Thursday, 22 March 2018

Delicious Lies

Does not happen now.
Why do some of us become obsessed with television shows? I am asking this assuming that other people get obsessed with television shows. The secret of my advice-giving success is the insight that my mind is probably only about 10% unique and the rest of it can be classified as Human Female, and therefore things that work for me might work for other Human Females, 90% of the time.

Part of my 10% uniqueness is a terror of mathematics, so don't quote me on those percentages.

I don't want to guess at how much the 90% of Human Female Mind is identical to that of 90% of Human Male Mind. Obviously there are similarities, but there are clearly differences. Interestingly, although men abuse drugs more than women do, apparently, women get addicted to them faster.

But I am not a scientist, so I will abandon any pretence at clinical-trial type objectivity and go with my gut. In short, I think the success of "Riverdale" is tied to its idealisation of the teenage years. It's not just the rapid pace, emotional zig-zags, palpitation-inducing blasts of Imagine Dragons' "Believer," and Archie's chest.  I admit I think those things have a lot to do with the dopamine surges I've been experiencing.  Well, not Archie's chest, which should have its own zip code. Tooooo alarming. But, really, it's the glorious chance to rewrite in our heads the ghastly experience of being teenagers.

First of all, very few of us were that good-looking as teenagers. Not only did we not look like Betty, Veronica and Cheryl, the boys did not look like Archie or Jughead. What we looked like, and what the boys who actually "liked" us looked like, was a source of great pain. Therefore, it comes as a great relief to identify with godlings from Mount Olympus (or wherever Hollywood found them).

Second, very few of us were that clever. Well, few of us were as clever as Jughead, Betty and Cheryl Blossom, who, though criminally insane, is rocking a 4.0.

One of the iconic moments of the show (and not just for me, I have discovered) is when TV-Jughead (who is 10% Original Jughead and 90% smouldering coal) appears at Betty's bedroom window at the top of a ladder and says, "Hey, Juliet. Nurse off-duty?

Okay, TV-Jughead is 15-going-on-16 when he delivers those immortal lines. In real life, 15-year-old-boys do not say things like that. We wish they did, but they didn't and don't. At least, not in my experience. Although I was at an all-girls' school, I arranged to be around teenage boys when I could, and no, they were not making clever allusions to Shakespeare.

Incidentally, Beloved is Betty's favourite book ever, and while I was so sick on Tuesday I wondered if never having read Beloved meant that I was a Bad Person.

Jughead, age 15/16, is writing a novel, and his model is Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which I haven't read either. When I was 15, I wasn't attempting to write a novel.  I was writing Star Trek fan fiction. On the other hand, I also wrote an extra scene for Romeo and Juliet as an English class project, and a dialogue between Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the suitability of Raymond Souster's poetry for study in my Catholic school.  My enthusiasm for literature was tempered by a deep, frowny suspicion for anything overtly erotic.

Jughead also makes allusions to Jean-Paul Sartre, which makes me wonder if we are supposed to believe that he (15/16) has actually read Jean-Paul Sartre.

In the interests of separating delicious lies about teenage life from the plodding truth, I now invite readers to tell me what you were reading and writing by choice when you were teenagers, specifically between the ages of 15 and 17, if you remember in that much detail. I did read Sylvia Path at about 13, I suddenly recall. It's not out of the realm of the possible.

Oh, and also: did you ever ride a motorcycle, as either driver or passenger, as a teen? Your humble correspondent did not, although she came close at the age of 27 when she got lost on Capri and a 20-something mechanic gave her a ride back to civilisation on the back of his Vespa.

Did not happen then. 

I have a theory that the writers of "Riverdale", being writers, identify with TV-Jughead because he IS a writer, and therefore have made him, not Archie, the real star of the show. That they have given him a tattoo, a motorcycle, and the crazy blonde is surely evidence of this theory.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Dating Project

I did not get an wink of sleep on Monday night and as a result was ill all Tuesday. But the bright side of that was that I had an internet fast. That was great because---screen addiction.

How many human beings are addicted to the internet, I wonder. How many are actually addicted to television? How many people are addicted to the rage that surges through them when they read about things that make them mad? I worry about this a lot now, for reasons obvious to my newest readers.

So I was very happy that this week I had the opportunity to write about something that made me happy: an article about The Dating Project movie.

(I also planned a follow-up to this article on an eye-opening homily, so consulted Polish Pretend Son, who pelted me with colourful insults, and his pal The Giant, who didn't.)

I wish more professors made asking someone out on an a chaste, alcohol-free date a prerequisite for passing their courses. Kerry Cronin, the angel of the Lonergan Research Institute, as she really was (and probably still is), used to make it an optional part of her course.  However, she discovered that few students actually went through with it because they were just too scared.

Kerry makes girls ask out boys, not just the boys ask the girls, which I would normally not recommend, but as her motives are educational, I think it at least makes girls consider just how frightening asking a girl out really is for a guy. I read somewhere (or heard from Jordan Peterson) that the terror involved in asking out a girl is directly proportionate to how much the boy likes her, so I'm amazed to think now how totally in love with me most boys were in the 1980s.

Just kidding.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Jughead, Neuroplasticity and Addiction to Melodrama


I became interested in cognitive science in my early thirties after arriving at theology school. My theologate is one of less than a handful that specialises in the thought of the Canadian philosopher-theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J. Lonergan's magnum opus was Insight, an 800 page tome on how our minds move from questioning ("x+y=?") to knowing ("z!"). I found it very hard to read, but after I finished my "Insight" course, I was never afraid of reading a book again. My brain had literally been reshaped into an organ that could read very difficult (but not obscurantist) philosophy.

Lonergan was interested in introspection, by which I mean watching yourself think as you think. He was influenced by Saint Thomas Aquinas, of course, but also by the founder of his order, St. Ignatius of Loyola. The great Basque saint wrote a serious of spiritual exercises to assist Christians in developing and examining our consciences, which is highly useful for, as one priest-professor once suggested, it could be that we confess the wrong things. We think we are X and our problem is Y, but the bitter truth may be that we are A and our problem is B. Only a serious (and usually painful) struggle can get us to the truth about ourselves.

I found this fascinating because hitherto I had operated in the world not according to how the world was, but how I thought it should be.  I also laboured under a lot of misconceptions, as did most people when I was a child in the 1970s and 1980s. The most damaging one was that intelligence and talents are "fixed". But I've written about that before. Suffice it to say that I do think some people are born with a greater aptitude for some highly prized skills then others, but also that with enough passion, work and stubbornness, the rest of us can catch up to, and even surpass, most of them. 

There are some physical factors in that. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercising help the brain's ability to learn. But other factors are psychological. For example, a great help to concentrating for the duration of a 90 minute class is practising concentrating for 90 minutes on the subject of that class several times a week. A great help to understanding someone who speaks another language is spending a set time every day listening to people speaking that language. Externals matter. 


And at last I come to Jughead, who is an important character in the Archie comics series and therefore also an important character in the Netflix series "Riverdale." Benedict Ambrose and I found that Netflix comes with our emergency flat in the Historical Tenement, and after watching the Unabomber series, we stumbled upon "Riverdale". 

Hitherto B.A. (Scottish) had never heard of Archie, Veronica, Betty, Reggie, Jughead and the gang, but he gamely agreed to give "Riverdale" a go. Unfortunately he now thinks it is trashy, juvenile and melodramatic. Well, it is trashy, juvenile and melodramatic. It is also incredibly addictive.

After watching 2-3 episodes a night of Season One, and not being able to sleep because I was too excited by all the craziness that is life in Riverdale, I decided that I had to stop watching it. For one thing, I would never allow a child or teenager to watch such a wicked program, whose underlying messages include "Teenagers know much better than their stupid parents"; "Casual sex with your friends is peachy-keen"; "If an attractive adult seduces a teenager, the best thing to do is move her on to the next town"; and "Depressed loners with alcoholic fathers make the best boyfriends."

How happy I am that the actor playing Jughead was not 15 but 24 when Season One aired because otherwise I would feel as creepy as statutory rapist Ms Grundy (who stole the name from the real Miss Grundy) actually was.  The series betrays Archie comics in some very important ways, but at least it preserves Jughead's grumpiness. "Grumpy" in the TV Riverdale, however, means snarling references to Jean-Paul Sartre and looking like you haven't had a good night's sleep in years. 

Now despite the fact I retrained myself years ago to avoid snarling wannabe philosophers who watch obscure films, read Sartre and lie awake at night thinking dark thoughts*, I rejoiced when Jughead broke Archie comics canon law and [RIVERDALE SEASON ONE PLOT SPOILER] kissed Betty. 

At first I thought that this was because I have been of the opinion for 35 years that the only solution to the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle was for Jughead to rush in and claim Betty for himself. But as Jughead was not interested in anything but hamburgers, this seemed unlikely. It seemed even more unlikely later when distant rumours from Pop Culture Land reached me that Jughead was going to be canonically deemed "asexual" as in LGBTQA asexual. 

However, last night when dark fell, I became very anxious and declared that we would watch "Riverdale" after all. So we did--three juicy episodes in which, to my joy, Jughead ceased being kindly and dull and had a nice dark hissy-fit again. At that point I realised that my fickle heart had moved on from Jordan Peterson and glommed onto Television-Jughead. But what was really pathetic, was that it was BAD, SNARLY Jughead that it loved. 

As Jordan Peterson would say, "What the hell is going on here?"

Addiction to Melodrama

I fear it was the melodrama, and more than ever I feel that children and teenagers should be forbidden to watch "Riverdale" and because melodrama is mental and spiritual sugar: sweet and deadly.

Addiction to melodrama both distorts the very important quest to see the world as it is and not as how you would like it to be, and uses up time you could be doing something more productive. Externals matter. Tell me what you watch on TV, listen to on your i-Pod and what you tweet, and I will tell you who you are. I am shaking in my shoes about the Youth Synod because it seems that the bishops are going to be forced to listen to young Catholics (or CINOS) who have been plugged into non-Catholic pop culture for 20 years.

"Why cannot the Church be cool like 'Riverdale'?" 

I have more to say about this, but I have to go to Mass through snow, which in Edinburgh can be perilous as Scots Lowlanders don't have snow tires and or the foggiest clue how to drive in snow. 

*Benedict Ambrose taught philosophy for nine years and took a whole course on Sartre, but he prefers art galleries to obscure films and sleeps long and late. He is also very kind-hearted and strangely drama-free. 

Update: There are, of course, more reasons to object to "Riverdale", including the very ancient American anti-Catholic trope of being imprisoned in a Roman Catholic convent with Mean Nuns.

Update 2: Managed not to watch "Riverdale" on Sunday. Temperance win!

Update 3: Watched Brooklyn instead so now B.A. is wandering around the flat making unflattering remarks in an Irish accent about Colm Toibin.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

What to Wear? What to Wear? (Wrings hands)

As I I did not have more important things to worry about, I am stressed over what to wear to Polish Pretend Son's wedding 2.5 months from now.

My stress began when I was in Toronto and I dragged my friend Trish (who has a car) to various fabric shops. We ended up in Fabricland before I realised I didn't like any of the patterns except for the mock-mediaeval gown. It was clearly a mistake for women to move on from 14th century fashion. However, it would also be mistake to go swanning into the Basilica of Saint Mirosława the Miserable in a mock-mediaeval gown. It wasn't even authentic; there was something wrong about the fastening, as Trish (expert) pointed out. 

We left before I could wig out over the pattern books, and that night I had a very bad dream in which Trish was in love with a Stalin-Putin hybrid, but he was in love with me. It was quite an uncomfortable situation, and I was very relieved when I woke up. 

A blogpost has suggested that one should not wear to Polish weddings what one wears to English ones (e.g. lovely hats) but instead pick something one could wear to a high-end disco. 

Unfortunately I have not the slightest idea what one wears to a high-end disco.  The last time I went out dancing it was to Balkanarama and I dressed like this: 

Excitingly, although I was with two young female colleagues of my husband, I was the first one to get chatted up. This may be because young British men have a soft spot for the over-35 set, or maybe it was a sneaky trick to lower my companions' confidence so they would talk to simply anyone afterwards. I suspect one day this will stop happening and I will have to get ego-boosts from elsewhere. On the other hand, elderly widowers would approach my grandmother when she was visiting the cemetery and invite her to the adjacent McDonald's. It's not over till it's over. 

I came across this "high-end disco" advice very recently. Until then I was gazing at splendid English gowns I cannot afford. (See here and here.) As I always say, British shops have splendid dresses for women, so it is a shame British women do not wear them more often. Although I keep staring at the website for my go-to (and bought this little bargain on my lunch break), I cannot find a dress that says "I am the perfect dress for traditional June weddings in Poland!" 

So naturally I am asking for advice. I like long and floaty with sleeves, the budget goes no higher than £200, and I prefer to buy British. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Pink Sunday

It was lovely to find myself in the choir stalls at the back of church again. Naturally I do not really belong in the stalls, not being in the minute choir, but the choristers stick to the right side, leaving the left side free for interlopers. And as the choir stalls are slightly raised, there is a view of the congregation from there. I have always liked to look at the congregation,

It was Laetare Sunday, so rose vestments were the order of the day, although the only actually pink thing I remember at Mass was our priest's stole. Such cheerful things as liturgical colours were driven from my mind by the news from the pulpit that one of the tea ladies had been hit by a double-decker bus and was lying very badly injured in hospital. It is a terrible thing to have happened to a very sweet old lady who is not only a pillar of the TLM community but a tireless campaigner for noble causes.

When I got back to the Historical Tenement I looked up "pensioner" "hit by bus" and "Edinburgh" on the internet and discovered that this was not a unique occurrence. I swiftly found news stories about two other pensioners and a heavily pregnant woman who were also hit by Edinburgh busses recently.

After Benedict Ambrose had a nap, we went back out into the city and got on one of its lethal busses towards Portobello. Our destination was a Laetare Sunday supper, and according to tradition, all the food was pink.  In the sitting-room, we had pink lemonade-and-gin cocktails with slices of delicious Serrano ham and "ham"-flavoured crisps. Then dinner began with pink soup (beetroot, cream and red onion), followed by boiled pork and pink potatoes and then raspberry fool and "Cherry Lambrini."

The "Cherry Lambrini" is a Pink Sunday joke, really. It tastes a lot like cherry Kool-aid, and a teenager could drink a bottle of it quite innocently and not understand afterwards how she got so drunk. For once I was a bit sad I have (mostly) weened myself from sugar because otherwise Cherry Lambrini would be a wonderful drink. If I were still interested in clubbing (and could still drink sweet things), that is what I would drink before a night on the tiles.

Cherry Lambrini seems to have made me quite nostalgic for my youth--or some imagined youth that featured Cherry Lambrini instead of Mike's Hard Lemonade, a rather disgusting Canadian concoction that fuelled my dance floor exuberance when I was in my late twenties.

The entertainment during supper, besides our own highly amusing company, was youtube videos of processions and masses in Spain, and also Dudley Moore's splendid spoof on Benjamin Britten's folk song arrangements:

This last was thanks to my brother Nulli's and our friend Red Mezzo's concert in rural Quebec when my mum and I were there a week-and-a-half ago. I mentioned their programme in the hopes of eliciting a musical conversation I might actually understand, and said that I didn't like Britten's folk song arrangements, which opinion did not enrage my hearers although they clearly thought his folk song arrangements are fine. What got them agitated was my statement that Widor's "Toccata in F" is secular and was written not for a Mass but for concerts, which is just about the only thing about music I actually know.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The French Cafe

On Friday evenings around 7:30 PM, if I have put in a solid day's work, I shut my laptop and do an energetic happy dance. One of the many wonderful things about full-time, Monday to Friday work is that there really is such a thing as a weekend. Saturday is no longer just Tuesday with bigger crowds.

That said, there is a surprisingly large number of tourists around. Benedict Ambrose says that this is to be expected, and I suppose it is, now that we are no longer off the beaten tourist trail. Although not actually at the Heart of Midlothian, I could stroll over and spit on it on my lunch break.

My circadian rhythms are still off-beat, so I slept very late, ruining the best part of the day. It wasn't until eleven o'clock that B.A. and I stepped out into the pouring rain and hurried to the French cafe. This was the third morning in a row that we went to that cafe, and once again it was full of foreigners. This time there were as many Italians as French-speakers. I suspect the cafe may have featured in a continental tourist guide under the chapter heading: "British Food: How to Stay Safe."

As a matter of fact, the British have learned a thing or two about cooking since Elizabeth David first set pen to olive oil-stained paper, but continentals have a hard time believing that. This may be because they have made the mistake of eating "croissants" at Costa or Caffe Nero or sampled the meatish pies steaming under the lights at Gregg's.  I would have to be very hungry indeed before I ate any standard High Street offering, and our new cafe is one of the only three Edinburgh places I would buy a croissant with any sense of joy and anticipation.

Even Brew Lab does not offer a good croissant; it is to weep.

Fortunately, the French cafe is even closer than Brew Lab, thanks to our urban exile. After our brunch and exploratory rummage in the Walker Slater outlet, we climbed our narrow winding staircase and settled down for a restful day of reading and study.

Study meant making up 70 flashcards of Polish vocabulary so basic, you would think I would have it perfectly hammered into my head by now, ready to spring forward for easy use as soon as it is required: words like the genitive form of "Edynburg" and the instrumental form of "week" and the adjectives "north", "south", "east" and "west" with their masculine, feminine and neuter endings.

Reading meant Tim Clare's  We Can't All Be Astronauts (2009), which I found in the cognitive neuroscience shelf at Central Library yesterday. Presumably it was supposed to be in "self-help" despite the tiny label at the bottom of the back cover pronouncing it to be "memoir."

It is quite a good book despite consisting of 300 pages of a millennial class traitor (male) hating himself, his friends and the universe because his Creative Writing class friends have all got great book deals and he doesn't.  (We know he's a class traitor because he mentions his roots in an apologetic way at least twice and denounces his hometown in colourfully scornful terms. He seems to be one of those formerly working-class kids who goes to uni and then alienates all his old friends and relations by asking them what they think of Japanese cinema and by saying "dinner" instead of "tea.")

What makes it a good book is that Clare employs an excellent technique for story-writing, and it is to figure out what one's hero wants more than anything in the world and then to prevent him from getting it.

Also, Clare is so abjectly miserable--and his friends so enormously successful--that I really did feel sorry for him and forgot that he had clearly got his book deal in the end. In addition, when I reflected that it had been a long time since I myself had got any fiction published, I felt very lucky that I actually do write for a living.

The best news story I wrote all week--as far as I can remember--was this one, and I'm glad I spent so much of Friday on it because it is the story of a woman who objects to the racist anti-racist campaign in her child's and grandchildren's school district. Unlike the CBC, it seems, I thought to ask her what her family background was and whether she or her family has experienced racism herself or themselves. Yes, she has, and yes, they have. The heroine of my story is a living, breathing anti-racism poster in herself, and I'd like to shake her hand. I was very pleased to be able to tell her that Jordan Peterson had tweeted in support of her concerns.

Alas that my story is not in the Top Five, but if you look at the Top Five, you will see why.

Incidentally, while I read Tim Clare's self-description of himself in stained shorts playing video games, I felt that he would have profited from a few Jordan Peterson videos, only I don't remember if there was youtube in 2007. One of the problems of our lifetime is that everything changes so rapidly, I can't remember what technology we had from year to year. We definitely had blogs in 2006, and I had work published online on a friend's online journal between 2002 and 2005. I didn't have a mobile phone before 2008, but other people did. My dad brought home a Commodore 64 in the 1980s and thanks to his work we had very early internet access, but I  typed my undergrad papers on my dear old electric typewriter until.... hmm....

This technological amnesia became an issue last night as we watched a made-for-Netflix drama about the Unabomber. I couldn't believe the computers were so clunky in 1995, or that they still had green cursors and letters. But now I am becoming completely off-topic. Suffice it to say that we are doing well, have access to superlative architecture, good coffee, excellent croissants, library books, wi-fi and Netflix.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

The Historical Tenement

Example of Historical Tenement
I'm back in Scotland after three weeks in Canada. Apologies to everyone I didn't have the opportunity to see. It was the first "visit home" in which I worked eight hours a day, Monday to Friday. Thus, I had a lot less time to sit around in cafes and kitchens.

The Historical House is still undergoing repairs, so B.A. led me from the train station to the Historical Tenement where we are currently staying. It's even older than the Historical House and in a very old neighbourhood, too. The interior of our flat is quite modern, except for the lovely 12-light and 18-light windows. It is small, but not too small for two people who are fond of each other.

To get to it one must climb a very steep and narrow winding staircase, and I was not a happy woman making the ascent wearing an overstuffed Osprey backpack. However, I was soon cheered up by the daffodils on the dining-nook table and by the sweet little kitchen with its interesting views. Also, we went out at once to have a milky coffee and a bun at a French cafe where the employees and a surprising number of patrons were themselves French.

I think this shall prove to be an interesting experiment in "living small", to say nothing of "living urban." The urban should make up for the small, but we will see.

A sad loss: Polish in 4 Weeks Part 2 fell out a pocket of my Osprey backpack somewhere between Toronto and Glasgow. This is a blow to my plan to review its grammar, to say nothing of my plan to memorise deeply all its vocabulary. However, I think I might be able to find a copy of Pi4W, P2 in the library, and for the time being I am still reviewing P1.