Victoria Jelinek


Matrices
July 13, 2018, 11:48 pm
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Trump baby balloonOkay, granted I’ve spent the last hour-and-a-half on Twitter so I have a grim perspective as I write this at 90 words per minute. After midnight no less. However, as I have now read several gushing tweets by Americans thanking the English for their massive “support” of the USA due the anti-Trump protest in Central London (prompted by Trump’s state visit), I have several questions:

Doesn’t thanking the English for practicing civic action against a global pariah seem to lack a sense of irony? I mean, isn’t this kind of narcissism (lite) part of what bred the climate that allowed Trump to get into the White House in the first place? Did the English protest out of a sense of empathy for the plight of America and half of its citizens or because he is damaging global principles and alliances developed over the last century in order to avert war? Could they have protested because Trump and his administration pose a global threat to their own survival? Or, perhaps they protested ‘cause America influences culture, economics, values and practices everywhere, and they don’t want this US administration’s practices of bigotry, racism, xenophobia and avarice spreading?

I mean, if one considers all the pieces of Trump’s actions, such as cozying up with the likes of Duterte, Putin, Kim Jong-un (and implicitly supporting Assad) while being disrespectful of Merkel or May, pulling the USA out of the Paris Agreement, denigrating NATO, denigrating women, imposing trade tariffs on US imports, threatening trade deals, banning citizens of seven countries, and undermining journalism, don’t all these things have an impact on the rest of the world?  Of course it does, or there wouldn’t have been the massive protest in London. That said, why didn’t the Belgians protest a few days ago? Though there was the World Cup…but then, are the Finnish protesting, too? Let us hope so, particularly as it’s where Trump is meeting Putin. Though they have repeatedly been occupied by Russia throughout history, even threatened by Russia if they joined NATO, so they may be worried about making Putin angry…in which case, England certainly did represent Europe’s general view that Trump is a numpty.

I’m not raising these questions because I believe there isn’t empathy by many abroad for the citizens of the USA who are truly suffering due to the destructive nature of Trump and his administration. Nor do I deny that it’s encouraging for many good Americans* to see their own opinions and feelings echoed by those seemingly outside of the situation (very important in this age of ‘gas lighting’). I write this because I wonder if it isn’t more productive to view Trump in the context of the implications of his behavior and his actions for everyone everywhere. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be more beneficial if we all started viewing political, social and economic actions throughout the globe outside the boundaries of our own personal, cultural, or geographical perspective and began, instead, to see the connections, connect-the-dots style? Or at least try to. Isn’t context important? Isn’t it the basis of reasonable assessment of any situation? Particularly given the growing ‘interconnectedness’ of the world’s populace…

digital-dollar-sign

*Addendum: I lived in London for 13 years. Until Brexit, I considered it my adopted home and have been grateful to the city that educated me formally and personally.  Now, I have lived away from the USA for 20 years continuously. However, I have never been so saddened or embarrassed (to this degree) by America till now, and the protest in London does give one a sense of affirmation, all the more important ’cause it’s a noble and respected city. And I do hope that there is a massive protest in Paris against Trump’s planned visit in November…this, too, would mean a lot both to thoughtful Americans and it would go a long way, too, to saying “no” to all that Trump personifies…

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Fleabag

imagesFleabag is a darkly humorous sitcom created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Having originally appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a stage monologue, Amazon financed production of a six-part series, and the BBC picked it up for distribution. It’s about a woman who can’t quite cope with life in London after the recent death of her best friend. To “help” her along her terrible and squalid path, is her father, an ineffectual man who moved in with her awful – though very talented – godmother, just after her mother died. And her sister, a painfully uptight workaholic married to a slime bag.

Each character in Fleabag, including our heroine, is unpleasant, defeated and unhappy. Except for the dead best friend, Boo, whom we meet through regular flashbacks. This doesn’t sound like a good review, and I can only imagine how difficult pitching this idea to a TV exec would be, but Waller-Bridge has created something truly unforgettable here. The script is full of acerbic one-liners that will leave you breathless, and the characters are hypnotic. It’s perfectly cast, with especially stellar performances by Olivia Colman and Bill Paterson. But Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag is magnetic in her savage self-loathing.

The first word that came to my head when I finished watching the series was “Wow.” Note the period, no exclamation mark. If I had to describe Fleabag in four words, I’d choose Harsh. Poignant. Surprising. Funny. Definitely worth watching, but not for the faint of heart.

 



Open Letter to the English regarding “Brexit”
June 14, 2016, 11:17 am
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

imagesMy love affair with England began in 1990. I was an undergraduate student in London. I loved the particular energy of the city. The diversity of shoes on display in shop windows and on people’s feet. The apartments over ground floor shops. The double-decker red buses. The black cabs. The deep, smelly, hole-in-the-wall pubs. The trains. The humor – which is everywhere – from the people you meet casually or in passing, to radio and TV broadcasts, to one’s friends. The literature. Oh, the great literature. The libraries. The music. The history. The architecture. The pride. The Indian food. The bacon sandwiches and brown sauce. The pastoral countryside. The rivers. In fact, returning to the USA, I moved to New York City because it was the closest approximation of London that I could find in America. In the years since, I have repeatedly returned to London to live – for graduate school and, later, for work. It’s the only place I’ve lived – of several – which I continually and almost religiously, return to. Livings as I do now in an unnatural habitat for me (and at the risk of sounding dramatic) my regular visits to London are the lifeline that sustains me. Without that vibrant, majestic, complicated, dirty city and my community of friends – honed over 25 years through school and work – I would be bereft.

That said, for the first time my beloved adopted country precariously sits in my heart and mind due to its likely vote to exit Europe. This makes me terribly sad, troubled and confused. Over the course of the last month or so, in London and with the English expatriates who populate the region I currently live and work in, I have been surprised to hear that they mostly favour an exit. Their reasoning? That it’s “better for England.” When I ask exactly how it’s “better for England,” their arguments are thin, though impassioned – “It’s not right that England is ruled by unelected foreign officials!” It’s been “co-opted” by people they can’t see and who are not English. Ultimately, however, it comes down to this: “We are full and can’t accept anymore.” To paraphrase a dear friend who is truly English, the motivation to exit doesn’t seem to be just from fear (tribal basics of ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ – see Social Psychology), but from the very real difficulty in getting a GP appointment. From meeting droves of Polish and Asian people waiting in the doctor’s surgery, who are often waiting for translators for their appointment, which is an additional burden on the NHS. The desire to exit is because locals find that their kids are unable to get school places. The parents chat in a multitude of languages in the playground, which promotes fear in the English-speaking parents that their kids are being held back ‘cause they have twenty-four languages in a middle-class white school in Surrey, for example. It’s folks seeing foreign food aisles in supermarkets. British folks looking for a builder and struggling to find one that isn’t Polish, or having carers who can’t speak to them because they’re foreigners without the ability to talk competently in English. It’s black cab drivers that are losing work ‘cause there are flocks of mini cabs being driven by foreigners offering cheaper rates. It’s the fear that unwanted hordes of migrants and refugees will be granted citizenship in France or Germany and then move to England with their fresh passports. The thing is, England needs these workers. Without them, who will do the work that the average English man doesn’t want to do, certainly for a lower wage?

The ‘un-elected foreign officials’ making laws are in Belgium. They’re an amalgamation of Europeans, including the English. Moreover, it’s a miniscule fraction of the laws in England that have their origin in Europe. And likely less so with the recent concessions Cameron has received. On top of that, the laws that have been enacted in England from Europe are about the environment – housing is built to an environmental standard and there are incentives to make one’s homes more environmentally sustainable. The waterways of England have been greatly cleaned up and are protected by EU laws regarding dumping and waste. The EU protects workers rights in an environment of vicious capitalism. For example, the right to ask for overtime pay if your employer requires that you work more than 48 hours a week is protected by an EU law. And if you’re into vicious capitalism (or simply growth and invention), the EU allows English companies to trade and expand more easily, thereby creating jobs and revenue for the country. The EU protects human rights laws –the ability to have a safe place to live subsidized by the state for example. The lack of wars and infighting between countries within the EU has ceased since the 1950’s, when the EU was just a good idea – one that took decades to create and enact and which has consequently ensured peace between the nations of Europe since the (that’s only just over 60 years of peace!). What about the sharing of information? If England secedes, there will not be the same level of cooperation between countries to find a given ‘bad guy’ (and there are already problems given language and bureaucratic realities). Freedom of movement for the English and their children is a product of the EU. The ability to buy houses in warmer countries outside the UK. The ability to work and live out your retirement on the continent with protection for health and welfare as you age, are products of the EU. Low airfares to/from the continent for holidays are a product of the EU. Protection during your package holiday such as travel insurance and charlatan deals are a product of the EU. The ability to buy loads of wine and cheese ‘cheaply’ with a mere crossing of the channel is the result of the EU. The hordes being held on distant shores are the product of the EU – without the EU, the reception will be in Dover, not Calais. Lack of roaming charges on mobile phones is a EU invention (and hasn’t even gone into effect yet). If England exits, it will be the end to the welfare state most English people know. Certainly those under fifty years of age. And one still won’t get a school place or go to a GP appointment without incident or have more material possibilities outside the EU because it’s lack of good management and long term planning that are the problem as well as inequitable distribution of wealth.

I do understand those desiring a frustrated exit from the EU, even as I disagree. I, too, worry about practical and material possibilities for my child in the future. I worry about the influx of migrants – the Trojan horse theory that there will be ‘bad ones’ mixed in with the ‘good ones’ simply seeking a safe haven for their families has entered my construct of reality, too. I am troubled by the prospective entry of Turkey into the EU. I appreciate the country, its beauty, history and music, but it’s not a culture that shares the same values as other European nations – which includes England – about gender roles, education, religion, marriage, work, freedom of speech, and penalties to criminal offenders. Why then would they be a part of the EU? Well, that’s a larger argument about global tactics, side deals, and corruption. The Brexiters are right to complain about the EU’s endless hassles, choices, and its bureaucratic administration, but one does not change things from without. One changes them from within.

Referring to the primal fear in England that the country is losing its national identity, it begs the following questions: despite being a country of immigrants, when you think of Americans, do they not share a common identity in your mind? (For better or for worse). In an increasingly global world, where increased knowledge of other cultures – namely languages – is a practical benefit, why would one want to eliminate that exposure for your children? (Also, look at the neuroscience regarding bilingual abilities and the positive effect on a child’s brain). Does it make sense to break the bonds with your neighbours in such troubled times?

In my opinion, the finest qualities of the English are their language, their humour, their resourceful stoicism, and their generosity. Would not the best way to ‘fight’ the feeling of losing one’s identity be to uphold these values despite the seemingly fierce opposition to them? Figure out ways to teach foreigners the native language and bring ‘em over to the English POV. Find the ways to solve the real problems of mismanagement, poor bureaucratic processes, and lack of material possibilities and wealth (starting with the NHS, the Inland Revenue, namely tax evaders, and foreign home ownership would be a good start). Dearest England, despite your fears and frustration, act in solidarity for what is essentially a good idea for everyone, including you. The European Union is a positive force, not a negative one. Personally, I fear that I’m going to lose friends over this vote…I might find it hard to look those opposed to the EU in the eye because to me a vote to exit is on par with a vote for Trump (who supports Brexit btw) — it’s yielding to the lowest common denominator in each of us.

A few resources for information on Brexit:

http://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2016/may/31/eu-referendum-brexit-for-non-brits-video-explainer?CMP=share_btn_link

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/comment/what-would-brexit-mean-for-travellers/

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887



The Pregnancy Diaries 23

I told my dentist my teeth are going yellow. He told me to wear a brown tie. Rodney Dangerfield

waiting-room1It seems as though I’ve spent this entire pregnancy in doctor’s waiting rooms. Even so, I’ve had a toothache for about six years and if there’s one pain I can potentially get rid of right now, then I’m going to try.

Several years ago in London I had a cavity filled. I didn’t have a dentist there so I ‘simply’ went to one of the Boots with one. What a mistake. The dentist carved my tooth so deeply and so widely there was barely any tooth left and it still hurt. On my next visit to the U.S.A., I visited the family dentist. I’ve had the same dentist for over three decades, and when I’ve visited other dentists where I’ve lived, they have always commented on the positive state of my teeth…I attribute this to my good doctor, because I eat too much sugar and am not conscientious about flossing. My mother tells me she and my father prepared me for my first visit to the dentist, aware that I might be freaked out and be a bother to him. Instead, I promptly fell asleep in the chair. The dentist told my mother afterward I was “the most relaxed child” he’d ever seen.  I’d like to believe this was true, but I attribute this to the fact that as a child my parents tried an “experimental method” of sleeping with me in which they would allow me to tell them when I was tired and wanted to sleep…my mother admits I regularly would “go and go, then simply slump somewhere and sleep.” Nice. During this last visit to the family dentist a year ago, he dug up the cavity and replaced it, telling me he’d filled in some “space” created between the teeth so I wouldn’t get “food packing” in between the teeth which causes pain (yech!).

But the pain has remained, so I went to the dentist in Chamonix recently. My body is becoming huge, my stomach is regularly cramping, my eyesight is blurring, and I have regular heartburn, so if there’s a pain I can do something about then I’m going to do something about it. Except that I couldn’t really. But it took several visits to ascertain this. I went the first time and she explored the tooth but was hesitant to take x-rays because of my pregnancy. She asked me to get an “okay” from my doctor regarding her taking x-rays and kindly booked me in for an appointment (it took me six months to get one in the first place!). My good doctor looking after my pregnancy replied when I asked whether it was okay, “Bof! Bien sur!” However, the dentist did not believe me upon my next visit to her and telephoned his office. Of course he said it was fine. She took the x-rays and declared my roots were dying, however, it would be best to see if we could revive them rather than diving into a root canal. At the next appointment, she gave me local anaesthesia twice (I don’t like pain, but I couldn’t drink my coffee afterwards, I felt as though my lips were paralyzed) and dug up the old cavity and filled the roots with clove derivatives…it felt nicer, and I did hope the tooth would revive. I returned this last week and discovered the roots are still dying and it will be best to do a root canal, but she doesn’t want to do this while I am pregnant. So, she took out the old cloves and packed the roots with more cloves and sent me on my waddling way, instructing me to call her when the wee one is out. Between the weekly visit to the laboratoire for blood samples, the weekly visit to my doctor for a check-up and an ultrasound, the intermittent visits to specialists and recently to the dentist, I feel as though I’ve spent my entire pregnancy in a doctor’s waiting room.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 17

I found there was only one way to look thin: hang out with fat people.’ Rodney Dangerfield

Given the ‘all clear,’ or ‘tout va bien,’ from my doctor regarding my pregnancy last week, I headed to London to visit friends. While there, I’ve experienced a metamorphosis of my body and in my perspective.

I left Chamonix with a slight curve to my belly – nothing particularly noticeable unless you know I’m pregnant – and suddenly my stomach has exploded and I look pregnant! It’s as though I’m a cartoon figure that has blown up an inflatable belly through my thumb or something. My boobs, usually very small, have suddenly become full and round. I walked into a friend’s house and she exclaimed ‘Jesus, Victoria! Wear a bra! You look like a sow!’ Being flat-chested, and to this point, not in need of a bra, I’m startled to discover that I’m, arguably, obscene now without one! In my shame, I scurried to Marks and Spencer and thankfully had a solicitous friend with me to help me to get the right size, so I’m now contained and respectably pregnant.

Being pregnant, I’m not drinking. I don’t judge those that do…if I were younger and didn’t have a history of miscarriages, I’d have the odd glass of wine, but I’m not taking chances given my age and circumstances. As a result, I’ve been dashing about meeting friends and acquaintances for the inevitable lunches and dinners, and what I’ve discovered is that many of my pub buddies (aka acquaintances) are dead boring when I’m not drinking. Worse, these folks are irritating, and there is nothing worse than being boring and irritating. I’ve suffered through so many ‘existential’ confessions, sober, this last week, that I’m wondering if I was as bad pre-pregnant, or whether it’s truly ‘cause I’m not in an altered state? Or, rather, not in the same altered state brought on by many late nights and midnight falafels…



The Pregnancy Diaries – 13

How we apples swim. Jonathan Swift

My husband planted an apple tree in our garden this week in honour of our first pregnancy, a tangle of atoms that we called Appleseed… my column this week is a page from my diary, written in 2009:

It’s not just the little group of cells that’s lost. I’ve had a miscarriage before. I was attached to this child. I was trying to tell myself throughout to be careful, careful, not to get too attached. I was so excited that I was bursting to tell everyone. I satisfied this desire by telling strangers who I knew I would never see again. I’m so disappointed now. I haven’t stopped crying for four days. It’s horrible. It feels visceral. I miss Appleseed. I was fascinated from point ‘go’ by this strange little thing and its rapid growth. It was first a little group of cells, then it had layers for the nervous system and respiratory system, then it had little nubs for arms and legs, then webbed feet and hands…a heartbeat by the time it died. I understand the body rejected it for a reason, but it hurts deeply. Also what hurts – perhaps more – is the attachment I felt towards the dream that having this child conjured in me and now that feeling is lost.

I have to lie down. When I knew that I was pregnant, if my body told me that I needed to lie down, I did. If my body needed water, I drank it. If my body said I was hungry, I fed it well. It was a habit quickly established as soon as I knew that I was hosting Appleseed. I quit smoking. It became a protection issue for someone else. I didn’t have breakfast before I went to the hospital. Thinking about it now, I knew that I was losing Appleseed anyway and so I didn’t have to protect the little thing anymore, so what did it matter if I ate or was comfortable? At the hospital, I sat in this little hard plastic chair, in this Victorian-type narrow hallway with little light, shabby furniture, linoleum floors, dank, with people standing and sitting everywhere. I went into a little office. Last night’s scan showed that there was a ‘buoyant’ pregnancy sack, and inside of it a yolk sack, and next to it, a foetus. Today, there’s just blood, the pregnancy sack has collapsed. The doctor tells me that because of my previous miscarriage ten years ago, coupled with my age, that I have a 74% chance of a miscarriage if I get pregnant again.

Feeling sick, cramped up, completely overwhelmed, shocked and disappointed, I went out into the hallway and the world seemed hard and horrible. There were so many people in this hallway. I went out into the stairwell and this guy pushed past me. I was walking rather slowly, gripping the rail with my left hand. Then from behind me this woman said, “Are you okay?” And I said to her “No. I’m having a miscarriage.” She took my arm and helped me down the stairs. Outside, she asked me if I wanted to go for a coffee or a tea. She told me that she was 49 years old. She’d had three miscarriages and an abortion because of chromosomal problems before she had a fifth pregnancy and finally her child who is now 14 years old. She’d been at this hospital today because she’d been at this recurring miscarriage unit because a professor is doing a study for the Imperial College there with the NHS. We went out on the street into the cool sunshine, it was one of those beautiful autumn days – I love London when it’s sunny with a bit of freshness to the air. She says to me, “Do you want a cigarette?” and I say “Yes!” I’m standing on the street bleeding profusely, I’ve not even had water, and I’m smoking.

We went to a pub across the road and sat outside. She fetched me a glass of wine. She’s Italian. She lives in England with her husband of 30 years. She’s well-to-do. Well-educated. Earthy. She tells me about her three miscarriages and the choice after all of that trauma to have an abortion and then about her son who has Asperger’s. She tells me how sometimes she felt angry and scared. But now she realizes that she wouldn’t be the character she is – and she likes herself – if she had not experienced all of this. She has truly learned to take things as they come. She tells me that if there was a lottery ticket and there was a one in four chance of winning that lottery ticket, I’d buy that lottery ticket, no? That I can’t give up because one doctor was discouraging and the statistics look bad. I must believe in, and honor, the love I feel for the child that I will have. She tells me that life is about living, having hope and faith, friendships, time. At the end of it all, it’s only about this. I feel better. Courage flits in me in place of Appleseed.