Some of the trees in London have really big leaves, and they cover the sidewalk because it’s fall (autumn too) and I step on them on my way to and from work every day. But they don’t crunch because the air here has too much moisture, I guess, so it feels a bit like biting into stale potato chips (crisps, not fries). I didn’t think I would miss the feeling of leaves crunching under my feet, and I don’t know if I would miss it so much if the sidewalks didn’t have such beautiful orange and yellow leaf carpets, but every step feels just a little unsatisfying and it makes me think that things are just inherently better in Toronto.
I think I’ve only read Canadian books since I got here. I love the way Dionne Brand writes about Toronto, but I didn’t like the end of What We All Long For. The timing just worked out a little too well and wrapped some things up a little too nicely, which felt weird considering how much she left unanswered. The rest of the book was so good, though. It’s exactly the kind of story I like to read. Green Grass, Running Water is also a really good book. I wonder if I would have liked it ten years ago.
Sometimes you only see a part of something and it looks really beautiful and majestic.
Then you see the whole thing up close and realize it’s actually a weird mix of hilarious and creepy.
Dinosaurs still live here.
(There’s no metaphor up there, in case you tried to look for one.)
Sometimes birds have awesome names.
Actually, many things in London have great names. I’ve taken the tube to both Cockfosters and Tooting. And speaking of transit, I don’t always get a table on my morning (or evening) commute, but getting one sometimes is a huge improvement over getting one never.
Transit here is infinitely better than transit back home. I hate having such a long commute but I don’t mind the scenery on the pretty trains I get to ride. And, while I would rather not wake up as early as I have to, I never wake up and wish I didn’t have to go to work. I miss my students in Canada but I also really like the ones I have here. I guess I picked the right job for me.
I’ve wanted a pet goat since I was 16. They’re friendly and funny and they have great butts.
Great smiles, too.
Don’t ever believe that elephants aren’t cool.
I’m a little annoyed that my finger got in the way of this picture, but it might have actually made the colours look more vibrant?
TW for sexual assault and mention of Dear Prudence’s awful advice
There are many things wrong with Emily Yoffe’s Dear Prudence article on how college women should stop drinking so as to prevent rapists from raping them (I’m not linking to it because it’s awful), but this is the part that really made me want to do something drastic. (Or just maybe want to write a blog post about it). The very last paragraph:
Lake [someone she quotes a bunch throughout the article] says that it is unrealistic to expect colleges will ever be great at catching and punishing sexual predators; that’s simply not their core mission. Colleges are supposed to be places where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. Lake says, “The biggest change in going to college is that you have to understand safety begins with you. For better or worse, fair or not, just or not, the consequences will fall on your head.” I’ll drink (one drink) to that.
(To put that last sentence in context, Prudie goes on a bit earlier about how she only drinks in moderation and still has lots of fun, I guess to imply that people who drink more than she does really have no excuse.)
Right. People go to college (or university, as they say in my country) to learn to be responsible for themselves. Except, I guess, for the people who actually commit any kind of sexual assault. Those people don’t need to learn any kind of responsibility. They don’t need to worry about anyone’s safety. They won’t ever have any consequences fall on their heads, or their toes, or anywhere near them, because we would all rather just blame victims of sexual assault for getting drunk.
This attitude of personal responsibility, the idea that we each need to look out for our own self, and not anyone around us, has screwed up this world so much. It lets us ignore centuries of oppression and structural inequalities. It lets us hold marginalized people responsible for getting themselves out of awful situations that they were forced into. It’s a ridiculous way of looking at the world that privileges the already privileged and screws over the already screwed over. No school should hold that as part of its core mission. We don’t need to teach people to be selfish. In fact, part of what students learn when they first start going to school, in kindergarten, is to recognize the effects that their actions have on other people in their community (at least in Ontario; I don’t know about other kindergarten curricula). It’s called empathy, and we could do with a whole lot more of it in this world. I absolutely agree that university should be one (of many) place(s) where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. But maybe they could try to build on the ideas that students learned in their kindergarten classrooms rather than contradict them.
I really hate most things that are in any way official. I hate filling out forms. I hate complying with regulations. I hate following specific directions. I understand that these things are sometimes really important and not as arbitrary as they often seem, but I still hate them. I have a difficult time reading instructions all the way through (I generally get about half way through a recipe and then make up the rest), so I worry that I’ll misunderstand or misread something and then mess it up and somehow a ton of money or get arrested or maybe just piss people off. I usually try to ignore official things and hope they take care of themselves but so far that hasn’t worked.
So, I messed up one of the documents that I needed before I could start working in schools here, and I couldn’t actually start work until the day after my contract said I would start. Which wasn’t a big deal at all but I did feel sort of vindicated because several people told me that everything would be fine and then it turned out I actually had screwed something up. I guess I showed them.
Anyway, I’ve spent about the last two weeks in the British school system. It’s different from what I’m used to, which doesn’t surprise me. I’ve spent a large chunk of my life, both as a student and as a teacher, at one school, and I know that it’s unlike other schools in Canada or probably anywhere. I can’t draw any real conclusions about the differences between schools here and schools back home. I’ve seen some things here that I really disagree with but I feel like I would likely see similar things at more conventional Canadian schools. I want to keep an open mind, because I know that the education system I’m used to worked for me, but I also know that I arrived in that education system from a very specific set of privileged circumstances. While I did learn a lot in my first four years of teaching, I had my conceptions of what makes a good teacher or a good learning environment reaffirmed several times. I’d like to see things that challenge my assumptions.
Like I predicted a couple weeks ago, I’ve seriously considered all kinds of things for next year. I really don’t know what I want to do with my life. I know I want to teach, because that really is the best job I can imagine having, but I don’t know where I want to do it and I don’t know if I want to study it more or be entirely practical. I’m really enjoying my current job, because I get the benefit of working and connecting with students without the time suck that is prep work and marking, but I don’t know if I would want this kind of job for longer than a year. I love having time to read about problems with feminism and its lack of intersectionality, but I find that I want to then take those ideas and bring them into a classroom and hear what my students have to say about them. And I can’t really do that in the role I have right now.
So, I guess this is how I’ll feel for the next little while. In flux and unsure. I’m happy, which is good, but I wouldn’t say I’m completely comfortable, which is maybe also good for right now. And I filled out a form all by myself this weekend, so maybe I’m growing up a bit too.
So, I moved to England. I don’t really know why. I felt a need for change some time between a year and a half and two years ago. At that time I still had three courses to go on my M.Ed. and I didn’t want to leave Toronto without finishing that, so I decided to get it done and then get out.
And now I’m out. I have very mild and mixed feelings about living here. I didn’t have any particular reason to pick London. I heard it was fairly easy to find a job as a supply teacher here and I figured I would have fun exploring the city, but I never felt a strong drive to live in the UK. So far, I’ve noticed that rent is expensive, the sidewalks are uneven and easy to trip on, the tube is giant and way more sensible than Toronto’s subway system, and people are generally friendly and helpful. That last one might have something to do with the fact that I’m a cute, cis, white woman who speaks English fluently and doesn’t have any visible disabilities. Privilege is a real thing.
I don’t deal with change well, and I miss my family, my kitty, my friends, my old job, my city. I miss the ability to call my parents or my sister without checking the time difference or paying long-distance rates. I miss hugs and kisses and snarky quips or inside jokes with people who know me really well. But I’m also excited. I felt stagnant and isolated a lot last year. I loved work but I felt restless in a place that I’d been a part of since I was almost 11 years old. Now that I’ve taken this one step toward something new, I don’t know what I want to do next and I like not knowing. Maybe I’ll stay here for years. Maybe I’ll go back to Toronto right away. Maybe I’ll study education in Finland and see what they do there that works so well. Maybe I’ll move to San Francisco and ride cable cars. I have until the end of the school year to decide and I’m sure that I’ll seriously consider all of those options and a whole bunch more before I pick one.
But right now I want to focus on living here. I want to turn my flat into something that feels like mine (and my flatmate’s). I want to see this city and find parts of it to love and parts of it to hate. I want to meet people. I want to write. So I’ll do all of those things for a while, and then think about doing something else.
I got home from work last Friday night, exhausted from a fast-paced second term and ready to start my March Break. I collapsed onto my bed, took out my phone, and scrolled through the stream of tweets that I had missed during the day. I found myself in the middle of a conversation in response to this article on marriage and name changes. I groggily tweeted a few times about it, and then got ready for bed and fell asleep.
But over the course of the weekend, I felt less and less comfortable leaving those tweets as my only words on the subject. So this might come a little late in internet time, but I want to say more about it. Before I start, I should say that I’m talking specifically about the practice of people changing their name so that it’s the same as their spouse’s. I know people change their names for other reasons, and I’m not talking about those. I also know that not every culture expects women to change their names if and when they marry, and I’m not talking about that either. I’m talking about people who change their last names so that they can have the same one that their spouse has because that’s the name-changing practice that has the strongest effect on me.
My mom didn’t change her name when she married my dad. None of my married aunts changed their names. My grandmothers both did, and as a kid I thought they had done it because they weren’t allowed to keep their own names back when they had married. I still assume that’s why they did it, but I could be wrong. I have two last names. Legally, one is a middle name, but it feels like a surname so that’s what I count it as. When I was younger, I felt confused when I met a married woman of my mom’s generation or younger who had taken her husband’s name. I thought maybe she didn’t know that she had the option of keeping her own. As I got older I realized that women were aware of their options and that some of them just made choices I disagreed with, in this area and others.
I don’t understand why people change their names when they marry. I’ve heard some reasons, about wanting to have the same name as their kids, about wanting some kind of family unity, about it really not being a big deal and not wanting to go through the trouble of explaining why they didn’t change it. I can get those on an intellectual level, but not on an emotional one. For me, my name is my name. It’s what people call me. It’s what I call myself. People sometimes mispronounce it or make up new versions of it, and that’s just always been a part of having the name that I have. I don’t understand the need or even the willingness to just go and change your surname to reflect your marital status. (I also don’t understand the need to marry, but I suppose I might be willing to do it. I mean, I don’t think I ever will, but even if I decided I really wanted to get married, I would still never change my name.)
And I don’t need to understand it. As I tweeted on Friday night, it’s none of my business. I don’t care if or why a woman chooses to marry a man and take his last name. But I do care when people assume that a woman who marries a man will or should take his name. I do care when people act as though a husband should have a say in what surname his wife has. I care when I hear someone (a straight dude) say he wouldn’t mind a hyphenated name, and I care when he looks at me uncomfortably when I ask if he means hyphenating his own name, because that option hadn’t occurred to him. I care when someone else (a straight lady) tells me that she would take her husband’s name because she wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle of correcting people who assumed she had. I care when people roll their eyes when I insist that they write both of my surnames on name-tags or anything else that has my name on it, but not when a married woman tells them to change a name-tag so it has her new last name on it. I care when people talk about how difficult and confusing it will be for a child with two last names to eventually decide what name to give their own children, in front of a new mother who gave her kid two last names and an adult who has two last names (me).
If a woman marries a man and chooses to take his name, she should have the freedom to do that without any kind of political or social or economic repercussions. Just like if a man marries a woman, he should have the freedom to take her name without any repercussions. But a woman should also have the freedom to marry a man and keep her name without any trouble. Without having to correct people who call her Mrs. Husbandslastname automatically. Without any pressure from her husband, his family, or anyone else that keeping her own name means she hasn’t committed. Without worrying that people will call her kids a freak.
And most women I know don’t have that freedom. When I was a teenager I thought that, by the time I was an adult, enough women would have kept their names after marrying that it would seem normal. That hasn’t happened yet. In some ways, I want more women to keep their names just to add to the number of married women who have kept their own names. Just to make it seem more normal. Obviously, I don’t get to make that decision for other people. But until it seems normal, or at least no less normal than women changing their names, we need to keep having this conversation. As Kate Harding says, we need to keep having this conversation without getting derailed by women who did change their names who feel attacked. (She says a lot of other smart things in that piece too. I strongly recommend it.) We shouldn’t attack those women, but discussing the context of married names is not the same as attacking married women who choose to take their husband’s name. So let’s not make the conversation about that. Let’s make it about changing the context in which people either change or don’t change their names.
It looks like I have a pretty busy summer ahead of me. I’ve known that for a while. I signed up to take two courses for my M.Ed. Neither relates to math education, the topic I originally planned to focus on when I applied to the program, but I’ve stopped worrying about that. So that will take up twelve hours every week in class and a few more hours reading and writing assignments. In undergrad, instructors told us we should spend one hour working outside of class time for every hour we spent in class. Does that same rule apply in graduate studies, or does the out of class time increase? I don’t think I actually followed that rule in undergrad, but I suppose I could try doing it this summer. So that makes a total of 24 hours working on my M.Ed. every week. Like, one day, but spread out.
Then, I need to spend a fair bit of time over the summer reworking my courses for next year. I was disappointed with how a few of them went, so I need to make some changes. Maybe I can spend another 12 hours each week doing that. I have about ten weeks of vacation, so that makes a total of about five spread out days. I can’t tell if that’s a lot of time, or just a little. I guess I’ll find out at the end of the summer.
Finally, I have one more thing I’ve scheduled, and at the moment it’s the thing I’m most excited about. I signed up for something called Teachers Write!, a virtual summer camp for teachers and librarians who want to improve their writing and, I think, by extension, their teaching of writing. I never had much trouble learning to write. Maybe I had really good teachers or maybe I just have enough natural skill, or maybe it was a combination of the two, but it always came pretty easily to me. Obviously there’s a lot I can improve on, but I don’t need to think too hard about how to write, and that means that I have a hard time articulating what students need to do to improve their writing, both in constructing an argument and in making their prose sound nice. Last winter, I took a course in Expressive Writing for my M.Ed., and I learned a lot about writing in general and teaching writing, and I think I have more to learn. So I’ll give that about five hours every week.
So, that makes a total of 41 hours every week this summer. A full work week. And on top of that, I think I might have some students to tutor. I guess I really won’t have a vacation this year. But maybe, if I stick to this plan, I’ll develop a little more self-discipline, and I’ll have an easier time getting my work done on time next year. Of course, I know my style, and I can quite easily see myself starting out with great intentions, and then making excuses and letting things slide, maybe even less than a week in. So I’ll need to find a way to combat that. Maybe I’ll write about it. Maybe I’ll buy myself rewards. Maybe I’ll tell everyone the awesome things I’m doing and hope that they ask me for updates frequently, so that I feel guilted into actually following through. I don’t know. I hope I figure it out.
Spoilers ahead, but minor ones. Most of them are about my feelings.
Disclaimer: I don’t watch movies very often*, so any generalizations I make about Hollywood or movies in general are based on the small sample of movies I’ve seen, as well as things I’ve read or watched about movies I haven’t seen.
I finally saw The Five-Year Engagement, and maybe I can only provide a biased review, since Jason Segel won me over with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and just about everything else that I’ve seen him in, but I feel like I need to say: the guy writes good movies. I have a lot of problems with romantic comedies, but I really enjoyed this one. It went to a darker place than I thought it would, and about half way through I realized I had no idea what to expect, and I liked that, because that’s pretty much how life works. You have all these amazing plans, and sometimes they go well, and sometimes they go horribly wrong, and sometimes even when they go well they screw other things up, and you kind of just have to deal with it. And then you do deal with it, and sometimes you like the outcome, and sometimes the outcome sucks, and sometimes you realize that the outcome is actually just another temporary state, because life actually continues after the credits roll (thank God). I might be reading some of my own life lessons into this movie.
I hate stories that end with epilogues ten years later, showing who the main characters end up marrying (usually someone they knew ten years earlier) as though the story wouldn’t be complete without that piece of information. I hate them because they reinforce the idea that the end result is all that matters, when really it’s the in between moments that we should all focus on**. So I like that The Five-Year Engagement celebrated the in betweens, in love and in other parts of life, like work, friendship, family. It had a satisfying ending, and it left some serious ambiguity. Nothing in the movie is permanent or safe, which is scary, but also refreshing.
As usual, the movie certainly isn’t perfect. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and it really should. Maybe I’m supposed to be impressed because it’s a romantic comedy that focusses mostly on a guy, but I don’t buy it. Guys’ stories get told often enough that telling them in a lady-dominated genre doesn’t count as subversive. We see Tom (Jason Segel) develop in a way that’s only tangentially related to his love life several times; we should get the same scenes about Violet (Emily Blunt). Instead, all of her important realizations have to do with who she wants to be with.
The movie probably does better than most Hollywood romantic comedies about white people in terms of representing people of colour, but that’s mostly because Hollywood usually does a super shitty job of that. There are a few non-white characters with names and personalities who actually contribute some to the story, and they only come off a little bit like stereotypes. But I’m not giving out any gold stars for that, even if it is a step in the right direction. All of the primary characters (and most of the secondary ones) are white, and that could have been changed very easily.
I did like all of the main characters, though. Suzie (Alison Brie) and Alex (Chris Pratt), who came off as an uptight, lonely cliché and a boring douchebro respectively at the beginning of the movie, very quickly turned into real human beings that I could both resent and have a soft spot for. Tom went, believably, to a really bad place, and I felt for him the entire time, but I also wanted to slap him and tell him to pull himself together and stop acting like an asshole. And I really liked Violet all through the movie, both when she tried as hard as she could to make things work with Tom and when she got fed up with his crap and put herself first. I think I saw Jason Segel say in some interview that when he writes women, he writes them as though he would play them, so that he ends up writing people, not girls. That’s probably a good philosophy to have, since movies about people are more interesting than movies about gender roles. And I actually believe it, at least for this movie and for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Just like with Sarah Marshall, I think it would be really easy to write Violet as self-centred or high maintenance, always spoiling the fun of her well-meaning but sometimes clueless boyfriend with her need to have a job she likes, and for the moral of the story to be that she just needs to lighten up and let Tom just be himself. Instead, she’s a highly sympathetic character, and when she fights with Tom, you can see quite clearly how both of them have very valid points, but are also kind of in the wrong. One of the main problems I have with romantic comedies is that I frequently find myself taken out of the story because of the silly and unreasonable way that the main woman is written, and it was nice not to have that happen.
So, I’d recommend the movie. It’s funny and sweet and it challenges some of the problematic aspects of most romantic comedies. I think it’s helping to pave the way for other big budget movies to be better.
*The ratio of movies to other things on this blog does not at all reflect the ratio of movies to other things in my life.
**I especially hate young adult stories with those endings, because we should not feed those harmful messages to teenagers. (I’m glaring at Harry Potter and The Hunger Games right now.)