Compromise

Have you heard about compromise?

People are often romantics at heart, it seems, because I’m forever hearing about the power of love, and how it’s what keeps the world running. And I don’t deny it – our emotions are what make us keep going, what stop us from deciding nothing is worth this hell. If you love something enough, it gives you the strength to put up with a lot.

But actual life, actual, physical, day-to-day life? Well, compromise is just as important as love. You don’t need to live a life of pure happiness, cavorting in the clouds to a soundtrack of your favourite musicians playing live and inviting you backstage afterwards, to be happy. I’m not saying that that wouldn’t make you ridiculously happy – I can’t really comment, having never experienced it – but I know for a fact that you can be quite deliriously happy without such exaggerated reason to be.

That’s one of the great things about humans. The oddest, most pointless things can make us happy.

Of course, that also goes the other way. Everything that makes you happy can seem stupidly pointless and make you question why you even care. But when you’re not looking at it from underneath, it’s almost magical how we can be made happy so easily.

But back to compromise.

Life is not perfect, and probably never will be. But there are enough good things in it, generally, that we can outweigh the bad. Of course, this means doing something that the human brain makes very hard for us – see the negative and the positive equally, or even slightly tipped to favour the positive, rather than the negative. You’ve got to make yourself look at your life, look at the people and the pets and the trips to your favourite restaurant and that feeling you get on Friday afternoon – and see how all of that makes it easier to get up at 7 every weekday, or find the money for that dental surgery, or give up your evening out to do something you don’t want to.

Otherwise, there’s no way out. All the bad stuff will cast too dark a shadow over what’s good in your life. Compromise is literally essential to not hate everything – and that’s OK. Really, it’s fine. Maybe it’s not what we want, but we can work with it. You might have to buy the top of the range phone or laptop, and have the other one be a bit cheap, but you’ll be able to pay your rent and buy Christmas presents, so it’s OK. It balances. I know some people are a lot poorer or unhappier than the difference between an iPhone 5s and an old iPhone 3, but surely even then, compromise is what gets you through.

All our life is is compromise, sometimes. It’s summer so you don’t have to wear a jacket, but you’ll get sunburned. You can go skiing in winter, but it’s freaking freezing. Eat the second slice of cake and you’ll feel a bit sick, or don’t eat your vegetables and you’ll also feel sick. We have to make choices all the time, and they’re not perfect. You just have to learn to take the best compromise – take the better one, because best isn’t always an option.

This rambling has been brought to you by me sitting in the sunshine and staring at the sky and loving Australia. And being unable to decide whether I’d rather live here or overseas. You know, the usual big problems of life.

A Love Letter to Germany

Liebe Deutschland, I liebe dich.

I love you for your language, which others claim is harsh and ungainly but which I find the most natural tongue to speak in other than my own native tongue, English. I love those long, frightening compound words which turn out to be perfectly simple and sensible, even if I must admit I hate all those cases and article endings that change all over the place.

I love the castles and the palaces dotted about the country, and your gorgeous Gothic churches which even the most hardened atheists must appreciate, with their soaring spires and fascinating curlicues. And the Fachwerker houses, all lined up together, sometimes higgedly-piggedly and sagging, and sometimes neat and perfectly well-kept, in orderly rows separated by the old-fashioned cobbles that jolt you like a tumble-drier if you ride over them.

I love the Fahrradstag, when all the inhabitants of the little villages near me pour forth on their bikes to ride up the Weinstrasse, even if they get caught up in a temporary Biergarten along the way or stop to eat fresh Waffeln mit Puderzucker, or just to talk and laugh and eat Bratwurst.

I love all the sausages, the Bratwurst and the half-metre wurst from the Markts and the Currywurst that’s far too spicy for me. I love in particular the Wurstmarkt, which is surprisingly enough a wine festival, and all the rides and lights and the smell of sugared almonds and sausages, and the sight of the unassuming parking lot turned into a bustling fairground for two glorious weeks. And then there’s the Weihnachtsmarkts, held throughout the country and full of Gluhwein and candles and gingerbread and what is surely a thousand kilos of onions frying gently and mingling with all the other delicious aromas in the frosty December air.

I love your summers and your snow, even if I cried myself to sleep from cold and exhaustion on that freezing night when we visited for the second time, and I was only 6 and it was snowy and dark and treacherous outside, and I’d come all the way from Australia. I love how the fields and hills transform into ski-slopes, and the forests are cold and clean and silent. And I love the summertime when the trees are full of birds, and you can spot squirrels and rabbits darting about, and rest in the cool shade before returning to the sunny outside, where children swim in the fountains and half the world seems to be at the camping-grounds beside the lakes, venturing out on paddle-boats and steering clear of the infamous, vicious swans. And if they’re not in the water or out hiking, there’s the hundreds of Eiscafes with their beautifully swirled gelato, all topped with berries and fruit and nuts and looking far too tempting to cost less than a euro a scoop.

I love your food, with the Gulaschsuppe and Brotchen and the numerous different Schnitzels, and Spatzle and salmon and dumplings and the delightfully bad-for-you Griebenschmalz, which tastes so good on rye bread. I love your croissants, even if they’re stolen from next-door, and the streusel and the Nusschnecke and gugelhupfen, and the hot chocolate I used to drink for breakfast from that little bakery up-around-the-corner in town. And even if I don’t like all the fruity desserts which are so popular, the Apfelstrudel and so on, I love the blackberries I picked beside the little stream, when my brother and I rode out to the week-end gardens and scratched ourselves collecting berries and jumping the stream and idly considering climbing the fence into a garden, just to have a look.

I love the town I live in, and I love Heidelberg and the Altebrucke and the church opposite my best friend’s old house on the Hauptstrasse, even with the milling tourists all calling out in American accents. And I love the hundred little towns we visited, some by choice and some by happenstance, and the fountains and statues and imposing old Rathaus that we almost always found there.

 

 

And I love Australia too, and I think France is a beautiful place and I want to see Portugal again properly, but above all that, I miss you. I want to come back and slot back in to waking to the church bells and sipping Weinschorle under green vines and trying not to mangle the language too badly. I miss you so much sometimes, when I see a picture of the Ganzliesel or read about Heidelberg in a book, and I want so badly to be back.

Too many people think they’re ugly. It’s just plain statistically unlikely.

Do you know what I find possibly the worst about our current culture’s issues with self-esteem? It’s that there are so many girls – and probably guys – out there who don’t just think they aren’t beautiful – I mean, if we’re being honest, with society’s expectations where they are only maybe 10%, 20% of people should be ‘beautiful’ – but they think they’re ugly. Not average, as probability dictates they should be. But honestly, aggressively, ugly. Repulsive to look at in some respect.

I find that horrible.

 

It wouldn’t be so bad if people JUST felt bad about not being beautiful – which as we all know is utterly ridiculous anyway. But instead of the 80% feeling sad that they’re not in the top 20, most of ‘em are downright depressed because they think they’re practically in the bottom 20. 

It’s just stupid. It’s all just so crazily stupid that some days I can’t believe this is actually a problem we have.

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The fact of the matter is, I tend to walk around thinking quite honestly that most of the people I meet are attractive. Some more than others, sure, and there’s always a few people who just really don’t fit our idea of beauty at all – but I very rarely meet someone who is ugly. And I know way too many people who I sometimes catch myself staring at and thinking “Damn, they’re so pretty/beautiful/handsome/striking.” AND OF COURSE, those of them that are my friends (admittedly I may be prejudiced by my opinion of their character, but it’s not like I’m completely mad) have all expressed the opinion that they aren’t at all pretty.

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I would like to point out that in most cases, self-esteem is in a constant state of flux. One day you feel particularly good, you think you’re pretty in the mirror, you’re happy. The next you could quite literally be idly considering plastic surgery and cursing how expensive it is, before you catch yourself and are rightfully horrified. And most of the time you’ll be somewhere in the middle, though, it would seem, tending towards to the thoughts of plastic surgery. 

 

 

I don’t need to do anything and it’s making me sad.

It’s hard for me to feel like I’m not failing at something. I’m on holidays and so I have nothing to do – and even though I’m doing French exercises occasionally, I still just feel like I’m being unbearably lazy. Like if I ever want to achieve something, I need to be working right now. I do write my little stories sometimes, and otherwise I’m often cooking or cleaning which aren’t exactly the hobbies of a complete loser in life. And yet I feel, for lack of a less stereotypical word, unfulfilled. Despite the fact that more than half my peers are probably doing less than I am, at the moment.

Perhaps I just really need to work harder on learning languages fluently and writing a tonne of stories. I don’t know. Part of me really, really wants to but it can be so very difficult to be motivated when I could just be reading books or with my cat. Or making scrumptious chocolate desserts.

I blame this uneasy feeling on my horrible jealousy of people who succeed, especially those who succeed young. I look at my own list of achievements – mostly good marks – and they seem paltry in comparison to the many people who are doing so many brilliant things. Like when I stumble across Top With Cinnamon, a gorgeous food blog run by a seventeen year old. I was borrowing her croissant recipe when I noticed that she’d started this when she was 15.

Seeing things like that make me ashamed of myself.

So I guess I need to go do something that makes me proud instead.

Nine Year Old’s New Year: A Memory

Happy New Year, to all those not already sick of hearing that. I personally like to think that holidays bring out the inner child in all of us, the one who wants to do irrational things just because we can. After all, holidays are one of the few times that most people can get away with wearing stupid hats and randomly decorating perfectly acceptable pieces of candy as animals.

They’re good that way, holidays.

They’re also good in that they’re great generators of anecdotes and stories and traditions. My family doesn’t have a lot of particular, rigid customs; we tend to decide at about 8pm how to celebrate the New Year’s arrival, and though Christmas dinner usually has lots of similarities to those gone past, I’m sure we’ve always ended up omitting some previously important detail, and added a new one only to forget three years later.

But around holiday time, and especially the Christmas holidays, people travel, and spend time with relatives they wouldn’t otherwise see often (I hear people say that often, anyway, though my family usually keeps to itself), and let down their guard. And that leaves a lot more opportunity for interesting things to happen. You’re more likely to accidentally get directions to a deserted farm over Christmas, because that’s when you’re out driving in some other state looking desperately for your brother’s new farmhouse. And grandmother’s much more likely to bake your aunt’s ring into pie over the holidays, because that’s when you’re all together, cooking and baking up a feast for each other. It’s simple logic, and the fruits of these strange seasons entertain me.

There is, though, one thing which often bothers me throughout the holidays. It’s a nagging thought of what you could be doing instead, of where you could be instead, of how the holiday could be so very different. Maybe it’s because in my early life my holidays were always so varied; Easter in my backyard one year and the next in an Italian hotel, and candlelit white Christmases juxtaposed against the hot, summer Decembers of Australia. My favourite New Year’s celebration was a strange affair in the Czech Republic, where we drove into Prague in early evening to find the city packed with revelers, who tossed fireworks at our car as we passed by. The crowds worried my parents, and it was far too hard to find accommodation anyway, so we changed our plans to overnight in the city and drove further into the country, away to more rural areas and through tiny little towns. I was only 8 or 9, and we drove deep into the night, unable to find somewhere for all of us to stay. Tempers rose and impatience grew and at some point, I was given a chocolate muesli bar. It was late, and I can’t remember whether the muesli bar was my dinner or just given to me to ensure I wouldn’t complain, but I ate half and then carefully pulled the foil wrapper back over it and put it beside me. Too sleepy to even finish the bar, I lay my head against the bumping window and promptly fell asleep.

Later, my mother shook me gently awake, and I found myself in some foreign room. My parents held champagne in glass flutes and the room was dim, even dark. I was still in socks, having had my shoes removed before I was put in bed, so my father simply carried me out to the street outside, where a number of other people were gathered. We seemed to be in a house I didn’t recognise, and I wondered dreamily how we could have gotten this champagne, and where on earth we were.

I think the strangers outside thought I was cute, because I vaguely remember people saying things I didn’t understand, presumably in Czech, to me, and someone gave me a length of thick metal, more than half a metre long. It was a massive sparkler, and as the church bells tolled the New Year I held the sparkler and marveled at its light. There might have been other fireworks, but I don’t remember them, being far too concerned with the gloriously oversized sparkler that I was allowed to hold in my little hands. All around me were strangers laughing, cheering, talking in that foreign language, and my brother and parents, close by me and enjoying the moment with, I suspect, the same confused but excited acceptance of its strangeness as myself. It must have been cold, at the end of December there in Eastern Europe, but I just remember how odd everything was, and how the strangeness of it all just accentuated the excitement in my sleepy mind.The night still has, in my imaginative memory, a storybook-like quality to it, one of those nights you’ll always remember yet never quite understand why it felt so special.

My very last memory of that night was eating the second half of my precious muesli bar. Somehow, to my romantic little mind, the tiny morsels of food seemed like a fitting end to the night, and with the impromptu supper over I finally gave in to the oppressive sleepiness that had held reign over me throughout the affair.

 

And though to some it probably seems stupid, every year after that I remember that New Year’s Eve. It was so different to the others I’ve had, and also probably the first that I can clearly remember the details of. And so it’s always influenced how I experience the 31st of December, and occasionally I find myself wishing that this year was more like that one. It is, in fact, probably the single most frustrating recurring problem I have with the holidays: my constant comparison of them to all those gone past and how they might have been better.

But in the end, I love the holidays. I love them for reminding me of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had, and even though those may be sprinkled with memories of fights and family dramas and getting lost, I still love those good memories.

(And, of course, over the years I slowly subconsciously improve them, and add in more excitement and glamour and splendour. I know our childhood memories tend to be imperfect and improvised, even if they seem perfectly true to us. But I don’t care. I like indulging in that pleasant nostalgia anyway.)

I later found out that my parents had found a little pension, a kind of lodging-house run out of someone’s granny flat, to stay at, in some tiny town in the middle of nowhere there in Czechslovakia. We’d also bought the champagne from our hosts, and they’d kindly lent us the glasses. The semi-surreal experience for me was in fact quite logical when explained, but unlikely enough to allow me to retain my sense of wonder about the night. 

Books and Films: a comparison by a book lover

Do you like books?

I do. Many of the people I love do. Maybe it’s one of the reasons I love them. They’re just such glorious wonders – and anyone who shares that love of reading will know exactly what I mean. I could wax lyrical and go on describing the joy of letters connecting together to weave gorgeous, heartbreaking, exhilarating, human stories but really, there’s no need. You’ll understand me, or you won’t, and that’s that and maybe it’s sad to think that so many people miss out on something so fantastic, but at least there are those who appreciate it.

But there are some people who don’t like reading and instead love movies, and some who just like a good mixture of both. Many of my friends like to read, but ultimately watch more films than they read books. I don’t know what I think of that. One part of me thinks they’re silly and foolish, to choose a screen over a book. But then again, I love movies, and the things they can show you and the way they bring characters to life, so that’s rather hypocritical. Especially considering that for a long time, I wanted to be a movie actress, to tell stories through drama and costume and beautiful sets.

I do certainly enjoy watching movies.

And yet I prefer to read, generally speaking. I prefer the book to the movie adaptation, almost always. It’s not such an uncommon thing, but still my friends ask me, “Don’t you like movies?”. They find it astonishing just how few I watch. Which leads me to consider just exactly why I watch so few, and to consider once more the differences between a story told through pictures and one told through words. So here are my personal opinions, right or wrong or just mildly obvious.

You cannot read a book with multiple people. At least, only if you’re reading it aloud, like to a child. And while that can be a good experience and a valuable one, I think ultimately the vast majority of people prefer to read by themselves, curled in bed or stretched on the grass or on the bench at the bus stop. That’s not to say that they will always be alone while reading – that’s not true. A quiet companionship of relative silence can be cultivated while you read – maybe two people reading together, or one doing paperwork, or listening to music, or driving. But the actual consumption of the words is done privately, individually. It lets you have things how you want them, to conjure the world within its pages exactly as you see them. To interpret the words in the way that best pleases you. You might not like the words, and you might interpret them differently to others, but you’re the one doing it, and that makes it better.

But movies are more sociable, lending themselves to shared consumption and discussion and interpretation and commentary. It’s a different experience, in that your final opinion of the film will be shaped by others, whether directly or indirectly. As so many have previously pointed out, movies take away the audience’s main power of imagination, by providing everything there on screen. It’s not a bad practice. It’s great to see things happen with explosions and expressions and colour and sound. But it does mean that you have less control over how the story appears in your mind. And, as I said before, it’s more likely that you’ll watch a movie with  someone, meaning that you’ll be influenced by them as well. Their presence can be a huge advantage – I love to share laughter and horror and disbelief and sarcastic remarks with someone as we watch a movie together. But if you’re like me, you prefer being alone when you watch something with tears rolling down your cheeks. Or even just when you want something to be perfect, without your friend or your brother or your boyfriend or your mother there to quip at how silly the character looks just as you’re getting to the emotional, heartwarming climax. It takes something away from the moment, makes it lesser. And I hate that.

Of course, books and films both have good and bad points about them. But obviously one will generally appeal more to a particular type of person. I don’t know what it is about me that makes me prefer books, and it could just be a lifetime of loving them from an early age, but I do. Maybe it’s because I like to have control, and I like to be alone with a story, and I like the limitless possibilities of words and their accessibility. But regardless of the reason, one thing is certain and that is that I am undoubtedly a lover of books, now and hopefully and forever.

Kill ‘em with kindness: cruel people and the problems with extreme solutions

Some people have been pestering me of late; how fun it is to suffer through people constantly asking you the same question, over and over and over again, knowing that it’s a question that antagonises you and makes you highly uncomfortable.

Point is, people are jerks sometimes. We all have to deal with them. Some more than most. Bullies, trolls, or just plain old nasty people – they’re got a lot of names but as far as I can see they share one thing in common – they don’t have proper respect for other people.

There’s actually a reason behind this vague moaning today – specifically, this tumblr post about the troublesome website, Return of Kings, which is basically a collection of misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic white men. They’ve been causing some fuss online lately, and my mildly insane hero Amanda Palmer was one of the many who spoke about it, here.

I suggest you read that post if this one is to make any sense from now on.

(This is just, as usual, a long diatribe in which I will try to clarify my feelings and opinion on the matter by musing on it by writing about it here.) 

I hate bullies. Mean people. Whatever. I hate them with a fiery passion, I hate them with a bitter resentment and I hate them with a stubborn determination that sometimes surprises people. I’m not entirely sure why – maybe because they made me miserable as a little kid, and effectively ruined a fantastic experience for me. Maybe because they’ve just followed me my whole life – though I don’t really have many ‘weaknesses’ as such – I’m not gay or an ethnic minority or anything like that – I just seem to be a universal target because of the way I speak and petty things like that.

Regardless of the reason, I hate them.

I’ve also had a few slightly violent habits when trying to deal with these people. Just spur of the moment kinds of things, like slapping someone who kept taking my things or hitting someone with a pen when they refused to acknowledge my existence. I know rationally that it’s awful and I need to stop and I’m making things worse but it’s always seemed like the only way to fight back.

Now, the radfems here are suggesting castration and execution. They’re probably exaggerating a bit – I doubt most of them could actually stomach killing those men. And who hasn’t thought that, some time or other? “I wish I could just kill my boss/teacher/relative/this person who is annoying me”.

But some people find even the suggestion abhorrent. I can’t say I do. Extreme, maybe – but I see their reasoning. As I read that post, I didn’t think “Wow these people are entirely ridiculous.”

Violence isn’t the answer. I accept that. But I don’t think pure love and compassion is either. Yes – it’s part of it. Maybe a big part. But people who act this wrongly – despite being shown why it’s wrong – need to be punished. You don’t make a recalcitrant kid do his homework by constantly letting him off the hook – you do it by threatening to remove his privileges unless he does it. Privileges, not rights. It’s never right to deprive someone of their human rights – I agree with this completely, as much as I wish some people could just be wiped from the face of the earth. But privileges? Oh damn, they are another thing entirely.

No, we shouldn’t be unfeeling and cold and wielding our knives. But it’s both stupid and unhelpful to just drop everything and open our arms and offer hugs to the criminals. In my opinion, anyway.

The way I see it, we need to mix the two extremes. It’s just goddamn useless to only ever have the two opposite ends of the spectrum as options – which seems to be the problem in the linked post.

The culprits have to understand why what they did was wrong before they can learn not to do it. That takes patience and love and understanding – someone taking the time to explain things, to listen to the other perspective and take it into account, to persevere and be someone genuinely trying to help. Not to convert or lecture or punish, but to help the culprit. Because as many people have said before me, if your life is based on treating other people like crap, then it can’t be very good.

Then, if or when the culprit actually understands the issue with their actions, any punishment that’s doled out will actually have an effect. I mean, think about it – if you ever got put in detention for talking in class when it wasn’t you, you’ll note that everything seemed unfair and cruel and awful. But if you actually were talking? Well, odds are you accepted the punishment, not gracefully, perhaps, but knowing deep down that you technically deserved it. Which, in my experience, makes it a bit easier to handle.

So then: attack with kindness until they see the error of their ways, then apply appropriate punishment without the overt influence of emotional responses to the culprit’s wrongdoing and attitude.

Well, that’s what I think, anyway. And yes, I know this wouldn’t work in all situations. But to me it’s damn sight better than killing either with kindness or in the name of righteousness.