Thursday, 31 January 2013

Whale vomit and a flying cuppa

Do not feed whale vomit to your dog
Yes, I'm serious: for my first week 4 post about "British news", I'm going with the frivolous. I could have plumped for politics, discussed the continuing economic issues, or giggled about the UK's pitiful response to its annual snowfall. I could even have cited a singular pertinent issue like the cost of the Sellafield clean-up, or perhaps the further delay of a parliamentary vote on gay marriage. As it has been a truly busy week however (which will be waffled on about at length in February's 'week 1' personal update post, I am sure), and because I could really use something on the slightly more shallow side, I decided simply to include a couple of snippets from two excellent and relatively inconsequential news stories from my home country. Just click on the photo captions below to get to each one respectively. Until next week!

Whale vomit: a surprisingly profitable substance.

High tea: We really do care this much

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A truth universally acknowledged

For my first 'week 3' post, I wanted to start the year off with a recommendation for a site I've been hooked on for some months now. I doubt that there are many people reading this blog who are unfamiliar with Jane Austen's 'Pride & Prejudice', and anyone who knows me will know it's an all-time favourite novel of mine. There are at least two times in each year when I will make a point of sitting down and watching the full five-something hours of the 1995 BBC adaptation of the classic story, and I've read and listened to the book too many times to count.

So, it will come as no surprise that any new adaptation of the tale of the Bennet sisters' various forays into romantic liaisons is inevitably met with joy and excitement. However, if the new adaptation is not simply just a different cast with better effects or a bigger budget, but rather a total overhaul of the medium through which the tale is told, and that medium is now a combination of YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr...?! You haven't just got me joyful, you've got me ecstatic.

This is exactly what Hank Green and Bernie Su have done with 'The Lizzie Bennet Diaries'. Lizzie is now a post-graduate media student, presenting her life as a video diary as part of her college assignments. She has two sisters; her older sister Jane, a fashion buyer; and her younger sister Lydia, still at college (university, UK friends). Mary Bennet appears in the spin-off videos by Lydia, as a Bennet cousin, and Kitty Bennet is now Lydia's cat.

Charlotte (Lu) is still Lizzie's best friend, also a media student, and pragmatically ambitious in her career rather than her marital aspirations. She helps Lizzie with editing the videos, and sometimes ventures on to the other side of the camera, too. You do not meet Mr. or Mrs. Bennet, but this is overcome by the role-plays Lizzie and her sisters do via quirky scripts and accessorised costume drama. These allow for filling in character or story gaps when it wouldn't make sense to have certain characters on screen in Lizzie's personal v-logs.

L-R, T-B: Lizzie; Jane; Fitz; Charlotte; Lydia, Bing;
Wickham; Caroline; Mr. Collins; Darcy
Mr. Darcy, Bing Lee (Mr. Bingley), Caroline, Georgiana, Mr. Collins, (Colonel) Fitzwilliam, and Wickham are all characters seen on screen regularly too, although later on in the story compared to the original. Again, this fits the media through which the narrative unfolds: it would not be realistic to have these (initially) relative strangers participate in a video recording. Pemberley is no longer a grandiose mansion in Derbyshire, but a thriving digital media company owned by, you guessed it, the Darcy family. The problems faced by the Bennets are still financial, but focus more on student loans and depreciating property values.

I don't want to spoil too many of the excellent and thoughtful twists in the tale that both modernise and deepen the story and characters, so I shall leave my recommendation there and simply link to the videos, and all the other social media accounts that help to make up the story, below. The fact that you can watch new videos every week, follow the characters on Twitter, and see their Facebook updates makes you feel like you are part of the story, watching it develop, waiting to see what happens next. That the directors and actors have managed to create this feeling, this involvement, is hugely to their credit, given that most people already know how the tale ends. While nothing will ever push my beloved BBC miniseries off its pedestal, this incredibly creative version breathes new life into one of my most cherished love stories, and I'm hopelessly, happily addicted to it.

If you need answers about how the LBD work, there is an FAQ which covers a lot of the practical queries, and the characters also do Q&A videos in the midst of the more scripted episodes, which also help to flesh everything out. We're currently up to the point where Lizzie and Georgiana are becoming friends, and Lizzie is starting to see the good in Darcy. Lydia's already "run off" with Wickham and she's telling Jane that they are together over this weekend. So, all hell is about to break loose!

Below is the first video from the webseries. What are you waiting for?! An internet geek in possession of a modem must be in want of a new obsession...

The Main Site
Whole story in order across all platforms
Lizzie Bennet Diaries on Facebook

Lizzie's YouTube
Lizzie's Tumblr
Lizzie's Twitter
Lizzie's Facebook

Lydia's YouTube
Lydia's Tumblr
Lydia's Twitter
Lydia's Facebook

Jane's Tumblr
Jane's Twitter
Jane's Facebook
Jane's Pinterest

Mary's Twitter
Kitty's Twitter

Charlotte's Tumblr
Charlotte's Twitter
Charlotte's Facebook

Maria's YouTube
Maria's Twitter

Darcy's Twitter
Bing Lee's Twitter
Fitz's Twitter
Caroline's Twitter
Georgiana's (Gigi's) Twitter
Wickham's Twitter
Wickham's OkCupid Page 
Mr. Collins' Twitter

All related Twitter posts (list)

Collins & Collins
Pemberley Digital Main Site
Pemberley Digital Facebook Page

Lizzie Bennet things on Reddit
All related social media accounts (courtesy of Reddit)

All photos/images from the 'Socially Awkward Darcy' Facebook page

Sunday, 20 January 2013

In the back of your head

"Alonzo's Gun" by Jim McGuire
It seems pretty much impossible to write about anything other than the debates going on about gun law for this post on American news, but try as I might, I can't seem to formulate what I consider a decent post about the current situation. From an outsider's point of view, the vehement protection of the right to privately own guns seems paranoid and worrying. Owning a gun does not automatically make you safe in the same way that being religious does not automatically make you a good person. Choices are involved in both situations, and they are down to the individual and, consequently, the collective behaviour of a population. However, I am aware that my personal bias towards a society that does not allow, for the most part, gun ownership on this level means that my knee-jerk anti-firearms reaction is not really a balanced one. And I'm finding it hard to get over that to write in a more objective way.

I don't like guns. I think there's too much risk involved with owning one, even with training, because it could get into the wrong hands. I understand that a society without guns does not mean a society without violent crime, but I also think the argument for guns and regulating them being the same as owning a car and registering that (because they can get into the wrong hands too) is just fallacious. A gun's primary purpose is to kill, and training isn't required to own one. A car's primary purpose is transport, and Driver's Ed/a license is required to drive one. Of course that doesn't mean that people won't drive illegally (be that uninsured, unlicensed, or under the influence), but a car is means of getting from A to B. A gun is a means to kill. I don't care how paranoid you are about your house being broken into; having a gun in the house increases the likelihood of death outside of that situation and inside of it. What if the burglar doesn't have a gun? Is shooting him/her reasonable force? Or is it reasonable to take any measures to protect your property here, whatever the situation?

It might be naive to feel this way, but I'm all right with that. The belief in the right and need to own a gun seems to me to be a product of misinterpreted history (my understanding is that the Second Amendment was originally to allow people to own firearms in case of war), paranoia, media encouragement, and a hyper-individualistic society. It's so entrenched in the people now that I doubt there will be a great change, or at least not quickly, when it comes to licensing and reducing the number of firearms. For me, I would prefer to believe that I will not need (and know that I do not want) a gun, even in a situation where someone else has one.

In order to provide a more balanced perspective, I've linked some relevant sites and posts below:

Sam Harris - The Riddle of the Gun
Gun Show Injuries - USA Today article
Josh Fielder's Two Cents - Status update
Morning Joe - Reaction to new NRA commercial
The Citadel - A planned community of 'patriotic Americans'

Okay, so only Sam Harris' article is really "balanced" out of that list, but I've already admitted to my inability to step away from what is culturally ingrained in me: guns are not the norm, and in the UK shootings are treated with shock not just because of the human tragedy, but because of the infrequency.

Being allowed to own a gun whilst untrained in how to operate it safely is a terrifying reality. Not having to register all guns is equally scary, and is no doubt contributing to both the lack of training enforcement and the circulation of illegal firearms - amongst law-abiding citizens and criminals. Open discussion and a willingness to compromise is going to be essential for establishing a safer country where guns are allowed, but regulated, registered, and owned by background-checked, trained individuals. To quote Annie Lennox, "Dying is easy; it's living that scares me to death." We need to move past fear and work together to create a secure, trusting, and more peaceful future.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Hello, I've missed you quite terribly

Walking to Departures at LGW
As my first post after returning from England, I was expecting this one to be a rather melancholy, doleful piece of writing, mourning the difficulty of leaving my home country behind with an unknown return date.

But I feel okay.

I missed England, and the people in it even more, and I was so very happy to be home. My real home, where I fit in without thinking about it; where my voice doesn't stand out; where the weather rarely stays the same for a full 24 hours and the sky has a million different shades of grey; where the news actually is news; where pubs are after-work gathering places; where soup is served without a sandwich; where the 'F'-word is more like punctuation than an expletive; where supermarkets don't make me cry (although I can still sing to cheese); where train drivers make comical announcements about their service's latest failure; where metric and imperial units of measure are used seemingly randomly and interchangeably - I could go on.

As I said above, the people are what, who, I missed the most. That's always been true, however much I loved seeing the familiar sights of London, the beloved greens of my Cotswold town, and my beautiful family home. It is hard to put into words what actually seeing my wonderful friends, being in the same place as them, hugging them, is to me having not been able to do it for so long. I think the brain almost allows you to forget a little of how good - nay, necessary - it is because otherwise you'd never be able to carry on. Don't even get me started on how much more this is true for family. Knowing I should see both my parents and Sam and Wren Stateside this year is a huge comfort when I start to ache for their proximity.

It was cold in London
What I didn't miss? Being there all the time. The million different shades of grey sky. The winter darkness creeping in at 4PM. Petrol prices. Fitting in. The lack of challenges. Grumpy shop and restaurant staff. Essex accents. I feel like, while I miss certain aspects of being in the UK, I want to be in NC.

Granted, we visited at a funny time of year: Christmas is already pretty busy for most people, not to mention emotional with a lot of family reunions and hectic with fun time off from work. So it's not exactly representative. Add to that the fact that England in the winter is often downright miserable (especially with this year's floods), and I think it's only fair to acknowledge that we didn't see its best side. A summer visit will probably be planned next time, and then I can hopefully have a more balanced view. But I'm not entirely sure how much it will change (except as a function of time - perhaps I will hanker to be there more permanently once I have been away longer? Or perhaps if we stayed longer, at a more "normal" time of year?).

The Internet also has a lot to answer for (or be thanked for). It's made it so very easy to keep in touch with the important goings-on in my family's and friends' lives. Between email, What'sApp, Facebook, Twitter, this blog, and the wonder of being able to make voice and video calls for free via Skype, to an extent it's almost like I've not been away. Although the aforementioned hugs of amazingness cannot be administered down an ethernet cable, and that does make a huge difference once you get one again, it does mean that there is a level of connectedness there that pre-internet expats did not have. I really don't know how they coped. At the same time though, it's possible that these options have facilitated my acceptance of the harder parts of being away, or at least masked them by providing me with some form of immediate communication.

Status update after getting back to NC
When all is said and done though, I am avoiding just saying how I feel because I don't want to sound like an ungrateful cow abandoning her country. Then again, anyone who knows me well will know that that's not the case, so here goes: I love it in Charlotte, and I want to live here. I really am becoming binational. I'm glad to be back in the Queen City. Happy. Joyful. At home.

This does not, will not - will never - mean that we're not coming back. It also doesn't mean that I miss England any less, or am any less English. In fact, no one commented that my accent had changed (it was exclaimed that it had not, in fact), and I was not all of a sudden surprised by how small the buildings and streets seemed - two common occurrences for returning expats from America, apparently.

We plan on living in England at some point in the future for some time, not just because it's my mother country but because Ben wants to very much, and I feel he deserves his own expat adventure too. As he's an English Literature/Shakespeare scholar as well as probably the most British American I've ever met, I think he'll do just fine, and it occurs to me that he might feel a little about Charlotte as I do about Gloucestershire.

I'm not suggesting that one has to leap an ocean to have a 'real' or more meaningful life experience, but for me, it's made all the difference. I wasn't running away from my (lovely) life in England, or any particular thing at all. I just chose change. I chose happiness. I chose love. I chose to be, rather than to seem to be, and I choose to be in Charlotte.

So hey there, Queen City. It's good to be home (part 2). Here's to 2013 in America!

Sunrise on Fairview