to suck it up and bury it. Because I was in hell just for calling bullshit on disrespectful behaviour.

So all this year whenever I’m feeling shitty about how hard doing things on my own is and what I’ve had to give up in order to make it work, one of the things I remember is what I was able to leave behind. I remember that now I can work with people who respect me, and I can make as big a fuss as I should about bad behaviour, because if someone wants to make me feel like shit about it, I don’t have to work with, near, or for them.

I, just like pretty much every other woman on this planet, have had people grab me in the street or get too handsy when passing me in a pub. I have had unnecessary, demeaning things shouted at me. I have been told to smile. I have had to shout louder to have my opinions or expertise heard. It’s tiring and demeaning and it sucks.

Between this episode of The Guilty Feminist on Anger that I listened to last week, and Michelle Obama’s words on the most recent horrendous shit coming from Trump, it’s come right back to the surface – how horrible it feels to actively field misogyny on a regular basis, and how infuriatingly universal it is to have to do so.

To know that a man who brags about sexual assault is even anywhere near the US Presidential race is physically sickening. And it’s not that he’s only just become sickening. He stepped over the line before he even had the nomination. He’s been making racist, discriminatory, violent comments for ages and I have been angry about it the whole time. This has just been a personal trigger based on my own experiences that has in some cases made my entire body shake.

I am a human being. Human beings deserve equal respect. (By the way, THAT’S FEMINISM.)

I really like Hillary Clinton and I think she will do an amazing job as President. But even if you don’t like her, I’m sure you want to be treated with respect. I’m sure you want the world to respect your country. I’m sure you want someone who has some actual qualifications in charge of things like the military and speaking to other world leaders and making laws.

If you don’t vote for Hillary, you are voting for a man who treats anyone who doesn’t look like him as less than human. Between women, people of colour, the disabled, immigrants – basically anyone who’s not a white man – that’s a majority of the population he does not respect.

A president who doesn’t respect the citizens of his country on a most basic level can’t possibly make anything great. Not even a little bit.

Literature on repeat

News of the recent passing of Bennett Lamond, one of my favourite and best English Lit professors, in combination with a particularly inspiring weekend full of theatre, spoken word, impulse book buying, and intense reading, caused me to think about the combinations of words that stick. All the snippets of literature that go floating through my head regularly. I always supposed they weren’t necessarily the most significant ones – I have a terrible brain for memorisation that doesn’t involve music, even of things I love – but then I also have to wonder why it is they’ve stuck if they’re not.

Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he said
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun
God damn it, you’ve got to be kind

Many of these things, aside from Gatsby, I couldn’t tell you in detail about why I loved them to start with. Or exactly what happens in the course of the story. Or even what all the characters names are. I need to read it all again. But you don’t need a perfect memory to know a thing meant something. Was important. Is important. And when I read it again it will no doubt grow in that.

April is the cruelest month
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds
Olives and wax

The parts that make a whole. Or the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Whatever you subscribe to. All of these things planted themselves in college or before. I’ve surely done at least as much or more reading in the decade since I was an undergraduate than I had in the ten years before, but there are no lines from this more recent time that chum me to work in the morning or pop into my head while I shower.

In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree
Something rotten in the state of Denmark
Look upon my works, ye mighty and despair! Nothing beside remains

If you look at pictures of me from high school and pictures of me today, you’d barely know the difference aside from a few grey hairs. I am always jeans and a t-shirt and trainers, even when I wear nice vintage dresses. My dance shoes are flat, and when my dress shoes are not, I feel more fake than fancy. I prefer to be as close to the ground as nature intended, which is still pretty far.

Harry Potter is important to me but not a single passage sticks with me in the way the first word of Beowulf or the last few lines of Ozymandias do. The way we prepare to tell all great stories and the way all things must end.

Hwæt. (So.)
So we beat on
So it goes

The fine art of dating yourself

Last weekend was full-on in a way that can only mean August in Edinburgh is here and it’s therefore difficult to say no to events and shows and friends and the pub and all manner of great things which, when layered deep over three straight days, take the life out of you and mean you will be in recovery all week.

So this weekend I have spent largely alone, save for a few digital chats and the necessary social interactions required to buy things and exist in the world outside my flat. I’ve not had a proper, in-person conversation with a human being since Friday. Despite my previous post, this is perfectly fine.

I made a lame effort to include people in my cinema trip yesterday but no one was available, so it turned into the most wonderful and luxuriously indulgent of one of my favourite activities: going to the movies alone.

I took myself on a date and it was fucking glorious.

I didn’t limit this date to a film. Hell no. I know how to treat myself sometimes. I have plenty of that sort of energy to focus, and when you remove everyone else there is to try to take care of, you’re left with you, after all.

I eschewed the bus and took a long walk to the other side of town to listen to some podcasts. I sat in the Filmhouse Café Bar with a large glass of wine and a book for an hour and a half. Then I podcasted it up again on the walk home, bought a bad supermarket oven pizza (confirming once again my belief that chicken on pizza is and always will be wrong, just don’t keep trying it, Kate) drank more wine and watched the first episode of The Get Down on Netflix, which was hopeful and electrifying in the way only something about music can be.

But this did all orbit around my own plan to see Maggie’s Plan. It’s been two months since I’ve been to the cinema, and even longer since I’ve been alone, and that’s too long. Because here’s the wonderful thing about going to see a movie by yourself: there are absolutely no distractions or demands on your time or emotions except the thing in front of you. You turn off your phone, you sit in the dark, and you are captive. You can work through your own shit in your head in relation to what’s on the screen in front of you. You don’t have to share your snacks or the booze you snuck in. You can stay as long as you want through the credits or not at all. And you don’t have to talk about any of it right away.

I love going to the movies with friends as well, but it takes me a long time to process things I’ve just seen, and I find it difficult and intimidating to have a meaningful conversation about a movie that just ended 5 minutes ago. I am also remarkably oblivious to symbolism and subtext to an almost embarrassing degree for someone who made it her undergraduate business to read and respond to literature. In post-film-watching discussion, someone will casually refer to a detail of a plotline and I’ll be embarrassed for myself for not having noticed such a glaringly obvious feature of the story without a few hours of reflection.

I am a bad critic and I am less observant than people give me credit for. Perhaps this is related to my inability to recognize people in the street. But it makes the dissection of something I’ve just watched, film or theatre, into an anxiety-inducing prospect. So August in Edinburgh is, for me, simultaneously wonderful and internally terrifying. I usually just feel like an idiot who walked into the wrong classroom. Thank god there’s beer in just about every one.

I read a review for Maggie’s Plan a few weeks ago in The Skinny and it sounded like it fit nicely into the broader subjects dominating my life at the moment, so I needed to see it. It wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t bad. It was predictable but some of the writing was so perfect it made up for its larger flaws. Julianne Moore’s character was such a badass. I love Greta Gerwig since seeing Frances Ha (and I wanted all her shoes in this film). And it’s impossible to dislike Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader. So in general, it was an appreciated and much-needed diversion.

I forget the specific phrasing, but there’s a bit where Maggie is talking to John about always talking his ex wife down from her meltdowns, and says, you’ve got me to talk you down from yours, but what about when I meltdown? And he says don’t worry, obviously you’ll talk yourself down. So she says something like, ‘So just because everyone thinks I have it all together, I don’t deserve any attention?!’ And it was like someone ripped the dialogue from my deepest-seeded insecurities.

realpersonI liked Frances Ha because of the illustration of how it feels to be completely scattered among people who seem to have it together in ways you feel you never will, and maybe don’t even need to (and also: ‘Unnnnn-datable’). But aside from a few tiny details, I’m nothing like Frances. I’m much, much more like control-freak Maggie. With the undying compulsion to take care of everyone and impose a ‘things organized neatly’ frame on everything I touch, often to the detriment of my personal sanity. I enjoy it, but it would be the death of me if I didn’t work on reining it in all the time.

Maggie later says, tearful and breaking-point overwhelmed from failing to fix everything just-so, and in a more funny than depressing way, ‘I’m just so tired of being… ME.’ To which, my inner dialogue said, ‘Oh, I FEEL YOU, SISTER.’ This is some exhausting shit and it is no one’s fault but my own.

Sometimes you need this sort of comedy to laugh at how ridiculous you know you are.

The Atomic Hypothesis

Because I am a weirdo and I have a compulsion to keep my gmail inbox down to a tightly-curated one-page group of things that constitutes an extended and occasionally aspirational to-do-list-slash-personal-guilt-trip, I have, since September of 2012, kept this – one of my favourite quotes – as the standing last message in my box.

If, in some cataclysm*, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

– Richard Feynman

I emailed it to myself back then as a bookend, both for a period of my life and a little reminder I could conveniently run into every time I did a filing job on my digital everything. It’s positive and beautiful and embodies everything I love about Feynman and creativity and science and life. Of course it takes on a different meaning every time I read it.

I ran into it again last night. This time it socked me in the gut.

As a long-single, unapologetically feminist, bossy, independent woman of the world, people don’t really expect you to announce publicly that this also often equates to a lot of loneliness.

I’m quite happy with my ability to be on my own and do whatever the fuck I want, whenever I want, and make questionable financial and adventure and position-of-bedtime decisions along the way. However, I am a grown-ass woman among a sea of very good friends in committed, supportive relationships. I am overjoyed for them, because it makes me happy to see people I love happy and lucky in love. But it’s an immensely frustrating spot to be in, particularly when many of them have not been in that spot for a very, very long time, and certainly not At This Age.

This has come to the surface increasingly often lately, perhaps bizarrely because I’m living my life more the way I want to than I ever have before, which is rewardingly difficult but also makes it into something I want to share even more.

At the end of the day, I have a pen and a keyboard to talk to about the problems that come with steering your life where you want it rather than an intelligent, engaged human being. The longer this goes on, the more I fear I’m losing the ability to communicate properly with that human being who will hopefully be there at some point in the future. Sort of in the way that living on my own for 5 years has already made me much worse at being a flatmate.

A page does not have useful, informed opinions to engage with. And I can apply as much imagination and thinking and editing and consideration to written words. Not so much to realtime human interaction.

I am smart enough to know that having a partner does not solve your problems. I also have lots of very good friends (single AND partnered) who help me pick apart my often over-anxious, too-hard-on-myself brain addled with modern life problems. But the best of friends is still not the same as a partner in plenty of significant ways.

I’m not saying this to whine about being single. I’m saying this because it’s not often addressed and that makes it feel whiney to admit in real life, and that seems unfair.

To the extent that it’s a problem at all, singledom is not a problem you can solve like most others, so it’s easy to get moody when you can’t seem to work that shit out. Especially when you’re able to work out most of your other worldly problems by applying the aforementioned imagination and thinking.

All the creativity and logic in the world cannot bring you the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time, both mentally and physically, to meet someone you click with who, quite importantly, is ALSO in that right place.

I read a lot of books and listen to a lot of smart people’s takes on this. Comfortingly, the general consensus is that finding a partner these days is REALLY FUCKING HARD WORK. Like harder than ever before. Thank you, internet. Thank you, phone life. Thank you, paralysingly endless choice. Thank you, increasingly disconnected human beings. This also makes the work of a relationship itself harder, and I fully acknowledge that. But at least if you’re in one you’re over that one massive hurdle.

And yes I have tried online dating and it is not something I look down on, but it has done nothing but make me feel like a horrible, undesirable commodity. (If you want to understand a little bit about that, listen to this episode of The Allusionist. Being yourself in the world of online dating gets you absolutely nowhere. Which funnily enough, we know because of science!)

Self-care and common sense dictates that I avoid things that make me feel like garbage, so I’m chugging along the old fashioned way, trying to live my life and let it happen.

My friends go home to their partners. I go home alone. Occasionally this doesn’t matter. Occasionally it’s even awesome. Most of the time though, it’s a sharp reminder at the end of the night. When I subsequently also have to remind myself I am in perpetual motion just like everyone else, and tomorrow will be different. And the next day. And the next day.


*Let us, for a moment, step aside and acknowledge what a fucking stellar word ‘cataclysm’ is. This at LEAST 10% of the reason I love this quote.

On balance

When I was maybe about 6 or 7, I was pretty into gymnastics. I did some kind of classes at the YMCA, and whenever tumbling and mats and balance beams and all that crap came out in gym class, I was well up for it.

This was before I shot up too much in height. Before I became over-aware of my above-average stature. Before I let my naturally higher centre of gravity get the better of my brain. I did cartwheels and flips and at least attempted things like parallel and uneven bars without worry of what I would look like or whether I’d be much good at it. And I looked at girls on TV in the Olympics and thought, DUDE, I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT, THAT IS AWESOME.

Then one day I was messing around and took a running jump at a knee-slide across the floor and somehow hurt my ankle. Not enough to send me to any kind of emergency room or anything, or even to mention it to my parents (I guess I thought they’d be mad or something), just enough for me to limp off and be very suddenly thrown into that period of life when fear of pain prevents you from trying things you’d not have thought twice about when completely carefree and small.

This is the first memory I have of feeling like that. Maybe that’s the start of growing up.

Then the gymnastics dream was really squashed when I started being told I was ‘just too tall’ to be a gymnast. Yeah. That. And the good old tall girl standard: ‘Why don’t you try basketball?’ That shit started EARLY. But I’ll tell you what – I’m fucking terrible at basketball. They put me on the middle school team almost certainly because of my height, and then never played me because they realised their mistake.

This was kind of a relief as far as I was concerned because I had no interest in playing, but it was also annoying because my parents wouldn’t let me quit before the end of the season. So it meant I had to go to practice with a bunch of girls who weren’t very nice to me, and then sit mostly on the bench during games, being bored but told to look involved because team spirit or whatever. This just gave a lot of those girls extra fodder for giving me shit for not being good enough. But I didn’t freaking WANT to be. I wanted to be doing flips and handstands. I wanted to be overcoming the terror of being a giant in a sea of average height. Or at least, you know, having more time to read books by myself and be on the MathCounts team.

I’m sure there was a lesson in the entire experience, but I can never help but wonder if being actively discouraged from pursuing gymnastics due to factors completely out of my control was the start of pushing my ability to maintain balance downward. Just, you know, in life, in general. Because if there is one thing I am rubbish at, it is balance, in every form and incarnation. Physical, mental, emotional, work/life, social/antisocial, eating, drinking, standing on one foot without wobbling. All of it.

About a year ago, I was reading Bobby White’s Swungover post on partnership in dancing (a fantastic thing you should read) which includes this aside that I now think about almost daily.

I want to steer us into a side alley at this point to talk about why we often feel incompetent in a dance practice. Modern middle-class people (which comprise almost the entire modern swing scene), simply put, are not good at body movement because most of us pretty much checked off walking, running, sitting, standing, and throwing a ball and then decided to take a break. Until a decade or two later when we suddenly discover swing dancing and all of a sudden we curse ourselves for not having those types of parents who shoved us into dance classes as soon as we got cocky with all the walking. We now have the incredibly infuriating process of trying to do things that are often simple in concept but incredibly hard to carry out. And as adults who’ve mastered so many aspects to life, we’re not used to that. It’s like if you’re right-handed and suddenly try to write an entire paragraph with your left hand — you feel confused and incompetent. So, in the dancing sense, because you haven’t daily trained your body to respond to complicated movements with finesse since you were young, your entire body is now a left hand.

I mean.

Nail. On. Head.

I have been thinking a lot about balance in every part of my life, mostly because I now have a regular reminder of how my own physical balance is horrendous. I can’t help but wonder if only I was encouraged in different ways when I was much younger, would I have better ways to maintain my own ability to keep my feet under me and support my own weight? Literally AND philosophically. Did I lose the tools for this as people more or less told me that things like my height meant I couldn’t possibly HAVE those tools?

I spent all last week at SwingSummit, which was hard work in the best possible way – there are exactly zero ways that practicing swingouts on an open air dance floor in the gorgeous mountains of southern France every day can fail to be incredible.

I’m not going to write about at length because picking apart a week of intense swing dance camp nerdery is just not interesting to most non-obsessed human beings. But one of the best things it did was give me some new tools for working on keeping my feet and my weight where I’d like them to be. And perhaps indirectly, a bit of training on the kind of balance I’m working even harder to achieve inside my head. Or if we’re following Bobby White’s stellar metaphor – training for full mind-body ambidextrousity.

Most people would not consider working harder on your holiday than you do in your normal life ‘balance’, but I just think of it as being a foil for people who sit and do absolutely nothing on their holidays. Plus, I already did nothing for a week on a beach in Cambodia and hated every boring minute of it. So we have established that I am not the best at sitting still.

But some things other than dancing happened last week too. I stayed away from the internet and all forms of media for seven full, glorious days. I had a whale of a time lazing in a rural French supermarket parking lot talking sweat management with a bunch of guys while we waited for our laundry to finish. I sat on a beat-up outdoor swinging bench seat idly chatting, looking at the mountains, and swatting at flies for over two hours without moving more than the swing itself.

I’ve not managed relaxation like that for longer than I can remember. Somehow this time, it came pretty naturally.

When the apocalypse comes, I know where I want to run

I just got back from an idyllic weekend up north with friends and I still can’t handle reading the interweb, or even thinking much about what the hell is going on. So instead I will tell you what I learned far, far away from WiFi and mobile reception.*

  • The Spanish can turn a phrase like none other.
  • The Shim Sham can (and should) be done to nearly anything with a beat, but most importantly, Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’.
  • The cure for a hangover is the top of a hill and a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer. The jury is out on whether or not hail also helps.
  • Every body of water in Scotland is warmer than Lake Baikal is in December, and this is how I convince myself I absolutely must get in when given the chance.
  • Midges are some kind of award-winning level of awful. (But they’re still better than Nigel Farage.)
  • Economies of scale are for real. I still can’t believe how little we paid for the amount of food and booze we consumed. I guess this highlights one of the only downsides of living alone. More big, communal dinners, please!
  • Watching beer freeze instantly upon opening is better than watching probably 95% of what’s on television these days.
  • 3.30am is a fine time for a walk. I recommend you bring a bottle of port, too.
  • Three words: Slow. Motion. Video.
  • This country. Let me tell you. In any light or weather, at every time of day. Scotland is beautiful.

*Note that this is not nearly an exhaustive list.

I wish we didn’t have to leave our paradise as soon as we did.

HOWEVER. I think my next project will be creating some regular forms of escape for the wider population. If everyone had weekends like we just had – even once a year – the world would be a nicer place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to not reading the interweb for a while.

I suggest you do the same.

Yes, I am angry

As an American living abroad, I have been trying for a long, long time to figure out how I continue to help and even relate to a place I have voluntarily left behind. Home is not America for me. Home is Scotland and I am British, and I cannot split myself in two. We have our own problems here, and it’s impossible to devote equal care and action to both places, particularly when one is an ocean away.

But while the pitifully lacking sentencing of a convicted rapist and the mass shooting attack on a community that never gets to take a deep breath are American problems, rape culture and hateful, violent crimes are worldwide problems. They are inequality problems. And they are worth all the fight we can muster.

There’s that thing about the definition of insanity being that you do the same over and over and expect different results. But I don’t think anyone expects anything at all anymore. Not in America.

When I was about 20 and sitting in a hostel in Cesky Krumlov talking to an Australian guy who was on a round-the-world trip, he was telling me he’d love to go to the US but he was too scared. Because doesn’t everyone have a gun? Why are there so many guns?

I firmly reassured him that no way, dude, unless you’re specifically in a rough neighbourhood, on the whole, you’re pretty safe. Guns were around, but in my privileged, white, middle class experience, they were not a thing I worried about. Columbine had already happened, but mass shootings were not yet the norm.

But now? In addition to everything else, there have been incidents with guns at both my high school and, indirectly, my college. Guns ARE everywhere. I am still shocked when I hear news of guns in the UK, but gun violence, including mass shooting, is so standard in the US that as the first trickle of news of Orlando came through, before there were any details, it wasn’t even remotely surprising.

If I had that same conversation with that Australian today, I’d be more sympathetic to his views. Things have changed. They’ve gotten worse. My friends are having kids and they are worried. I do not actively fear being in public when I do go to the US, but I am uneasy in general, in a way I never was before.

Generally it is a good, sensible thing that our President doesn’t have absolute power, but it’s been obvious for a long time how frustrated Obama is about his inability to make effective changes to gun control because they won’t get through Congress.

Meanwhile the government spends so much time and energy making everything BUT getting a gun harder. Making women’s rights and healthcare a total minefield. Making something as everyday as going to the goddamned bathroom into an absolute nightmare for Trans people.

This post started two weeks ago when I was feeling rage about the joke of a sentence Brock Turner got for being a dipshit horrendous rapist. But it grew quickly to be about all of the things the US cannot seem to solve. And while I was still waffling about how to frame it, the senseless hate-fueled violence hopped the pond – last week Jo Cox, an MP who routinely stood up for immigrants, was stabbed and shot on her way home from regular office hours for her constituents. I can only hope that’s not a sign of things to come for this country.

20 years ago, there WAS a mass shooting in the UK. It was in a primary school in Dunblane. On 13 March 1996, a 43-year-old former scout leader shot sixteen school children and their teacher, Gweneth Mayor, in Dunblane Primary School’s gym. He then shot himself. Assault weapons were already banned here, but he used legally obtained handguns.

In a conversation we had just after Sandy Hook, Kristina told me about how fast the gun laws changed in the UK after Dunblane. In 1997, the UK passed laws banning private possession of handguns almost completely. Even the UK’s Olympic shooters fall under this ban and are unable to train in England, Scotland, or Wales.

Since then, there was one incident in Cumbria in 2010 where a taxi driver went on a spree killing. But mass shootings are otherwise unheard of here, and we have one of the lowest rates of gun homicide in the world. Even police don’t usually carry guns.

Yes. That’s right. Even the police don’t carry guns. Do you know how NICE that is?

How it is that a similar change has not already happened in the US baffles me.

I have been told by many, including my own father, when discussing misogyny and the bullshit women put up with, that I can’t get so angry about things. But I disagree. I can get angry. I am angry. I will stay angry.

Women are told all our lives that being angry isn’t attractive or ladylike. Fuck that. Anger is productive. Anger doesn’t make me bitter or horrible or unhappy – it makes me active.

I will stay angry as long as rapists are getting away with it. I will stay angry as long as, as Mali said, it’s easier to buy an assault rifle than a golden retriever in America. I will stay angry as long as people are targets of hate because of who they love. I will stay angry so that I’m not complacent.

Anger and love are not mutually exclusive. I am full of both. What would change without anger? Without love? They the most potent motivators I know.

One of the most frustrating things about being a woman is being told by a man – and this happens ALL THE TIME – that they are a feminist ‘but…’ insert any number of things that are a woman’s fault or that we shouldn’t complain about so much or aren’t we overreacting just a little bit or shouldn’t we just be a little stronger in the face of abuse or a little more conservative in the way we dress and on and on and on.

And trying and trying and trying to make a man realise that they will never understand what it is like to feel an entire movement is resting on your shoulders. To question yourself for hours on whether or not you should speak up in return, because all your life you’ve been told to pick your battles, which is valid advice in general, but in terms of feminism, we really need to pick more of them.

If you think picking more battles makes me a pain in the ass, well, maybe you should examine WHY you feel that way.

And then think of what a pain in the ass it is to always just a little bit fear for your personal safety when you walk home alone in the dark, even if that fear is just sitting in the back of your mind in a corner. What a pain in the ass it is to feel lucky that you’ve never experienced more than low-level street harassment that all women experience.

Let me reiterate that. To feel LUCKY you have never been sexually assaulted or raped. It should have nothing to do with luck. But that’s how I, and plenty of other women, feel about it.

To constantly work against the society ingrained notion that what I’m wearing or drinking or saying is responsible for what happens to me, not the actual person DOING it. To constantly have to remind people that it is not our responsibility as women to fix the system.

To see that somehow, even today, a hateful, racist, misogynist, scumbag of a human being has managed to get as far as the Republican nomination for leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, and to watch the Democratic nominee constantly take extra shit because she is a woman (historic! Finally!) and extra extra shit because her opponent is who he is.

To know you always have to fight a little bit harder, but that aggressively asking for what you deserve is seen as an undesirable trait for you while the man across the room aggressively asking for what he deserves is seen as strong and effective.

To do all of this anyway and take extra abuse for it in the process. Because if you don’t suck it up and handle the backlash, fewer people will join you in doing the same and nothing will ever change.

And then having men tell you you’re overreacting or taking it too seriously or being ridiculous.

Yeah. That is enough to make anyone crazy, right?

But I’m the pain in the ass.

And that’s just being a woman. You know who takes even MORE shit? The LGBTQ community. To have something as hateful as a mass shooting happen to a community of people who already have to deal with so much fear and persecution. To have the safe spaces they have worked so hard to build for themselves violated in the face of baseless hate. To see them unable to help their community because there are ACTUAL FUCKING LAWS against it.

But, you know, god forbid you take away our right to have an automatic weapon in our home. Because that is helping everyone, isn’t it?

Feminism is equality. Simple. And all of these problems come from some people’s inability to see others as equal. Because of gender, sexual orientation, mental health. We need to fix the way we look at all of these things as a society. Particularly in America.

And what am I doing? I am making noise. I’m writing to representatives. I’m talking to everyone who will listen and even some who won’t. I’m donating time and money and love. I’m being an ally. I’m being a woman.

Stop asking me what I’m doing and start asking what you can do.

My life is awesome. The lives of my female and LGBTQ friends are also awesome. But the standard, inbuilt obstacles associated with being who we are regularly exhaust and frustrate the best of us. We can’t just DO something – we have to navigate the bullshit at the same time. But we are all on the same team. We don’t stop working or fighting. We have productive anger, and we have endless reserves of love.

It is easy to be an ally. All you need to do is acknowledge what it is like for someone else. Don’t diminish them by competing with your own problems. Don’t try to one-up or match. If you feel your own problems relate, then use them as a way to understand that sure, it is hard for you sometimes, but it’s harder for someone else.

Listen. Think. Believe them. Fight WITH them.

Flawless Plans

Just a short one today, because I feel compelled to point out my friend’s fantastic blog, Flawless Plans, that everyone should be reading.

For someone who writes a travel blog, I don’t really read a lot of travel blogs. I tend to hate them. I find single entries really useful for planning things but I don’t like a lot of the writing I find enough to add travel blogs to my regular interweb reading roster.

Then my friend Mali, who I went to college with, started tracking her family’s drive across the US and eventual flight to New Zealand to live and work for a year. And I am so in love with it. I have been reminded again how talented the people I went to school with are, especially in the writing department, and that makes me really happy.

It’s hard work keeping a regular post schedule going. To do it while traveling is even harder. And to do it with two small children to take care of, and do it WELL, is incredible and commendable, and has been producing on-point and often deeply hilarious results.

I have been able to relate to a lot of what Mali is writing even from a completely divergent life path. This may be partially because she is my friend, but I think it’s mostly because she is (and always has been) blisteringly honest and willing to deal out some pretty personal, internal stuff in a beautifully-written way.

I won’t ramble on more about it. Just do yourself a favour and go read Flawless Plans. It is genuinely fantastic.