This is not about the SFWA. This is about families

(Note: I have an actual family, this is of course not about them, and no detail should be taken as autobiographical)

This is about your uncles
You love your uncles. You are an only child, and they taught you all the normally they would have taught your brothers - about dogs, about the insects who build houses out of little sticks or little pebbles in the stream, about starfish and crabs and how to tie a bowline. They taught you to ski, and they were patient and kind and it was obvious that, not having children of their own, they loved their time with you. They taught you about gun safety. They taught you about guns. They told you politely the first time that you were not a great photographer, but when you started taking good photographs they taught you to develop and print, they taught you about lenses and flash and spent hours with you in the dark room. They gave you the best lens you ever owned.
But, as people who are blessed with relatives living into old age come to know, they are older than you, and that makes them wise in many things but not all. They told you jokes about Jews, which you, to your eternal shame, thought funny and repeated. They proudly announced that they would never shake hands with a homosexual. They hold loud political opinions that you hope your boyfriend doesn't hear. You see your boyfriend wince.
You get married and by then your uncles are your closest relatives. They expect to hold a speech. You have seen them give speeches at other weddings, and you know that half your guests are either Jewish, or gay, or both. Hell, the groom is both. You really, really do not want your uncles to give a speech at your wedding.
This is about your mother
Your mother is scary. The anecdote you always tell people is that when she took the train from where she lived to the town she went to college she sat in an empty compartment and whenever somebody looked in to see if there were free seats she would look up, and they went away. They would sit down if there was no other seat in the carriage, but not before that.
Your mother is fierce and loving, but most of all she is fierce. She has quarrelled violently with all her friends, who have quietly walked away, despite the fact that she is a good, loyal friend. Her relatives keep a careful distance too, despite the fact that she can be counted upon to sit by your bed for how long it takes for you to get better or die, and she will nurse you with fierce love, quarrelling with all the nurses.
The town if full of shops she will not put her foot in any more, because they sold her a faulty item, or refused to change it, or were rude to her, and she has no half measures.
She is easily hurt and you worry for her. When people treat her like a dotty stupid old woman you want to go and punch them, and you would if you could. And it hurts you deeply, because your mother is anything but stupid, anything but dotty. You want to go to them and scream HOW DO YOU DARE? How do you dare speak like that to a woman her age? Do you think you'll be young forever?
You learned a lot from your mother. She taught you to stand up for yourself. You don't scare people out of train carriages, but you have never been harassed or molested, because people are a bit scared of you. She taught you to stand up for others - you stood up for her often enough. She reads more books than you do, and complains about them. She let you free rein with the family bookcases, and only tried to hide The Joy Of Sex from you by putting it in the top shelf behind other books, which did not deter you. She quarrelled with your grandmother when your grandmother deemed a book you were reading inappropriate for you and made your grandmother cry, and give back the book. She never refused to answer a question. She brought you up fierce and self-reliant and smart. She brought you up free.
You also learned from your mother that you don't need to wage total nuclear war for everything, as she does. You are sorry to have lost so many family friends, and for the long hiatus in some family contact, because of your mother, even if she was right. You think that buying groceries is not an emotional bond and you should be prepared to shop even from people who swindled you - you just pay more attention. Also, sometimes looking at things from their perspective makes you think that your demands (that your mother's demands) were a bit excessive. You go through life hoping like hell that you mother doesn't quarrel with her doctor, your father's nurses, the few friends she had left.
You have become, from observing your mother's example, laid back and forgiving, perhaps too much so sometimes. You laugh and defuse situations. If you need to, you quarrel coldly and without saying what you think, because you might regret it later, and say "oh but I didn't really mean it", as your mother did with you too many times. You learn to value friendship, and even family ties, above being right. You learn to say sorry, and to mean it. You learn to say sorry and mean it even when it might not get the friendship back. You don't talk about politics so much, which is a pity because you used to enjoy it but maybe that's a young woman's sport. Your mother still does. With you. You laugh and steer the conversation to cats.
This is about your sister
Your sister is younger than you. She's angry, as she rightfully should be as a woman in a man's world. She's very good at being angry. She is, after all, her mother's daughter. She is funny when she's angry, although less so if you are at the sharp end of her anger. She is passionate, and active, and unlike you, she gets things done. Like your mother, she has lost a lot of friends, but unlike you, she talks about politics, and social justice, and writes and is published, and people take notice of her, and makes you laugh like a drain, and you think if somebody can change the world it will be her, not you, and the world needs changing.
You sister taught you a lot too. It was she who taught you that you are white, something you previously hadn't noticed. She taught you that straightening you hair is a political issue, even if you are white. She taught you about the unthinking way you use your adjectives. She taught you about the value of rage. She pointed out a lot of things you and your friends do that are unthinking and cruel, and you took it on board, although your friends (because she's not their sister) did not, and just walked away offended. And you really don't want to choose between your friends and your sister, but you kind of have to.
You sister is a lesbian, and you desperately want to protect her from people like your uncles, even if she tells you that she doesn't need your protecting, thank you very much, she can cope on her own. But you also want to smack your uncles on her behalf.
You and your sister quarrel a lot. She won't be diverted onto cats. You find it exhausting, but she is your sister. You two stopped speaking for a while, but the thing is, you missed her. You even missed her being quarrelsome, and sometimes awful. You wish your friends could see in her what you see, that white hot shining rage, that shining lance of words,  a warrior in armour charging the sun.
This is about your aunts
Your aunts are no longer young, but they were once. They taught you about makeup. They took you to feminist marches. You could talk about sex with them like you couldn't with your mom. They cooked fantastic meals, and talked about cats, and horror books. You spent time with them when your parents were having a hard time, and they taught you to eat raw mussels from the sea (or tried to). They gave you advice about virginity you didn't listen to (thankfully). In their house, a cat first nuzzled your face when your were crying and settled down in the crook of your arm purring.
You love them, and wish you could spend more time with them. You suffer when they divorce your uncles and are replaced by different aunts, who did not share your childhood.
The thing is, your aunts love your uncles. They are deeply offended when you decide not to ask your uncles to speak at your wedding. They ask you how could you, have you forgotten what your uncles did for you? Have you any idea how much you hurt them?
They say they, and your uncles, won't come to your wedding. And you cry.
This is about you
You love all of your family. You want everybody to get along. You think people could get along, if they weren't as ready to take offence as your mom, so unthinkingly opinionated as your uncles, so damn righteous as your sister. But at this age, you know that is naive. People are what they are. The world needs changing. And you wish you had the right words, but you don't.

ETA: Now open for comments.

This specially for Jo Walton

My list of non-fiction Books You Totally Absolutely Have To Read Right Now You Won't Regret It

1. The wonderful book about suicide: Night Falls Fast, by Kay Redfield Jamison
2. The best book about Cholera AND London with a bit of topography and history of aneasthesia thrown in: The Ghost Map, Stephen Johnson
3. The best book on how women are not the inferior sex, the better sex, the other sex or the same sex: The Mismeasure of Woman, Carol Tavris
4. Segueing on that, how if you have firm ideas you end up adjusting your facts to them: Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), CArol Tavris and Eliot Aronson
5. The book I will use one day to give a talk on Cool Experiments in Psychology at some con, as soon as I get my shit together: Opening Skinner's Box, Lauren Slater
6. The best book you will read about torture, although not a fun read: Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, John Conroy
7. The other Conroy book, which by comparison is jolly: Belfast Diary

more to come...

And so

For people who don't read my FB - yes, me and Alex split up. I am back in my flat, with the cats. The cats seem a bit confused at the sudden shrinking of the garden and the absence of Big Human. Zip threw up a lot, but seems to have stopped now.
How am I doing? Not well. Really not well. There are people who are hurt and suffer for breakups, but my reaction seems to be full blown major depression. Not fun. And no matter how many times I've been there, and no matter that it has always got better, I am scared and the walls of the world are closing in on me and the light is fading.
My mom is coming up today, and my best friend Riccardo, bless him, who has endured through three of these breakups and still is by my side, will come up on the 11th. You know somebody loves you when they love you when you're down and no fun at all. I have lots of good friends like that, and I will need their help in the coming months.
This will be a difficult winter. Winter is never fun for me, and the coincidence of our relationship foundering on the onset of Autumn is such a ridiculous instance of pathetic fallacy that I would laugh if I wasn't so depressed.
I am not angry or resentful of Alex. Well, maybe a tiny bit, but even that is fading. We both tried very very hard. I care for him and I know he cares for me, even if he doesn't love me any more. Of this I have no doubt. And I have no doubt that he never wanted to hurt me. We just did not manage to find a way to love each other in a way that the other could receive.  

Caro amico ti scrivo, così mi distraggo un po'

When you are an expat and somebody from your country dies, there is a special loss, that equals no other. Even in a time of Twitter and online papers, you mostly grieve alone: no wall to wall coverage, no tributes, and even if I were - as they are suggesting - to open my windows this coming Sunday, 4 March 2012, when Lucio Dalla would have been 69 and will be buried, and let his music out, there would be no immediate recognition, no common celebration.

When somebody you grew up with, who shaped moments of your life, dies, you not only lose a bit of your past: you lose another of your roots. Other musicians, and singers, and poets, and strangely hairy short bald men who never quite seem to grow up will take his place in the story of my country, but I won't be there to know it.

I am becoming, bit by bit, like those old Italians who live in New York or Buenos Aires or London, who don't quite speak the language any more, and if they do speak a language that isn't spoken any more in Italy, and the country they come from is not the same that is living its continuing, real life. Their roots are in a vanished nation, a country that only exists, faintly, in their memories.

He was a very likeable man, cheerful even when he wasn't happy, and besides some memorable songs, he seems to have left behind a slew of protégées, and people younger or his age that he helped, dragged back into the business, gave time and energy to, or just was a generous, good-hearted friend to. Unlike many of his friends, he was a serious, undemonstrative believer: so you can if you will say a prayer for him.

Italy being the country that it is, despite the fact that he never married, that he was known to have many loving male friends, only one journalist dared mention his private sentimental life: and was duly told off because you don't out somebody who very clearly chose not to out himself. Which is good and true, although, as one of my friends commented, homophobia would end tomorrow in Italy if all Italian gays told their mom the truth. Sadder it is that some people were outraged at the slanderous rumours disseminated about the great man so close to his death.

The new year that is to come is still some time off in Italy.

Two things make a post

1. I convinced myself that I needed to invest a considerable sum of money on some new sunglasses, because the light in the office bothers me and my eyes are tearing up all the time. Also, these particular glasses are identical to my beloved wayfarers but unlike them they are polarised.

Well, who knew: while all sunglasses are polarised horizontally, most LCD monitors are polarised vertically. Result, I can do a pretty cool demonstration of how polarisation works by turning my glasses in front of a monitor. I can also work very comfortably, if I turn my head by 90˚.

2. Apparently there is a crowd sourced project that looks at galaxies to classify them. There emerged a group amongst them called the Peas Corp that noticed some weird small circular green blobs that turned out to be, yes, Pea Galaxies.

I suddenly and fondly thought of Douglas Adams, and how happy he would be to hear that.

(There is also a crowd sourced project for gathering data from Royal Navy ship's log. The leading scientist confessed to a great fondness for a certain Lt. Farnell, who not once, not twice, but three times got into serious trouble for having given alcohol to the crew at Christmas.)


I don't know why, but I have been hearing a lot about education in the UK lately. Well, it's always a subject bubbling under the surface, really, so no mystery about that.

The last thing that made me grumpy was a discussion about grammar schools. Grammar schools, for those of you not from this fair island, are schools that are a) very good and b) you can access only if you pass a rather tough exam at 11 years. They are free, if I understand correctly, and have been historically a way for people of working class extraction to gain an excellent education, and have been seen as a generally good thing by many.

There are less of them around these days, which is seen, again, by many as a bad thing.

They also seem to me to highlight the fallacy that the UK almost always falls into when talking about inequality.

The point is, this is a very, very unequal society. And this has a whole lot of consequences, for which I will send you off to read The Spirit Level, among other things.

Now the problem with an unequal society is not that it keeps bright minds from shining. That too, of course: but that it not the main problem. Grammar schools are seen as a good thing because, if you overcome poverty and lack of education in your background to pass an exam at 11, you are afforded the same privileges of those who are sent to good private schools.

And that's a good thing for those individuals who do go to them, but it doesn't fix the problem. The problem is that if you aren't exceptional, you are stuck in your pigsty where apparently you belong.

I have just read a nice piece on the selection process to Cambridge. Well, the selection process is as fair as can be, in a completely unfair society. Oxbridge seems the hated symbol of all that's wrong in the disparity of opportunity in this country, but it's not - they demonstrably go out of their way to redress the balance. The problem is not that state schools send enough pupils to Oxford and Cambridge.

The problem is that state schools are bad.

The problem is not that bright students are not sifted away and nurtured specially.

The problem is that inferior students are not nurtured and made into bright minds.

Which, I am sure, the vast majority of the public here doesn't believe possible or even right. Some people are smart and deserving and some are dumb and undeserving and this is the unchangable way of the universe and always will be and always has been, and no amount of hard evidence is going to make a dent in the great Downton Abbey mind of the English public.

This country has always done meritocracy right, something that I appreciate coming from Italy. But there is more to justice than meritocracy. The truth is that is it perfectly possible to improve the general education level of a country - Finaland did it - by caring about the general level of achievement instead of nurturing only exceptional talent. Exceptional talent is a great thing, but a nation of average achievers is much better for many things - including democracy - than a nation made up of a few bright things and a mass of Daily Mail readers.

I don't have kids, but what would I want for them? I'd want them not to have to measure themselves against their peers all their life, really, and I'd want them to live in a nation that didn't let the voters get stupid with a shrug and a roll of the eyes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Anna feels awful

In the physical sense, although since I ran out of antidepressants, and the last time I was so sick I also ran out, and went could turkey, and it was not good, it might progress to the other kind of awful.

I can't afford to stay off work, but if tomorrow I need to go out and fight for my medication that might well be all that I will be good for. I'm ok as long as I am on plenty of fluid and paracetamol. For reduced expectations values of ok.

Well, vitamin D is not infallible is all I can say.

Not a fantastic way to get back on LJ, but hey, that's what gives me enough time: being miserable in front of a keyboard.

Another of those days

Yesterday I was sick with the beginning of a cold that my immune system seems, luckily, to be fighting off really well, but it meant that in the morning I was too ill to even move around and all I could do was plant myself in front of the tv. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Oh yeah baby.

I'm not so stupid or naive that I couldn't have anticipated that it was not going to be a deeply affecting, sensitive and thoughtful day of programming, but it left me feeling both deeply depressed and angry.

Most of the time, when you see some horrible disaster unfolding on TV there is excitement that goes with the horror. I remember feeling that excitement being so overshadowed by the horror that it might as well not have been there that day. I have lived a sheltered and lucky life and that was by far the most awful thing my eyes have ever seen.

A lot of people I think in the immediate afterwards tried to find some comfort in the idea that at least, the horror we had all witnessed would have drawn us sharply back to our common humanity, to the minimum denominator we all shared, and force us in a way we would not have wished to have compassion forced upon us.

Boy, were we wrong.

Being stuck in front of the tv I saw a lot of tackiness. It takes a lot of effort to turn people reading the names of the dead, including their own, into tackiness, but tv managed it. You think: it's been ten years. Those people are still grieving - in some cases, they are forced to go on grieving - but the rest of us are trying to dredge up feelings for strangers. It is forcing us to feel a compassion that is, in this case, fake. We are intruding on their grief, like emotional vampires, to keep alive that little flame of excitement that was so small back then.

There are heroes and villains, and victims, here. The guys who rooted with bare hands in the rubble to find bits and pieces of corpses, I did not realise until today what they were doing. In many cases they knew they were putting their health at risk, and not even for saving lives, but in a heroic act of respect for the dead and the grieving.

The villains, well, we know who they are. And one of the things they did is besmirch the feeling of common humanity, of compassion and heroism, and now every time there is a remembrance of the dead you know that most of them are not celebrated and reading their names out loud would take just too fucking long:

As I said on twitter, the nadir for me was the montage of footage of the day with saccharine soundtrack. James Taylor's song was also pretty bad but hey, that's a matter of taste. It could conceivably have been remedied by adding, to those appropriate choir as the national anthem and Amazing Grace, some of the other tunes America is famous for, I don't know, This Land Is Your Land, or maybe Born in The USA.

Eventually, I turned to Poirot and started working to fix my polka dots shirt to fit me better. It felt like a better use of my time.

A few random things

1. I am feeling a tad annoyed at people who wag their fingers in the general direction of Other People and preach Personal Responsability (tm) but hurry in the next breath to deny vehemently and with outrage that any of their choices might perhaps have ultimate consequences they might not like. Personal Responsability sometimes also means contemplating the possibility that you are wrong.

2. I know a certain number of single mothers. Working class, non-white single mothers. The first person that even *thinks* ill of them gets punched in the nose.

3. People always learn the wrong lessons. Sigh.
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