Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bambi is coming to town!

I only have time for a brief post, which may be a relief after the last few wordy ones, but I wanted to share some exciting news: my little sister is coming to stay with us! Okay, she's not my real sister (I have one brother, although my sis'-in-law is as dear to me as a sister ever could be, and with the added benefit of having avoided the awkward growing-up-together phase... anyway!), but she may as well be.

Amber is the eldest daughter of my Dad's best friend, and we've known each other forever. I was about 6 or 7 when she was born, so old enough to babysit (with the parents close at hand - like in the next room) once she was about 3, but young enough to still play, and ride skateboards, and pretend to live in a cave under my cabin bed. Yes, really. She's now 21, which is insane enough in itself, but more importantly, is getting on a plane in June and coming to stay with us for 10 days. I'm so excited! I didn't get to say goodbye to her properly before I left, so I miss her all the more, and I can't wait to catch up on her university adventures, and how the family are, and generally ALL THE THINGS.

In conclusion: YAY! I'm happier than a cow with cake, and that's pretty bloody happy.

Me, metaphorically speaking.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Isn't this enough?

"So the John Edwards trial is in Greensboro, across the street from the board of elections office. As I make my way for the second time today voters I find it truly ironic that the trial across the street is bc a man cheated on his wife who was dying of cancer and had a child out of wedlock w his mistress. He hid all this by "possibly" using campaign finances which is against the law. AND I'm having to vote on our state not amending the constitution to define marriage with a definition that excludes me, bc people think they are protecting the "sanctity of marriage" by blocking gays? AND if we win gays can't get married anyway but John Edwards is free to marry again and again and again if he so chooses. He can get married from jail if he wants to."
Quote from the 'Vote Against Amendment One' Facebook group, April 2012 

It was this quote that finally pushed me from actively shouting against Amendment One to wanting to write a full, thorough post about it. I can't vote yet, and won't be able to until I am a U.S. citizen (another three years from now), but last week I accompanied my dear friend Leah to the early voting for this Amendment, and wanted to say something more, even if it's just a blog. Before I get started (this is a cross-post from one I made on my personal Facebook page, so it would be bad written form to launch right into it as I did there), I want to briefly explain what Amendment One is. There is currently the potential for an amendment to be made to the North Carolina state constitution that would "provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized by this State". This means that not only are gay men and women 'doubly' banned from any legal union (as the law stands right now, same-sex partners cannot get a civil union here, never mind a marriage), but domestic partnerships and civil unions will no longer be recognised. To truly understand the impact that this Amendment would have, the video below explains it quickly and clearly.

As you can see, there are so many issues with this Amendment, and the effects would be incredibly widespread. This alone is worrying enough. The problem that I have, though, aside from being totally baffled at how anyone thinks this is a good idea, is the focus of the "for" campaign. It's basically been about protecting NC from gay people. I'm not kidding. A repeated theme of the pro-Amendment One side is getting the law passed in order to keep marriage sacred and "as god intended".

The "sanctity" of marriage is a concept, not a fact. Heterosexual couples are not somehow more able to appreciate the sacred bond of matrimony because they have opposite parts between their legs. See the quote attached to this rant - the man referred to is a heterosexual, and it doesn't seem to me that he was respecting the official union between him and his wife. If you have remarried, divorced, had sex out of wedlock, cheated... All of these are considered immoral by certain groups/doctrines. But that isn't the point. It isn't your business what anyone else does if it isn't breaking the law or directly hurting you (as in actually doing something to you, not that you just disagree because of a *subjective* belief - all beliefs are, no matter what book seems to back it up).

Ben and I were talking the other day and we agreed that part of what is so annoying is having to pussyfoot around when talking about the Amendment, because somehow it's become a right for people to vote on others' freedoms, and to say otherwise is unconstitutional. It's even been said that it infringes on people's "religious freedom" to not allow this prejudice to be expressed politically - in spite of the Constitution saying that religion and state should be separate.

Both Ben and I are atheists. I went to a Church of England school until I was 11, and realised at about age 9 that I didn't feel any substance behind the words of prayers or genuine meaning in the lyrics of the hymns. Ben says he doesn't remember when he realised he didn't believe, but it wasn't a sudden moment - more of a gradual thing. My brother terms any sensible atheism as "agnostic atheism" - an approach to non-faith that, while being totally convinced of the lack of existence of any deity, still holds that it would be unempirical to not allow for a margin of error. I'm not a militant atheist. I respect other people's rights to believe whatever they want to. I believe that in some cases, faith pushes people to be the best they can be; that some religions organise meetings that give people a sense of community and belonging, which in turn can foster a positive inclusiveness that spans generations. People getting together to do good is a good thing, no matter whether they are inspired to do so by their belief in a higher being, or because they simply feel that they can help. But to have clauses on being "good"... that's where the waters get a little murky.

Having been in America for almost seven months now, I have learned that saying you are an atheist can sometimes be viewed in the same way as saying you like tripping up old ladies in the street and then laughing at them. A friend of mine from Indiana puts it best, as he describes being religious in America as being considered more of a character trait than a choice. That's why it's so surprising to some people that I meet that I don't believe in god - as though being decent is only possible through having faith, or perhaps even fear, to keep you on the right track. 

I say all of this because I want to be honest about where I'm coming from. I'm not anti-religion. I'm not pro-gay, per se. I'm pro-people. I believe people are all equal, should have equal rights, and have the freedom to do and believe what they want to do, except when it actively harms other people or breaks the law. The anti-gay argument used to promote voting for Amendment One is actively harming not only gay people, but all kinds of families in NC.

Aside from using a governmental process to make laws that are clearly prejudiced against one group of people (gay men and women), the use of this argument also masks the other people the Amendment will affect. This video explains how unmarried women (and men) would no longer have the protection of the law against domestic violence if Amendment One were to pass. This video tells the story of someone it has already happened to.

Children of unmarried parents would no longer receive certain health care benefits. Partners would not be able to visit each other in hospital. The parental rights of unmarried parents would be threatened. To term this the "anti-gay amendment" is not only downright disgusting, but it also glosses over the other effects it will have.

I am angry. I am sad. I am disappointed with this country, this state, for Amendment One even being considered here, and for the major part of the argument for it being about actively discriminating against one group of people. And I am aware that being angry and sad and disappointed can lead me, instead of to try to gently educate and show through the kindness that isn't shown to groups who will actually be affected by the Amendment if it passes (turning the other cheek, if you will), into screaming about the unfairness of it all, and thus causing yet more conflict. I don't often get angry, but I find myself increasingly bubbling over with the injustice of the Amendment One situation in NC.

There are so many, many arguments that I can employ against the "for" stance. Here are just a few: 

  1. Marriage comes with state and legal privileges that are awarded by the government. For equal rights to be fulfilled, this should be available to everyone. 
  2. If marriage is legally considered a religious institution, a) everyone would have to be the same religion (so that marriage meant the same thing), and b) no benefits should be awarded for being married, because religion and state should not be mixed.
  3. If the Bible or another religious text is quoted to back up the reason for not awarding these "privileges" to unmarried or homosexual couples (who don't have the right to even have a civil partnership here anyway, so is this some kind of belt and braces measure?), then people need to consider what else in the Bible/religious text is said to be an abomination or against god. I refer you to this clip from The West Wing, or this photo. If you're going to use this argument, be prepared for having to make some serious changes in your life in order to fully adhere to the scripture. Picking and choosing which bits to believe in, while you are free to do so, does not a strong argument make - and it certainly shouldn't be one that is seriously considered when making legal changes that affect other people's lives. I don't want to have the religious argument, as religion is a choice. Being gay isn't. Tell me, when did you decide to be straight?
  4. The hypothetical people argument: my good friend Steven puts this far better than me, and you can read his post here. This Amendment will affect real people, not a faceless group. Not only that, but by stereotyping such a group, you miss out on meeting some incredible people, and having your mind opened. As Steven says, "People are not hypotheticals. When we make statements about a person based on some opinion we may hold (or some “truth” that we pull out of a +1900 year old text), we invalidate their humanity in our own perception and many times in the perception of others."
  5. The idea that not allowing people to vote on gay marriage - if that's all you're using this vote for - is infringing upon religious freedom. No. No, it is not. Whether or not this Amendment passes, you are still free to dislike or disagree with homosexual relationships and justify that through your faith. You are free to not have a gay marriage. You are at your leisure to read your scripture and preach about your views on weddings, on being a good person, on how to live your life. You can not associate with gay people, and tell all your friends that you don't like them. You can do that now; you can do that on May 9th, whatever happens. You have that freedom. It is not your religious freedom to impose your subjective viewpoint (religion is subjective) in a legal way that will restrict the freedoms of others in living their lives in a way that does not affect you or break any law. 
  6. The unrelenting bigotry and hypocrisy I hear from "good" or "Christian" people. This page here is titled 'What same-sex "marriage" has done to Massachusetts'. I think it should be titled 'What same-sex marriage has "done" to Massachusetts' - it's made it easier to live like an equal human being for those in homosexual relationships. It is full of bile and anger and prejudice - not the words of a "good" person, in my book. It reminds me of the excellent post by Single Dad Laughing, "I'm Christian, unless you're gay" - well worth a read if you haven't already.  As a friend of mine said, in response to my lamenting that people of my acquaintance I know to be good planning on voting for Amendment One, "Good men don't perpetuate prejudice". You know what? She's right. No more pussyfooting. 

It comes down to this: if you are voting for the Amendment, you are contributing to the idea that one group has a right to control others. You suggest your views are somehow superior, and you may even refuse to look at any other perspective. You are not exercising your right to uphold values; you are misusing a democratic process to maintain your own values. You are a bigot.

noun \ˈbi-gət\
: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Pour myself a cup of ambition

I got my EAD! As of today, I am allowed to apply for jobs, get paid, pay taxes, and generally be a useful member of society again. I was so happy when I opened the envelope that I cried a bit. It's been such a long time! It seems that moving the case from Chicago to California was the right step. Thank you, USCIS. It's so good to have the tide turning this way. I guess now all they want is service and devotion.

The photo on the EAD card was taken back in January, at my Biometrics appointment, so I have considerably less hair now. I got my hair cut the day after that appointment, and then again a couple of weeks ago. I get bored.

Smiley photo with Ben, back in November 2011

January 2012
Two weeks ago. I got a bit bored again, and was inspired
by the female protagonist of the movie 'Monsters'.
Also, it gets hot here. This is ideal. 

I'm sure I'm still recognisable though! Besides, it's all you can do to keep yourself entertained when you can't officially look for work. Enough to drive you crazy if you let it.

So, I have work that I can (and will! Thank you, Jim.) be paid for at the studio. I can go about formally setting up My Other Limb as a business. I can apply for other assistant jobs, or jobs in the industry, or ANY JOB I WANT, should I so wish! It's just a little bit exciting. What a way to make a livin'.

Friday, 20 April 2012

No news is... no news

We heard back from the USCIS. They sent us a letter to tell us that nothing has been decided yet, but they have moved our case from Chicago, IL, to the California office, for faster processing.

So. Yeah. No news.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

I cry at supermarkets and sing to cheese

Today, I was hit by a random, acute, and frustrating-as-hell attack of homesickness. Not the kind of homesickness that makes you sad because you miss people deeply. Not the kind of homesickness that involves pining for the lustrous lands of your native country. No no, this was the kind of homesickness that happens when a supermarket pisses you off so much that you miss going to Tesco so intensely that you cry.

This really happened.

Obviously this is symptomatic of a general banging-head-against-a-wall issue, rather than genuinely being distressed by the USA's lack of blue and white striped value items, but it still resulted in the same thing: crying in the car because I just cannot bear having my nativity so obviously highlighted. Yes, I mean nativity. Naivety is probably a problem too, but that's another post.

I didn't much like supermarket shopping before I lived here. I find people are not inclined to be particularly friendly whilst food shopping, the supermarkets are often crowded (I get serious people claustrophobia), and more often than not you have to go round twice because you forget something/it has been moved since the last time you came in. My coping tactic was to stick my iPod on to some happy tunes, skip around whilst throwing things merrily into my trolley (cart, America), occasionally singing along, and smiling inanely at people who were probably already pissed off at being at the supermarket (I'm assuming my idiotic presence just made it that bit worse). This worked, for the most part, and so I became adept at doing all my major shopping for the month just after pay day, and then stocking up maybe once a week on fresh veg, milk, eggs, and other such perishables. Occasionally an ice cream/wine/cheese run may have occurred, but then the ickle Tesco down the road from my house served perfectly well and didn't require immersion in one of the larger, more hellish stores.

So, what happened today? A combination of historically (since being here) deferring to Ben to make supermarket choices, a clash in the way we both manage our food shopping routines, and end-of-my-tether, ever-so-slightly-dramatic irritation with how, although everything on the shelves initially looks pretty recognisable, IT IS NOT THE SAME AND IS NEVER THE SAME. Also, because pretty much everyone I know here has either lived in Charlotte forever, or is at the very least American, it is difficult to explain how exhausting it is, and disappointing to not be able to communicate that well enough to yield some empathy. I'm not sure if it wouldn't be better to have everything look totally different, so I have to learn new things, rather than un-learn and then re-learn what I already had an understanding of.

I don't know which brand of soup is best. Pasta comes in ridiculously small packets (or boxes - what?!) so you have to buy about four to make sure you have enough. The milk top colours all mean different things to English coding (red is full fat; blue is low fat (semi-skimmed); green is fat-free). If something doesn't say "organic" on it, you can pretty much bet it's been pumped full of chemicals, hormones, water, or all three. If it was once a live animal, you can't guarantee it had a decent life before ending up vacuum-packed in your hands without extensive reading, and to actually get meat where the animal didn't have a crappy short life in a barn AND that doesn't contain more hormones than an adolescent male costs you an arm and a leg.

Okay, so it's not the biggest problem in the world. Or even in this little corner of it. In fact, I can afford to eat, I am educated enough to make good choices, and I get to learn to live here with the love of my life. But today, I felt isolated, foolish, and utterly fed up with not "just knowing" how to do something so fundamental to modern life.

On the up side, there was an offer on fresh mozzarella balls at Harris Teeter's deli ($2.99!), so I got some of those and had them with my lunch. I guess I have only been here six months (as of yesterday), so I suppose I'm not doing too badly. And yes, I did sing to my cheese before I ate it. Perhaps my shopping-with-iPod solution would work here, too. Every little helps.

Monday, 9 April 2012

MOL and me

I have been a bit quiet about the recent changes that have been coming about for My Other Limb, my photography website and blog, but only really because they have kept me so busy! I still don't have time to go into them right now in full detail, but for the purposes of updating QE, I shall say the following (as it pertains to life here, not just life behind the lens in general):

  1. As and when my EAD comes through, everything is in place to launch My Other Limb as an LLC (a limited liability company), making MOL a business, not just me attached to a camera. This is still tentative; it seems like it is safer (legally) and has more tax benefits (you don't pay tax twice) to do it this way rather than just be a freelancer, but obviously there are fees and set-up costs and so on. In any case, it's all set to go when I can actually make that decision (come on, USCIS!).
  2. The reason it is tentative is because it does increase the outgoings of MOL, without any guaranteed "incomings". However, bookings are coming in, people are taking an interest, and I am really excited to see whether I can make it, even part-time, as a freelance photography business. If you're interested to see the business and check out the possibility of booking a shoot, please click on the logo above to go to the MOL website.
  3. I will of course still be working at the studio, and Jim and I had a good chat last week about the fact that I really would like to stay on as a paid assistant at Studio1212 if there's work for me. It seems like that could work out, so I'm pretty excited! Between work at the studio, my freelance MOL work, and possibly another part-time role/assisting other photographers, I think I may have a "job", although not quite like anything I've known before. 
  4. To add another string to MOL's bow, I've now started listing prints on Etsy for people to buy. The link to the Etsy shop is below - just click on the banner to visit!

There are a few shoots booked (pretty far in advance so that I will be doing these when I can legally work), so I am really, really happy about those. On top of that I am finishing off my free couples/singles shoots this month, and then will be offering discounted "new company" sales rates on MOL shoots to get the business launched. There's still an awful lot to do, and this will be a steep learning curve. There's also the inherent nerves caused by announcing this to the ether - it could very easily not work out, and then it's for all to see. But if you never try, you'll never know...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Waffle House have got nothing on me

I decided yesterday that, if my voice had recovered sufficiently by today, I would do a v-log update instead of a written post. It had, so I did. So here it is!

Some help to summarise the waffle in the video

Photos of things mentioned in the v-log:

New 50mm prime lens for MOL
Duke Energy Building
Duke Energy Building

View from the top floor of the Duke Energy Building
Inside the Duke Energy Building - 48th floor suite

Composite shot of me and one of the veterans from Saturday's shoot

Plan for Friday

That and a haircut, which I desperately need!

Links to things mentioned in the v-log:

Music playing during the v-log:
  1. Anything Can Happen - Finn Brothers
  2. Something That I Want - Grace Potter ('Tangled' version)
  3. (I'm The One That's) Cool - The Guild
  4. New York - Ben Maggs
  5. Make It Go (Live) - Kina Grannis

Sunday, 1 April 2012

(I hope) I'm not sick, but I'm not well

I had plans for an update post today, as I have had such an incredible week at work, and have been so busy I seem to have totally kicked my oversleeping issues. I was feeling rather positive! However, the burning the candle at both ends has had another consequence: I am poorly. As in actually sick. I woke up yesterday with a raw throat, but had a full day of work ahead, so just pushed on through (and hoped it was allergies). However, by the end of the day I had practically no voice left (put down to talking to clients all day) and hurt everywhere (put down to lugging C-stands, Speedotrons, sandbags etc. about).

Waking up this morning though, I spent the first ten minutes choking and coughing myself awake, still couldn't talk much louder than a whisper, hurt everywhere in a non-muscular kind of a way, and was (still am) going from hot to cold and back faster than an English summer. Everything tastes bitter and I have perpetually running eyes and nose. So, I'm assuming I'm ill. My plans today therefore now consist of living on the sofa, as detailed below.

Normal service, including a full update on my week of wonderful things, should resume tomorrow. I actually have a week off as it's spring break (so my boss at the studio is away on vacation), so I'm hoping I won't be poorly for that whole time. I'm yet to feel especially weird about being ill away from home, but I do kinda wish I could call my mum and ask her for some soup and a hug! Ah well. Back to the sofa.