Friday, 25 February 2011

The Circle Game

I have just passed an enjoyable few days in the Midlands culminating in my big sister's wedding in Birmingham .  The sister in me is thrilled and excited and happy and hungover; but I'm surprised to find in all these weddings there is also a feeling of having come full circle somehow.  I thought this was from my wedding last year, but then I started tracing that circle back through my life and I'm still not sure where it starts. I keeping finding circles within circles, tiny circles around my finger and massive drunken staggering circles kicking each other in the shins while they bawl 'New York, New York' and that mystical, mystifying, enchanting circle of two that doth a marriage make. 

I'm not sure exactly why I believe in, support or endorse marriage, in all honesty.  I don't have any particular religious beliefs although I would describe myself more as agnostic than atheist.  In many ways it's a fairly outdated institution, the customs of which work mostly against my feminist principles, and in the 21st century there is simply no excuse for its exclusion of couples of the same gender.  It is normal social practice for couples to live together outside marriage and have children outside marriage and I have never felt pressured to marry for moral reasons, either for myself or even within my family or social circle.  It just isn't necessary, and in fact there are many good arguments against it. 

When I talk about marriage here, it's kind of code for a life-long, committed relationship.  But I have to say, before I married I would have said I was in one of those; and yet I have definitely crossed some kind of other threshold.  The thing about a marriage is you have to say it out loud.  I heard a writer talking recently about what a momentous occasion it is when as a writer you say 'I am a writer, I am writing a novel' out loud; that however much you've wanted or hoped for that secretly, you don't dare to say it, and then one day you do and it doesn't necessarily make you a better writer, but something changes anyway.  I continue to be surprised that marriage does change something.  It feels like casting spells, setting aside the time and space, saying the words and knowing them to be true has, for me at least, had a little bit of magic in it.

My first memory of wanting to be married was shyly confessing that feeling to my First Boyfriend at the age of fourteen.  He laughed at me and we never mentioned it again, but this week he proposed to his beautiful and high-achieving girlfriend who wisely and bravely accepted and I'm thrilled for them both.  Another circle closes.

I don't want to induce any vomit so I'll leave it there.  I'm not going to bore you with our wedding details but I'd like to give a big shout out to the Offbeat Bride Tribe which provided space to think about all the big things whilst also dealing with all the little things as we planned our wedding; if you are planning yours I highly recommend you pay it a visit.  One of my friends on there has now started her own wedding website and she profiled our wedding here.

Monday, 14 February 2011

In Defence of St Valentine's Day

I've always been pro-Valentine's Day.  I think it's lovely.  What kind of a humbug are you to not enjoy telling someone you love them?  What do you mean, you don't love anyone?  Well,  now's the time to start.
     File:Anthropomorphic Valentine, crica 1950.JPG
I've been looking into the background of Valentine's Day, it appears it wasn't constructed by Clintons and Hallmark but based on a series of misapprehensions on how many martyrs there were called Valentine, when their Saint's day (or days) was (or were), what (if anything) they have to do with romanitc love, what date Chaucer was talking about when he writes about 'seynt Volantynys' day, and a convenient mash-up of the results of this with a Roman fertility festival.  But people have been sending Valentines since the 15th century.  I'm not going to check but I'm going to hazard a guess that Clintons hasn't been around that long.

Yes, card companies and other retailers absolutely want to make as much money from you as possible on Valentine's Day  - but how is that different from any other day?  When the Writer by Night (who has a long-standing hatred of Valentine's Day) and I celebrated our first 14th of Feb together, we made a deal that whatever we did would be free.  He made me an awesome comic and I made him a fluffy purple picture frame and a heart-shaped pizza.  We still have both of those things (we ate the pizza). You can celebrate without spending anything if you feel that strongly about spending £2 on a card.

And as for the argument that you don't need one day a year to tell you to make a loved one feel special because you should do it every day; well, I'm willing to bet that you don't.  I've heard more than once that over-use of the phrase 'I love you' devalues it, but I think that's categorically untrue.  Using it when you don't mean it devalues it, using it and then behaving in an unloving way devalues it, but I don't think you can ever say it enough.  If you can't remember when you last told the person you love that you love them, you need to say it again.

I am lucky, I know, to have someone to celebrate with and someone worth celebrating.  But one of my most memorable Valentine's experiences was a year when I was single and seven friends and I did a 'secret valentine' with a budget of £3 each, pulling a name out of a hat.  I got a red fluffy heart that vibrated when you pulled a string (if memory serves me correctly it was from Ash), John won by giving Ceri a bin bag full of inflated balloons and a pin, which when she popped them each had a letter inside spelling out a message.  Then we all went to the cinema to indulge Julia's crush on John Simm in 'Wonderland'.  That year I also sent someone an anonymous home-made valentine's card and a kinder egg.  It was an unrequited crush but it felt good to send it, and I'd like to think that it made him feel a little bit special that someone had gone to all that effort for him. 

Love is precious but it's also free and the more you give away, the more you get back.  I think it's a sign of a civilised society that there's a day dedicated to celebrating that.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Saw this and thought of you...

I have been too busy being the World's Busiest Lady this week to write you a proper post - actually that's not true, I started an epic, introspective and probably dull draft last night that will probably take a good few months to complete.  In the meantime I have been inspired by my good chum Steerforth who posts about the treasures he finds during his very cool job, and I'd like to share this particularly outstanding book cover with you.  I think it might be my favourite of all time:
I don't think I could bear to read the book in case it just doesn't live up to the cover...

Friday, 4 February 2011

Call Yourself a Feminist! or, the Difficult Second Blog

And it really has been difficult.  While catching up on Feminist Frequency the other day I stumbled across a few other feminist blogs, including one that mentioned Feminism Friday - the idea being that if several bloggers post feminist blogs or articles on a Friday it will create a bigger buzz and maybe reach readers who wouldn't otherwise read something with that tag.  I think it's a great idea (I accidentally nearly wrote 'great' in capitals, I didn't think it was that great) and immediately wanted to give it a go.  Cue a few stumbling paragraphs about some of the sexist attitudes I encounter on a day to day basis.

Just one problem.  Turns out, I'm not terribly good at being opinionated.  I do a few things wrong:

1) I'm really bad at expressing myself without making allowances for other people having a different opinion to me.  I blame my parents, they did a pretty good job.

2) I always make a counter argument to myself in my head as I go along, which I find it hard to keep off the page (screen? keys?). I blame James II.  Not the king, the boyfriend.  James II was always right - he'd be the first to admit it.  In fact, he wouldn't just admit it, he'd inform you he was always right. No matter what you were arguing he'd be right, he'd pick the opposite viewpoint just for the mental workout.  Overall, it was probably pretty good for me and I have a lot to thank him for.  But unsurprisingly, I didn't marry him.

3) I write like I'm in the Famous Five.  It's not put on, I speak that way too (people who know me in real life will verify this).  Julia Marchese didn't think English people really say 'jolly good' until she heard me say it- I had to break it to her that they don't usually, since the 1950s.  I'm not sure who I can blame for that as my mother was strongly against Enid Blyton, or any children's literature where the girls helped mummy/Cook in the kitchen while the boys planted potatoes in the garden.  She used to switch it around when she read us bedtime stories (yes, I do blame her for me wanting to get involved in Feminism Friday. Thanks Mum!) Anyway, try making a forceful argument using phrases like 'jolly good', 'terribly' and 'marvellous'.  See what I mean?

All of this has sort of got in the way of me saying it makes me rather cross when, in the course of recommending an excellent book (which I have course to do on an almost hourly basis, and they pay me for it), I'm asked if it is Woman's book - 'woman' said in the same tone as 'I'm on a train that stops at Balcombe' (for those who don't use the London-Brighton line, the tone you use for an irritant the universe has thrown in your path which is not deadly but highly inconvenient and if you could think of a safe and legal way of destroying it, you might.  David Cameron. Seagulls).  So my brief nod to Feminism Friday which I will participate in, not necessarily every Friday, but as often as I can, and my response to all those readers who judge a book by its gender, is this:

There is no such thing as a woman's book.
A woman enjoying a book does not mean that a man will not.
And vice versa.
The novels I have most enjoyed have been those which surprise me, allow me to experience things I might not otherwise experience, educate me.
The gender of the authors of those books is irrelevant to my enjoyment of them.
The gender of the characters of those books is irrelevant to my enjoyment of them.
I know of no biological reason why this should be different for a man than it is for me.
It would not kill you just once in your life, or maybe even more often, to read a book about motherhood, or love.  In fact, in order to treat your condition, I view it as compulsory.
Yes, discounting a book as suitable reading material purely on the gender of the author or the person who recommends it is sexist, and in eight years of working with books, I have never seen a woman do it.

Every Feminism Friday, until I get bored, I'm going to recommend a good book by a woman.  I'd love to know what you think.  Today, it's The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall. 

Also, I'd love for other bloggers I know and love, every now and then, to spare a thought (or even a blog) for Feminism Friday.