hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
TIL another thing that I cannot say in British English is "Notre Dame."

Not when I'm this sleep deprived at least! I caught myself this morning sounding like I was talking about college football (both of which are also words that have wildly different meanings here, yes I'm aware) and felt like such a hick from the sticks.

But then, I am. Plus I feel that Minnesota has a great tradition of butchering French names: it's more than a decade since I read [livejournal.com profile] mwhittier saying that Minnesotans pronounce the lovely poetic name "Mille Lacs" as if it was spelled Mlax and I still think about that all the time.

(Plus other things I can't say in British English include my first name and the city where I live, so it's nothing personal, Notre Dame.)

I said this on Mastodon and it led to delightful sprawling conversations about phonetics, rhoticity, Spanish, Czech, the Pride I went to last weekend, and a favorite episode of my favorite TV show [link is spoilery for early season 3 of The Good Place]. Kept me company on an afternoon when I was too headachy to do anything else, even eat or sleep.

For all I was talking about America butchering French names, I think it's important to mention what linguist Lynne Murphy calls America's Verbal Inferiority Complex. She talks about it in relation to British English because she lives here but I'd argue it's even more acute for languages like French, which white Americans consider at least as prestigious as British English but also treat with the same suspicion our little monoglot hearts have for all languages other than English.

I got thinking about this when the Mastodon conversation ended up with someone saying "Americans can't pronounce their own French last names properly" and I am very opposed to the idea that people can be wrong about their own damn names. It's a complicated issue -- this person was arguing that it's an "erasure of history when people do this to their family name, like refusing to acknowledge that languages other than English exist" and I am keen for the acknowledgement of languages other than English, but I think people's names are different than other parts of language; I fervently believe that no one is pronouncing their own name wrong, that it is not possible.

And what counts as "properly" is entirely a matter of social context: as a friend pointed out, "Mlax" or /mɪl læks/ is pretty close to French c. 1680. Modern French pronunciation was only just starting about then, when French people were naming things in what was going to be Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, etc. If you've heard of America keeping some Elizabethan English features (which is always seen as a good thing! (though I think that's another example of American Verbal Inferiority Complex)) this is like that but with French.

I think I could explain what I'm thinking better if I didn't still have such a headache (I have at least had a nap and pizza now, but it's still there) but... Because white America isn't any good at dealing with its colonialist history, it tends to think of itself as a broken or substandard version of Europe. But "correctness" is always relative, and the hundreds of years of political, linguistic, and every other kind of change in the U.S. mean there's no way it's going to confirm precisely to the conventions of any language as spoken in Europe.

And that is normal and okay and unavoidable. Notre Dame is just as good a pronunciation as Notre Dame.
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There's a picture of some text that I've seen shared many times on Facebook, which shows how relatable my friends group finds it. It goes:
Hi. Sorry I haven't texted you back I've been anxious and depressed. I haven't had time to catch my breath, you know how life gets. I am so drained I can't even collect the energy for the most menial of tasks. Iike texting you back or washing the one dish in the sink. The weather has been beautiful, right? Yesterday I fought off a panic attack while I was driving. I had to pull over because my vision was blurred. I focused on how blue the sky was. I haven't washed my hair in three days. I just want to sleep all the time but if l told you you would want to uncover a reason behind all of this and there is no tangible reason you would accept as valid. How are you? I hope well. Let's get dinner soon!
I look at the entry I'm trying to write for today, a day when I wouldn't have written anything if I wasn't determined to blog every day this year, and I feel like it has both the crossed out parts and the other stuff together.

I thought it'd be good to blog every day to get some idea of how I'm spending my days, of the ephemeral things so soon forgotten otherwise. But some days, like today, there isn't anything to say about what I did, no clever anecdotes, I haven't even read anything to share. I tried to write that superficial stuff and it came out all wrong. I don't feel like I'm expressing myself well at all today. I tried adding the crossings-out and it finally made sense:

I can hear the wind howling outside. It's been cold and drizzly today. I didn't have a lot of fun waiting for the bus home (there's no shelter, and I finished work with 20 minutes to wait until the bus was due).

I walked to Asda afterward because we needed dog food. Andrew saw me come home with two bags and laughed. I said I'm just buying two of things these days. He reckons no-deal Brexit, i.e. the one where there's no food or medicine, is less likely now but I don't remember the details that convinced him of this because I only let him talk to me about politics for about two minutes a day before the panic rises (so no comments on the subject please). I'm already having nightmares and anxiety attacks. Friday was bad because it was March and March 2019 had been held over us like a threat for two years, so I wasn't coping very well with the fact that it was now real.

I bought snacks for myself because I feel rubbish so of course I only had junk food for lunch. I started some laundry and then slept for three hours. I've been awake another hour but I'm still so tired. My depression is so, so bad lately. I woke up with the dog snuggled up next to me. I was lying on my side and he was stretched out along my spine, the smallest big spoon in the world. I love it when he does that: it is the most comforting feeling.
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So this morning, awake too early (thanks for all the barking, Gary) and lying in bed pretending I'd fall back asleep, I saw a toot (yes that's what they're called on Mastodon):
everyone: herbs and spices
america: 'erbs and spices
???: herbs and 'ices

the search for the missing nation
I tried to let it go, to appreciate the shitpost for what it was, or even just to ponder how interesting it is that both consonants at the beginning of spices are understood to be part of the syllable onset even to people who don't use words like "onset" for that (I've been doing lots of phonology reading today; it probably shows).

But I couldn't. I just coulnd't get over how annoyed I was at one little thing.

I started a screed.

I know this is just a joke but I also just have to say that it's not only America who says "erbs"; the word was originally erb and didn't have an h at all.

Overcorrecting pedants added the h in the 1400s to make the English word look like the Latin word it derived from, but the h was silent for everyone until it changed in Britain in the 1800s (thus, after American English had diverged from British English) as the result of more pedantry (thanks to [personal profile] silveradept, I'd also just read this morning about how many grammar rules are bullshit). And they're a specific, infuriating (to me) kind of bullshit, which I'll get to in a minute.

But before that, I thought of Eddie Izzard's line from Dress to Kill where he says to an American audience "you say 'erbs' and we say 'herbs.' Because there's a fucking h in it."

And the audience laughed because Americans have what Lynne Murphy calls American Verbal Inferiority Complex (a fact that suits the British superiority complex just fine!).

But I'm like, no! I will not accept this from a country where they have to say an historian because they don't say that h at all! (Yes I know not ever Brit says this, but not every American drops the h in herbs either, so this is where generalization gets you.)

The more I think about this, the more it bugs me that a few random posh white dudes (a very few! specific people with names we know!) came up with all these stupid rules. To quote from the link above: some of these "grammar rules that were entirely dreamt up in an age of moral prescriptivism, reflecting nothing of historical or literary usage, to encourage the poor English language to be more like an entirely different (and entirely dead) language, namely Latin?"

The random posh white dudes decreed that English should be more like Latin because they'd been taught that Latin was "pure" and thus superior to English. And they got their own way. (Maybe all of English has an inferiority complex when it comes to things like Latin.)

This educational snobbery and classism went a long way to making English the inconsistent, baffling mess it is now. (It wouldn't have been in a fantastic state anyway, with the influx of French and Latin and then the Great Vowel Shift ensuring nothing was spelled like it sounded any more. But still, this

It didn't have to be this way. Around the same time as these Latin-lovers, there was a movement for another kind of "purity," to go back to the Germanic roots of the English language, as a backlash against the huge numbers of French and Latin words that'd entered the language in the Middle English period (up until 1500-ish). Wikipedia says "Some tried either to resurrect older English words, such as gleeman for musician, inwit for conscience, and yblent for confused, or to make new words from Germanic roots, e.g. endsay for conclusion, yeartide for anniversary, foresayer for prophet."

To read something like "Uncleftish Beholdings," which is an explanation of atomic theory written in Germanic words, feels very odd. The Germanic words English has retained are mostly very "ordinary," everyday things, whereas our scientific vocabulary is especially full of Latin and Greek, so we're not used to what feel like "base" words being used to express technical or intellectual concepts.

I wrote all this (more or less, and without most of the links, though I included the Uncleftish Beholdings one because if you mention Germanic reconstructions for English, someone is bound to bring it up (and indeed someone did, who hadn't seen it mentioned just above the toot he was replying to)) before I went to work. I did work, I came home, had lunch, got ready to go to uni...and just before I left, I saw a screenshot of a startingly relevant tweet, from @paulcoxon: "Hello my name is Paul, I have a PhD in physics and thanks to a random brain freeze forgot the word for photon so had to call it a 'shiny crumb' in front of my colleagues."

Yes, you can have a physics Ph.D. and still forget a basic word like "photon." And when you do, what comes to your mind might be a Germanic construction like shiny crumb. (I knew "shine" came from Old English because I remembered seeing the verb; and I looked up "crumb" too which also comes from an OE word). I absolutely love "shiny crumb" and I wish to nominate it for the new Germanic alternative for our scientific vocabulary.

So yeah. I am so ill-suited to shitposts that I couldn't leave one alone. I had to take "herbs" and run with it until I ended up at shiny crumbs... via inkhorn terms, Anglish, snobbery and inferiority complexes. I hope you enjoyed the journey.

Or, as since journey's a nasty foreign word, maybe trip.
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"You comin' over?" called the old white man from the other side of the road I was waiting to cross.

I was standing, not only with the attentive-but-bored posture next to a crossing of someone waiting to cross a road, but also in the middle of Kingsway. It's one of those big roads with two sets of pedestrian crossing controls. You have to go halfway and then hit another button and then wait for the other lights too.

So I was indeed either going to cross the road or else live in the little concrete median in the middle of a dual carriageway.

Because this wasn't really what he was asking me. He was asking me why I wasn't crossing the road yet. He was crossing as he asked me. I wasn't because I was still waiting for the lights to change.

I like waiting anyway but with the white cane I consider it mandatory. Because if an abled stranger sees me crossing against the light, they'll probably try to intervene. They'll think I shouldn't be allowed out on my own. They'll yell at me or grab me because they won't be able to imagine a world where I am doing this safely. There is no question in my mind that this is an instance where I have to perform my disability to their expectations because if I don't manage their feelings things get harder for me.

But I didn't have time to say that. The man was already crossing the (admittedly empty, but the lights still hadn't changed) road toward me. So I just said "Yep, I am!" in answer to his question of whether I was crossing over. Of course I was stating an intention, not an action that I was then undertaking. But we use the same words for that.

He got to my side and stood next to me. I just kept looking forward (the spinny cone is broken in that particular traffic light so I have to actually look for the actual green man there...but I'd probably have resisted the urge to turn to someone talking to me anyway because I don't want to encourage them in circumstances like this).

This time he said "Do you want me to walk over with you?" I always find this kind of offer amusing, or at least it would be if the people saying it had any understanding of how bizarre it is. I somehow got this far, to the middle of a busy road in this case, on my own but strangers who encounter me always seem to think they've turned up in the nick of time because now I must need help!

I did not need help. Luckily at this point the green man saved me and I strode off away from the old white man.

I missed half of my working hours today because of ableism, because a bus driver didn't tell me what number bus he was so I got on the wrong one so was hella late and steaming mad about it. It may be only lunchtime but I've had more than my quota of ableism for today and this guy only narrowly avoided getting an earful from me about it.

Even with every fiber of my body radiating frustration and anger, it still wasn't enough to make this person leave me alone, or allow that I might have any competence at all. Even having crossed half a street didn't convince him I might be able to cross the other half.

This is why trying to play up to abled expectations is a fool's game, it's impossible, because we can never be that perfect combination of inspirational and yet grateful for the help they, on a whim and only when it's convenient for them, offer.
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I am a huge fan of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation. When it came out, I was at peak "I will never be able to study this properly again so I want to remind myself why I love it," so I bought it. The book came with a CD (of the modern English, read by Seamus Heaney himself), and I've listened to that more than I've read the book. Annoying since I was particularly excited to get in this translation by a favorite poet something I'd always wanted anyway: layout with Old English on one side of the open book and modern English on the other.

Turns out I've been missing other good stuff he had to say about it, from the introduction, which I saw linked here.

First there's "so." I love 'so.'  )

But what I really came here to talk about was thole. When that tumblr poster put up the screenshot with (part of) what I've just quoted here, another called it "the exact moment I feel for Heaney’s Beowulf. You know. From the first word." Another said the single word that made them love it was even earlier, also in that introduction, and it's thole. Or þolian. Heaney explains:
What happened was that I found in the glossary to C. L Winn's edition of the poem the Old English word meaning 'to suffer,' the word þolian; and although at first it looked completely strange with its thorn symbol instead of the familiar th, I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country when I grew up. 'They'll just have to learn to thole,' my aunt would say about some family who had suffered through an unforseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was 'thole' in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly edition, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt's language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across unto Ulster with the planters, and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish, and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line, 'Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole,' my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered. The far-flungness of the word, the phenomenological pleasure of finding it variously transformed by Ransom's modernity and Beowulf's venerability made me feel vaguely something for which again I only found the words years later. What I was experiencing as I kept meeting up with thole on its multi-cultural odyssey was the feeling that Osip Madelstam once defined as a 'nostalgia for world culture.' And this was a nostalgia I didn't even know I suffered until I experienced its fulfillment in this little epiphany. It was as if, on the analogy of baptism by desire, I had undergone something like illumination by philology. And even though I did not know it at the time, I had by then reached the point where I was ready to translate Beowulf. Þolian had opened my right of way.
Beowulf is impossible for modern people to read without special study, but still there are these threads connecting it to us, and we are lucky to have people like Seamus Heaney to show us how. The world widened, something was furthered, indeed: thanks to him, a thousand-year-old Germanic saga is being talked about on Tumblr.


Dec. 22nd, 2018 10:28 pm
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When Andrew said "Paddy's died," there was a big long pause before I said "Paddy Ashdown?!" it seemed impossible. Yet this single name on its own could refer to no one else in our lives.

It's a cliché to say there are people you just take for granted as always going to be around. But I guess I had been doing exactly that. I didn't even know it, until I no longer could.

I hadn't even known he was ill. It's another cliché but Paddy seemed invincible: tough as anything. There's a quote from what now has to be the Lib Dems' other beloved departed leader, Charles Kennedy, doing the rounds again today: "Paddy Ashdown is the only party leader who's a trained killer. Although, to be fair, Mrs Thatcher was self taught."

As always at this kind of news, your mind flashes back to the last time you saw the person. The last time I saw Paddy, he was telling The Joke at gleeclub. Glee is the Lib Dems' singalong, held the last night of every federal conference and it is traditional for Paddy to tell The Joke. I'd been hearing about this for years but since I'd only been able to go to one gleeclub before this and apparently I'd missed it then or he hadn't done it then, I was excited to finally be able to hear The Joke. (Which itself is a shaggy dog story; that's not the point. The point is how he tells -- told -- it, and how much everyone loved hearing it: It requires an empty bottle as a prop, and when I snuck out of Glee early, not long after he'd done it, I saw the person whose wine bottle he'd used this time bragging about this fact, and I don't know anybody else who could make someone feel special by grabbing a recyclable out of their hands.)

But only after I'd savored that memory a little did I remember the time before that that I saw Paddy Ashdown.

It had been the day before that gleeclub. Right after that immigration debate where I gave that speech, my first at conference, standing up to the party Establishment to ask my fellow Lib Dems to be more humane to immigrants, particularly disabled ones.

And it'd worked. I'd been so sure it wouldn't that I cried with relief when the vote passed. And I was still crying a few minutes later when we were all standing up and trying to get out of the hall after it was finished.

And suddenly this afternoon I remembered Paddy Ashdown being one of the first people to come up and congratulate my most visible colleague, James who'd summated the amendment after I'd proposed it, and me.

I told Andrew this and he said he didn't know that. I hadn't mentioned it to him; I'd pretty much forgotten it myself. As soon as I said it I was less sure it'd really happened: I had still been suffering from that earlier anxiety attack before I spoke and my brain doesn't form good memories then. It feels surreal and dreamlike. I was very glad that one of the first memories a friend shared of Paddy was of him congratulating James and me! It meant I hadn't dreamt it after all.

James tweeted about it very eloquently:
I only got the chance to meet Paddy this year, just briefly - but I'll very much remember him giving a warm congratulation to @hollyamory and I after a tough few days fighting to improve @LibDems immigration policy.

"You really nailed it", he said.

I intend to keep doing so.
At that point, [personal profile] po8crg reminded me that opposing the (national) establishment on immigration was one of the first major political acts he did as leader, when he stood by the people of Hong Kong all being able to enter the UK. A 1989 NY Times article about Hong Kong immigration quotes him thus:
Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats, has condemned the political consensus over the Hong Kong issue. ...
''This fawning before unstated popular prejudice does no credit to our leading politicians. It may not in itself be racist - but it feeds off and adds to the already dangerous level of racism within our society.''
It's true and it's important and it's still perfectly relevant today. (I take a harder line myself: I do think the fawning is racist, but it's still worth pointing out that pandering to the lowest common denominator of popular opinion is both a cause and an effect of inarguable racism.)

[personal profile] po8crg also pointed out that Paddy was still fighting for British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) passport holders to get right of abode in the UK last year, twenty-five years on.

There, so Paddy said, “I know what BN(O) stands for, it stands for Britain says no.”

I'm proud to be someone he approved of when it comes to an immigration policy.


Oct. 26th, 2018 08:29 pm
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
An internet/Lib Dem friend of mine shared a Facebook meme that goes "Comment and I'll reply with how I'd introduce you in a novel" and he's just written theost wonderful reply to me:
"She sat with a half-smile and a glass of gin, listening to the conversation at the next table for a moment as associations from it - Sheffield steel, a missed bus ride, worlds outside worlds - registered and worked their way into place in her mind. A tablet computer in front of her, screen dull from a few moments' disuse, boldly showed a range of phonemes and letters, script by script.

A creaking door, and a familiar voice, and she moved her coat and cane aside for another figure to sit by her, and she was home. This was home - where she wanted it to be, where the people who were home were, where the things that fascinated her were. The tablet screen turned itself off altogether, and a second gin was shortly on the way."
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I started writing a huge detailed essay about my interaction with the Lib Dems' policy motion on immigration, a proper how-the-sausage-gets-made thing that was very cathartic but also full of things I shouldn't say -- both because they're not really fair to talk about in public but also because it'd be boring or confusing to anybody who doesn't care enough that they already know anyway.

To turn several screens of text into a single clause, it turned out that the part of the proposed immigration policy the leadership were digging their heels on was the part most personally affecting me.

It's a close-run thing, because one of the amendments was about reducing the fees to cost, not to let the government continue making huge profits off of ordinary people. I would never have been able to pay for citizenship on my own, and yet there's still something that has affected me more than the many thousands I've paid out (it's esitmated to cost £7,000 to pay all the application fees involvined in immigrating here now, but it was only ("only," she laughs bitterly) about half that when I did it because they're hiking up the fees so much every year).

But another of the amendments was about something even closer to my heart. No Recourse to Public Funds )

So our Home Affairs spokesperson, an MP and former cabinet minister, got up to propose this policy motion and speciffically mentioned as a point of pride that we'd only have No Recourse to Public Funds for two years and how disabled people would be okay because there would be exceptions for them... and then people started talking about the amendments that had been chosen for debate. The first two were very good but I confess to not remembering the speeches because I was so nervous.

I wasn't nervous about public speaking, which I love doing. I had been excitesd and honored to have been chosen to propose this amendment, suddenly most important because it was the one that had all the resistance while the others were not being opposed by the leadership. I felt I was representing Lib Dem Immigrants, of which I was a founder member a year ago, and all my friends and colleagues in the party who wanted as much liberalism in our immigration policy as possible.

But that wasn't why I was nervous. I was nervous because I'd just had a panic attack and I'd worried it was still obvious on my face that I'd been crying. )

The silver lining of this horrid brain/body overload was that I had exactly no time or energy for worrying about actually speaking. I got up on that stage worried about exactly two things: was my face still red/blotchy from crying and was I going to fall down the stairs getting on/off the stage. (Of course there was step-free access but I couldn't see it and reasoned it must be somewhere behind the stage, probably dark, and that dark/unfamiliar places would be less good for me than dealing with the three or four steps everyone else was using at the front of the stage. Plus the hall aide was Zoe, a friend of mine, and when she asked if I would want help getting onto the stage I felt good about saying yes, so she just walked with me and I didn't fall down the stairs.)

But even with goals like that I don't think I could be faulted for a lack of ambition. I am an ordinary member; I've never spoken at Conference before; I'm not on important committees and no one important knows who I am. And yet here I was trying to tell people the MP, former cabinet minister, who'd proposed this motion was wrong on this subject and that I was right and that people should vote for what I said I wanted.

And they did.

As Lib Dem Immigrants told our members today,
we as a party can say: If you're married to someone British, you should be able to live here with them. No ifs, no buts, no means-testing. This is in contrast to the policies of the Conservative and Labour parties, and we urge them to follow our lead. As we campaign for Equal Marriage for LGBT+ couples, so also for mixed-nationality couples.
Like all our conference speakers, I was on BBC Parliament, so I've put the video from that feed, and a transcript of my speech, here if anybody is interested in even more detail than I've burdened you with here.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
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It's funny how "Spitfire" emded up being the song I'm obsessed with after yesterday. A year and a half obsessed with the Race for Space album, could practically recite it to you, and here I am thinking all the time about this song from an album I only recnetly realized was on Spotify so I could easily start listening to it.

Partly it's stuck with me because it was the song Public Service Broadcasting played after three songs in a row from Every Valley, an incredible portrayal of the heartbreaking effects that the end of the Welsh coal-mining industry had on the people who lived through it. By the end of the second one, Bethan was saying "play some space songs!" and by the end of the third, whichever of PSB does the talking onstage said "now, something different" in a way that reminded me a little of Jefferson in Hamilton saying "Can we get back to politics?"

So we got back to songs that make my heart soar (rather than sore, oh dear I didn't even see I'd done that...), with "Spitfire." The music is beautiful, it gets the heart racing just to hear that simple, perfect guitar riff. It's the kind that when you first hear it already feels familiar, it's somehow so right and pleasing that you can't believe you didn't always know it. I've been humming it all day and I always feel better when I catch myself thinking about it much less listening to it. I feel like I can't dance to it enough to properly express even with my whole body how happy it makes me.

I've argued (especially when I'm trying to convince Andrew that he might appreciate them (not like them, because he won't like the style of the music, but I think he could see what's good about them even if he wouldn't enjoy listening to them) that Public Service Broadcasting are making radio ballads, which that link describes as "a form of narrative documentary in which the story is told entirely in the words of the actual participants themselves as recorded in real life; in sound effects which are also recorded on the spot, and in songs which are based upon these recordings, and which utilise traditional or 'folk-song' modes of expression." I stumbled upon some of the original Ewan MacColl ones on Radio 2 one day, probably a decade or more ago,* and was utterly enchanted and endeared by them.

PSB's versions don't always have the voices of original participants interlaced in their songs as the proper Radio Ballads did, though they often do. The "Spitfire" samples are taken from a movie, Wikipedia tells me, The First of the Few, which is about the designer of the plane.

Being a movie maybe helps make his thoughts into poetry: the song starts
The birds fly a lot better than we do
See how they wheel and bank and fly, perfect
And all in one
Wings body tail
All in one
Someday I'm going to build a plane just like a bird
It isn't exactly a bird I'm creating, is it?
At least a curious odd bird
A bird that breathes fire and spits out death and destruction
A spitfire bird
What has most resonated with me though is the second sample of this speaker, which starts with the line I've used for my subject here.
It is tiring always stretching out for something that's just out of reach
But I'll get it
After all what I want isn't as easy as all that
It's gotta do 400 miles an hour
Turn on a sixpence
Climb ten thousand feet in a few minutes
Dive at 500 without the wings coming off
Carry eight machine guns
Stuart loves planes and knows a lot about them, and Spitfires particularly, so for eight years now they've made me think of him, details like this espeically so. I have no idea what's high or fast or difficult for any kind of airplane of any age, but I do know how tiring it is when everything is out of reach.

I'm unreasonably delighted that he said "tiring" there, rather than disappointing or challenging or whatever else might fit the usual narrative we're given. It's wearying. Exhausting. I quoted this line as a Facebook post this morning when I was listening to this song for the first of many times today, on the bus to work. I let it trail off there but Bethan commented with the all-important next line: But I'll get it. And Mr. Spitfire Man certainly seemed to. So maybe I will as well, even if I don't have as defined an "it" as he did.

I meant this to be an introduction to me talking about the whole day yesterday, but it's turned out to be too long on its own. I promise I won't have this much to say about all the songs.

* It might have even been when the BBC commissioned the newer radio ballads, which Wikipedia tells me was 2006; I remember hearing that one about the decline of the Sheffield steel industry anyway; I still can sing bits of the beautiful song sung by Kate Rusby although I don't think I've heard it since; it's so striking and powerful. Also it was one of the first times I heard her name and I've adored her voice ever since.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I had such a lovely evening. [personal profile] diffrentcolours and I had amazing food (poached eggs, asparagus, feta, mint, and smashed avocado on toast for me) and nice beer, followed by a Lib Dem fundraising whisky-tasting evening hosted by Alastair Carmichael.

We tried five whiskies that ranged from okay to amazing (the Ardbeg was unsurprisingly great, but my new discovery was the lovely Glengoyne).

And then came the raffle, whose prizes ran the gamut from the Lib Demmy "free leaflet artwork" to the interesting "day-long photography lessons" to the inevitable "bottle of whisky," the last of which was explained by the person who donated it as rare and special and going for more than a hundred quid right now.

The first winning number was drawn and since it wasn't anyone at our little table we carried on chatting. I was a bit sad I'd never see what the whisky tasted like. But then the person whose number had been chosen announced that she was taking the free artwork, not for herself but for her local party, which was warmly applauded. I'd barely had time to think "wait that means the whisky is still up for grabs?" when Alastair chose my raffle ticket number.

When Iain presented me with my prize, he also announced to the room that I was not only standing as a candidate for the first time, I was also only able to vote for the first time now. Which got a round of applause itself (and embarrassed laughter from me) and, as people were trickling away, a bit of interest and encouragement from people there that I didn't know which was sweet.

So here's a daft picture (click to embiggen) of me with my prize, a bottle of Arran Founders Reserve.
Me presenting my new bottle of whisky
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Andrew just told me about all the dreams he had last night. Lots of stress ones, but also his brain seems to be trying to do him some favors by dreaming a box set of all music and Doctor Who and things Andrew likes. And then he told me about one where he was walking Gary through somewhere that something bad had happened, they had to climb over fences and stuff. "And Gary was barking and his barks were words and they said 'Don't worry, I'll protect you. Don't worry, I'll protect you,' " Andrew told me.

My heart felt like it grew three sizes. Gary has turned up in scary dreams of mine and his dream-presence has cheered me up and calmed me down. I even dreamed he escaped into our bedroom once to rescue me from a bad dream. He looks after us even in our dreams.

"He didn't know many words," Andrew said. "But he could say 'Don't worry, Andrew, I'll protect you.' "
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Woke up in the middle of the night, assuming I was in the bed I was in the last time I'd gone to sleep. For all it was hard work being at my parents', it was a good bed to sleep in and a nice early-morning routine. Enough to leave me homesick now.

Andrew asked on social media the other day why people talk about things he finds so brain-numbingly boring as what they had for dinner. He said he could understand people sharing recipes or restaurant recommendations, but just "we had pork but I made the gravy too thin" baffled and irritated him. Until enough people explained that sharing these kinds of details fosters a level of intimacy that people want. To know such unimportant or low-content things about each other really just means "this is the extent to which I want to share my life with you.

I'm one of many people who loved LJ originally for this level of detail: knowing what chores people had to do that day, if they had to get up early, and yes what food they ate, are things you'd know about a person if you were physically spending that time with them, and if you were doing that you'd know them pretty well and feel pretty close. So if they told you on the internet, you'd feel you knew them pretty well. (This is something I could do well to remember when friends are so interested in my course and I don't know why, it's probably this so I should shush and be nice about it.)

So when we'd been waiting two hours at MSP after my parents dropped us off on Tuesday night, I enviously said that my mom was probably in bed by then. Andrew said he didn't think my parents would be home yet but with my more precise understanding of how long the trip takes and of my parents' routines, I knew they'd be back and I knew she'd be in bed reading or watching TV almost immediately because she was so tired.

I told him my mental model of their lives was still pretty good a few hours later, but it'd diverge quickly. It made me a little sad.

And in the same way, now I've woken up with that second's worth of disorientation about where I am, I not only thought I'd be in the ridiculously comfy bed at my parents house, but thought I'd get up and my dad would've made coffee and he'd be watching the news.

Having that finely detailed mental model of which lights would be on in the kitchen and the stupid Christmas coffee cups my parents have and all that stuff is what really kills me when I leave again, really makes me acutely homesick.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I saw somebody retweet this blog post, which has some interesting questions about nystagmus. Nystagmus is one of the eye conditions I have, it's the one that makes my eyes jump back and forth so even before I had glasses or pointless and counterproductive accommodations in grade school, people could tell just from looking at me that there's something wrong with my eyes.

No one ever explained anything about this, or my other eye conditions to me. I only know what they're called because I was a nerdy kid who remembered long words I overheard or saw written down once. So my explanations of it aren't going to be any better than you can get on Wikipedia, but I can certainly talk about what it's like to have it.

1. Are you the only one in your family to have nystagmus? )

2. How has your nystagmus affected you throughout your life so far? )

3. What are you registered as – partially sighted, severely sight impaired, blind, etc? )

4. Do you have any other eye conditions with your nystagmus? )

5. Do you have any visual aids to help you with your condition? )

6. Do you have any advice for parents of children with nystagmus? )

7. Describe your vision in 3 words. )

8. What help did you get in school/work? )
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I got a DM from [twitter.com profile] RNIB asking if I'd watch their new video "about whether canes should always be white or if they can be colourful to represent a person's individuality." And since I've not been blogging near as much as I'd like to lately, I thought this was as good an excuse as any.

So here's the video; it's only a little over two minutes long. It's subtitled (in a nice contrasty black-on-yellow).

The first person (the speakers don't seem to be named in the video, but I've found most of their names in other tweets RNIB did), Maya-Liam, says they like their cane to be colored (the one they're holding is dark purple) because they're proud to use it, which I think is a really interesting idea. It'd never occurred to me before whether I am proud of using my cane. (Mine is white, by the way.) But now that I think about it, I probably am proud. I'm really glad it exists, I've never been ashamed of it. Of course, I don't think Maya-Liam is asserting the cane has to be colored for the user to be proud of it, but I can see something about choosing a non-standard variant, like a different color in this case, implying that a person is embracing something rather than accepting it with whatever reluctance. It is true that my white cane looks the same as any carried by someone who's using it really grudgingly. The purple one does seem so much less likely to be perceived as belonging to someone who resents or dislikes having it.

The video then cuts to [twitter.com profile] chloeltear who says they use a white cane and a yellow walking stick, both of which they have with them to show. They say the white cane is called Audrey and is a girl, and the walking stick is called Albert and is a boy. Naming or gendering my canes is another thing that never would have occurred to me! But then maybe it's because they have two? I suppose I have a guide cane and a long cane, but they're not for as different a purpose as Chloe's walking stick and long cane are.* So I'm curious now to see what effect the naming -- and gendering! -- of the canes/sticks has. At the very least, I think it's safe to say that like the first person, this anthropomorphizing is a sign of some amount of pride or fondness towards mobility aids. [personal profile] mother_bones's old powerchair was called Tankerella, which was indicative of its personality rather than hers but also was an easy way to distinguish it from her manual chair (which I don't think ever had a name). I think I know of other people who've named their wheelchairs, but not other mobility aids like this.

[twitter.com profile] _LeahRachel says "When I'm not using my everyday cane," (which they have with them, it's white) "I have a gorgeous pink cane which I call my Glinda wand" (which they have next to it, and caress fondly here). This, again, never occurred to me. When do you not use your everyday cane? Does it have to be a special occasion, a posh function, a chance to impress like a job interview, that brings out the Glinda wand? Or is it just "I woke up today feeling like it" that makes them choose it over the "everyday" cane?

Chloe says they like that they can be known as "the person with a yellow stick" rather than "the person who uses a walking stick," which I can understand. It is really oppressive being known by your disability or especially by the visible aids you use, and a non-standard color is often enough to distract people from their ableism. [twitter.com profile] SassyWyatt says they used to use a wheelchair and theirs was bright purple, which they loved, and again I know a lot of people with a similar approach to their wheelchairs. Leah says they like that people are starting to customize their mobility aids, "to be able to express who you are, to make it less medical." The second one I understand, and of course I think it's great that people can sometimes get things like walking sticks, plaster casts, hearing aids, dental braces or wheelchairs in a range of colors but I really balk at including white canes in that. I really wouldn't want one that isn't white.

As nice as the purple one looks, the way this video is shot with such a dark background means I couldn't even see that cane in some of the shots of Maya-Liam holding it; I would not feel safe using that at night. Chloe and someone else, Robert, talk about a colored one being less safe, so one uses only a white cane and the other says if they used a long cane all the time they'd have a colored one and a white one -- I guess this is something else for the "Glinda-wand" havers of the world to take into account: what circumstances are you going to use your cane in? If I have people with me and it's daylight, I probably wouldn't mind so much. But if I'm expecting to ever be by myself, or in the dark, I wouldn't feel comfortable unless my cane was white.

And I know what I'm like: half the time even if I expected to only be out in sunshine with people, I'd end up coming home by myself in the dark. Life is unpredictable, and I have enough decisions to make every day so I wouldn't want "which cane do I take?" to be yet another hurdle to clear before I can get out the door. So I think even if I had a colorful cane, I'd end up defaulting to the white one anyway.

I'm a cricket fan, and I know that one reason they changed from red to white cricket balls in some forms of the game is that those forms are more likely to be played in the dark and the white is more visible. If it's good enough for cricket umpires, it's got me convinced.

Now we're back to Maya-Liam, who says it expresses their alternative rocker personality and that it starts conversations because people call it lovely and ask what it means. This I believe because even though I have an actually white cane, it does have some strips of reflective tape on it, which the rehab officer did when she gave it to me, explaining that it's something Manchester City Council does to make the canes more visible in the dark, especially in car headlights.** The tape is orange-yellow as well as reflective, so under normal light conditions where it's not reflecting, people ask me what the color means. (One friend guessed that it was because I'm a Lib Dem, but I think that says even more about him than it does me.)

From getting these questions on a regular if not frequent basis I've learned that a lot of people have a vague idea that colors on white canes mean something but they're not quite sure what. I explain it's just reflective tape like cyclists use, but I also tell them that they're probably thinking of a white cane with red bits, because that means someone has a hearing as well as a visual impairment. People have this idea that the color means something but they're not sure what, and I think until people are really clear on what's meant to be an information-conveying color, we shouldn't be confusing them with decorative color that doesn't "mean" anything in the same way.

I really love Robert's next point: "I would say [the choice of a standard white cane] is to do with my personality. Not with the creative side of myself, more the cautious side." And I think this is a great point, because the more I think about this, the more I do think I am expressing my personality with my cane: I am expressing the value I place on standardization of a symbol. Because I'm relatively sighted for a blind person, I use the cane as much or more for its ability to signal to the people around me that I'm visually impaired. So I really rely on that message getting through as clearly as possible to as many people as possible. I think because I can see some, I wouldn't necessarily get as many people thinking "oh, she's blind" and modifying their behavior if I had a cane of a different color.

Lastly and most importantly, I agree with Sassy: "We need to educate the entire UK to what a cane is and what it does and then once we've got that firmly under wraps then bling it up." Unfortunately there is still little enough understanding about this -- just yesterday the RNIB retweeted someone saying he was out for a drink and got asked why he'd brought a ski pole with him! I know it's annoying to basically say the confusion or ignorance of the general public deserves to be catered to more than a blind person's desire to express their personality through their mobility aid. I have seen ones with handles that are colored or glittery or whatever and have no problem with that kind of thing so it's not like I'm against any customization whatsoever. And obviously I'm not going to tell anybody else what to do, I just think that expressing your individuality through the color of the cane might not be the best way to do it.

* I have both because I swap them seasonally: since I see much better in sunshine than in the dark the lighter, shorter guide cane is enough help for me in the brighter summer months; I switch to the more cumbersome but also much more information-conveying long cane which rolls across the ground when the days start to get short enough that I'm outside more in the dark.

** I think the cane is vaguely reflective too -- I'd certainly hope the colored ones are -- but less so than the tape.
hollymath: (G)
Somebody I follow on social media (but don't really know) asked for ideas on what children might call their parents in a non-gendered fantasy world she's creating. Someone linked her to a blog post about gender-neutral words for parents that included cennend and this person decided she was going to use that.

So far so totally relevant to my interests: gender inclusivity and Old English! Hurrah!

But then she said "as linguistics who loves dead languages, I can't pass that up." And suddenly my hackles were up. How dare she call Old English a dead language! Wait, it's not really a dead language...is it? I'd never heard it called that before and for some reason I hated the idea.

Now far be it from me to argue with a linguist (assuming that's what she meant instead of "linguistics" there) but can Old English be dead if we're still speaking English? Of course it's different, so much so that we need translations to read it (I'd just read this fun article about the filmic nature of Beowulf, which features some snippets of Old English, if you want to see what it looks like). No one speaks it any more and that makes it dead, right?

But, but...also we do speak it! Yes it's old but it's still English: scholars wouldn't call it that if it were really so different; it'd be another language with another name. A surprisingly large number of words have survived into our modern English, especially "little" everyday words: wife, boy, house, bread, town. Words for numbers and grammatical things like pronouns. We get the word dead from Old English, so how dead can it be, right?!

And while English has has an exceptionally large influence from other languages since Anglo-Saxon days, we understand it enough to read something like Uncleftish Beholding, an attempt to write about a scientific concept without all the Latin and Greek that influences our scientific words, but just trying to imagine what they'd be if they'd stayed Anglo-Saxon. It's a bit strange to read (easier if you know high-school chemistry because it's about atoms -- atom meaning in Greek the same as uncleft: "unable to be cut") but delightful too because we can follow it and somehow it makes the somewhat distant (to me) abstract world of subatomic particles seem more accessible and normal.

I used some Old English words, mostly made-up or misattributed, in a story I once wrote to give it that same familiar-but-not kind of quality (words like begeondanheah were developed, though I didn't consciously think of it like this at the time, the same way as the ones in "Uncleftish Beholding": I looked at what the Greek-derived word meteor meant, looked at OE words that meant similar things, tried to create something that sounded halfway plausible -- begeondanheah would mean something like "beyond high"). People seemed to like the words and didn't find them too weird or off-putting, which really pleased me.

All of this leaves me pretty confident that Old English is not a dead language. But I still laugh at how strongly I reacted to it being called one. How dare anyone affront my favorite language so?! Hee.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a solemn occasion, a recognition that every year hundreds of people's lives (and those are just the ones we know about) end for no other reason than that they were trans.

This year's Trans Day of Remembrance has arrived in the middle of a 80s-style moral panic, the media (and not just the tabloids, the broadsheets and the BBC are absolutely fueling this in their fake-intellectual way) frothing up a good Section-28-style lather of hatred and hostility to trans people, who here are demonized as getting your kids to want to dress wrong for school, who are somehow "shutting down" anyone happy with the gender they were born in.

Cut for those who already know about this and don't want to read about it again. )

They are wrong and they are cruel. They have always been around, but lately they are feeling emboldened. And that does a lot of harm.

A couple of months ago, my corner of Twitter acknowledged that there'd be a transphobic article in a UK paper every weekend. Then it increased to nearly every day and one day recently there were three. Transphobia has been on Radio 4, it's been on TV, of course it's all over Twitter. It's everywhere.

And the trans people I know? Are exhausted. This onslaught is more than anyone can process or cope with. For all the transphobes' wails that the "trans lobby" runs everything and is silencing them, of course it's quite the reverse: there are few trans people in the population and they are systematically disprivileged and disempowered.

The cause of this scary spike in public, establishment-mandated transphobia in the UK seems to be the ongoing plan to update the Gender Recognition Act. The GRA was passed in 2004, which feels like a generation ago in queer rights terms, and it was criticized from the start for being laborious, intrusive, gatekeeping, inaccessible to many people who'd benefit from it, and in general just incredibly cisnormative.

Simplifying an obscure piece of legislation that will make life better for a small group of people and make no difference to anyone else's lives may seem a no-brainer, and it should be. But there are people out there who resist the fair treatment, the human rights, of trans women in particular but of anyone who threatens their cissexism.

Trans people are vulnerable, an easy target, in exactly the way gay people were in the 80s. And, as with bigots' doom-laden proclamations about what would happen if same-sex marriage were allowed, it is already possible to point to other countries who have had for years the kinds of laws the UK is considering upgrading to now, and the sky hasn't yet fallen.

In the same way that same-sex marriage hasn't hurt anyone who doesn't want one, better gender recognition laws would hardly even be noticed by anyone who is happy with the gender they were assigned when they were born.

But we're still a long way from this being sorted, and when this flood of media hate couldn't even stop for today, for the one day in the calendar set aside to remember those killed by transphobia, I have no hope or expectation it'll end any time soon.

Before now, I think some of we well-meaning cis people have kept to the sidelines a bit, not wanting to put our feet in our mouths about something we understand imperfectly, or not wanting to center ourselves when we want people to be listening to trans voices. But I think we have to strike a balance there and say what our trans siblings are too drained to say right now.

We have to challenge the idea that letting schoolchildren wear whatever uniform they want is some kind of apocalypse. We have to point out that trans people are so, so much more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator of violent crime. We have to point out that trans women are women, that trans men are men, that non-binary people exist (I just heard in a lecture today that singular they has been used as long as English has been a language, so if anybody tries to give you shit about that, you can tell them it's verified by linguists).

Trans people are people: the ones I know care about their families and their hobbies and their work...exactly the same stuff as the cis people I know. I am furious and I'm determined to channel that fury into helping bring about a world in which trans people don't have to dread seeing headlines in a newsagents, turning on Radio 4, or looking at their own twitter mentions. It's the very least they deserve.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
We didn't even need a word for this until yesterday.

Andrew was listening to the 538 podcast when I got in last night and said they were discussing what to call this: the mid-midterms, the off year, what? I thought I'd invented mid-midterm myself!

I woke up at 4:30am to pee, unwisely looked at Facebook, and saw a friend (who lives in Virginia) had posted:
Democrat Ralph Northam wins VA Governor✔
Democrat Justin Fairfax wins VA Lt. Governor✔
Democrat Mark Herring wins VA Attorney General ✔
Democrat Danica Roem becomes nation's first trans member of a state House of Delegates ✔
Democrat Elizabeth Guzman becomes VA's first Latina member of House of Delegates ✔

Victory for civil rights ✔
Victory for healthcare ✔
Victory for progress ✔
Victory for hope ✔
I tried to get back to sleep, I swear.

But the tweets, oh they were so good.

Because it wasn't just Virginia where progress, hope, civil rights and diversity had won the day. It was everywhere.

Danica Roem was the headline in a lot of ways, for being trans and for beating the transphobic author of a bathroom bill who wouldn't even debate her or call her "her." (And she had the best line when she was asked about him after she won: "I don't attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now." I'm sure she practiced it; I'm glad she got to use it.)

Virginia also allowed felons to vote for the first time this election, and this video of people who were able to vote made me cry.

But in other trans lady news, Minneapolis elected Andrea Jenkins, a bi trans woman of color, to its city council, (She read out a poem at the White House's bi event in 2016!)

Here's a tweet listing newly-elected black mayors in places that have never hard them before:
Statesboro GA, Jonathan McCollar
Georgetown SC, Brendan Barber
Milledgeville GA, Mary Parham Copelan
Helena MT, Wilmot Collins
Cairo GA, Booker Gainor
St Paul MN, Melvin Carter
Charlotte NC --> Vi Lyles, 1st Black female mayor
Collins is an amazing story: the first black mayor in the state of Montana, a Liberian refugee, unseating a four-term incumbent on a "progressive ticket."

Ravi Singh Bhalla is the first turbaned Sikh mayor, of Hoboken NJ, who beat an opposition calling him a terrorist in their flyers.

In other places, horribly racist mailers also weren't enough for Republicans to beat the people they were being racist about.

Maine voted for healthcare for 80,000 more people, by voting to expand Medicaid.

Philadelphia elected a District Attorney who hates the death penalty, had Black Lives Matter campaign for him, and knows fascism when he sees it.

Here's a tweet listing LGBT people who won:
Danica Roem - trans woman in Virginia
Andrea Jenkins - bi trans woman on Minneapolis city council
Ravi Bhalla
Elizabeth Guzman
Hala Ayala
Tyler Titus - trans man on school board in Pennsylvania
LaWana Mayfield
Lydia Lavelle
Jenny Durkan - lesbian mayor of Seattle
I don't have time to verify all these now but I know they're not all LGGG and they're not all white, and that is already pretty awesome.

I saw a tweet about that woman-of-color mayor in Milledgeville, Georgia, and I thought about what a great world I live in where I just learned the name of the mayor of somewhere I've also never heard of. I've never seen election-night excitement like this outside a presidential year, and thinking that also made me think of "If Hillary had won we'd be at brunch right now" signs from the Women's March and whatnot: we shouldn't have been at brunch. We should have been out here volunteering and voting for these women and people of color and queers and refugees anyway. Only because Hillary didn't win, more of us who used to be fine with the status quo are having to turn up and to care like people of color and other marginalized groups whose lives depend on this have always had to do.

May we be able to atone for our apathy. May we not let our new representatives at all these levels off the hook because they're Democrats or because they're queer or whatever. May we hold their feet to the fire, and remember and appreciate how much of what matters in our lives happens thanks to these people elected last night, the mayors and the city councilors and the governors who don't get the attention in non-presidential voting years but who have as much or more impact on our lives as the impostor signing executive orders in the Oval Office. He's not getting anything done, but my governor and my state reps are making sure Minnesota's still aiming for its Paris agreement targets, still trying to insure everyone...Minnesota's a great example of how much gets done at the state level because it's so different from Wisconsin right next door.

Before the 2016 election when assholes cushioned by their privilege said it'd be good if Trump won because it'd shake up some complacent people and maybe, I dunno, bring about the revolution or something, they were rightly lambasted for thinking the inevitable suffering would be worth it in some sunny future. But he did win, by hook and by crook, and that means we have to shake up the complacency not in hopes of a perfect future but just to get by. We have to overcome the gerrymandering and the illegal voting restrictions to take advantage of this annual-at-best opportunity to fire these bums, get them outta here. And I think we did about as well as we could have.

It doesn't stop the deportations, the climate change, the fear, the misery, the suffering that Trump has wrought and is still trying to further, at all. We can't kick out those assholes who are trying to take away healthcare in order to give the richest tax cuts, but we can realize there are a lot of other assholes at a lot of other layers of government, and a lot of other good people with good ideas that the assholes would never be able to think up because they don't have any way to know what a bisexual trans woman of color or a Liberian refugee care about.

We've got such a long way to go to make America safe and fair for everyone who lives there, but last night was about as good a start as we could have hoped for.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Andrew noticed how bushy his mustache was looking in his reflection today and said "if I had white hair I could say things like 'well, bless my whiskers!' and tell the kids magic wasn't real but with a twinkle in his eye while he was saying it."


hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)

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