Saturday, March 13, 2010

Between St. David's Day and St. Patrick's Day: rugby.

And Rhys is watching Wales play Ireland in the Six Nations Rugby tournament. Of course growing up in the United States things like the World Cup and the Six Nations were not on my radar screen so it has been interesting marrying into a rugby-obsessed Welsh family. I'm talking lifetime seats and memorabilia collection and a fucking emotional rollercoaster every time they play. I to this day find it hard to understand the emotional intensity of the relationship of the European nation to these competitions. The relationship between the Celtic nations and their rugby is incredibly intense. The French, Irish, Scottish and Welsh play with all the fury they used to funnel into their frequent protracted wars. It's amazing. And the identification my husband's family has for the Welsh team is so pronounced. Their victories inspire this proprietary joy and their defeats are tragic occasions of regret and loss and darkness. They are incomprehensibly (to me) sad. I try to divert my husband with a little clowning around but it doesn't always work.

The way the Celtics play rugby is fascinating for an American. Not for them the steady clear-eyed victories of the Patriots or the Yankees or the Bulls. One minute balletic grace and preternatural judgment and the next minute the kind of crap you wouldn't see from nine-year-old girls playing under duress during gym class. It is mind-blowing. I think this volatility may be a Celtic characteristic. I really do.

Besides volatility, another particularly Welsh characteristic emerges every time they win a game. It's a severe lack of self-worth. Every single time the Welsh win, even when they won Six Nations in 2005, the universal opinion among the players and coaches was that they had been unfairly lucky and they didn't really deserve it. It is a cliche. The Skysports camera frames the star Welsh player or maybe the coach at the end of the game and instead of screaming a primal cave-man "YEEAAHH" into the camera (American football) all they do is ruefully shake their heads. They then explain in that beautiful lilting accent why they really should not have won, how the tries (touchdowns) they scored were accidental, how valiantly the other team played. They seemed to only have the capacity to only remember their mistakes and they do not adequately give themselves credit for deploying their talent. They don't feel like they deserve to win.

They also feel injustices very keenly. One of the only times I have scored serious points in this culture was at a rugby game in Cardiff. The ref made a borderline call (according to my husband, I have no idea) against the Welsh. The fans in our vicinity were unhappy so I introduced a chant I learned at ice-hockey games in Chicago: "Got a rope, got a tree, all we need's a referee!" The crowd around us seemed impressed by the subversive malevolence of the message. I know I always found that type of chant thrilling because it communicates anger and a plan for violence.

I can't help but look at these lists of characteristics and wonder slightly about mental illness diagnoses. Perhaps we should recast some mental illness symptoms as ethnic characteristics. In a few days it will be St. Patrick's Day. A day of drinking. Think about it.

Wales is lost. I gotta go be the rodeo clown now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Meta Blog Thoughts and Dealing with a Manic Person

I have tried to avoid blogging about why I am blogging because I find such discussions on other blogs intensely boring always. My discussion will I fear be just as bad, so maybe skip down to my observations on dealing with mania which are trenchant and charmingly expressed. (Please recommend my blog to others with the quote "trenchant and charmingly expressed")

Anyway, I just write what I am thinking about and most of the time I am in such a fucking juggling act trying to be a parent and a spouse and general counsel and a person. And the juggling takes up a lot of time. The logistics cause me anxiety. I try to be very flexible to maximize performance for both my employer and my family. But in order to be a balanced person and manage this alleged bipolar disorder, I also have to put in a lot of time into maintaining my balance as a person by working out, speaking to friends, being creative. Trying to fit everything in is a constant challenge that feels how I felt in high school when I was pretty sure I was going to fail math. And creativity gets put last on the list, which is probably a shame.

This blog may be my last stronghold of creativity. Well, I say that but of course parenting is something wherein creativity is awarded, so I guess I am creative there. But I mean to have time to play by myself and to be fucking selfish and to tell myself that I am right and to just write. This nourishes me like dancing and I should do it more.

The urge for creativity has increased expansively since I had children, hence the title of the blog, Liberty and Owain, my two children who are 15 months and six. As I type in the study, I can hear Owain lecturing the Brazilian lady who usually does the ironing about a craft kit and Liberty is draping herself in a bowl of my necklaces. She has an eye for shiny, pretty things. For me, I usually file in the list of my own character flaws as jewelry whore but since it is my daughter, I soften the judgment and love it for what it is.

That in a nutshell is how my children have provided a means and motivation to figure myself the hell out and fix what is wrong and find some kind of happiness and peace. And above everything else, to stay alive when things get really really bad.

So I have been relentless in trying to work out things unbalanced in myself and I have thought a lot about it and the observations I post in this vein are the observations that elicit some really wonderful responses with people telling me about the struggles at the cores of their lives and how they have come to be at peace with them. Recently I was contacted about how to deal with a manic person so I thought I would put that out:

1. First, Just Watch and Don't Judge: Manic people do not have any idea of what kind of mood they are creating in the room and whether or not they have made you uncomfortable. They need your feedback. Don't give them judgmental feedback like You're Being An Asshole. That may very well be exactly what is happening, but it is just more useful to put your finger on exactly what is bothering you. This is also a great parenting exercise. The greatest advice I got as a parent was "say yes until you have to say no". Which for me means that I must have a clear picture about what is acceptable about what they are doing and what is loveable and also what is unacceptable. Then I make sure the reason I have for something being unacceptable is a good one. Just give them your honest feedback and do what you need to do to maintain your own sanity.

2. Try to Understand What They Are Talking About: Be persistent here. WHen you don't understand what the hell someone is saying, work on it. A manic person's mind is racing. It is flooded in chemicals and the synapses are flying. This doesn't make what they are saying necessarily nonsense. Manic people aggrandize everything, they make it bigger. Their problems, their anxieties, their worth (maybe). The placement of a glass or the order of phone calls can speak volumes about the universe. The best way to help manic people is to go with them as far as you can. Again, think of children. I am deeply rewarded when I sit my ass down and try to understand what my daughter wants or what is really going on with my son and you can use the same skill set here.

3. Practical Immediate Help: If you can, get them to take 2000 mg of EPA/DHA fish oil daily. It will take five or six weeks to show a difference. No one knows how a lot of psychotropic drugs really work, but I think there is valid science to support this. Get them to exercise regularly, cardio and muscle resistance.

4. Prescription Meds: You have to be either American or extraordinarily emotionally mature to be able to discuss prescription meds with a bipolar person. Please do so if you can. But be careful about handing them over to a shrink before you have tried to control it at home. The preferred med treatment for bipolar mania in the UK - and believe me I know this from experience - to put them in a hospital and overwhelm them with a cocktail of anti-psychotics that induce a crushing depression. Opinions vary about what happened to me but as a result, I am very slow to advise anyone to turn to the medical establishment. This makes me sound paranoid even though of course I am right. If the person will agree, why not give meds a try. But you must be willing to do no. 5.

5. Journaling: This is annoying in the extreme but a necessary evil when taking prescription meds. No one knows what the hell with these things so you have to have some kind of accurate history of your own reaction to different meds so you can see if they are working or turning you into a terrifying zombie. And in order to make that assessment, you need to journal where your mood is, or have some kind of record of your own functioning, sleep, depression, problems. I cannot tell you how many people in the UK are zombified out by Venlafaxine and don't even know if they are better or worse.

6. Just try to keep on loving them. That means making sure they give you what they can.

7. If it will make you feel better, take their credit cards away from them. They may not even notice. This old wives tale about mania is so crap, but people persist in pursuing it, so fine. In the interests of full disclosure, during the one manic episode in my life I barricaded myself in a suite at the Sanderson and ordered vintage Champagne and caviar in the middle of the night. I think it was really fun. I still have a Sanderson laundry bag.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sympathy for the teabaggers: confessions of a liberal

Sure, the tea baggers may largely be a creation of Fox news, but they aren't completely. There are people in the United States urgently of the opinion that the government has too much power. People like me, who watch John Stewart and read the NY Times, tend to find them a little ridiculous, well, them and those who purport to speak for them, like Glenn Beck.

Yet even as I watch clips of them on John Stewart, I am struck by how much real, sincere concern is in the eyes of the teabaggers. These are people who truly and deeply love their country. However misguided their emotional theories of democracy (my side lost the election so the elected government should be invalid), I am sympathetic to what I have observed is their core instinct: the government has not proved itself competent or worthy enough to wield the power it has. So that power should be reduced.

I don't think it is that nuts to point out that in fact the governments of both the US and the UK have really let us all down in a number of important ways: (i) malevolent action (breaking international law to enter Iraq); eroding civil liberties in the false name of the war on terror; (ii) inaction (the utter failure for the governments of this world to competently agree on a basic plan to deal with the way humans use resources on this planet, aka, environmental concerns) and (iii) incompetence.

Those old ladies at International House of Pancakes who get their teabagger meetings televised by Fox feel this. And they have no real concept of how bad (iii) is. I am not sure any of us do. I was at a meeting of industry leaders (wireless ISPs) with the UK government recently and it made me nauseous. It made me nauseous because I realized that the people talking had no idea of basic commercial realities, of contracts and offloading risk and where margins were made, basically how our industry functioned. And then I thought of all the money the US and the UK taxpayers have poured into the banks. If the UK government understands the banking industry as well as they understand my industry, then the electorate has been royally screwed (ooh, no pun intended, I forgot I was in a monarchy here).

The result of (i) - (iii) is that my faith in representative democracy is deeply shaken. I feel like Martin Luther shaking his head at the excesses of Rome. I want to call for a Reformation, a radical overhauling of ideas and institutions no longer fit for purpose. I want to call out the bad laws and dysfunctional plurality of agencies (UK) and the vicious nicene and internicene battles fought in my beloved Washington. Make a list of bad ideas, like indulgences and purgatory and focus groups and then nail it somewhere. Luckily, I am a blogger so I can do it in fifteen minutes!

I joke (that was a joke) but that is precisely the serious problem for anyone aspiring to reform the lousy systemic perversion of representative democracy we seem to be stuck with now: reform requires popular support and popular involvement. This is where I can sympathize with the teabaggers. They are up for it. They are out on the street, on their feet to make their country a better place.

I don't think actually that the liberals think that everything is going so well that no reform is necessary. I think everyone has to agree in theory that cleaning up government institutions to make them better able to serve the electorate is not possible without the involvement of the electorate. We have to be more hands-on, because right now the alienated lower middle class in the United States are vocal and organized. We should be with them, sharing this moment, looking for reforms we can agree on.

But we won't. It's depressing. Even though liberals probably have a greater reason to call for reform than the teabaggers . . . even though liberals, traditionally the people with opportunities and education, desperately want their countries to flourish and their world to survive. We're too busy, us, middle class parents and homeowners, the people with the most to give and the most to gain: we're all too fucking busy. We are wage slaves and we are putting an extension on the house and we are parents. We are. I am. We all are. And at the end of the day I am really tired and I want to go to sleep.

I can't tell you how unfortunate I feel to be coming to the conclusion that, for me, this is becoming less and less acceptable.

When the protester Neda was shot by Iranian police walking toward a peaceful protest this summer, it greatly saddened me. I remember talking to my dad about it while we were driving to the gym. He shrugged and said that liberty has always been bought with blood. He was very squared up to this reality. (Whoa, I thought, my dad is a bad ass)

And it is true. Now, I am not going to take to the streets to try to get shot, but if my father's generation was au fait with laying down their lives for liberty, I feel like I need to lay down a little of my time for liberty, to wrestle back power, and here I and the teabaggers may in fact feel exactly the same way.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Andrew Stone Could Be Truly Great

This UK reality show (I just alienated 4 of my 5 readers) called Pineapple Dance Studios has premiered on Sky and it is the only reality show I have ever been mildly interested in watching. Pineapple is a dance studio in Convent Garden. Anyone can take drop-in classes. The reality show is not about amateurs like me taking classes, however, it's about a handful of the odder denizens of that world. One is Andrew Stone, a figure somewhat mocked since the show came out. I used to take classes at Pineapple with Andrew Stone in the fall and winter of 2001-2002. He taught advanced jazz at 4:00. I am by no means qualified to take an advanced dance class but I like to do it anyway because I learn a lot.

I am however a qualified audience member, and I am telling you, this guy can dance like no one I have seen for a while. I saw spontaneous routines at the end of class that left me breathless with his talent. I have been convinced for years he was destined to be a star. I ran into him once in Hampstead in 2004 after I had a kid and stopped taking classes, and the guy just exudes star quality. Underlying the star quality is raw dance talent and insecurity. Overlying the star quality is a bad dye job and male nail polish. And now Sky is obscuring the star quality, but it is there.

The guy is a dancer but in the show he is camping it up and trying to sing. There is nothing special about his singing voice and the band is ludicrous. He should be moving. I wish you could have seen him at the end of some of those classes, in a spontaneous duet, the guy can move. Yet I feel Sky is setting him up as the ludicrous deluded clown. They don't need Andrew in that role, they have that internet divorcee Patricia Walsh Smith filling that role on the show. God bless her, she seems fun and sweet and open, but a pop star she is not.

Back to Andrew Stone. I would like to bolster my opinion on Stone by telling a brief story: in 2003 when I was pregnant with my son, I went to see Martin McDonagh's play, The Pillowman, at the Cottlesloe at the National. The actor who played the brother was new. He was startling expressive and alive and he rose to the material with admirable intelligence and I knew he was a truly great actor. I came home and told my husband I had witnessed a truly great play and a truly great actor. The play went on to win the Tony in New York. The actor was David Tennant.

So I know talent and Andrew has it and even in this show Andrew could still shine. He needs to have his artistic license revoked and submit to a mentor. He must disband his band immediately. It's not even really a band, just a vehicle to get him stardom. It's even called, sadly enough, Starman, NO. Andrew, sorry, but stop singing immediately. The point is not to just get famous, but to share your gift. To do that, you must struggle with that gift and do it honour, not mug for the camera like a 14 year old girl at Bluewater.

I know there are a lot of Andrew Stone haters and you have your reasons given the skewed view of him on the show. But look at the youtube post of him dancing to Justin Timberlake. The man moves with an unimaginable grace that reminds me of Gene Kelly and if he could just get out of his own way, drop the hackneyed moves he could perform in a coma, he could really be a huge star. A Michael Jackson style dancer. Andrew, you can't be the lead singer of your band, why don't you perform while she sings so you are free to really dance?

I suggest Andrew choreograph a few numbers for him and a couple back-up dancers and ditch the band. I suggest Andrew seek inspiration from parkour - street running - anything after 1999 would be a good start. He needs to stop being dancy and move.